Final Fantasy XIV’s lifeblood, aside from being Final Fantasy, is its story. We managed to catch up with Square Enix’s Koji Fox to chat about the MMORPG’s ongoing lore development, story, and secrets of the Eorzean narrative. Read on for part one of our two part interview with Koji Fox, the Co-Lead World and Lore Developer on the massively successful game.
MMORPG: This is the fifteenth Final Fantasy game. That is a huge compendium of history and lore. And now even though everything changes from game to game, where do you start your exploration in the history of Final Fantasy?
Koji Fox: Oh. That's a huge question there. I think again, you know, all of the Final Fantasies, you know even though they're technically numbered and they're sequels, they're not sequels. Really, each game in the series is its own unique entity. There really isn't, you know, "okay, Final Fantasy 5 ended with this and now we're continuing that story with 6," it's "Final Fantasy 5 has ended, now it's time for 6." Though 14 draws a lot from the other Final Fantasies, the producer/director Yoshida-san has always made it known that Final Fantasy 14 is like an amusement park – a Final Fantasy Amusement park where it just draws on the lore and the characters from the other Final Fantasies that puts them all into one theme park. But then they're not just carbon copies of what they were in Final Fantasy 5, or 6, or 7. They've taken that concept from those games, those characters from those games, and put them into Eorzea, in Final Fantasy 14, and made them part of our world. So it's not like this character from this game is making a guest appearance in Eorzea, it's that that character always existed in some sense, in some way, but it's part of that world. It's not from the other game, it's part of our game, it just happens to be from that game as well. So the biggest challenge lore-wise for myself and for Oda-san is how to bring these characters from other games, characters that have their own backstories in that game, bring them here so that it feels nostalgic, but that it doesn't feel like a gimmick that you're bringing something in. How is this character, how is this concept from FF3, FF4, going to fit into the FF14 world and feel natural?
MMORPG: So you guys just kinda pick from the cream of the crop?
KF: Yeah, sometimes it depends on what kind of story we're telling and we think oh, sometimes that character has those similarities so it would work well in the story we're writing now. Or sometimes it's just the producer/director like, “I really liked this character so I want to find some way to bring him into the game.” Or, “this character was really popular, and we haven't done something like this yet, let's bring it into the game.”
MMORPG: So you guys are working in tandem with the Japanese developers as the game is being made?
MMORPG: So how do you feel that the Japanese market and the American market, that you have to cater to different tastes to make it sort of amicable between the two?
KF: You know, there's differences in the player bases. The Japanese player base, the Western player base – even split up in the Western player base, you have the European player base and the American player base, and everyone has their perception of the Final Fantasy world. But you know the core is always going to be the same. You know the reasons why everyone feels familiar with the series and loves the series is the core that is there throughout all of the language versions. However, each region has their own tastes – whether it be language wise, what they perceive as fantasy, what is interesting or not interesting about these things. And adding a little spice to make it a little bit more palatable is what we do on the translation side, but we're not going to go in and change that core. Because it's that core that connects all the regions together. You know, everyone loves a certain character. Everyone loves Cloud. Everyone loves Vaughn. Well, not everyone loves Vaughn, but you know.
MMORPG: What do you think is the most important aspect of that for you?
KF: It's tough because every user has what they enjoy about the game. I mean, you have some users that really like how the Japanese culture can be found in the Japanese version and want the Japanese culture in their version as well. And then maybe you have other players that are like, "I really like it when it feels like the game is translated so I thought it originated in one language,” and you don't feel the Japanesiness about it, if that's even a word.
MMORPG: Yeah, you don't even have to explain the cultural references.
KF: Yeah, so there's two types of users. So if you do it one way, the other's like, "But I wanted that Japanesiness!" and the other way it's, "I don't know what's going on here. It's too Japanese!" And so we’re trying to find a happy medium where you can maybe not please everyone, but please most of the people, and keep them coming back. And again, with keeping that core there, that original intent. What story do you want to get across? What emotions do you want to evoke? That's what the most important thing is.
MMORPG: So let's talk about the story. This is a game that's kind of come back from the dead in a lot of ways, and what went into that isn't just the gameplay, but getting people immersed into it. So how are you keeping people immersed now? What are the next steps for you?
KF: I mean it's all about, when the game gets this big, it's all about consistency. Cause a game can balloon, and you can keep adding new stories, and new people, but you have those players who have been there since the beginning, that are like, "I know this character to be this person. I know this story to be this." But then if you add something that contradicts that, people start getting confused and it starts feeling like, well, these people are just throwing stuff in and it doesn't feel coherent. It just feels like, you know, they're just trying to do whatever they want to do. And we understand, cause we have these players, a lot of them have been with us four years – those from the 1.0 era, the original era, have been with us six years. These players have a lot of time sinked into these games. Unlike an offline game where you'll play and it will be 30-40 hours, 60 hours, 100 hours, a lot of our players will play a hundred hours in a month, and over the lifetime of Final Fantasy, they may have put in literally weeks, months of their time in this world. And so they know this world like they know Earth. So when you start making things that don't make sense, things that contradict each other, it pulls those players out of the world. "This doesn't make sense. What's going on here?" So, trying to make sure that everything's consistent and, as the game gets bigger and bigger, the people that work on the lore itself, people like me and the lore creator Oda-san on the Japanese side, it's just making sure that everything is consistent, and when we add a new quest, we add a new story line, we add a new concept, we add a new character, that those characters and those things aren't going to overlap and contradict. We can't do any ret-cons. That's the worst thing. I mean we've had to do it in the past where we just painted ourselves in a corner and couldn't get out, and the director's like, "I want to do this," and we're like, "But we can't!" "But you should do it anyway!" And so we have to explain our way out of it. But every time you do that, it pulls the player out. Immersion is the biggest thing, especially for a lot of MMO players, because they're in the world so much.
MMORPG: Yeah you were talking about those 100 hours. That's pretty impressive. Those people who are constantly playing, are they the ones that are pushing you guys to get more stuff out there?
KF: Definitely. I mean, you look at play times and you realize how long a lot of the fans are in the game. They write stuff on the forums, they write their own blogs, and we talk to them at fan festivals, and we have these people that yes, this is part of their lives and we have to create something that will meet those expectations. So it keeps us on our toes, definitely.