What makes FFXIV so accessible?

Making Final Fantasy XIV More Accessible | Developer Interview

Final Fantasy XIV has been a powerhouse of an MMORPG since it relaunched in 2013 with A Realm Reborn. There’s so much to do in the game that you could spend 1000s of hours playing it and still not get bored. It’s even easier for new players to try it out and see if they like it these days thanks to there being a very generous free trial.

It was recently announced that 22 million users are registered to play Final Fantasy XIV and with the Endwalker expansion coming out later this year that number is no doubt going to continue to increase.

Many things make FFXIV successful. The sheer variety of things you can do, whether it’s run through dungeons with friends or go on a romantic date, is definitely a big factor.

An image of Costa Del Sol in Final Fantasy XIV with 2 characters posing on a rock.
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

Another factor though is how accessible the game is. Things like autorun to auto-attack helping to make it much easier to play. There’s one thing though that really helps set it apart from a lot of games. Something that makes it work perfectly whether you’re playing on a massive TV screen or a small laptop screen. That is the games highly customisable UI. It allows players to finetune not only how much information is on their screen but the size of it.

I had the chance to ask Yuichi Murasawa, the Lead UI Designer behind FFXIV, some questions. We found out why decisions were made, how other games can learn from FFXIV to make themselves more accessible, Murasawa-san’s personal UI setup and so much more.

Accessibility in Final Fantasy XIV

It’s important to help make games accessible to as many players as possible. To allow anyone to play them no matter their ability, especially when your game is cross-platform. It’s not something every game does though and one thing that I was curious about was the driving force behind making Final Fantasy XIV so accessible thanks to its highly customisable user interface.

An image of the UI screen from Final Fantasy XIV after some adjustments have been done
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

“Unfortunately at the time of its original release in 2010, FFXIV failed to live up to all the expectations that our players had.” Murasawa-san tells me.

“As you are already aware, we decided to undertake a complete overhaul for the release of A Realm Reborn back in August of 2013. The aspects related to the UI were also subject to drastic revisions in terms of their fundamental design. To this end, we established two broad pillars.”

“The first was directed toward the provision of a UI for gamepad controls that would ensure an equivalent level of playability when compared with a mouse and keyboard. I recall that back then there were no UIs in mainstream MMOs specifically for playing with a gamepad. However, with our goal of delivering a cross-platform service through FFXIV, providing support for gamepad users was a challenge we’d need to address, even if it meant completely changing the way we approach an MMO’s UI.”


It’s an interesting point that many may overlook in 2021 but it’s important to remember just how much Final Fantasy XIV was doing back in 2013 when it launched on the PlayStation 3. It continued to innovate gamepad use even further when it released on PS4 a year later.

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“In terms of the gamepad-dedicated UI that ARR is known for, you’ll find the implementation of the cross hotbar.” Murasawa-san continues. “We discussed at great lengths within the development team about whether the work for this would be worth it, since it would need to be implemented separately from the mouse and keyboard UI, doubling our workload and requiring ongoing maintenance.”

“However, now it is considered a key feature that symbolises FFXIV. As a result, we can say with ease that our decision back then was no mistake. Adding on to that, we incorporated common features from console games in various areas for improving the pad’s operability in other UIs within the game. This enabled us to ensure that gamepad players could enjoy a gameplay experience that is by no means inferior to other players who could point with their mice.”


To know that so much care went into just the controller method of playing the game to make sure players were not at a disadvantage is a testament to the whole team behind Final Fantasy XIV. The thought process behind accessibility in the UI was more than just how it worked using a gamepad though.

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Changing Direction

As Murasawa-san said though there were two pillars in the changes made for the 2013 release of A Realm Reborn.

“The other pillar was directed toward changing the development style of UI widgets. We changed the development direction from using conventional standardised specifications to one based around components, such as Flash. Although this was directed toward reducing the workload for implementing additional UIs or revisions with the release of each patch, there was also our intention to make it easier to implement revisions based on user feedback for the content that had been released.”


“Since this is a game that can be enjoyed on different platforms and devices, we changed to a design framework that would accommodate requests received from players to the best of our ability over a short time span. The aim behind this is ensuring that certain players do not have an advantage over others when participating in contents, which could occur depending on their environment.”

An image of a Bard looking directly at the camera in FFXIV
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

“At the time of development, we had absolutely no idea of how much detail players would request in terms of customisation and so, thinking about it now, we provided such granular settings that might not have been necessarily needed to have been offered.”

Murasawa-san goes on to give an example of what he means here.


“The ability for players to individually set the types of confirmation prompt to display when selling to a shop under Shop Settings in Character Configuration (on the Item Settings page) serves as a remnant of those most granular customisation elements that were implemented back then. Following on from that we were able to settle on a direction for UI customisation, having taken player feedback into consideration on several occasions. As such, it’s no longer common for us to prepare such detailed settings.”

He makes one final point not about the 2 pillars but about a shared understanding among the development team and players.

“I believe another big factor was a shared understanding among the developers and players toward the culture of using text commands, which had been carried over from FFXI. Since we had a foundation to implement the detailed breakdown of features not as a GUI (graphical user interface), but as a CUI (composite user interface). Even if we couldn’t prepare them as default features, the fact that we could implement them as a secondary feature that advanced players would want to use also played a big part in enhancing the customizability.” 

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Making FFXIV More Accessible

Final Fantasy XIV has been around for nearly 8 years. Since then gaming has come a long way and that’s no doubt created a need to change how some things work. Especially if you’re looking to make your game more accessible. Murasawa-san dived into what work has been done to make the game more accessible since release.

“I believe the nature of the UI features provided has changed considerably. I suppose you could say that back then there were many interfaces that we’d prepare for the player having firmly decided on the usage within the development team, whereas now we’ve entered a phase through which players are figuring out more convenient ways of using them. There has been a clear rise in the number of UIs and implemented features that we modify in response to player suggestions.”

“As an example of this, there is the double cross hotbar that evolved from the cross hotbar. This feature came about as players had requested an easy way to execute more actions with their gamepads. The UI colour themes and job gauges serve as examples of features we implemented in response to requests for customisation of the UI’s visual aspects.”

FFXIV Thancred
Credit: Square Enix

Cross-Platform Problems

One thing that has helped Final Fantasy XIV build up the player base it has is the fact it isn’t just a game tied to one platform. Does being on more than one platform create problems though?

“It is always necessary for us to ensure that no group of players have an advantage or disadvantage depending on their platform,” Murasawa-san says. “But, before even thinking of the platform-related differences, there are as many players using gamepads on Windows as there are using a keyboard and mouse. Therefore, we believe the most crucial factor is first ensuring that there is no bias for operability with either control scheme.”

“An extra factor that requires our attention when it comes to platforms is the player’s distance from the screen. This was something we only first started keeping in mind in response to feedback following the release of ARR.”

“In contrast to PC players who typically have their monitors directly in front of them, in many cases console players will be seated at a distance from their television displays. This means that even if they’re playing at the same resolution, certain players will want to change the size of their HUD and displayed text depending on their platform. In consideration of this, we would devise various solutions such as changing the initial UI settings depending on the platform.”

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Future Plans

With Final Fantasy XIV coming to PS5 and showing no signs of slowing down it’ll be interesting to see what the future brings. Murasawa-san shared what the future plans for helping make Final Fantasy XIV more accessible.

“We look closely at player feedback on a daily basis and we have various plans in the works to address those requests. Lately, we’ve been preparing new skins for the UI’s colour themes and, as a greater undertaking, we’re moving forward with preparations to accommodate higher resolutions.”

“Although there’s not much I can say about our plans for the future, in terms of the direction, it wouldn’t be adding any major new features, but rather providing some order to the plethora of features now available and incorporating a guide of sorts so that even newcomers can easily employ the UIs.”

“Take for example the Group Pose feature. It’s a useful tool that offers a rather high degree of functionality but with its abundant array of features, it is too difficult for players trying to use it for the first time. Even for things like the Duty Finder and Party Finder, there could be ways to make them slightly more user-friendly. As such, I think that the task for us is to sort out the elements related to the flow of things particularly for newcomers at the start of the game.”  

Credit: Square Enix

Changing Over Time

Time changes us all and I was curious how his and the teams approach to designing UI has changed over time based on player feedback and how people play the game.

“I touched upon this a little bit in the previous question but now I think about only providing simple features at the early stages,” Murasawa-san says. “Although I do think that it would surely be great to add such and such a feature as a game designer, I try to consider additional functionality only after actually releasing the feature and observing how it fairs among the users.”

“We do make sure to prepare the feature with the most basic functionality required based on our previous experience but we can’t help noticing things that we hadn’t considered once we play the game ourselves. As such, I try to take care so that I don’t include features based purely on my own stubborn beliefs in the initial implementations.”

Another thing is that, when preparing content-specific UIs, often the intentions of the content designer are manifested strongly within the UI. At these times too, I make an effort to provide the simplest functionality possible upon carefully considering what the content designer has in mind.”

“When we’re undertaking development we don’t yet have detailed data to hand and, as such, we’ll often see requests for the UI changing once the data has been gathered and the game balance has been fixed. On top of this, there are many times that we’ll further tweak the features based on the development team’s check in the final stages or initial player feedback after the content releases.”

FFXIV Gunbreaker
Credit: Square Enix

Best Feedback

One thing that makes work rewarding is hearing positive feedback from people. Surely Murasawa-san has had praise in the past for his work on Final Fantasy XIV? I asked him what are some of the best things he’s heard from players.

“Since the methods of using UIs differ drastically depending on the player, it’s extremely difficult to offer a feature that is guaranteed to please everyone,” he says. “When it comes to major elements for the game, we receive not only praise but critical feedback too. On the other hand, there are occasions when I’ll see some players noticing things about minor features that most would overlook, and they’ll share their praise on the forums and Twitter. 

“As for the features that garnered considerable praise up until now, there is the expansion of the game’s screenshot functionality, centred mainly around the Group Pose. However, rather than serving as an element for customisation, this feels like it was already part of FFXIV’s content that players could enjoy.”

“Lately I believe that players are happier to use features that connect elements together, rather than individual features implemented separately.”

2 characters from FFXIV posing in Costa Del Soul
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

What about some more specific examples though? Murasawa-san has plenty to share

“Item Search: Conducts a complete search of the player’s inventory for all items they own. Since data saved in the server and in the player’s client intertwine in FFXIV, we provided players with a feature ensuring that they don’t misunderstand this concept of handling data.”

“Search Recipes Using This Material: Players who previously used external websites have expressed their delight of now being able to search in-game.”

“Elsewhere, we have the impression that players are happy with updates to the market search, Party Finder and Duty Finder, in addition to the Community Finder, which has been a wonderful result of our internet team’s efforts.” 

An image of a quest in FFXIV
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

What can other games learn from FFXIV?

Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most interesting success stories in the world of gaming thanks to its initial problems. Many books could likely be filled about the lessons that could be learnt from the game. But what about lessons in the world of accessibility? Are there any?

“Having learned from the failures of FFXIV’s initial release, we aimed for a design that places top priority on the user’s freedom.” Murasawa-san tells me. “Hence, we decided not to stop at the initial implementation but instead place importance on how easily we could incorporate improvements moving forward. As such, we diligently undertook this task by reflecting user feedback in the following patch updates.”

“For games wherein the theme and policy of the UI itself are decided from the start and firmly enforced, the thought process we use doesn’t really work and so I don’t think our approach should be used as much of a comparison.” 

An image of a wolf mount in Final Fantasy XIV
Credit: GameByte / Square Enix

Yuichi Murasawa’s UI setup

It would be a shame to have the time with Murasawa-san and not ask him how he plays Final Fantasy XIV. After all, maybe I could get some tips to improve how I use it that will finally stop me changing how it looks every few weeks.

Murasawa-san is happy to give a further insight into it all.

“Even in the development team the set-up differs quite considerably depending on personal preference. However, what we all have in common is that we try to play the released content with our customised set-up. On the other hand, some of our colleagues will intentionally play with the default settings in order to assess how we can support newcomers starting out. There’s also many members who will try out various configurations as their set-up because their experience allows them to provide their own feedback as players.”

An interesting insight but what about Murasawa-san himself?

“My main job is White Mage and I primarily use the set-up below:

  • Mainly play with the gamepad
  • Cross hotbar: Switch action sets by simultaneously pressing L→R/R→L (32 actions in total)
  • Use double cross hotbar to display sub-action set recasts
  • Party HUD placed in centre of screen
  • Keyboard is direct chat mode
  • Important action shortcuts assigned to keyboard function keys
  • Don’t use macros so often (laughs)”
FFXIV Endwalker
Credit: Square Enix

Further Information about FFXIV

If this interview has piqued your interest in Final Fantasy XIV then make sure to check out the free trial. There’s plenty of information out there on the user interface and other parts of the game if you’d like to find out more before you dive in. As someone that has played the game off and on since 2014 I’ve always found the community friendly for the most part, something emphasised when I attended the Paris Fan Festival back in 2019.

If you’re looking to buy on console Final Fantasy XIV you can purchase the complete collection (which comes with all 4 expansions released so far) on PS4 for £14.95. Final Fantasy XIV is available on PC, Mac, PS4. There’s also a PS5 version releasing later this year.