The Future of Final Fantasy XIV – An Interview with Yoshi-P

The Future of Final Fantasy XIV - An Interview with Yoshi-P

Square Enix has managed the impossible; taking a broken, disappointing MMO and turning it into the legitimate contender to World of Warcraft. That’s all thanks to the massive efforts Naoki Yoshida, affectionately known by his nick-name of “Yoshi-P,” who took an ailing, sinking ship of a game and righted it and its course. Now FFXIV is looking forward to its first big paid expansion—after numerous free content updates—and Yoshi-P was on hand to discuss his thoughts about the game and its new, upcoming addition, Heavensward.

Comics Gaming Magazine: When Final Fantasy XI was released, the response wasn’t as positive as anticipated. Final Fantasy XIV, however, was well received and breathed new hope into the evolution of the Final Fantasy title’s move into the realm of the MMO. What cues did you take from the experience Square-Enix had with XI to create such a positive response to XIV?

Naoki Yoshida: I first and foremost want to mention the background on how the concept of Final Fantasy XI came about. At the time, there was the very addictive MMO Everquest. There where addicts worldwide playing the game. Square Enix wanted to take that really popular addicting game and sort out how we could adapt it as a Final Fantasy game. That is where the concept got started.

During the release of Final Fantasy XI, it was considered the first generation of MMOs. Back then you were not able to do anything alone. Like, you can’t do any sort of solo play. You had to gather a party, you had to stand there to shout out and gather a group of people. That alone could take an hour. Then you had to walk over to whatever dungeon or quest with your party, and then you can’t come back for another four hours. That took a long time, but that also contributed to why it was so addicting. But now, people’s lives have become so busy, and there are just so many things to do that you can’t really allocate that chunk of time to play an online game. So when it came to Final Fantasy XIV we have taken that into consideration. Along with that, battling and questing is not the only thing within an MMORPG. We wanted to incorporate things like lifestyle sort of games. The gold saucer is one of them. We have the crafting disciplines within the game. So we wanted to have a lot of elements available, but do not take all the players time. Sort of like a Final Fantasy theme park as I’ve been putting it. That’s the kind of atmosphere we wanted to portray within Final Fantasy XIV.

CGM: The Astrologian class was introduced as part of the new expansion, which serves as a healer. How does it compare to the already existing healing classes?

NY: There are two healers as you are familiar, the White Mage and the Scholar. The new healer that we’re introducing, the Astrologian, is going to have two major differences compared to those two classes.

First and foremost this is going to be the first job that’s going to be within that healer role and they’re going to have this unique new system called the stance change. Where the White Mage is sort of like a pure healer type where they’re just focusing on healing the party, and the scholar has like a more protective stance where he sets up barriers in order to protect your allies, this third healer, Astrologian, can utilize that stance change. Like for example, when you’re in a full party with eight members and you have the two healers, the Astrologian can kind of determine and swap. It can become a supplementary secondary healer or can go in for main healing types, so you can determine which would best work for your party’s strategy.

Another very unique characteristic about the Astrologian is that she is seen carrying a deck of cards – divining cards is what we call it – and she will draw a card and she can make a decision whether to utilize it at that turn or wait for global cool down (wait for the next turn) to determine whether she wants to combine the powers of the next card she draws to either utilize it for her party or not. It requires a lot of quick thinking and if you effectively use the power of the cards correctly, she can become a very powerful healer role within the party.

CGM: Now you and your team have been very responsive to your fans, especially in terms of new classes to release. I understand that there has been much desire among them for the introduction of the Samurai class, but you chose to introduce the Dark Knight instead. How do you anticipate the fans will respond?

NY: With regard to the new jobs, we actually made the first announcement during our fan festivals last year and there was actually a good number of people who were excited to see that the Dark Knight was chosen in the end. There was very positive response, but of course there were people who wanted the Samurai class. But instead of them being disappointed that the samurai wasn’t chosen they were more like ‘so, when is Samurai coming?’

In terms of how fans reacted, it makes me think ‘so if we were to put in a Samurai, how is it going to play into the realm of Final Fantasy XIV? Would it be a tank? But that doesn’t seem to make sense because Samurai seems to be more of a DPS. Or if we were to go in the vein of a tank, wouldn’t it be a Shogun?’ those kind of thoughts start brewing in my head. Then we would look to the fan feedback again and see what the community is asking for; what they’re searching for. What their image of what a Samurai ought to be. And again, play catch a little bit and converse and see what the fan thinks and determine and discern what would work in the realm of XIV. So by having that communication and that thought process and being pretty transparent out there, then the player would understand when we say ‘ok so we’re taking this all into consideration. It does take a while to implement a new job so if you could please wait.’ And then fans will understand: ‘oh, ok. So they are giving it a lot of thought, so I am going to see what’s going to come out of it.’

For even more of Yoshi P’s thoughts, read the extended interview in the next issue of CGM.

What Happened To Square-Enix?

What Happened To Square-Enix?

Over the last month, there’s been a lot of news coming out from Square-Enix in the wake of the Tokyo Game Show. The news has mostly been about change, and the change is pretty surprising. This is Square-Enix, after all, formerly known as SquareSoft, or just plain ‘ol Square to its fans of yesteryear. From the NES to the PS2 era they were the undisputed kings of the JRPG, and became synonymous with engaging story and cutting edge production values. Now, however, they are known as the company that makes a lot of expensive mistakes, and this latest bout of announcements merely confirms that. How does a company go from being one of the premiere studios in the industry to a struggling publisher relying on its Western acquisitions to squeak by?

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Final Fantasy Versus XIII

Final Fantasy XV, for example, spent years in development hell, originally as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a PS3 exclusive headed by Squenix Wunderkind, Tetsuya Nomura. Nomura was originally a character designer, and responsible for iconic FF characters like Cloud and Sephiroth, but as his star ascended, Squenix used him everywhere, including putting him in charge of his own game franchise, the Kingdom Hearts series. If it sounds like a bad idea to put one man in charge of an FF game AND continue to develop sequels for his new series, you’d be right. However, it didn’t take you seven years to realize that. That’s how long it took Square, beginning production on the game in 2006, missing an entire console generation while working on it, getting in a second director to help out Nomura in 2012, and finally moving Nomura entirely OFF the project in 2013, then waiting another year to make that announcement, while migrating the console exclusive to a multiplatform next-gen title.

This, according to Square-Enix, will allow Nomura to fully concentrate on Kingdom Hearts III, yet another beloved Squenix franchise that enjoyed two games in the PS2 era, and completely missed the last generation of consoles. Surprisingly, after years of development at Square-Enix, one of the most recent announcements about the game’s progress confirms that the production staff have abandoned their in-house engine, and are moving to migrate the game over to the Unreal engine that is now the mainstay for many Western games. That, obviously, is going to add more time and production money to the release of the game.

Oh, and somewhere in there, Square-Enix catastrophically launched a terrible MMO in the form of the original Final Fantasy XIV, and then had to waste more time and resources bringing in staff to actually make the game good. It is good now. Very good, in fact, but it begs the question, why would Squenix waste all that time making a bad game in the first place, when they could have just made it good from the start?

This is the single biggest question surrounding the way Square-Enix’s internal studios operate. What kind of decisions are being made that allow things to go so wrong for so long before 11

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hour efforts are required to save these projects? Enormous amounts of money are burned by the Japanese studios with mistakes that literally go on for years before being fixed. That money is coming from games like Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham Asylum (or at least it did before Warner Brothers wised up and bought their franchise back), and those games get blamed when they don’t pull in enough money to support the production efforts of the internal Japanese studios. On top of all this, Square-Enix went from producing three separate, distinct FF games in the PS2 era to making Final Fantasy XIII in the PS3/60 era and, despite the less than stellar reception, milking that investment for two more FFXIII-based games that people didn’t want.

Part of the blame obviously goes to leadership. There’s a reason Yoichi Wada, former CEO of Square-Enix, stepped down last year, and then was moved to a less influential position of Chairman for Square-Enix Tokyo. But that was last year, and there’s still been a lot of fallout since then. The HD generation with the PS3 and Xbox 360 caught Squenix completely off guard. They’ve handled the transition very badly, and even now, a second generation into the HD era, they are struggling to make games in any reasonable kind of time frame. And the games they do make are not games their fans want. There are profound problems at Square-Enix. If they can’t solve them by the end of this generation, they may not be around for the next.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS4) Review

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS4) Review

A Realm Revisited

Final Fantasy XIV is one of my big surprises for 2013. It was pretty well documented that the first incarnation of the MMO was not just unbalanced, but downright broken in many respects. Rather than abandon the project, Square-Enix took it back to the drawing board, and they didn’t just save it, they made it a surprisingly playable MMO experience that somehow worked on a console. Now, a few months after release, the PS4 version is finally available, and once again, to my surprise, it’s better than ever.

Shinier Than Ever

Let’s talk about main event here, the shiny PS4 bells and whistles. The single biggest thing to note about the PS4 version of FFXIV is that it outperforms the PS3 version by a significant margin in every conceivable way. I said in my PS3 review that I was amazed this game ran on the PS3 at all, but on the PS4, it’s found its true console home. Where the PS3 sported muddy, blurry textures, the PS4 version is sharp and crisp. Where the PS3 version frequently stuttered into a slideshow during hectic fights, or crowded areas, the PS4 manages to operate at 30 frames per second even under heavy loads and has an unlocked frame-rate that approaches 60 in less crowded areas, such as player housing and inns. Perhaps most important of all, the PS3 version simply could NOT handle highly populated areas (such as city hubs and big Boss Events), and had to simply stop rendering all the players on screen simply to keep from keeling over and dying. The PS4 version renders all players—and even their insane special attack effects—without ever needing to compromise on presentation. This is like the PC version running on high performance settings at the very least, and it finally gives FFXIV the room it needed to breathe and show off what it could really do. Simply put, there is no better looking MMO currently available on consoles; this is as good as it gets at the time of this writing. Unfortunately, there are no improvements to the audio, which is identical to the PS3 version, but since that audio experience was already working just fine; there was no need to revisit this area of the game.

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Additions Up The Wazoo

It should be noted that one of the most pleasant surprises are the PS4 specific additions. Because of the lack of a mouse, PS3 players occasionally struggled with the interface for the game. This has been soundly remedied on the PS4 with both the use of the touch pad (a quick touch instantly makes a mouse pointer appear to navigate anywhere on screen) and, more importantly, the integration of mouse/keyboard functionality. Yes, that’s right, for people who prefer a traditional MMO set-up of mouse with hot keys on a keyboard, the PC control functionality has been transplanted wholesale to the PS4 version. Other frills like the screen shot/video capture/streaming features are all there, and party chat for the PS4 makes voice communication between players a snap without the need to drag out a laptop to take advantage of TeamSpeak and other online communication services. There’s also remote play to the Vita, and as expected, it’s perfectly serviceable. It’s not recommended that any complex raids or dungeons are tackled while using the feature, but running simple single player quests or crafting are safe enough. All of these PS4-specific additions improve a game that was already surprisingly playable on a console and make it an even friendlier, easier experience.

And of course, there’s the tons of new content. Player and guild housing now exists in the game, although it’s expensive. New side-quests and main story quests have been added, giving all the level 50 endgame players a bit more to do other than just striving for their ultimate weapon. Player versus Player combat has also been added to the mix with a special arena for players to duke it out, and big, complicated endgame dungeons have been added that require up to 24 people to work together to survive. Crafters have gotten new things to make, and there’s now even the ability to “glamour” your gear so that those valuable stats for an end level helmet can now be transferred to a favourite hat. This nicely avoids the monotony of seeing all the high-level players look the same because they’re all wearing and using the same gear. Now a female black mage can run around in a bikini if she wants to, and some have chosen to do exactly that. If there’s real weakness to this game, it’s that some of the tutorials—in particular actual communication with other players—are still a little underdeveloped. It’s a shame that such fundamental pieces of information are difficult to learn, but on the other hand, a little internet research or asking questions of fellow players can remedy this problem, though that’s hardly the ideal solution.

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At the end of it all, Final Fantasy XIV on the PS4 is an easy game to recommend. Some will pass on it on principle simply because of the monthly subscription. But for FF fans feeling burned on FFXIII, or simply curious players that want to know what makes MMOs so special, FFXIV is the best traditional MMO available on a console today. Yes, PS4 players have the choice of DC Universe Online and in the future EverQuest and even The Elder Scrolls are coming, but it’s hard to imagine that any of those games could be so comprehensively console friendly—and content rich—as FFXIV is for the PS4 player right now. If you’re looking to jump into an MMO on the PS4, this is easily the one to start with.

Review In Progress: Final Fantasy XIV

Review In Progress:  Final Fantasy XIV

MMO games—or Massively Multiplayer Online games for the uninitiated—aren’t like other games. New content, balancing and “nerf” passes, and even the quality of the community all have an impact on the value proposition of a game, and this constant evolution means that the game you played at launch is probably not the game you will be playing a year later.

In the case of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, this is even more dramatic, which is why this review in progress is being presented in the meantime. I’ve had some hands on time in the beta, in addition to getting pointless early access during the FUBARed launch. I’m glad though, to have a chance to talk a bit about the game now, rather than committing to writing a finished review back at launch, which would have done the game a terrible disservice.

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For people who have been following, it’s pretty well documented at this point that FFXIV that is in stores now isn’t even the same game that originally launched in 2010. The first version was so badly designed the negative critical reception became an unstoppable tsunami, and the old team was removed. Square-Enix instituted a new team, headed by Naoki Yoshida (or “YoshiP” as he goes by on the Internet) who had the unenviable task of trying to rescue a game that was already deemed toxic by the MMO community and had disappointed FFXI fans leaving in droves. Fast forward to three years later, and we have a game far more playable than it has any right to be considering its troubled past. But that doesn’t mean that it’s without problems.

Because this is a review in progress, I’ll only touch on a few things here and there, so let’s get the service and technical stuff out of the way. The game had a typically catastrophic launch as most MMOs do. Server congestion was so bad that Squenix had to make new servers and disable not just character creation on existing servers, but halt sales of the digital version of the game to control the log-in chaos their infrastructure simply couldn’t handle. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, as Squenix went into panic mode and scaled up their infrastructure, so now players often don’t even have to wait in a queue to log in.

On the technical side, the platform for this review is the PS3, which, in Glorious PC Gaming Master Race terms, means the game is running on the equivalent of medium settings. So, 1080p? Nope, 720. Rock solid 60 frames per second? Nope, it’s 30, but that dips, especially in crowded cities or hectic fights with many players. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good looking game. The frame rate never drops to unplayable levels, and the art direction is still gorgeous, even with somewhat muddier textures, but it’s obvious that the PS3 is struggling with this game, and it needs either a PC or the upcoming PS4 to give it the breathing room it needs.

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On the other hand, playing with a PS3 controller is surprisingly easy, comfortable, and, in most instances, preferable. Controlling characters feels both responsive and natural using a traditional left stick-move/right stick-camera configuration. You can hook up a mouse and keyboard to your PS3 to play that way if you prefer, and while I would recommend the keyboard simply for the sake of communication, the mouse actually feels largely unnecessary. There are still a few elements of the user interface that show some clunky transitioning from a mouse to controller set-up. Navigating different functions, like hopping from a map to a chat window, for example, can get tedious as players hit the “Select” button on the PS3 repeatedly to cycle through the many, many, MANY different functions. Communication is still done via the traditional chat box of MMOs and here players using only a DualShock 3 will be at a distinct disadvantage; you try navigating to the virtual keyboard in the middle of an important raid dungeon to tell the Thaumaturge on the team that she needs to be putting smaller enemies to sleep, and see how quickly and efficiently that goes. Similarly, targeting enemies relies on PS3 users to hit the “X” button and hope for the best, something that happens quite reliably in most situations. It tends to fall apart in missions with many NPCs—even allies—around as the “target AI” fails to correctly guess which enemy you meant to target, and you’ll be forced to cycle through targets manually using the D-Pad.

Those quibbles aside, the controls actually work well most of the time, something that DC Universe Online had already proven when it released on the PS3 back in 2011. There may be times when controller-only players curse the lack of a mouse, but that doesn’t happen nearly as often as you’d expect.

However, the biggest surprise when you actually sit down and start playing the game is just how much fun it is even if you’re completely new to MMOs. The Squenix team has—rightly—assumed that for a lot of people, especially console players who are just FF fans, this may be their first dip of the toe into the MMO pool. I’m not one of those people, having first cut my teeth on Star Wars Galaxies back in the day, but I can appreciate how helpful the game is with introducing basic MMO concepts like the DPS, tank, healer holy trinity as players work through optional “training dungeons,” that educate them on fundamental tactics. To balance that careful tutorial with combat is an unfortunate complete disregard for educating new players on the communication interface. It’s a baffling omission as the game takes the time to introduce people to “emotes,” but then fails to mention pre-programmed, “canned” responses players can input to the chat windows, or even how to configure chat channels. So on the one hand, I give a big thumbs up to FFXIV for gently guiding newbies through combat, but they plunge the same newbies into a trial by fire—especially console users—when it comes to trying to figure out how to communicate with fellow players. Newbies shouldn’t be sent scrambling to Google in the middle of the game when someone sends them a “/tell” (That’s a private communication sent to one player alone, kids) and they realize they have no idea how to respond, but that’s the way it is right now.

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As far as my own progress, I’ve gone through the early game and am nearing the end of my time in the mid-game as high-end content looms on the horizon. I have to say at this point that I’m impressed with the amount of content the new team has given to keep players busy. For players that hate grinding, it’s not something you HAVE to do as there are always plenty of quests available to prevent that syndrome. You know the one I’m talking about; going off to one particular area where monsters are easy/fast to kill and staying there to kill the same thing repeatedly until you level up enough to get access to new content. Some will WANT to grind because abusing a system known as FATEs (Full Active Time Events) yields enormous XP gains in a very short amount of time, but that’s a player choice, not a method of last resort.

For the most part however, I’m enjoying my time in Eorzea, the fictional land within FF XIV. In many ways, I’d say that this is a game worth buying. What I’m not sure about yet is whether this is a game you’ll want to still be playing in three months. But I can certainly say that early phase of the experience is one that most RPG fans will enjoy. There’s still much to discuss, the classes, the crafting system, the intricacies of its traditional, the shared world between PC and PS3 users, and the MMO combat roots, but that’s all going to be in the full review. For now, this review-in-progress can be summed as “So far, so good, surprisingly.”