The latest IAS Game Maker’s Notebook Podcast (embedded in the full article below) is a chat between Sony’s head of independent development Shuhei Yoshida and Square Enix producer, designer and director Naoki Yoshida, one of the big fish behind Final Fantasy 14 and Final Fantasy 16. In a lengthy discussion of the latter game, the two Yoshidas chew over the familiar topic of where Final Fantasy should go next. According to Naoki Yoshida, it might be time for an injection of new blood.
“I’m on the board of directors now so I really need to watch what I say here,” Naoki Yoshida said, when Shuhei Yoshida popped the question as to whether he’ll be directing the unannounced Final Fantasy 17. “For the moment, I’ll just say nothing’s been decided yet.”
“That said, if I had to say anything about that, I’ve had the chance to work on two of these, XIV and XVI, so maybe it’s time for someone new, you know,” he went on. “Instead of having the same old guys handling the next one, I think in some ways it would be good to look to the future and bring in a younger generation, with more youthful sensibilities, to make a new FF with challenges that suit today’s world.”
Naoki Yoshida has been at Square Enix since 2004, and has had a dramatic impact on Final Fantasy’s recent fortunes. He’s the guy credited with “saving” Final Fantasy 14, now a highly successful and well-regarded MMO, after its catastrophic launch. Final Fantasy 16 has proven less of a hit – I found it to be a mixture of exciting and tedious and far too long – but the game has plenty of advocates, and Yoshida remains beloved among the Final Fantasy faithful.
Nowadays, Yoshida is also part of the Final Fantasy Committee of bigwigs who oversee the overall direction of this famously reinvention-prone series. What advice would he give a younger developer, taking a leadership position on Final Fantasy 17? “Well, basically, and this is the same for the father of the series, [Hironobu Sakaguchi], and for [Yoshinori Kitase], who’s currently brand manager for the FF series – FF is about challenging what’s been done before,” Yoshida continued.
“And while I’m certainly not looking to pick a fight with the older games, we all make FF games thinking ‘mine will be the most fun!’ So my advice is to just dive in and first put down on paper what you believe would be the most enjoyable FF, before thinking too hard about it. Then, from there, you can think. ‘since XVI was real-time action, my FF is going to have both real-time action and turn-based battles!’. Or, you could go to the other extreme and return it to it’s fully turn-based, pixel art roots.”
Final Fantasy developers are prone to thinking aloud in public about whether the games should be turn-based or action-based or one of a million, intervening variations. One of the Final Fantasy 7 remake’s developers, Naoki Hamaguchi, recently told GameInformer that: “I do believe that, not just for RPGs, but for other fantasy-type titles as well, the trend will be such that it’ll be moving towards incorporating more action elements and that will be the trajectory of games overall.”
In the same piece, game director Tetsuya Nomura offered some thoughts on how to retain the “feel” of an FF game, regardless of how your combat system handles the flow of time. “I do have this idea of how Final Fantasy battles should be and should feel,” he said. “We want to still keep this strategy element, in which the player will consider the elemental weaknesses of enemies during battle while using these action moves and being engaged, intact.
“That was always my core belief in how we should approach Final Fantasy battles. […] I thought this was truly vital to this game; I didn’t want it to be a game where it’s a reflex-type action or reflex-based battle; we wanted to combine all of these elements.”
Swivelling back to the Game Maker’s Notebook podcast, Naoki Yoshida is very much Team Action-Based for the moment. “Recently, XVI and the VII Remake series have both adopted action gameplay, but Square Enix originally had a poor reputation, when it came to making action games,” he observed, when asked about the publisher’s activities as a whole.
“I mean, I’m sure there are many people who still think that now! But having come this far, I’d like to see Square Enix use this gained experience to continue challenging ourselves in the action genre, to make what we haven’t made yet, with even greater storytelling, emotion, and impact. I think it would be good for us as a company, and it’s what I’d personally like to keep pursuing, so that would be my first suggestion.
“Beyond that, in terms of themes, is our next game going to be another weighty, serious fantasy, or maybe a grand adventure story for a younger audience? Either way, it’s more fun pushing the limits – is how we feel too.”
The next major Final Fantasy project is Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, the second instalment in the FF7 reboot saga, which Square Enix still haven’t announced for PC because they want to get on Katharine’s nerves. Square Enix have, at least, confirmed that Final Fantasy 16 is coming to PC. In other news, the publisher are continuing to focus on blockchain projects and will make “aggressive” use of generative AI tools in game development this year.