10 things we learned from The Creation of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers

Which parts of the real world influenced Shadowbringers? Why are capes such a big deal? And how do you make ‘pretty vomit?’
By Duncan Heaney

The Creation of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers video documentary provides a fascinating look behind the scenes of the critically acclaimed expansion.

Across seven episodes, the series looks at everything, from writing the story to building the battles. It’s full of fascinating insights and anecdotes direct from the developers themselves.

Here just 10 of the things it’s taught us:

1. The writers wanted to challenge basic assumptions of light and dark

Traditionally, light and darkness are presented in a particular way in fiction, and this was also true of FINAL FANTASY XIV Online. Even within the game’s development team, light equaled justice and darkness equaled evil.

For Shadowbringers, Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida wanted to challenge and subvert these assumptions.

He says: “When people think of Light, they think of something beautiful, righteous and just; something that’s pretty to look at, unstained and untainted, but that’s not necessarily true.

And if you look at Darkness, there’s beauty in it - there’s a line of dialogue that talks about how it’s the night sky that enables the stars to be beautiful.

2. The First was heavily influenced by the real world

Shadowbringers moves the action out of Hydaelyn into a whole new realm: The First. It may seem a fantastical setting, but many of the areas you explore were deeply inspired by real places.

For example, on a business trip to Saudi Arabia, the team took the opportunity to visit the desert and take some pictures while they were there. The design and textures of Amh Araeng take many direct cues from that reference material.

Elsewhere, The Rak’tika Greatwood’s Ronkan Ruins were inspired by Angkor Wat - a massive temple complex in Cambodia - while the stark cliffs of Kholusia were influenced by the Seven Sisters in the UK.

3. Making the Everlasting Light look just right took effort… and travel

How do you make light feel oppressive? This was one of the biggest visual design challenges for the Shadowbringers devs, and it took a lot of thought and time to make the light feel right.

Every element of the weather states was considered. For example, Background Artist Masato Shida worked on the clouds - and went to some lengths to get them as good as he could.

I decided I wanted to depict clouds that felt like it had some thickness to them,” he recalls. “To do this, I decided to take reference photos of different types of clouds.

I actually travelled outside of Japan to Guam to take pictures of the different clouds there, and they were really rich, thick clouds. It was these I utilized and modified to create what you see in the game.

Now that’s dedication!

4. When it comes to Shadowbringers fashion, capes are in

Due to the way FINAL FANTASY XIV Online is set up, the team isn’t really able to create cloaks and capes. They’d announced this publicly before, and also stressed it to the art team.

But you’ll notice that new gear for the Red Mage features what looks suspiciously like… a cape. That’s because Character Concept Artist Ayumi Namae came up with an idea to create something that at least looked like one.

Even though there was a chance it wouldn’t look right, Character Artist Yuji Yamazaki and team decided to roll the dice and see what they could do.

He says: “While it may not have looked very realistic compared to an actual cape, there was an idea there for us to fudge it!

I thought about the functionality we already have in our clothing designs and told Ms. Namae that while I couldn’t make any promises, I could see a way to give it a go that may work.

By borrowing from other ‘flowing’ elements like skirts or hems, Mr Yamazaki was able to create a similar effect with cloaks. They don’t move on their own like a real cape does, but it mimics the effect pretty brilliantly.

5. The monsters were designed to emphasize the game’s themes

The developers of Shadowbringers wanted the creatures of The First to play into the themes of subverting the traditional role of light vs darkness.

This was very challenging, but the results of this approach can be seen clearly in the Sin Eaters. Their stark white coloring refers back to traditional representations of light, but it also fees unnatural and visually striking, which allows the designs to have a great deal of impact.

In one of the pivotal early scenes in Shadowbringers players encounter a Sin Eater. Lead Character Concept Artist Yusuke Mogi explains how the design also intentionally subverts traditionally peaceful iconography:

She has wings evocative of a white dove, a creature that’s traditionally representative of peace.

So it makes it interesting because you have these white-winged creatures and then in comes this depraved Warrior of Darkness slashing and defeating them.

6. The Voidwalker boss was unwittingly designed as a mount

The Voidwalker boss that appears as part of the Eden’s Gate raid is one of the most striking bosses in Shadowbringers, but it wasn’t originally designed to be one.

When Mr Mogi got the request, he thought it was intended to be a mount. As a result, his initial design was like a bird, laying down so players could climb on top to ride.

So when the developers implemented it as a boss fight, and standing upright no less, it was quite a surprise for the artist!

7. Some of the sound requests were… unconventional

We’ve already mentioned figuring out how to depict the transformation of a person into a Sin Eater was a pretty tricky task, but there’s one often overlooked element that was particularly challenging.

The horror of this shocking transformation is driven home by the sound, but the developers who worked on the scene had to contend with some very unusual direction.

The instruction we received regarding the sound was basically ‘pretty vomit’, which resulted in the person assigned to applying the sound being understandably confused!” says Sound Designer Go Kinuya.

Well, in the end we were able to figure out a solution that seemed to work best for everyone, but I do remember there were quite a few tricky areas when working on it.

So if you’ve ever wondered what pretty vomit sounds like, now you know.

8. The gremlin in the opening cinematic was voiced by a man hiding in a closet

The world of FINAL FANTASY XIV Online is full of weird creatures, and many need some kind of distinctive voice. It’s up to the sound team to create them, but sometimes even they can be flummoxed.

The gremlin in the opening cinematic to Shadowbringers is one such example. Sound Director and Composer Masayoshi Soken assigned the task of creating its voice to a junior member of the team, who tried various things but nothing seemed to work.

Mr Soken recalls that: “In the end, as a last-ditch effort, he went home over the weekend, took a hand recorder and went into his closet to discreetly record what he believed a gremlin may sound like, while trying not to disturb the rest of his family at home. It was surprisingly good!

We did modify the voice quite a bit of course, but it is my colleague’s voice that we used.

9. The behavior of Trust System NPCs is defined by their personalities.

When developing the Trust system, it was important to the team that each NPC’s personalities shone through - not just in their dialogue and appearance but in their actions too.

This proved to be quite challenging, and the team has to think long and hard about how to emphasize the specific traits and quirks of each through the AI itself. Each character had to act in a way that was consistent with how they’d been portrayed in FINAL FANTASY XIV Online so far.

Lead Battle Designer Masaki Nakagawa provides an example of how this works in practice:

Though Alisae has the ability to use the Vercure healing magics, it feels like her personality would skew towards prioritizing attacks and only really have her step in with the cure spells when the healer is having a hard time.

Trying to show these nuances within the AI system was definitely a challenge.

10. How did the NieR raid series come about? Thank steak and wine

The YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse raid series is one of the highlights of Shadowbringers. It’s a collaboration with NieR series Producer Yosuke Saito and Director YOKO TARO, it but how does something like that even get started?

Steak and wine help.

Simply put, I personally wanted to do something with Saito-san and YOKO-san, so I invited them out for dinner without any sort of context,” says FINAL FANTASY XIV Online Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida.

We went and ate some delicious steak and after opening about two bottles of red and white wine each, I decided to ask ‘would you like to work on something with me?’”

YOKO TARO adds: “We were very drunk at the time, so I don’t have any recollection of what happened.

Those were just 10 fascinating facts about the making of FINAL FANTASY XIV: Shadowbringers. The whole documentary series is full of loads more interesting things to learn, and it’s an essential watch for any fan of the game.

You can see all the episodes here or on YouTube. And make sure you follow FINAL FANTASY XIV Online on social media for videos, news, updates, discussion and more.