Naoki Yoshida has made quite the name for himself within Square Enix and the wider video gaming community following the monumental turnout that he's overseen with Final Fantasy XIV. And with the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood back in June, that reputation has only grown, as the game's second expansion helped to drive record subscriber numbers for the MMORPG.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Yoshida about numerous things, from his recent successes with Final Fantasy XIV, through to process and upcoming content. We also spoke about other projects within his Business Division, such as Final Fantasy XI Mobile and there was also an opportunity to look to the future. Hopefully you guys enjoy - be sure to also check out the video form of the interview below:
Gaming Union: Stormblood launched back in June as the game’s second major expansion and Patch 4.1 came out on the 10th of October, with 4.11 soon after. How do you feel the response has been to the latest round of updates?
Naoki Yoshida: First and foremost, it’s not just about the development team, but it’s also operations, PR and marketing. We’ve updated the record of the subscriber numbers, it’s now the biggest since the launch of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and this is something we didn’t really expect. So, it’s not just that we’re happy about this result, but also that it was quite a big surprise.
It’s also not been just a success in the business side of things. We received a metacritic score of more than 90 percent, something which is quite rare for an MMORPG. I’m therefore really proud of the actual content we offered with Stormblood, the new expansion.
We would like to keep up this momentum going forward, which is why we’re coming up with new ideas and also planning for the next expansion - to make sure we offer that next big thing.
Gaming Union: Do you feel as though things are getting easier with each update and expansion, or is it a case that because you’re always adding new things, you’re always encountering new challenges, like the recent issues relating to housing?
Naoki Yoshida: For sure, the development team has started to pick up the pace and also the pattern and they’re now doing things in more efficient ways.
That being said, if you’re just creating the same thing, then this will make the players who play the game and also those who create the content, quite bored. That’s why I like to give them new challenges and new objectives.
Also, the development team constantly comes up with new ideas because they want to create something more exciting and more surprising to the players. However, sometimes they’re so enthusiastic they try to do too much and it’s my job to try and control that excitement, to calm things down. Ultimately, the team is really passionate about making new content and exploring new things, but sometimes they have limited time frames to work with and cannot do it. But yea, of course we see lots of challenges here and there, but we still continue doing it of course.
Gaming Union: You mentioned earlier this year that you don’t think you’ll ever get to the point where you want to stop adding jobs… Now, obviously there’s a huge archive of jobs that have been created over the years for you to reference should you wish, but are there any plans to create a unique job that’s never appeared in the Final Fantasy franchise before?
Naoki Yoshida: So, as you said, the Final Fantasy series has such a long history, so there are lots of archived jobs there. So, rather than trying to make an original, new job for Final Fantasy XIV, we just want to take a look at the archived ones first.
When we’re working on designing new jobs, the basic element is that they have to have a unique system and there has to be something about them that can create unique gaming experiences. So, when we come up with new ideas, if do we feel there’s not any comparison with any of the existing jobs that have appeared in Final Fantasy before, then we may implement as an original, new job in Final Fantasy XIV. However, if the idea has a resemblance to one of the archived jobs then we may just use that, as the name of the job would be something that fans are familiar with, which would be beneficial when thinking about Final Fantasy as a whole.
Gaming Union: Something I’ve always been curious about is the gameplay balancing within an MMOPRG, especially with Final Fantasy XIV having such difficult and varied battles and raids like the Unending Coil of Bahamut. How many people actually get involved with making sure the encounters you add are challenging, but not to the point where they’re too punishing? And how long does it take to get the point where you feel you’ve got the difficulty spot on?
Naoki Yoshida: Basically, Final Fantasy XIV is balanced mathematically. The formula for the battles is quite simple as we can actually set the maximum DPS and then add the percentage of leeway we want. For example, if we set a high threshold, we know that going beyond that would make the battle impossible to beat. Based on the simple formula, it’s easy for us to make content in this way.
The people then involved with the balancing are the battle and planning teams and their player skill is really, really high. The debug is done by another team, but the balancing and adjusting is done by the battle and planning teams. They play the content, phase by phase and they test it to see if it’s physically possible to clear it.
It’s why only those who have high player skill can be part of the development team, especially when it comes to monsters and battles in Final Fantasy XIV.
Actually, on this subject, we’re trying to implement another version of Ultimate content with Patch 4.3 and development has already been started.
Gaming Union: Final Fantasy XI also sits within your Business Division and despite the main scenario finishing a few years ago, we’ve since seen the release of Grandmasters and there’s a mobile version of the game in development with Nexon. Are there any other plans to expand the world of Vana’Diel further and are you able to give an update on the Mobile version? Also, are there any plans to expand the world of Final Fantasy XIV in the same way?
Naoki Yoshida: To update you on Final Fantasy XI Mobile, because we’re in the same Business Division I know exactly where we are. At the moment we’re fine tuning the battle system, and when the time is right we will be able to make another big announcement, an official one.
As for Final Fantasy XIV, we don’t really have that type of content available on mobile because we would like to focus on the main application.
Gaming Union: Do you see a time where Final Fantasy XI will stop, and there would be room for another Final Fantasy MMORPG alongside Final Fantasy XIV?
Naoki Yoshida: My personal point of view is that having multiple MMO within one company is a bit unnatural. But, of course, as long as there are players out there loving and playing Final Fantasy XI, then we will continue this service.
Even if, for example, Final Fantasy XX is an MMORPG, it wouldn’t really influence any decisions around Final Fantasy XI or other MMOs that Square Enix has. But in itself, it would probably be more influenced by Final Fantasy XIV, than by Final Fantasy XI.
If we wanted to create Final Fantasy XX as an MMORPG, it might not be influenced by that much, because it would be a complete project, but Final Fantasy XIV would be closer to Final Fantasy XX than Final Fantasy XI, so maybe we would see more comparisons.
Gaming Union: Which is what happened with Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV, there were similarities between the games to help with the transition.
Naoki Yoshida: Yes, but I must say that as long as Final Fantasy XIV keeps expanding, there is not any point in making a new MMORPG. It’s more beneficial to keep expanding Final Fantasy XIV.
It was the same for World of Warcraft. They tried to make Project Titan as a new MMORPG, but they cancelled it. It shows that it’s quite irregular to have multiple MMO games in one company.
Gaming Union: I know that back in June you spoke to Polygon and told them you don’t really have the urge to personally move onto a new game yet… But we recently ran a survey within our community that over 2,000 Final Fantasy fans respond to. One of the questions we asked related to the future of the franchise and who they would like to direct the next main numbered title. There were a lot of votes for Tabata, Nomura and Ito, but people also voted for YoshiP - they’re curious to see what direction you’d take the franchise in. Is this something you’ve thought about, and would you be interested in directing an offline numbered title?
Naoki Yoshida: I don’t really have some big vision or something that I want to realise in a game.
Of course, I have some ideas already for my next project and if I can make it in the future, then that would be great. But, it’s not like I really need to do it. It’s not a situation where if the company doesn’t let me, then I’d quit. (laughs). So, if you ask me, am I interested in directing another Final Fantasy? Then maybe my appetite isn’t that big.
If the company, or fans, ask me to move onto another project then of course I would be very happy to do that and I would put 100 percent into it. For example, if the company also asked me to make a Dragon Quest game, then of course I would do it.
However, the fact that there were people who voted for Yoshida in the survey makes me very, very happy.
It’s an idyllic situation, but if the next Final Fantasy is going to be created, then because Yoshida is a fan of high fantasy, I hope the concept is more towards high fantasy.
Gaming Union: Would you like to see a Final Fantasy XIV antagonist appear in Dissidia, to fight against Y’shtola? And if so, which antagonist do you think would be best suited… as there are quite a few!
Naoki Yoshida: I’d choose Zenos yae Galvus and Nael Van Darnus. Adding these two characters would be interesting because they are not overlapping concept-wise and personality-wise with the other antagonists already in Dissidia.
If I were to add another character for Cosmos’ side, then Alphinaud Leveilleur would be my favourite, because Alphinaud is like my brother and I’d love to see him in Dissidia.