Naoki Yoshida is about as far away from the stereotypical image of a Japanese businessman as you are likely to get. Clad in designer jeans with expertly styled hair and numerous finger rings, he looks more like a rock star than anything else. His business card even features a caricature of himself smoking while relaxing with a cup of coffee. But regardless of what he looks like, he is, at heart, a passionate MMO gamer who wants to turn Final Fantasy XIV from colossal failure into striking success.
While not a member of the team working on the original version of Final Fantasy XIV, Yoshida feared the game was doomed even before its release. After the bad reaction from players during the Beta test, even the staff thought the game wasn't ready for it to go on sale. "When I heard that it was going to go on sale as planned, I thought, that will probably be a big mistake."
To Yoshida, the biggest problems with the original Final Fantasy XIV came from how the game itself was envisioned and developed. Final Fantasy XI, Square Enix's other Final Fantasy MMO, was developed as a game where Final Fantasy would meet EverQuest—the top MMORPG of the day. In fact, according to Yoshida, the entire staff played EverQuest for at least a year while developing FFXI, trying to figure out just what exactly made it work so well. "I think it would've been good to do the same thing [for the original FFXIV]."
"So, because they tried only to make something that was 'different from FFXI,' they ended up with not much of anything."
In Yoshida's opinion, the reason FFXI was a success is that it took the areas where Final Fantasy was strongest—cutscenes, dramatic scenarios, and story-driven content—and input them into an EverQuest inspired framework.
However, when the original FFXIV was in development, the goal of the project was simply to make a game that was different from Final Fantasy XI. Yoshida feels that the creators didn't recognize that the global standard of MMOs had been significantly raised in recent years. He would have suggested a different path for the game—one that mirrored FFXI's own creation. "I think it would've been good if they tried seeing what happened if they turned World of Warcraft into Final Fantasy. So, because they tried only to make something that was 'different from FFXI,' they ended up with not much of anything."
"They should have said, 'Hey you, go play WoW for a year [for inspiration].'"
Yoshida then talked at some length about the origins and development of MMORPGs. How they developed from tabletop RPGs into games like Ultima and Wizardy—before moving to the online world. What was important in his eyes is how early RPGs borrowed the best elements from and influenced each other. That's how the genre advanced and made new games. "Unless you are a genius, you cannot make something completely new from nothing."
When it comes to his FFXIV, A Realm Reborn, Yoshida believes they are on the right track. He has the best of the best from inside the company to work on this game and they are adamant the game not be released until it is ready. "We won't make a mistake like FFXIV again—if we did, it would be like at the level of destroying the company."
That said, Yoshida said his biggest worry while making A Realm Reborn has been the schedule. World class MMOs have so much in them that time is always an issue. There's got to be a lot for players to do. When coding started for A Realm Reborn, Yoshida and his team only had 16 months until the planned relaunch. At times, he had wondered if it was really possible to do all the work in two years. He lamented that he knows players wanted it fixed as quickly as possible, but if it is released before next year, he thinks they won't enjoy it.
When asked in closing how he would play A Realm Reborn, on PC or PlayStation 3, Yoshida responded, "I became an online gamer 16 or 17 years ago and I've always played on the PC. I played Diablo, Ultima Online, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and World of Warcraft—all always on the PC." He feels that, personally, if he did things like PvP without his trusty mouse and keyboard, he would definitely lose. But he mentioned that there was more than a little appeal to lying on his couch with the controller.
Coming out of the interview, I found myself more than a little impressed. Yoshida was upfront and frank about the problems of Final Fantasy XIV and the challenges that await Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. But more than that, our short talk left me with faith that if anyone can fix the game, it's him.