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Expanding Final Fantasy 16 Meant Increasing Difficulty And Tying Loose Ends

While Final Fantasy XVI may have ended on a rather definitive note, its DLC rollout explores much more of its world of Valisthea. The main story hinted at a few things that weren’t addressed by the time the credits rolled, so the opportunity for additional content was quite clear. With the first of two DLC expansions, Echoes of the Fallen, released in December 2023, those who were eager to get back into the shoes of protagonist Clive for more of the stylish action-RPG combat had something to chew on. But it’s the upcoming The Rising Tide DLC that will round out the whole package, letting you wield Leviathan as an Eikon power and answering more of the questions left behind by the base game. After playing through Echoes of the Fallen, I had a chance to speak with FFXVI DLC director Takeo Kujiraoka about the development of post-game content and what it means for the future of this particular entry in the storied franchise.

The first thing that stood out was how player feedback was accounted for soon after the game’s launch. “We have intentionally changed the balancing of combat from that of the main game. Specifically, we’ve boosted the overall strength of the enemies in the DLC,” Kujiraoka stated. This was abundantly clear in the boss fight against Omega, which was a treat for Final Fantasy sickos (especially of the MMORPG variety) but also a surprising challenge that took me multiple tries to finish. It was more difficult than any boss you encounter in the main story and borrows a lot of complex mechanics that reminded me of Final Fantasy XIV‘s raid bosses, and that helped the combat system shine once again.

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Now Playing: FINAL FANTASY XVI | DLC Trailer

Kujiraoka said that the team paid attention to the community playing FFXVI, saying, “In part, this is because we had set the enemy strength a little low in the main game to ensure that as many players as possible would be able to reach the ending. But, from player reactions and streams, it seemed to me that we could maybe push that enemy strength a little higher.” He also mentioned that since both DLCs open up just before the final act of the base game, players will be experienced–though, I must admit, it took a little while to shake off the rust from returning to the game after months.

As a long-time FFXIV player who takes part in Savage raids, it wasn’t just the degree of difficulty that left an impression, but how familiar the process felt in learning how to beat the boss. There’s some resemblance to the Omega boss fights in the MMORPG that came through in FFXVI’s version. So, I had to ask about the potential cross-pollination, considering the umbrella of Square Enix’s Creative Business Unit III, which developed both games.

“We might draw from past installments from the series, including FFXIV, for inspiration on how to visualize skills or for naming, but these are purely homages to previous titles and a nod to the fans. Having said that, it is surprising how many more players than expected feel the influence of FFXIV in FFXVI,” Kujiraoka said. And I suppose that’s true given the nature of the MMORPG being a sort of Final Fantasy theme park–FFXIV director and producer Naoki Yoshida’s words, not mine. Kujiraoka continued, “FFXIV features all kinds of enemies from the series as a whole, and it’s also the first time that a lot of skills are portrayed in 3D. Perhaps that means these appearances in FFXIV might leave a particularly strong impression? And perhaps FFXIV and FFXVI feel similar because they share some common elements in the way they add variation to how battles unfold and how they place importance on the narrative.”

FFXVI DLC director Takeo Kujiraoka (credit: Square Enix)
FFXVI DLC director Takeo Kujiraoka (credit: Square Enix)

That’s not the only similarity the action-RPG shares with the MMO–composer Masayoshi Soken was in his bag with the Echoes of the Fallen DLC in which he remixed the Omega boss theme “eScape” from FFXIV into a chaotic, trance-like drum ‘n’ bass track. Kujiraoka provided some insight on how music came together for the DLC, and told me, “When speaking to Soken, I would always explain the situation where the piece would be used, places where I’d want to switch the music, etc., all whilst showing him actual gameplay. At times, I did specify particular moods and genres. But from that point onwards, the composition team–first and foremost Soken himself–had absolute freedom to work on the music.” Music is integral to how those worlds are built which is evident from the soundtracks for all the FFXIV expansions. Without knowing where Echoes of the Fallen was going, I had this assured feeling it revolved around Omega judging from the music alone. The leitmotifs from the FFXIV version come through in the background theme as you ascend the dungeon where the DLC takes place. And my suspicions were confirmed, so it feels like Soken is very much a part of how these stories come across.

Kujiraoka said, “There were times where Soken might have decided it would work best to have another piece [of music] inserted between the two that were requested, and we would end up getting back more tracks than we ordered. I trust him, so I left those kinds of decisions to him.” Essentially, Soken and the sound team were allowed to just cook. As Kujiraoka confirmed, “This was also the result of Soken’s own thinking: building upon the atmosphere of Echoes of the Fallen and his idea of Omega.”

However, that’s not all. With regards to the upcoming Leviathan-themed DLC, Kujiraoka told me, “We have also received the music for The Rising Tide, and every piece is fantastic. You can expect great things!” Maybe it’s time to get “Through the Maelstrom” and “Blinding Indigo” from the FFXIV OST back into my music rotation.

Whether they be embedded in referential material from Final Fantasy games of the past, FFXVI’s DLCs are very much trying to flesh out Valisthea. When it comes to tying lingering narrative elements together, Kujiraoka said, “All the loose ends from the main game that we left ourselves to make DLC with have been picked up by the first and second DLC, so I actually think that making anything else would be quite tricky.” That would give the impression that The Rising Tide DLC would be the final bow on FFXVI as we know it, but he also stated, “There is the question of what you might find on the outer isles, across the seas from Valisthea–that’s something I’m quite interested in, from the perspective of a developer and as a player myself!” So maybe this two-part DLC arc is not a complete end to the world of Valisthea, and perhaps leaves a bit of an opening to find reasons to revisit the setting.

The Rising Tide will include Leviathan as an Eikon power, showcased in the reveal trailer.
The Rising Tide will include Leviathan as an Eikon power, showcased in the reveal trailer.

No matter which way you cut it, FFXVI tried to incorporate some heavy narrative themes such as enslavement, abolition, and uprising, and did so to varying degrees of success. So, as Echoes of the Fallen is more concerned with the abstract aspects of the setting’s history, I had to ask if The Rising Tide DLC would revisit the grim side of its politics and messages. Kujiraoka stated that he can’t say much since the second DLC has not yet been released but did touch on the subject. “In both DLCs, there’s an underlying theme behind the main stories: the question of how people will live in a world with fewer crystals or one where they can’t use crystals.”

Even in the lead up to FFXVI’s release, producer Naoki Yoshida likened the crystals, which grant magic abilities, to fossil fuels in our own world. As it turned out, climate change was an overt theme of FFXVI’s story, and at times, it showed that the future may not be so grim without a resource that damages the very world you live in. Kujiraoka echoed that sentiment, saying, “We’ve included lots of snippets that give a glimpse into how the world might turn out after the ending of the main game, without presenting a definite conclusion. As we constructed the story, I often spoke with the team about wanting to make players feel optimistic that people would be able to go on living in a world without magic.”

Echoes of the Fallen is available now and is a fairly short, but challenging, experience that’ll take roughly two to three hours to complete. And it leads into The Rising Tide DLC, which is set to release sometime in Spring 2024. However, if you’ve yet to jump into the base game, be sure to check out my Final Fantasy XVI review where I gave it a score of 9/10 and concluded, “It may fall short in some respects, but it should be celebrated for its most stunning moments and the characters who embody them. FFXVI succeeds and earns its place within the Final Fantasy pantheon as one of the great entries, and does so on its own terms.”