Late Monday, RPGamer had a brief chat via phone with the new producer and director of Final Fantasy XIV, Naoki Yoshida. Mr. Yoshida took over duties from Hiromichi Tanaka ten months ago and has been hard at work ever since. He set out to fundamentally change the game that launched so painfully broken that Square Enix President and CEO Yoichi Wada publicly stated that the Final Fantasy brand had been "greatly damaged" by it. On Friday, Yoshida laid out the company's plan for rebooting the game in version 2.0 and following up on that, RPGamer was able to get a few more details. Below is a summary of the conversation which took place between him and me via the very helpful translator, Koji Fox.
Mr. Yoshida started by thanking all of the faithful fans who have stuck with the game over the past year and promised that the company was fully behind his efforts to make Final Fantasy XIV what the players expect from a Final Fantasy title. He understands that trust has been lost and is seeking to make changes to regain that trust by focusing on player feedback. This isn't going to be an overnight change, but the developers are driven to make this game something players are happy with in the long run. While version 2.0 is when the game will reboot, changes will continue beyond that based on player feedback.
Looking back on what worked and what players liked about Final Fantasy XI is part of the process, but the team is not seeking to make Final Fantasy XI-2 here. XIV needs to be a game that operates alongside Final Fantasy XI by taking some key features and implementing some new concepts that were not optimal to do in XI. A few key additions coming at the end of this year will be player search and auction house item price histories, for example. These were important features that the team has been working hard to implement. The current framework of Final Fantasy XIV is not designed to easily make these transitions, so the developers are having to redo a lot of things completely.
One other major change that will be taking place is with the game's storyline. I expressed concern about not really knowing much about the current storyline or where it was going outside of the initial cutscenes, so Mr. Yoshida was able to clarify. The current main scenario is being interrupted by a year long seasonal-style event called the Seventh Umbral Era that will transition the game from its current state to version 2.0's new storyline. Currently, the initially planned scenario is only about 30% implemented, so when version 2.0 hits the development team will make completing the original storyline a focus.
The job system coming in Version 1.21.
Another major change in the pipeline is the addition of a job system to compliment the current class system. Yoshida states that jobs will not be replacing the classes, but will be built upon them when they are introduced in version 1.21, coming in early 2012. The example given was for unlocking the Paladin job quest. Players would first need to level the Gladiator and Marauder classes to level thirty and then complete a job quest. Once completed, Paladin would become available on top of the class system, almost like a subjob. Leveling up the Paladin would also increase the strength of the original job, Gladiator, and open a new job-specific quest every five levels or so. These jobs will grant unique skills and bonuses that can mix and match with the original armory class system, so a Paladin would gain abilities to help in playing a tank role.
The job system is not as flexible as the on-the-fly armory system, but will add another layer of depth for helping to define a clearer role for higher end party content. Unlike advanced jobs of Final Fantasy XI, these jobs are going to be easier to unlock as it will be made easier to level up classes to access them. There will be seven jobs released in version 1.21: Paladin, Warrior, Monk, Bard, White Mage, Black Mage, and Dragoon. These are just the start, as the dev team is planning to add new classes and jobs, though they will need to see how best to balance these. Will a Samurai be a class or job? Will it unlock a Ninja job or the other way around? Where could a Thief, Summoner, or Red Mage fit? All of these are questions the team still needs to answer.
For players interested in being able to solo, Mr. Yoshida stated that version 2.0 would be focused for solo and party play. They see casual players as important, but also want to balance group content. The world list matching system is one effort to make this better, allowing players to team up without having to worry about being on the same server. The devs want players to be able to freely choose how to experience the game, whether solo or with friends. Currently, there is not a lot of party content, so that will be one big focus in the push to version 2.0, but not to the exclusion those seeking solo content. The team is seeking to implement large scale community battles as well.
One interesting point to note is that Mr. Yoshida claimed that players would be able to solo the main scenario with the assistance of companions and story NPCs. He stated that in Final Fantasy XI, getting a party together to defeat the Shadow Lord was a very rewarding experience for a group, so he wants to have similar content in Final Fantasy XIV, too. He wants main quests to be completable and balanced so that players can finish them solo, but side quests will vary. Some side quests might require a party, especially for gathering powerful items.
Version 2.0 Concept Screenshot.
When asked about the concept screenshot shown in the material about version 2.0, Mr. Yoshida stated that the screenshot offers many hints as to what he wants to make available in version 2.0. It is 100% his desire to make the game as close to that vision as possible, but stated that it would not end there, as the team would continue to improve as they go. When asked about the Chocobo in the battle party, he laughed and said that yes, he would love to have players able to own a Chocobo that acts as more than just a method of transportation. Players should be able to lead their Chocobo around, and it should be able to assist them in combat.
Finally, we closed out discussing the new graphical engine coming in version 2.0. It was stated that the dev team is completely overhauling the graphical engine to make the game much more accessible to those on both low end hardware as well as high end computers and the PlayStation 3. Right now, they are happy with the way characters look on screen, but there are problems when a lot of people are on screen at one time. They are seeking to make that a customization option, so that those with higher end PCs can show all effects, but those on PlayStation 3 or lower end machines wouldn't be restricted.
RPGamer would like to thank Mr. Naoki Yoshida, the Square Enix staff, and all involved in this interview. Players have a month or so left of free playtime, so they should make the most of it. In the coming months, fees will be returning as some major changes are implemented. While the initial launch was clearly premature, it does appear that the game will be completely changed by the end of 2012 when it reboots. We look forward to seeing what is to come.
It all seems very interesting..