The thing Naoki Yoshida is most excited about in Final Fantasy XVI is the eikon battles.
In speaking to The Verge, Yoshida, the game’s director, talked about how earth-shattering, knock-down, drag-out fights between some of the franchise’s most prominent and popular monsters featured heavily in this latest single-player, non-remake entry in the 35-year-old JRPG series.
Summons — aka espers, aka aeons, aka eidolons, aka GF (lol) and now eikons — have been a fixture in the Final Fantasy series, representing a kind of “break glass in case of emergency” option in combat. Over the years, players have had varying levels of control over them with the power to call them forth for a one-time big hit like in Final Fantasy VII and IX, issue commands to them directly like in Final Fantasy X, or to summon them as NPC combat allies like in FFXII. But Final Fantasy XVI seems to offer more to summon combat than just having a big dude show up to beat on other dudes for you.
“We have these epic summon versus summon battles,” Yoshida said, speaking through a translator. “And these are not only going to be in cutscenes. The players will be able to actually get into those battles and control an eikon of their own and feel the excitement from the inside, not just from an outside type of view.”
Eikons are at the heart of all the trailers, media, and lore we’ve seen of Final Fantasy XVI so far, and focusing the game on these creatures of immense and awesome power is key to Yoshida’s vision.
“We envision Final Fantasy XVI as like a giant, high-speed roller coaster that will take players on a thrilling ride both story- and gameplay-wise.”
Final Fantasy is in the middle of a “hot Garuda summer” period. Final Fantasy XIV continues to enjoy worldwide popularity while fans are eagerly anticipating the arrival of not only a Crisis Core remake but the launch of the second installment in the Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy. No matter if you are a single-player or MMO Final Fantasy fan, you are eating well. But the arrival of XVI revives concerns about Square Enix’s ability to make a successful, original, single-player Final Fantasy title.
The annoyingly titled Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin made waves for being a weird “cringe but make it camp” game outside of the traditional action RPG format, but it didn’t enjoy widespread success. Additionally, Final Fantasy XV was a commercial hit but a critical failure plagued with delays, scope changes, platform changes, and leadership changes creating a messy hodgepodge of a game (though sprinkled with some truly brilliant series-defining moments) with a back-half that is almost wholly indefensible.
Going into XVI, Yoshida and his team were aware of the problems that dogged FFXV’s production.
“One of the first things that we did back in the early days of Final Fantasy XVI development, when we were still just a tiny team, was first focus on what kind of game system we’re having,” Yoshida said. “And then once we had that, we finalized the meat of the script and narrative.”
The result, Yoshida says, is a game that is currently fully playable from start to finish, hopefully without the worry of needing DLC or books to fill in gaps or better express the game’s story after the fact.
Fans are excited for XVI in a way they may not have been for other Final Fantasy games because of Yoshida. He is a big reason why Square Enix was able to salvage Final Fantasy XIV from a barely playable mess into the critically acclaimed game that was, just last year, so popular sales and free trials had to be suspended to alleviate server congestion. I wanted to know what, if any, of his secret FFXIV sauce made it into FFXVI.
But Yoshida said that working on Final Fantasy XVI didn’t call too much upon his experience with Final Fantasy XIV because they’re two very different games for players who want very different things.
“Working on a mainline title and learning who the fans of Final Fantasy are and what those fans expect from the series is what’s proved the most invaluable,” Yoshida said.
Yoshida explained that the experience of developing these games is like the difference between a marathon and a 100-meter dash. He’s a marathon runner, used to stretching out a story in order to keep fans interested and continuously playing, and he needed to train himself, so to speak, to run much faster over a much shorter distance.
“Compared with an MMO, single-player games are more about providing instant gratification,” he said. “They’re short bursts of extreme excitement and then, when you get to the finish, ending on a bang that has people think ‘Wow, that was a great game.’”
Yoshida isn’t the only person from the FFXIV team working on FFXVI. Fans are equally excited to see XIV’s composer Masayoshi Soken working on XVI’s music. I asked if Yoshida had any insight into how Soken has been handling the new assignment.
“Final Fantasy XIV has always been considered like a Final Fantasy theme park, and this has allowed for a lot of different types of music styles,” Yoshida said. “Final Fantasy XVI, however, is a more focused experience fixed firmly on Clive Rosefield and his journey. As such, I envisioned a more focused experience when it comes to music as well.”
Yoshida shared that Soken confided in him that he’s actually been having a tough time adapting to work on a single-player game.
“Focusing on one theme has been actually very challenging for him,” Yoshida said. “It’s been a long time since he’s had to do that and not be able to just do whatever he wants.”
Yoshida feels that Final Fantasy XVI is a coming of age of sorts for him. He talked about his time playing the first Final Fantasy as a child and how his imagination made him feel like he was playing a movie. Now, with all the advancements in technology, he doesn’t have to rely on his imagination anymore.
“I look at Final Fantasy XVI as like taking the best part of a movie and the best part of a game and putting those together to make a truly interactive type of game / movie,” he said. “The most exciting part about developing this game has been the eikons with the sheer size and scale of their battles. When I was a child playing Final Fantasy I, with its pixel graphics, this is how I imagined they would look and being able to see them now has been really exciting.”