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‘FF XIV’ Director Talks ‘Shadowbreakers,’ ‘Game of Thrones,’ Panda Express

Imad Khan

Naoki Yoshida, known to fans and friends as Yoshi-P, helped relaunch Square Enix’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) “Final Fantasy XVI” when he was brought on as director in 2010. Since then, “XIV” has amassed to over 16 million registered accounts. Granted, some were from players giving the game a free try during promotional trial periods. But considering that in August of 2017 the game was boasting 10 million accounts, it’s been a healthy six million jump in less than two years.

At the E3 in Los Angeles, Variety sat down with Yoshida to talk about this summer’s upcoming expansion, “Shadowbreakers,” which launches on July 2nd. Our conversation did veer a little, and Mr. Yoshida also gave his opinions on “Game of Thrones,” the possibility of “The Witcher’s” universe being integrated into “XIV,” and Panda Express.

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When creating both new jobs in “Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbreakers,” Gunbreaker and Dancer, what are you trying to accomplish within the metagame?
So first and foremost, the thinking behind adding new jobs to an expansion is, well literally, to expand upon “Final Fantasy XIV,” and add to the gameplay experience we are already offering to our players. And a lot of players do look forward to new elements being added to an expansion pack. Including interesting elements that would enhance their gameplay experience and elements that would further expand upon the mechanics that is available within the game. And one of those elements where people can experience that sort of new encounter, or new mechanic or gameplay experience, is the addition of new jobs. So that’s why we typically introduce new jobs into a new expansion.

And then in terms of why or what we’re trying to accomplish, of course when we consider any sort of new job that we’re introducing into “XVI” there are two different angles we look at. The first angle is from a development team perspective. We look at the different jobs that are available within the game and see the balance between the different jobs and the roles that they fulfill. So we would look at, say for example, what is the balance of the number of players that are playing the different jobs in each category. Or if we want to have a more specific goal. Like, we want to have more people enjoy playing in a tank role, we take that sort of input that the “XIV” team wants to fulfill so that we can continue to expand upon “Final Fantasy XIV” when we’re looking at it objectively. Try to find avenues where we can expand and go even bigger. So with Shadowbringers, when we were faced with that question, what kind of job or role we want to include. We thought we definitely want to add a job in the tank role and one more job in the ranged DPS role. So that’s the first angle.

And then the second angle is looking at it from a player perspective. We take into consideration the popularity and the request the demand for certain different types of jobs. And in my mind, I have a sort of ranking list of which are the more popular ones. And we have gotten a lot of feedback about wanting a job that utilizes the iconic Gunblade. And we heard a lot of feedback for Dancer. And those were some of the jobs that were in the top of that list. We also had previously the Samurai and the Red Mage which were highly requested. And those we were able to achieve. So we are starting to go through the list and are accomplishing more and more on those. So we have less on our list at this point. But we did take a look at the two jobs that were — the slots that were available and the popular list. Once we had the dev teams idea of what is missing, what do we want to add as a new role, and we compared it against the list that the players wanted and sort of meshed it together. In terms of the request for wanting a job that utilizes the Gunblade, we thought it would be appropriate to assign it to a tank role, so we had the Gunbreaker. And then Dancer was a very popular job that was requested, but the dev team thought that we don’t imagine it to be a healer, so that’s why we decided we wanted it to be a ranged DPS. And so, again, we tried to match our vision against the request that were made from the players, kind of married them together. And as a result we found the Gunbreaker and the Dancer to be our two new jobs that were included with “Shadowbreakers.”

Dancer has traditionally been a healer in past games. What it difficult making that class a ranged DPS and having it fit within the “Final Fantasy” lore?
No, we didn’t find any sort of difficulty.

Fans are definitely happy that Viera will be in “Final Fantasy XIV.” Do you have any personal connection to Viera?
So of course, I love the great game that creator Yasumi Matsuno makes. And around the time I joined the company, one of his favorite games was “Tactics Ogre.” And that had made such an impact on myself that I felt that one of these days I want to work with Matsuno-san. And to create a game together. And so I tried to work really hard to build my career in the gaming industry. But the timing didn’t match at first. Matsuno-san created “Final Fantasy XII” but by the time I joined Square Enix, Matsuno-san had already left the company. So they were not able to work together at the time. But in “Final Fantasy XIV” we were able to create the alliance raid, “Return to Ivalice” series, which lasted for about two years. So through that experience, I was able to fulfill my dream to work with Matsuno-san. And the Viera that was created by Matsuno-san’s “Final Fantasy XII,” it was something the fans definitely desired. They highly requested for the Viera to be included into the game. I feel it’s almost destiny, because they have had that request for Viera since before “Heavensward” even, and my team and I were actually torn on actually to include the Viera at “Heavensward’s” timing. But because “Heavensward” was our first ever expansion for the game, we wanted to go out with original new playable races. So looking back at it, it was fortunate that we didn’t include it at that time, because we got to do “Return to Ivalice” and it fit so much smoother with that timing. I definitely feel a very good affinity to the Viera race.

Was it at all difficult to bring the world of “Nier Automata” into the world of “Final Fantasy?”
I made the decision to bring that world in. We don’t want to look at it from the perspective to incorporate something that’s so different from our original game because creating this world is our right to do. It’s a privilege that we can do. It’s the freedom that we have in creating this game, so we don’t want to look at it as something that’s difficult. But, it’s actually a lot of fun to think about how do we mesh it together. Mesh “Nier’s” world into the world of “Final Fantasy XIV.” How do we incorporate it so that it does make sense. So the fact that we are bringing out guest creators for this project is also very unique. If we continued to make content with the same team that we had on “XIV,” we do have our own set of rules that we adhere to. Or we’ve known how to efficiently work on content within out game on our own set of timelines. And there could be a risk where some of the experiences might feel a little boxed in, or narrow minded so to speak. By bringing in something else that has a completely different sense of design, of course it is a challenge, but we don’t look at it as something that is difficult. We are excited to do this, it’s a lot of fun. And it promotes us to think. And on top of that, many of our development team members are fans of “Nier” so they have a really good drive. It motivates them to work and to try to see how we can integrate it.

Any Western games or creators you would like to work with at some point?
“Diablo” and “World of Warcraft.” Simply put, I’m a big fan of Blizzard. If I’m given the chance to be creative director on say a new “Diablo,” a “Diablo 4,” oh I would drop everything at Square Enix and move over to Blizzard.

You told me you liked “Cyberpunk 2077,” did you play “The Witcher 3?”
Of course, yes.

Could that world ever fit?
The possibility is there, yeah. We heard that somewhere, I’m afraid we don’t remember when or where, but we heard that one of the leads in the development team for “Witcher 3” is an avid “Final Fantasy XIV” player, and we were talking about if there’s an opportunity, it would be great to start a conversation.

This is not a game, but “Game of Thrones” is a very interesting work, and it might be cool to do something with them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think George R. R. Martin was at E3 this year.
Just finish writing the books!

He’s working on that new game with Hidetaka Miyazaki from FromSoftware, “Elden Ring”
Oh yes, that news we’ve heard. The series ended on HBO, but we want the books to conclude.

I’m upset with Weiss and Benioff and how the show ended.
Oh my gosh, if we start talking about “Game of Thrones” we’ll never get through the interview.

Well, quickly. Which actor or actress would you like to meet from “Game of Thrones.”
Peter Dinklage.

What are you doing to help longtime “Final Fantasy” fans feel less intimidated by entering a massive MMORPG like “XIV?”
“Final Fantasy XIV” in general, and this is after I had taken the reins after the original “Final Fantasy XIV,” and resigned it and relaunched it as “A Realm Reborn.” I wanted to make sure we had this uniqueness which is, while this is an MMO, it’s very story driven. As long as you’re playing the game as if you were playing a standalone “Final Fantasy” title, you’ll never have to get lost, or there’s nothing to be scared about. Of course, you’ll see various different content that’s available to play, simultaneously happening. But there is that central axis, which is our main storyline. As long as your following that, you should have no issues with properly leveling your character, properly obtaining the gear that’s necessary. And we are very careful about making sure that even those who are not used to playing an MMORPG can still follow along.

Will “Shadowbreakers” bring back the trash mobs and minibosses from the “The Binding Coil of Bahamut” dungeon or the “Alexander” raid that were found on the way to a main boss?
It’ll lean more towards the “Stormblood” style, where there won’t be too many trash mobs, but you are focusing on fighting a boss.  

The support of 32-bit will end at the launch of “Shadowbreakers” on July 2, how will that affect design now that you don’t have to worry about a subset of players playing on computers with limited RAM?
It might not be easily recognizable on the surface, because, the only reason we’re ending the support for 32-bit OS, is that, of course, 32-bit OS, no matter how much memory you put into the PC itself, it can only recognize 2GBs. And I don’t think any PCs nowadays has that low of memory. Up until now, in order to accommodate for the 32-bit Windows OS, we would have to allocate resources and put in a lot of effort into accommodating and supporting that platform; through the graphics that we render, through the raid content that we create, the multitude of enemies that appear on the screen. And we would also have our QA team test on the equipment that may not even exist anymore on the market. So we decided we don’t want to continue allocating these resources anymore, but rather have everybody transition over to the 64-bit Windows OS and, in-turn, alleviate cost on our end as well so that we can improve our player experience. And then think about how we can enhance the different presentation that you see in the different content that we offer. If may not be immediately recognizable when you look at it, but we will be gradually ramping it up.

What percentage of players have 32-bit systems still?
It was 0.2% and this was based on our data analysis from March 2018. We felt that we are okay. We are at a state where most of our players are no longer playing on that OS. And even if they still do, we will be able to provide them ample time to make preparations to make the transition over.

What makes you excited about the next generation of consoles, and not just the graphical power, but the speed of memory. How will that change the design of “Final Fantasy XIV” moving forward?
It’s a good thing that the next generation of consoles are coming soon. But we might not see a future generation after this upcoming next one because it feels like we’re shifting more towards streaming. For “Final Fantasy XIV,” of course we want to look into supporting the next generation of consoles as well, but we don’t anticipate changing any core mechanics of the game so that we’re accommodating for the next generation of consoles. Of course, we have recently announced the ending of support for 32-bit Windows OS, but we still want to accommodate for a wide range of PC machines to run our game. So if we do something that leans heavily on the functionality of next-gen consoles, we might risk excluding those. And there may be people who are not able to play in the same way, which we definitely want to avoid. Having said, it is good news that read and write speeds are going to become significantly faster. So one of these days we’ll see games that no longer have that black loading screen. So I’m sure from a player’s standpoint it’s great in terms of gameplay experience. It is something that we do need to keep in mind and consider accommodating and supporting for that technology.

I heard that the “Final Fantasy” team really likes eating at Panda Express whenever they’re in America. Why?
I love it. I feel that my pallet is not very high class. I love flavors that are very strong, something that is not complicated, something that is very easy to grasp, and cheap.

Yeah, in Japan, American style Chinese food must be difficult to come by.
There’s a new Panda Express location in DiverCity mall in Odaiba. But will I go all the way to DiverCity mall to eat Panda Express? Maybe not. Whenever I come to America and I have Panda Express, it’s really good.

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