On 2016/3/10, Famitsu sit down with various members of the FFXI development team.
The Adventure Begins From the Rhapsody: Interview with Director Mizuki Ito and Associate Director Yoji Fujito.
The designer of battle content such as Besieged and Campaign, as well as the final chapter of FFXI, “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel” (Below: “Rhapsodies”), Director Mizuki Ito, and the designer of content such as Chocobo Raising, Fishing and other “Lifestyle” content, Associate Director Yoji Fujito. I posed them questions based off my concerns about Vana’diel’s future.
“Rhapsodies” Will Lead to New Adventures
Famitsu: You two worked mostly on gameplay, but please tell us the design concept behind “Rhapsodies”.
Ito: Of course, it was to deliver the final story to active adventurers. Another goal was to make leisurely play easier, and to allow players to challenge content they may have never tried before.
Famitsu: I was really surprised at gaining tens of thousands of Experience in a single kill in Reisenjima. (Laughs)
Fujito: That was possibly the effects of a campaign. Reisenjima enemies give lots of experience due to their level, and the campaigns would only increase that further.
Famitsu: You chose to make a reward from “Rhapsodies” being able to call 5 Trusts. What was the intent behind this?
Ito: Trusts were designed with that in mind from the beginning. We decided “Rhapsodies” was a good time to implement that idea. It was actually not intended just to encourage solo play, but rather to make gathering a party easier going forward.
Famitsu: Towards the end of “Rhapsodies” some difficult battles occur. I think returning players might have some trouble.
Ito: Talking to the staff, we decided not to make battles too easy. As you proceed further, there will be harder battles, and we wanted players to put some effort in.
Fujito: You can reach IL117 from Eminence Records, so it is easy at first. But if you were to try to proceed to the end of “Rhapsodies” in a straight line, you would probably run into a snag at the Narakas in Reisenjima. We were thinking at this point, players would go strengthen their favorite jobs using Reforging or getting drops from High Level Battlefields.
Ito: I think some jobs can make it all the way to the end with IL117, but it’d be pretty tough.
Fujito: We wanted returning players playing “Rhapsodies” to get this feeling, “I forget, what kind of game was FFXI again?” and then feel “I really gotta get stronger equipment!” After which they would put in that effort and experience a variety of content before beating the final boss. We wanted to enhance that tearjerking feeling after you get through it all.
Famitsu: As a starting point, the IL117 Eminence Armor looks pretty crummy. (Laughs)
Ito: The idea is that IIL117 Eminence Armor sends players back to basics, and from there, players will have a motivation to update their armor.
Famitsu: So there will be no IL119 armor from Eminence?
Ito: As Fujito stated earlier, there are many ways to obtain IL119 armor. Players can even challenge Skirmish alone to attain this, and a Mog Pell (Red) is one way to get there. We don’t wish to diminish group content by adding IL119 armor to Eminence.
Famitsu: It would certain make the flow of the expansion different. By the way, why was the last boss what it was?
Ito: When we had our first meeting discussing the scenario, I threw out the idea of a Lord of Emptiness. The Empty first appeared in the Chains of Promathia expansion. We also had a key word, “Messenger of the Void”. In essence, the idea was something that destroyed existence itself. As I thought of this, I thought of the enemy in FFIII which was exactly the same as this idea. I decided to include it as it matched the world of Vana’diel.
Famitsu: Is this also a shout-out to Tanaka, who worked on FFIII?
Ito: When Tanaka’s team worked on the game, it was already a keyword behind the scenes of the game. In other words, this final chapter also has a part produced by Tanaka!
Famitsu: For some players, reaching the Adoulin branch of the story became a huge obstacle when Wildskeeper Reives became a requirement.
Fujito: Currently we address that issue with regular Wildskeeper Reive Campaigns. Players can quickly defeat these enemies during these campaigns. If this stops being a valid way to draw players to the content, the team will try to think of another way.
Battles and Story in FFXI Will Continue
Famitsu: Now about the future of development. We understand you wish to continue monthly updates.
Fujito: That was always the intention, but I think the initial announcement may have come out in a strange way, being worded as “only bug fixes and adjustments”. Large updates like an Expansion Pack will be very difficult, but regular updates will continue. The development team has shrunk, which can’t be helped, but these members will aim to provide what they can each month. As to how much the output will be, of course there will be limits, but it certainly isn’t nothing. We want players to know that we’ll be doing our best, and we have no plans on quitting!
Famitsu: Any ideas on what you might want to do?
Fujito: I don’t want to say anything specific yet, but since battle and story are both pillars of FFXI development, we want to preserve these as much as possible. We have seen lots of concern from the players on the forums, we will be continuing so don’t be declaring us dead just yet! (Laughs)
Ito: We of course have priorities for what to implement first, so we will be continuing development. We hope players won’t worry.
Famitsu: Mounts are going to be added too, as I recall.
Ito: Actually, about 10 years ago I actually had a conversation about adding more things like this. At the time, I felt it was impossible to overcome some of the obstacles, but upon consulting a new programmer, he told me “I’m pretty sure it’s possible.” (Laughs)
Fujito: At the time, many things could not be added on account of the server. However this time, at the end of “Rhapsodies”, we saw what that limit now was, and it meant things that were not possible before, were now possible.
Ito: At the time, one of my considerations was that since I didn’t know how much longer the game was going to operate, “fattening” certain settings within the server might cause problems down the road, so I kept my work very far away from the limitations.
Fujito: In these exchanges, we have also found that it will be possible to increase the variation in equipment.
Famitsu: What kind of mounts do you want to add back then, Mr. Ito?
Ito: I was thinking something like “to get a Beetle mount, you must defeat a Notorious Monster”. That would add a new way for players to get around the world.
Famitsu: I see. That sounds nice.
Fujito: I fixed the Beetle model’s legs! (Laughs)
Ito: That means it should be able to support the weight of adventurers now, eh? (Laughs) I also thought at the time that it added another layer of excitement to new areas, that new monsters would mean new potential mounts. However, it’s easy to just talk about it. A single mount would mean lots of variations due to the race and gender of the player. When considering that, it became clear how big of a workload it could be, and whether being able to consistently add more would be another question on top of that.
Famitsu: I look forward to the future updates. Do you have any messages for all players of FFXI, active and inactive?
Ito: With “Rhapsodies”, the development team wanted to give a thank you to all the players. We will continue service, so for anybody who has come in contact with FFXI even once, we would love for you to clear “Rhapsodies”.
Fujito: “Rhapsodies” is one of the finales to FFXI. We hope to add more content that allows players of all kinds to enjoy FFXI, so we encourage anyone curious to return. As for the adventurers who are currently actively serving, we hope you work hard towards your next goal!
My Thoughts As I Write The Final Chapter: Interview with Planners Yoshitsugu Saito and Yaeko Sato
From Despair, Comes Hope - The Scenario That Linked With Reality
On the second part of this special feature, I center on the scenario of the game. Cutscene production and scenario, Yoshitsugu Saito, and the planner responsible for stories highly regarded by the playerbase- the Windurst Missions and the expansion “Chains of Promathia”, as well as many other scenarios- Yaeko Sato. As two of the key persons behind the final story “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel”, I asked them what they put into it.
Famitsu: For this final story, what form did your involvement in its development take?
Sato: I was responsible for the main scenario and writing the lyrics of the ending theme.
Saito: Sato wrote the plot. I was responsible for going through Sato’s script, checking to make sure that what she wrote was in-line with the established lore of the world. If necessary, I made changes. I also created cutscenes but I asked for the help of many staff members in this regard.
Famitsu: So would you say the story of “Rhapsodies” was co-written by you two?
Saito: Correct. In terms of cutscenes, aside from me, Mrs. Kyouya (Youko Kyouya) also participated. Without her, I doubt I would’ve ever finished. She was very quick with creating cutscenes, and that was a real help.
Famitsu: Can you describe what exactly work for cutscene creation involves?
Saito: The blocking and direction of the characters, as well as the camerawork involved. After this process, additional work is added from the animation team, effects team, sound team and more. Basically, I create the groundwork for the cutscenes players end up seeing in the game.
Famitsu: Why was the Far East chosen as the stage for the “Rhapsodies” story?
Sato: First, Director Ito and Producer Matsui told us that the story would take place in the Far East.
Saito: We wanted to create a mood in the office with the assumption we were making the next expansion take place in the Far East, and began our brainstorming from there.
Famitsu: I see! What other things were decided from the start?
Saito: Matsui gave us the orders “Please start the story in a place of despair” and “Have a roundup scene of all the major characters”.
Sato: A story that begins with despair, but to end on the feeling of hope, that the world will continue on. This would be referencing the real-world situation of the game itself. Of the things asked to be put in the story, my favorite was Ito’s idea of having the heroine speak the words of deep gratitude towards the adventurer.
Saito: I was a bit concerned about the memory limit of the game for the roundup scene. I was not sure if I could animate the characters. Somehow I made it work- I’m surprised it could be pushed that far. (Laughs)
Famitsu: With all the main characters making an appearance, that means you had to organize all the different storylines of the game…
Sato: That’s right. I was involved in the creation of the Three Kingdom Story through “Chains of Promathia”, as well as rejoining the team halfway through the story of “Seekers of Adoulin” I had a grasp on these story, but I was unfamiliar with the stories of “Treasures of Aht Urhgan” and “Wings of the Goddess”. I had to go and look through every nook and cranny of those stories.
Saito: When doing the verification work, taking into account the progress of other missions, the amount of dialogue quickly grew. For example, we added unique dialogue for if players are on the part of the story when Prishe is acting demure, like she was during the quest “Storms of Fate”. I really wonder, how many people have even seen this dialogue. (Laughs)
Sato: Probably very few. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Don’t underestimate FFXI players. (Laughs)
Saito: You’re right. I was able to remember Prishe had that short stint in the story, and we made sure to address it.
Sato: I was really surprised when you remembered.
Saito: I felt discouraged often during the creation of “Rhapsodies”, but after seeing the responses from the players, I feel like all that effort was worth it.
Famitsu: They’re ultimately minor details, but I think it drives the fans crazy. Certain points of the story, such as a quest after the main story of “Wings of the Goddess”, made it impossible to progress “Rhapsodies” if you did not complete them. Attaching characters like this was hard, wasn’t it?
Sato: Perhaps, but I think Lilisette would cry if she heard you say that.
Saito: Maybe just have them say “She ain’t here!” (Laughs) The heroine of “Treasures of Aht Urhgan” also has situations where she will not be available for the player to contact.
Sato: There was a lot of branches in this story, so we hastily created a chart to get a firm grasp on each story and character.
Famitsu: In contrast to that extreme, you could have simply ignored it all and made the story progress as it will.
Sato: Since this is FFXI, it would be no good to care so little for it.
Saito: Many people enjoy the setting and lore. We didn’t want there to be contradictions in the story.
Sato: Making sure all the connections worked, “Rhapsodies” became a conductor for the stories of all the Expansion Packs. It was quite difficult to make these adjustments.
Famitsu: Connecting them all together like this, it has become a massive story.
Saito: There it is, Sato’s specialty. (Laughs)
Sato: I did it somehow, but I put a lot of stress on Saito in the process. (Laughs)
Famitsu: The second half of “Rhapsodies” added a lot more action. The heroines all appear, and there’s a really big action scene.
Saito: The original animators from the animation team created scene themselves just as Chapter 2 of “Rhapsodies” was released.
Sato: They’re really amazing.
Saito: “The FFXI Camera can do this, too!?” was my first reaction. (Laughs)
Famitsu: The camera catching a character from the front and circling around to the back as they unleash their attack- it’s a very anime-style rendition, isn’t it?
Sato: It’s very high quality, only something a master could make.
Saito: I was frustrated- I was thinking, “I couldn’t do anything like this myself…” (Laughs)
Famitsu: The final stage, Reisenjima, had some really amazing atmosphere.
Saito: It was hard to create such a dense-looking area with the PS2, but the designers always wanted to do it. During development, we had a glitch happen where rotating the camera would constantly result in the bamboo thickets disappearing. By the way, the sound we used for the insects in the background is not an insect sample, but rather synthetic sound.
Famitsu: Has the scenario team ever gotten requests from other teams?
Saito: Usually really broad things like “Fight against this kind of enemy”, “Make him hold Excalibur”. I think the decision for the appearance of Excalibur came from Ito.
Famitsu: I wanted to ask something- there’s a quest in the first chapter where you have to obtain three items. The drop rate on this is pretty low, isn’t it? (Laughs)
Saito: I think that’s the work of the item team. (Laughs) We decide if a quest involves obtaining items, but it’s the item team that decides the drop rate for the items. So what I’m saying is, we didn’t ask for the drop rate to be low or anything. (Laughs)
(Note: When the same question was posed to the Director Ito and Assistant Director Fujito, they told me that since it the items had a very narrow range of uses, and different items could affect the drop rates of each other off the same monster, it was decided to not make the drop rate very high)
Famitsu: Returning to the scenario, was the music also decided upon under the theme of the Far East?
Saito: I’ll leave discussion of music to Mr. Mizuta (Naoshi Mizuta), so I’ll just give you an overall view. Reisenjima was still not complete when the song was composed, so the order was something really vague like “It’s the island you go to at the end”. (Laughs)
Famitsu: So with that view of the bamboo, perhaps the approach would’ve been different? (Laughs)
Saito: Indeed, perhaps there would’ve been more “harmony” between the area and the music, but the Far East isn’t the same as Japan, so I think the song now fits pretty well.
Famitsu: In the final battle, there were scenes from the game in flashback form- I was surprised.
Saito: The idea came from Ito, to place screens up around the field that displayed scenes from the adventurer’s memory. We decided to go with that.
Sato: I think it was a good idea.
Famitsu: I was surprised at the last boss as well.
Saito: When I think of the bosses in the FF series, I feel the one that best fits the theme “that which transcends all else” was best done in FFIII.
Famitsu: There were no plans on creating an original boss, I take it?
Saito: Well, we already had the Goddess appear, if we were to create an original boss after all the different expansions, I think it would just be anticlimactic and make people go “Who?”
Sato: Sounds kinda lonely.
Famitsu: I see. The appearance of the goddess Altana was surprising. I noticed the design was very similar to the art by Yoshitaka Amano.
Saito: I went to the designer and gave him an unreasonable request- “I want Altana to appear, so I’m relying on you!”
Famitsu: The Goddess Altana appeared in the story right from the start, was there any resistance to the idea of meeting face-to-face?
Sato: It’s a meeting with the Goddess since it’s before an important decision.
Saito: Since “Rhapsodies” is the culmination of all the stories, it was the most appropriate place to allow her to appear. In that same vein, Phoenix had not appeared in person until now, so we worked hard to create a model for her.
Famitsu: Phoenix had only existed in feathers and swords up to this point.
Sato: At first I was thinking maybe it’d just end up being a ball of light. (Laughs)
Saito: At every turn we told people “This is the culmination of it all, so I’m counting all you!” while making unreasonable requests.
The Message In the Mission Titles
Famitsu: How did you feel when you finished “Rhapsodies”?
Sato: I was relieved. My work was done so I got to tell everyone else to hang in there. (Laughs)
Saito: I was also relieved that I was able to make it on time. The delivery date was a strict November 11, 2015. I had to work up till the eleventh hour. When finishing a scene, I had to take it to the sound team, so I was constantly bothering them.
Famitsu: So your feelings of relief were greater than your emotions from working on the final chapter?
Saito: After Chapter 3 was released, the feedback really changed how I felt. People telling me that they cried at the end infected me with that same bug. (Laughs)
Sato: You made the scene, Saito. You should’ve seen it lots of times, and you’re telling me you cried a lot? (Laughs)
Saito: Quite the blunder. (Laughs)
Sato: “Rhapsodies” was written in a strange way for me. I actually wrote text for the story starting on Chapter 3. But I did have the plot from Chapter 1 and 2 already. The amount of time between release dates of May, August and November isn’t very long, so I have to consider the animation team and others and begin working much earlier.
Famitsu: To accommodate that you must first decide on the Chapter 3 dialogue- while you went back to write the dialogue for previous chapters, were there things you had to fix for the later chapter?
Sato: There were, but I couldn’t afford to make massive changes, so I made change where possible. I think it turned out well, but I was worried since this was the first time I had written anything like this.
Vana’diel Inside Story
Famitsu: Since we’re here, can you tell me what the first content you worked on in FFXI was?
Sato: I was responsible for the Windurst story. I think the first thing I wrote was a quest in Windurst Waters involving the Hat Shop.
Famitsu: The quest where you promote for the hat shop.
Saito: I started out helping create quest cutscenes. I think my first was the one involving Giddeus Water. Then there was another where you go to the Yagudo treasury. I was thinking how to make Yagudos speak.
Famitsu: You mean the squawks. Were there rules set up for how beastmen spoke?
Saito: Not yet. We had some rough ideas like how Quadavs might speak in broken language and Orcs would speak very bluntly. (Laughs) But basically it was whoever wrote the first dialogue for them got to set the general direction.
Sato: If Mr. Kato (Masato Kato) said it was okay, that was that.
Famitsu: Mr. Kato had the final word on the setting?
Saito: That’s right. But overall it was pretty loose. (Laughs) He was pretty free on how characters spoke in dialogue and let writers work on whichever nation they liked. Of course, there were directions for each nation that you had to work from with each nation, fleshing it out.
Sato: I added “nya” to the end of Mithra sentences, and got an okay later. (Laughs)
Famitsu: So many revelations! (Laughs) How many staff members worked on the scenario of the game?
Sato: One for each of the Three Nations, Mhaura, and Selbina. With Kato, that is about six people.
Saito: At first I was simply a supporting member. I worked on quests if there weren’t enough, leading me into working on cutscenes for missions. Then, I created the event for the Dragon battle shared between the three nations. I remember being surprised that each of the three countries had a different take on it. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Different characters such as Semih Lafihna and Ayame would appear.
Saito: Yeah. I had to decide on who would appear in that cutscene, though I think it was easy to decide for Windurst.
Sato: Is that so? That’s good. (Laughs)
Saito: At the time, Ayame wasn’t a very established character yet, so I think I ended up giving the impression that she’s a weak character. (Bitter laugh)
Famitsu: That was Mr. Saito’s work. (Laughs)
Saito: Same sort of thing happened with Louverance. The internet had lots of stories about how the Elvaan from the time of the Dragon Wars disappeared, so in thinking of how to save him, he was added to the “Chains of Promathia” story.
Sato: That was interesting. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Didn’t know that how it went. (Laughs)
Saito: Made sure to give him a stunning scene where he goes “ORYAA!” (Laughs)
Sato: While I was working on it, I felt that was something which was needed. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Everyone had a hand in expanding the lore of Vana’diel it seems. How did the event team share in this?
Sato: Everyone played the game on their own to some extent.
Saito: I was given an account used for development purposes, so I played using that.
Famitsu: Did you have any feelings when playing the Missions of other Nations?
Saito: Of course. Ended up having thoughts like, “Those Windurst Missions are really going well, I gotta buckle down too!”
Sato: For Windurst, it was a bit easier to produce given the Tarutaru’s small stature.
Saito: We all had to go through periods of trial and error. Seeing others do certain things would inspire you.
Sato: The dev team got along well, so it was a lot of fun.
Saito: The FFXI Team was like another family, both then and now.
Famitsu: Perhaps that atmosphere is what led to us celebrating the 15th year today. By the way, the foundations of Vana’diel were made by Mr. Ishi (Koichi Ishi, former Director), Mr. Iwao (Kenichi Iwao, former Planner), and Mr. Kato, but were there things you suggested?
Sato: Of course. For example, the five ministers of Windurst was an idea suggested by me, and then were given names by Mr. Iwao.
Famitsu: The Horutoto Ruins was quite a unique landmark near Windurst.
Sato: I thought of lots of different ideas on how to use different magical devices in the Mission.
Famitsu: There were gimmicks to the maps as well. Speaking of which, there were quite a few mysterious caves and holes in these maps… (Laughs)
Saito: Those are remnants of planned ahead for expansions. (Laughs) That’s why when “Rise of the Zilart” and “Chains of Promathia” came out, many of these caves or holes ended up being used as pathways to new areas. In the end there were quite a few we never ended up using.
Famitsu: It’s impressive the people who made the maps, the people who thought of those details and the people making quests were able to make such a complete use of them.
Saito: There were, in fact, Map Planners. As pointed out above, this person would prepare for these events and then use these map details as necessary.
Sato: We haven’t given a lot of credit to the Map Planners, but they were an important part of making our dreams a reality.
Famitsu: It’s thanks to the work of lots of people that we were able to get so immersed in Vana’diel. By the way, what would you say is your favorite thing out of all the things that you’ve produced?
Saito: It’s a character- Lilisette. “Wings of the Goddess” was where we introduced facial animations. With this a heroine unlike the ones before was created. (Laughs) I joked with the animation team on how far we could take it.
Famitsu: I assume for Sato, it must be a Mission?
Sato: I definitely think my memories are the strongest with things like the Windurst Missions, the “Chains of Promathia” Story, and “Rhapsodies”.
Saito: As far as characters go, Sato had Shantotto make take a lot of business trips, that’s for sure. (Laughs)
Sato: She sure works hard at her job. (Laughs) If I knew that was going to be how it was, she should’ve had a special model.
Saito: Oh yeah, she has the same model as one for players. (Laughs)
Famitsu: In other works, Shantotto’s been given quite a cute image. That’s quite different from the one we know in FFXI, I think… (Laughs)
Saito: She’s not such a cute character from the perspective of the adventurer, probably. (Laughs)
Sato: She’s cute in the artwork, though. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Did you have any other ideas you couldn’t add in, like with the unique Shantotto model?
Sato: During “Rhapsodies”, I wanted Fickblix (A goblin who wanted a world of friendship between humans and beastmen) to make an appearance, but I was unable to make that a reality.
Saito: It was hard to make certain dead characters appear. That was the reason Rishfee (An Immortal) from the “Treasures of Aht Urhgan” expansion was unable to make an appearance.
Famitsu: Rishfee is a popular character.
Saito: I even thought of adding a Trust for the character, but of course the character’s dead…that, and adding a Blue Mage Trust is quite difficult to begin with.
Famitsu: I’d like to hear more stories of the internal goings-on with the dev team.
Saito: Let’s see…this is something that was around the time of the beginning moving into “Rise of the Zilart”. Mr. Kato had put out many different ideas on how to progress the story. Of these, one of them was talk of how Lion could be the last boss. (Laughs) When it came time to develop “Chains of Promathia”, many of those ideas were discarded and Sato reimagined the story into its current form.
Famitsu: So the idea was for Lion to die at the end of “Rise of the Zilart”, and then become a last boss later? Certainly not an idea completely unheard of. (Laughs)
Saito: Each story we first decide on the stage where it will occur. From there, we think of the history to build a foundation. We felt that helped solidify the setting.
Sato: Each time, it was decided in discussions with everyone.
Famitsu: In “Wings of the Goddess”, players went to the past.
Saito: It was a good idea since the development team was slowly getting smaller. We could use maps that already existed, so as long as we added some appropriate buildings, we could create believable areas. But scenario-wise, it was quite difficult. (Laughs) It was really hard to make sure everything lined up.
Sato: The story of Windurst’s past was not written by me, and I’m thinking whoever did might’ve had a hard time. I was very happy to see a story that both had its own ideas and made good use of the story in the present day.
Famitsu: It was great to see variations of modern day quests in “Wings of the Goddess”.
Saito: Hearing you say that makes it all worth it.
Famitsu: Thank you for your time. Do you have anything to say to all the FFXI players?
Saito: “Rhapsodies” was a way to convey our thanks to all the players who had played up to this point. We hope players will be able to experience the ending, which brought the development team to tears.
Sato: In an MMORPG, players are individuals who inhabit the world, and thus they cannot become Gods. In “Rhapsodies”, I was able to do something I always wanted to. In this way, I felt it made the battle with the final boss a lot more believable.
Saito: I remember you told me while you were writing the story, “Perhaps victory is impossible”. (Laughs)
Sato: We certainly want players to see how this victory comes about, and to take the challenge on themselves.
Famitsu: Oh yes, I believe that just like it was with “Chains of Promathia”, the Mission names for “Rhapsodies” had a hidden message.
[Note: Japanese Mission Names for CoP spell out the Iroha’s Poem, for RoV, it’s as follows:
Chapter 1: “Thank you for all these years of service.”
Chapter 2: “As long as everyone still has love and passion for Vana’diel, this world will last forever. <3”
Chapter 3: “I look forward to hearing from you as the world continues to grow.”]
Sato: Yes, the Mission names convey everything I wanted to say. I was wondering if anyone would notice, but everyone continued work with no comment on it until it was discovered by players online. (Laughs)
Saito: “You did it!” was the reaction. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Did you decide on the words right from the start?
Sato: That’s right. Although while actually working on it, I did hit a few snags if the character was “n”. [Japanese words can’t start with this kana]
Saito: I remember seeing you looking troubled hovering over a dictionary. I remember you also had some backup titles just in case.
Sato: I remember it was especially hard for the “ka” in “arigatou”. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Why did you add this message?
Sato: In things like detective novels, there’s often wordplay like this the author uses to tease the audience. In “Chains of Promathia”, I used it to hint at the story. In “Rhapsodies”, I really wanted to put my “heart” into the message, so I went ahead and actually wrote it out.
Famitsu: I think players who plan on tackling “Rhapsodies” now, should perhaps finish the Missions and unlock the message slowly.
Saito: The code was broken very quickly after release.
Sato: FFXI players really are amazing. (Laughs) When you finish the story, please make sure to take a look at all the first characters of each Mission and find my message.
The Rhapsody of Adventurers: Interview with Composer Naoshi Mizuta
The Ending Theme I Made With the Players
On the third part of this special feature, I center on the sound design of the game. The man in question has worked on the sound of FFXI for 14 years, Naoshi Mizuta. For “Rhapsodies of Vana’diel”, Mizuta asked the players to participate in a chorus. I asked him the details of its production and his thoughts about his work.
Famitsu: I think the ending theme is what earned the most attention out of everything you added this time. I want to focus on that- the melody was based off the Title Screen’s “Vana’diel March”, yes?
Mizuta: As a song for the final chapter, nothing else could be more appropriate, a song that allows players to recall all their adventures thus far.
Famitsu: Yaeko Sato was responsible for the lyrics for the song, but did you ask for anything in particular from her?
Mizuta: I left the lyrics up to her. If I had any concerns I would raise them, but Sato had promises to keep to Ito as well, so there had to be synergy.
Famitsu: What were you concerned about?
Mizuta: It’s a bit abstract. I felt the point of view was moving around a lot, so I felt it should be focused on one point.
Famitsu: Can you be a bit more specific?
Mizuta: The song is from the perspective of the player, but halfway it shifts into a more impersonal point of view. I was thinking maybe the song could have a more down-to-earth feel the whole way through. There was some concern that it might be incompatible with her lyrics, but we didn’t get in a fight or anything. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Sato had quite a vision for it, it sounds like.
Mizuta: Yes. I think it turned out really well. It’s important to have a larger viewpoint as well.
Famitsu: The ending theme is unique from the participation of players. What were the circumstances that led to this?
Mizuta: I thought of the idea. I thought it would be appropriate for the final chapter, since this game is also a combination of many different ideas. Approaching this idea from the perspective of sound design, it was appropriate to have the voices of many different people create a single song. I think it symbolizes the game itself.
Famitsu: How many voices did you end up getting?
Mizuta: I think it was a bit below 700 people.
Famitsu: Were there players from abroad who contributed their voices?
Mizuta: There was. I think my impression while working on it was that they made up about 20-30% of the voices.
Famitsu: How about gender?
Mizuta: I think it was about 6:4 for men:women.
Famitsu: Was it hard to mix these voices?
Mizuta: Quite. (Bitter laugh) These voices were not recorded in a studio, and were instead received as a recording via email. As a general rule, we wanted to use any clips sent in. After reviewing the voices, choosing which were usable and editing them took about a week.
Mizuta: Things such as removing background noise and the like.
Famitsu: It’s hard to record while you’re sitting at home. (Laughs)
Mizuta: I think without much assistance, it can be very hard to get a good recording. But so many people worked hard to send in their voices, so I felt I needed to match that passion as I worked on it.
Famitsu: The main vocalist is RiRiKA of Phantasmagoric. I heard she’s quite the FFXI player.
Mizuta: Yes, since the project was all about players creating the song, rather than simply choose a really famous vocalist, I felt it was important to get someone who also held personal feelings for the game.
Famitsu: She has a great voice, but I feel that as the song enters the chorus, it seems the players become the focus of the song.
Mizuta: That was something I focused on. Originally I was thinking of making the vocalists continue to anchor the song, but I wanted to clarify the focus of the song was the players, so the focus changes to the chorus later on.
I Need 10 Minutes to Express Everything
Famitsu: The song is almost 10 minutes long. I heard you requested for there to be no edits to the song for the in-game version.
Mizuta: Correct. This song was 10 minutes long and I didn’t want a single moment to get cut. It’s the same melody repeated numerous times, but there are different people singing each time. I think listening to all those voices you’ll understand the feelings of the players.
Famitsu: In accordance with your request, the development team also decided on working with those 10 minutes.
Mizuta: The cutscene was of course the best place to start the song, and originally there was no credits roll planned. I felt it was a great thing to accompany the song.
Famitsu: I thought that it was great that there was an official video made on the youtube channel for the game. Was it a difficult decision to add the final song of the game onto a public video like that?
Mizuta: This was a proposal from the community team.
Marketing: We felt it was important that not just active players, but also former players and players on a break all get to know of the “Rhapsodies”.
Mizuta: I think ideally a player will see the cutscene via their own progression of the game. Of course, I understand the idea that you shouldn’t only appeal to players already playing the game, so the edited version in the video was created.
Looking Back On 14 Years of Composition
Famitsu: From other development team members I’m made to understand you had to compose many songs without a really solid image of what it is you were composing for.
Mizuta: There were times when requests for the melody were made, but usually after explanation they’d end it with “Just make something good please!” so I have room for expression. Although sometimes I was given quite a bit of time pressure, and I had only an abstract image to work with on top on that. (Laughs)
Famitsu: Have you ever been told “No, this won’t work”?
Mizuta: Thankfully, that has never happened.
Famitsu: That’s what we call an expert, I think. I think for a long time Mr. Mizuta has been who has defined FFXI’s music, and you yourself represent FFXI’s music. What are your feelings now that there’s been a cap of sorts on FFXI’s production, and you might be able expand your horizons?
Mizuta: I’m free from the PS2, perhaps? (Laughs)
Famitsu: I suppose the only person in the world left making music aimed for the PS2 is Mr. Mizuta at this point.
Mizuta: In the Windows version, you just need to convert the data of the music you created. However, for the PS2 version, the music will be pulled apart into different instruments, so there needs to be data for the composition as well. This can take quite a bit of time- I take about 10 days to do it myself. We’re now in the age of smartphone games which use streaming to play its music. (Laughs)
Famitsu: The PS2 was hardware released in 2000, after all…
Mizuta: When I think how there might no longer be new songs for the players to love, I do get a bit sad.
Famitsu: There still could be more! In the future, only a conversion to the PC version would be necessary, would it not? (Laughs)
Mizuta: I suppose so. (Laughs)
Famitsu: We’re about finished here. Can you give one last message to the players of FFXI?
Mizuta: I feel thankful to all the players who have played up till this point. Adventurer in Vana’diel is easier than it was in the past, and I think there is a lot of value in experiencing “Rhapsodies”. Players on a break and fans of the FF series, I invite you all to try “Rhapsodies”, and I think you will also enjoy FFXI.
Interview with Main Vocalist RiRiKA
An Emotional Adventure
Continuing the third part of this feature on the sound design, I sit down with the main vocalist of FFXI’s ending theme, RiRiKA, who is also an avid player herself.
Famitsu: Please tell us a little about your involvement with FFXI. As I understand, you began playing in 2007, and you continue to play now.
RiRiKA: I’ve always liked games, and I was invited to try FFXI by some of my peers. 2007 was the year “Wings of the Goddess” came out, so I was a bit late to the adventurer bandwagon. Lately I’ve had less time to log in, but when I have time I check the auction house and help out my friends.
Famitsu: What kind of feeling did you have when first playing the game?
RiRiKA: I felt I was asking a lot of others when entering the level 30 capped Promyvion areas. But my friends helped me nad I was able to progress through the Promathia Missions. Many of my friends were people I knew in real life, so we could plan ahead using phone calls and strategize over the phone. I have a hard time keeping up just using the chat, I had a notepad with me and everything.
Famitsu: Surrounded by people who already finished… (Laughs)
RiRiKA: That’s right. They told me “Well, you’re a singer, so play as a Bard!”, and I ended up thinking “Have I been tricked?” (Laughs) But I ended up loving the look of the Sha’ir Manteel, so I was excited about wearing that armor myself.
Famitsu: So you think they were just tricking you because they needed a Bard… (Laughs)
RiRiKA: I didn’t know it was a support role until later! Everyone would tell me “You sing really slowly”. (Laughs)
Famitsu: And then you fell in love with the Sha’ir Manteel. (Laughs)
RiRiKA: That’s right. (Laughs) I was popular in Vana’diel though, so I did get some offers for people to give me the materials or to synthesize the items, but I earned about 4 million gil myself through a teleport service.
Famitsu: If you wanted an easier option, you could’ve went for the Yigit Gomlek.
RiRiKA: This was not negotiable…I remember being really happy when I felt the shorter casting time for Sha’ir.
Famitsu: You worked hard… (Laughs)
RiRiKA: It was my first time playing an online game. I enjoy working diligently towards something. I remember one time I was logged in for 24 hours straight. Also that feeling of oh no, I gotta get to Tu’Lia. (Laughs) I also remember staying in Sea Serpent Grotto for many days to obtain a Joyeuse.
A Tearful Recording
Famitsu: And with that we come to your involvement with the ending theme of “Rhapsodies”.
RiRiKA: When I was asked to come to the Square Enix offices, I was not told anything beforehand. When I realized this was going to be the final chapter of the story, I cried for the first time in 10 years.
Famitsu: When did you first hear about “Rhapsodies”?
RiRiKA: Around last summer. Listening to the melody of the “Vana’diel March” gave me an idea of the theme of the song. I remember at the first recording, I was so moved by the lyrics I I almost couldn’t continue singing. I put those emotions into my performance.
Famitsu: We heard you cried throughout the recording.
RiRiKA: I like introductory lyrics the most. I was already overflowing with emotions right from the start. The part of the lyrics which declares “and we became as family” made me think of all the people I’ve played with, like my midnight Sky LS which was active from 1 AM to 5 AM, thinking of all the work we put in trying to obtain Byakko’s Haidate, or when I fell asleep playing the game and was woken up by my phone ringing. When people share so much time together, how can you call that anything but a family?
Famitsu: Was Mr. Mizuta surprised at all you crying? (Laughs)
RiRiKA: He helped me calm myself and fight back the tears as we continued the recording.
Famitsu: Did Mr. Mizuta give you any specific directions during recording?
RiRiKA: Mr. Mizuta is a very kind man, so he told me to do as I liked. But he had one word of advice- he told me that “This is not the end of FFXI- instead, FFXI begins here. I want you to sing with the feelings of hope for the future.”
Famitsu: The “Vanadiel March” has a melody that is unfamiliar with those who play FFXI, but I suppose it holds special meaning for adventurers.
RiRiKA: I think so, so I feel like I had a great responsibility. How important did the community hold this song, I was thinking. Without knowing it I think the song has become a treasured memory to the players, so I sang with all those feelings in mind.
Famitsu: The latter half of the song is the chorus of adventurers. Did you know about this aspect at the time of recording?
RiRiKA: Yes, I knew. However, while I was recording, it only contained my section of the song. So when I finally got to hear the song, I couldn’t help crying again. I’m driven to tears pretty easily, but I still think I hadn’t cried as much as I did that time.
Famitsu: I bet your friends could never have imagined that their group’s Bard would be the singer for the ending theme of “Rhapsodies”.
RiRiKA: Probably! The people I adventure with haven’t changed, and they were very pleased with the ending song. That makes me very happy.
Famitsu: It’s a very emotional song, so I think a lot of people should hear it.
RiRiKA: No matter when I return to Vana’diel, it is always the same. If I walk around a bit, I feel all those memories flooding back. I hope any players on break will try out “Rhapsodies”.
A Park Where Adventurers May Play: Interview with Former Director Koichi Ishii and Former Planner Kenichi Iwao
Adding the Quality of FF Which Wasn’t Existent in Other MMORPGs
In the fourth part of this special feature, we interview two people who helped lay the foundations of the game. As the initial director of the game, Mr. Koichi Ishii helped breathe life into the world of Vana’diel, and Vana’diel’s well-detailed history and culture was greatly contributed to by Mr. Kenichi Iwao.
Famitsu: You two helped build the foundations of Vana’diel. Please tell us how you became involved in development.
Ishii: Mr. Sakaguchi (Hironobu Sakaguchi, currently Representative Director of Mistwalker) told me he wanted to create an online FF game. At first I told him “I really don’t want to go back to making FF”, but he told me that I should try playing a game called “Everquest” before deciding.
Iwao: It was a really sudden proposal to me as well. At that time, I had returned from a huge project in Osaka, and I was immediately told to come to the head office, because we’re making an MMORPG.
Ishii: When I played the game EQ at Ishii’s recommendation, I immediately thought of something I had envisioned when I was first working on FF, when looking at the sky you’d see a digital fantasy world. At the time I couldn’t do anything like that, but I was convinced I could do that now, so I decided to create this online FF.
Famitsu: Mr. Sakaguchi contacted Mr. Tanaka (Hiromichi Tanaka, former Producer) around this time?
Ishii: When Mr. Sakaguchi wanted to do something, he would often contact me and Mr. Tanaka to meet with him. After a few times where we’d emptily bobble our heads up and down to his suggestions, we were a bit less punctual on attending these meetings… (Bitter laugh)
Famitsu: So basically something like, “Yeah, you do that”? (Laughs)
Ishii: I don’t want to say we didn’t have any responsibility in its creation, because we did get the feel for it later on. But I think if Mr. Sakaguchi wasn’t so enthusiastic about the idea, we would have never made this online RPG. In that sense, we’re very grateful for him.
Famitsu: Mr. Ishii, how was Vana’diel created?
Ishii: The first thing I did was draw the world map, name the towns and land, and explain the aspects of the world to the Event team. We had to decide on a skeleton for the game, and decide what was necessary and unnecessary for an online game. I made decisions that would decided on the foundations on which the game would be built.
Famitsu: Mr. Iwao, were you responsible for the game’s setting right from the start?
Iwao: At first, I was to design the cities, but over time that’s naturally what I became responsible for. I had to decide on related things like the scenario, battles, art, translations, cultures and factions, and names. For example, when working with designers, I would make decisions regarding items, furnishings and equipment, and when working with scenario writers, I would provide them information about the game’s setting- oh yes, for for example, I had 300 different names for every race and gender, with some noted in English, and I would provide these saying, “Just use the ones you like”. (Laughs)
Famitsu: MMORPGs are very large scale games, so I guess somebody has to decide on some ground rules.
Ishii: We used other MMOs we had played as a base, and gave it settings and events to make it more like “FF”. But we also had a series of discussions on how we could make this game stand out. Even at the time I played EQ, I thought to myself that one way I could turn FFXI into a type of world I would want to play in would be to drawn upon the ideas and attitudes I had while developing “Legend of Mana”.
Iwao: I think working on the item synthesis sytem was pretty hard too.
Ishii: I think people told me things like how it’s not doing terribly well in some other games. I think Mr. Iwao and the Event Team understood that we needed to give different values for this game. They would consult the world map I created and tell me what kinds of stories they wanted to write, what they wanted to call certain areas. If there’s magic, then certain kinds of organisms would live in that area. Perhaps the land or the weather would affect certain strengths. Certain areas would have specific materials available so it would affect the player-created economy in these ways, etc.
Iwao: With the help of Mr. Ishii, I was finally able to create the item synthesis system. I believed that the economy of the game was a very important aspect of MMORPGs. I wanted to take into account factors like production, consumption, and distribution.
Ishii: The way gil moved through the game and what players wanted would bring a flow to the world. We had to consider how the player would interact with this world, how items would flow in their hands. As players became more experienced with the game, they would gain a deeper understand of how things worked, and I think that was one of the things interesting about an online game. To me that was really important.
Famitsu: Certainly an interesting experience since prices can fluctuate.
Ishii: I considered the economy of the game important because I felt that a player standing alone would be able to look around him and feel a certain insignificance. From there he would understand the importance of community, and that would bring a sense of naturalness to this world. This was one way I felt I could provide a place for players to feel like it’s worthwhile and fun to adventure with others.
Famitsu: You felt the creation of a world is important, but were there people who only focused on the game’s systems themselves?
Iwao: I was very supportive of Mr. Iwao’s ideas. When you take a cross-sectional view of Vana’diel, you’ll see things like Sarutabaruta is on this level, the land would produce this kind of life, and how that life interacts with each other- it makes the world come alive. From there, you continue building by creating the history and culture of the world.
Famitsu: So using the foundation of a detailed world and setting, you attempted to create depth in the Missions and Quests?
Ishii: I wanted to have a clear separation between Missions and Quests. Quests were to be things that did not concern the country itself deeply and would help foreshadow things. The Missions would be where you find out why things are the way they are. In other words, I wanted players who played both the Missions and the Quests to have a deep understanding of both cause and effect of events in the game world.
Famitsu: So you’re saying that when you design a system in a game, you tried to account for how a player might react to it?
Ishii: I had some thoughts along that line for the battle system too. I had left that to the battle design team, but I wanted to make things more interesting…
Iwao: Certain NMs and item drops did not mesh will with the area and surrounding features, so we made some adjustments to that.
Ishii: At the same time, I also thought it was important to create a sense of teamwork even while playing with strangers, and to that end I created the skillchain system.
Famitsu: The skillchain system is Ishii’s brainchild?
Ishii: The idea started with me, but for the specifics I consulted Takai (Hiroshi Takai, current Assistant Director of “FFXIV”). For my part, I quickly looked into the habitat, attacks, characteristics, attributes, and synergy of monsters. Matsui (Akihiko Matsui, current Producer of “FFXI”) was also part of the battle design team on “Legend of Mana”, after I told him a general direction, I allowed him to do as he liked.
Famitsu: Back when skillchains were poorly understood by players, they spent a great deal of time discussing it. I think that was part of the fun.
Ishii: I felt the lack of instructions was very important. Not just systems like Skillchains, but also things you discover out in a field. When I played “EQ”, that feeling of discovered was something I loved. Things like finding an area that looked picturesque. I wanted “FFXI” to also be a game where you might find something and decide to take a screenshot- I told the development team to put at least 5 places in each area where this could be true.
Famitsu: Things like the waterfall in Gustaberg and the rainbow near the Ark?
Ishii: For some players would think they spotted something special when in fact it was something we had planned on players to see. Even so, I think players would try to find the best angle at which to view these scenes. As you’re travelling through an area, you find a rainbow, or an aurora. They would be spontaneous events. Even something like a train of monsters were something we thought counted. A monster train is undesirable, but you might find it amusing like you would a roller coaster. (Laughs)
Iwao: For each player of an MMORPG they would have a unique experience, and with other players they would become jokes and memories. We thought it was good to have something unexpected happen once in a while.
Ishii: I think these days games you can play efficiently have become more and more commonplace, but I felt that “pointless” things were one of the most important. I feel like that is part of what makes it a world. You won’t always be thinking about it, but there will be moments where you will stop and look up at the sky, or you might notice flowers blooming near your feet, or wonder just where it is you have walked to, and you’ll feel like it’s very different than what you’ve had before.
Tough Penalties to Encourage Teamwork
Famitsu: Even now I can remember how tough the experience penalty was for getting knocked out.
Ishii: I made the decision to add an experience penalty. I think the values we set were very important. Because everyone knew how tough the penalty was, you would feel empathy for your teammates when they got knocked out. Thus, you would feel more motivated to defend and save your allies.
Famitsu: I can recall times when an unexpected link came, the Paladin and White Mage sacrifice themselves to save the party.
Ishii: With a lower penalty, defeat feels less heavy. Of course, it’s not like we never look at how people play and discuss the possibility of change. However, taking the decision too lightly would take away from the purpose of its existence.
Iwao: More than the numbers themselves, it was important to think of the cause and effect relationship between player actions and death. With that in place, it allows players to feel the risk of death- the drama that ensues when interacting with other players makes it into a more immersive adventuring experience.
Famitsu: The penalty is significantly reduced now. I think because of that, you don’t get as scared when you aggro a monster out in the field now.
Ishii: And that feeling of relief when you fend off danger with your allies. You will have strong memories of your adventures, and they become unforgettable.
Discarded Idea: Adventurers Spinning the Thread of History
Famitsu: During development, did you think the direction of Vana’diel would lead to what it is now?
Iwao: Some of it came true, but I had an idea in my head that involved Adventurers would be able to change the world of Vana’diel themselves. Nations and factions…for example, a system in place which would allow players to become generals, or a knight captain, getting involved in the story- that was something I had imagined.
Famitsu: Players intervening with history?
Iwao: That’s right. Besieged was a partial realization of that idea. Players and NPCs coming together to fight off an invasion in unison, and through that gaining connections to NPCs…a focus on the story of Gadalar and Mihli in particular, where the adventurers are accepted as an ally.
Famitsu: In regards to Besieged, I think players of the Siren world might feel they had intervened in history. (Siren was the only server with a 5-year victory streak)
Ishii: If the adventurer creates part of history, then it means as long as players who understand FFXI are around, it will never end. (Laughs)
Iwao: “An RPG that provides a setting for the player” was the big concept shared with Mr. Ishii right from the start.
Ishii: A sandbox, I suppose. “There’s the toy, let’s dig holes and build castles,” players would think. Creating an atmosphere where that will bring satisfaction was the goal.
Vana’diel Will Continue Thanks to the Players
Famitsu: Vana’diel is coming upon its 15th year. What do you think has given it the ability to last so long?
Ishii: Since we had released it on a home console, we were thinking that when hardware changed, that would be a turning point. Thus, when we first made the game, we were aiming for a 5-year lifespan.
Iwao: Indeed, 15 years far exceeds what any of us thought at the time. Even now the current staff continues their hard work. I was involved with the game almost 10 years, so I know how hard the work is, and I feel thankful to them- thankful that they’re fighting to the end.
Ishii: Indeed, quite grateful. I don’t think it’s appropriate to just say “job well done”. I left development after “Rise of the Zilart” was released- as the director, being in a higher position would probably make that sort of statement inappropriate. So I cannot find the words to express my gratitude.
Iwao: More than anything, all this was possible because of the adventurers- all the dedicated playing and resulting feedback. Playing catch with you is likely the reason Vana’diel has had its life extended over and over.
Ishii: Even if it has changed somewhat, Vana’diel is still there. Maybe not the same friends are around anymore, but perhaps by revisiting, you will meet the old you that had experienced those times. This world of memories that adventurers have created is not the Vana’diel we made- it is the Vana’diel all of you made.
Iwao: Even for people not currently playing, it may be similar to a hometown, or a place you had once travelled to with friends. Surely, Vana’diel is somewhere in their hearts, and perhaps occasionally, you’ll feel nostalgic and revisit such a place.
Ishii: If everyone cherishes their memories of Vana’diel, I’m sure it will last forever.