“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI). Our seventh guest is Tetsuya Nomura, one of Square Enix's leading creative minds who worked on various initial character designs for FFXI. In this third part, Mr. Nomura spoke about how he enjoyed FFXI and his own unique playstyle.
One of the main creative minds at Square Enix on the FF series. He bolstered the fame of the FF series with iconic characters such as Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Squall, Yuna, and Lightning. He is also the director of the Kingdom Hearts series, another flagship IP of Square Enix, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022.
A heated debate in the pouring rain of La Theine Plateau
Mr. Nomura, do you often play online games in your private life?
Online games wear me out from being too mindful of other players, so I don’t play them actively. In the days before the launch of the FFXI project, staff members all over the company were playing EverQuest* as directed by Mr. Sakaguchi*, but I myself took a step back and watched from the sidelines.* EverQuest is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in North America in 1999.
With that said, my colleagues and I were totally absorbed in playing Phantasy Star Online (PSO)*. After that, I often played SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs* with my colleagues, and there have also been mobile games that I really got into.
* Hironobu Sakaguchi, one of the founders of the FF series.
* Phantasy Star Online is an online role-playing game released by SEGA for the Dreamcast in 2000.
* SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs is a third-person shooting game released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002.
I’m curious to know your playstyle when it comes to online games.
I generally play with my colleagues from work. Also, my playstyle in any online game is to relish an adventure regardless of recklessness, rather than strive for efficiency.
In PSO, for example, players are sent back to the lobby when they’re defeated, but we’d challenge the final boss all alone. One of us would be like, “Okay, I’m going in!” and leave the lobby, only to get sent back right away, which we found entertaining. We’d take turns challenging the boss and laughing amongst ourselves saying, “That was quick!”
Did you play FFXI after it was officially launched?
I played FFXI purely from a player’s perspective. My character was a Mithra from Bastok, and I think my main job was red mage.* Super Mario Sunshine is a 3D action game for the GameCube released in 2002, the same year as FFXI.
One memorable experience is the time I meant to send a message to my group in party chat, but accidentally sent it in Say chat. It was, “I'm going to go buy Super Mario Sunshine* now!" (laughs). Then the strangers around me started to respond in Say chat, “Aw, lucky!” “Lucky!” and I ran away out of embarrassment. (laughs) That kind of everyday occurrence in MMORPGs was also something I liked.
I’m sure those players never would’ve dreamed they were responding to Mr. Nomura himself. (laughs)
We also went on a lot of reckless adventures. This one time, we decided to venture out to an area we’d never been to before and headed for Pashhow Marshlands, an area we didn’t even have a map for. I was at the front of the group when a Morbol attacked me and knocked me out instantly. Seeing that, one of my party members burst out laughing, “Did you see how Mr. Tetsu* was sent flying?” even though there weren’t any animations like that in the game. (laughs)* “Tetsu” is a nickname for Mr. Nomura.
You could say their imagination showed just how immersed they were in Vana’diel. (laughs)
But even our group, which used to play in that kind of manner, gradually started to change. FFXI has clearly defined roles for each job, and there are standard tactics when it comes to fighting. Even the common monsters you encounter while leveling up are quite strong, so straying from those tactics will quickly get you defeated and leveled down. I personally didn’t mind the penalty as long as I was having fun but others in the group felt differently, and our opinions gradually split.
I’d say in the in-game chat, “I want to go on adventures, even if it comes with risk!” and my companions would reply, “We should be careful, so we don’t lose any levels!” I still vividly remember our characters standing opposite each other and debating heatedly as the rain poured down in La Theine Plateau. (laughs)
That sounds very passionate. (laughs) Both sides had their reasons, and neither way was the wrong way to play.
I didn’t want to feel like treating the game like a job, so in the interest of deciding how to play for myself, I started going on adventures alone. After that, my friends gradually started to join me again, and I declared, "I'll make the quests!” We enjoyed tackling foolhardy quests, like going to areas that were clearly way higher in level in order to find “our final resting place.”
That’s quite a “refined” way to play. (laughs)
We also considered the battle against the dragon at the end of the three nations’ missions to be the final boss encounter. For me, that was where FFXI ended. From there, I continued to travel alone for a while, and I believe my character’s still kneeling somewhere out in the desert to this day. (laughs)
Players gradually began to focus on efficiency because FFXI was balanced quite strictly, but I think at first, there were many people who enjoyed the game in their own unique ways like Tetsu did.
At the end of the day, I think it’s definitely a lot more fun that way. There’s no thrill in taking on a challenge after you’ve fully prepared and victory is 100% assured. Coming up with ways to overcome difficult situations is the real thrill of adventure, and that’s what I was constantly pursuing in FFXI.
On the topic of “thrill,” when I arrived in Jeuno for the first time, I remembered Kam’lanaut and the other characters I’d designed. I asked my group, “Hey, is this where the last boss is?” to which they warned, “Please don’t say that in Say or Shout chat like that time with Mario!” which made me very nervous. (laughs)
Had you said that in Shout, it probably would’ve been a much bigger problem than just a spoiler! (laughs)