Square Enix talks about bringing iconic Final Fantasy monsters to life in Final Fantasy XIV
Over the years, the Final Fantasy series has developed a menagerie of iconic creatures. Though each game may be set in a different world with different characters and new mechanics, we can always look forward to finding out what a new iteration of Cactuar is going to look like. Final Fantasy monsters are as much a part of the series as protagonists like Cloud and villains like Sephiroth.
Similarly, we always wonder how hard this edition Ultima Weapon will be to defeat. Throughout the series’ extensive release history, we have seen a largely turn-based system and monsters with mechanics designed for turn-based combat.
The Bomb, for example, traditionally expands over a certain number of turns until it explodes for huge damage. It’s interesting to look at how these kinds of mechanics and monster designs are adapted for Final Fantasy XIV.
Making classic Final Fantasy monsters work in real-time battles while retaining the feel and flavour that makes these creatures iconic seems like it would be quite a challenge. Especially given these battles often involve large groups of players.
We were fortunate to have a quick chat with two of the team that work on those very challenges in the ongoing development of Final Fantasy XIV.
Battle Content Designer Masaki Nakagawa and Character Concept Artist Hiroyuki Nagamine were good enough to answer some of our questions about just how exactly they make the monsters we love from random encounters of Final Fantasy titles fit into a massive living world.
PowerUp! – How do you keep monster designs for classic Final Fantasy monsters fresh without altering them detrimentally?
Battle Content Designer, Masaki Nakagawa – “When using classic Final Fantasy monster designs, we generally take one of two approaches.
“One approach is to essentially preserve the original design to the best of our abilities. We take care not to add any new elements while ensuring that the end result doesn’t appear unnatural in a game with higher graphical fidelity like ours.
“Bosses in the Omega series of raids, for instance, were recreated using this approach.
“Another approach we may take is to use the original design as more of a guideline, preserving only the name and the defining features of the monster.
“We then create an original design that better suits the setting of FFXIV. For example, cactuars, chocobos, Garuda, Titan, Ifrit, Leviathan, Shiva, and Ramuh were designed in this fashion.
“By striking a balance between these two methods, we’re able to create interesting new designs while also paying homage to past titles.”
Character Concept Artist, Hiroyuki Nagamine – “Whether we’re reusing designs from a previous game or altering them to better suit the world of FFXIV, we are careful to avoid making changes that would take away from what makes the monsters and characters so appealing.
“I’d like to think that all the time spent in my youth playing Final Fantasy games on the SNES has come in handy.”
Final Fantasy Monsters
It’s clear that those creating the experiences in Final Fantasy XIV grew up exploring earlier worlds in the Final Fantasy series. With that experience with the classics, the team has a good handle on Final Fantasy monsters and the kinds of experiences and designs players are expecting.
We asked what makes Final Fantasy XIV such a great experience within the Final Fantasy universe and Nakagawa was quick to associate the experience with the developers’ passion.
I think the passion and devotion of not just the developers, but also the players is something special you don’t see in other games. FFXIV wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of the people who worked on and supported it all these years.
I don’t think you’ll find a game with more passion behind it than this one, now or even in the years to come.
Devotion to Final Fantasy XIV, the previous games in the series and Final Fantasy monsters is something that’s at the core of the day-to-day for those who work on the game. Nakagawa told us that creating experiences based on past Final Fantasy monsters was a real pleasure for the team.
Nakagawa – “The overall process of recreating [monsters] as bosses and creating battles that suit them is quite fun and rewarding. Many of the people on our team are big fans of the Final Fantasy series. They’re very passionate about their work and you can tell they enjoy what they do.
That said, it’s not without its difficulties. The problems we face when turning classic Final Fantasy creatures into bosses usually arise in one of three scenarios.”
Nakagawa explained that many of the older Final Fantasy monsters only used one attack. If the team was to recreate them as they were, they really wouldn’t be suitable. Nakagawa gave us one example, “Looking back to the World of Darkness 24-player raid, for example, the final boss was the Cloud of Darkness from FF3, which originally used only Particle Beam.
“We had to think up a lot of mechanics to make the fight suitable for FFXIV, which also meant creating new attacks.” While not a big problem for the team, Nakagawa says that it was an exercise in ensuring everything new fit the Cloud of Darkness as it first appeared. “To that end, we incorporated several variations of its signature Particle Beam into the battle,” he said.
The flipside of this is when an enemy originally had too many attacks. Nakagawa’s example for this scenario was Kefka. Originally appearing in Final Fantasy VI, recreating him for Omega: Sigmascape in Final Fantasy XIV was quite a challenge.
We not only had to make two models to account for Kefka and his godlike transformation, but also recreate the multiple tiers of the Graven Image that appears on the battlefield.
The music used during the encounter, Dancing Mad, also required four renditions to match transitions in the battle.
A pretty tall order to say the least, but having more to do didn’t mean more time in our schedule. It was a lot of work that required a lot of effort from the team to see it through.
Meeting Fan Expectations
The third scenario Nakagawa describes is “when the original is incredibly popular.” According to Nakagawa, the more popular an enemy or monster, the more difficult the development becomes.
“We must meet the expectations of those who know and love these characters from previous titles. We have to retain what makes them so beloved while still making sure they fit with the setting of FFXIV, then create engaging battles that allow players to relive older games,” he said.
Again, Nakagawa pointed to Kefka as an example of this, as well as Exdeath. “Faithfully rendering visuals and planning battles for both of them required an incredible amount of development resources. A game designer needs a great deal of experience and know-how to tackle battles like those.” Thankfully for fans, the team working on Final Fantasy XIV have the experience and know-how.
Working on a game with such a huge following as Final Fantasy XIV must be an exhilarating experience, but also a stressful one. We wanted to know which monsters were a favourite of the team and which weren’t. Both Nakagawa and Nagamine were diplomatic in their responses, though we nearly saw behind the curtain for a moment.
Nakaga told us that his “favourite would have to be Ozma from the Weeping City of Mhach. From the monster design down to the battle’s mechanics, we were able to make something very unique and interesting.”
Nagamine meanwhile, pointed to Tsukuyomi. “For Primals in the 4.x series, we’ve often brainstormed with several members of the art team for ideas, and as some of the younger members are very ardent fans of Yotsuyu, we had plenty of ideas to work with when it came time for Tsukuyomi.
“The end result was a design, unlike anything we’d worked on before.”
When it came time to name monsters they weren’t fans of, neither developer actually named one. Nakagawa did mention that he has never “been excited to work on any birdlike bosses.” Unsure of the reasons why he thought maybe it was a bad experience from a past life.
Nagamine mentioned the difficulty in working as a committee on occasion. “It can be hard to make a decision when presented with opposing ideas.”
It’s clear from speaking with Nagamine and Nakagawa that designing creatures for Final Fantasy XIV is a rewarding experience, but we wanted to know what their favourite part of their jobs is.
Nagamine told us that having their designs used in the game is the best part. “When my designs for monsters or summons are adopted to make other things like weapons, mounts, and minions. It feels like the world of FFXIV gets just a little bigger with every new addition.”
We asked the designers if they were inspired by nature and things in the real-world and Namazu was brought up as a great example.
If they’re based on a particular plant or animal, we often use the real thing as a reference for the design. Take the Namazu, for example. We referenced catfish for their base design, and also looked at the transitional stages between tadpoles and frogs to give them the ability to walk on two legs and wield weapons.
Whether or not they’re based on things from the real world, it’s important to the developers that everything feels a part of the world of Final Fantasy.
Nagamine told us that “the monsters we design have to give people a sense of being part of the world. When designing battle content, newer members of our team often focus on the mechanics of the fight and how to make them fun first, neglecting the monsters, their characteristics, and the world setting.
“To remind them of what they’re overlooking, we’ll ask them questions like ‘why do the monsters attack this way?’ or ‘why are the monsters in this dungeon and where did they come from?’ or ‘what do the monsters do when no one is fighting them?'”
Final Fantasy Monsters, Creatures and More
Having chatted with both Nakagawa and Nagamine, we felt we had a pretty good handle on the process of designing Final Fantasy monsters, especially for Final Fantasy. However, we wondered what happened to the ideas that didn’t make it into the game and what designs don’t often get used.
Regarding ideas that weren’t used, Nakagawa told us that a boss in Omega: Alphascape was based on an idea that went unused for many years. “We didn’t have the technical resources to make it work at the time, but now we’ve finally brought it to life. You should play and see it for yourself.”
As for ideas that don’t tend to get incorporated into Final Fantasy XIV, Nagamine told us that horror designs are a rarity. “FFXIV tends to shy away from designs with strong elements of horror or grotesquery, so I think it would be fun to make a game that focuses on creepy monsters like Calcabrina.”
Finally, we turned the conversation to the future of Final Fantasy XIV. Nakagawa believes the future of Final Fantasy XIV is wide open and very exciting. “I think someday FFXIV will be the greatest game in the world, and I’ll do all I can to help make that happen.
“As I mentioned before, the people who work on FFXIV are very passionate about what they do, and working with them has been an immensely enjoyable experience.”
Nagamine feels grateful to work on the title and with such great developers. “It can sometimes be a bit daunting to put forward new ideas and designs, but I feel thankful to be working in such a relaxed environment under the leadership of very dependable people.”
It’s clear that Final Fantasy XIV is in capable hands and has a bright future.
We’d like to thank Battle Content Designer Masaki Nakagawa and Character Concept Artist Hiroyuki Nagamine for their time.