Designing the world of Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker – An interview with Naoki Yoshida

Ahead of the launch of Endwalker, the director and producer of Final Fantasy XIV spoke about the creation of Garlemald, Old Sharlayan’s secrets, and the reason for Zenos's Job change.

Ahead of the launch of Endwalker, I was invited to the Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker Media Tour where I was able to experience a small portion of the upcoming expansion’s content, including the latest Jobs, locations, and a new dungeon. I also had the pleasure of speaking with the Director and Producer of Final Fantasy XIV Naoki Yoshida to discuss the development behind the preview content, as well as what players might expect when Endwalker launches next month.

One of my biggest takeaways from the Endwalker demo was the surprising reaction I had upon reaching Garlemald. As I explained in my preview, I had preconceptions as to what the capital of the Garlean Empire would look like given its role in the story, but those assumptions were quickly stripped away.

Garlemald is in utter chaos, the streets of the city are laid bare with rubble whilst citizens and survivors hide underground away from the monsters roaming above. The entire setting radiates a feeling of sadness that I wasn’t expecting in the slightest. I asked Yoshida about Garlemald’s design choice who went on to explain in detail how he and the team wanted to convey the importance of this location.

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“So when we look at the Garlean Empire in the history of Final Fantasy XIV, it has an established position and the player would have been facing people from the Garlean Empire,” he said.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

“They may be commanders or generals or they might be fighting against soldiers from the Empire, in those cases, the player would be facing those people as the enemy and those people would have masks on, so we wouldn’t really see them as a person but we just perceive them as the enemy.

“So that is one thing in the background that we’ve had in the background up until now and that is just a given of how their position was in the story. These people are from a completely different country, as a player and them, we have no relationship between us, no linking with blood or anything like that. So we might have seen them in the same way as we see a monster, so they were just an enemy.”

Yoshida continued to talk about how, in Endwalker, the player will be visiting the Garlean capital so the team wanted to show how the Garlean’s had a way of life and how they wanted to place importance on that.

“As you’re walking through Garlemald, you might see there is a highway that’s been destroyed or there might be a park and the ground which is starting to collapse, so there are these signs of huge destruction there, but we wanted to show those people who live there had a very similar life to how we grew up,” Yoshida continued.

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Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

“So maybe the kids in Garlemald, they went to the park and they had a slide and they used to play with the slide just as we did when we were growing up as kids. It was very important for us to show, to express, how those people had their daily lives and we placed a lot of importance on actually thinking about how we would express that when the player finds themselves visiting this city and going there to see what happens there.”

Without getting into story spoilers, Yoshida spoke about how the cause of the city’s destruction will be explained to the player in Endwalker but making the capital feel as authentic as possible by portraying how the Garlean’s lived their lives was just one of the elements they put a lot of attention to.

“I think the main scenario, and also the side quests, that you can do in Garlemald will really hit your heart… like really strike a soft point, so even just the side quests, I hope the players will take the time and experience them and really enjoy what there is there.”

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

The Tower of Zot is the one dungeon that was accessible to me during the preview event where my party and I were pitted against the Magus Sisters. I had a tough time with it, less so when using the Trust System, but I felt a new sense of challenge upon encountering the first boss fight and the challenge only grew as we got to the final boss. I asked Yoshida about whether or not that the dev team purposefully made the content difficult, who went on to ask whether or not my party was playing the new Jobs (we were).

“So in that case, Sage is actually a bit difficult compared to the other healers,” Yoshida stated while laughing. “I think it might be a bit difficult for someone to just take Sage straight away at level 80 or so and to dive into that type of content without any practice, that might be a bit too much for them. But honestly speaking, it was not our intention so much to make it that more difficult.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

Continuing to laugh, Yoshida affirmed that from talking in other interviews, he’d had a lot of the same feedback when it came to the dungeon’s complexity saying, “We might have to go back and think about this”. I mentioned to the director that I did have a much easier time with the dungeon when using the Trust System than I did with a party, to which he replied that he will have to check on the balancing with the dev team.

“This time around in this dungeon, we had the Magus Sisters so compared to a typical dungeon, it is true that the mechanics that we put in are a bit more elaborate so it is something a bit more hands-on,” he continued. “But we didn’t really try to incorporate any mechanics that would lead to sudden death or anything like that, it was designed in a way that you would be able to defeat the bosses as long as you apply some debuffs and by effectively using debuffs, you would be able to somehow defeat the boss but it might be that the balance is off for the healer role so we will think about this.”

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

After rewatching the Endwalker cinematic trailer about a million times, finally getting to run around Old Sharlayan for the first time felt so amazing. One of the biggest takeaways from my time exploring the island to the North was how impressed I was by the hub’s attention to detail. As Old Sharlayan has been much anticipated since its initial mention, I asked Naoki Yoshida how much of a challenge its creation was.

“Of course Old Sharlayan is established in the lore so people already knew that it was known as a beautiful town and it had colours based around white, like a pure white colour base, and the people over there placed a lot of importance on Thaliak the Scholar, and also their famous symbol,” Yoshida said. “So a lot of the elements that were established in the lore already, we knew players would have expectations for that and in that respect it was difficult for us to create this city, keeping those expectations and what the players already know in mind.”

Yoshida dived into the concept behind Old Sharlayan’s design choice, explaining that its architecture was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman civilisation’s. “You’ll see that it’s quite similar in atmosphere to those types of areas and the people there, it’s more of a focus on the philosophical nature, so it’s kind of like a balance of harmony with nature and the people,” Yoshida said. “The areas which you see in Old Sharlayan where there is just nature or raw nature, just right there in the open, that’s because of this kind of philosophical approach and the balance between people and nature. So it’s really to show the wealth that exists in the heart of the people living in Old Sharlayan so, first of all, that’s one of the things you can take away when you’re visiting this area.”

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

Old Sharlayan is home to those who crave knowledge, as well as just the birthplace of our favourite Leveilleur twins, Alphinaud and Alisaie. Like every region, city or town in Final Fantasy XIV, this location is filled with history about the people who live there, Naoki Yoshida disclosed how relaying this back to the player in a visual format was just as key as designing the city.

“When we went about incorporating the daily life of Sharlayan’s, we thought about where their interests lie, so people in Old Sharlayan are not so much interested in food, they’re more interested in things about acquiring knowledge and developing themselves in that respect,” he said.

“So it’s for that reason, you might know their food, they have the Archon Loaf which is a bread that tastes really bad, but at the end of the day, their focus lies on knowledge and things like that so that’s why they have that type of food. We put really a lot of attention into those types of props that you’ll find in the city and those little details about their daily life, and together by incorporating those aspects it really makes the city more lively and you can see a real buzz in the city.”

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

Yoshida elaborated a bit more about the history of Old Sharlayan, even delving slightly into spoiler territory. “This is going to be a little bit of a spoiler, but as you kindly pointed out in your question, when you’re facing the harbour on the left side that there is this restaurant called The Last Stand and there’s an interesting reason why it’s called The Last Stand.

“Because Sharlayan’s have really lost all interest in food and they’re not so particular about the taste of things, this was kind of like the last bastion of hope for the Sharlayan’s so the last fort, as it were, in an attempt to retain good food in Old Sharlayan. That is a little bit of a spoiler, but I think there are many small details like that, so if you can pick up on those as well when Endwalker releases, I’d be really happy.”

There’s been one question on my mind since finishing Shadowbringers Patch 5.5 earlier this year, and that’s the reason behind why the returning antagonist, Lord Zenos, carries a scythe and seems to take up the mantle of Reaper. Before my time speaking with Yoshida was up, I asked whether or not this somehow plays into the theme of the story at all, his answer was both intriguing and hilarious at the same time.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. Credit: Square Enix

“It’s not really the case that we wanted Reaper to have a big role in the story, or have a big impact in the story, but it might be that there is some reason why Zenos has gone down that path,” Yoshida said.

“So of course, since Zenos is a Reaper, he would obviously be using an avatar. Zeno’s only friend is the Warrior of Light so in that respect maybe his avatar is some sort of variation of our Warrior of Light. (Laughing) But please be sure to, I haven’t put it clearly here, look forward to seeing what happens with Zenos.”

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker launches on November 23 for PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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