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HomeRPGWho is Final Fantasy XVI Creative Director Kazutoyo Maehiro? | Developer Profile

Who is Final Fantasy XVI Creative Director Kazutoyo Maehiro? | Developer Profile

Video recreation builders are often famend for one specialty, with their fame stemming from work in areas akin to situation writing, idea artwork, or battle system design. Others, nevertheless, are so versatile that it’s virtually inconceivable to know the scope of their expertise. This is nice information for Final Fantasy XVI – as one such developer is in a key function on the venture. 

Kazutoyo Maehiro actually lies inside the second class. Although it’s doable to outline him as a “planner”, the Japanese equal to what Western studios name recreation designers, we might be overlooking the spectacular range of his greater than 25-year profession at Square Enix, from creating the degrees of Vagrant Story to writing the situation for Final Fantasy XIV’s reboot, or designing Final Fantasy XII’s battle system — not forgetting his reward for pixel artwork.

A longstanding participant, fascinated with darkish fantasy settings and outdated Western role-playing video games such because the Wizardry collection, Maehiro is now Final Fantasy XVI’s inventive director and authentic situation author. This makes him the sport’s third mastermind, alongside producer Naoki Yoshida and primary director Hiroshi Takai — a trio that has been becoming a member of forces for greater than a decade already. In FF16, this trifecta lastly will get the possibility to specific concepts and ambitions all of their very own.

As after we beforehand checked out different Final Fantasy XVI improvement workers, wanting on the previous may help us to decipher the long run. By analyzing Maehiro’s profession, we are able to achieve a clearer picture of the kind of inventive path he’s seemingly to provide FF16. So, let’s begin initially.

A photograph of Kazutoyo Maehiro, Creative Director of Final Fantasy XVI.

Kazutoyo Maehiro joined Square in the midst of the Nineties, at a time the corporate was actively on the lookout for recent recruits to bolster its development. The company tradition was then centered across the spirit of initiative, which prolonged to newcomers. Instead of supporting veteran builders on flagships, they had been entrusted with minor titles for on-the-job coaching.

Maehiro made his first steps in 1995 as an assistant planner on DynamiTracer, a story recreation for the Satellaview – a satellite tv for pc modem peripheral for the Super Nintendo. Under the director Hiroki Chiba (Chrono Trigger), he labored with two different younger skills, Jun Akiyama and Takayuki Suguro, whom he would meet once more on just a few future initiatives, beginning with Final Fantasy Tactics — a career-changing venture.

The Tactical Advantage

While the event of Final Fantasy VI was in full swing, collection creator and then-boss Hironobu Sakaguchi cultivated the concept of making a spin-off title for the collection that may use a tactical recreation system. The venture, nevertheless, wouldn’t begin till late 1995, when a recent recruit referred to as Yasumi Matsuno volunteered to direct it.

To Matsuno, FFT represented a golden alternative. He had developed Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together at developer Quest previous to becoming a member of Square, and so he knew the style nicely. Bringing a few of his colleagues with him, amongst that are artist Akihiko Yoshida & graphic designer Hiroshi Minagawa, and receiving the help of recreation designer Hiroyuki Ito (finest recognized for creating Final Fantasy IV’s Active Time Battle system), Matsuno went on to create Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Western players are largely unfamiliar with Maehiro's contribution to FF Tactics, as it was a Japan exclusive.
Western gamers are largely unfamiliar with Maehiro’s contribution to FF Tactics, because it was a Japan unique.

While Kazutoyo Maehiro discovered his place within the newly assembled group, his primary contribution to the sport is definitely unknown to many gamers outdoors of Japan, and for motive: it was absent from the Western launch! The authentic Japanese recreation options 4 text-based minigames that may be unlocked by buying sure artifacts throughout sidequests. Following the usually Japanese “sound novel” style and loosely paying homage to choose-your-own-adventure books, they every inform a novel story, utterly impartial from Tactics’ primary storyline.

Maehiro directed and designed the 4 of them, and contributed to the making of their static background footage. He did additionally write two of them: “Nanai’s Histories” and “Mesa’s Musings” (or “Fantasy Magi-ence Story”, as talked about within the minigame itself). The two others, “Enavia Chronicles” and “Oeilvert” (incorrectly translated as “Wyuvle” and “Veil of Wiyu” within the English variations), had been penned by Nobuyuki Inoue. Yasumi Matsuno deliberate to jot down just a few tales of his personal, earlier than giving up for lack of time.

Unfortunately, these sound novels had been additionally lacking from the Western releases of Tactics’ PSP port, The War of the Lions (2007). The solely method to find out about these mysterious additions is to learn the unofficial English translation of three of them, offered by Mark Rosa.

For Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Maehiro took charge of the Clan missions.
For Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Maehiro took cost of the Clan missions.

Just a few years later, in 2002, Square lastly reconnected with Nintendo after an extended break-up and determined to provide Final Fantasy Tactics a sequel of kinds for Game Boy Advance, ensuing within the aptly named Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. While he was concurrently engaged on Final Fantasy XII, as we’ll see in a while, Kazutoyo Maehiro was appointed quest planner alongside Shutaro Yokoyama.

He particularly directed the sport’s clan missions, which he envisioned as an enlargement of Tactics’ errands. It is due to this fact unsurprising that, when requested by the official web site concerning the job he want to maintain if he was residing in Ivalice, Maehiro answered: “I’d like to be a tavernmaster, so I could talk about anything and everything with clan members.”

“Nasty” and “Difficult” as a Compliment

Following the profitable launch of Final Fantasy Tactics, Square’s administration gave carte blanche to Yasumi Matsuno. While Hironobu Sakaguchi was joyful to lastly boast a tactical recreation in his catalog and was eager on setting a sequel going, Matsuno and his group opted for a very new title: Vagrant Story. This, nevertheless, wouldn’t cease a real Final Fantasy Tactics 2 venture from beginning beneath Sakaguchi’s care, with the concept being to entrust an exterior companion with its improvement. But, too busy together with his personal Hawaiian endeavors (specifically Final Fantasy IX and the Final Fantasy film), he requested Matsuno to take over the sport’s supervision… till it was finally canceled.

As such, the coast was clear for what would turn out to be certainly one of Square’s gems from the PlayStation period. Like many others, Vagrant Story’s designers had been so impressed by Metal Gear Solid’s cinematic expertise that they, too, sought to push the boundaries of 3D graphics on the {hardware}. As the subsequent era of consoles was proper across the nook, this expertise was nicely on its method to changing into unavoidable, and it was time they bought their palms soiled.

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Vagrant Story was a key project in Maehiro's career.

Now a distinguished member of the “Matsuno group”, Kazutoyo Maehiro was surprisingly appointed director and planner of Vagrant Story’s background part — a departure from his earlier roles. In the sport’s Ultimania information, Matsuno describes Maehiro’s duties as such: “He is in charge of map planning and progress management. He is the one who birthed the dungeons’ complex structure and cube puzzles. To him, the words ‘nasty’ and ‘difficult’ are compliments.”

Eager to determine an oppressive and mysterious temper paying homage to the oldest entries within the Wizardry collection, which he performed extensively in his youth, Maehiro envisioned a succession of motion and puzzle phases set in darkish, virtually maze-like dungeons. In mild of Matsuno’s remark, it’s unsurprising to be taught that the sport’s puzzles had been initially much more twisted. In order to higher gauge problem, Maehiro and his group launched a key requirement, which he later described within the Ultimania information: “There’s a guy on our team who is really bad at puzzles, and we tested them on him… If he couldn’t solve it in 5 tries, we would re-do it to make it easier.”

Vagrant Story's box-heavy puzzles were the work of Maehiro's map design.
Vagrant Story’s box-heavy puzzles had been the work of Maehiro’s map design.

As the atmosphere director, he however had tales to inform, though a variety of gamers may need missed them. Indeed, he’s the one who gave names to every of the Leá Monde areas, whose enigmatic nature within the localized variations principally comes from the truth that translators needed to shorten them for lack of on-screen house. For instance, the place referred to as “Traces of Invasion Past” within the City Walls North is definitely referred to as “The room where traces of the barbarian assault remain” in its authentic language, giving a a lot clearer image as to what may need occurred there! In Maehiro’s thoughts, studying the titles so as throughout traversal tells the story of a younger squire who, battle after battle, walks the trail of knighthood.

Is it an pointless taste, when the sport already displays a full-fledged plot? Certainly not! This consideration to element — a particular characteristic of Matsuno’s group — ends in an unsuspected richness that the hurried participant can be oblivious to, however that the fanatic will completely get pleasure from. In Final Fantasy Tactics already, Maehiro himself wrote a variety of these background texts, amongst that are merchandise descriptions. Just a few years later, Final Fantasy XII would inherit this imaginative and prescient.

The PlayOnline Era

Admittedly, not all initiatives lend themselves to such underlying richness, particularly after they’re not video games. Released in Japan in February 2000, Vagrant Story was one of many final video games from Square’s golden age. Shortly afterward, a lot of the studio’s workforce centered on the upcoming Final Fantasy titles in addition to PlayOnline. Envisioned as Square’s very personal hub on the Internet, PlayOnline was not solely going to centralize the writer’s upcoming on-line video games, amongst which was Final Fantasy XI, but additionally characteristic a variety of providers akin to music streaming, manga, sports activities information, and so forth. It was the centerpiece of a brand new multimedia technique that may these days be deemed as an excessive amount of, too quickly – however to some extent, forward of its time.

PlayOnline is hardly the sexiest project, but it formed a key part of Maehiro's career.

Started in the midst of the yr 2000, PlayOnline’s improvement was principally dealt with by ex-members of the Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story group, headed by none aside from Yasumi Matsuno and programmer Taku Murata. Kazutoyo Maehiro was appointed as lead planner — besides this time, it completely wasn’t about making a recreation, however designing a large-scale interface that’s user-friendly as an alternative of enjoyable.

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But PlayOnline was a dangerous enterprise. Combined with the Final Fantasy film’s overly-expensive making, it plunged Square right into a precarious monetary state of affairs that prompted a number of executives to resign, Sakaguchi himself included. As months glided by, the net platform’s ambitions had been scaled down, turning it into nothing greater than a launcher for FF11 and the Tetra Master minigame, with the accompanying messaging service. It was because the PlayOnline and FF11 beta assessments began in December 2001 that Maehiro was faraway from the venture to hitch one other, way more spectacular one.

Breaking the Mould with Final Fantasy XII

Breaking the limitations

Kazutoyo Maehiro joined the Final Fantasy XII group whereas the venture had been in gestation for a few yr. Directed by Yasumi Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, who joined forces once more following their fruitful collaboration on FF Tactics, the sport was initially going to be in step with the collection’ custom: an RPG with clear-cut transitions between exploration and fight. Yet, the builders felt that the components was sporting out, particularly due to the fixed loading instances it induces.

From the get-go, Maehiro went on to work with Matsuno and Ito on a radical change: a brand new, seamless system that may finally be referred to as Active Dimension Battle (ADB), a nod to the Active Time Battle that Ito had created ten years earlier. This formidable try, nevertheless, would flip right into a critical headache for the whole group—principally in technical phrases because of the PlayStation 2’s restricted reminiscence—and play a serious function within the recreation’s overly lengthy improvement interval. Maehiro himself later admitted that he was incessantly unsure and needed to remind himself that their strategy was the fitting one.

Many gamers thought this disruption was impressed by Final Fantasy XI, which—being an MMORPG—was the primary to get rid of the transition between exploration and fight. While true to an extent, Maehiro clarified that FF11 was primarily proof that one other method was doable. In different phrases, it demonstrated that – relying on the fashion of gameplay they needed to supply – nothing prevented them from eliminating a long-lasting custom. In the FF12 Battle Ultimania official information, Maehiro justified himself as such: “Although we ended up choosing a game style that was similar to FF11, it wasn’t the basis for this system. It was simply one of the reasons that led us to adopt the ADB system.”

Still, it’s plain that a variety of the group’s inspirations got here straight from the earlier title. Hiroyuki Ito admitted that the gambit system (a set of predefined directions that automate character actions) was particularly designed to recreate the texture of on-line battles alongside actual gamers. The system went by quite a few iterations earlier than reaching its last state.

Kazutoyo Maehiro revealed that impartial NPCs roaming the battlefield, characterised by their inexperienced HP gauge, are instantly based mostly on his personal expertise: “When I started playing FF11, I was really happy when a stranger cast a support spell on me. As a result, I thought that the ADB should incorporate such a feature.” As for uncommon monsters, their considerably opaque spawn patterns are a deliberate selection by Maehiro to encourage gamers to change their findings on on-line boards. An offline recreation can nonetheless make use of the Internet, in spite of everything!

It is unlucky that such an intensive battle system—that the Japanese International Edition additional improved upon—was by no means inherited by one other title within the collection. A remorse shared by the builders themselves, Ito included, after so a few years of arduous work.

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The soul of Matsuno’s video games

In mild of this, one might simply think about that the monster searching quests additionally derive from the MMORPG components. Still, Yasumi Matsuno’s group had already created comparable ideas previously, be it Final Fantasy Tactics’ errands or Tactics Advance’s clan missions. As such, Maehiro fairly naturally discovered himself supervising FF12’s rendition of the identical system, and it’s no shock that a number of the fights it contains are amongst his favorites in the whole recreation.

Furthermore, such a wealthy ecosystem would lack in taste if it didn’t characteristic intensive quantities of textual content to suit it inside Ivalice’s lore. Most of this literature will be discovered within the recreation’s Hunts and Bestiary menus, whose richness is sort of unequalled within the collection. Maehiro handed the writing over to a recent recruit from the battle group, Genki Yamashita, who had beforehand impressed him with an journey recreation proposal he submitted when making use of for a job at Square. Due to the sport’s giant variety of enemies, it was however a frightening activity for a newcomer like him!

Thanks to its seamless battle system and bountiful contents, Final Fantasy XII evokes a blinding sense of freedom that, as an illustration, ends in the power to enterprise into high-level areas at an early stage… on the threat of misfortune. For a variety of gamers, nevertheless, this additionally translated right into a sparse storyline.

Although controversial, it was a aware selection from the group—Maehiro included. He defined: “When playing recent games, I am under the impression that most of them are forcing me to follow the story. In the past, I think the most interesting titles were the ones that let players enjoy the story at their own pace. For example, when you stepped into uncharted territory and spotted a monster you didn’t know, you would have to ask yourself ‘How strong is this thing? Can I defeat it?’ before moving forward. […] By choosing a seamless battle system, my idea was to go back to these old games.”

As was already outlined in Vagrant Story, that is what finest describes the soul of Matsuno’s video games: an apparent ardour for old-school video video games that, though much less simply accessible, had been on the similar time extra rewarding for persistent gamers. “I personally like difficult games, which I think showed through during the making of this game,” Maehiro unsurprisingly revealed—a style that actually impressed FF12’s quite a few high-level boss fights.

This stance can be a departure from the titles produced by Yoshinori Kitase, Final Fantasy X particularly, which are characterised by their linear narratives and flashy graphics. However, their affect on the general picture of ‘what a Final Fantasy recreation needs to be’ pressured the FF12 group to combine extra “frivolous” components, although they are often seen as clashing with the geopolitical intrigue. While the sport’s hero was initially going to be Basch, it was finally modified to Vaan—an unremarkable younger man who, alongside together with his girlfriend Penelo, is in some way uninvolved with Ivalice’s upheavals. Still, though the sport’s reception was initially combined, FF12 these days lives on within the collection’ heritage as a sure imaginative and prescient of Final Fantasy. One that FF16 would possibly construct upon…

Feedback-led Experimentation

When Final Fantasy XII was launched in Japan, in March 2006, the subsequent era had already began, with the Xbox 360 out just a few months earlier than and the PlayStation 3 slated for the vacation season. In different phrases, it was excessive time for Square Enix to enter the fray—and this is likely one of the the reason why the thirteenth entry within the collection, beforehand developed for the PS2 by Kitase’s group, was absolutely transferred to the PS3. But whereas the sport’s devoted engine (the soon-to-be-called Crystal Tools) mobilized a lot of the writer’s expert programmers, the opposite groups had been left with restricted assets. As such, other than Final Fantasy XIII, just one main in-house console recreation emerged: The Last Remnant.

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This recreation was an actual paradigm shift for Square Enix. On the one hand, it was a model new IP, particularly focused on the Western viewers—a wise transfer, because the trade’s epicenter was slowly however certainly transferring from the East to the West. On the opposite hand, it was developed utilizing third-party expertise (Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3), a drastic departure from the corporate’s custom of crafting its personal toolkit for every recreation. This selection led to a variety of problems as a result of conflicting work cultures between Western and Japanese builders.

Helmed by Akitoshi Kawazu, the mastermind behind the SaGa collection and FF12’s substitute government producer after Matsuno left the venture, The Last Remnant was created by a composite group of veterans who labored on his earlier titles. Among them had been director Hiroshi Takai (battle director on Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song), recreation designer Kazuhiro Kataoka (lead map system designer on FF12) and… Kazutoyo Maehiro, who was fairly naturally appointed battle director, following his work on FF12.

However, as a result of the latter was controversial, this new activity was actually daunting for Maehiro. “I nearly got beaten up for Final Fantasy 12,” he joked throughout an interview with VideoGamer. The Last Remnant’s new system was due to this fact constructed by taking participant suggestions into consideration, which might be the explanation why it reestablished the non-seamless, turn-based custom. But not with out a twist. Indeed, it did stroll in FF12’s footsteps by letting the participant management a squad, and never every character individually, and have interaction in large-scale battles towards enemy troops—a choice motivated by the sport’s warfare backdrop. This additionally explains the adoption of the morale system.

Still, the expertise they acquired of their earlier recreation was not sufficient. “We went through a lot of trial and error to find how to easily manage a group of characters,” Maehiro wrote on the official weblog. “It’s all part of my job, but it’s difficult every time.” On a lighter word, he justified the return to a turn-based system by saying that, as a result of he was not so younger anymore, his fingers don’t transfer as quick as they used to. Joke apart, this additionally allowed for a extra strategic strategy to fight.

Launched on Xbox 360 in November 2008, The Last Remnant was ported to PC just a few months later. But as an alternative of offering the very same content material, as is often the case, the PC model of the sport included many alterations and additions, and the event group was allowed to freely change and complement the sport as a lot as they needed to—inside the allotted time, in fact. Because of this, essentially the most devoted gamers could have seen a brand new Arcana artwork referred to as Crimson Flare. When, in 2018, Japanese web site Gamer requested Hiroshi Takai and artwork director Yusuke Naora about this surprising addition, they had been caught off-guard, prompting Naora to admit: “It sounds like Maehiro alright…” The latter appears to make a behavior of such mysteries!

Who is aware of what Maehiro would have added to the PlayStation 3 of the sport if it hadn’t been canceled? When the Square Enix administration understood this port would necessitate further time and workforce, it took the choice to postpone it indefinitely, because the builders had been desperately wanted on a variety of different initiatives. Among them was a brand new title that was exactly about to enlist a number of the minds behind The Last Remnant

The Action Game That Never Was

The Last Remnant’s lukewarm reception didn’t discourage Square Enix from focusing on the worldwide market with authentic IPs. In late 2009, a recreation designer whose title was nonetheless unknown to the bigger viewers, Naoki Yoshida, was faraway from the Dragon Quest X group to direct a model new venture. His objective was to create an motion recreation powered by the Unreal Engine, that includes difficult gameplay components and gothic fantasy visuals with futuristic touches – an outline actually paying homage to a highly regarded collection from one other writer… Indeed, years later, Yoshida in contrast the soon-to-be-canceled recreation to Bloodborne, clearly bitter that he couldn’t have a head begin on From Software’s hit title.

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Although the group included The Last Remnant veterans akin to Hiroshi Takai, Yoshida took benefit of the chance to understand a private dream. A protracted-time admirer of Yasumi Matsuno’s works, he requested the assistance of a number of of his fellow vacationers, amongst which had been Hiroshi Minagawa and Kazutoyo Maehiro. They would even be joined by artist Akihiko Yoshida in a while within the venture. Still, regardless of this all-star solid, improvement progressed slowly and, a few yr later, it got here to a brutal cease when Yoshida was requested to take over Final Fantasy XIV’s lead following the sport’s disastrous September 2010 launch.

While the motion title did stay within the writer’s schedule for a while, it was finally shelved, in all probability as a result of its lead designers had been transferred to FF14’s group as nicely. It was nevertheless resurrected some time later on the instigation of producer Ryutaro Ichimura (Dragon Quest IX), who turned it into an Action-RPG title set in a world impressed by medieval and trendy Europe. Following a variety of modifications, the console variations had been canceled, and the sport was launched just for Apple platforms in July 2013 beneath the title Bloodmasque, nevertheless it was met with a lot indifference.

A concept image for Bloodmasque from November 2011.

Kazutoyo Maehiro’s precise involvement within the venture was by no means clarified. Yet, it’s most probably his writing expertise slightly than his legacy as a battle designer that made Naoki Yoshida summon him. While reflecting on the venture just a few years later, the latter identified that the plot was sketched out earlier than the rest by bringing “one of the company’s well-known writers”—however not mentioning who it was. Maehiro was nonetheless included in Bloodmasque’s credit beneath the gorgeous obscure title of “Story”. According to Ryutaro Ichimura, the sport’s background follows an in depth “bible” that tells a 2000-year-long alternate historical past the place vampires took over the world.

Unfortunately, due to the sport’s hindered delivery and the shortage of publicity that accompanied Bloodmasque’s last launch, few particulars have emerged. The last act got here in December 2014, when the sport was put offline indefinitely, making it unplayable.

Rescuing the Realm

Now in control of the story

Initially undertaken to right the sport’s flaws, Final Fantasy XIV’s rescue operation modified scale when it turned apparent that the foundations had been inadequate to hold ahead the MMORPG over time. And so, along with updating the dwell model (or “1.0”), Square Enix began constructing a very new title from the bottom up—model 2.0, or A Realm Reborn, as it could finally be referred to as. Handling two video games without delay was an enormous enterprise that required many palms, and whereas the group behind model 1.0 remained on board for a while, a variety of new figures joined the reboot venture, particularly within the story and lore sections.

Art of Maehiro from the FF14 Lodestone website.

Removed from the canceled motion title to assist with FF14 2.0, Kazutoyo Maehiro first joined the consumer interface part. A slightly shocking appointment, contemplating he had by no means distinguished himself in that subject earlier than. But it was solely short-term. As Maehiro himself mentioned throughout a dwell letter in 2014: “Naoki Yoshida hit me on the shoulder, and before I knew it, I was in the charge of the scenario.” He took over from Yaeko Sato, a FF11 veteran who was engaged on FF14 because the very starting and left the group after finishing the 1.x collection of patches. Similarly, on the lore entrance, Kenichi Iwao was changed by newcomer Banri Oda.

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By selecting Maehiro, Yoshida was not solely hoping to understand their beforehand aborted collaboration, but additionally—and above all—to name forth “the soul of Matsuno’s games”. As if it wasn’t already apparent, Maehiro commented throughout the identical dwell letter: “I love to read, and I read works from a lot of different authors, but I’d say the number one influence on my work is game designer Yasumi Matsuno. For more than half of my career I’ve worked with Matsuno. Originally, I was actually in charge of battle systems, but he was a huge influence for writing dialogue and game scenarios.”

When Maehiro took up his place, FF14’s new storyline was merely a primary plot. This state of affairs wouldn’t change till midway into the event course of as a result of, because of the emergency standing of the venture, Naoki Yoshida determined that the fundamentals of the sport design and expertise wanted to be solidified earlier than transferring into mass manufacturing—textual content included. Progression by the sport was nothing greater than a straight line, and the precise occasions weren’t but fleshed out. Such a passionless methodology can simply clarify A Realm Reborn’s gradual and linear storytelling, however lack of time made it a essential compromise.

Surprisingly, for Maehiro, the writing of FF14 2.0 was nearer to the preparation of a direct sequel than of a reboot, principally as a result of certainly one of his very first duties was to immerse himself in every part that was written for the sport as much as that time. He described his course of in a message revealed on the official web site in 2014: “I scrambled to read up on the voluminous background premise documents, and thus began the days devoted to building a story for A Realm Reborn—expanding and completing premises that were left undefined in FF14 1.0, adding new premises and characters.”

He might however get pleasure from a specific amount of freedom, which unsurprisingly translated right into a return to the roots of the collection: “My generation’s idea of Final Fantasy are crystals that pervade the world and a hero’s voyage somehow linked to those. […] One axis was the “Crystal,” which has unfortunately been given short shrift in recent titles. All the more reason, then, to set a crystal story at the center of A Realm Reborn.” As such, gamers might gaze upon essentially the most spectacular of those sacred stones: Hydaelyn, the Mothercrystal herself.

More than only a author

Kazutoyo Maehiro’s function because the lead situation author is to seek the advice of with Yoshida with the intention to outline the primary story’s themes, occasions, and characters, in addition to aspect quests. Under his command is a group of greater than a dozen writers. Filling up an MMORPG with sufficient textual content certainly requires numerous palms! During A Realm Reborn’s improvement, all contents associated to quests and occasion planning had been additionally overseen by Kazuya Niino, Yoshida’s assistant director, who was employed by Square Enix in late 2011. But when Niino was given a directional function on Dragon Quest Builders in early 2014, he handed over all of his duties to Maehiro, making him FF14’s key determine for something story-related.

His function, nevertheless, spanned extra than simply writing. In an interview with Famitsu alongside composer Masayoshi Soken, in 2016, he even went so far as to say: “In terms of ratio, scenario writing actually doesn’t constitute much of my work. (laughs)” As was the case together with his earlier initiatives, he insists on by no means dropping sight of the large image. According to him, writing just isn’t solely a method to inform a narrative, but additionally to assist gamers get their bearings as they make their first steps into the sport. For instance, every new content material is launched with a brief quest with the intention to tie it inside the lore. This consideration to element goes so far as to put out quest-related NPCs in such a method that they’re going through the participant’s path as they’re transferring their method.

Within the primary story, this resulted within the fixed promotion of the participant as an integral a part of the plot. Maehiro defined: “The hero of an RPG is a personal avatar, controlled by the player. This means that an RPG hero must also be at the center of the story, never a mere spectator of history. The story only works because the hero is there, and NPCs come to life thanks to the hero’s presence.”

This notion abundantly transpires in FF14, the place the participant is consistently reminded of their standing because the Warrior of Light by different characters—a lot in order that their popularity precedes them! This is likely one of the primary the reason why the sport’s story is way nearer to a single-player RPG than most MMORPGs, one thing Heavensward would construct upon.

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One final component is essential to assist the participant really feel at house: a deep and constant lore. This element has been inscribed in FF14’s DNA ever since model 1.0, when Eorzea’s socio-cultural framework was handcrafted by Kenichi Iwao even earlier than situation author Yaeko Sato set to work. This strategy continued by A Realm Reborn’s creation, this time with Banri Oda and Kazutoyo Maehiro, however the story seemingly took priority over the lore, the latter getting used so as to add depth and credibility to the characters, locations, and establishments required to maneuver the participant’s journey ahead. In return, Oda additionally acted as a proofreader to make sure all texts are according to the lore.

In a gaggle interview revealed in 2018 on the Final Fantasy portal website, Maehiro detailed the significance of getting a plausible world: “When you first go to a new place, you have to feel like everything belongs there. As soon as something seems out of place, it takes you out of the experience, and you’re no longer a Warrior of Light, you’re just a character in a video game.” Density, nevertheless, is a double-edged sword, which is why the FF14 group avoids burying gamers beneath a stack of stodgy particulars. This generally forces them to delete scenes or talk lesser tidbits by aspect quests.

Maehiro’s final noteworthy activity was to centralize all music requests from the group’s totally different sections and ahead them to Masayoshi Soken. In Famitsu, Soken commented on their work collectively: “Maehiro clearly indicates the important parts. He also prepares reference songs, which makes it easier to get a clear image of what he’s looking for.”

As an instance, the request for Leviathan’s battle music talked about Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”! One notable exception to Maehiro’s readability was the Bismarck battle from Heavensward, for which he needed a chunk each “violent” and “refreshing”—a considerably paradoxical request, that left Soken perplexed.

Maehiro is very keen on outdated online game music, praising the extent of high quality composers had been in a position to obtain beneath strict technical limitations. As such, when creating video games, he holds the soundtrack in excessive regard. He mentioned in Famitsu: “I see video games as a total work of art, that unites game design, music, and visuals into a coherent whole. Among these elements, I think music is special. I can still remember the music from games I played five or ten years ago. For example, you can still hum the boss battle themes from the FF series, right?” To him, nevertheless, current online game soundtracks are typically much less memorable than their older counterparts… Not together with FF14, in fact.

Ivalice lives on

It shouldn’t come as a shock that Kazutoyo Maehiro was liable for injecting a variety of components from FF12 into the lore of FF14. Starting with A Realm Reborn, he added a short reference to the nation of Dalmasca throughout a dialogue between two imperial troopers, at a time when this a part of the world was not but clearly outlined. As for the Ascians, a gaggle of primal beings that pull the strings within the shadows, it could be simple to equate them with the Occurias. However, their names—or, ought to we are saying, “titles”—are all borrowed from the Scions of Light, mysterious entities reverse to the Espers (FF12’s summoned creatures). Speaking of Espers, essentially the most highly effective of them, Zodiark, was additionally used to create the Ascians’ darkish deity.

Is every part related, then? Not in any respect, Maehiro swore throughout a dwell letter from the producer in 2014: “To be absolutely clear, there is no direct connection between FF14’s Hydaelyn and FF12’s Ivalice or even FF11’s Vana’diel. They are not the same world in different dimensions or time—they are their own separate worlds.” Their objective is to weave each borrowed component instantly into the world of FF14, a philosophy set by Naoki Yoshida with the objective to show the MMORPG right into a theme park of the Final Fantasy collection. It is, nevertheless, nothing greater than an alluring gloss, meant to pique the followers’ curiosity. Fortunately, behind the obvious references lie extra esoteric allusions.

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Yoshida fulfilled his long-lasting dream of working with Yasumi Matsuno himself in FF14’s second enlargement pack, Stormblood, when the well-known creator was tasked with directing the Return to Ivalice raid collection. Drawing from the tales of FF Tactics and FF12, he fleshed out an entire new a part of the FF14 world, which is none aside from… the Kingdom of Dalmasca that Maehiro launched just a few years earlier than!

Matsuno additionally used the chance to provide some essential consideration to at least one anecdotal character from an outdated quest: Drest, a Dalmascan refugee who took shelter in Eastern La Noscea. Left to his torment since A Realm Reborn, the poor man is lastly given salvation throughout a colourful aspect quest during which Matsuno additionally expresses his love for good wine. In a Dengeki Online interview from 2019, he joked: “I folded the cloth that Maehiro unfolded.” It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the quite a few nods to FF12 inside FF14 cultivated the gamers’ fondness for what was lengthy thought to be an unpopular entry within the collection, making 2017’s The Zodiac Age remaster an excellent larger occasion.

As an added bonus, anybody who follows Yasumi Matsuno’s Twitter account additionally has the possibility to get a glimpse of the 2 creators’ playful friendship. In 2013, when somebody identified to Matsuno that his former colleague was now A Realm Reborn’s lead situation author, he joked: “Has your Japanese skills improved, Maehiro? lol”. Two years later, shortly after FF14’s 2.55 replace, he referred to as him out: “What have you done to our idol?!”—in all probability referring to Minfilia’s destiny. As a outcome, he began the “Maehiro is mean” hashtag, which some Japanese gamers would later decide as much as categorical their emotions after that tragic scene from Heavensward…

Do not let that banter idiot you, although, as he certainly admires Maehiro’s work. In late 2021, when Hironobu Sakaguchi began binge-playing FF14 and was marveling on the high quality of Heavensward’s storyline on Twitter, Matsuno answered: “It was at that moment that Kazutoyo Maehiro’s name was etched into Mr. Sakaguchi’s mind…” A really noteworthy acknowledgment—even when, to be on the protected aspect, he added: “I don’t know, actually”.

Heading Heavensward

Kazutoyo Maehiro and Naoki Yoshida in 2018 (Image Credit: Square Enix)

A sound footing, lastly

Development of FF14’s first main updates started instantly after A Realm Reborn’s mad sprint, and the group wouldn’t quickly be capable of relaxation. However, a brand new objective was coming into view: the sport’s very first enlargement pack, Heavensward. Now that the title was counting on stable foundations, Yoshida and his group leaders had been lastly in a position to carry the storyline in a path that suited them higher.

In 2018, Maehiro defined: “After launching A Realm Reborn as a standalone game, we started working on Heavensward while we were still in the middle of making the post-launch patches. As a result, we built up all kinds of useful skills and experience, like how to structure the main scenario, and how to put together the job quests and side quests, so we now have a basic format in place that we can use in the future.”

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Thanks to this newfound stability, the primary story was given extra significance than in A Realm Reborn. After Naoki Yoshida introduced the core ideas for the enlargement (specifically: a narrative instructed like a journey, the power to fly, and a darkish fantasy setting), it was Maehiro who began outlining the plot, areas, quest development and story pacing, then growing every location’s narrative context. He was the one who determined that Heavensward would characteristic one giant metropolis and 6 areas to discover—a construction that may be stored within the subsequent expansions, albeit with the addition of a secondary city.

For many gamers, Heavensward was the beginning of FF14 at its peak, offering an exhilarating journey that performs like several “normal” RPG, with memorable characters and high-quality writing. It additionally goes again to a extra conventional fantasy style, telling the story of the age-old warfare between people and dragons. As to why the story options seven primal wyrms, no much less, Maehiro gave a slightly surprising justification: “Well, when you’re talking dragons, it has to be seven! I mean, look at Dragon Ball.” The writing group would however want a number of years to correctly introduce every of them, all the way in which to Endwalker and past, when Vrtra and Azdaja lastly entered the stage.

The adoption of a dark temper in Heavensward, nevertheless, just isn’t a shocking transfer from Yoshida and his group. If they very early on determined to set the story in Ishgard and Eorzea’s northern lands, it’s most probably to provide the sport a darker flip, with apparent gothic inspirations that revived the worldview they had been planning to characteristic of their canceled motion title.

Although Ishgard was current in FF14 because the launch of model 1.0 (it was doable to stare upon its towering structure by visiting the Coerthas area), its precise context was not nicely developed after they began engaged on Heavensward. Maehiro and Oda due to this fact wanted to completely focus their consideration on fleshing out this much-awaited location, as the previous described: “There was a bit of text about it, but that was it. Nothing had been fixed as to what sort of nation it was, or what it looked like. […] We thought we should make it a place that really expanded the world of FF14.” The tone is about from the very first minutes of the enlargement, when the black and imposing metropolis emerges from the biting snow…

Although the Warrior of Light remains to be very a lot the focus, the small group of characters that escorts them of their journey was slowly however certainly incomes some consideration from gamers, if not love. As such, the tragic dying of certainly one of these characters actually was a turning level in the neighborhood’s emotional attachment with FF14. When requested by the Final Fantasy portal website if he had anticipated such heated reactions, Maehiro answered: “If I’d seen it coming, maybe I wouldn’t have received as many angry letters that made me fear for my life! (laughs)” As offended as those he bought due to FF12’s battle system? In any case, this distinctive bond between the gamers and their favourite characters would solely strengthen afterwards—one other testomony to the sport’s success.

Sowing the seeds for the Future

In 2015, when the Final Fantasy XVI venture kicked off inside Yoshida’s division (Business Division 5, because it was then referred to as), just a few distinguished builders had been faraway from FF14 to begin engaged on the brand new recreation, and Kazutoyo Maehiro was certainly one of them. Following the discharge of Heavensward, he was solely credited as a supervisor for FF14—at the very least whereas the sport’s subsequent enlargement was being developed, his official title being “scenario section manager”. When Business Division 5 was remodeled into Creative Business Unit III, in 2019, he was appointed “game design section director”. At the time, although, he had completely moved to FF16.

His duties as situation director had been due to this fact transferred to Banri Oda—along with his work as lore author—and Natsuko Ishikawa, who beforehand wrote some job quests (the Rogue and Dark Knight) and aspect contents (such because the Coil of Bahamut and Crystal Tower). Initially, Oda was entrusted with the odd-numbered updates (3.1, 3.3, 3.5), with Ishikawa taking good care of the even-numbered ones (3.2, 3.4).

However, throughout a dwell letter from the producer in June 2016, Ishikawa clarified that the essential plot for the three.x collection was nonetheless established by Yoshida and Maehiro, including that the latter was her rapid superior. On that event, she described him as such: “He’s usually a normal guy, but as soon as he enters work mode, he can be quite scary. After not eating anything for two days, he would suddenly start eating the same type of food in huge quantities.”

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Afterward, the brand new duo centered on the sport’s subsequent enlargement pack, Stormblood, the place Oda was in control of the Ala Mhigo aspect of the storyline, whereas Ishikawa dealt with the Othard aspect. Yet, as a result of his supervising duties, Maehiro nonetheless has a hand within the recreation once in a while. Notably, whereas the group was making ready the Return to Ivalice raid collection, they ended up asking him to handpick a variety of items from the Final Fantasy Tactics and FF12 soundtracks, purely and just because he labored on the unique titles.

But that’s not all. Before transferring away from FF14, Maehiro dropped a bomb that may, years later, have a vital affect on the sport’s storyline. As improvement on Heavensward was wrapping up, he felt the ending was a bit missing by way of affect, and he declared that he wanted so as to add one last, cliffhanger scene—if solely to put the foundations for future tales. And to take action, how about introducing… the Warriors of Darkness?

After receiving Yoshida’s approval, Maehiro tasked Banri Oda with knotting these mysterious antiheroes into the lore—which he did, picturing them as adventurers from the First. The result’s a memorable scene the place Elidibus welcomes Ardbert on the Moon, no much less, thus sowing the seeds for the spectacular Shadowbringers enlargement. Good name!

A grasp of pranks

Kazutoyo Maehiro additionally distinguished himself in one other area: Final Fantasy XIV parody movies. Players found this surprising expertise in March 2014, throughout a dwell letter from the producer, when he revealed a Super Nintendo-style demake of Titan battle (excessive mode). The objective was to introduce himself in an progressive method, letting folks know he’s greater than only a situation author. Indeed, the 2D graphics had been solely created by him after ten days of evening work. The solely assist he obtained was from Masayoshi Soken, who was so impressed with the video that he determined to supply a retro remix of the boss music to accompany it.

The following yr, Maehiro returned with one other faux title: Ultimate Fight Final Fantasy XIV, a combating recreation impressed by Iron Galaxy’s Divekick (which was revealed by Square Enix in Japan). The video reveals Yda and Livia clashing in Mor Dhona, full with a spectacular Limit Break the place the opposite Scions of the Seventh Dawn assist. While Maehiro determined to not suggest any further value for the Titan demake, this new joke was on one other stage, requiring two months of labor, with the assistance of the FF14 animation group.

When the top outcome was launched throughout a public dwell letter, in April 2015, Maehiro went so far as to ask Naoki Yoshida to let him develop an precise, playable model of Ultimate Fight, including he would solely want seven months and 60 million yen (round $500,000). The producer and director turned him down bluntly, including: “The Limit Break’s balance is garbage!”

Two months later, in June 2015, Maehiro got here again to extra humble endeavors with a brief pixel artwork film exhibiting “Biggs and Wedge simply running” (a literal translation of the title), as a way to have a good time the upcoming launch of Heavensward. Moving away from the FF14 venture didn’t discourage him from making much more parody movies, akin to 2016’s Tataru no Boken (Tataru’s journey), a trustworthy imitation of the early Final Fantasy video games, and 2017’s Tactics Alexander, an April Fool paying homage to Tactics Ogre—a proof that Maehiro absolutely built-in the sport’s legacy, even when he didn’t truly work on it.

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His most spectacular feat, nevertheless, is actually the video he produced for 2018’s April Fool: Magnai Fantasy, impressed by the Oronir’s unfortunate love tales as seen in Stormblood… But, at the beginning, it’s an unimaginable tribute to Square Enix’s vintage catalog of video games. From Final Fantasy to Secret of Mana by Actraiser, Square’s Tom Sawyer and the Ogre collection, every part is recreated with the utmost care and a focus to element. It even incorporates a temporary demake of The Last Remnant, in addition to a playful nod to the 2013 E3 trailer that bombastically revealed Versus XIII’s title change to Final Fantasy XV.

Everything is about to music by his companion in crime, Soken—who can be at all times up for joke, particularly if he can share it with followers on Twitter. For instance, he teased the reveal of Tataru’s recreation when, in June 2016, he tweeted: “I’ve captured Maehiro’s screen while he was running away from reality after missing a treasure in the Aquapolis because of a careless mistake.” In December 2019, he was at it once more: “I’ve obtained a new picture from the 5.15 update on Maehiro’s computer while he was using the bathroom.” The takeaway is: by no means go away your desk with out locking your laptop…

To the Future: Final Fantasy XVI

Carried by FF14’s unhoped for restoration and Heavensward’s acclaimed launch, Naoki Yoshida turned Square Enix’s new key determine. While Hajime Tabata’s group was arduous at work on FF15 and Yoshinori Kitase had simply lifted the veil of the Final Fantasy VII Remake venture, Yoshida’s division was provided the chance to develop Final Fantasy XVI as early as 2015. While Yoshida accepted the supply, he was however sure to FF14 and couldn’t resolve to imagine directorial duties for each titles concurrently.

In order to convey the venture to fruition, he determined to imagine the function of producer, whereas surrounding himself with just a few reliable folks from the FF14 group that had simply accomplished their work on Heavensward: director Hiroshi Takai, character designer Kazuya Takahashi, battle designer Mitsutoshi Gondai… and Kazutoyo Maehiro as lead situation author and international recreation designer.

For a big period of time, the sport was solely incubated by a small group of builders with the intention to flesh it out, in all probability experiencing a variety of modifications in components earlier than mass manufacturing finally began in 2019, with a vastly expanded improvement group. It was additionally at the moment that the corporate employed former Capcom recreation designer Ryota Suzuki, entrusting him with the mission to supervise the sport’s action-packed battle system.

As already illustrated by the gritty, bloody scenes from the very first trailer, FF16’s story is clearly darker than its predecessor—a realization of Yoshida, Takai, and Maehiro’s style for darkish and violent fantasy. Although this imaginative and prescient has been highly regarded these days because of video games akin to The Witcher 3 or the Game of Thrones collection, that is truly a deep-rooted inclination from them, owing to Kentaro Miura’s legendary manga Berserk as a lot as to their favourite Western role-playing video games. Of course, one can not understate the affect of Matsuno’s titles, if just for the dramatic geopolitical intrigue—one thing Maehiro skilled firsthand.

It is equally tempting to interpret this as a “revenge” for his or her canceled excessive motion title, though the Final Fantasy framework is actually extra limiting than a very new IP, partly due to fan expectations. Yoshida however insisted on creating an grownup entry, focused at followers who grew up with the collection and have witnessed “the reality of the world”. A daring assertion, however one which must be backed by stable writing.

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Based on what Square Enix has already revealed, FF16’s Valisthea appears like an outdated, decadent world, stricken with the nonetheless mysterious Blight, and the place the ability of the crystals has formed historical past “for long enough”. This imaginative and prescient of the crystals is kind of indifferent from FF14, the place the Mothercrystal is a purely benevolent entity. FF16’s premise is way more paying homage to FF12 and—at the beginning—The Last Remnant: a world the place supernatural beings entrust the weak and unstable humanity with energy far past their command, thus resulting in sure demise.

Admittedly, Final Fantasy XVI could look too just like its inspirations in the interim. Still, having a flexible creator akin to Kazutoyo Maehiro at its helm ensures that it has been considered with further care and an consciousness of the sport expertise as an entire, because of his earlier involvement in quite a few fields.

With A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, he has demonstrated consideration to all of the components that, past written phrases, contribute to the narrative and believability of the world. As Valisthea’s lore already appears pretty intensive, we are able to solely hope it is going to serve an engrossing storyline. The reply to this questioning now has a date: Summer 2023.

Article writer Jérémie Kermarrec is a online game translator. He can be the writer of French guide ‘The Legend of Final Fantasy XV‘, and the co-author of ‘Smile Please: The Biography of Nobuo Uematsu‘. He has been a Final Fantasy neighborhood stalwart for many years, and owns the French fansite Final Fantasy World.

Kazutoyo Maehiro’s Resume in Full:

  • DynamiTracer (1996): Design Assistant
  • Final Fantasy Tactics (1997): Planner, Interactive Novel Section
  • Vagrant Story (2000): Planner & Director, Background Section
  • PlayOnline (2002): Planning Chief
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (2003): Quest Planner
  • Final Fantasy XII (2006): Battle System Designer
  • Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (2007): Special Thanks
  • The Last Remnant (2008): Battle Director
  • Bloodmasque (2013): Story
  • Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn (2013): Main Scenario Writer
  • Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward (2015): Main Scenario Writer & Event Supervisor
  • Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood (2017): Development Supervisor
  • Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers (2019): Special Thanks
  • Final Fantasy XVI (2023): Creative Director & Original Screenplay




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