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Final Fantasy XVI producer Naoki Yoshida breaks new ground in series in new entry

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The Final Fantasy series is a staple of RPG culture that has helped normalize the tropes that have defined the genre for decades. Although narratively unrelated, each game’s turn-based combat, fantastical worlds, and colorful, quirky characters struck similar chords. You could always tell when you were playing a Final Fantasy game.

This brings us to “Final Fantasy XVI”. While the Sony State of Play game trailer showed off familiar summons that have become franchise icons, it didn’t show anything else that made players feel like they were about to step into a game. Final Fantasy. The slower, more methodical turn-based combat system departed in favor of something that feels straight out of Devil May Cry. The fantasy setting is also gone, in favor of a more realistic medieval setting with dark undertones similar to a Souls game.

Naoki Yoshida works on the project, a producer brought in for the first time to save developer Square Enix’s critical adventure in the MMORPG genre, “Final Fantasy XIV”, and who is often cited as saving not only “FFXIV”, but potentially the whole franchise. With this latest entry in the series, he said he had to balance fan expectations with innovation.

“When you think about the future of the Final Fantasy franchise, you have to aim for that generation of gamers who have never touched Final Fantasy before,” Yoshida said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Maybe they think the show is too old, too classic. [So you] create something that shows them that this could be an exciting game.

“But I don’t want you to think that I am abandoning these veteran players and fans of the series, because we are certainly not. We want to create something that everyone feels is epic.

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Square Enix has been struggling with an identity crisis with the series for over a decade. A tumultuous production cycle plagued 2006’s “Final Fantasy XII,” “Final Fantasy XIII”‘s pivot to a more action-based combat system polarized fans, and “Final Fantasy XV,” which drifted away even more turn-based combat, featured a convoluted narrative that unfolded across multiple DLCs, a spin-off beat-em-up style game, an animated miniseries, and a film.

When “FFXIV” was originally released in 2010, it was heavily criticized for its lack of content, numerous bugs, and server crashes. Yoshida, an MMORPG enthusiast himself, was brought in to lead a team that would essentially rebuild the game from scratch. The result was “FFXIV: A Realm Reborn” in 2013, a much more streamlined experience that fixed bugs and provided rich content that not only catered to newcomers, but also longtime fans desperate for signs. of the franchise they once knew.

Yoshida, now a producer of “FFXVI,” which is slated for release in 2023, incorporates the lessons he learned from “FFXIV” into the design philosophy of “FFXVI.” “FFXVI”‘s combat system is a great example of this: it’s action-oriented, emphasizing the flashy combos and read-and-react combat that the Final Fantasy series has been trending towards since “FFXII”. but attempts to incorporate elements longtime fans will recognize.

The fight won’t be a single-player experience as it appears in the trailer. The main character, Clive, will be accompanied by several AI-controlled party members who will banter and connect throughout the game, just like in previous Final Fantasy games. Yoshida also teases that there will be a “faithful buddy” that Clive can issue specific commands to during combat, despite the majority of player control focusing on Clive.

While specific combat details will be revealed at a later date, Yoshida is confident in the direction the system is taking. He thinks Square Enix, now with titles like ‘Final Fantasy XV’, ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ and the Kingdom Hearts series under its belt, finally has the expertise to create a compelling action combat system that players , regardless of their familiarity with the series, will appreciate.

“Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts team was especially helpful in contributing to these real-time battles and boss battles,” Yoshida said. “You could say that the battles in ‘FFXVI’ are sort of a culmination of the company’s past experiences.”

The team, led by Battle Director Ryota Suzuki, formerly of Capcom, who helped design “Marvel vs. Capcom 2,” “Devil May Cry 5,” and “Dragon’s Dogma,” feels equally confident, according to Yoshida. Issues that plagued previous games in the franchise — around combat animations, sluggish combat, and messy user interfaces — have all been streamlined with Suzuki’s guidance.

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Yoshida also thinks the game’s story – which he says won’t be a happy story and includes a setting, Valisthea, which is much darker than previous entries – will have overarching themes reminiscent of what fans of the series expect. .

“One of the main themes explored in the narrative of ‘Final Fantasy XVI’ deals with a clash of ideals. What is right and wrong? Should people live the life that has been chosen for them , or should they have the right to choose the path they follow?” Yoshida said.

Square Enix made sure that one of the first screens that load when playing “Final Fantasy XV” is a message stating that the game is “A Final Fantasy for Fans and Beginners”. Yoshida thinks “Final Fantasy XVI” will also capitalize on this message.

“I personally think all games should be like this,” he said. “You can see the same thing in ‘Final Fantasy XIV.’ So our foundation [for ‘Final Fantasy XVI’] is to build something that will appeal to veteran fans as well as new players.

Gene Park contributed to this report.

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