In the industry, the development history of Final Fantasy XIV has achieved an almost mythical status. After a difficult start, the Final Fantasy franchise’s second massively multiplayer online RPG had to be saved. Producer and director Naoki Yoshida, himself an avid MMO gamer, was the one charged with this Herculean endeavor, a process that led him and his team to rebuild the game from the ground up and use it under a fitting new name, Final Fantasy XIV, relaunched: A Realm Reborn.
Endwalker’s brand new title screen, a sight that 19th will be welcomedNS from November.
As a 1.0 gamer myself, I vividly remember Yoshida-san’s first introduction to the community. Aware of the embarrassment of the situation, the newly appointed producer decided to address the players directly. He introduced himself and his preliminary plans in what he called a “Letter from the Producer” – a written report to the community that set the tone for two-way communication that continues to this day, with players initially in a handful judged based on direct feedback from small, targeted surveys that rated expectations and desires for the game they were playing despite the turmoil.
It wasn’t until months later that the idea of A Realm Reborn was officially presented. Final Fantasy XIV would be “shot down” to be reborn – figuratively as well as literally. In 2012, after a cinematic high point and months of increasingly gloomy in-game updates, the servers were shut down. A few months later, A Realm Reborn introduced a brand new world to explore.
The final days of Final Fantasy XIV before the shutdown and the possible rebirth of 2.0. The players had no idea what horrors slept in Dalamud, the ominous red moon …
Now, eight years after the release of A Realm Reborn, and on the eve of its fourth and largest expansion to date, Final Fantasy XIV has more than 24 million players and has become the most profitable title in the Final Fantasy franchise, an accomplishment mostly enjoyed by the hardworking Work by Naoki Yoshida and his team.
As part of Square Enix’s recent media tour, I was able to play a preview version of the upcoming Endwalker expansion. This new giant of an update is full of content and will increase the character level cap to 90 and introduce two brand new playable jobs, a male variant of the fan-favorite Viera race and a plethora of raids, dungeons and other new MMO content. Tag teaming with interviewer Jade King from TheGamer allowed me to hear Naoki Yoshida’s thoughts on the current state of the game, Endwalker’s development, and his own journey through to this new release.
Now with the additional title Director, Yoshida still regularly moderates his Letters of the Producer, which today are presented in live streams in continuation of this tradition, which has now been decades old. The latest edition, the 66NS to be precise, introduced some of the exciting gameplay features that will be introduced in the upcoming Endwalker expansion that will delight players around the world.
The unique relationship that Yoshida has cultivated since beginning his engagement with the game’s community has become an important part of what makes Final Fantasy XIV so special to its players. “From our point of view in the XIV team, we don’t just see the players as players,” he continues, “we really see them as our friends and as part of our family, we are together in this game.”
Perhaps most importantly, Endwalker will complete one chapter of an arc that dates back to 2010 before the game is relaunched. Hydaelyn and Zodiark, two deities of the empire who are forever in conflict, are supposed to resolve their conflict at a climax of the ancient saga. But we have to wait for the 23rdapprox November to find out more …
Left – Sages control four floating nouliths to repair their allies, right – Reaper’s preferred weapon is a two-handed scythe.
In the preview, I tested the two brand new jobs: the mecha-inspired barrier healer Sage and the incredibly fast and powerful melee DPS Reaper. Both felt incredible to play, Reaper offered a satisfying flow of attack phases culminating in a quick, dispossessed burst of powerful combos, and Sage presented intricate, ear-pleasing healing abilities that seem prepared to wave after wave of the Arrive to deal with raid damage. The design of these two jobs and the general overhaul of the skills seem to point to interesting developments for the game’s ever-hungry raid scene.
The three new areas that I was able to explore were an absolute dream for any Final Fantasy fan, with the beautiful, ancient Greek-inspired Old Sharlayan, the culturally dense and colorful lands of Thavnair and their complete opposite, the monochrome and corpse lands of Garlemald, three ancestral areas that XIV players have wanted to explore for eons.
Above – the living grounds of Thavnair, below – the colorless ruins of Garlemald.
“Our approach to designing new areas is a little different with each expansion,” explains Yoshida before clarifying: “In the case of Stormblood, for example, we had Ala Mhigo as the location. This was a place that was already established in lore in Final Fantasy XIV, so for such a place we didn’t really have a lot of freedom and leeway to bring our own ideas. Instead, I thought of the remaining areas that have not yet been shown to the player.
“Endwalker will mark the end of the Hydaelyn and Zodiac sagas, so for this expansion we have focused on the loose ends we have in the current story arc. Deciding on these aspects and creating the maps for the new areas go hand in hand, so the process at Endwalker was similar to Stormblood in this regard. “
Alisaie and Alphinaud Leveilleur, twin descendants of the Seventh Dawn who both played central roles in the ongoing story of FFXIV, return in Endwalker.
Of course, I was only able to play through a selection of the many new environments being introduced into Endwalker, some of which are kept secret for players to experience firsthand.
“There are a few areas that we haven’t announced in Endwalker. I have no intention of announcing them until the game is released! I’m really excited that players can experience these regions for themselves and I’m sure they will be surprised by what they find. “
The build of the game I played has apparently been stripped of any lore clues, meticulously preserving the surprises of the plot that Endwalker has in store for its players.
“I think if there’s one thing that really sets Final Fantasy XIV apart from other titles in the genre, it’s that we’re really aiming for FFXIV to become a gold-standard story-driven MMO,” says Yoshida. “I think that’s an important point of differentiation from other MMO titles.”
Reapers destructive boundary break seen from behind
If FFXIV’s latest addition, Shadowbringers, is any hint, Endwalker is sure to take players on an exciting journey with notable revelations. In fact, Shadowbringers received so much critical acclaim that I just had to ask if the team felt any pressure during his follow-up.
“My case is maybe a bit like that of a film director,” explains Yoshida. “When a film director is working on a new creation, he always tries to develop it to the best of his ability. They’re always trying to make the best story, the best thing that they can.
“I think different players will have their own opinions and preferences. Some may enjoy Heavensward better than Shadowbringers, and others prefer the travel-oriented adventure we had in Stormblood. “
“My approach is to always go one step further and raise the bar that we previously set in order to create something better at every rate.”
Saga’s restorative break in the boundary seen from the front
“After that,” he continues, “Endwalker will actually complete the Hydaelyn and Zodiac sagas that have been going on since the launch of XIV and have pulled through all of our previous expansions. In this respect, we have been working towards a huge climax. As a stand-alone extension, the volume is [of story] in Endwalker is huge. There really is a lot to be done.
“I’d love if … after you’ve played through Endwalker, why not go through the previous expansions and try them again? Then maybe you can appreciate the direction we’ve taken with Endwalker and all the complicated things we’ve done with the story. “
That last sentence certainly leaves a lot to the imagination, and I’m sure many players can’t wait to see the end of this decades-long story for themselves … but let’s wait and see.
Endwalker launches November 23rd, with early access November 19th for pre-orderers. Until then!
This article is based on playing a build of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker in development, and the contents of the final version are subject to change. The interview responses have been edited slightly to improve brevity and flow. FFXIV 1.0 screenshots were kindly provided by fellow meteor survivor and decade-long Eorzean friend Llen Coram.