We spoke with Final Fantasy 14 director Naoki Yoshida about Shadowbringers, Blue Mages, and the future of the game

Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers is coming out next week and we spoke with director Naoki Yoshida about the new expansion. After a tumultuous beginning, Final Fantasy 14 relaunched and is one of the most successful MMORPGs on the market. The emphasis on a great story is one of the reasons it continues to garner so many players and Yoshida-san gave us some details on what to look forward to in Shadowbringers.

Our round robin with Yoshida-san during E3 2019 opened our eyes to just how far Final Fantasy 14 has come and spiked our anticipation for the new expansion. You can find out more about Shadowbringers and some of the creative process behind the MMO below.

Q: So, back in 2010 you launched the first version of Final Fantasy 14, and it was kind of a disaster. Fast-forward to 2019, and you have one of the most successful MMOs on PC and PS4. You’ve launched two expansions with a third, Shadowbringers, coming. How does it feel to have turned things around and found so much success?

Yoshida-san: This is a difficult question to answer. In my mind, once we relaunched as A Realm Reborn, and then released our first expansion, I feel that we achieved a successful relaunch. We had established ourselves at that point. I felt that the weight had been lifted and considered it a milestone.

With Heavensward, it was our first expansion, and in my mind, only successful MMOs get to release an expansion. I feel we’ve met our milestone for success and my emotions have been reset. We’re now looking forward at this point.

My mindset is how we continue to expand Final Fantasy 14. With Stormblood and Shadowbringers, our goal is more about how we grow the game. We haven’t had the time to look back at the past very much. I feel there’s not much need to look into the past, but instead looking to the future.

Q: What’s the state of the world of Final Fantasy 14 at the beginning of Shadowbringers and what can players look forward to when they start the new expansion?

Yoshida-san: Throughout the story of Stormblood and the following patches. The Warrior of Light was working towards liberating areas that were under the control of this massive empire, the Garlean Empire. So we went to liberate Ala Mhigo and Doma in those regions. It was starting to look as if though we were liberating those areas, a good majority of the areas that were previously under the control of the Garlean Empire in part. Moreover, it seemed we were about to see a major conflict against the Garlean Empire itself. However, as they were approaching that they hear this mysterious voice as if to stop them before going into the battle. The Warrior of Light sees his comrades losing consciousness and falling into the slumber of sorts, and this mysterious voice continues to say, “Do not go into to battle with the Garlean Empire. Whether you win or lose, it’s irrelevant.” They find that mysterious voice was coming from, the Crystal Tower and the voice continues to tell them, “You must leave your current world, the Source and go into the First (Shard).” That’s where the story kind of ends as of patch 4.56.

Final Fantasy 14 Yoshida Interview 01

Q: Both Heavensward and Stormblood offered up large amounts of new content. Players got new worlds, storylines, classes, and raids. How does Shadowbringers’ scale stack up to the previous expansions?

Yoshida-san: So, if we were to stay Stormblood was 1.2x larger than Heavensward, we’d say Shadowbringers is 1.2x bigger than Stormblood. I think the amount of gameplay content you can experience with Shadowbringers is larger than that of a standalone RPG.

Q: What are some of the things coming with Shadowbringers that facilitate easing into the game for new players?

Yoshida-san: First and foremost, what’s really unique about Final Fantasy 14 is that while it is an MMORPG, we are very story driven. In Final Fantasy 14, the primary focus is not about leveling your character, but, whenever we release an expansion pack, we do revisit the previous content to make sure that people are catching up smoothly. So, we adjust the number of experience points that new players may gain as they are leveling their characters and playing through the story. I think we’re up to almost twice as fast to obtain experience points in the previous expansions for our players. So, as long as you are playing through the main story quest line, you should be able to progress very smoothly, and there should be no need of grinding to level your player.

Once players hit that level cap, the system we have for those characters to still feel like you are progressing in your growing. We utilize what’s called an item level system. So the gear that you equip will become your strength and your item level. Also, every time we release a new expansion, we’ll make sure to revisit some of the loot items that you can obtain, and make sure that the item levels are also adjusted so that you are leveling your character smoothly in that way as well.

The other option that players have, and I’m afraid that this will cost extra money on the side, is an item called Tales of Adventure. We liken the expansion packs that are released for Final Fantasy 14 as seasons of a TV drama series. With Shadowbringers we are now in our fourth season, and so there may be players who want to skip over seasons one through three. The Tales of Adventure associates with each of the expansion packs, and you can jump through all of the story elements of the game to get to the latest expansion. So if you buy a Tales of Adventure for Stormblood, you can just skip all the way to the beginning of Shadowbringers. Plus, with the Tales of Adventure, we also have a different item as well that will boost your character’s job level up to the current level cap so that it would make it easier for you to jump into the latest content. So, we do offer those options. Now, we don’t want to mandate or recommend one over the other, but we do want to emphasize that we do provide different choices for our players to utilize so that they can get through the earlier content and enjoy the latest expansion in Final Fantasy 14.

So, I think Final Fantasy 14 is one of the only MMORPGs out there that will allow for players to take a break whenever they would like and come back at any time. We’re also not just looking at making the game accessible to newcomers or returning players during our expansion launches either. We make sure we’re continually looking at previous contents. We understand that players are very busy nowadays and so we want them to come back and be comfortable joining at any time and we make sure that we are very thorough and mindful of that.

Final Fantasy 14 Yoshida Interview 02

Q: One of the significant additions coming with Shadowbringers is the Blue Mage. What was it like designing such a unique class in terms of balancing, especially as it’s a limited job? Can it interact with the other classes in any capacity? Will we get to see more limited jobs during Shadowbringers’ lifecycle?

Yoshida-san: First and foremost, with the Blue Mage, there were actually no plans to implement it into the game initially. What’s unique about the class throughout the franchise is that you learn and acquire monster powers and abilities. Sometimes, that can really break the balance of the game. When it was first introduced in Final Fantasy 5, I was very fond of it and played as a Blue Mage a lot. There were many requests from players asking for the Blue Mage.

So, we tried to think of the best ways to express that unique job within the game, and we thought about it, not as somebody that would join a party, but instead accentuating that feature as a new type of job class where you do learn monster abilities in a confined way. I thought it would be attractive as a gameplay element, so we decided to introduce this new category of jobs so that even if some of the abilities are balance breaking, it would still be fun. You won’t be able to form parties to go into raids, but players can still enjoy a different kind of gameplay experience with the Blue Mage in its own arenas and areas.

So with the Blue Mage being implemented in patch 4.5, it was introduced with a level cap of 50, we added it as sort of a Blue Mage 101. When Patch 5.1 goes live, we’ll be making a significant update to the Blue Mage. We’ll be raising the level cap and adding Blue Mage specific content where you can team up with four other Blue Mages and go into specialized content. There’s going to be plenty of content for Blue Mages to team up and play together and use the skills you’ve learned from different monsters. In the future, we plan on continuing expanding the Blue Mage even further.

Finally, as for additional limited jobs, the possibility is always there. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about when or if any more are happening. For now, we encourage players to try out the Blue Mage and enjoy it.

Final Fantasy 14 Yoshida Interview 03

Q: What are some of the new locations that players can expect to see in Shadowbringers, and what are their inhabitants like?

Yoshida-san: So, first, I want to point out, the First (reflection) is one of the shards that broke off from the Source over 10,000 years ago. At the time when it was split, it was a complete mirror world, but it followed its own history over the course of 10,000 years. So you may see certain, people that look very similar to the people on the Source, but maybe their personalities completely different.

When the player who’s familiar with the Source goes to the First, they will recognize certain areas as similar, but they might notice that certain elements that they remember seeing in the Source are not there on the First or vice versa, something that they don’t remember seeing in a particular area is suddenly there.

If we delve into further details a little bit, we have this extreme light that is about to crush this world, and we’re at the brink of complete destruction through this flood of light. Kind of like in Evangelion during the second impact, where 90% of all its inhabitants are destroyed. You’re in this state where no one element remains and only a small area in which we are calling Norvrandt is remaining. There are still people inhabiting there, but you see that there are very few people left.

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Q: Final Fantasy 14 obviously has a large and passionate community. How have the requests and feedback helped shape the project?

Yoshida-san: It’s quite a complicated question to answer because there are different facets of how we incorporate community feedback. It sort of ties into what we consider feedback. Let’s take one part of it, player usability and UI, and more comfortable controls. We receive a lot of feedback regarding those, and for those items, we do a take a lot of the feedback and implement it. We even have a dedicated team that specializes in the user interface. I think we’re very active in trying to see what we can improve and make the game more comfortable for players to play and enjoy the game even more.

In particular with tank jobs, characters wanted to be dealing more damage. They wanted to aggro the enemy and soak up damage, but they didn’t want abilities that would prevent them from dealing damage. We took that feedback pretty straightforwardly and have tried to balance the jobs around allowing tanks to work as damage dealers as well as fulfilling their traditional roles.

On the other hand, with some of the comments that come back regarding the battle, combat system, and jobs. It seems like that feedback is that each player wants their main job to be more powerful. We consider player feedback to be very important, but if we start taking in that type of feedback, then it would destroy the game’s balance. That type of feedback wouldn’t be reflected unless it is a common problem we find.

Q: What’s your favorite part of working on Final Fantasy 14?

Yoshida-san: Of course, there are many different elements in Final Fantasy 14, but I think the player base, our community, is world class. It’s one of the best communities, and just having the community play what we have created with so much enthusiasm and just enjoying the gameplay is what really motivates me.