Final Fantasy 16 The Rising Tide Interview
Image: Push Square

Final Fantasy 16 was one of our favourite games of 2023, and so we wanted to find out more about The Rising Tide — the title's second and final expansion — ahead of its release on the 18th April. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to land an interview with Takeo Kujiraoka — the veteran Square Enix dev who's actually the director of Final Fantasy 16's DLC, having previously been a lead combat designer for the base game.

We asked Kujiraoka-san about Final Fantasy 16's success, his team's approach to crafting expansions, and what, in his opinion, makes a memorable DLC adventure.

Push Square: To start with, what are your general thoughts on Final Fantasy 16, now that the game is approaching its first anniversary?

Takeo Kujiraoka, DLC Director: Final Fantasy 16 is unusual among recent mainline Final Fantasy games in that it has a grittier story set in a world that draws inspiration from medieval Europe, not to mention the fact that it’s the first fully-fledged action-RPG of the series. Both aspects were challenges that we undertook with the game.

In recent years, players of the Final Fantasy series have tended to skew towards a higher age range. However, this time there are survey results showing that more people in their teens and 20s played Final Fantasy 16. I think this shows that, to a certain extent, we’ve achieved one of our initial goals – to have players of all ages play the latest Final Fantasy game.

This doesn’t mean that all future Final Fantasy games will take a similar direction to Final Fantasy 16, but I do think it means that we’ve been able to bring new players on board and open new possibilities for the development teams that will work on future instalments in the series.

Final Fantasy 16

How did the development team come up with ideas for Final Fantasy 16's DLC? The base game already tells a complete story, so was it difficult to conceptualise additional adventures?

Our producer, Naoki Yoshida, was clear from early on in development that we should make a title that would have a self-contained story – and that he wanted us to focus all our energies into developing the main game. And that’s exactly how development went.

At the same time, we’d been asked to include some potential crumbs in terms of setting and lore that we could pick back up quickly if there was demand from players for DLC. So, the basic ideas and concepts existed before we ever began work on the DLC itself.

From there, we started work on world building and writing the plot in earnest. But you may have noticed that there are some points left undiscussed in the main story, right? The team working on the scenario for the DLC decided to give the tale of Valisthea even more depth by tying some of those bits and pieces to the stories in the DLC.

To give an example, The Rising Tide touches upon the histories of two Mothercrystals that do not appear in the main game: Drake’s Horn and Drake’s Eye.

So, while conceptualising additional adventures was difficult, I think the end result is something that blends seamlessly with the story of the main game.

Final Fantasy 16 Echoes of the Fallen

Final Fantasy 16's first DLC, Echoes of the Fallen, had a crazy final boss that really stood out, even amongst the game's many memorable boss encounters. What was the thinking behind having such a challenging fight?

Final Fantasy 16 is the first time the series has adopted this kind of action gameplay. So, to make sure that long-standing fans of the series would be able to reach the end of the game, we intentionally balanced the difficulty to be more moderate for the main game.

The combat team – myself included – were worried that it was a little too easy, but when we saw how players who weren’t too confident with action games were still having fun and completing the game, we felt like it was probably the right approach.

Having said that, we could also see feedback on livestreams and social media from players who wanted battles that they could really sink their teeth into. Since the underlying combat system in Final Fantasy 16 was created as a robust action game, we had the foundation in place to create high-difficulty battles – and there are new challenges you can only create at high difficulty.

I thought that these challenges would be accepted if they were in the DLC and decided to increase the baseline difficulty of the DLC’s combat.

I was relieved to see that this was well-received in Echoes of the Fallen. We’ve used the same baseline to balance The Rising Tide, so I hope players enjoy the combat in this chapter of DLC as well!

Can you tell us more about The Rising Tide? What are your goals for this second DLC?

Our concept for The Rising Tide was to approach it like an MMO expansion pack, and include all the elements that make up Final Fantasy 16.

There’s a new field area and village, new side quests, new equipment and abilities for Clive, fearsome bosses as well as an Eikon battle, and even endgame content that can be played after completing the DLC. There really is a lot of content packed in.

For those coming back to Final Fantasy 16 for the first time in a while, it will no doubt feel like Valisthea has grown along with Clive’s story. If you’re playing Final Fantasy 16 for the first time, the overall game experience will be richer and all the more satisfying to play.

The team poured all our efforts into creating something for the players who fell in love with the world and gameplay of Final Fantasy 16, so I really hope people will pick it up and give it a go.

Can you give us insight into how development of DLC actually unfolds? How closely does your team work with developers from the main game?

After the producer, Yoshida, gave us the go-ahead to create the DLC, I first worked on pinning down the exact content. It was at this point that we decided to develop the DLC as two separate pieces, so as not to keep players waiting too long after the release of the main game.

From there, a DLC development team was created – comprised mainly of team members who had already completed their work on the main game. That was when development on the DLC began in earnest.

All the while, we were getting more and more feedback from players. We proactively took on board anything we could incorporate and used it to inform the DLC and updates to the main game.

Most of the team working on the DLC had also worked on development of the main game, so we didn’t need to plan any kind of formal coordination between the teams working on the DLC and the main game. Rather, I would say that we were able to use our experience of working on the main game to develop the DLC at a breakneck pace.

I also had regular discussions with the producer, Yoshida, and the main director of the base game, Hiroshi Takai, to check that what we had was fitting as DLC for Final Fantasy 16.

In the end, we were able to implement even more than what I’d put into my original proposal – so I’m incredibly grateful to the development team.

In your own opinion, what do you think makes a great DLC? What does it need in order to elevate the whole game?

I believe that DLC should preserve and respect the concepts in the main game, at the same time as providing further gameplay and fun for players who enjoyed the game.

DLC obviously can’t pretend the main game never happened, and it can’t be something completely different – regardless of whether that “something different” might be good fun in its own right. On the other hand, it’s not a good idea for the experience of the main game to be incomplete unless you play the DLC.

These are all fairly common sense, but they’re the kinds of things I tried to keep in mind. And, of course, I think it’s really important to take note of player feedback. That’s one of the advantages you have when the DLC is created after the release of the main game.

This is less about what elevates the game per se, and is more about my own preferences, but I do sometimes wonder if changing a simple levelling or growth system in the base game to something more complex makes the experience more enjoyable.

Final Fantasy 16 DLC

And finally, do you have anything you'd like to say to our readers, and to fans of Final Fantasy 16?

The narrative of Final Fantasy 16 has reached an end with this DLC, The Rising Tide. The DLC development team was only able to make it this far because the fans let us know how much they’d enjoyed the main game. Thank you so much!

We have the release of the PC version ahead of us, and we plan to release a demo that will also act as a benchmark – so I hope that you’ll give it a go if you’ve yet to play Final Fantasy 16.

Over the course of Final Fantasy 16's development, we have had the opportunity to gain all kinds of experience. We’ll do our best to put that to good use in the development of future titles and create games that you’ll enjoy even more, so I hope you’ll continue to look out for and support the team.

Thank you.

Huge thanks to Kujiraoka-san for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Michael Bryant and the team at Square Enix for making this interview possible.

Final Fantasy 16: The Rising Tide is out for PS5 on the 18th April, but are you looking forward to this new adventure with Clive and the gang? Try not to soak the comments section below.