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FF14 Dawntrail has “big energy,” but still plenty of reasons to cry

PCGamesN speaks to FF14 Dawntrail’s English localization lead Kate Cwynar about building the new expansion and always having reasons to cry.

FF14 Dawntrail interview with Kate Cwynar - Estinien, a tall man with white hair and pointed ears.

FF14 Dawntrail is a fun holiday for our Warrior of Light and the Scions, as we sail to the western isle of Tural in search of fun, frolics, and new friends. At least, that’s the pitch – but English localization lead Kate Cwynar tells us to still expect plenty of reasons to cry. Ahead of the next expansion for the critically acclaimed MMORPG, PCGamesN sat down with Cwynar to chat about the challenges of localization, the regional influences of Tural, the response from the community, character development over a decade-plus, and planning for the future.

The opportunity to chat one-on-one with Cwynar about all things Final Fantasy 14 is probably something most players would bite your hand off for, so I was quick to leap on the opportunity. It was, of course, a delight; formerly a QA tester through its early years, Cwynar took a break post-Heavensward before returning to the MMORPG as a localizer for its post-Stormblood patches (often considered the time where its story really picked up the ball and just kept running). She stepped into the lead position as Michael-Christopher Koji Fox took on a new role as localizing supervisor alongside his work on FF16, and as such is probably one of the most knowledgeable (and enthusiastic) FF14 experts you’ll find.

As we look towards the FF14 Dawntrail release date in the summer, there’s a real sense of it being a fun getaway after the increasingly trauma-heavy Shadowbringers and Endwalker expansions. Indeed, its trailers are so joyful that they managed to entice one of my coworkers to start playing the game himself. While there’s obviously going to be more nuance to it than that, I remark that FF14 is a game that loves to keep you on the brink of potentially crying at any point, and ask Cwynar if the team’s making a specific effort to have a more fun time out of the gate, especially after the relatively light-hearted patch 6.55 storyline featuring newcomer Wuk Lamat.

FF14 Dawntrail interview - Wuk Lamat, a new female Hrothgar character introduced to the MMORPG in patch 6.55.

“Yeah,” she muses. “I mean, I don’t think you’re ever going to be lacking in reasons to cry,” she laughs. “But there is an energy to Dawntrail that I quite enjoy – it’s got a big energy that I’ve had a lot of fun with, especially in the voice recording.” Cwynar also mentions that she enjoys quests with dark humor, such as the glamorous city of Eulmore in Shadowbringers and its model of indentured servitude. She mulls on the elitist nature of its wealthy, oblivious citizens: “My servant annoyed me so I pushed him into the sea – that’s so funny because it’s so absurd.”

We’ve been told that Dawntrail will also see the Scions clash on opposing sides of its leadership conflict, and we’ve already begun to see the first hints of those teams taking shape as they prepare to head over in patch 6.55. Interestingly, Cwynar says that she was initially wary of involving too many familiar faces from the offset, but that she was won over by the implementation.

“I’m revealing a little of my innate cynicism here, so hopefully I won’t get in too much trouble, but we had this potential raised at the end of 6.0 [the Endwalker main quest] of not being with the Scions anymore,” she tells me. “When I first learned that we were going to actually have quite a few of them entered in with us, I was like no, no, no – I want to give more air time to new characters.”

FF14 Dawntrail interview - A shorter, white-haired man (Thancred) puts a hand on the shoulder of a taller, silver-haired man (Urianger).

“But actually having gone through the script and gone through recording and seeing the reasons they are over there, how they interact with the new characters, and what that brings out in everyone, I’ve really enjoyed it,” she says. “So they kind of defeated my cynicism there. It’s been a really fun thing and there’s a few things in particular that I think people will really enjoy.”

It’s a format that worked very well in Heavensward, where a large chunk of the expansion was spent primarily with just Alphinaud and Tataru, who were joined by the stoic Dragoon, Estinien. As we see characters evolve from expansion to expansion, Cwynar feels that Estinien is probably the one who’s changed the most.

“He’s kept some of his original personality elements but as he’s been more and more exposed to the world, he’s opened up a lot as a character which has given us a lot of really fun opportunities to write him with that sort of wry sense of humor that he has.” I bring up one of my favorite Estinien moments of all time – his (optional) appearance at your bedroom in Endwalker, where he’s trying to get away from the festivities and ends his brief conversation by jumping out of your window.

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Was that particular stage direction one the localization team knew was coming? “No, that was a surprise,” Cwynar says with a laugh. “Sometimes when we’re working on the game there will be something that one of us sees that we didn’t know was coming and we’ll call everyone else over to say, ‘look at this.’ I definitely did that with Estinien.”

He’s continued to build on that mysterious but warm persona – a particularly big recent fan response came from an Endwalker scene where the Warrior of Light and their companions walk in on Estinien doing one-armed push-ups, shirtless and sweaty. “I think Rob [Vernon, Estinien’s English voice actor] has really been enjoying those too,” Cwynar says with a smile.

Also coming to the forefront in Dawntrail is Krile. She’s the first person seen picking up a paintbrush to learn the new FF14 Pictomancer job, and her chirpy comebacks mixed with her willingness to step up where needed have long made her a favorite of mine, so I ask Cwynar if she’s enjoyed Krile taking a more prominent role. “It’s been a sort of revelatory experience for me personally,” she remarks. “I told people when we started recording this expansion, ‘I’m not sure I really know what Krile wants.’”

FF14 Dawntrail interview - Krile, a Lalafell wearing a yellow hoody with animal ears. She reads a message, which she describes as "A commission to investigate the golden city... in Tural?"

“As we’ve written her for this expansion, seeing more of what her history is and how she reacts to it as a person, and then we’ve gone through the process of acting it which always really adds a layer of depth – it makes you think about things that you would not necessarily considered when you were writing it. Our actors usually have really good instincts, so they’ll bring something to the character and I’m like, oh yeah, that is right.”

“But yeah, I think just through the process of doing all that writing and recording, I’ve really come to understand and like Krile,” she says with a smile, “and I hope that other people will follow that journey as well because yeah, she’s now quite dear to me. And I hope that she can continue to take sort of a more active role at least through these upcoming patches because I think she has more to say.” I know I can’t wait to see it.

As for Tural itself, our next destination has come up previously in bits and pieces of lore, but it’s largely new to us – although, perhaps crucially, not to those who’ve been living there. “We did have some text about it in-game before,” Cwynar notes. The Blue Mage quests come to mind, as the roots of the job are said to originate in what was at the time called the ‘New World,’ a term the FF14 writing team has since spent a lot of time considering.

FF14 Dawntrail interview - Beachside houses in the city of Tuliyollal, the hub for the new expansion to the MMORPG.

“I can’t speak authoritatively on what they were thinking,” Cwynar says of the original Realm Reborn era, “I definitely get the vibe that this was sort of a set piece that just sort of existed and nobody really planned to actually go there, which, you know, is something that always happens over the course of a ten-year game. So it’s been a little bit challenging for things – even the term ‘the New World’ itself, that definitely has real-world connotations.”

The approach the team has taken with Dawntrail, then, is to recognize this former usage and address it head-on. “We’ve taken an approach that I think some people picked up on in the trailer of having the people who are from there be a bit sarcastic about it.” Wuk Lamat, our first in-game FF14 female Hrothgar, very pointedly refers to Tural as “the land you call the New World,” even giving a wry smile that breaks into a grin. “My home, Tural.”

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“We didn’t want to completely depart from this setting and the influences of the real world, North America, South America, and the indigenous people there,” Cwynar explains. “But at the same time it’s definitely a huge issue to be using elements from indigenous cultures without direct input from people from those cultures. So I think comparatively, when you see Dawntrail versus some of our previous works, stuff like Doma, you will see that we really tried to lean further towards inspiration, as opposed to something more appropriative.”

“You never know if you’re striking the right balance,” she muses, “but we have made an effort, so I hope people enjoy it at the same time. We don’t want to rewrite it and write out all [of these] elements, because I know we have a lot of people, in Latin America for instance, who would love to see a little bit of their culture represented, so it’s all about striking that balance.”

FF14 Dawntrail interview - Urianger, a silver-haired man with pointed ears, looks back at you as he holds a cocktail in a pineapple.

FFXIV Dawntrail is set to launch in summer 2024. Game director and producer Naoki Yoshida says the team has a date in mind internally, but that he doesn’t want to commit to one publicly until he’s certain they’ll meet it without any delays. While you wait, we’ll be bringing you more from my chat with Cwynar soon, so stay tuned to PCGamesN for that.

Until then, brush up on the other new Dawntrail job, the FF14 Viper, and make sure that your FF14 Island Sanctuary is looking the best it can with our handy tips and tricks.

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