Naoki Yoshida, the man often credited with turning Final Fantasy XIV around after the MMO’s miserable launch and who is now in charge of bringing the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI to life, wasn’t always the superstar we know him as today. In fact, the higher-ups at Square Enix canceled Yoshida’s very first project at the company.
Speaking with We Are Vana’diel, the official Final Fantasy XI community site, Yoshida discussed his experience during the 2003 merger between Square Co. and Enix Corporation, then-separate role-playing game juggernauts. Yoshida was an outside developer working with Enix on an online PC game when the two companies decided to join forces.
“As a result, we were told the game might not stay PC-exclusive, and sure enough, after the merger actually took place, we were told to rework it for the PlayStation 2,” Yoshida told Final Fantasy XI producer Akihiko Matsui. “There was a vast difference in memory capacity between PCs and the PS2 even back then, so frankly, I was like, ‘You’re kidding me right?’”
Sure enough, shifting from PC to the much less powerful PlayStation 2 raised a whole host of issues for Yoshida’s game. He was eventually called into a meeting with Square Enix executives to provide a complete accounting of the problems development was facing. They had high hopes for him, Yoshida explained, and original Final Fantasy XI producer Tanaka Hiromichi in particular was willing to provide him with the support he needed to get the game back on track.
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Unfortunately, the project just wasn’t meant to be as Square Enix continued to ask for more features. A sales meeting decided the game needed a whole new scenario mode, leading to debate within the company of how to break the news to Yoshida’s team after having already asked them for various changes. Rather than continue to rework the game, it was put on hold indefinitely.
Although Yoshida didn’t get into it here, during a recent interview with Game Informer he briefly described this canceled project as an ambitious role-playing game where cooperation with fellow players was key to seeing the different branches of the overall storyline.
“You would follow this one path, and then you’d have to team up with somebody else who has gone through a different history, or there was an item that you had to obtain in order to change your trajectory, but that item can only be obtained from somebody else,” said Yoshida.
Stories like this are a dime a dozen in the industry. Game development can be a fraught process of starts and stops, and often even the most polished products are held together by duct tape and dreams. We’ll probably never know all the games that never saw the light of day. But something about a man as highly regarded as Yoshida sharing his experiences with failure struck me as meaningful. Here’s a guy who today oversees both of Square Enix’s online Final Fantasy games while also guiding the iconic franchise’s next single-player adventure, and even he wasn’t safe from meddling and cancellations early in his career.
Despite this setback, important people at Square Enix saw something in Yoshida, which led future Nier series producer Yosuke Saito to bring him aboard in 2005 as an official employee. From there, Yoshida would work on Dragon Quest X (another online game, by the way) and various spin-offs before being tasked with saving the failing Final Fantasy XIV. The rest is history, and according to Yoshida, his success turning the MMO around ties back to that scrapped project.
“That chain of events is actually one of the reasons why I was determined to rebuild Final Fantasy XIV,” Yoshida said. “Despite all [original Final Fantasy XI producer Tanaka Hiromichi] had done for me, I wasn’t able to release the title he had high hopes for, so I felt like rebuilding Final Fantasy XIV was the only way I could repay him.”