WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL
#2 Yosuke Saito Part 1

“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI).

For our second guest, we invited Yosuke Saito, the original producer of Dragon Quest X Online (DQX) and a fellow adventurer in FFXI. In this four-part conversation, he shares his many memories and adventures in Vana’diel, as well as his own style as a game producer. Let’s dive right in!

Yosuke Saito

Square Enix Executive Director involved in various projects, including the NieR series and the virtual idol group Gems Company.
Producer of Dragon Quest X Online from the beginning of development until 2018.
He is currently the Producer of BABYLON’S FALL developed by Platinum Games.

Enjoying FFXI to the point of wanting to become Producer

  • Originally, Mr. Matsui had joined the company formerly known as Square, and Mr. Saito had joined the company formerly known as Enix. The two companies have merged since then, but how were you acquainted?

  • Saito

    In terms of meeting in person, I think we dined out together a few times around when Mr. Matsui took over as FFXI Producer? Truth be told, I’d wanted to be the Producer of FFXI.

  • Matsui

    Really? (laughs)

  • Saito

    But I have strong feelings towards FFXI, so I doubt I’d get any work done even if I became the Producer. (laughs)

  • Anything from you, Mr. Matsui?

  • Matsui

    Back when Square and Enix merged in 2003, I was still an underling and my understanding was that Mr. Saito was at a similar position in the company as Mr. Tanaka (Hiromichi Tanaka, original producer of FFXI). You could say I was nervous about approaching him. When my wife and I began playing World of Warcraft* (WoW), Mr. Saito told me “We have a Square Enix guild,” and invited me to his guild. I don’t think we actually ever played together, but from what I heard in the guild, Mr. Saito seemed very friendly and also very busy. I got the impression that he was fully devoted to both work and gaming.

    * World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released by Blizzard Entertainment.
  • Saito

    The WoW guild was led by Sage Sundi (FFXI Global Online Producer at the time) and other members included Bucco (Toshio Murouchi, FFXIV Global Community Producer) and Yokozawa (Tsuyoshi Yokozawa, FFXIV Lead Battle System Designer). We did hardcore raiding with the members of that guild, but as the tank of the group, I sometimes got angry with DPS members when they made mistakes. (laughs) But for the most part, I recall us playing together harmoniously.

  • Matsui

    I hadn’t reached max level yet, so I didn’t join them for raids. I just went about on my adventures and greeted fellow guild members whenever we bumped into each other.

  • Sounds like Mr. Saito is the type of person that gets really absorbed in something.

  • Saito

    Yes, I get completely absorbed once I start a game. Since I talk about games all the time, people might say, “Do you even work at all?” (laughs wryly)

  • Matsui

    Well, it’s part of our job. (laughs)

  • Saito

    My job can get fairly busy, but I guess I just like games. Recently I’ve been playing Monster Hunter Rise, but I was Hunter Rank 200 before I knew it. When Monster Hunter Rise was released, I had my hands full with the release of NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139... and operations for NieR Re[in]carnation, so I figured it was a bad time to start a new game and put it off for a while. Then things settled down and I felt it was okay to start playing. I play the gathering hub quests on my own, but before I knew it, I ended up at my current rank. (laughs)

  • Matsui

    Those of you currently playing Monster Hunter Rise probably never imagined that Mr. Saito could one of the hardcore hunters in your gathering hub. (laughs)

  • Next, I’d like to ask about Mr. Saito’s experiences with FFXI. From what I’ve heard, you’ve been playing FFXI since the day it was released.

  • Saito

    Technically, I was there since the day of release. On the first day of service, I couldn’t connect to PlayOnline, so I contacted Square’s customer support but couldn’t reach them either. (laughs) I had to go to work, so I gave up on logging in that day. When I finally made it to Vana’diel, I think it was maybe two or three days later.

  • At the time, you were already involved with game development at Enix, but were you keeping an eye on FFXI?

  • Saito

    Around that time, I was working on an online PC game called CrossGate. There weren’t many MMORPGs at the time, and I was amazed to see a game in the genre from a series as significant as FINAL FANTASY, and just had to try it out. My feelings of “I need to play it for work,” were maybe like 20%, whereas 80% was out of personal interest. (laughs)

  • What was it like when you played FFXI?

  • Saito

    I was the leader of a Linkshell which was mainly for small talk, but I also did Einherjar with some of our members who were interested in endgame content. I was also in my friend’s Linkshell that did Dynamis every Wednesday.

  • Matsui

    Around when were you playing?

  • Saito

    I was playing pretty much every day up until Treasures of Aht Urhgan. I think I only played a little bit of Wings of the Goddess? It was partly because I was busy with work, but also because I was simultaneously playing WoW where I was responsible for tanking. I felt like I had to choose one game over the other and began focusing on WoW.

  • Matsui

    Juggling multiple MMORPGs is rough, especially with how games were back then. I don’t think I could ever do it.

  • Saito

    While all that was going on, the DQX Online project began. But I still want to get back into FFXI. I really spent a long time in Vana’diel, and the scenery like that of Sarutabaruta and the ferry ride between Mhaura and Selbina still come up in my dreams. By the way, this may be because I played as a Tarutaru, but I really like Shantotto, to the point where Shantotto’s table clock adorned my bathroom sink. To this day, I’ve always wanted an opportunity to return to Vana’diel.

  • Matsui

    You’re a Tarutaru and a fan of Shantotto, so I take it you’re from Windurst?

  • Saito

    That’s right.

  • Matsui

    What job did you play?

  • Saito

    Back when the game launched, I was one of those black mages that only used white magic spells. When magic burst hunting with ancient magic became the norm, I was really glad I was a black mage. Figuring out when a skill chain was going to occur and timing my spells with long cast times was a lot of fun.

  • Matsui

    That’s impressive, it takes skill to magic burst with ancient magic.

  • Saito

    When I was playing solo, I also liked taking monsters out after inhibiting them with Sleep and Bind.

  • Hunting wamouras at Mount Zhayolm was quite popular. Though a single mistake meant you were wiped out. (laughs)

  • Saito

    As a beast master, I also used the “crab missiles” strategy. With that one too, you’d wipe out if the Charm failed.

  • Matsui

    I can tell you were really into the game. (laughs)

  • Saito

    I also used to do Sky NMs* and a bit of Sea NMs*. Sky NMs were a routine for us, so there was always someone in Tu’lia whenever I logged in. They’d let us know when the NMs spawned and the rest of us would rush to their aid. Of course, we also defeated Kirin.

    * “Sky NMs” collectively refers to Kirin and other Notorious Monsters in the Tu’lia region.
    * “Sea NMs” collectively refers to Absolute Virtue and other Notorious Monsters in the Lumoria region.
  • Matsui

    Were you a black mage then too?

  • Saito

    I believe so. But I think I remember leveling up all of the jobs.

  • Matsui

    Could it be that you also had Maat’s cap!?

  • Saito

    I’m not sure about Maat’s cap. But talking like this brings back a lot of memories, like falling off that narrow path numerous times while climbing Parradamo Tor in Attohwa Chasm, and going all the way up Uleguerand Range to try and slide down into the cave. There were times where I was incapacitated by attacking monsters, but none of them were bitter memories, and I truly had a lot of fun. Some out there might say, “Eh, you probably didn’t play all that much,” but I did play a fair amount. (laughs) I even used to edit my Linkshell’s wiki.

  • I never would have guessed you even edited the wiki. (laughs) I imagine it’d be difficult for the developers to play to this degree in their private time, wouldn’t it, Mr. Matsui?

  • Matsui

    That’s true. Even if we finish working on a version update, the next one is already lined up, and it’s hard to settle down and play when you feel things need to be done. There are so many things we want to refine, as well as NMs and equipment that we want to add, and each of those tasks need to be given a priority and handled one by one. So when we play, we’re still in “work mode” the whole time.

  • Saito

    That’s how things are for developers. We often hear about events where developers are pit against hardcore players, but there’s no way the developers can win. (laughs)

  • Matsui

    Even if we understand the logic or know what the weak points are, whether we can make effective use of that information is another matter. A lot of practice and muscle memory is required, so it’s not something you can pull off immediately.

  • Even then, it’s amazing how our memories of Vana’diel are coming back as our conversation goes on, when our memories of real life 15 years ago are completely vague by now. It must have been a marvelous experience.

  • Saito

    It really is amazing. The ages of our Linkshell members were quite varied, and I think I may have been the oldest? No, there was a CEO from some company, so I must’ve been the second oldest. On the other end, we had members that were still in high school. If our members were all students in the same class, it would’ve been such an exciting school life.

  • Matsui

    By the way, did your Linkshell members know about your occupation?

  • Saito

    Generally, I didn’t tell them. Our Linkshell began with only Enix employees and we all knew each other in real life. From there, we gradually gained more members as we invited the people we befriended in-game. But we never really needed to reveal who we were.

  • Matsui

    With that said, had they discovered you all were from the company that makes Dragon Quest… (laughs)

  • Saito

    A few of them were aware of who we were, but I think most didn’t know.

  • Matsui

    I’m sure it’s partially a generational thing, but nowadays it’s no longer rare to communicate with in-game friends over social media or interact with them in real life. Many players even use voice chat while they play, and I feel that the closeness between players is completely different compared to 20 years ago.

  • Saito

    There was a lot of nervousness back then. But it’s not like we had zero connections outside of the game. There were people I met at offline gatherings, and there were maybe two couples in our Linkshell that got married, though there may have been more that I wasn’t aware of.

  • Matsui

    We used to be more cautious about connecting with people in real-life, but on the other hand, I feel like our in-game communication was more tight-knit.

  • Saito

    With the evolution of systems like automated matchmaking allowing us to play more light-heartedly, meetings between players are now more like one-offs.

  • Matsui

    The memories of FFXI deeply engrained in our players may be a result of the strong bonds they had with others in-game.

  • Saito

    Speaking of Linkshell members, there was an FFXI player in the DQX Online development team, and after listening to their stories, they turned out to be a member of the same Linkshell. (laughs) It went something like, “Wait, Mr. Saito, you were xxxx (character name)? I was xxxx!” That might’ve been the biggest surprise I ever had related to FFXI.

  • Matsui

    It’s certainly uncommon that a fellow member of a Linkshell turns out be someone you know in real life. (laughs)

  • Saito

    Absolutely. (laughs) They were someone we’d invited without knowing their real identity, and they were a Square employee at the time. They’d joined the DQX Online team part way through the project.

  • Was there a Linkshell with Square employees?

  • Matsui

    While I’m not sure if there was a Linkshell, on the last day of the beta test, there was a feature where you could choose your World at launch based on the final digits of the gil you had on hand. A few of us were trying to coordinate people together to join the same World, so a certain World may have had quite a few Square employees.

* To the second part