Final Fantasy XIV Interview — Writing and Localizing One of the Best Final Fantasy Stories of All Time
Main Scenario Lead Writer Natsuko Ishikawa and Localization Lead John Crow talk about the Story and translation of Final Fantasy XIV.
Final Fantasy XIV has a fantastic story, which found a climatic point in the latest expansion Stormblood. Recently, DualShockers had a chat with Main Scenario Lead Writer Natsuko Ishikawa and Localization Lead John Crow, and we were able to ask them about their feelings on writing the narrative and localizing it for the English audience.
They talked about the past and the future, giving us a glimpse of what players new and old can find in the story of one of the most successful and storytelling-rich MMORPGs of all time.
Jordan: Japanese is a very difficult language to localize obviously especially puns tend to be pretty challenging. What’s the hardest pun that you’ve ever had to localize?
John Crow: First of all, I don’t like puns personally and I tend not to put them in. Pretty much over the course of the time I’ve worked on XIV its never really been like “oh this is an obvious pun in Japanese that I need to render it in English” so I can’t really speak to puns specifically. But I can say that the most difficult thing that I ever had to localize for XIV to date was probably The Greatest Story Never Told quest, and I don’t know if you remember that or if you played it yourself but it was the first exploration quest that we introduced back in the 2.X series and it had no duty list entries telling you where to go or what to do. It was all puzzles and riddles.
Many of them were puzzles that were constructed to play off the way of the Japanese language itself. One section I just couldn’t translate. It was just a bunch of Kanji and even though the writer of that particular quest gave us the answers and explained how everything’s supposed to be done, I just couldn’t make a riddle out of it in English, it didn’t work, as it was a purely Japanese linguistic thing. So that kind of sucked.
J: When you hit that wall how do you present that to the development team?
JC: Well that’s a fairly unique situation because it was a puzzle and it only works in Japanese. There’s no other way to write it. We explained to the development team at the time that this was going to take several times longer than usual, and they understood that. Any time we have a quest like that, now they’ve made a point of not having the solution of the puzzle itself being rooted in unique Japanese linguistic works.
J: Ishikawa-san, as a writer are there any other works of fiction that inspired you while you were writing Stormblood, from movies to tv shows, manga, or even games?
Natsuko Ishikawa: It’s interesting because Square Enix games tend to always have this sort entity like an empire, fighting against an empire, or something similar. I’ve played a whole lot of Square games throughout my childhood and I feel that I’ve absorbed those different games through my early formative years. That being said, I’ve added my own twist to things in Final Fantasy XIV.
J: Was there any specific Square Enix title that touched you in particular that makes you say that?
NI: You might actually see a reference in Stormblood somewhere in the Doma region. Also, in the Omega raid, you’ll see some Final Fantasy VI. I didn’t try to mimic or copy anything from those games but there are references in these areas.
J: How far ahead have you guys planned the story at the moment? Have you started planning the next expansion?
NI: Well, of course, we do plan things pretty well in advance as far as how we’re going to take the story moving forward. Whether that is for the upcoming patch update or there is going to be an actual expansion, I’m afraid we’re not able to comment at this point.
JC: Yeah, I think in any type of ongoing story that we do be it the 2X, 3X, or 4X series we have a clear progression of plot outlines so that we can use those for reference when we decide how to approach it, so that we have a clear endpoint in mind so if anything comes up that we’re not entirely sure about we can also consult with our co-workers. At the moment we’re primarily focused on individual patchwork and we’re not doing any detailed writing for 5.0.
J: Many Final Fantasy stories have a point in which basically everything gets overthrown and most of what the player believed about the world is revolutionized and turns out to be deception of some sort. Is there something like that in the plans for the game?
NI: You might be familiar with Final Fantasy XIV being relaunched as A Realm Reborn. Since then we have had two expansion packs but before then we also had what we call the previous version before the realm had to be destroyed and reborn. In that history, we had a foundation for what our lore is based upon but there are certain elements that we have yet to tap into, stuff that we have not delved into the details yet. Players might have experienced the realm of Eorza, the world of Hydaelyn, and it might seem to them almost as second nature. This is where I am. There could be potential there that might be overthrown but we can’t say right now.
J: To go back to the story. Without saying who, are there any more relevant characters in the story that we think is dead but might not actually be dead.
NI: Any information that we delve into could potentially be a spoiler that might reveal something that’s very crucial. I’m afraid we can’t go into that much detail. That being said, in our lives, at times people die and sometimes there are people we think are dead but are not.
JC: That happens every day right? (laughs) But yeah, I think that if anybody suddenly dies or if anybody suddenly comes back, whatever happens, we will strive to write it and make it work in a matter that isn’t completely unjustified. But yeah, we can’t really say anything else.
J: Are there any characters in particular that you think are easier to write in Final Fantasy XIV? Which characters are the most challenging for you? Are there characters that are harder to localize because of the way they present themselves or the way they speak?
JC: Certainly, but some of that is self-imposed. Any character from 1.0, because we had some of the initial characterizations developed for different regions, they were very specialized. Anybody that played 1.0 back in Limsa Lominsa remembers the really heavy h-dropping Lominsan dialect which is extremely difficult to write and read.
Then there’s a number of characters who are extremely verbose or speak in higher archaic registers because you have to respect that characterization and you can’t really redo it. Whenever Urianger comes up I have to take an extra two or three times longer to write his lines, and then I mess half of them up. So that kind of sucks.
But newer characters tend to be easier to write just because we’ve had less time with them and we have more time to develop them from scratch. We also have a better sense of who we want them to be. In recent times, with 3.0 and especially 4.0, we’ve gone into different places and met new characters, we’ve made a more concerted effort to have a slightly lighter dialect, not quite modern but not quite as archaic as some of the stuff we’ve done in the past.
NI: From a scenario writing perspective, since I’m very invested in all of the characters I write, I pour myself into the different characters I introduce. I can’t really pinpoint which one is easier or harder, I really feel that there isn’t really any single character that’s easier to write for. Even for the Chocobos that appear, sometimes we have footnotes that say the Chocobos are expressing themselves in a certain emotional state. In that situation, I put myself in Chocobo shoes and try and write from that perspective as well.
J: Will we see more of Sadu and Magnai in the future? Those characters seem to be really made for each other. Do you think you’ll be using them again in the future?
NI: All I can say to that is we’ll be able to let you know in the very near future.
J: Beloved characters Ysayle and Haurchefant have left a really strong impression among the fans. Have you guys ever thought about bringing them back in the same form, through flashbacks maybe?
NI: If it’s required by the story narrative that we recall these characters maybe there might be a need for them to sort of reappearing in like a flashback of sorts. But the battles that they faced throughout Heavensward all came to an end at patch 3.3 and we really believe that we’ve provided them with a resolution. So beyond that point, we feel that there might not be many opportunities to have a flashback or recollection of those characters.
JC: I think that the sacrifice of those characters, the loss of them in 3.0 and eventually that moment that I think sticks with everybody at the end of 3.3, definitely seemed like a good point of closure. We have those web stories offering a little more insight and the circumstances of who they were and their journey from beginning to end. But ya know, while I think that it’s great that those characters really resonated with a lot of people, I’m not sure how much more we could do to add to their story in a meaningful fashion. Again, we’ll see what happens.
J: What would you both say that the most relevant theme of Stormblood going forward is?
NI: So with Stormblood, speaking of the base part of that expansion pack, the theme there is sort of liberation of the two regions Doma and Ala Mhigo from the oppression of the Garlian empire. That being said, these two regions had been dominated for 20 plus years so some generations have been born under the influence of the empire. So it’s not just as simple as going in to defeat the empire and everything is a happy ending. So throughout the patch series of the Stormblood expansion, we’re trying to depict that it’s not a simple matter of defeating the bad guys for a happy ending.
JC: Freedom isn’t really an end. It’s what you do with it afterward that matters, and I think that the remainder of the 4 series is going to continue to explore what that means and what can be done with it.
JB: Could you both describe what working with Director Naoki Yoshida is like? Is he very demanding of you guys?
JC: Only good things! (laughs)
NI: Yoshida-san is very high in the ranks of the company but at the same time, he is a game developer, a game creator through and through. So looking him as a colleague and someone who’s a part of the game creation process, he’s just like any other game creator. Sometimes I forget his rank so I end up being pretty harsh in my own language when I talk to him.
JC: What I appreciate about him is that he definitely has a clear idea of what he wants and the direction that he wants to proceed with. He’s not afraid to put that out there. He asks a lot of us and the team as a whole but when you look at the results that we’ve achieved, we’re absolutely okay with it. Because it’s one thing to have somebody that tells you to do studd without knowing what it’s for.
On the other hand, we know what it’s for, and we’ve seen the results of it over the years. It’s tough to keep up with a very aggressive development schedule and always having to hit these deadlines to get patches and expansions out on time. But yeah, it’s an extremely rewarding thing, I think, to work with him. I also appreciate that you always know when he’s coming, because you always hear the boots and the jewelry. He doesn’t sneak up on you, which I appreciate.
NI: They must be kilograms in weight. (laughs)
J: What are the biggest challenges writing a story that is still based on 1.0, that is basically a completely different game?
NI: Of course we have carried over some of the settings and lore that was established in the old version. But we did come to a decision that it had to be demolished and reborn as A Realm Reborn. So there were elements in there that needed to be purged so to speak and some things that should not be in existence at that point. We are very careful in establishing which elements need to go, which do we take and carry over or reinterpret, or interpret as new elements, and bring it into A Realm Reborn and beyond. We’re very mindful of how we choose which elements are necessary to go forward with.
JC: There’s a tremendous sense of history that endures all the way back to 1.0, and we try to keep track of all that and to keep as much of it in our head as possible, but also we utilize the tools that we have to try and search everyone’s dialog and search all the old quests. So we can say oh this person had this type of personality, and said this thing, so if we decide to bring them back or reference their past actions and we can try to render it accurately. Mistakes happen but you’ve gotta try. It is tough, I don’t think anyone has the whole world in their head. Maybe some of our fans do more than us, but jeez, I don’t know.
J: Do you guys have any message to fans that have loved and continue to love the story in Final Fantasy XIV?
NI: Of course, there are so many different games that are created in Japan and it’s very unique with Final Fantasy XIV that so many times we’ve had members of the development staff — not just our director and producer, Yoshida-san — come to North American media events and opportunities, and I think that goes to show how much support we’ve received from the players in North America. We would love to encourage those players that have been following us to continue enjoying the realm of Final Fantasy XIV, if there’s anything that you notice whether it be good or bad please let us know. We would love to continue this conversation and build XIV together. If I could also plug the free trial, make sure you invite your friends to play as well, that’d be great!
JC: I like to think that it’s a very long and engaging story. I know it can sometimes seem daunting to keep up with it all, but it’s possible. With 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 we had new starting points for someone to come in and we’ve often likened it to television series like the second season, third season, and fourth season, and I think that’s a good way to describe it because we often introduce a larger cast of characters so even if you get the ones you know and love, they’ll be facing a new overarching conflict and new dilemmas, usually in a new situation.
The old story is still there if you want to go back and see what happened and what led up to it. I think that even with 4.0, you can come in fresh and still get the feeling of what everyone is about and then just pick it up from there and engage with it. The first time Zenos comes out and kicks your ass it’s like “oh-oh, I’m going to remember that guy.” Hopefully, when you see what we’ve got in store for you in 5.0 and 6.0 and everything else, it’ll have the same sort of impact for people from the very first moment. That’s what we try to achieve.
The game is currently available for PS4 and PC, and you can grab a copy of the game you can do so on Amazon.
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