Here’s another interview with Director Mizuki Ito and Associate Director Yoji Fujito on the celebration of the 10th anniversary of FINAL FANTASY XI. We asked them about some of their favourite memories and background stories on the project.
When XI was released back in 2002, did you ever think the service would continue this long? What are your thoughts on the amazing achievement of having so many fans united in celebrating its 10th birthday?
ITO: There wasn’t a single member of the dev team who expected this project to continue for as long as a decade, so we feel especially grateful to everyone who has played and supported FFXI over the years. To mark the occasion of XI’s 10th anniversary, we wanted to give back something special, a new disc to play. We really appreciate the level of support that gave us the opportunity to create this new expansion pack. Once again we’d like to sincerely thank everyone for making all of this possible.
FUJITO: I’d like to say thank you to each and every player out there. I didn’t particularly aim to carry on this project for such a long time, but looking back it’s more like these last 10 years have simply gone by very quickly. To endure for 10 years is something that all MMORPGs should aim. However, when FINAL FANTASY XI started up, there were no other games at the time you could compare it to and MMOs in general were also quite scarce. Personally then, it was like running a marathon without a goal in sight and not knowing how long to run for. Having received so many kind words from so many players at the 10th anniversary mark, the situation now feels like rows of spectators watching the race and cheering us on at the halfway point.
In the past 10 years, what were your best and worst moments while working on this project?
ITO: I joined the project about 11 years ago. At the time, I had just begun my career as a planner and was struggling on a daily basis to create large-scale path data for monsters to move around in certain areas. This was my only task right up to the day FINAL FANTASY XI launched. Even now if I notice monsters taking the long way round a landform while playing, I find myself saying, ‘Ah, the topography wasn’t connected up properly’ and regretting that decision. Creating large-scale path data was hard work, but also proved to be a good experience. Now any feature that requires a tremendous amount of data feels like light work in comparison to path data. As the saying goes, ‘Spare no effort while you are young’ which definitely seems true in my case.
FUJITO: My position within the team was always a Jack of all trades without being assigned to any particular role like battle or event planning. On account of this, I was always worried what my precise role was in the team and whether or not I was needed at all until I got involved with creating in-game content. Actually, I’m still in a similar situation now. That said, I’ve noticed that some tasks like supervising and balancing the team, encouraging staff from time to time and fine-tuning features during the last stage are things only I can do. My unique position is to ‘fill in the gaps that exist in the team’ without being limited in any way, so I really enjoy what do. In a way, my job is to link to every aspect of game development together.
What is your favourite add-on/scenario?
ITO: I’d have to say Abyssea. The Abyssea Trilogy was the first scenario I was allowed to direct, plan and create features and data for all by myself since first joining the FFXI Dev team. Abyssea brought a new sense of gameplay and flair that hadn’t been seen before in the game. I believe the trilogy proved and showed off to players exactly what our game was capable of.
FUJITO: I had fun when we created Abyssea as I had a chance to try out various experiments, such as how quests and achievements are introduced in the style sported by the game now. I also designed Chocobo-related content for “Treasures of Aht Urhgan,” which was a fun scenario to work on.
Do you have a favourite NPC in the game? If so, which one is it and why?
ITO: My favourite characters are Prishe and Selh'teus. At the time, I was in charge of most of the scenarios and battles for “Chains of Promathia.” We had already decided that Prishe should appear during the final showdown as a battle NPC. You can see her daring behaviour in this scenario reflected in her actions which become progressively spectacular. On the other hand, it would have been out of character for Selh'teus not to be cool and stoic, so the key was to make him attack with large, powerful strikes. In order to let the connection between Prishe & Selh'teus and the players evolve naturally, we made sure these characters were skilfully incorporated into the game to make the battle something new and the success of this was a result of the two characters working with the players in the story.
FUJITO: I would have to pick Trion from San d’Oria. I can’t say he is my favourite in particular, but I just like him and his siblings as they make me feel at ease. They have their own room and garden, so I see them as the boy/girl next door type of characters with the sense of intimacy that goes with that. Especially the setting about the Her Majesty’s Garden was used for the small Mithra and old Elvaan at Carpenter's Landing.
Are there any NPCs the dev team has a "special relationship" with? Maybe you can share a funny background story?
ITO: I would say the Moogles. Kouichi Ishii, the first FFXI director, came up with these characters and they are the mascots of the FF series. They are also the characters featured in the FF 25th Anniversary logo. In FFXI, they demonstrated various abilities throughout the additional scenarios and really came into their own. The Moogle Suits we made for the Vanafest stamp rally freebies probably made a deep impression on the developers. In actual fact, the Moogle Suits designed during the test phase were supposed to have a dirty, worn out texture to add a touch of realism but looked like something out of a horror film, so we gave them a brand new look instead.
FUJITO: It would have to be the Moogles for me too. They are the only direct link with the actual system. We recently implemented some new Moogle settings such as “Kupofried,” but we don’t want to overly restrict how Moogles behave. Actually, that’s a bit of a contradiction as it was me who started imposing these restrictions on Moogles!
If there was one thing that you could change in FINAL FANTASY XI, what would it be?
ITO: The goddess Altana only created 5 races and it would have been nice to do more with this premise. This design is at the very basis of how the world is presented, so unfortunately we can’t introduce new races… Adding new races would upset the balance of the world and it would be costly from a development perspective as we’d also need to build all the equipment for these new races, but at the very least this aspect could have benefitted from a little more flexibility.
FUJITO: Thinking back to when we first started the game, I would like to have seen more gameplay that caters to single players. I’m talking about the “3 Nation” missions in particular as perhaps it would’ve been better if you could play all the way up until the Shadow Lord, regardless of your job. We also got universal feedback saying that Synergy should have been made easier for the player. I would also prefer to make Evolith easier to understand by completely changing the system here. Speaking of which, I’d love to see a small increase in movement speed as well as in the battle tempo, especially to make fighting smaller mob enemies a little more fun… the list goes on.
How do you feel about the changes the game has gone through with every new expansion pack?
ITO: We can feel the pressure of mounting expectations each time the game increases in scope. However, being able to deliver something interesting to the players helps alleviate this pressure. One problem that comes to mind is the passage of time. It applies to me as well, but as players get older they have less time for their hobbies and since MMOs are games that demand a large investment of time, it really makes me think how we need to change our game in order for those players to continue playing the game.
FUJITO: Although we derive a great deal of pleasure from introducing new features, it’s also painful for us when various circumstances get in the way and prevent us from being able to successfully revamp some of the older features. Revamping these features is something we are focusing on now and we’d like to reclaim in order for users to have more fun to play.
Do you have any plan to raise the level cap past 99 or create something like a merits point system in the future for developing characters?
ITO: We are not planning to raise the level cap but do intend to develop a system to enhance job abilities, merit points or other systems, at a later date. As we still have outstanding important job and battle adjustments to make, for the time being we’re aiming to expand areas not related to levelling.
What kind of influence has FINAL FANTASY XI had on the FF series?
ITO: Every entry in the FF series is premised on the idea of being the best game at the time, so it’s difficult to measure what has influenced the series overall. As to what influence FFXI has had, the main factor could be the fact that the game is the first FF game that Producer Tanaka, who was one of the founders of the FF series, managed to replicate the detailed world of FF in 3D. I am one of those people who was really impressed by this.
FUJITO: FF games until now have been developed with the philosophy of taking the best parts from previous games and integrating them into the new ones. I’d say we’ve been continuing to develop games that give the players the best possible experience each time and this could be the “influence” you mean if we were to somehow extract the essence from FINAL FANTASY XI.
Do you have a message for all the fans celebrating the 10th anniversary? We are also looking forward to next year’s FFXI 11th anniversary!
ITO: As a developer I feel incredibly proud to be able to usher in the 10th Anniversary. FFXI will become even more enjoyable over time and the world will be more beautiful than ever: let’s create this world together.
FUJITO: FINAL FANTASY XI wouldn’t have been able to continue for as long as it has if it were not for the support of the fans. Thank you so much! We have no doubt that, just as we’ve been doing all this time, we’ll be celebrating an 11th, 12th and many more anniversaries for this title in the future. We hope you continue playing and stay with us in the days ahead!