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Crossovers aren't unusual for Final Fantasy 14. The constantly growing MMO has had its fair share of team-ups with other games since it launched in 2010, with special events running alongside massive expansions over the years. Characters from other Final Fantasy games have made special appearances, and series including Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest have got in on the action. But Nier is rather different from those, considering its subversive brand of nihilistic philosophy.
Even so, Final Fantasy 14 never does things by halves. The Nier: Automata crossover raid series, YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, incorporates many themes from its source material, and is being written by famed Nier series creator Yoko Taro. We spoke with the man himself, and with Final Fantasy 14's producer and director, Naoki Yoshida, about kicking off the first part of the raid series.
OPM: Nier: Automata doesn't seem like an obvious choice to cross over with Final Fantasy 14. How did the idea come about?
Yoko Taro: I think this project came about when I had the opportunity to talk with producer Yoshida for a completely different matter. But I was eating a delicious steak at the time, and I was so invested in it that I wasn't listening. (Just kidding.)
Naoki Yoshida: From all over the world, we had been receiving requests saying that they want to wear outfits from the Nier series and for us to collaborate. Then I thought that it would be much more interesting to collaborate on a game level rather than just equipment. Plus I wanted to work with Yoko-san so I bribed him with drinks and steak.
How closely did you work together when designing the YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse raids?
YT: We had a short discussion together regarding the concept at the beginning. For the actual work, I entrusted it with the team. I was so happy with how the Final Fantasy 14 team respected Nier: Automata as a title, so I got a little carried away with my requests... Sorry about that.
NY: Mainly for the outline of the project, what we aim to achieve with the crossover, and checking the direction and overall plot. Yoko-san is the one who actually draws up the plot and writes the text, while it is the Final Fantasy 14 dev team's job to implement it. My job is to eliminate any obstacles that could get in their way. I'm actually a little jealous of everyone else [laughs].
Final Fantasy 14 and the Nier series play very differently from each other. Have either of you learned new things from collaborating on YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse?
YT: I didn't know what kind of person Yoshida-san was until this project, so I was a little scared. After meeting him in person, I could see that he was a hard-working and powerful person. He'd be my choice for a future president of Square Enix.
NY: I'd heard all sorts of rumours about Yoko-san from various sources, so I was a little scared before I met him. When I actually met him in person, none of the rumours were true. He's such a gentleman, with the personality of a saint. I'd love to see him reign as a don of the games industry.
What was the most surprising aspect about designing for an MMO versus the more hack-and-slash-focused Nier series?
YT: The process of making MMO games had many aspects that were different from normal console games, so it was full of surprises. For example: 'It's okay to attack even if you can't see the target (because the player will learn the attacks)', 'The music is synchronised between all raid players', 'Everybody will skip the pre-raid event so it should be kept short'... It was fun to experience an alternative future where video game's evolved differently.
Yoko-san, had you played a lot of MMOs before coming to this particular project?
YT: I bought the package version of the original Ultima Online when people started talking about it, but my connection was too weak so I only played it for around 30 minutes. I also played Dragon Quest X, but I played it so much that I didn't get much work done. Since my work on a Square Enix game was being hindered by playing a Square Enix game, I had to regrettably stop.
Nier: Automata's combat system mixes hack-and-slash with shoot-'em-up bullet hell elements. How did you translate that into the MMO gameplay of the raid?
YT: I entrusted the gameplay aspect entirely to the Final Fantasy 14 team. Thanks to their efforts, I think that the battles are packed with elements of Nier.
NY: Everyone who worked on the content design for things such as boss battles are all Nier fans, so they've replayed everything for this project. They know what can and cannot be done in Final Fantasy 14 better than anyone else, so they racked their brains as to how they can reimagine Nier as part of Final Fantasy 14. Please look forward to the surprises in store for the coming raids.
The Nier series has always been subversive. Have you brought that quality to Final Fantasy 14?
YT: Not all of the scenarios have been released yet, so that's a secret. OPM: The Copied Factory is out now but YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse will continue for some time.
How do you split up raid content to ensure people want to come back when you release the new parts?
YT: I responded to the question above that it's a secret because not all of the scenarios have been released yet, but the truth is that they actually haven't been finished yet. I have no idea what's in store, which is exciting!
NY: We will continue to bring surprises that will make people want to play when they see the videos, and make them think 'You're really doing that in an MMO RPG?!' so please look out for announcements.
How did you plan out the Nier loot players can earn from The Copied Factory? Was there anything you wanted to include that wasn't possible?
NY: We debated a lot about how the player can obtain 2B's equipment. Just giving it as a reward for completing a quest would be too simple, but a single-drop loot between 24 people would be too tight. As a compromise, we came up with a three-drop loot between 24 people. I complete it every week myself, but I still haven't got it... don't assume you'll get it if you roll anything other than 99!
Would you be tempted to work on a main Final Fantasy? What would a Final Fantasy by Yoko Taro look like?
YT: I hear that the Western audience prefers realistic games, so I would make it so realistic that the characters go to the bathroom. Of course, the bathroom scene would be a playable QTE.
Besides Final Fantasy 14, which is your favourite game in the Final Fantasy series?
YT: I like Final Fantasy XII. I think there are similarities with Final Fantasy 14, and the graphics are tasteful to my liking.
Raids are high-end content in an MMO. Newer players might find these large 24-person raids intimidating. What would you say to those who're nervous about joining in?
YT: As a beginner, I'm intimidated too!