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Interview

We Flew To Japan And Nerded Out With Creative Business Unit III Over Final Fantasy XVI

God of War fans might want to pay attention

WellPlayed has had its first international junket, and what a big opportunity for us little folks. We got an opportunity to tour the Square Enix offices in Shinjuku, Tokyo while getting hands-on with Final Fantasy XVI. You can read more on that and why it is charting a wholly new course for the series here.

In the heartland of the FF series we got to quiz a prized panel of the minds behind the newest numbered entry, headed by the fan-favourite lead of the epic MMO Final Fantasy XIV, producer Naoki Yoshida. Joining him was game director Hiroshi Takai, who also worked on the last pure high-fantasy entry, Final Fantasy V, as well as combat director Ryota Suzuki, who lists among other titles Devil May Cry 5 and Dragon’s Dogma on his resume. Finally, though no less impressively, is our translator and the fellow responsible for localisation and lore, Michael-Christopher Koji Fox. 

Phew. This was an ensemble of talent that this Final Fantasy fan was in awe of, but I made sure to offer our Australian joviality in warming up the room before dropping some whopper questions and gaining a few exclusive tidbits. That’s right, it is only here that you’re going to get the goss on the team’s favourite FFXVI characters, their glorious pop-culture inspirations that can be spotted in the game, as well as a clearer picture of how the game cycle will play out over the narrative’s 20-plus years.

[Left to right] Koji Fox, Naoki Yoshida, Hiroshi Takai, Ryota Suzuki

WellPlayed You have talked about how this is a Final Fantasy that evokes the classic, older titles. I’m also interested to know from each of you: what piece of media, game, movie, or series has helped inspire your creative process in your approach and design of this game?

Naoki Yoshida: For me, it’s got to be the book series A Song of Ice and Fire as well as the TV show Game of Thrones

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Hiroshi Takai: Game of Thrones for me as well, but as for games, I found God of War really inspiring. 

Ryota Suzuki: It’s not that I went out of my way to put these in the game or draw direct inspiration from them, but because I enjoyed them, they have definitely inspired me. That would be the John Wick movies as well as Blade. You can probably feel these in what I have created. 

HT: There’s probably a lot of stuff that we haven’t said here, but because we enjoyed playing or watching it, parts of these will inspire us because they’re things we enjoy. 

NY: If you look at the Eikon versus Eikon battles, you can see similarities to things like Ultraman, Godzilla, Evangelion, and even Attack on Titan. All these are things that we enjoy and that we’ve gotten inspiration from and you will see bits of that because we love those types of shows. 

Another thing on the story side, I happen to be a big fan of Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight happens to be one of my favourite movies of all time. I really enjoy how you have the relationship between The Batman and The Joker, the dark and the light. How one can’t exist without the other. That type of theme you can see in the Final Fantasy XVI narrative as well. 

I won’t spoil it, but there is some Attack on Titan carnage to follow

WP: Each Final Fantasy has characters that make you smile, or laugh. This is notable. We’ve been teased with some very exciting characters today. I’m wondering if you can tease us with a character that has made you smile or laugh in this dark world?

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NY: What you got to see in the gameplay today is about five hours in, and Clive is still obsessed with revenge. He’s still a one-dimensional character in that sense. As you progress through the story, you will get to see Clive change. He’s not always this sullen character who is obsessed with just this one thing and doesn’t care about anything else in the world. 

You get to see him when he’s young. What changes him, what sends him down this path. Then you get to see him on this path of revenge, then to see him in his encounters with other characters. How they open his eyes and he sees what is going on in the rest of the world. He realises that there isn’t only revenge in the world and he grows from this. 

Over time, you will find that Clive is one of the characters that people end up really, really liking because he does change so much. He is not a static character. That journey that he goes through in his life is going to resonate with people. 

As for a character that makes us laugh, Takai-san might have a better one. 

Garuda is positively frightening up close

HT: This is actually my favourite character. A character we haven’t mentioned before. His name is Byron. 

He’s an older character. He’s not a young character by any means. He’s a character that just makes you feel good. He’s there to make you laugh. Story-wise, he’s there to support Clive and he’s a good companion in that sense. In the scene in which he is first introduced to Clive, it doesn’t matter how many times I watch that scene, I always cry. It’s such a great scene. 

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Please focus on the character named Byron. He’s my favourite. 

RS: For me also, it has to be Clive. Not just because of story, but because I’ve been working on creating him for the past three years. Having spent every single day of my life with him, he has a special place in my heart. 

Koji Fox: My favourite? There are a lot of great characters in the game. Because it’s a mature game, I got to let some of them swear which has been fun. In Final Fantasy games, it has always been teen [rated] so we have to be careful for the language.

Mixing lactose with my Elden Ring

WP: Is this a first for the swearing?

KF: Of the numbered Final Fantasies, I think so. There was Stranger of Paradise. This [FFXVI] is the first numbered Final Fantasy that is mature. We didn’t go too over the top. But it’s great to have somebody yell “fuuuuck!” when the situation calls for it.

But that said, there is one character that I really enjoyed writing for but also help direct the voiceover for. There is a shopkeep, who I won’t name yet, that Clive will encounter on his adventure. Her voice actor is one of the most amazing voice actors I’ve worked with. We had kind of an image of what we wanted the character to look like. But once she took it and gave it a voice, it affected how we translated lines after that. She effectively made it hers. It’s so wonderful.

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She’s an older character, probably in her 60s or 70s. She’s seen everything. Clive is just kind of like [weary voice] “Uggh my life is so tough. The world is ending.” 

And she’s just like, “You youngins, it’ll be fine. Just buy something and get out of here.”

Clive takes himself so seriously at times and she doesn’t. She is kind of his great-old aunt that puts him in his place. She does this with her wonderful Northern accent which I think is going to make a lot of people smile. 

NY: Her name is Cauron. 

KF: As in like from the underworld. Not Karen. But I can’t say any more than that. When you play, keep an eye out for her. She’s a wonderful character and I love the voice.

NY: We talk about how the Dominants are the focal point of this story and we go into their motivations and their arcs. Outside of the dominants we have this great cast of characters with all their different motivations and backgrounds and we get to explore those throughout the story. It’s not just a story about Clive and the Dominants, it’s a story about the whole world. 

Bowser?

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WP: It sounds like we probably won’t be fast travelling to previous locations because of the seamless experience. So instead, will we get the opportunity to revisit locations as the years move forward? As we continue Clive’s story over the years? Will this always be pushing us in a forward direction, similar to Final Fantasy X where we have a very clear goal to move toward?

NY: You could compare Final Fantasy XVI closest to something like God of War. As an image of how the game cycle works, you will have a main world map just like God of War. In the centre of it, you will have this hub. As the story progresses, new areas will unlock. Clive will go to those new areas to progress. You will go there, play that stage, and then have the opportunity to return to the hub. At this hub, you can choose to continue the main scenario and unlock new areas. Or, you have opportunities for side quests where you go back to areas you have already visited and have that side content there. 

Again, we have these three distinct eras in the game. As the story progresses you will go to that next act like [Clive’s] 20s and 30s. You won’t have the opportunity to go back in time, but you can return to those areas you have visited and see how they have changed. This creates multiple versions of the same areas. 

HT: In addition to that, there is an opportunity for players to go back and replay stages they have already played. In a sense, go back and see something earlier in the game and retry if you want to fight a boss again.

NY: There will also be an opportunity to replay stages for a score as well. We’re calling that arcade mode. 

You also mentioned earlier that we may not have fast travel. We actually do, via the world map. Because of the PlayStation 5’s power, there’s hardly any load time when travelling that way.

Oh, two-winged angel!

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We finish by thanking the team. It is worth noting that these folks have just finished up a global press preview tour, treating us humble Australians to their final leg in their home city. Shaking off that initial exhaustion early in the interview with some light laughs, we were able to have a candid and light-hearted discussion about this upcoming dark fantasy title. 

For players not yet acquainted with the Final Fantasy brand, 2023 is likely to see some bright-eyed new initiates. Welcome, and enjoy the ride. 

Final Fantasy XVI releases for PS5 on June 22, 2023.

Written By Nathan Hennessy

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