FFXIV patch 5.3 will be a big one to cap off the Shadowbringers arc. We talked with director/producer Naoki Yoshida about the MMO's evolving story and some of the more glamorous as(s)pects of FFXIV.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted prior to the release of Final Fantasy XIV's patch 5.3 and was originally published on July 22, 2020. However, major sections of the conversation with director/producer Naoki Yoshida remain relevant even after the events of 5.3 and the full conclusion of the Shadowbringers expansion. If you wish get an in-depth look of the patch's story, be sure to read my feature on how FFXIV 5.3 inspires hope to end one of the franchise's best stories. The original interview feature follows.
With each major post-expansion update, the team behind Square Enix's MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV manages to keep pushing the game forward at a consistent pace. Continuing a strong main story, adding new raids and dungeons, expanding side content, and tweaking core mechanics are some of the things players have come to expect. And with the 5.3 update for Shadowbringers (the latest expansion), game director and producer Naoki Yoshida assured us that it's another massive one.
"There are going to be a lot of surprises, maybe some sad parts, but also a lot of joy," Yoshida-san said when summarizing how 5.3 will wrap up Shadowbringers' heavy narrative arc. In our talk, we looked back at the things that made the expansion impactful but also teased how that shapes what's to come for FFXIV, including the AI companion Trust system and the development of supporting characters like the Crystal Exarch. You can also watch the 5.3 update trailer below, but be warned, there are some Shadowbringers spoilers in it.
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It's not all serious business, however. Yoshida-san kept us updated to let us know that, in light of the Nier Automata 2B outfit in FFXIV, character butt size has been rather complicated. He even had the audacity to suggest an option to make in-game butts smaller. I mean, just please read this interview.
Please be aware that this interview contains some spoilers for the FFXIV Shadowbringers storyline--major points have been hidden by spoiler blocks that you can hover over to reveal. If you plan on playing FFXIV, especially with the free trial soon extending to the entire base game and Heavensward expansion, you may want to tread lightly.
The interview was conducted over a video call prior to the 5.3 trailer and was translated live by Aimi Tokutake of Square Enix--it has also been edited for readability and clarity.
We know that the "Reflections in Crystal" 5.3 update is concluding the Shadowbringers arc. Can you speak more broadly to how you're transitioning from Shadowbringers and leading players into what's next for the story?
As you're aware, we've done three expansions at this point now--Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers. And with the previous 3.3 and 4.3 patches, we depicted the conclusion of each of those [corresponding] story arcs. But, of course, with the Shadowbringers storyline, the stage is in a completely different realm. It is a departure or a goodbye that we'll be saying to that story. And because we were very thorough in depicting that aspect of it, I think you will feel that sense of conclusion for sure.
In Shadowbringers, there is a secondary theme that the team had in mind, which was to reintroduce the members of the Scions of the Seventh Dawn, our heroes. Players got that feeling of having these characters as your allies, properly joining forces with them as the Warrior of Darkness. Through the narrative, the team definitely paid extra attention to depicting the way the Scions live, think, and face certain problems within their travels. By departing from the First and with each of the members of the Scions saying their goodbyes, we're definitely depicting those [moments] very thoroughly as well.
Of course, that will make the volume [of content] really hefty; it is going to be pretty long, so we encourage players to enjoy it. Take your time to get through it and experience that conclusion, and see how each of these characters say their goodbyes. At the same time, yes, as you mentioned, we will be transitioning into the next storyline. That's going to be presented like, *boom* at the end. We hope that the first day the patch launches, players would first take the time to play through that main scenario.
Are we going to be in Garlemald soon? We've seen a little bit of it in story moments with Estinien and Gaius but are we going to start seeing more and actually going there?
In that aspect, I think we'll be able to go against players' expectations in a good way. Content that's coming in the patch 5.3 series, there's the Sorrow of Werlyt, the latest installment in the weapon series, where you're actually fighting against the forces of the Garlean Empire. In Save the Queen, the Bozjan Southern Front is an upcoming instance that really touches upon the Garlean Empire.
Of course, it's not quite the main story but it is a pretty significant story. By playing through this content, it will arouse that curiosity in players like, "What's going to happen next?" So in addition to the main scenario, I think those two playable [pieces of] content are definitely something to look out for.
This next question has to do with the end of Shadowbringers, when the Crystal Exarch calls in heroes from other realms. My impression is that this is going to have major implications for where the story will go. Can you speak to whether or not you're going to be playing on that theme anytime soon or if that's going to have implications as we make it to the next expansion?
With that scene in Shadowbringers where you have those seven other heroes called in to surround the player in that scene, it's actually a theme that has existed since A Realm Reborn. People have been asking, "Who are these seven people besides me?" The development team was thinking, "Well, maybe we should come up with an answer." But we also made it so that players can still use their imagination on theories about who and what these heroes are. We still want to have players speculate, first of all.
Then there's another [aspect] of people speculating or wondering, because it has been a mystery, who is the Warrior of Light, him or herself, the player. The Warrior of Light and their identity or who they are is not clear either. So that's something that we want to take another step into just shedding a little bit of light, so to speak. Maybe give that glimpse of, "Oh, perhaps could it be this or that," and dig a little bit deeper into the true nature of the Warrior of Light. So that's another thing to be looking out for.
Leading into Shadowbringers, you told people to play the Crystal Tower raid series, and with the new patch, it'll be required. Is there any other piece of content that you can point to that players should play in anticipation of what's coming next like you did with Crystal Tower and Shadowbringers?
Having the Crystal Tower as part of the required content for Shadowbringers, it's something that the team was torn on and I had to think about whether or not we really want to put this in there. But just the fact that the narrative tied in so closely to the main scenario, it was such a core element of the story. And plus, it's not a very difficult dungeon to get through. That's why for Shadowbringers we felt that it was okay to have it tied into the main scenario.
Now, other than that, all of the content is created so that they connect with each other no matter when you play it. It doesn't matter at what timing you tackle any content within Final Fantasy XIV. But specifically speaking for if you've already finished Shadowbringers, then go to the Interdimensional Rift for all the Omega raids, and then do the Alexander raid series. You might see the connections between different elements you play through and in the story. Conversely, sometimes you do some of the raids first and then connect to the main story, and you see that the narrative actually flows naturally into each other. We made it so that you can tackle it from whichever side you please.
We don't intend on specifying certain content to be mandatory before getting into certain parts of the story. But again, I think it might be nice to go through the Alexander and Omega raids. You don't have to do the Savage content but maybe having those two under your belt may help with getting the gist or having a much richer understanding and enjoyment of the overall world and lore.
Oh, and of course, you can totally take your time on this, but it might be a good idea to get a refresher on Heavensward.
Since we've had some time with the Crystal Exarch, he's become many players' favorite character, myself included. Tell me about what it was like to create the Crystal Exarch and what made you want to make him such an endearing, lovely character?
When we were creating the Crystal Tower content as the alliance raid way back when, we never imagined we were going to use this character in such a storyline, and we didn't have it planned at that time. So, we had this character of G'raha Tia seal off the Crystal Tower with his blood, and he mentions how he will sleep within the tower until the Crystal Tower could be used for a much greater purpose. We had thought the character arc ended and we closed it off at that point. There were considerations and discussions that if there was a case where we had to reset FFXIV in our expanding of the game and whatnot, whether we would reuse the character or not. But nothing was really set in stone.
When we were depicting G'raha Tia, he was just this young man who's so enamored by the thought of adventure, having such reverence for the hero, the Warrior of Light. [He expresses] how much he wanted to be one himself, and to be an adventurer just like in the stories he read in his youth. Just having that pureness of heart, for sure, that's one of the characteristics that really stood out. Once he did go to rest within the Crystal Tower, his popularity became much greater. So, years passed and then we were thinking about how we depict the story of Shadowbringers. Of course, with any sort of FFXIV content, we want to make sure that it's connected with the rest of the world. So in that process, we thought, "Oh, maybe we can utilize this concept."
I think that was the impetus of having the Crystal Exarch. But of course, his adventure has not concluded just yet. Our players have not seen where Crystal Exarch goes from here. I have, but we still haven't seen it. Once players do, I think there'll be another discovery.
Okay, you got me worried. That's my boy, please don't hurt my boy!
Yeah, he's young at heart. And it's not about romantic feelings, love, or crushing on the Warrior of Light, it's just very simple and pure! He just wants to go on an adventure alongside [your character]. He has this straightforward reverence for him or her. That's the personality of the Crystal Exarch and what shapes him. I think that's one of the reasons why players have such an affinity for Crystal Exarch and just take a liking to him. When we were considering bringing back G'raha Tia, the team wanted to just tell him, "Good morning," or just, "Great seeing you," and wake him up again.
I hope you do get to see 5.3 with your own eyes, and from the trailer, I'm sure a lot of people may be shouting and screaming. But, I mean, just please see it through. The Shadowbringers story is Crystal Exarch's story as well.
The Trust system has really helped me connect with a lot of the characters. And now you've had an entire expansion and set of patches incorporating the Trust System. How do you feel about having to implement it? Are you in a good mode where it's now part of the natural content creation process or are there still things that you want to tweak?
I think we still have yet to bring it to a level where it can be applied more generally, so to speak. Right now, of course, we have really talented game designers, people with really high level skill, building these [instances]. They actually create unique individual moves per instanced dungeon for characters, and put different movements and [create] algorithms for these. Of course, the development team loves the concept of the Trust System, and the people creating these love the story as well, so they really enjoy working on it, which is great. But there's only so many people that can work on creating these Trust systems to make compatible with dungeons. We would like to evolve the system so that it can be applied more generally and not have to be a top game designer in order to create these. And maybe to the point where we can look at some of the previous dungeons, like those in A Realm Reborn such as the Praetorium, or some of those other dungeons to be able to take your NPCs in there.
Of course, it's not the easiest of tasks, but it's something that we do want to strive for because we feel that if we are able to accommodate for the use of the Trust NPCs in all of the dungeons, I'm sure we'd be in a really great position.
I have to ask about something that my Free Company wants to know, and I wanted to give them a shout out: The Giant Bomb VinCo Free Company on Ultros, that's my squad. What I learned is that they're all about Glamour. So, two questions: Are there any changes that you're looking at or want to make in terms of refining the Glamour system? And also, considering the controversy around the 2B outfit and the size of players' butts, is there going to be a butt size slider?
So, to answer your first question, and this might not necessarily be the Glamour system per se, but we do want to expand upon [options for] people who want to role-play within the game. For example, you may recall the umbrella being implemented. We want to expand upon the fashion item category, like having a stuffed animal that the player can carry or a tray they can hold. But just having that extra [thing] your player character do as part of your role playing in the game, just decorating yourself or having those add-on elements to enjoy that element of role-play more. We do intend on expanding on that some more.
And before I answer the second question, there's one thing we want to say and it's that you all really like butts, don't you?!
To be completely honest, and I'm sure you are aware of this, when we were looking at 2B's costume, there were bugs, so to speak. Of course, the behind, the bottom, has been modeled to be slightly bigger than normal. And then you saw some clipping whenever you would use the sit emote or when characters posed in certain ways. With the 2B costume, we thought it's just that one single thing so that's fine, we'd move forward with trying to depict it accurately, so to speak.
But if we were to have a slider where all of our players have the option to enlarge their behind, we would have to look at all of our equipment, which there are thousands in the game! We would have to remake each one because we have to anticipate some people might slide their butt slider all the way to maximum, and trying to accommodate for that is physically impossible unless we implemented this physics simulation so that the model of the fabric wouldn't overlap with the model of the behind. I mean, considering how many people are being rendered on the screen at the same time, with this being an MMORPG, it's crazy. It's not feasible.
Maybe, perhaps if everybody's hardware and the specs of the processing power goes up, or if we had hypothetically revamped our graphics engine, it might not be impossible. But unless we do that, I think it's quite difficult to accommodate. Again, it's not impossible but if asked when it's coming, we don't know.
So, I mean, there is one thing that I do want to ask you guys. People clamor about the butt slider, but what if our current state would be your maximum size and the slider adjusts your butt to be smaller? Would people want that or not?
That's not right, right? People just want to make it larger, right?
Yes! I'm sorry. Listen, my character is a Ninja and Monk. We use a lot of leg power with our attack rotation so it only makes sense that we have strong glutes.
There is another point that we wanted to make. If you do adjust the butt size to be larger, it will naturally affect the way the character walks. And with FFXIV and how thorough we are with rendering these graphics, it would be weird to see adjusted butt size not affecting the way the characters walk. Again, it might be well in the future, but hopefully maybe it will be nice to have it come true. I mean, only if FFXIV continues to grow and more people come to play. So for the butt slider, let's bring in more people and play more.