Screenshot via Square Enix

Final Fantasy 16 interview: The Rising Tide, PC porting, and why Leviathan was lost

Plus, what lessons they've learned from making the 16th Final Fantasy.

We’re closing in now on a year since the launch of Final Fantasy XVI, the most recent (non-remake trilogy) entry in the long-running RPG franchise. Its second DLC, The Rising Tide, is just around the corner, and a PC version is on the docket too.

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Final Fantasy XVI received a fairly warm response at launch, though its more action-oriented framework has certainly been the topic of fervent discussion since then. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it, and am admittedly in the target demographic for what’s coming next: a new DLC framed around Leviathan, my personal favorite Final Fantasy summon, with more story, quests, and more.

Final Fantasy 16 summon
Screenshot via Square Enix

At PAX East 2024, we got the chance to sit down with the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI content drop and its leads: DLC director Takeo Kujiraoka, producer Naoki Yoshida, and localization director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox. There were a few questions on my mind, ranging from their perspective on XVI thus far and what they still felt they could add to the RPG, to what the future might look like beyond the PC.

I also just wanted to know how big the sea-serpent fight would be. And the good news is, it sounds like it’s pretty big.

Reclaiming what’s lost

When it came to how the team feels now, almost a year removed from the initial launch of Final Fantasy XVI, feelings seem positive. The goal was to bring something new to the series, while also taking it back to some fantasy roots; Yoshida noted that recent Final Fantasy games had leaned a bit into the science-fiction side of things.

“There was a lot of pressure on us,” said Yoshida. “But with the launch, seeing the feedback, seeing the player response, seeing how people really connected with Clive’s story, and really kind of fell in love with Clive and these new characters, we were very relieved at that.”

Clive in the FF16 Leviathan DLC
Screenshot via Square Enix

Going into this, I was curious about how the decision got made to finally do DLC after all. Over time, the sentiment went from no plans, to the possibility, to what we have now. Even then, the door hasn’t been entirely shut. So I asked the team why sentiment shifted, and how Leviathan came about.

“We wanted to make the main game a perfect game,” Yoshida said, about the XVI team’s original plans. “That’s not to say, though, that we didn’t have an idea of what we would do in a DLC if the players reacted to the main game well.”

Indeed, there was a little nugget left in the story, through the mention of “Leviathan the Lost,” an Eikon that mysteriously did not appear as part of Clive’s adventure. As it happens, there was some talk of Leviathan, though extremely early on; Yoshida clarifies that while Leviathan was something the team thought about, it ultimately turned out that the legendary serpent would be the lost Eikon. It wasn’t finished content that was sliced out or anything.

“The plan was always to do those original Eikons and not have Leviathan in the main game,” Yoshida clarifies. “And then if we had the opportunity, we could add it into a DLC.”

Screenshot via Square Enix

So why Leviathan? Well, it helps that everyone knows Leviathan. It’s in a lot of early Final Fantasy games, and still makes prominent appearances in recent entries like Final Fantasy XV. As for what Leviathan brings to the table?

Clive’s got a (water) gun

As revealed during the panel at PAX East 2024, Clive will get a new Eikonic form with The Rising Tide, based around Leviathan. Interestingly enough, its signature trait is that it’s a ranged weapon, something new for Clive’s arsenal. You can see the hero of XVI shooting out various blasts and projectiles in the DLC trailer here:

Though it’s a slight paradigm shift for Clive, it was important for this to feel distinct from Clive’s other options. Kujiraoka cites combat director Ryota Suzuki’s vision, of each form having its own distinct feel.

“The concept for creating Eikonic abilities up to now has been, you don’t want overlap between the elements,” said Kujiraoka. “You want each kind of set to have its own unique feel. And so the concept for designing Leviathan was, again, we needed something that was going to feel completely different from the existing abilities.”

Clive and Torgal fighting Leviathan in the new FFXVI DLC
Screenshot via Square Enix

Through playing and testing though, the team at Square says it doesn’t feel awkward. The ranged attacks end up fitting in with Clive’s playstyle and other abilities, feeling fluid while still being pretty distinct.

“We found that since we’ve added it internally, a lot of the dev team members and the QA team members have now switched one of their three, their favorite three, to Leviathan because they love how this works so much,” said Kujiraoka.

Jill’s turn

Those extra tools will help some of the endgame content coming in The Rising Tide update. There’s set to be a new zone, new items, and much more as part of this DLC; the DLC director likens it to an expansion for an MMO, saying you can probably expect at least 10 hours of new game content, which is notably higher than the previous DLC Echoes of the Fallen.

And another important note for fans of a certain ice-wielding fencer: Jill is set to play a larger role in The Rising Tide. The new area is in the Northern Territories, where Jill hails from, and thus will incorporate a bit more of her character.

“The theme, one of the themes for both of the DLCs, was that it’s going to be this adventure with not just Clive, but that Jill and Joshua and Torgal, we’re all going to be together for these two final quest lines before the end,” said Kujiraoka. “So while Echoes of the Fallen kind of focused a little bit more on Joshua, he had a lot more of a forward role during, in The Rising Tide it’s going to be Jill that’s going to have more lines and more connection to this story in this one.”

Screenshot via Square Enix

Weaving all this into the existing story and lore was challenging, the DLC director tells me, but ultimately The Rising Tide should feel like it slots right in as another part of the main game. This includes some more difficult endgame content, too.

“Once he gets that final element [from Leviathan] there, then Clive is going to have all these new abilities,” said Kujiraoka. “We want to have a place for him to showcase those abilities as well.”

Ultimately, that likely lies in not just the quest content, but in the new roguelite mode that’s on the way too. It seems to add some really high-difficulty challenges, including one that Yoshida and Kujiraoka teased at the XVI panel at PAX East, leading to a secret encounter.

Come to me, my Ifrit

Of course, a new set of Eikonic abilities and a new Eikon obviously means a new Eikon fight, too. Though the DLC turnaround time was tight, between the launch of XVI and the imminent arrival of The Rising Tide on April 18, the team wanted the experience of fighting Leviathan to be “equal” to the other massive Eikonic battles. And they also wanted to turn another knob, while they were at it.

“The Eikon-versus-Eikon battles up until now well, they are again, those setpieces,” said Kujiraoka. “We didn’t make them over-challenging, because they’re parts of the story and we want people to be able to experience them and get through them, so they can continue the story.

“However, this one being the final Eikon battle before [the finale of the game] is that we wanted to make this challenging,” Kujiraoka continues. “We wanted to make it kind of have that worthwhile feel, and so we wanted to be focused really on the combat of this Eikon-versus-Eikon battle, even more so than the previous Eikon battles, so that players will have that sort of feeling of becoming Ifrit and using all the skills they’ve built up over all the other Eikon battles and using all of those here to defeat this final Eikon.”

Ifrit summoning in FFXVI, in a showdown with Leviathan
Screenshot via Square Enix

It’s especially interesting to hear that the Eikon fight will incorporate more of Ifrit’s moves. The team points to The Rising Tide as the “peak” of Ifrit-versus-Eikon fights, and considering how big and gorgeous the base game’s battles were, I’m now very curious to see what they’ve put together for Leviathan.

A future on a new platform

The Rising Tide isn’t the only XVI project in the works, though. Square Enix is also currently working on a PC port of Final Fantasy XVI, which Yoshida says is “going smoother than we thought it would,” from the team’s perspective. Currently, one project the team is working on is figuring out where its optimization and technical specs will land, taking the loading speed of the PlayStation 5 into account.

“It creates that seamless type of gameplay that we had as one of our main concepts,” said Yoshida. “We want to have no breaks in the game, we want everything to be seamless. And so, to replicate that is the thing that we’re working on right now. And so to replicate that on PC, you’re going to need a pretty high-spec PC. So right now, what we’re doing is we’re testing the game, and our current optimization, on a lot of different systems to see, again, what are going to be those minimum specs for playing the game in a way that is similar to the PS5 experience.”

Yoshida confirms this does mean a demo is on the way, so players can test their systems and see if they can handle the load. On top of that, Square Enix is also working on customization settings, the kind that “players have come to expect from a PC game,” and making sure those are included. Plus, creating a package that includes both base Final Fantasy XVI and its DLC.

Of course, with Final Fantasy XIV just recently hitting Xbox Series consoles, I had to broach the subject: could Final Fantasy XVI see another new platform after PC? As Yoshida characterizes it, the DLC and PC version is what’s in front of them right now.

“And once we get that done, that’s when we start thinking about ‘okay, can we expand this to more systems?’ and working on it, because again, I don’t want this to end with just the PC version. I want to continue to expand,” Yoshida said.

The takeaways

As the interview was winding down, I was curious about what lessons each of the leads felt they’d learned from the making of Final Fantasy XVI. It’s a back-pocket question I like to ask developers once they’re on the other side of launch day, and though the XVI team is still working on projects like the PC version, I was curious what parts of this Final Fantasy they felt would carry into their future projects.

For Yoshida, it was about the workflow and creating stories with current technology. “There’s so much detail and so many tiny things that you have to pay attention to now, you know, when creating an object, like how are you going to use that object? How are you going to create that object? How is it going to be used in these cutscenes,” said Yoshida. “And you kind of have to have planned everything out ahead of time, you can’t just do it as you’re going because production will stop if you don’t have a certain thing. And so learning what things you need at what point in time and learning to have those beforehand to make your whole process more efficient, is something you have to take into account.”

He goes on to point out how having detailed plans ahead of time, even for tiny little details, can speed things up, which helps with efficiency and cost reduction. It’s not just about the money, though. It helps with tying everything back into the story, a crucial part of games like Final Fantasy XVI.

“I think one thing that Square Enix uses as a selling point for a lot of their games is the story and that user experience of the story within the game,” said Yoshida. “And I think by being able to do this, not only do you lower those costs, but we’d better tie things into that story experience and make it more seamless, and that’s going to that’s going to help us moving forward.”

Kujiraoka notes how the team came together to produce The Rising Tide soon after Final Fantasy XVI‘s launch, as a sign of taking knowledge from making the game and being able to make more, faster. The Eikon-versus-Eikon fights are a great signpost of this.

“These kinds of battles take a lot of people a lot of time to create, and we got it down, we got it streamlined down into this process, where we’re able to put this together quickly and efficiently, because of that time that we had spent together, creating those previous ones for the base game,” said Kujiraoka. “And, you know, getting this process down where we can create it quickly, but also have something very exciting. Something that a lot of other projects would look at this and say, ‘No, we don’t want to do something that is way too much work, especially in this amount of time,’ we’re able to do that because of the work that we put in together.”

As for Koji Fox, the localization director, he highlights the English-first approach to Final Fantasy XVI and the surprising dynamic it created.

“This project kind of spoiled me, in the sense that we got to record English first,” said Koji Fox. “And Square Enix games never do that. It’s always, you do the Japanese first, and then the English and other languages have to kind of take that, do the ADR, match the motions, do everything afterwards.”

The localization lead goes on to point out this introduced some interestingly different obstacles, though. “I mean, there were more challenges because now you’re creating it, you’d have to work with ad-libs and you have to change things on the fly and make things kind of work, in a sense that, because the work isn’t already done, you’re the one creating it,” said Koji Fox. “But on the other hand, there’s a lot of freedom there. So it’s going to be difficult going back to a project where I have to go from the Japanese.”

How all of this plays into whatever these developers go on to produce, we’ll have to wait and see. It won’t be much longer for the next stage of Final Fantasy XVI, though. The Rising Tide DLC goes live on April 18, 2024.

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Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.