During a roundtable interview with the developers of Final Fantasy XVI, we talked about the franchise’s bold new direction into the action RPG genre and what that means for both new and long-time fans of the series. It seems like a Sisyphean task to make both veterans of the series and younger audiences happy with the long-running franchise.
The interview was done through an on-site translator and Localization Director, Koji Fox.
Having a strong main protagonist is central to the Final Fantasy experience. When we talk about the franchise, it’s easy to point to characters like Cloud Strife, Tidus, Zidane, and plenty of others. With FFXVI, Clive Rosfield is on a harrowing quest for revenge after the murder of his brother Joshua.
Revenge can be a strong initial motivator for a character, but it’s what comes after that truly defines a Final Fantasy protagonist. Producer Naoki Yoshida mentioned, “We’ve talked about revenge as a weapon, but he [Clive] doesn’t know if he is the one controlling it or is controlling him; again, that kind of shows Clive’s position that he’s in a position where he doesn’t even know what’s going on sometimes.”
Final Fantasy XVI Devs Talk about Building the Bridge Between Old and New Fans
Yoshida also added, “It’s through his journey and meeting a lot of different people that he learns to open up a little bit.” He continues to say, “He [Clive] meets up with Cid, and Cid pretty much helps Clive open his eyes to the rest of the world because Clive was so focused he was only seeing this part of the world he wasn’t seeing the rest of the world and Cid helps him do this and helps him move on and change his motivations.”
So it’s clear that Clive’s motivations will change over the course of the game, and Clive has much more potential depth as a character outside of his primary goal of revenge.
Outside of the protagonist, FFXVI is focused heavily on its action combat. The Final Fantasy franchise has been trending in this direction with more recent titles like Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake, but FFXVI jumps head first into this. When asked about this new direction, Yoshida said, “A lot of the younger gamers now want that instant gratification, get into the game and be able to do what you want to do immediately.”
With FFXVI giving players immediate feedback on their hits and keeping the action flowing, it’s likely to appeal to a younger audience. Yoshida stated, “Rather than playing a slow turn-based game, they’d rather just go play Apex Legends.”
It might seem odd at first to try and compare Final Fantasy to Respawn’s free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends; the logic makes sense. Younger audiences tend to drift towards games they can watch on Twitch, compete in, and have a sense of incredible urgency. The team at Creative Business Unit III is aware that while Final Fantasy has a pretty broad appeal, a new combat system could provide an easy gateway for younger players to give it a chance.
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Yoshida recounted talking to fans around the world about the series. “A lot of the younger gamers that I’ve talked with, you know, they’ll come up to me and say, I’m really sorry, I haven’t really played Final Fantasy, because they kind of have this image that Final Fantasy is this kind of slower paced type of game,” he said.
So bringing on Combat Director Ryota Suzuki to direct the combat in FFXVI was a no-brainer. Suzuki has worked on games at Capcom, like Devil May Cry 5, Dragon’s Dogma, and MVC 2.
When discussing how to bridge the gap between old and new players with action combat, Combat Director Ryota Suzuki said, “It also needs a high ceiling as well. Something for players that are used to action games and players that are more of the hardcore players, but it’s something that would test their abilities and techniques as well. It needed to be accessible to both and be something that all found interesting and exciting.”
At this point, Naoki Yoshida chimed in with, “Again, I want to repeat, we all love turn base games as much as the rest of you. But we wanted to show the potential of Final Fantasy 16 to the world by doing something this revolutionary.”
Of course, at its core, Final Fantasy is still an RPG, and even with this new combat direction, the team is still focused and making sure the action parts don’t fully dilute the RPG elements in the game. When asking the team how they struck this balance, Yoshida said, “I never really felt that the focus was so much on action that we ignored the RPG elements because, again, throughout the game, there’s a lot of that type of RPG type of side content. It’s just that we haven’t shown it yet in our presentation.”
It was at this point that Main Director Hiroshi Takai added, “As for, you know, going to full on in action, sometimes when we felt that maybe we had gone a little bit too much into action because it felt a little bit too hard. Even internally, for example, the Benedickta fight, there was a time when it was so hard that even no one and the dev team was able to finish.”
Yoshida stated immediately through stifled laughter, “Too hard, so hard.”
The balance between using the action as a focal point for the combat and as a setpiece design for cinematics intrigued the team. Takai said, “Rather than make it something that’s going to be too difficult and frustrating for the character, we wanted to show, use that as a showcase for how the action and the character building and story as well as, you know, this battle can all kind of be seamlessly intertwined.”
The demo we played was focused primarily on combat, but Taki assured us that the moments before and after the demo are filled with RPG elements. “And that’s because we have cut it out because we wanted to focus and showcase that action. In fact, the portions that come before and after this, you have a lot of those RPG elements in there.”
RPGs often give players nearly endless replayability through different character builds, optional side content, New game plus, and more. Naoki Yoshida explained, “That said, once you get through the story, for your second playthrough, we have a lot of content that is there for those players that are looking for that challenge. And for that actual content that is specifically geared towards action hard for gamers.”
FFXVI is going the route of additional game modes and difficulty options similar to the Devil May Cry series, which, again, makes sense with Combat Director Ryota Suzuki on board. This is how the team builds the bridge between old and new fans.
Give older fans the story and characters they want to fall in love with while offering additional challenging modes as post-game content.
Yoshida talked about some of these modes during the interview, “We have different types of play modes, different types of side content, things like an arcade mode where you, you battle for scores, and then you can compete on the world leaderboard and compare your scores to other players.”
Bringing the action genre to Final Fantasy doesn’t just mean changing the core combat but offering the types of challenges that players of this genre also love. Looking at an arcade mode where players can compete for high scores is an incentive to stream the game, learn the intricacies of the combat, and push their friends to improve.
Yoshida left the interview on a note about creating your own Final Fantasy and how the process worked for him:
“I had opportunity in the past, you know, to speak with, again, the creator, father of the series, Sakaguchi-san, as well as other Final Fantasy legendary creators such as Kitase-san, and both of them have always told me that, basically, Final Fantasy is what the director of that project thinks it should be, and to build and to create what you think is the best at that time and don’t worry about what came before,” he said.
“Don’t look to what came before; create what you think is going to be the best Final Fantasy. And having been told that by these greats made it a lot easier for me to create a Final Fantasy myself.”