Final Fantasy XVI Interview – “We’ve shown a lot, but there’s also a lot we haven’t shown yet”

Final Fantasy XVI is almost within reach. We’re less than a month away from the latest mainline Final Fantasy title to drop, and the stakes cannot be any higher. With an all-star team led by Naoki Yoshida, expectations are through the roof after many successful and overly positive media previews.

Just last week, we had a chance to play nearly 6 hours of Final Fantasy XVI in an exclusive preview event, and praise is in order thanks to the highly-polished experience that kept us at the edge of our seats. Of course, we had our thoughts about it, so we’re thankful for the chance to join other Southeast Asian media groups in an interview session with Final Fantasy XVI Main Director Hiroshi Takai and Localization Director Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, who were more than happy to enlighten us.

Eager to find out more about Final Fantasy XVI? Read on!

*Some parts of this Final Fantasy XVI interview have been slightly edited for brevity and readability. Koji-Fox served as translator to Takai-san.

Related – Read our Final Fantasy XVI Hands-on Preview
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Media: I’d like to know how the team came up with the Active Time Lore feature of Final Fantasy XVI, because it seems like nothing similar to that has been done in previous games.

Koji-Fox: We mentioned before that one of the main pillars of Final Fantasy XVI is its narrative. We have a very deep and engaging story with lots of different nations and lots of different characters. We didn’t want the players to be lost in watching all of these cutscenes and you’ll see a character and ask “who is that?” or “where were they from again?” or “how are they related to all these other characters?”

To keep players engaged in the story and make sure they know what’s going on, the Active Time Lore system gives them quick access to the story.

Media: It really helps players who jump in and out of the game, coming back after a couple of days to find themselves forgetting what has happened.

Koji-Fox: We explain a lot of stuff in this game, and as the game progresses, players may forget some of those important things. Players might be watching a cutscene and ask “what was going on again?” and we didn’t want the players to be frustrated. We want to give them that reminder always to keep them engaged.

As for how we actually implemented it, it was really just the hard work of the staff. We have this long story and we have to figure out when certain characters and terms appear, and make sure we have flags for those so that when the players pause it, they can see that text that pertains to what’s happening at that time. Overall, I think we have more than 2,000 different entries in the system that changes as the story progresses.

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Media: I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game where the first 15 minutes where the characters say “You C**k!” or multiple F-words. I want to know how the team maintains the Mature theme but still balances to make sure not to overdo it and still captures the Japanese version of the game.

Koji-Fox: When we started making the game, we made the decision of what type of rating are we going to go for. Are going for teens? Because all of the Final Fantasies up to now have all been E for Everyone or Teens. For this one, Maehiro-san and Takai-san had a story that they wanted to tell, and they didn’t want to be weighed down by restrictions. They wanted something that allowed them to tell the story that they wanted to tell to its fullest. Telling a story that felt real and mature.

The people in this world are living in a world of war and strife, a world with adults and violence, and to have everyone speaking in colorful and flowery language… In our everyday lives, we swear all the time because that’s natural for us and I think it’s natural for a lot of players as well, especially for players like me who are in our 30s or 40s, we understand that the world can be a dirty place.

That said, we don’t want to go overboard with it. Some games with a mature rating will have every other word as a swear word, and we didn’t want to do that either because that can be overwhelming. So it comes down to which characters will be using those terms and what situations will have those players say those terms. For example, Jill’s character doesn’t swear a lot in the game because she’s not that type of character. In the instances when she does swear, you know that it must be really important because she usually doesn’t do that.

Other characters will swear a little bit more because that’s their character, but it’s about finding that balance and using it perfectly in that situation, and having players say that they relate to that character because they’re talking like I do.

Media: There have been a lot of people who compared the tone of Final Fantasy XVI to Game of Thrones, did the team actually base the style and setting on any existing fantasy media?

Koji-Fox: As for other types of media which we got inspiration from, it’s very hard to pick one because our team is filled with people who love fantasy movies, literature, anime, manga, and tokusatsu, so everyone is pulling from lots of different things. There is going to be a lot of stuff where people will be like “that really reminds me of that scene from that tokusatsu program” and then they’ll realize that we probably got the inspiration there.

And not really pertaining to the setting but more of the combat, one thing we can say that we drew a lot of inspiration from the battle system, and with Clive being able to customize his abilities based on the different Eikons is we took that almost directly from the Final Fantasy V job system. We got a lot of inspiration from that, and that was the core of what became the Eikon ability system in Final Fantasy XVI.

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Media: Were there any ideas or executions for the Final Fantasy XVI Eikon battles that didn’t work out as expected and were there any reasons for choosing certain Eikons for the battles?

Koji-Fox: As for stuff that we wanted to do but couldn’t? There was none of those. We pretty much got in what we wanted.

When deciding what these Eikon vs Eikon battles were going to be, we took a very close look at the situation and what was going on in the story, why are these two Eikons fighting at this time, who is fighting at this time, and the tying that directly into what type of battle it is and where is it going to occur.

The one rule that we made when doing this was that we wanted to make sure that each battle was going to be different from the one that came before it and then we worked very hard to make sure that you had that sense of uniqueness compared to the one that came before.

For the first battle, Phoenix fighting Ifrit, we understood right off the bat that the player will be controlling Phoenix. Phoenix flies, let’s make a shooting game, and we had that core idea that came up very early in development. One of our biggest hopes, because it is so out there, you don’t expect that the first Eikon vs Eikon battle is going to be 3D shooting, so having that surprise for that first battle got us so excited.


Media: The key members of the Final Fantasy XVI development team “grew up” with some of the more classic Final Fantasy titles. Could you give more examples of inspiration from past Final Fantasy games, maybe something from IV? VI?

Koji-Fox: It’s one of those things where it’s very hard to pin down exact things, but you’ll find a lot of naming, a lot of monsters, and maybe characters that maybe have appeared in that game appear also in Final Fantasy XVI, not exactly as that character but you’ll see that inspiration from a lot of different games.

Another thing that Yoshida-san has mentioned is that at the beginning of the game where you play through two hours of the game and finish the prologue and then you finally get the title screen, which was directly lifted from Final Fantasy I because we were inspired by that cinematic sequence where you play the game and then the title rather than starting with the title.

There is a lot, and players that have played Final Fantasy I through VI are going to find a lot of stuff that is taken from those titles.

I remember when I entered Square Enix, it was May, and they were doing the final tweaking of the last battle of Final Fantasy IV. It was the week that I entered the company. There was a giant tv and they were testing that battle on my first day. WOW!

Media: Square Enix has been pushing a lot of information about Final Fantasy XVI for the past year. Is there any concern within the team that we are oversharing right now? A fear that Final Fantasy XVI might be losing its magic to gamers?

Koji-Fox: I get asked around by staff a lot – aren’t you worried that we’re showing too much? We also understand that in this day and age, with so many games out there, we need to get players interested in our game, in wanting to pick up the game and play themselves. We need to show what’s in the game and what we’ve created.

While at times, it’s very tough to show all of these things because we understand that we want those surprises as well, we have to make this decision to work with our promotion team to make sure that we can get something out there that’s going to get people to look away from other games and concentrate on ours. It’s about finding that balance.

There are some things that we want the player to see. If we keep everything secret, then there’s a lot for players to think about – is it for me? is it a game I want to play or not?

Then again, we are showing a lot, but there’s also A LOT we haven’t shown you yet. Especially regarding the story, there’s still a lot you don’t know about the story, so players will still have that excitement.

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Media: Can fans expect sidequests in Final Fantasy XVI that will affect the main storyline? Branching storylines, maybe?

Koji-Fox: The sidequests won’t affect the main story. Whether you play them or not, it won’t affect how the main story turns out. The sidequests give you a better view of the world and the characters, and approaching the main scenario without having played it vs having played it, players are going to feel differently because they understand more what characters are thinking. It’s not going to be required but it makes the main scenario more enjoyable.

There are also special types of sidequests in Final Fantasy XVI that unlock certain things in the game. For example, one of those is a sidequest that will unlock certain recipes for the forge. Those will allow you to create more powerful weapons and gear which will make you stronger in the main scenario. The difficulty level is not where you have to complete those sidequests, but they do make things a lot easier.

If players don’t want to focus on anything but the main scenario, we’ve created Final Fantasy XVI in such a way that players that don’t want to do that side stuff can focus on the main scenario and get that rollercoaster experience and not be penalized for not having played the sidequests.

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Final Fantasy XVI is scheduled to launch on June 22, 2023, exclusively on the PS5.

The Final Fantasy XVI gameplay preview being referred to was based on a special version made for the media to experience, and contents may differ from the final version.

FINAL FANTASY XVI © 2023 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved.

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