Somehow, Final Fantasy XIV has become one of the best Final Fantasy games in recent memory, thanks to a bunch of winning factors that elevate it from the ranks of MMO dreck to a game that's worth playing even if you're by yourself.
One of those factors: It doesn't take itself too seriously. Sure, there are crystals and heroes and all of the melancholy things you might expect from an FF game, but Final Fantasy XIV is often just as happy to get weird. Characters in the game will send you on tongue-in-cheek fetch quests, goof around with emotes, and subvert your expectations in some funny ways over the course of the game's many, many quests and stories.
During an interview at E3 earlier this month, I asked director Naoki "Yoshi-P" Yoshida how he draws the line for this stuff. Have they ever come up with ideas or quests that are just too weird? Where do they find a balance?
"When I instruct my team members to come up with content ideas, I instruct them: Go too far, first, and then we'll dial it down to make it fit in Final Fantasy," Yoshida said, speaking through a translator. "You may be familiar with the Hildibrand quest - that's actually already dialed down."
The Hildibrand quest, of course, is a chain of preposterous sidequests centering around the comic relief character Hildibrand Manderville. They have become fan favourites over the past two years, thanks to dapper zombies and Hildibrand's penchant for getting himself into the most ridiculous situations possible.
Too ridiculous, sometimes.
"Somebody brought up the idea of having Hildibrand fight Bahamut one on one," said Yoshida, laughing. "I remember not approving that concept. It was just way too much."
I also asked Yoshida about future content. Final Fantasy XIV has long seen a steady flow of content updates — and in just a couple of weeks we'll see the crazy-looking Deep Dungeon — but what about the next big expansion pack?
"We actually are making plans for our next expansion," he said. "The progress is moving along fairly smoothly. With Heavensward, because that was our first-ever expansion, we didn't quite have a grasp on how the process should be, how scheduling should be, and we wanted to add in as much content as we possibly could, so it did turn out to be a rather aggressive schedule. With this next expansion, we're trying to make it so our workflow is more organised and streamlined and that we try to make it so we're planning ahead and making sure we have our ducks in a row."
That next expansion will be announced at the Fan Festival in October, Yoshida has said. He wouldn't say what the theme will be, but he did note that they have got a "rough ballpark estimate of the flow" of new content updates — 4.x, they will be called — that we'll see over the next couple of years.
I also asked Yoshida if he has a master plan in mind for the game — if he already knows how Final Fantasy XIV's overall story will end.
"It's an interesting question you ask, because this is an online game that we would love to continue for as long as we can, so in other words, it's supposed to be perpetual," he said.
"But that being said, yeah, there are different milestones that we would hit, and so there's an arc, or like a chapter that we do have in mind. If there's so much demand and love and desire for the fans and the company to continue Final Fantasy XIV beyond that milestone that we're currently thinking about, then maybe we can start considering, 'OK, so where do we want to travel next? Do we go to the world of Ivalice, or do we go to Final Fantasy III or do we go to Final Fantasy IV's world?' Things like that."
"Would you ever consider adding those worlds to the current game?" I asked. "Like a continent of Ivalice or an area from another Final Fantasy game? You guys have already added bosses and characters from other Final Fantasy games — would you ever want to do an entire expansion pack on Final Fantasy IV or something like that?"
"If we were to start thinking about that I think it literally has to be if we were able to depict all of what we can for Final Fantasy XIV first, like all of the narratives, whatever it is that we can think about," Yoshida said. "And then once we've gone past that point, then maybe it's something that we might think about. If we were to do content like that, I think it would be something large-scale like an expansion, not something like a patch update."