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PAX East 2018 - Natsuko Ishikawa on Creating Epic Stories

Robin Baird Posted:
Interviews 0

During PAX East this past weekend I had the opportunity to interview Natsuko Ishikawa, Lead Main Scenario Writer, and John Crow, Localization Lead, and delve a bit more into the process of creating the story in Stormblood and maybe some glimpses of where they are planning on going to in the future content releases. I should mention we did talk about specific storylines in Stormblood and about some optional questlines with major events, so if you have not finished the main storyline or some key side quests there will be spoilers.

One of the first things we talked about was the process of how they create a story which will come across similarly to both players who have the language on Japanese and players who have it set to English. One of the first things Crow pointed out was they focus more on trying to convey the concepts talked about rather than a direct translation. Often a word for word translation will be incomprehensible or won’t convey the ideas or thoughts they are trying to get across so it’s not very useful.

This might seem counter intuitive but the reason it works this way is because languages aren’t often one to one with word meanings. There’s no one sitting in a room somewhere writing new languages for the world by making direct translations. Languages are organic and arise out of their local environment and culture. Because of this, languages are often messy and adding to this confusion words have connotations in addition to their definitions and that must be taken into consideration.

Another interesting point Crow made was they don’t wait for the dialogue to be 100% set before they start working on the translations. If they waited for dialogue to be set before they started work, it would take twice as long to get content out to the players. Since they are trying to convey the same concepts and emotions, and they can constantly confer with one another, they can work on dialogue and text at the same time to ensure they cohesively get it right. This is further enabled by the fact Crow and Ishhikawa sit next to each other in the office so there is not real barrier if they need to talk about something.

In talking with Ishikawa, she mentioned one of her main goals in writing the main scenario quests was to really convey the complex nature of liberation and how it isn’t an easy process to go through. Some people have characterized this as liberation not being completely 100% a good thing, which is a bit of a mischaracterization. They weren’t trying to convey the idea that freeing people can be bad, but more the idea if you’ve lived your whole life under someone else’s control suddenly having your freedom can be scary. There all kinds of issues which will arrive and forging your own path, both as an individual and as a country, is no easy feat.

After talking about their goals for the Stormblood expansion story I also asked them if they could give me any hints about where the story will be going to from here. Unfortunately, but also predictably, they were not at liberty to discuss any specifics about where the story will be heading now. Ishikawa did however offer a bit of a tease to me. She said they have already started foreshadowing the next major parts of the story and the conclusion of the Doma and Yotsuyu storyline specifically hints at it. My guess is we haven’t seen the last of Yotsuyu and she may even get her memories back.

Another topic we discussed where the questlines of the Warring Triad and the Coil of Bahamut and if we’d see those story threads picked up in main quests. One thing Ishikawa was very clear on was the fact there wouldn’t be any quests as a direct sequel to those two questlines. However, we will see the results of those questline pop-up in other quests we do. So, for example there may be a moment we meet of up with a Scion for something and it will be Unukalhai (I should be clear though this is my example not one she gave).

The last major thing we discussed was if we would see more Alisaie and Lyse spending time together and just enjoying each other’s company. Both Ishikawa and Crow expressed their love for both characters with Ishikawa specifically saying she really enjoys the big sister/little sister relationship they have going. Doing more with both characters is something they would like to do. However, this sort of content, the slice of life type of stuff, can be difficult to work in when you are also dealing with such big and sweeping storylines. They want to do it in a way which makes sense and feels natural and doesn’t feel like a distraction from the main story. So sadly, we may have to wait awhile for more of them.

The last thing I asked both of was to choose their favorite characters. Crow said that he always enjoys writing villains because they are a lot of fun. However, if he had to choose he’d go with Hilda and Arenvald. The reason for picking these two is as mixed-race characters he really identifies with them and understands a lot of what they go through regarding that.

Ishikawa was a bit more reluctant to pick one character saying it was a lot like choosing her favorite child, which is sort of the point. I haven’t met many writers who don’t love all their characters to some degree. After thinking about it for a bit though she said her favorite character would have to be Alisaie because she thinks of her as a little sister.


Robin Baird

Robin loves RPGs, MMOs, JRPGs, Action, and Adventure games... also puzzle games... and platformers... and exploration games... there are very few games she isn't interested in. When it comes to MMOs she focuses on WoW and GW2 but will pick-up other games as they catch her fancy. She's a habitual returner to FFXIV because that game is an all-around great MMO.