Final Fantasy XIV will be the second Massively Multiplayer Online entry in Square Enix's revered RPG series. Amid the chaos of E3 we sat down with Hiromichi Tanaka, senior vice president of software at Square Enix, and online producer Yasu Kurosawa. Read on to hear their thoughts on the Guildleve system and the possibility of handheld MMORPGs.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the game?
Hiromichi Tanaka: There are two unique points to Final Fantasy XIV. One is Guildleve - the lead quest that you tried earlier on. This guildleve system allows people to try out, or get rewards or level up certain skills they have, in a very short time - like 30 minutes. So even if you're a solo player, or playing in a small group, you can still manage your time very efficiently and level up your character in the way you like. In addition to that we have the armoury system, which allows the players to change classes by just holding a different piece of equipment, so that allows more flexibility for the players to enjoy the game. They can learn abilities during the process, and by combining different abilities you can customise and create you own character, and have your own game experience. Also, because this is a Final Fantasy game, you can of course expect a huge, deep storyline.
Q: From the demo it was difficult to get a sense of the size of the world. How expansive is the wider world of the game?
HT: What we have in the beta is like 20 per cent of the actual game contents, so it's five-ten kilometres across. It's about that size.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the character classes, and how they relate to the Final Fantasy games that we already know?
Yasu Kurosawa: This time there are four different categories: Disciples of War, Disciples of Magic, Disciples of the Hand and Disciples of Land. So, these are the four main categories, and in them are many different classes that we will be introducing.
HT: And by changing the equipment you can customise your own characters. So there are several classes in the game, and by learning different abilities you can make your class. Actually this time we purposely decided not to use the common job names we used in previous Final Fantasy titles, so you really have to make sure you combine the exact skills you need to become a White Mage of the future. It's really up to you how you develop your character.
Q: You mentioned an epic story that will run throughout the game. Obviously that's quite hard to do with an MMO, so how are you going to make the player part of the plot while still giving them the freedom they want?
HT: The main idea is the same as the package titles of the Final Fantasy series, so NPCs will be the key trigger of the game. By talking to NPCs, they will give you the storyline. The key point of the Final Fantasy XIV storyline is that you'll be experiencing what happened in the past, and doing that will involve the secrets of the world. If it's a package title, sometimes by following the story you can't do anything else - you just have to keep on following. But because this is an MMO, you're allowed to stop the story at certain points, and try out a different quest. So you have much more freedom. Also, by trying the quest that might sort of experience the further story. That's how we're going to bring the character into the mainstream story, and we've managed to do that because we had a lot of experience with Final Fantasy XI.
Q: Do you feel that the MMORPG is still coming of age? Are there a lot of places for the genre to still go to?
HT: Final Fantasy has been out for eight years now, and when you think about how long it was in development, it's been more than ten years. I've had 27 to 28 years in the games industry, and a third of my life in the industry has been spent on online titles. From that aspect, I believe that the MMO is a well established genre now. However, it will evolve in the future, it will keep on changing. As Final Fantasy XI did with certain version updates, the game can change really drastically. There are a lot of possibilities, and I think things will change from here on.
Q: What is the business model for the game, with regards to subscription fees?
HT: It's going to be a 30 day subscription model, and as for the price we are currently confirming the details. It should be announced shortly.
Q: When people play MMOs, they often play it exclusively and ignore every other game in their collection. Has there been any resistance from the platform holders in this regard? If a million people play FFXIV and don't want to play anything else, that might not be good for Sony.
HT: That's a very good point, and that's something that will be a concern as well! On the PS3, you will have to login to the PS3 [the PSN] to enjoy the game, so I guess that's how we're contributing.
Q: Do you think we could ever see a Final Fantasy Online game on a portable console - on the PSP or a future successor, for example?
HT: Yes, I believe it's definitely possible. The DS and PSP both have networking systems implemented, so it's definitely do-able. The CPU of mobile consoles are much lower spec compared to other consoles, or even to PC, so that could be a difficulty if you want to simply transfer a console-based MMO onto a mobile machine. But if it's built specifically for DS or PSP that's definitely possible, even on the current technology.
This interview was conducted in round-table format, in the presence of other journalists.