We sat down with some of the minds behind the next Final Fantasy
Making a new Final Fantasy is a big deal. The series has been running for over three decades, and each numerical entry leaves its own mark. Final Fantasy XVI isn’t just a new RPG in a long-running series, but one that has to carry a legacy and forge its own path at the same time.
In some ways, then, the creative team that’s been assembled for Final Fantasy XVI makes a good amount of sense. As part of a media preview event for XVI, we got the chance to sit down for a roundtable interview with four key members of the team: producer Naoki Yoshida, main director Hiroshi Taki, combat director Ryota Suzuki, and localization director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox.
Producer Yoshida isn’t a stranger to Final Fantasy, as he and several other members of the team at this interview spent quite a while revitalizing the 14th entry in the series. It was, as Yoshida tells us, why they were approached to create Final Fantasy XVI: because of what they did on Final Fantasy XIV.
“So yes, that was very difficult,” Yoshida said (via translator). “That said, creating Final Fantasy XVI, I think I’ve felt more pressure on this project.”
Turning up the action
While many names on the roster may be familiar to those who have played a good chunk of Final Fantasy XIV, Suzuki hails from a different background. With a past at Capcom, developing more action-oriented games like Devil May Cry 5 and Dragon’s Dogma, his experience falls on the real-time end of the battle spectrum. But so does Final Fantasy XVI.
As we saw in our preview, Final Fantasy XVI is an action-RPG in the full sense of both words. There are role-playing game elements, including a fair bit of character customization and equipment for protagonist Clive. But it moves at an action pace, as Clive doesn’t wait for active-time battle meters or flip through command menus. XVI is very much an action game, too. Yoshida says it comes from a place of asking what those turn-based battles of Final Fantasy past might have looked like, if they could take place in real-time.
“For example, using a spell like Stop or Freeze, how would that play out in real-time?” Yoshida said. “And taking that, and taking something that we’ve only imagined in our heads while playing the turn-based system and turning that into real-time, is something we feel that we’ve brought to the series.”
Of course, the challenge there is finding a way to appease both parties. Action-heavy games aren’t just a bit faster, but can sometimes be a bit less forgiving. This is something the Final Fantasy XVI team seems to have anticipated, at the very least; there are items, “Timely Accessories,” that make fights more approachable for those who can’t manage the reaction speeds or simply want to tune the frenzy down a notch.
In essence, the team wants to create something that can have a high skill ceiling, where action game players could find a challenge and a system that requires technique, while still having a lower floor for those who are new to these kinds of games. Suzuki says the team wants people to enjoy the story and get to the end of the game, “without being frustrated,” while creating something that “feels natural” for both the action-inclined and the action-disinclined.
To enable this, some of the scope had to be narrowed in on Clive himself. The player will have party companions, though they will (aside from commands issued to Clive’s dog companion) be controlled by A.I. Yoshida explains that by narrowing the scope, it opens up more control over what Clive can do, while also not overwhelming the player with too many things to juggle.
“It comes down to not wanting to do things like half measures,” Yoshida said. “We didn’t want something that like, action game fans would look at and it’s like, ‘You’ve spread everything out, it’s not very fun as an action game.’ But we also didn’t want to have something that was so overwhelming to [Final Fantasy] fans that they’re like, ‘Oh it’s too busy, there’s too much to do, I can’t really get into this.’ And so, for that sense, focusing everything on Clive allows players to focus on that, and reduce that amount of stress, and not have to do things by half measures.”
There are still pieces of Final Fantasy embedded in XVI. (At one point, they joke that you do always need to have chocobos and moogles.) Some elements are even more prominent than they’ve been in other Final Fantasy titles. Crystals, powerful summons, and more are all a part of the world of Valisthea in Final Fantasy XVI. But even smaller drives call towards what the team feels are important pieces of Final Fantasy. Takai references the idea that there is a lost civilization, and that something happened to them long ago, affecting current events. Though we didn’t get to see it in this version, Clive will be able to explore the world and see remnants of this lost civilization in the full game.
“Again, because we want as many players to get into this as possible, not just original [Final Fantasy] series fans but new fans as well,” Takai said. “You have to have that mixture of new and old, and we think that we have enough new as well as enough old to get both parties happy.”
Final Fantasy XVI will explore some darker themes, too. In the preview alone, we see a fair bit of political intrigue and drama. Trailers show warriors fighting, blood splattering, and humans erupting into Eikons. Takai says the reason they went with that was because XVI’s developers, and the series fan base itself, have both grown older.
“We kind of all know that the world can be a dark place at times,” Takai said. “And that not just showing the happy things, but showing those dark things as well, kind of again creates this balance, and also enhances the fact that things can be good. By showing that things can be bad, when things are good, it has much more meaning, and we wanted to get that across as well.”
Yoshida adds that he’s a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, specifically the way it portrays good and evil that are reliant on one another.
“You have that kind of like, that back and forth with the Batman and the Joker is that, again, it’s not just pure good and evil,” Yoshida said. “It’s that because one exists, the other can’t exist; without the other, the other can’t exist. And we kind of wanted to bring that theme into Final Fantasy XVI as well. It’s not just good and evil. There’s this gray area, and that both of them feed off each other, and both of them need each other to exist, and so having the dark in there to accentuate, you know, importance of the light at the end and that there is hope, is what we wanted to get across.”
Near the end of the interview, I asked the developers what they felt they’d learned from making Final Fantasy XVI, as we’re nearing the June release date. For Suzuki, it was taking everything he’d learned at Capcom, and bringing it over to Square Enix.
“It’s something that Square Enix didn’t have,” Suzuki said. “And now they do have this. And now that Square Enix has it, how they’re going to be able to use it moving forward. Hopefully, they’ll be able to take that and build on it.”
“So for me is that, because we were creating the game on new technology for us, to be our first game on the PlayStation 5, we went into it thinking, ‘Okay, we don’t want to try to do too much. Because if we try to do too much, It’s gonna be too overwhelming for the team. This is our first time on it,’” Takai said. “In the end, it turned out we did way too much, and it was a lot of work for the team.”
For Yoshida, he talked again about the pressure of making a Final Fantasy game. He talks about taking his experience on XVI and bringing it back to Final Fantasy XIV, as the MMORPG continues to grow and expand. And, as Suzuki noted, he talks about high-level action games.
“That’s something that our company hadn’t been able to do before,” Yoshida said. “And that is not something that we want to just forget about now that it’s done, it’s something that we will build on moving forward.”
Again, Yoshida admits, you can’t please everyone. Those who want turn-based battles will ask why it’s action-based. Those who want an open world will ask why it’s not. And when it’s darker in theme, people will ask why it’s not brighter.
A quote that stuck with me, long after I’d left the preview event and gone home, was about Yoshida and the team’s approach to making a new Final Fantasy, and what they wanted to announce. With Final Fantasy XVI, they wanted to show that this series can be “much more than just what you’ve seen in the past 10 or 15 years.” But also that the series itself has potential beyond all that, for future makers of future Final Fantasy games.
“The other thing is just, even more so than showing the players that the series can have more potential, it’s showing future developers that you can do what you want,” Yoshida said. “You don’t have to stick to what’s come before, you can make something new. And showing, again, developers the potential moving forward that they can create whatever they want for a Final Fantasy game.”
This is a special version made for media to experience, and content may differ from the final version.
Travel for this event was accommodated by the publisher.