Final Fantasy XI Interview – Director and Producer Reveal Experiences and Hopes, Special Message to Western Fans
With the 18th anniversary of Final Fantasy XI, Director Yoji Fujito and Producer Akihiko Matsui look back and forward at the long-running MMORPG.
This year marks the 18th anniversary of Square Enix’s long running MMORPG Final Fantasy XI. To celebrate the incredible milestone, I was able to interview Director Yoji Fujito and Producer Akihiko Matsui and get some insight into both the past and present of the game, Fujito and Matsui’s history before they worked on FFXI, what the future entails for the title, as well as a special message to Western fans.
Allisa James: When you first started development for Final Fantasy XI did you ever think you’d see the game continue for eighteen years?
Yoji Fujito: When the FFXI team got together twenty years ago, we had no idea about anything that would happen that far into the future. All I knew at that time was how truly ecstatic I was to be able to work on developing an MMORPG, especially after having been inspired by Ultima Online. It never crossed my mind that I might find myself still working on that same game after all this time.
Akihiko Matsui: The overall direction from our producer at the time was that we’d be working on the project for a period of three to five years. However, I knew I needed to dedicate myself so that we could keep going for longer than that, and honestly, I did think that we could keep FFXI going as long as we did well. I feel that I can take pride in these results because they show how we as a team were able to create something very successful.
AJ: Can you describe your first experiences working on Final Fantasy XI when you joined the team? How have things changed over the years?
YF: Prior to working on FFXI, I had only worked on standalone, package (non-digital) titles, and with those games, the final stages of development were always filled with onslaughts of bug fixes and a rush to make final tweaks and adjustments. In working on FFXI, it was truly revolutionary at the time to be able to apply changes even after release by pushing out patches.
With physical package games, all of those final adjustments I mentioned are set in stone once the final build is created, and there were times when I was left lamenting certain things after the fact. We’re now in an age where it’s normal for even just your standard package game to receive bug fixes or additional content later on through patches. I think it just goes to show how times have changed.
AM: I remember back when we were in the beta testing phase when we were beginning to see a lot of the overall game take shape, there was a time when other development team members would come to discuss the battle system quite often, keeping me from making progress on my own work.
Developers are gamers themselves, after all, so I completely understand that feeling. At the same time, I was also in crunch mode and still had things left to do. It ended up that I would have no choice but to start going into the office at night and going home in the morning to be able to focus, and I kept that lifestyle up for a while. It was exhausting, so I won’t be doing that anymore.
AJ: What are some unique or interesting experiences you’ve had with developing and maintaining Final Fantasy XI? Are there any stories that come to mind that stick out in your memory?
YF: Two things come to mind here: Content that the development team creates will not always be played or experienced by the players in the exact way they envisioned. The economy of an in-game world actually ends up mimicking the characteristics of real-world economies quite a bit.
AM: This may not be what the question was getting at, but a lot of people who I’ve had the chance to work with from other companies, as well as other departments within our own company, now introduce themselves to me by saying that they used to be an FFXI player or that they are a current FFXI player. I try not to show it on my face, but honestly, it makes me very happy.
AJ: Can you share any insight on the reasoning behind including a mechanic that had players lose EXP and even level down when dying?
AM: This type of system was adopted mainly due to concerns that players could potentially harass others by intentionally KO’ing their own character if there was no risk associated with doing so. There were also others on the team who felt it was necessary for different reasons as well. That said, looking back on it now, I do feel bad that the penalty was more severe than was probably necessary.
AJ: Do you have any plans to revisit the various jobs and re-balance them in any way? Do you feel the current balance suits the gameplay you are hoping to bring players in Final Fantasy XI?
YF: I don’t think there will ever come a day that we feel like we’re done balancing the game. This is because the degree to which a job is needed is determined by whether that job possesses the skills and abilities required to get through in-game content, and also because player trends change. Therefore, sometimes we’ll directly adjust jobs if necessary, while in other instances we’ll modify the game content in order to achieve balance.
As far as our current balance goes, in general I feel there are no issues other than continuing to work on tweaking what would be considered endgame content.
AM: We adjust balance whenever necessary. There are many cases where issues stem from outside of the jobs themselves—for example, whether particular jobs can perform well when playing the most popular content at any given time. The game’s system is one that allows players to change jobs, so rather than making rigorous adjustments to ensure that the battle abilities for all the jobs are evenly matched with each other, what we prioritize most is that each job is fun and offers its own unique qualities in gameplay.
AJ: I’m aware you can’t comment on the current status of the mobile FFXI version still in development with NEXON. However, in a more general sense, can you speak on how the concept of a mobile title for FFXI came about in the first place?
YF/AM: Unfortunately, as this is a collaborative effort with Nexon, we are not able to provide any comments regarding this.
AJ: Are there any plans to bring Final Fantasy XI to other consoles such as PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X in any form?
AM: Considering the resources currently available to the FFXI team, rather than expanding to new consoles I would prefer to dedicate our efforts toward creating robust and fun content that will continue to provide for our current player base, but also be available to newcomers. With this in mind, we have no active plans for those particular consoles. However, it is never completely off the table, and if we do continue to see a strong demand from our players, we will of course consider.
AJ: Is there one feature or mechanic that you and the team always wanted to implement in FFXI, but couldn’t because it wasn’t feasible or workable? Any job classes that you wanted to add but weren’t able to?
YF: I wanted to provide a customizable UI system. This had actually progressed as far as play testing, but at that stage we encountered a flood of concerns surrounding maintenance costs on both the development side and for the end user (cost in the sense of time for the latter). Due to these fairly large increases as a whole, we ultimately decided to not pursue it any further.
I also wanted to include some kind of setup that would allow you to own your own physical house, but it seemed like Vana’diel might end up becoming covered with adventurers’ residences if we did, so we decided to go with the Mog House instead.
AM: I wanted to include a feature that would trigger whenever a player did something incredibly impressive like defeating a powerful nemesis or crafting a high-difficulty level item. A bard would sing a song praising your feat, and it would be heard by players all around the in-game world.
Imagine if you defeated a dragon, and if other players knew about it before you ever told them: “Hey, you’re that person the bard was singing about, aren’t you?” That’s the epitome of what I think it would be like living in a fantasy world! I’ve still always wanted to include this feature, and I’ve already thought of how I could implement it, but it’s so low on the list of priorities… (cries)
AJ: In regards to the North American community in particular, it seems additional efforts have been made such as the PAX 2020 meetup. Would you say you are continuing to try and do more for the NA community, and are there any plans in mind for the future?
AM: Over the past several years, players in the west have been returning to FFXI, and as a result, we’ve been able to get more staff members who serve as the point of contact for western players. If you don’t mind that it’s just Fujito and me, we’d love to come say hello anytime, so please don’t hesitate to let us know!
AJ: Is there anything else you want to say to the Final Fantasy XI community?
YF: I was looking forward to seeing everyone at PAX East 2020, which would have been my first event in North America since I went to talk about MMM (Moblin Maze Mongers) for the Wings of the Goddess expansion, so it was very unfortunate that it had to be canceled due to effects of COVID-19. Once the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, and if people are still interested, I’d love to get another opportunity to visit, so I’m going to do my best to keep the flames of FFXI burning bright until then!
AM: The western community has become increasingly more vibrant thanks to all the supportive players out there. Same as always, I want to keep implementing content worth challenging, while also keeping in close communication with you all. Thank you for all your support.
Today marks the 18th anniversary of #FFXI! Thanks for the amazing support all these years! 🎉🥳
— FINAL FANTASY XI (@FFXI_EN) May 16, 2020