Two of the biggest RPG successes out of Japan in recent memory are coming together - and it all started with a meeting in a bar.
One of the most intriguing and exciting - if niche - announcements at E3 2018 was that Final Fantasy 14 and Monster Hunter World are going to be coming together for a pair of special cross-over events. It's a swap of sorts: iconic Monster Hunter series beast Rathalos will be heading to FF14's world of Eorzea as a high-end, late game boss. In Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy's most prolific monster of its own will be appearing to battle hunters - the Behemoth. While Behemoth will take its FF14 form, it's a great nod to the series in general - some form of Behemoth has appeared in every major FF title.
During the chaos of E3, we got a chance to sit down with the two men who made the collaboration happen: FF14 Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida and Monster Hunter boss Ryozo Tsujimoto. As it turns out, they're friends - and the road to the pair's games crossing over started a good decade ago, when Yoshida was discovering the Monster Hunter series and was playing one of the PSP titles in a bar. Come 2010/11, when Yoshida took over the then-struggling FF14, Capcom offered assistance - and he's only now finally cashing in on that offer, years later.
In this interview, the pair detail how the collaboration came to be, plus their plans to satisfy the expectations of two particularly ravenous fanbases.
VG247: So, first off - how did this come about? It's a bit of a surprise, though it's also a perfect fit. How did the collaboration come together?
Naoki Yoshida: It actually dates back quite a while. When we first met, I was playing Monster Hunter Portable Freedom Unite or G or something like that - one of the earlier portable Monster Hunter games - at this bar. I met Mr. Tsujimoto there. Then some years passed, and I was tasked to take on FF14. That was when 1.0 was being rebuilt into A Realm Reborn.
When I made that announcement, Mr. Tsujimoto was kind of angry, almost - he was worried about my career! He was asking, 'are you sure you want to move forward with this?' - it was as if he was thinking about it as his own problem. He was so concerned and so caring for me about it - but at the same time he understood that if I was serious about rebuilding FF14 it was my decision, and so he offered - he asked if Capcom or Monster Hunter could do anything to help. That's kind of the catalyst.
"I would love to do a whole game together if at all possible - but this time we've been able to realize that dream through working together on this collaboration."
Of course, if we were to do something together early on when FF14 was in the process of being rebuilt... I felt that it would probably be piggybacking on Capcom's efforts. The discussion did come up, but at that time we wanted to rebuild FF14 and make sure that we're on an even playing field along with Monster Hunter. That was about seven years ago, and now we're fulfilling on that promise.
Ryozo Tsujimoto: From my perspective, I believed in Mr. Yoshida's talents as a game director and I understood what his talents are. That's why I offered if there was anything Capcom or Monster Hunter could do to help. Honestly, I really believe in Mr. Yoshida's talents as a game director - honestly, I would love to do a whole game together if at all possible - but this time we've been able to realize that dream through working together on this collaboration.
Of course, it was great because the feeling was mutual. Mr. Yoshida also felt that he wanted to do something together. With Monster Hunter World we were able to release the game globally simultaneously, and we feel that we're starting to expand more into the Western audience as well as Japan. Because of that we felt like it was a really good time for this sort of partnership. The Capcom team is also feeling that as Monster Hunter World, we're now able to give back to FF14 as well - so we felt it was a great opportunity.
Yoshida: Before the title of Monster Hunter World was announced... maybe about three years ago? I had the opportunity to go out for dinner with creative director Mr. [Kaname] Fujioka on the Capcom team, and he had briefly mentioned to me that he was going to be working on a new Monster Hunter game and that with this one he really wanted to take on the world. He was very determined about expanding beyond Japan. So, before the title was even announced Capcom talked with Square Enix and both felt like this would be the perfect timing to do something together. Both parties have been making preparations for a long time - even before the game Monster Hunter World was announced.
Do you feel as though you've learned much from each other? It feels like Monster Hunter could've easily transitioned into an MMO, and Final Fantasy easily could've been a smaller scale co-op RPG instead of a full MMO...
Yoshida: From my perspective, Monster Hunter World is a very major title in Japan - not just from a sell-through perspective but also the user base. I feel that it's a game that brought a lot of younger gamers back to playing video games and attracted a lot of the younger generation. It's got that game style of being able to just get together, go on a hunt, and then once you're done you can choose to disperse. It's very fitting to the current gameplay style.
But that being said, with the appearance of Rathalos in FF14, we wanted to deliberately set the bar a little bit higher. You have to be at level 70 to challenge the content, and we also wanted for players to take their time to get there - to experience that sort of gameplay in FF14 where you're taking your time, then you get to challenge a monster you're familiar with. By doing so, I feel we can bring out the best of both of the games - have players experience the best side of both games.
Tsujimoto: From a Monster Hunter perspective, of course MHW is an action game - so it'll require a lot of technique and player skill in order to challenge the content. With the Behemoth that's appearing in Monster Hunter, we wanted to make sure that it's represented in MHW while making sure that it has its own sort of unique movement or actions that it takes that meshes with our title as well. We want to make sure that our players look at the Behemoth and think 'oh, that's a fearsome foe, a scary, amazing enemy!' and so we've put a lot of thought into how we achieve that with our players.
Of course, we each need to double check with each other to make sure the teams approve of what is being represented in each other's games. With the Behemoth... well, you know how the monsters we fight in Monster Hunter, you're damaging them? You're cutting off their tails, breaking their horns - so we asked... Is it okay if we take Behemoth and destroy some of its body limbs and parts? The 14 team was ok with it! Usually their feedback is so long as it's good, it's fine!
Yoshida: Yeah, if you see Behemoth and you're hitting it and trying to beat the horn off it and it doesn't do any damage and no destruction can be seen, people are going to point it out! 'Oh, that's Square Enix saying no you can't do that!'
I said 'Make sure that all of its body parts can be broken!' [laughs]
What was the process like? Were you sharing character models and assets like that, or was it a more hands-off collaboration?
Tsujimoto: Of course, anything that was necessary we'd discuss and share as needed. We would share models to each other's teams. Some assets we needed to make the decision to edit them before we provided them, but the intent behind this on both sides was to make this the best content possible. As such, we didn't restrict things much at all.
Yoshida: The process starts with the design specifications. We do a design doc and then share that with each other. Once everybody is satisfied and we have the approval to go, it's a matter of sharing as needed: models, textures, animations, background music, even sound effects. We feel like we've accurately recreated each other's respective content.
I'm sure it would be complicated with other instances, but here we have the top responsible people giving the go ahead, and the conversations we were having were smooth - so hopefully the development staff working on the actual content didn't have much difficulty in terms of asset sharing and whatnot.
How is this content going to appear? Is it a timed event? Is it just a raid style boss, or a full quest line sort of thing?
Tsujimoto: Not everything is completely finalized at this point and so for the announcement we want to focus on announcing that we're doing this in general. We're still currently working on various elements within the content itself and there's still some specifications that need to be finalized - but of course that being said we will reveal information as it becomes available. We're hoping to have this content available so that it's at a timing where it's not too spread out so that fans can enjoy the content.
"We feel very confident we've gone above and beyond what is expected."
Yoshida: We didn't go into this thinking it was going to be a very short period of time, like a one week limited time event. We wanted to make sure that players that are just about to start FF14 or Monster Hunter World and those players that have been with us for a long time - both get a chance to encounter and take on this challenge. We are doing something that's very unusual, and that's a challenge for us, too - trying to work together on this. So we definitely made sure that the content meshes very well with the rest of the world theme and settings, and it does have some element of story as well. We believe that it's going to be a significant amount of content.
Obviously, when you do an event like this it's about fan service. I think it's really smart to focus on monsters rather than crossing over characters or whatever - but how do you decide how far to go? How much fan service is too much?
Tsujimoto: Because this is a collaborative event, I want to make sure we're bringing out the good elements, the very iconic or signature elements of FF14 when we bring it into MHW. It's very important to keep that in mind, thinking about what elements are iconic - what do we consider is iconic? That's common to both games - that's why we felt that having a monster represent the game in this very collaborative effort is key. We also wanted to make sure that... we want players to experience the world and not have it feel foreign. We want to make sure it blends in very well, so it feels like you have stepped into the world of FF14 - even if you're actually playing another title.
Yoshida: We're going out of our way to have the monsters appear for the FF14 side, but we also understand that players want the awards that are associated with beating such a formidable foe. The development team are thinking about what we can provide to motivate players to come back and defeat Rathalos several dozen times. I'm sure people are already making speculation online about what that might be - please continue to speculate and imagine what might come out of it!
Finally - how much are you integrating into lore? It feels like Monster Hunter fans might be more used to and accepting of whacky cross-overs with stuff like Street Fighter, but in both games how are you keeping the lore fans happy?
Yoshida: Well... I think that we've made it so that people won't feel that it's alien or foreign to have Rathalos show up in FF14. It's something that can easily be adapted into the lore of Eorzea - so I'm pretty confident people won't be taken aback with Rathalos appearing as part of this collaboration. I hope that the players are excited and looking forward to it.
Tsujimoto: With MHW too - as Yoshida pointed out, the MHW team really does pay attention to the ecosystems in which these monsters appear - that's a very important factor to us. I was curious to know, also, how we mesh Behemoth into the realm of MHW - and I also feel like I want to make sure there's no foreign feeling for the players. I want to make sure it matches our world setting. But really, look at this poster... Behemoth meshes very well!
Yoshida: If you hide the FF14 logo, it wouldn't feel out of place! And really - the development teams also are very particular. Not only about their own games, but they have a very high respect for each other's games as well. We feel very confident we've gone above and beyond what is expected.