Naoki Yoshida is not a household name amongst the Japanese game design world yet, but he should be a bit better known in the years to come. Why? Because he saved Square Enix from certain doom by morphing the horrendous Final Fantasy XIV: Online into one of the most fun and original MMORPGs in recent years, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
However, the sun was not always shining on his career. For all his success with the latest version, it was him, his team, and Square Enix’s stubborness which nearly sank the ship in the first place. Yoshida opened up on the troubled development of Final Fantasy XIV at GDC this week, and Polygon attended his talk centered on what went so horribly wrong .
An “unhealthy obsession with graphical quality” was one of the three main culprit of Final Fantasy XIVs woes. Technically, the first game’s areas might have looked prettier, but to make up for the fancy graphics that Square Enix wanted, gameplay had to take a toll. 20 characters on screen were what limited Final Fantasy XIV’s party system, which would account for the barren and unexciting world that many people criticized.
Another reason for the failed launched was a general lack of experience in the MMORPG genre. Final Fantasy XI remains the most profitable game in the company’s history, but the genre had changed so drastically since it first released with World of Warcraft and all of its competitors changing the battleground. Square Enix ignored a lot of the advances made since Final Fantasy XI, releasing a game that felt incredibly dated in the face of modern games.
Yoshida claims that Square Enix stubbornly leaned on the PlayStation 2 mindset which proved so valuable to them already. Square focused heavily on “masters” of the game design “craft” to ensure that quality games got made, but with the leap in HD graphics, the number of people needed to develop a game expanded. Square Enix refused to budge from this notion of “masters” and couldn’t find sufficient help in the MMORPG genre.
Lastly, Square Enix also believed that everything in an MMORPG could be patched, thinking that ideas that didn’t really work could be swapped out for better ones. Some things can be fixed, true, but core elements proved irreplaceable. This “lack of planning” ultimately killed the game, and that is why Yoshida and his team were forced to start from square one with the relaunch.
And his efforts proved to pay off. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn now sports 1.8 million players, 500,000 daily users, and 6.75 million characters, and Naoki Yoshida finds himself on a lofty council of designers whose job it is to ensure the future quality of Final Fantasy. Hopefully they listen to this guy because if the beautiful Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a sign of anything, he knows a lot more about the lore and classic sense of style than a few others on the team.
This wasn’t even his first effort with the series. Prior to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Yoshida had only dabbled in the Dragon Quest and Bomberman series. Square Enix, you’ve found your new man! Put him on Final Fantasy XVI and don’t look back!