Final Fantasy XVI Preview – An interview with Naoki Yoshida about Eikons, boss fights and when we’ll see more

Square Enix recently unveiled a new Final Fantasy XVI trailer during a PlayStation State of Play. It was our biggest look at the upcoming RPG yet, and the trailer revealed that Final Fantasy XVI will be out sometime next summer.

game informant spoke to the game’s producer, Naoki Yoshida, who is also the director of Final Fantasy XIV, about this new “Dominance” FFXVI trailer, including the franchise’s return to a more medieval setting, Eikons, boss fights, and more.

game informant: Final Fantasy has a history of experimenting with different combat systems in new mainline entries, and Final Fantasy XVI appears to be doing the same, with perhaps the strongest emphasis on action in the mainline series yet. How did the team come up with this fighting style, and what’s it like to see it brought to life by fight director Ryota Suzuki (a designer credited with Devil May Cry 5, Dragon’s Dogma, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, among others)?

Naoki Yoshida: You asked me about the direction of the combat system, and to answer that, instead of building on previous Final Fantasy combat systems, we decided to shift our focus to contribute to the overall development of the Final Fantasy series towards one of real-time action . So once we had this concept that we were going in that direction, our director and our battle director, Ryota Suzuki, made it easy to take the reins and come out with something really action-oriented.

For the combat system, we not only gave the main character Clive an arsenal of powerful attacks and abilities based on those traditional Final Fantasy summons, but we allowed him to cycle through those attacks in real-time and deal with those attacks in real-time. [This allows] for powerful combos and smooth, stylish gameplay that both looks and feels good.

An example of this is as you saw in it [Dominance] Trailer where you have one of the Garuda skills where you lift the enemy up in the air and then Clive can switch to Titan in the air and use one of the Titan skills to knock the enemy down. This way of seamlessly switching and swapping actions and chaining them together to create those unique combinations… it all depends on the different playstyles of the players. There’s a lot of room to customize these types of builds that Clive has, and finding a build that suits his playstyle is one of the fun things about the action system that we have.

Many of our developers in our development team in [Creative Business Unit III] had no experience creating an action game. It was very challenging for us. And for the immensely talented action veteran Ryota Suzuki to join our team, who has driven our development, from the combat systems to the animation and everything he pretty much touches his hands, has transformed and become something beyond what we thought was possible. We’re really, really lucky to have him and we’re blessed.

GI: Throughout the trailer, there are a number of health bars at the top of the screen, both in human-to-human and Eikon-to-Eikon battles. What are these all about and are they supposed to remind you of fighting games?

Yoshida: Regarding the health bars and UI, after the trailer was released, I saw a lot of comments on social media about how the UI resembled a fighting game. When we started development of the game and had our Clive vs. Lesser Enemies or Eikon vs. Eikon fights, when we first developed them we did them with almost no UI on the screen. But we found as we played that there was just a bit too little information – we needed more information. However, we didn’t want to clutter up the screen, so after a lot of back and forth and trying lots of different things, we came up with the design… in the trailer, and that it happens to look like a fighting game, just something that happened at the end.

However, the overall game design for these Eikon vs. Eikon battles is meant to be unique, and in fact we’re not using the exact same system twice. Each fight is completely unique in its playstyle and that’s why we’re doing something that’s pretty crazy.

For example maybe an eikon vs eikon fight if you have eikon A vs eikon B this fight will resemble a 3D shooter. While another eikon vs another eikon is more like a pro wrestling match and then maybe even a third with an eikon vs another eikon turns an entire area into a battlefield. Again, we didn’t reuse these systems and each of these Eikon vs. Eikon battles is unique and will change with each battle. Because of this, and because the battles are so different, the UI has to change for each battle. Therefore, you will notice slight differences in the user interface between these battles. However, we ended up having to cut a lot of it out of the trailer because it ends up becoming story spoilers and we didn’t want that to happen.

Then you ask, “Well, if you hidden part of the UI, why didn’t you hide the entire UI like these HP bars?” Why did you leave that?” and that was simply because when you remove all the HP bars and the entire UI, people start to say, “Oh, that’s just pre-rendered, that’s not real-time.” We wanted to show that what you see in the trailer was real-time, so we decided to keep a bit of that UI.

GI: Many players are excited about the prospect of a single-player Final Fantasy from the developers behind FFXIV. What insights, mechanics and systems, and storytelling techniques, if any, from FFXIV can fans expect in any way in FFXVI?

Yoshida: So, Final Fantasy XIV was designed from the ground up as an MMORPG, while Final Fantasy XVI was designed from the ground up as a single player game, so you’ll have completely different design concepts from the start. As you know, MMORPGs are about the long haul – you string experiences together over time to sustain that user base.

Single player games, on the other hand, are much more about, I guess you could say instant gratification. They are fast, they hit you with excitement. That excitement is concentrated in a smaller package. So with that in mind, you can imagine that Final Fantasy XIV, at least systemically, won’t have influenced Final Fantasy XVI that much. However, one of the most unique things about Final Fantasy XIV is the type of connection the development team has with the community. [and] the amount of communication that goes back and forth between the development team and the community. Over the last 11 years, interacting with the community has given us a lot of very, very valuable information about what fans want and expect from the series. This 11 year knowledge base has helped and allowed us to bring some of these ideas and incorporate these ideas into the development of Final Fantasy XVI.

GI: Mainline Final fantasy games have been moving more towards modern timelines lately, with a heavy emphasis on integrating tech and magic, but FFXVI looks decidedly more medieval or classic FF. How did the team come up with this setting and time frame when developing the game?

Yoshida: The answer to that is actually pretty simple: it’s just that a lot of the core members are there [Creative Business Unit III] We really liked that classic Final Fantasies and that classic medieval European fantasy feel – myself included – and we wanted to make a game that had that feel. When we were making this game we wanted to take that look, that medieval European classic fantasy look and fuse it with our own unique idea that we had and then take all that and try to do that with the current level of technology and Doable to express something that is really, really exciting.

As you know, the Final Fantasy series is somehow famous or notorious for being different with each entry in the series. However, after doing some user research recently, we found that many of the users found so much of Final Fantasy [games] became kind of static in that vision, so we wanted to use this as an opportunity to step away from that and try something different; not just for us, but in terms of the future of Final Fantasy and upcoming projects, we wanted to try something different and maybe show that yes, the series can go in different directions instead of being focused on one.

While we’ve just released our second trailer, we’re already working on preparing a third trailer for release this fall. In this trailer we’re hoping to focus a little more on the world and the lore and the storyline and hopefully bring players a little bit more of that information and show how the story is going to be, how the narrative is going to be, and how that will fit into the world.

GI: You are obviously a very busy person with FFXIV, but now you are producing FFXVI. What’s it like working on a new single player mainline FF and what’s it like having Creative Business Unit III leading the project?

Yoshida: It doesn’t matter what kind of project I’m working on. As the leader of a game or project, the pressure is always immense. There are always a lot of people and money involved. As you know, on Final Fantasy XIV I’m both a producer and a director. However, this time I’m only a producer on XVI. So with that in mind, it’s a lot of weight off my shoulders.

Final Fantasy XVI is the latest entry in the series, which means all eyes will be on us as pretty much everyone out there is scrambling to figure out what kind of game it’s going to be, and a lot of that pressure goes directly to the game via director. And so all the pressure doesn’t fall on the producer but, like I said, on the director Hiroshi Takai or the fight director Ryota Suzuki or our creative director and screenwriter Kazutoyo Maehiro or even if I’m the localization director and I’m helping with the world story and things like that, it’s on a lot of pressure on us. And as a producer, it’s my job to make sure that that pressure doesn’t get too much for the people who work under me. Being able to do these types of interviews and speak to the media and make sure the important information comes out so the team isn’t burdened. It’s something I can do again to take that burden off them, and it’s a lot easier for me than being a director.

Again, I was very honored when the company came to me and [Creative Business Unit III] and asked us to direct the latest numbered Final Fantasy. But again, this opportunity would never have been possible if we hadn’t had the time we put into Final Fantasy XIV and the voice of the users and the voice of the media that covered us. So I want to thank them for giving us this opportunity to create the latest Final Fantasy.

To learn more about Final Fantasy XVI, watch the Dominance trailer and admire the beautiful landscapes in these new screenshots. After that, read how excited I am for the kaiju-style battles we seem to have, then check out Game Informer’s rankings for each mainline finale fantasy game.

What are you looking forward to most in Final Fantasy XVI?