One of the most iconic franchises in videogame history is having a hard time staying relevant, according to Final Fantasy 14 and 16 director Naoki Yoshida.
“In terms of whether Final Fantasy is successfully adapting to industry trends, I believe the series is currently struggling," Yoshida told Inverse (opens in new tab). "We’re now at a point where we receive a wide variety of requests regarding the direction of our game design. To be honest, it’d be impossible to satisfy all those requests with a single title. My current impression is that all we can really do is create multiple games, and continue creating the best that we can at any given time."
The director, who has worked at Square Enix for the last 18 years, could be referring to a lot of trends that have taken hold of gaming or that threaten to. In February (opens in new tab), he addressed Square Enix (opens in new tab) and the gaming industry's growing interest in NFTs and 'play-to-earn' cryptocurrency mechanics, confirming that the FF14 won't incorporate them. And, while the MMO is memed as having a free trial that you can play up through its Heavensward expansion, it's still not a completely free-to-play live service game like a Genshin Impact or what Ubisoft's upcoming Assassin's Creed Infinity (opens in new tab) promises to be. Final Fantasy 16 (opens in new tab), the next main entry in the series won't be either, nor will it be open world, but it will include genre-bending battles between its iconic summons—a first for the series.
Outside the numbered entries, Final Fantasy games have slightly pushed things in more modern directions. There are several Final Fantasy mobile gacha games; Brave Exvius hit 45 million downloads last year. Final Fantasy 7 Remake and the other spin-offs continue to break away from the original game's trajectory, like the battle royale shooter that launched last year. But none of them have truly taken off or had as much of an impact as the series had in the late '90s and early 2000s.
Yoshida told Inverse that the series isn't about chasing trends, but setting them, and that FF16's storytelling will reflect that. But it sounds like he wants to do much more than that. The long development cycles for its past few numbered entries probably make that difficult.
The side projects could push further out into the unknown, but it might be hard to convince Square Enix, a notoriously risk-averse company (opens in new tab), to let a team do that. Yoshida seems interested in pushing further after Final Fantasy 16 is out next year.
"I am the kind of person who’s happy as long as they can make games, so while there isn’t anything in particular, I occasionally think that I would like to make one more MMORPG title, from scratch, before I die," Yoshida said.
After the clever and historic ending of FF14's original incarnation and its recent explosion in popularity, I hope he gets his wish.