Few games get me as hyped as Final Fantasy XIV, the MMORPG that's had a wild ride and increasing success over the past several years. Because of it, director and producer Naoki Yoshida, and the team behind the game, have made waves within Square Enix and now have the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI on their hands. But FFXIV's journey is far from finished, nor is it taking a backseat. Endwalker, which is set to launch in Fall 2021, is the next expansion, and while it'll conclude the 10-year story arc that's been the centerpiece since the game's early days, FFXIV's scale is only getting larger.
The expansion was revealed and showcased in detail earlier this month, and I have a breakdown of everything you need to know about Endwalker (for one, we're going to the moon). More recently, I was able to correspond with Yoshida-san via email to get some insight on the lead-up to new expansion--and I think the overall sentiment is that Endwalker and the position FFXIV is in today was never promised, but was always planned for.
"The idea of creating a large-scale saga and bringing closure to it after multiple expansions came about when we were working on A Realm Reborn (2013)," Yoshida-san started. He continued, "However, in order to make that idea a reality, gaining popularity and acquiring the adequate funds and acclaim to continue long-term service would be required."
"Until the launch of Heavensward, whether we would be able to achieve our goal was largely dependent upon if players were enjoying the game and continuing to play, and it wasn't until after the release of Stormblood when I finally felt confident that we would be able to make this a reality," he concluded.
With FFXIV's growing financial success, some of those ambitions were fulfilled in the 2019 expansion Shadowbringers. It's often regarded as one of the best stories told in Final Fantasy history--a testament to the work of its lead writer Natsuko Ishikawa, who has also taken on that role for Endwalker. In a previous conversation with Yoshida-san, he talked about to this interconnectedness of Shadowbringers. Its core narrative was built on side content from years ago, and he explained that was left in limbo in case they wanted to revisit it. But it was also an exercise of closure for a meticulous, personal storyline.
As impactful as Shadowbringers was, bringing closure to nearly everything up to this point, and finally executing on that idea from all those years ago through Endwalker, is another level of ambition. Yoshida-san said, "What I'm really excited about is seeing how people will react, feel, and be surprised by what is to come." And the last time he said that it was about the 5.3 update storyline, which certainly delivered.
As you can probably imagine, planning and development for subsequent patches and expansions happen well ahead of time to keep up with a regular cadence that was established back in 2013--for example, Endwalker's story was already wrapped up by October 2019. Yoshida-san even dedicated a lengthy segment to explaining the management process in the latest Live Letter From The Producer update stream. In being transparent and communicative with the FFXIV community, he has also shed light on how the team has transitioned to work-from-home conditions, the prioritization of personal life amid a global pandemic, and the changes to the development of new content.
They've had to shuffle around priorities with content and push updates back, and it ultimately affected the launch of Endwalker, which was originally planned for Summer 2021. But even in the midst of a dramatic shift, the quality of the game's updates has been consistent. And it seems that is extending to Endwalker, at least in terms of its breadth.
"We're scrambling to somehow get everything done by our deadlines, but I can assure you that the volume of the main scenario will not be any smaller than those of previous expansions," Yoshida-san said. "How the scale and scope of the game end up depends on the effort of the staff, but what l can say is it will be more than 50 hours of gameplay."
From what we can glean from the Endwalker's teaser trailer and announcement presentation, there is going to be a lot packed into those 50-or-so hours, especially considering all the lingering story threads. The FFXIV team made no bones about players going to the moon in-game, which is core to Endwalker's premise, and so many implications were hinted at about the game's world, too. But that trailer also featured Alisaie and Alphinaud in a big way, long-time characters who finally showed up in a FFXIV cinematic. It got me thinking about the exceptional character development and focus Shadowbringers brought to its core cast, and I asked if that ethos is being carried into Endwalker.
"You’re correct that we did focus on that aspect for our characters in Shadowbringers, and I believe you'll be able to see how we will dive deep into various characters so that you can get a glimpse of their inner selves," Yoshida-san stated. While Heavensward and Stormblood largely told stories about factions, politics, and humanity, Shadowbringers brought a new sense of intimacy that made us see FFXIV and its characters in a new light. He followed up, saying, "Just like our players--the Warriors of Light--have gone through this journey to hear, feel, and think, the same applies to the NPCs."
When it comes to anything beyond Endwalker, it seems that the team doesn't have time to dive into other projects or plans for now. While this expansion marks an end and a new beginning for FFXIV, Yoshida-san said, "We're currently focused solely on creating Endwalker, so there's nothing else in my mind aside from delivering the finale of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark story arc to our players."
However, he did drop a hint about how they may try new approaches in a post-Endwalker world. Read into it what you will, but Yoshida-san said, "I believe the development staff are most keen on finding out more about the next story, including how long it might be and if we'll be going in the direction of shorter storylines. It's still a secret!"
With Yoshida-san calling this "the end of the first saga of FFXIV," loosely mentioning five-to-ten more years of regular content and alluding to secrets for the game's future, we at least know that FFXIV has a lot more left in the tank.
FFXIV has been in a unique position as an MMORPG that has hooked a wide playerbase with a sharp narrative that stands tall alongside its single-player counterparts. It is the main appeal of Endwalker, too. For one, I am expecting more wild revelations and stunning moments that the game has consistently delivered. But given the formula we've grown accustomed to, I'm also looking forward to how the FFXIV team handles what seems to be uncharted territory for the game, building something beyond the initial vision established back in A Realm Reborn.
The expansion isn't the only thing FFXIV has in store for the year. Patch 5.5 is a two-part update, set for April 13 and the end of May, that will usher players into the story of Endwalker along with a slew of new content. And between those two updates is FFXIV Fan Fest on May 15 and 16, where we can expect more details on Endwalker and the full cinematic intro.
From the free trial that includes the Heavensward expansion and lets players go up to level 60, and my FFXIV beginner's guide, it's as good a time as any for newcomers to see what Square Enix has built over the past several years. There's also plenty of time from now until Endwalker launches sometime in Fall this year. For current players, looking forward intensifies.
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