Final Fantasy XIV Endwalker: Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida Q&A

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Every two years since 2013’s relaunch, Final Fantasy XIV fans have gathered in huge conventions spread out across the world, allowing players in North America, Europe and Japan the chance to get a first tantalising peek at what’s coming in the MMORPG’s next content-rich expansion, as well as participate in championships, challenges, and tons of other community activities. 

This year, of course, things were a little different. The Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival 2021 was purely digital, allowing all players across the globe to partake in this special event simultaneously. There were live concerts, cosplay contests and other digitally friendly activities. As ever, the convention kicked off with the Keynote presentation, which revealed a wealth of new content coming to the game’s fourth expansion Endwalker. As is now tradition, the game’s director and producer Naoki Yoshida had an extra special treat for fans to reveal the second new job introduced in the expansion: the creator took to the stage dressed up as a Reaper. 

FFXIV

FFXIV

With the Digital Fan Festival now finished and Yoshida back in civilian clothes, we took the opportunity to talk to the creator about the Reaper job, Endwalker’s music, the brand-new male Viera race, and more.  

The second new playable job you have revealed, Reaper, is brand new to the Final Fantasy series. How did you decide to go for this job and where did you find inspiration from? Can you tell us a little bit about how Reaper will play, and what will differentiate it from the other melee DPS jobs?

Just to start things off, thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview! Now, onto the questions.

Whenever we brainstorm ideas for each new job in Final Fantasy XIV, our base concept and goal is to make sure that each job has a unique gameplay experience. In this case, before we even reached the stage of finding inspiration, we first looked at the overall job composition and distribution, and from there decided that we wanted to add a melee DPS. It is after that when we looked to come up with ideas as to what kind of job we wanted to make.

Many players around the world, especially those from the West, had been requesting the addition of a job that uses a large, two-handed scythe—we used the idea of a two-handed scythe weapon as a base, and started brainstorming ideas for new jobs from there. I asked several game designers who are involved in the creation of new jobs to take some liberties and submit their ideas—we discussed those ideas to make our decision.

FFXIV

FFXIV

One idea that came up was to utilize not only the player’s own aether, but to combine it with a different source of aether to fight in battle. It was from there that we came up with the idea of a grim reaper from the scythe aspect, and from there it was a fairly straightforward process to settle on the reaper’s current form. A scythe and the grim reaper. It’s unexpectedly straightforward. (laughs)

The major difference between Reaper and the other melee DPS jobs is its use of voidsent “avatars,” which came up during our brainstorm sessions as we discussed the grim reaper idea. The player will not just attack using the avatar, but in the end, you can serve as the host for the avatar, in order to unleash more attacks. For the rest… stay tuned!

FFXIV

FFXIV

Endwalker’s cinematic trailer music is now fully finished and sounds very distinct from past expansions – all the while featuring hints to all of their main themes! Can you tell us how the main theme’s direction and how the collaboration with Architects’ Sam Carter came to be?

The idea of a collaboration began when our team was considering the creation of a main theme that is appropriate for Endwalkerthe conclusion of the Hydaelyn & Zodiark saga. Sound Director Masayoshi Soken, Lead Story Designer Natsuko Ishikawa, and I defined the overall direction we wanted to take in terms of what kind of “voice” we were looking for.

To us, the main theme for the trailers of each FFXIV expansion pack is not merely a song we create for the trailer, but we rearrange the track in different ways so it can be used in game, and oftentimes we use these arrangements to effectively convey definitive moments in the story. Before we jumped into the actual creation of the song itself, Ishikawa brought up her perspective of what she was envisioning for the overall voice—both Soken and myself were quickly on board with her idea, and we were able to swiftly decide on the direction.

FFXIV

FFXIV

We were looking for someone who not only had great vocal range that could reach high notes loudly and clearly, but also someone who could achieve screaming vocals. We conveyed this vision to the FFXIV teams in the US and Europe and asked them if they could find a good fit—Sam was one of the candidates suggested by the overseas teams. We loved his sound and reached out to him shortly after, to which he responded very quickly to agree to take part in the project; from there we worked on recording the vocals, which was done remotely. That is the gist of things, but I believe there will come a time when Soken and Ishikawa would speak to further details on the creation of the theme song.

Regarding the direction of the song itself, I conveyed to Soken that we wanted to represent Hydaelyn and Zodiark as having their own voice, with male and female vocals intertwining with each other in the track. However, it was Soken’s idea to incorporate motifs of each expansions’ theme into the track. Overall, I feel we were able to make a song worthy of our first big story arc conclusion!

FFXIV

FFXIV

We were able to hear for the first time some of the music featuring in a few of the new areas you presented during the keynote. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired the sounds of Old Sharlayan, Thavnair, and all the other areas we will get to explore in Endwalker? Which is your personal favourite track?

The songs featured in each of the areas within the trailers are still in a sort of mock-up state. Soken allocated the songs to these areas based on his own inspiration, while making sure not to deviate too far from the overall image being portrayed. These may still be changed before they’re finalized for the game, or they could potentially be used as they debuted.

FFXIV

FFXIV

My personal favorite is Mare Lamentorum—the surface of the moon—but whether or not this track will remain in that area for the official release is something only Soken knows. (laughs)

After Endwalker releases, it might be interesting for everyone to give the walkthrough videos another look to try and spot any differences.

To everyone’s surprise, Final Fantasy XIV will have a new playable race! You’ve mentioned the team worked on the race in secret. Can you give us more details as to how Male Viera (and in the future, Female Hrothgar) came to be?

When we released our previous expansion, Shadowbringers, I mentioned that it would be the last time we would add a new playable race to FFXIV. I don’t believe that was a lie, and I have told my development team that same thing. I say this because while adding a new playable race is very enjoyable for our players, it does pose the risk of creating unpleasant side effects, so to speak.

Adding a playable race does not end with just the initial resources needed to create the race (i.e. character modeling; preparations for variations in facial features, hairstyles and head shapes; animations that are unique to each race, etc.). Even following initial implementation, the tasks required with each patch update will multiply. For example, when we implemented the Viera, because their ears are very long, we needed to add a new review flow to check how Viera characters would appear on screen in all cutscenes. Of course, gear you can obtain as you play through the game will also need to be fitted to match the body shapes of the Viera and Hrothgar, and whenever we add emote animations, there will always be two additional sets to consider compared to what we had to do up until this point. This is something that we as a development team need to put effort into, but if these tasks multiply too much, it could cause critical damage to the interval between major updates.

Considering all of this, we ended up with the races I announced for the Shadowbringers expansion. There was a large amount of feedback asking to implement the Viera from Final Fantasy XII, and in addition, I wanted to implement a race that is more beast-like. If this was going to be the last time we added playable races, I decided to implement two races within the means of our bandwidth, despite only having one gender of each race. (One of the biggest reasons I moved forward with this decision is because there were no male Viera in Final Fantasy XII, either.)

However, there was a significant amount of people around the world asking for male Viera and female Hrothgar—which was expected of course—but I was going to follow through with my stance of not adding any more playable races. At the same time, our graphics staff on the development team wanted to explore all options to see what they could do to figure out a way to somehow realize this request from the players.

FFXIV

FFXIV

They spent over half a year using what free time they had in between their normal work on the patches to consider ways to add another playable race. From this they concluded that we could probably squeeze in just one more at this time. Of course, by adding male Viera now, we anticipated people may be vocal about the absence of female Hrothgar and want to know what the situation was. Rather than waiting until (hypothetically) 7.0 to add two playable races at the same time, we realized we could actually ease the impact on our resources if we implemented these one at a time. Ultimately, I decided we should then move forward with implementing one playable race at a time, and I will make sure to explain that to our players: that’s what we did for this upcoming expansion.

We have a desire to let our players enjoy our game even more at the very core. The development team loves our players, so when male Viera are actually implemented, we would love for you to have a smile on your faces when you play as one, and if you could say a quick “Thank you!” to the Graphics team, I’m sure they’ll be very happy. If you can do that, I think it would also serve as motivation for our developers to continue working hard.

The new 24-man raid content, Myths of the Realm, will be an all-original FFXIV story, and speculation has been wild since you’ve revealed the art and title of the next alliance raid series. After a few collaborations (Final Fantasy XII and NieR in the two most recent expansions), what led the decision to create an original FFXIV story? Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired this raid series?

Over the last four years, we have worked on producing two extremely large pieces of crossover content: Return to Ivalice and YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse. This time, since we are coming to the end of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga that continued for more than ten years, the development team voiced their desire to create content that will allow for players to come face to face with the different mysteries and lore of FFXIV. I thought, “Well, if that’s the case…” and that’s simply how the theme was decided.

Of course, we would love to consider other exhilarating crossovers with other titles down the line, but for now, we want to push the limits of our experiences and ideas to create this new alliance raid.

FFXIV

FFXIV

And last, but perhaps most importantly, do we have any chance at all of getting Soken’s “La Hee” Fan Fest version in game as an orchestrion roll?

I don’t know… One can only describe this sound as, well… unique, but I am not sure we’d want to implement that in-game… If a brand-new player who doesn’t have any context hears that, wouldn’t they freak out and delete their account? (laughs)

Photography by Takanori Tsukiji, Junichiro Zun Ootani, Anzai Miki and Misuzu Chiba.

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