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“We put everything into this expansion” - Final Fantasy 16’s DLC director speaks on the game’s final content drop

Final Fantasy 16 is finally complete, with its final DLC out now. We catch up with the director of the add-ons to talk about what's new for Rising Tide, and how to successfully close out Clive's adventures.

With the release of Rising Tide, the world of Final Fantasy 16 is now complete. A game about elemental gods that in the past have been known as Espers, Summons, Eidolons and more, one element was mysteriously missing from FF16’s narrative. Now, with Rising Tide, the Eikon of Water joins Clive’s fight.

“You can really feel that they’ve all powered up,” enthuses Takeo Kujiraoka, the director of Final Fantasy 16’s DLC. Power creep is common in games, of course - satisfying progression practically demands that characters become ever more powerful, until you’re swatting away previously deadly enemies. But Kujiraoka isn’t talking about Clive and Jill, FF16’s handsome leads - he’s talking about the development team.

Kujiraoka has stepped into the director’s chair for the post-launch period of Final Fantasy 16, taking over those duties from Hiroshi Takai. Placed in charge of finding new adventures for Clive and new challenges for players, one asset was the most invaluable of all: the team was pumped up and ready to deliver.

“Everyone gained a lot of experience, as individuals, through developing the main game,” Kujiraoka says. “The pace of development for the DLC was a lot faster, a lot smoother.”

While other teams within Square Enix have been working on PS5 for some time, for FF16’s developers - the thrillingly-named ‘Creative Business Unit 3’ - this was a first-time outing on the platform. Kujiraoka describes a process of trial-and-error, experimentation, and struggles to get to grips with the platform that inevitably extended FF16’s development. For the DLC, however, the team was ready. Like an RPG hero ready for the end-game they were, as he says, ‘powered up’.

“When we asked the team to 'just make something new', it meant that in lots of different aspects of the game, whether that was game design, environment, anything like that, we were starting from this powered-up position,” he adds. “I think you can probably tell from the outside as well - that's why we were able to create two sets of DLC on such a short timeline, one in six months, the other in a year.”

With developers powered-up, so too are players. Final Fantasy 16 always had to tread an unenviable tightrope, after all. As a Final Fantasy game, it needed to be accessible and enjoyable to players who might only be used to slower-paced, command-based RPGs. But FF16 is also an unashamed action-RPG, its heaviest influences probably some combination of Devil May Cry and God of War. But in creating DLCs aimed at players already in the end-game, the FF16 team were somewhat freed from those constraints, designing for players who will have spent tens of hours getting to grips with Clive, his skill set, and the pace of FF16’s combat.

“For Echoes of the Fallen, we did up the baseline difficulty of the combat as a whole,” Kujiraoka explains. “One of the reasons for that was that we had intentionally kept the difficulty level of the main game at a slightly lower point, because we wanted to make sure that those players who weren't so confident with action gameplay, could enjoy the story and see it right through the end.

“Looking at the proportion of players who managed to complete the main game and reach the end, I do think that was the right choice for the base game. But at the same time, we were aware of feedback out there of players saying 'I wanted some more challenging battles, I want something to really sink my teeth into', or 'I wanted a real back-to-back string of consecutive battles as a real challenge', or even 'I just wanted more time controlling Clive and playing as him'.”

Clive and his companions journey to Mysidia in the second and final DLC for Final Fantasy 16.Watch on YouTube

The result is the pair of FF16 DLCs that now round out the game’s experience. Echoes of the Fallen, released back in December, and Rising Tide, newly released this week. Because development on the DLCs didn’t start in earnest until after FF16’s June 2023 release date, the team was able to scour for feedback - reading fan impressions, watching live streams, and carefully dissecting player reaction to FF16 in order to figure out exactly how far players and the combat could be pushed with the DLCs.

“This is the other big advantage beyond the experience we gained working on the main game,” Kujiraoka keenly points out. “Working on the DLC after the main game has already been released, you can get this feedback from players and he can take that into account as you're developing. So I am really, really grateful for all the players and their feedback.”

Fans diving into Rising Tide this week will find an experience that aims to offer a little bit more of just about everything from FF16. Asked if the DLC is more about offering a hot new twist on FF16, as some DLCs do, Kujiraoka shakes his head: it’s about refinement, and pushing what is already there further.

Outside of the story, this manifests as ‘Kairos Gate’, a new mode designed to test player mettle in a range of increasingly difficult combat scenarios. This is the ultimate expression of FF16’s combat design, something which is undoubtedly one of its best features. Like Kujiraoka suggests, the mode is designed to push the systems designed for the core game to their limits.

The story side is no slouch either, of course. You’ll find harder enemies in the DLC, bombastic new moves, interesting new story twists, more time for certain key characters to enjoy a little development, and beautiful new zones to explore. It perhaps isn’t quite an ‘expansion’ in the traditional sense of the word as some game updates are - but it’s definitely on the upper bounds of what ‘DLCs’ tend to offer.

The result of this approach does offer one curious wrinkle: this is content that gets slotted into the story, but when pressed for how he’d outright recommend people play the content, he recommends players finish the main story first, then go back to enjoy Rising Tide in the post-game. The DLC also doesn’t change FF16’s ending in any way - but its events do provide narrative context for fans to feast on. Ultimately, it's less denouement and more of a side distraction - but in RPGs, sometimes that stuff is the best part. Given the original game felt to struggle with content outside of the main story, it feels appropriate that what might be FF16's last content drop seeks to address it. And on PC, players will have access to this from day one - whenever that day ends up being.

“The overall concept we worked with for the Rising Tide was sort of the same approach that you might take for an expansion pack of an MMO,” Kujiraoka notes. “That is to say that we took all of the fundamental elements making up Final Fantasy 16 and added a bit more to them. So that's more story, that's a whole new field area that contains a town with side quests, that's new Eikonic abilities for Clive, and that's a new Eikon battle. We put everything into this expansion.”

“Rather than sort of adding something that's a little bit of a twist or a bit different, I'd say that what we've really focused on for this DLC was providing more and better content that FF16 fans are really going to enjoy.”

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