Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers' Director on the Viera and Hrothgar Split, Yoko Taro, and the Trust System

USG talks to Naoki Yoshida about the final set of announcements surrounding the Shadowbringers expansion.

Correction: We previously identified one of the new areas as Lakeland when it was actually Crystarium. We regret the error.

For a game based around the concept of "the Warrior of Light", Final Fantasy 14 is taking a unique turn with the upcoming Shadowbringers expansion. With Final Fantasy 14 Fan Fest 2019's world tour finally coming to an end in its home territory of Tokyo, Japan, producer Naoki Yoshida and his team had a few remaining secrets about the expansion to share, including additional races and jobs for budding and seasoned adventurer alike. Among the other announcements were extended cinematic trailers to speculate upon, new cities to occupy, and new regions to explore.

USG had the opportunity to sit down with Naoki Yoshida at the Square Enix HQ in downtown Tokyo and pick the brain of the man who led the team responsible for rescuing and expanding upon the vast world of FF14. We heard what he had to say about Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers, as well as talking about how the fans might react to female-only Viera and the newly announced male-only Hrothgar races.

Crystarium, one of the new areas players will explore in Shadowbringers. | Square Enix

USG: With Shadowbringers releasing in only a few months, how would you introduce Shadowbringers to old and new players alike to draw them in?

Naoki Yoshida: FF14 isn't a conventional MMO where you have to spend a lot of time on it, but more like a TV series, where you can enjoy a more cohesive story from beginning to end. With the release of [A Realm Reborn] six years ago, fans have always been hyped with each new content release. With the Fan Fest event, I hope new players can see the strong sense of community with the game.

With the core players, we want them to see how things have evolved, as well as show our support for all people of different values and beliefs, building on the sense of community and how welcoming the game is.

USG: So with the name Shadowbringers, was there a particular tone you wanted to set for player expectations? How did it come about?

NY: What we wanted to do with this new expansion was try to flip the mindset of people. With the original player characters being called the Warriors of Light, it's like the light equated to justice and that darkness was something vile; we wanted to change that stereotype. As the world in the new expansion is on the brink of destruction due to an overflowing of light, we wanted players to move away from being those Warriors of Light to bring balance to this new world with darkness. This is the backbone structure of the new story, so we wanted the title to reflect this. Unfortunately we couldn't go with Darkbringers as this name was already taken, so we had to come up with something else! (laughs).

USG: The new cinematic trailer has a much heavier tone than past releases. Hinting at breaking cycles and starting anew. Is this a theme that you've been carrying through development, and has it affected how you've approached design?

NY: First, I'd like to touch on the Visual Works cinematic. I came up with and designed the initial storyboards. In this one, I wanted to affirm the main storyline from the [Stormblood] series and that we're now entering the final stage of that story. With the first part of the trailer, you can see flashbacks of what the Warrior of Light has done so far. What we want to do with this last chapter of the current FF14 story is uncover the core of the mystery of this world. The cinematic trailer kind of represents that determination of the player characters as Warriors of Light, not only just carrying a heavier tone in the main story itself. This key idea of volition and determination has also spread to the developer team in the overall design of Shadowbringers as well.

USG: With this being the third expansion, have there been any particular challenges that have come up in its creation?

NY: It may be the third number in expansions, but the number itself doesn't really matter that much. With the release of Heavensward, we catered to what the players wanted to see in new content, such as new races, jobs, and quests. For Stormblood and Shadowbringers after the first expansion, we wanted to bring surprising and exciting elements to players so we could sort of catch them off guard. That's a universal theme for Shadowbringers, making sure that players can be surprised.

USG: Were there any parts or features that didn't quite work with the expansion or didn't quite make the cut?

NY: As we are making the game with a plan every two years and following the schedule very thoroughly, there's not much that really falls off. We've always maintained what features and aspects we wanted to put in. So no, I can't really think what's missing.

USG: So moving on to the Gunbreaker job that was recently introduced, while the gunblade might be a familiar weapon to FF fans, where did the idea for this new tank class come from?

NY: It's a pretty straightforward answer. The gunblade was an iconic weapon from FF8 and the community had always wanted to see the weapon type in the game. We wanted to encourage more players to play this type of job-class, so it made sense to make it a tank role. What makes this job unique isn't that it's just a slashing type of attack, then shooting separately, but a combination of both. And with the inclusion of magical ammo types, players will be able to use defense magic to support others. We'd like to encourage players to try out the role to see what it entails!

USG: As well as new jobs to build into, the Viera race was announced. With the male-only Hrothgar announced at the recent Fan Fest as a counter to the female-only Viera, how has the early reception been and what can you expect from these new introductions?

NY: With the announcement made only two days ago, we're still going through all of the feedback from players. And the community team is analysing all the feedback so we can see what we're given, so we can't really give a comment on it right now. Before we made the decision to announce the Hrothgar, we understood that some people might have some opinions on the lack of counterparts for both races.

When we say 'feedback', that's just one word, but what we want is to hear all of the differing opinions-if they're upset about the lack of male Viera, or disappointed about that there's no female Hrothgar. First, we need to investigate each sort of concern, as well as the amount and 'temperature' of player concerns. If we don't analyse it, we won't be able to come up with the right answer.

Players already have strong feelings about the female-only Viera and male-only Hrothgar. | Square Enix

Considering the development and resource cost manpower-wise, as well as the patch update before the new expansion, we only had enough for one race. The players have wanted Viera for a long while now and the community was quite enthusiastic about it. If we didn't add the Viera at this point, the players would have been quite disappointed, so now was the best time to do it.

With FF12, there are only female Viera appearing in the game. Due to that, we have no design references for the male versions. If we did create a male design for the Viera, he would be quite elegant, handsome, and slim. He would look more like the Elezen race, but with bunny ears.

What we were missing from the lineup of playable races was someone who looked more powerful and laser-focused on battle, while looking quite fierce. Implementing that kind of race, the dev team could bring more kinds of enrichment to this type of fantasy game. To fulfill player feedback as well as the dev team, we put the two races together.

USG: So more in line with creating more varied and unique profiles for the range of player character races?

NY: Yes, that's exactly right.

USG: When designing the Hrothgar, were there any other races considered as an option at all?

NY: The same could be said when we first came up with the Au'ra. It's not that we wanted to stick with bringing the legacy races to FF14, because it could be the last chance for us to bring a new race to the game. When we think about that, we wanted to bring a quite cool and powerful race to players, to perhaps encourage more roleplay and give them more freedom to express themselves. If we create a new race from scratch, an original race has more freedom for the dev team to actually work on as well as the players.

Nier: Automata director Yoko Taro is lending his expertise to a Nier-themed Alliance Raid. | Square Enix

USG: Not too long ago, it was announced that there would be a collaboration with Yoko Taro, the creator of Nier Automata for Shadowbringers high-end raid content. How did that come about?

NY: When we released the Return to Ivalice content we did two years ago, we brought on guest creators Yasumi Matsuno and Keita Amemiya for it. By bringing aboard guest creators, they came up with quite cool and new ideas that our dev team maybe couldn't come up with, or we avoided because through experience maybe something was too hard to actualize. It was quite a good concept to bring in external creators, because it actually contributed to the game's evolution and growth. Return to Ivalice came from FF Tactics, so we made it intentionally an homage to past games. We kind of left the interpretation to the players. It felt like a good match.

With new crossover content, we want to make sure that many players are interested in the content and we want to bring in a new type of audience to the game. And as I mentioned earlier, we want to deliver the message that FF14 is a game that keeps challenging players. Now that we're collaborating with Yoko Taro, who as you know is quite a character, we are really looking forward to how he breaks the rules of FF14.

USG: Leading from that, how is the Nier content being integrated into the world of FF14? Is it in it's own separate world, or is it something that is being made to fit into it?

NY: While yes the world of Nier is very different from the content of FF14, the collaboration content will be quite synched up within FF14. Unfortunately that's all we can share right now, but we really do hope that it delivers quite a lot of surprise!

USG: With the addition of the Blue Mage and its own standalone content, what has been the drive behind adding this kind of solo content?

NY: Even though FF14 is an MMORPG and it's about playing cooperatively together in a party, it's also good to have content that players can play by themselves. We wanted to add more variety than just the party content.

The Trust system lets you play alone, with characters for FF14 lore. | Square Enix

USG: With the addition of the Trust system, how exactly do we work alongside the prominent main characters? Can you tell us a little more of what to expect with this feature?

NY: So what the Trust system entails is that during the main story missions there will be some dungeons in the expansion where you will be able to pick some NPCs to bring along with you to join in. That's the basic explanation for this feature.

As players progress through the main scenario quests, there will be some dungeons that you have to get through in order to progress the storyline. Depending on the particular dungeon, sometimes there will be five NPCs, sometimes six, which depends on where you are in the story also. For example, if you play Black Mage, maybe you'll need a tank. You can choose Thancred for that role. Also, maybe you need a healer, so can choose Urianger, but you'd also need another DPS, so you'd assign Minfilia. So that's how we want the system to work. When you're looking to party up in a dungeon, there will be a new UI element that you can choose NPC party members as well as the standard Duty Finder.

USG: There are moments where people are waiting to start a dungeon and perhaps there aren't enough tanks or healers around. Has this system been made in response to those times you can't fill out an entire party?

NY: Yes, that's right. On top of that, however, perhaps once you've completed the main scenario content, you want to switch to a different class and run through some dungeons to level up. You can use the Trust system to aid in working on that new class, without having to wait.

Explore another reality in Shadowbringers. | Square Enix

USG: Are there any particular standout moments or surprises that you are looking forward for players to experience?

NY: First and foremost, because it's part of the FF series, we want players to enjoy the story experience the most, including the Trust system. We would like players to immerse into the world of FF14 because of its strong roleplaying elements.

USG: And lastly, with Fan Fest 2019 just concluding, what are your thoughts on the turnout and support of the fans at this year's event? And what are your hopes for the future of the franchise?

NY: While naturally we want the players to play as long as possible, we want them to really enjoy the game. With the Tokyo event concluding last night and the world tour in Las Vegas and Paris, at each event we felt that the community has grown and gotten stronger. We are proud of how active and supportive the community has become.

At each event, we have the floor and stage activities. We don't need to explain to the fans what to do. They're coming up with their own ideas and strategies, as well as lots of interaction from each other. Some people bring business cards with their own avatars on them, creating amazing screenshot art. Some even bring their own original designed goods and come up with incredible cosplays. Not only that, but people are meeting up in-game, falling in love, and building a life together: getting married not only in-game, but in real life too. With FF14 in the center, all of these kinds of things are happening around it. As a developer it's a wonderful thing to witness and we feel immense gratitude to see people enjoy the game and build these kinds of experiences as well.

Disclaimer: Square Enix did cover hotel accomodations for our freelancer for this interview.

Tagged with Feature, MMOs, PC, PlayStation 4, Square Enix.

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