FINAL FANTASY XVI interview: Producer Naoki Yoshida and the team on creating a blockbuster RPG

We speak to Final Fantasy XVI Producer Naoki Yoshida, Art Director Hiroshi Minagawa and Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox about what to expect from the upcoming game.
By Duncan Heaney

Just a few weeks to go!

FINAL FANTASY XVI launches for PS5 on June 22, 2023 - in less than a month you’ll be taking hero Clive Rosfield on a rollercoaster adventure full of action, emotion and utterly spectacular Eikon battles!

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the game’s Producer Naoki Yoshida, Art Director Hiroshi Minagawa and Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox to talk about the challenges, pressures and joy of creating the latest entry in the FINAL FANTASY series.

Our discussion ranged from making Clive one of the most fun-to-play heroes in the series, to the great challenges caused by a humble Moogle. But we started at the beginning of the project itself…

How did you arrive on the concept for FINAL FANTASY XVI?

Naoki Yoshida (Producer): Well, the company approached me and asked whether my team, Creative Business Unit 3, could make FINAL FANTASY XVI, as the next instalment in the FINAL FANTASY series. We started working on the concept for the game at that point.

Having played FINAL FANTASY XIV for a long time, and having had the opportunity to speak with so many journalists and players around the world, I wanted to create a game that would appeal to a broader audience - something that a wider range of gamers from different generations would play.

To achieve that goal, our initial concepts were to make an action-based game and tell a more mature story.

In this game, you play almost entirely as Clive Rosfield…

Yoshida-san: Yes, and there’s a reason for that. FINAL FANTASY XVI is the first real-time action game in the series, with absolutely no turn-based or command-based elements. Because we’d made the decision to go in this direction, we wanted to ensure that players who aren’t confident with action games could still enjoy the game.

That’s why we intentionally didn’t go with a complicated control scheme or a system that involves switching between multiple characters in real time. Instead, we just ask the player to focus on controlling Clive.

It was all to make sure that players who aren’t that skilled at action games can still play the game with 100% satisfaction.

He may be simple to control, but there’s so many things Clive can do! What did you focus on to make him such fun to play?

Yoshida-san: By focusing all of the controls on Clive, we’ve made sure that he’s very customisable.

In particular, FINAL FANTASY XVI features the Eikons, and Clive can draw on the different Eikonic powers that he’s obtained. There are lots of different Eikonic Abilities associated with each Eikon, and individual players can create their own battle style for Clive by combining these abilities.

There are all kinds of options. So, in exchange for not being able to control other characters, we’ve focused on creating lots of variation within Clive himself. That was the point we spent the most time and effort perfecting!

What is your favourite thing Clive can do in battle?

Yoshida-san: But there are so many! I just can’t choose!

Depending on the Eikons you select, Clive can fight defensively or extremely offensively. So, I think it’s maybe the fun of discovering the exact Clive that fits your own playstyle…?

The hideaway is obviously a very important location in the game as you return to it throughout. Why did you create this central hub, what does this bring to the game?

Yoshida-san: For FINAL FANTASY XVI, we chose a game design that wasn’t an open world as a deliberate policy. We wanted to create an adventure that takes the characters all over the world, a story of saving the world. So, if you have a game where you work your way through different areas rather than around an open world game, you need some kind of hub area.

By making this a base with RPG features, where you can stock up on gear and buy various items, it made sense that you would go out on adventures to lots of different locations from this place. That’s why we went with this format.

But it was really tough to create the visuals for the hideaway, wasn’t it?

Hiroshi Minagawa (Art Director): Yes, it was tough. The performance tuning took an extremely long time. Initially, we created the Hideaway as a really intricate location - we just ran away with it, without stopping to consider the processing load.

I remember that when we finally came to align everything, it was extremely difficult.

Yoshida-san: All that work means that when you first arrive at the hideaway you start in such a beautiful location, with rays of light streaming in.

But it was so, so hard to get the graphics and the performance up to the level they’re at now (laughs).

Minagawa-san: It was so bad that I wondered partway through whether we should just give up on the idea! But thanks to my team’s hard work we managed to pull it together into something that looks great!

One of the things I love is the active time lore system, which lets you get additional information about relevant characters and the world during cinematics. Why did you want to give players access to this information?

Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (Localisation Director): We have a very complex, intertwining story that spans many years, many decades in the game world.

And, you know, a lot of things happen in that span of time. Characters come in and out, lots of important events take place… if you try to cram all that into a cutscene, it’s going to last hours and hours and break the gameplay.

We do have a role playing game here so story is very important, but we also have an action game. We know players want to get back into the action, so we didn’t want to overload the cutscenes with lots of information.

There are a lot of names, a lot of events that happen that we’re throwing at the player. Some people will be able to track it all, but there may be some people who are like, “wait a minute - I don’t recognize that name.” If they get confused, we’ll lose the player and we don’t want to lose the player!

So, by adding in the Active Time Lore system, where you can pause the cutscene at any time and get a list of all these important items that appear in that scene, you’re able to refresh your memory.

It’s also an option for players who want to know more about the world, again without forcing it on them. I think that was really important.

It must have been enormous amount of writing…

Koji Fox-san: It was! Because we span many different decades, these entries will change depending on where you are in the game.

Players will be able to see that as well. It’s not just something static - they'll be able to see how it's changed. They can look at past entries and compare them to current ones and see what’s different.

So, there's a lot there (laughs).

Another aspect that impresses me is how it makes the more fantastic aspects of FINAL FANTASY work in a more realistic style - how challenging was it to get that to come together so seamlessly?

Minagawa-san: Before working on FINAL FANTASY XVI, I worked on FINAL FANTASY XIV, as well as the art direction for FINAL FANTASY XII.I would say that the style, or the general direction for the graphics, was quite similar for all those games - what I’ve done with XVI is really more of an extension of the same style I was working with before. So, I wasn’t too unsure about the direction to take in terms of the overall look.

Having said that, since we now have the capability to depict so much more, we did struggle with the characters. We didn’t have the same kind of issues with the monsters, but the expressions of the characters were a particular challenge. Those of us that worked on the in-game assets found it really challenging to depict their expressions, which were more realistic than what we’d previously worked on. In the end, we managed to achieve a good visual style, thanks to the help and cooperation of the team working on pre-rendered scenes.

Overall, I would say that the most significant challenge was combining photorealism and a more illustration-like feel with the increased power we had to present things - finding the right balance and making sure it didn’t look unnatural.

Yoshida-san: Probably the greatest challenge, on a fundamental level, was the moogle.

Minagawa-san: (laughs)

Yoshida-san: The development team was worried that moogles would both be too difficult to create, and wouldn’t fit the feel of the world, but our Assistant Producer was like, “I don’t care, just put them in the game!”

In the end, we took her advice and put one in the game but it was a lot more work that we expected.

Minagawa-san: The biggest moogle problem arose when we were implementing performance mode, towards the end of development.

Performance mode alters the appearance of the polygons slightly, and we particularly struggled with the moogle…it just ended up with less fur.

Yoshida-san: (laughs a lot)

Minagawa-san: It kind of ended up looking like a hedgehog! We were like:“Is…is this a moogle? Hmmm...”

Eventually, we ended up putting in some processing specifically for the moogle.

Yoshida-san: So, to sum up, the moogle was the most challenging thing, right?

Minagawa-san: Whereas everyone was delighted by the morbol and created it right away!

Yoshida-san: Yeah.

Another thing I love is how natural the dialogue sounds - and how it flows through scenes. How did you find this tone for the game?

Koji Fox-san: FINAL FANTASY is a series that bounces around a lot. It has a lot of different settings, lots of different characters, so you’re going to get stuff that ends up being bombastic and a little over the top. That’s not a bad thing - a lot of people appreciate that.

But for this game, the theme is very dark and if were to go too over the top, it would detract from the serious tone that we’re going for. We didn’t want that.

What we did want was to have something that felt very accessible and very natural. For example, shows like Game of Thrones show that you can have a very high fantasy setting, but you don’t need to go complete renaissance fair with it! It still sounds unique and fantasy, but it’s not going so far over the top that it won’t alienate some fans who don’t want that type of speech.

And, you know, being able to record in English means that we had a lot of freedom to work with the motion capture actors to make sure that we're getting things that felt very natural. Rather than just having one person talk at you for 10 tags of dialogue, you're having this back and forth that feels very natural. It’s working on something that feels more like you're watching a movie or a drama rather than playing a game.

How challenging has it been to do something so new while still maintaining the identity of the FINAL FANTASY series?

Yoshida-san: This is something that Sakaguchi-san, the father of FINAL FANTASY, and Kitase-san (FINAL FANTASY Brand Manager) have both said to me: FINAL FANTASY is whatever the director making the latest instalment thinks is the best game, the best story at the time.

If they create a game with those points in mind, then it’s a FINAL FANTASY - so there’s no need to feel constrained by what’s come before. Since they’d said that to me, I didn’t really feel like this was a particular challenge. Of course, we hesitated and mulled things over, but I wouldn’t say it was “challenging”. Once we had decided on something, then that was all that mattered.

Does anything come to mind for you Minagawa-san?

Minagawa-san: Well, since FINAL FANTASY XVI is the latest instalment in the franchise, I think that for the art and graphics teams, we were all just working as hard as we could do achieve top-end visuals. With so many other great games coming out, we were desperate to reach that same standard.

There’s always a question of balance: what to polish, what to compromise on, and everyone has their own views on which parts those should be. I would say that bringing all of that together is the most challenging part – although that’s the same for all games, not just FINAL FANTASY XVI.

Having said that, because we had the ability to depict so much more this time, as I mentioned earlier, that balancing was all the more challenging. If you go overboard, you can end up with a single asset requiring outrageous resources…

Yoshida-san: Absolutely.

Minagawa-san: We had so much more freedom than ever before, and so we really struggled to find the right balance.

Yoshida-san: At the end of the day, isn’t the most challenging thing about making the latest instalment in the FINAL FANTASY series in this day and age… money? (laughs)

Yeah, it’s probably the development costs (laughs).

Minagawa-san: Well, I tried not to think about it (laughs). It was too scary!

So, overall, what would you say has been the most challenging thing about creating FINAL FANTASY XVI?

Yoshida-san: The most challenging thing… well, I suppose it would have to be the fact that when we started working on the development, we were a little behind the standard of other global AAA games in terms of the technology.

As a result, we had to work on developing the game at the same time as increasing our overall knowledge and skill with the technology and levelling up the team. And while we were working on the development, the rest of the world wasn’t standing still - they continued to evolve.

I think that keeping all those elements in play and still managing to make the game land was really the most difficult aspect.

Minagawa-san: Looking back, I think that it would be the sheer volume of content.

When I first joined the project, I heard that it wasn’t going to be an open world - so I approached it fairly casually, thinking it surely wouldn’t get that bad. But it was ridiculous (laughs)!

There were lots of people working on the game - far more than on any other project I’ve worked on, which meant balancing even more aspects, such as all the different things these different people wanted to create, as well as the cost.

But then when it came to tying everything together, the volume and quality of content was just off the charts!

Yoshida-san: I suppose consistency of development was the most challenging thing. It took quite some time for us to find that consistent standard, and there were a lot of assets that it turned out we couldn’t use, even after they’d been created.

Once that baseline was established, I think the development actually moved quite quickly, but it was really tough until we reached that point.

Obviously FINAL FANTASY is a series that has a very passionate fanbase. Did you feel that weight of expectation when making this game and if so, how did that affect you?

Yoshida-san: I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure. Right now, with the release fast approaching, I honestly have to say that I’m feeling the pressure a little more.

Having said that, the FINAL FANTASY fanbase isn’t just made up of fans of the entire series. I’d say that a lot of the passionate fans are passionate about specific titles in the series. For example, someone might love FINAL FANTASY VII, while someone else is all about FINAL FANTASY IX, and yet another person thinks FINAL FANTASY XII is the absolute best.

All these people have different expectations and hopes for what they want to see in a FINAL FANTASY game. There are some people who think:“It has to be a turn-based game.”And there are those fans who may think:“The recent FINAL FANTASY games seem a bit retro and out-dated, I just don’t find myself playing them these days…”

Our decision to make FINAL FANTASY XVI a real-time action game means there will probably be some fans who decide to give the series another go… and there will be some people who say it’s not a FINAL FANTASY if it’s not turn-based. It’s just not possible to fulfil everyone’s expectations in a single game.

I do, of course, feel bad about not being able to give some people the game they want, and I do feel that pressure. Having said that, FINAL FANTASY has now reached 35 years of history. By shifting to real-time action for a mainline, numbered FINAL FANTASY game, I hope that the young developers who will come to make FINAL FANTASY games in the future can look back at XVI and think:“This kind of FINAL FANTASY is valid as well. We can have more freedom to create this game as we want!”

I think that’s really important to foster, especially if FINAL FANTASY is to reach its 40th and 50th anniversaries as well.

And if you ask me how I deal with the pressure, I guess all I can do is to come out here and speak to people honestly about the game we’ve created and what kind of game it is!

We’re now just weeks away from the launch of FINAL FANTASY What elements of the game are you most proud of?

Yoshida-san: I have such respect for the development team for seeing it through to the end and completing development of the game and respect for Square Enix for approving this budget (laughs). Also I am proud of the fact that we’re supported by such a great fanbase, with so many people around the world, including fans, journalists and gamers at large, saying that they’re looking forward to playing FINAL FANTASY XVI.

Minagawa-san: I completely agree.

I’ve been making games for 30 years now - when I first started, each individual person’s role in the development of one game was really significant. Your work occupied quite a large proportion of the final game. But for FINAL FANTASY XVI, the work I could do as an individual was so insignificant. It needed a team of many, many people to really unleash their energies and abilities, otherwise we couldn’t have created a game of this level. Everything is supported by the work of the team, and they’re what I’m most proud of.

And now, it’s time for players to play what we’ve created! If they enjoy it, then I’m sure I’ll be delighted to see that, which will give me sense of pride as well!

Koji Fox-san: I’m really proud of the voice acting. I think we did a great job. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the voice actors did all the work - I was just kinda there providing them with the lines (laughs).

We have an idea of what a character’s going to be like when we write it, but when you give it to the actor, it really comes to life. Our cast is amazing and they did a great job.

And both Yoshida-san and Minagawa-san mentioned, I’m also very proud of the team I worked with. It wasn’t just me translating the game. A lot of people think that it’s just a one-man job a lot of the time, but I actually have all these people supporting me.

I had a great team in John Taylor, Phil Bright, and over in London Olie Chance, and Morgan Rushton… just to be able come together to create this great thing was something I’m proud of.

And the third thing… I’m not proud of my bad puns (laughs). There’s a lot of ‘good’ bad puns in the game (laughs again).

Finally, just a quick one: who’s your favorite Eikon?

Yoshida-san: Ifrit!

Minagawa-san: Ahh! Same - Ifrit!

Koji Fox-san: Titan!

Many thanks to Yoshida-san, Minagawa-san and Koji Fox-san for answering our questions!

FINAL FANTASY XVI is out in just a few short weeks! The game launches for PS5 on June 22, 2023!

There are three editions available to pre-order, all of which offer the following preorder bonuses:

  • The Braveheart (Weapon) DLC
  • Cait Sith Charm in-game item - an accessory that boosts your received Gil.

Here’s rundown of what’s included in each edition:

FINAL FANTASY XVI Standard Edition (physical and digital)

As the name implies, this edition includes the full game only.

FINAL FANTASY XVI Deluxe Edition (physical only)

This version of the game includes:

  • The full game
  • A Special Clive Rosfield SteelBook Case
  • A cloth map of Valisthea - where the story unfolds

It’s available to preorder now on the Square Enix Store:

FINAL FANTASY XVI Digital Deluxe Edition (digital only)

This digital version of the game is available on the PlayStation Store and includes:

  • The full game
  • A digital mini artbook that features some of the stunning illustrations and artwork from the game
  • A digital mini soundtrack showcasing a selection of tracks from composer Masayoshi Soken’s incredible soundtrack

Head over to the PlayStation Store to preorder it now:

We hope you’re excited to play this exceptional new FINAL FANTASY. To stay up to date with news and information about the game, follow us on social media: