#4 Minae Matsukawa 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 fourth guest, we invited Minae Matsukawa, the producer of Capcom’s online action RPG Dragon’s Dogma Online (DDON).
Having professed her love for FFXI on numerous occasions, she comes fully prepared to share her passion for the game in this four-part conversation!

* The following interview took place remotely.

Minae Matsukawa

Producer affiliated with Capcom.
Producer of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, an expansion to the open-world game featuring the vast expanse of Gransys Island which adds large-scale content for high-level players, and the online action RPG Dragon's Dogma Online.

Dragon's Dogma Online

FFXI-addicted employees stopped showing up to work!

  • Matsui

    Sometime ago, there was a magazine survey where you mentioned FFXI as your favorite game.
    I remembered you from back then and wanted to hear more, so I took the opportunity to invite you here today.

  • Matsukawa

    It’s an honor to be here.

    I usually don’t prepare any answers for interviews and conversations, but I came fully prepared for this since I really love FFXI. (laughs) I went around asking current FFXI players in our company to proofread my answers and was adjusting my points of discussion until just now.

  • Matsui

    Sounds like you’re really fired up for this! Thank you for joining us here today.

    To start us off, please tell us about your work history.

  • Matsukawa

    Before joining Capcom, I debugged software at Nintendo’s Super Mario Club* and also used to work at a trading company.

    In 2002, I joined Capcom mid-career to provide support for producers as an assistant producer.I took on my first projects as a producer around the time the PlayStation Portable was released, starting with DARKSTALKERS CHRONICLE The Chaos Tower.

    I then worked on the Ace Attorney series, Won!Tertainment Music Channel Dokodemo Style for the Nintendo DS, and LAST RANKER, until I finally became involved with Dragon’s Dogma.

    * Super Mario Club is a quality assurance team that handles quality assurance (QA) for Nintendo. They officially became a subsidiary in 2009.
  • That’d mean you were already working at Capcom when you started playing FFXI.

  • Matsukawa

    I probably started playing around 2003, about a year after FFXI launched. I was a male Tarutaru adventurer from Windurst. I believe it was around when Vana’diel was bustling with the release of Rise of the Zilart.

    People in the game industry are earnest and will play any game as long as it’s fun, even if it’s from another company. At our company, my senior colleagues were going, “FFXI is amazing!” “FFXI is so much fun!”

    Eventually, they stopped coming to the office in the morning, and when I asked what was going on, they’d go, “Well, there was this mission in FFXI yesterday…” At the time, I was like, “Who cares about missions?! Please show up to meetings!” But when I gave it a try, it was just so much fun!

    I started sleeping less and became engrossed in Vana’diel.

  • Matsui

    I often heard about people who’d never answer their phone but could be contacted through Vana’diel. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    I actually disliked that and didn’t want to spend my personal time playing games with the same people I worked with. Because of that, I didn’t reveal which World I was playing on to most of my colleagues.

  • Matsui

    I understand what you mean.

    In my case, I heard my colleagues were gathering together on a particular World and intentionally chose a different one. (laughs wryly)

  • Matsukawa

    I’m sure you felt even more so because you were involved in the game’s development.

  • Matsui

    I can only imagine they would’ve kept telling me this and that about the battle system even in the game…

  • Matsukawa

    That sounds like it’d be a pain. Hearing that makes me glad to be just another face in the crowd of players. (laughs)

  • Sounds like you played by yourself most of the time.

  • Matsukawa

    When I started out, I was helped by a senior colleague whom I was on friendly terms with. They wanted me to let them know when I logged into the game, but when I set foot in Windurst for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and had no idea how to message my colleague.

    After poring over the user manual, I finally figured out how to send a Tell and was able to let them know that I was in the game. From the way they replied, “Where are you? Which zone are you in?” I could tell they were quite familiar with the game. I was still clueless and went, “What do you mean by that?” and that sort of back-and-forth banter continued until they said, “I just finished a battle, so I’ll head over there. Stay put for 15 minutes!”

    At the time, I was like, “Why do I have to wait for so long?!” and it wasn’t until later when I got further in the game that I realized they’d probably teleported to the Crag of Mea after their battle, then rode their chocobo all the way from there to Windurst.

    That was my first day in Vana’diel and my first experience with online communication. When we met up, my colleague handed me a linkpearl, and that was the linkshell where I made new friends as I continued to play.

  • Matsui

    The fact the trip took 15 minutes is a nice throwback to how things were back in the day. I’d say your anecdote is unique to that era when everyone was still unfamiliar with the game and many players were trying MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) for the first time.

  • Matsukawa

    Offline RPGs sometimes allow you to instantly travel from one city to another, but FFXI makes traveling feel like part of the adventure. It was also nice how I was eventually able to figure out what my colleague had gone through for my sake. They were wearing the white mage artifact gear, which I thought looked pretty cool, and that about sums up my first night playing FFXI.

My playstyle was changed with a single Raise

  • What were you doing in the game after starting your new life as an adventurer in Vana’diel?

  • Matsukawa

    I’d come home from work late at night, then log in between 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning. I hunted Crawlers and roughed up Mandragora, ran into the occasional Goblin ambush, and also wept a little when I poked Yagudo and got beaten to a pulp. Through these misadventures in Sarutabaruta, I learned about the harshness of battle.

    By that time, I still hadn’t really picked a main job. I was just following everyone’s advice to “just play warrior and swing a sword” when I was attacked and incapacitated by a Very Tough monster.

    As I lay there on the ground thinking, “Man, I don’t want to lose EXP…” someone came by on their chocobo and hopped off to Raise me. When I thanked them in Say chat, they replied, “Enjoy your adventures!” and that was the moment I fell head over heels for FFXI.

    I announced to my linkshell members, “No more warrior for me! I’m going to Raise people too!” and I began leveling white mage and red mage from that day forward. That must’ve been around my third day in the game.

  • Being helped by someone passing by is one of those things you can only experience in online games.

  • Matsukawa

    It moved me very deeply.

  • Matsui

    I’m the type of person that immediately returns to their Home Point, so I’ve never had that sort of experience. I guess getting Raised by a random passerby is actually a thing. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    Yes!! It’s definitely a thing!!

    Tarutaru are adorable even when they’ve fallen, which might’ve been why people were considerate and often lent me a hand. I helped a lot of others, and was helped a lot myself… that’s the kind of world FFXI is, and I love it.

  • I imagine a lot of white mage players feel inclined to help when they see someone incapacitated out in the overworld.

  • Matsukawa

    I’m sure many people chose white mage and red mage out of a desire to help others. On the other hand, I remember people were leveling thief if they wanted to excel as damage dealers, since Sneak Attack from the flank* was still very much a thing.

    * A common strategy employed by damage dealers, where they would stand outside the enemy’s line of sight, usually towards the flank, while keeping the tank and enemy in their own line of sight. Doing so would simultaneously fulfill the requirements of both Sneak Attack and Trick Attack. Following adjustments to Sneak Attack on December 16, 2003, the strategy is no longer usable.
  • Matsui

    From there, did you stick with playing backline jobs?

  • Matsukawa

    I was mostly leveling red mage, since there wasn’t a red mage in the linkshell I was in at the time. That was my original reason, but I was also swayed by members telling me, “Having Refresh is the dream,” and how cool the artifact gear looked, and decided to become a red mage main.

    With that said, it was hard to juggle all of my responsibilities as a red mage. One time, I was in a leveling party and someone asked me, “Hey, could you use Refresh a little sooner?” That really bummed me out, but a red mage is reborn when they learn the importance of keeping Refresh and Haste on their party members.

  • Matsui

    On top of that, they also have to provide support with debuffs and healing.

  • Matsukawa

    People would ask me to Dispel too, and I’d answer, “Leave it to me!” even if I was actually thinking, “Are you serious?!”

    I really enjoyed having bards in leveling parties, since they can recover your MP with Ballad. That would let me use more spells and be more proactive about buffing, debuffing, and curing, which was fun. On the other hand, I could take it easy when a ninja was tanking, but after a while I’d find myself thinking, “Guess I’m mostly debuffing today,” and wanting for more. (laughs)

Being a leader in the game too

  • Other than leveling, what else did you do?

  • Matsukawa

    I also proactively recruited parties for missions. I believe there was a Rise of the Zilart mission that required a lot of people…

  • Matsui

    Are you talking about Headstone Pilgrimage*?

    * The fifth mission in Rise of the Zilart, which involves traveling to Cermet Headstones across Vana’diel to collect eight elemental fragments. Obtaining the fire fragment was particularly difficult and required passing through Ifrit’s Cauldron.
  • Matsukawa

    Oh, that’s the one.

    I started that a little after everyone else, so I was in Shout chat recruiting for more members to join me over the weekend. Things like that were fun too.

  • What did you think about endgame content?

  • Matsukawa

    The endgame content I played the most was Dynamis*.

    As I was playing, I’d be thinking to myself, “The developers certainly implemented something wild.” When a party wiped out in Dynamis, it was tragic in more ways than one.
    K.O.’d adventurers were removed from the instance and tossed into the pile of bodies near the entrance where other parties are waiting to get in. I remember seeing that and thinking, “Wow, this game sure is brutal.” (laughs)

    * Large-scale multiplayer battle content which was added in February 2004 and updated over time. At a glance, the battle areas appear to be familiar cities and areas in Vana’diel, but the dimly lit and deserted atmosphere gives off the impression of a bizarre alternate reality.
  • Matsui

    Whereas in the four nations, the entrance is located in front of the Mog House. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    I have many memories of Dynamis.

    In our World, the groups that were active in Dynamis had something like an alliance going on. From what I heard, they convened every Saturday to discuss or draw lots to determine which groups would have access to each area, so our World seemed really well-organized. Our linkshell leader also joined those meetings on a few occasions to secure a time and area for our group.

  • Matsui

    That’s because back then, each area could only be entered by one group at a time.

  • Matsukawa

    That’s right. The groups could get pretty massive with up to 64 members, so I was one of the squad leaders.

  • Dynamis required more players than an alliance (18 members), so I remember the leaders of each alliance communicated with each other in a linkshell.

  • Matsukawa

    That’s right, that’s right. As a squad leader, I called out things like, “Don’t use damage over time spells like Bio!” while other times, people would scold me and tell me to step up my game. (laughs)

  • Matsui

    Sounds like it was a lot of fun. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    As you might expect, people generally got together at night. We’d go in around 9:00 at night, and by the time we got out, it’d be the next day. There were also meetings after that, where we reflected on that night’s attempt for another two or three hours.

  • Matsui

    It must’ve been hard to hold discussions between so many people.

  • Matsukawa

    Also, this is just one of those things in online games, but there’d only be a few members remaining after the late-night meetings. The remaining members would stick around for casual banter, and there’d be this female Hume that asks, “Hey, do you think I’m a guy or girl in real life?” Personally, I think that sort of question is a dead giveaway that you’re a guy, but setting that aside… (laughs)

    As the conversation continued, everyone would go around and mention their real-life gender, and when my turn came around, I’d say, “I’m a girl, you know,” and others would go, “Yeah yeah, stop lying.” Those were some fond memories!

  • everyone


  • Matsui

    Why did everyone think you were lying?

  • Matsukawa

    I think it was because of my straightforward personality. As I mentioned earlier, I was a squad leader in Dynamis and spoke candidly. However, there were times when I thought to myself, “Man, why did I take up a leadership role in FFXI too? It’d be nice to have fewer responsibilities, at least when I’m playing games!” On the flipside, I also have fond memories of saying things like, “Pay up, it’s collection day! Today, everyone owes 20,800 gil!”

  • The Timeless Hourglass required to enter Dynamis was expensive*, so I recall groups often split the expenses between their members. Do you have any other stories related to Dynamis?

    * The original price was 1 million gil, which was lowered to 500,000 gil in 2008. In 2011, the entrance requirement was changed when Dynamis was converted into non-claimable areas. The current entrance requirement is possession of a vial of shrouded sand and a Prismatic Hourglass (50,000 gil, non-consumable).
  • Matsukawa

    Despite our numerous attempts, our Dynamis linkshell struggled to clear Dynamis-Xarcabard, and I remember wondering if it was even designed to be clearable. In the end, we used the Chainspell Stun method to brute force our way to a clear, and I was beaming with joy.

    * A method where a red mage sets dark knight as their support job and uses Chainspell to continually stun the monster to prevent them from moving.
    As stun effects cannot be stacked, applying the stun right as the previous effect ends is critical.
  • Back then, red mages were integral in the battle against the Dynamis Lord in Dynamis-Xarcabard. Which reminds me, were you able to obtain the coveted Duelist’s Chapeau?

  • Matsukawa

    No, I never did. (cries) I had everything else, but the Duelist’s Chapeau was the only thing that eluded me at the time… In fact, I only saw it drop once or twice, and I lost the roll on those. I mean, are those rolls actually fair!?

  • Matsui

    They haven’t been messed with. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    Are you sure? There were countless times where I lost a roll at a critical moment… Isn’t there something like, you roll lower if you speak ill of the FFXI team?

  • I remember there were rumors about a hidden “LUK (luck)” parameter on characters. There were also many other loot-related superstitions, like getting better loot if a lot of players were knocked out and “offered as sacrifice.”

  • Matsukawa

    Yes, yes, yes! There were definitely rumors like that!

  • Matsui

    I assure you, rolls are purely random and aren’t influenced by other factors. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    I just remembered another story related to Chainspell stunning. Around the time I started participating in Dynamis, I was invited to join a Sky LS*.

    They told me, “Don’t worry, you just need to Cure and Refresh for us!” I was interested and joined them light-heartedly, but the linkshell members turned out to be formidable veterans. We defeated Genbu on the first day I joined, and they ended up giving me Genbu’s Shield.

    * A linkshell with the goal of defeating HNMs which appear on the floating islands of Tu’Lia.
  • So you’re saying they already had enough to spare. (laughs)

  • Matsukawa

    The minute I said, “Can I really have this? I’ll do my best!” they responded, “All right, can you go change your support job to dark knight?”

    “What? The only support jobs I have are white mage and black mage. My dark knight is only level 7, you know?”

    “Be sure to level it by next week! ^^”

    So that week, I frantically worked on leveling up my dark knight.

  • Matsui

    That must’ve been tough, considering the pace of leveling up back then and having to work during the week.

  • Matsukawa

    I mean, I was able to clear Dynamis-Xarcabard thanks to that incident, so I’m glad that it came in handy… But I did feel a little regretful about getting involved with the group that said, “Go level it up in a week.” (laughs)

  • On the other hand, it earned you the shield of every red mage’s desire in a single night. In terms of other popular red mage weapons, there’s also Joyeuse.

  • Matsukawa

    Yes, that too. Joyeuse was another one you really wanted as a red mage. It drops from Charybdis, a notorious monster which was just a tad difficult for a single party on release, and I thought whoever designed the NM was a genius.

    First, you’d try and go see the last time Charybdis was defeated to get an idea of when it would respawn. Let’s say you find out that it respawns at 6:00 in the morning; then it becomes a question of whether you have enough charisma to recruit more than a party’s worth of friends to come with you at 6:00 in the morning.

    After a night of asking around, seven people showed up at the scheduled time. There was one other person still on the way but other parties were starting to show up, so we were like, “We have no choice, let’s go!” and started the battle with the seven of us. One of my friends was tanking as a ninja, and I can’t thank them enough. They managed to kite* Charybdis long enough for us to take it down. Those kinds of memories are why I still treasure Genbu’s Shield and Joyeuse even today.

    * Kiting is a strategy where the tanking player runs around to take as little damage from the monster as possible, which looks similar to trying to get a kite off the ground. In Japan, this method is sometimes referred to as “marathon” since the player is constantly running around.
  • Matsui

    It sounds like you went through pretty much every rite of passage for red mages. By the way, do you remember how long you were playing for?

  • Matsukawa

    I cleared everything up to Treasures of Aht Urhgan, so it must’ve been until around then. The Chains of Promathia missions were truly a struggle, and I cried the whole time during the ending.

    Even just yesterday, I was watching other people’s playthroughs to prepare for today’s conversation, and when I was watching the ending again, all my emotions from back then came rushing back. FFXI might be, and forever will be, the only game where I felt so accomplished after completing the game.

  • Matsui

    The ending song for Chains of Promathia is certainly a masterpiece.
    Which missions did you have trouble with?

  • Matsukawa

    I really had a lot of trouble with the three consecutive encounters in One to be Feared (Mammet, Omega, Ultima).

    In Chains of Promathia, I was playing with yet another linkshell, which was a small group with exactly six members. Every Sunday, we took on One to be Feared with those six members, and we gradually switched out our equipment to HQ items and went through all sorts of trial and error, until we finally won after six weeks. Because of that, I’m a little traumatized when it comes to Omega.

  • The battlefield in One to be Feared was certainly one of the most difficult missions in Chains of Promathia.

  • Matsukawa

    After going through that kind of struggle, when I finished watching the ending of Chains of Promathia, I just felt so fulfilled and tears were streaming down my face.

    Fenrir in The Moonlit Path also took me about 8 weeks to clear. Omega and Fenrir; those two still appear in my dreams even today.

  • Matsui

    For us developers, hearing that sort of story makes us a little happy, since we have a strong impression that monsters are immediately defeated, no matter how powerful we make them.

  • Matsukawa

    As a player, it was all very enjoyable, even through all of the trial and error!!

* To the second part

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