Interview: Lore development team

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Aetherflow – Winter 2018

As we ready up to become warriors of darkness and heed the call of the void, it seemed like the perfect time to dive deep into the complex and twisted lore of FFXIV. How do they come up with these epic storylines, our favorite characters and the ones that we’d like to punch in the face? We recently had the chance to talk to Banri Oda, the main scenario writer and Michael-Christopher Koji Fox, one of the translators and the co-lead world/lore developer. They told us everything we ever wanted to know about Eorzea’s folklore.

How much do the previous games influence the lore of FFXIV?

Banri Oda: I think it’s fair to say that they influence FFXIV quite a bit. With its constant updates, FFXIV perpetually remains a brand-new installment in the well-established series of Final Fantasy, and we’re keenly aware of that as we work.

It’s notable that final fantasy takes a lot of inspiration from folklore of different cultures (Odin, Lakshmi, etc.). How do you decide which to pull from and how to apply it?

BO: Folklore is usually incorporated in one of two ways. In some cases, our primary goal is to pull from older FINAL FANTASY titles. For instance, Scylla in the Crystal Tower alliance raid wasn’t added because we wanted something from Greek mythology, but rather because the dungeon’s theme is “FINAL FANTASY III.” This isn’t to say that mythology is ignored entirely that element is still incorporated into our Scylla’s backstory, in which she was originally a human woman, but has been transformed into a monster.

In other cases, like when we add new characters such as Susano, it’s most important that they fit with the existing setting and narrative. In choosing to draw upon the Susano that appears in Japanese myth, we considered what sort of god the sea-dwelling Kojin might worship, the Ruby Sea’s resemblance to the real-world Pacific, and the divinity’s connection with sacred relics, for instance.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that the storyline is written a year out, has there ever been a time when the storyline is written, and as you’re implementing it, you decided to change it last minute? If so, what could happen in development that could make you suddenly stop everything and make a change?

BO: The schedule for voice recording is extremely tight, so we never change the story at the last minute.

Koji Fox: Unlike non-voiced text (which is often tweaked until right before the patch), voiced text has to be fixed fairly early in the development process. This has to do with actor and studio availability, the time it takes to actually record the lines (which can fluctuate greatly depending on the difficulty of the dialogue, or importance of the scene), the time required for post-processing and implementation…not to mention the fact we have to somehow accomplish this simultaneously for four languages.

As retakes can be costly and time-consuming, we are pretty much locked into the storyline that was fixed before recording. If anything has to change, it needs to be done in the nonvoiced text, and even then, there is only so much that can be achieved without creating too much discrepancy between voice and non-voiced content. Long story short; once the recording is finished, the story is not changing.

Do you have the storyline written out, and then later flesh it out with more detail, or are you very strict with what must happen, who it happens to, and the general direction of the game?

BO: We start with general themes. For 3.0’s Heavensward, for instance, the concepts “set in Ishgard” and “a clash between dragon and man” were decided first. Then we come up with the general outline of the story, and fill in the details afterward.

KF: Yoshi-P has made it clear that previously established lore should not hinder our game creators from telling the story they want to tell. In other words, instead of the lore dictating the story, the story should dictate the lore. The broad strokes already in place are there as guides, but it is up to the lore team to figure out how to make each story work in the world we’ve created. Sometimes that means we need to create new rules or exceptions…and make sure that those work with what has come before. It’s during this process that a lot of the story is fleshed out.

Along with taking inspiration of folklore from different cultures, do you create FFXIV content with drawing real life parallels in mind? For example, the class differences in the foundation, the orphanage in Idyllshire, the widows and orphans fund in Rhalgr’s reach, etc.

BO: As you may have noticed, we often take inspiration from both historical and modern events. Our userbase is on the older side, and we can’t avoid drawing parallels to real events and social conditions if we’re going to create a story that’s convincing and realistic enough for adult players. We take care, though, to not use our game to push a specific political message. The game is set in a medieval European-style fantasy world, so if you think about it, some things that don’t at all reflect our modern values are bound to happen. We take that into consideration and make holistic decisions when outlining the story.

Throughout the storyline, you see a definitive separation of the races, with little to no overlap. There have been cases of orphaned children under the care of families that were not of the same race (such as Minfilia and her adoptive mother F’lhaminn), but only one story of an interracial child (Hilda Ware, in Heavensward). Will this be a more common occurrence in the future with the ongoing alliance?

BO: There are some interracial children aside from Hilda. Arenvald, for instance, is part Garlean, part Hyuran though he was an unwanted child, born between enemies rather than allies. I think that there are probably quite a few more children of mixed race out there.

Can you please end the argument once and for all – it is widely regarded that the Au Ra race is actually closely related to dragons, can you confirm this or do we have to purchase the second Encyclopedia Eorzea to find out?

BO: I don’t believe we’ve explicitly said that dragons and Au Ra are related, or put anything in the story to support that theory… In any case, no, they aren’t related. Miqo’te have catlike ears and tails, but they aren’t half-Hyur, half-cat, you know?

With the introduction to the Far Eastern lands (and the homestead of the Au Ra!) are there any locations on Hydaelyn, with landscapes we’ve not seen yet, and new races and cultures to be introduced to?

BO: In Return to Ivalice, players were introduced to the nation of Dalmasca and the Bangaa,─there may be more cases like that in the future.

With the recent addition of Doma and the city-state Ala mhigo, to the Eorzean alliance bringing the total members from four to six, are we seeing, on the horizon, a conclusion to the journey we’ve taken as the warrior of light?

BO: Just to clear up a slight misunderstanding: Doma is not part of the Eorzean Alliance. The Alliance is currently comprised of the five city-states of Limsa Lominsa, Ul’dah, Gridania, Ishgard, and Ala Mhigo. Anyway, as far as the Warrior of Light’s journey goes, I think that when it ends is up to each of you, rather than us!

If you could meet anyone from the world you created for an hour, who would it be and what would you talk about? (aside from the warrior of light, I’m asking the questions, here!)

BO: I would like to meet Matoya. She should know a lot about the world, meaning that if I asked her about things like history, legend, and aetherology, and took copious notes, I wouldn’t need to ruminate so much on the lore anymore!

KF: I would probably challenge Lominsan Admiral Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn to a drinking contest, much like the one held at Marion Ravenwood’s Nepalese tavern in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There would be people yelling and betting, lots of colorful comments about each other’s mothers, and I’d most likely end up on the losing end… Damn, what a glorious 15 minutes it would be.

Kaiser Roll

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