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 two of our interview with Koji Fox, the Co-Lead World and Lore Developer on the massively successful game.
Editor's Note: In case you missed Part 1 of our interview, you can check it out here.
MMORPG: So what's coming up next for the game and how does it fit into the history of the world?
KF: We just released Stormblood. Stormblood took us out of Eorzea over into the East, to the continent of Othard, and the island nation of Hingashi. The patches for this expansion, so the 4.x series as we call it – because Stormblood being 4.0, we have our 4.1, 4.2, and so on – are going to go into explaining more of this Eastern continent and the cultures over there. The cultures of Hingashi, the cultures of the Azim Steppe, and the Xaela tribes that live on the steppe. It'll go more into the background of these people and what kind of conflicts they have. We're also going to explore more about the Garlean Empire. In Stormblood, the Garlean empire is your opponent in both the East and in the West, in Ala Mhigo. You're having to liberate Ala Mhigo from the Garleans, so you learn more about the empire and what's going on there.
MMORPG: So what are your favorite tidbits, favorite pieces of lore? What fun facts do you have?
KF: Fun facts? Pieces of Lore?
MMORPG: This is going to be the money question right here. This is going to be the one that everyone's like "Whaaaat?"
KF: Well, I mean, I've said this in a lot of places. What I try to do is, I think lore should be everywhere. I like it when lore is everywhere. I mean the easiest way to get lore across is you have one character who does a lore dump and you get all this stuff about the story that you need, but it never seems really natural to do it that way, and to only get lore from those kind of places is not fun. I mean, I was really inspired by games such as the Demon Souls and Dark Souls series, about how they get across so much lore without doing lore dumps. I mean you see the stuff in item descriptions or you know, the little blurbs you get in the loading screens. That's where you're learning about stuff. You're learning about stuff everywhere. And so I go out of my way to – when doing item descriptions, or doing a description for a fish – I'll try to throw little bits of lore in there, little bits of things to flesh out the world and, you know, make it seem more alive. So I'll always throw in lots of little tidbits that I usually create on the spot there, and then I'll confirm it with the lore guys, like, "I kinda made this up. Is it okay to have it there?" and get my confirmation that way. But doing world building through that is always a lot of fun. So let's see, something I have that's interesting...
MMORPG: Okay. So you talked about creating lore in the world. How difficult is it to balance that sort of explorative world story with keeping people focused on the greater tale being told?
KF: While Stormblood and FF14 is a very open world – you can pretty much do what you want, there's still a guide there. We have our main scenario quests which guide you through the main scenario which is the meat of the story, the stuff we want you to know. And getting through that will unlock future stuff, so pretty much we guide everyone through that. There's lots of side quests as well, where you don't have to play them, but by playing them you can learn more about the world. And then, beyond that, like I mentioned before, you have little things like item descriptions or our little public battles, which we call The Fates. Those descriptions will tell a little story about something and getting a little more information from there. So we have the minimum amount of information that we require players to know, to know what's going on in the world – and that's the main scenario – and we require players to do that.
MMORPG: hat's kind of what's building them towards an endgame?
KF: Yes, towards the endgame. And then you have the stuff on the side, that most people play because they need it to level their characters, and that will tell more of the story to flesh it out. And then you have all of the ancillary stuff on the edge which will fill in even those holes. And then on top of that, you have stuff that we have on our public website, The Lodestone, where we have supplementary stories that we put up every now and again that will go even deeper into those tales. It's not information that's necessary to play the game, but it's for those people that want to get deeper into the lore. There's places where you can go into and find things. So putting lore everywhere in the game is what's important. You can't just have these empty areas with nothing in them. It's trying to pepper everything in there.
MMORPG: There's got to be a reason for a place to exist, otherwise it's just, "Why'd you put it there?"
KF: Exactly. And the other thing that I always focus on is making sure that all the information out there is not 100%. That, you know, if I go down and talk to someone on the street like, "Hey! Could you tell me the history of Abraham Lincoln?" You know, from his education, if he's not a history professor, he's going to have kind of a recollection of what he heard when he was in grade school and junior high, but he's not going to have the full picture. But it seems like in a lot of role playing games, you'll go into the world, and you'll talk to a guy in a bar, and he'll give you 100% accurate information, and that's what you'll use to do your next quest. And that doesn't seem very realistic, because a guy shouldn't know 100% of everything. You should have misinformation. And it's about gathering lot of bits of misinformation from a lot of people, putting them together, seeing what adds up, and then compiling the true story. And I kind of want to do that as well. So we throw in misinformation every now and then. Some guy will say, "Oh, that was a thousand years ago." Another guy will say, "Oh, that's 600 years ago." Another guy will say, "That's 800 years ago." It's like, okay, we know that it wasn't more than a thousand but it wasn't less than 500, and then you kind of just put information together that way.
MMORPG: Fake news.
KF: Well, I mean they kind of believe it's true, so for them it's not fake, but for the rest of us it's a perception... But yeah, little bits like that. I mean you're always going to have the dicks out there that are just going to give you lies because they just want to mess with your mind.
MMORPG: They just think it's funny.
KF: Yeah. And I think it's good to have those kinds of characters in there as well. I mean, you don't want to have every character be like that, because then it's like all of a sudden you have an experience where you're still trying to play a game to get to this endgame and you need accurate information. But if it's always 100% accurate it doesn't feel real anymore.
MMORPG: So when you see fans on forums talking about this lore, and talking about the history of it, do you ever see them get it wrong? Do you want to jump in like, "Actually, that guy was lying to you?"
KF: All the time. It's fun though, because a lot of the time you will throw out the misinformation, and people will latch on to that. Like, "Oh, this guy said this and this and this." But then you'll get the guys who, you know, read into it and say, "Well this guy's saying this, but this guy's saying this, so maybe it's this instead," and then you see people putting the pieces together and it's like, "Yes, that's exactly what I wanted them to do." So yeah, it's good. I mean if the players – especially the lore fiends – knew everything, then they wouldn't have fun anymore. I think a lot of them have fun speculating and trying to figure out all the mysteries and hints that we put in there. If everything was straight forward, then they'd just be compilers of information, and they wouldn't get to do the speculation, and speculation's half the fun.
MMORPG: Have you guys ever thought about putting out a compendium of the history?
KF: We did. I don't know if we have one here but it was released last year in October at the fan fest. It's called the Encyclopaedia Eorzea, and it's pretty much a compendium from the beginning up until patch 3.4.
MMORPG: So now you have to wait until you have enough for the second volume?
KF: Oh man. Making the first volume was a lot of work for both me and Oda-san. We did all the writing for it. It took us about six months to create, and that's while we're doing other work as well, so it's like six months of extra work. Ha ha ha. But it sold really well. I mean, we had to do multiple reprintings of it because it just kept selling out. It's got a lot of information in it.
MMORPG: So how hard is it for you guys to keep track? Do you ever have to remind Oda-san about anything?
KF: Yes. We're all human and there's a lot of information there, but it's good that we have a bunch of people in there that have been on the project since the beginning. And it's all about going to the person that knows best, and confirming, making sure that the lore decisions that are made aren't made by just one person and then thrown in the game. Usually there will be an idea from one person, and it will get run across another few, like myself or some of the other people that have been around the longest and understand the lore, and we'll give feedback. It's like, "Yeah, you want the character to do this, but remember back in patch 2.1, this character had a side quest here where he explained this, this, and this, so we should probably change this to this." I mean, the biggest thing is probably timelines. When you start, it's like, "Okay, this person did this thing one year ago, and then you have a new quest where he's doing something else a year ago. But if he's doing this this time, but he's doing this here, he couldn't do this. We need to change the timeline for this." We've gotten burned by timelines in the past, and so it's one of those things where you make sure that things line up.
MMORPG: What are you most excited for for fans for the future?
KF: We've only seen a fraction of Hydaelyn, the world. You have Eorzea, and now we've moved over to Otherd, and Hingashi. But you've only seen a little bit of Hingashi – just a city. You've only seen a little bit of two and a half areas of Otherd, but there's stuff on the world map. You have names on the world map but we haven't been there yet. There's the whole continent of Ilsabard and the Garlean Empire, and then you have a Western continent which we've never seen. You have a Southern continent in Meracydia which we haven't seen but we've talked about. There's still a lot of the world left, and we've only focused on one or two regions so far. So, you know, those hints that we've given, going in and expanding on those. All of the stuff that we're doing right now with Omega, and the Zodiark story. We're going to be spanning dimensions, space, time. I mean, we've opened the door for almost endless type of expansion. And just seeing how far we go with it. I mean, Final Fantasy, it's a fantasy series, and you know, you get stuff where it's like, "I can't believe it! We went to the moon! Oh my god! I didn't see that coming.” It's just one of those things that takes the fantasy to the extreme. Things you weren't expecting. And laying the foundation for that now and future expansions, future patches, just taking it somewhere the player wasn't imagining. When we first did our Stormblood release in Europe, where up until then everyone is saying, "Oh we're going to go to Ala Mhigo, yay! This is going to be great. It's a newer region in Eorzea, and now kind of spans over to Otherd." And everyone was like, "Ohmigod!" No one was expecting that, and it just kind of blew everyone away. Being able to do that, I think that's what us on the lore team and localization team, as well as producer/director Yoshida-san wants to do. He wants to do something that, while it feels familiar, it's going to blow away the fans because they weren't expecting it. Every time that you can create something the fans weren't expecting, but then embrace, is a big win.
MMORPG: Alright. Now your fun fact.
MMORPG: Refreshing juice. As one does after a hearty day of killing.
MMORPG: They might be having some on the adventure itself.
KF: Right. But we never got to mention that. And so, when we started with 14, it's like, are we going to have this same restriction? And we got told, "no, no, no. It's cool as long as the player doesn't drink alcohol and get powered up," because I think that's one of the ratings things. If you drink alcohol and get powered up, that automatically pushes your rating up because it makes alcohol good. But they said you could have alcohol in the game, you could have others drinking it, and you could talk about it. So, okay, we can finally have alcohol. So 2.0 was nothing but like, "How many alcohol references and stuff can I get in?" Cause in 11, I could never do this, but yes, now I can do it. And so, that's why we have like in La Noscea, we have the towns like Aleport and Wineport. We have these cities that are based around, there's a bunch of ale brewers here, and they use this to ship. And we have our vintners here in Wineport and all these different types of wine, and the Mun-Tuy berries in Gridania. You take the Mun-Tuy berries and you ferment it into lots of different things. You can ferment it into pastes to use in cooking, or you can ferment it into a brew that you use to get really happy. Being able to do this was the thing I had the most fun with. Like, getting to add all this stuff and then I'm gonna have this lore about this city, like these guys were brewers and then being able to name something off of that. So you have the big light house next to Aleport and we called it Brewer's Beacon because, you know, it's the beacon where the ships that would come in to trade in the ale to make sure they wouldn't crash on the rocks. You'd see Brewer's Beacon before you got into Aleport. Throwing all that stuff in was great. And the same thing with smoking. We didn't get to have smoking in FF11 either, but in 14 it's like, "Okay you can have it, but as long as it's just NPCs doing it, and not the player." So we have all of these people smoking and we had all these drugs that were being sold illicitly, and it was like, "Drugs and booze, yay! Finally!"
MMORPG: Now it's the real world.
KF: Now it's the real world. And so, having that stuff in there and being able to add it in, we still add a bunch of stuff like that as well. And then you know there's always of course the lewd references as well. I mean, Final Fantasy has always been a series for everyone, but with 14 and our age restriction you have to be a certain age to play, and you know our user base is just so mature. You know, a game that's being played by 90% or 99% adults, let's put in stuff that adults are going to like as well. So we put in a lot of suggestive stuff in there as well. So adding that to the world to make it feel like a mature world, but also feel like Final Fantasy, because if you go too far it's like, "Well Final Fantasy would never do that. Wow."
MMORPG: Yeah, definitely, You gotta have a little bit of that grit.
KF: Right? Right?