The RPG Granblue Fantasy (GBF), which celebrated its eighth anniversary in March 2022, is currently holding a collaboration with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI) until May 21, 2022. To commemorate this occasion, we are pleased to present an interview with GBF Producer Yuito Kimura, the creator of the collaboration and a passionate FFXI player. Mr. Kimura shared his history of playing FFXI and his thoughts on FFXI’s 20th anniversary.
Cygames Executive Director. Founded Cygames in 2011 along with President Koichi Watanabe. Producer of numerous titles, including Rage of Bahamut, Granblue Fantasy, Shadowverse, and PRINCESS CONNECT! Re:Dive.
I wouldn’t have joined the game industry if FFXI didn’t exist
Mr. Kimura, I heard you started FFXI when the Windows version was released. What motivated you to play?
My peers had been playing since the PlayStation 2 version was released and were all feverishly excited about how much fun it was. I’d also wanted to play right away but couldn't because I wasn’t able to get my hands on a PlayStation BB Unit. I later became interested in buying a PC and ended up playing the Windows version of FFXI when it came out.
How old were you when you started playing?
It was before Rise of the Zilart was released, and I remember buying and playing the Windows version as soon as it was out, so it must’ve been 2002, when I was in college. I certainly picked an inappropriate time to start playing. (laughs)
Based on what you mentioned earlier, it sounded like a lot of people around you were also playing.
Yes. Aside from my friends who were playing already, my coworkers at my part-time job had also started. At the time, I was working part-time at an arcade where almost all of my coworkers played FFXI, so we played together.
Sounds like many students were into FFXI around that time.
It was very popular. There weren’t too many who were around since launch because of how hard it was to obtain a PlayStation BB Unit, but FFXI became far more accessible after the Windows version was released.
What were your initial impressions of FFXI?
The world was huge with innumerable players, and the cities were filled with conversations as people came and went, which made the game seem like an actual fantasy world and unfathomably deep. It made me wonder, “Just how far does this world go? What else is out there?” and it truly felt like I had an entire world to play around in.
Which nation did you start from?
At the time, my coworker friends and my friends from high school were on different Worlds, so I created two characters and started in Bastok and Windurst. It was a playstyle that’d be unthinkable today. (laughs)
When you started in Windurst, the city must’ve felt really huge.
Windurst is just too big, don't you think? (laughs) Then again, Bastok is also huge, and San d’Oria’s multi-level design impressed me, with those two-story buildings that made me think NPCs were missing when they were just on the floor above.
You mentioned creating two characters; were they different races?
They were different races. I started as a Galka in Bastok and as a Tarutaru in Windurst.
That's quite the difference between the two. (laughs) Didn't the movement speed seem different?
Their actual speeds are the same, but it felt like the Galka was running more slowly. (laughs)
Which character ended up as your main character?
I originally leveled both to level 75, but the Tarutaru from Windurst ended up being my main character.
Reaching level 75 on two characters during that era of FFXI is very impressive. I heard that your Tarutaru was a summoner main, but do you have any emotional attachment to the job?
I have strong feelings for the job. Between level 60 and 75, there were only two occasions where I was invited to a party, so I was the party leader essentially the whole time while I was leveling. That's also a good memory. (laughs) Leviathan's Spinning Dive was very strong back then, but Blood Pact’s recast time couldn't keep up with how quickly the melee gained TP.
Fenrir was also powerful and attracted a lot of attention when it was introduced.
Speaking of Fenrir, when I was about level 65 or 70, I really wanted to form a pact with Fenrir and started my own party for it. I recruited members by shouting, "My level is low, but please help me out!" and everyone who joined was eager to help, which I was very grateful for. Since I was low level, I tried my best to use Aerial Armor whenever Fenrir attacked with Eclipse Bite. Back then, Fenrir was so strong that even a party of level 75 members would have lost, but that once-in-a-lifetime party pulled through and I was very happy.
What would you say is the appeal of playing summoner?
The fact that you can summon, of course! Beastmaster has something similar with Call Beast, but the ability to summon mythical beings was more appealing to me than calling upon monsters. Summoner is one of the most popular jobs in the entire FF series, has many different avatars, and even has a wide variety of abilities. The avatars' Blood Pact effects also had this sort of "ultimate technique" feeling to them, which stood out to me compared to other jobs' abilities. I started out just wanting to summon avatars, but as I got further into the game, I enjoyed being able to tackle various things solo.
In that sense, was FFXI the reason why there are summons in GBF?
It might’ve been influenced by FFXI to some degree. However, the protagonist of GBF isn’t a summoner and is instead accompanied by Lyria, a girl with the ability to call upon primal beasts.
Speaking of influences, how did playing FFXI during your college days affect your career path later in life?
Back then, I was living with my parents and playing FFXI all the time. My parents would tell me, “If you’re going to play games all the time, then you should make a living off of them,” and I’d reply, “If only things were so simple,” but as a matter of fact, I’m a game developer now. (laughs) That’s how influential FFXI was to me as a game and a starting point, and without it, I probably wouldn’t be in the game industry right now. If FFXI didn’t exist, the games I made wouldn’t exist either, so perhaps it’s fair to say that every game I’ve developed is influenced by FFXI in some shape or form.
Did you join the game industry immediately after graduating college?
I had several interviews, but I didn’t want to worry my parents after having gone through graduate school, so I first joined a trading company that was completely unrelated to the game industry. But it wasn't really a good fit for me, so when I left that company, I decided to try something I truly enjoyed and joined Silicon Studio. I later moved over with Watanabe*, my supervisor at the time, when he decided to go independent and form Cygames, and here we are now.* Koichi Watanabe, founder and President of Cygames.
Returning to Vana’diel and enjoying the “current FFXI”
How long were you focused on playing FFXI?
I was too busy to play after I joined the game industry, but I think I was playing until around when Voidwatch was implemented (May 2011). I returned a little after Seekers of Adoulin was released (March 2013) and after about a year, I got busy again and couldn't play anymore. Then I came back one more time after Rhapsodies of Vana'diel, so my playtime can be largely divided into three different phases.
When you add them up, you've spent more time playing than when you haven't. (laughs)
You're right, I guess I've played quite a lot. (laughs)
Do you have a most memorable moment from when you were playing?
That's a tough one, there's just so many to choose from… First of all, there was the time I received my first linkpearl. When I reached Jeuno, there was some mysterious person imitating a rooster who suddenly gave me a linkpearl. I joined their linkshell and made many friends there. Whether it was missions, difficult quests, or anything else, I did them all with that linkshell, and I had so much fun. There were missions where we had a really hard time, like Promyvion, but those struggles are also part of my good memories.
Do you have any memories related to equipment items?
I’m sure it’s a typical answer, but that'd be obtaining the Duelist's Chapeau (head gear for the red mage relic armor). I'd just gotten employed at the time, so I spent either Saturday or Sunday morning every week in Dynamis to get it. I was so happy when I finally got it, to the point where I almost fainted. (laughs) I also have fond memories of making Mandau (relic dagger) during the summer of 2009.
Making a relic weapon in 2009 must’ve been quite a challenge.
I used gil to collect Dynamis currency. I'd wait by the exit of Dynamis and ask people to sell their Dynamis currency to me when they came out.
Were there any other memorable weapons besides Mandau?
I liked Kraken Club (club that occasionally attacks 2 to 8 times) and Joyeuse (sword that occasionally attacks twice). And although it's not a weapon, it still makes me happy to see the words “Aquarian Abjuration.” Because I was playing ranged jobs, the whole Zenith set was very good. I don't use them anymore, but still have one of each piece. I also still get excited over the phrase "Shining Cloth." (laughs) At the time, selling NM drops were worth about 8 million gil. It’s worth a lot less nowadays but I still find myself thinking, "Oh, that's a good drop." I wonder why that is. (laughs) There aren't many games where you can get happy at the mere name of an item.
Next, would you tell us about your most memorable missions and quests?
I recently played through all the missions again in order to unlock Omen for my alt character. Lilisette’s story in Wings of the Goddess is great, isn’t it? Back in the day, I was so preoccupied with completing the missions that I didn't fully grasp the story, and sometimes I forgot the story during the long gap between version updates.
And of course, Rhapsodies of Vana’diel is the most wonderful scenario in the game, so if you’ve played FFXI and haven’t gone through it yet, I’d definitely recommend experiencing it for yourself. In fact, the reason why the GBF collaboration is set in the timeline of Rhapsodies of Vana'diel is to bring attention to its scenario.
After playing through FFXI from the beginning again, was there anything system-related that caught your eye, like something you noticed was different or was easier to play?
I felt that the game has become much easier to play, with the huge increase in movement speed, leveling made easier with increased EXP even from defeating “Even Match” monsters, and more. I think the most convenient feature is being able to warp between areas. I was also surprised that you can ride a mount freely. At the same time, I also realized there was just a tremendous amount of content in store for me, which had piled up over the years.
Not to mention you can participate in a lot of that solo now, thanks to Trusts.
Trusts are also such an impactful feature, considering how they let you play as your own party and level up on your own… Anyhow, the current FFXI has been toned down in many ways and can still be enjoyed today.
What are you currently up to in-game?
After coming back, I ended up making a lot of "REMA" weapons which I wasn’t able to make back in the day. The first one I made was Twashtar (Empyrean dagger). After that, I made Nirvana (summoner-exclusive Mythic staff), then completed my half-finished Almace for firing off Chant du Cygne on red mage. I also have Crocea Mors (sword exclusive to red mage Job Masters). I was shocked to see that using Seraph Blade with it could do around 70,000 damage under certain conditions. (laughs) Back in the day, you would've been hard pressed to believe that red mage's strongest weapon skill would be Seraph Blade.
Do you often play as red mage nowadays?
Yes, I do. I also play black mage, thief, and summoner. When I returned to the game, I was surprised to hear that summoner was strong, and that led me to start making Nirvana. Based on what I knew about making Mythic weapons, like having to collect 30,000 alexandrite or complete all the Assaults again, I thought there was no way I could ever make one. I never would've guessed that I'd be able to make one so soon. (laughs)
Are there any weapons you'd like to make next?
I’d like to make Aeneas, the Aeonic dagger. I’ve also been taking down Ou (notorious monster in Omen) once a month to get the Regal Cuffs (hand equipment), but it just won’t drop…
I’ve also been soloing ★The Wyrm God high-tier mission battlefield on Difficult as red mage, but the drop rates are just so low! I started out by getting Malignance gear from ★Maiden of the Dusk, but I’d say I was getting what I wanted at least once out of every ten attempts. But ★The Wyrm God, on the other hand, just won't give me any gear at all! (laughs)
Speaking of your current endeavors, you’ve appeared many times in voice actress Emiri Kato’s FFXI broadcasts. It seems extremely uncommon for a game developer to appear in a broadcast featuring another company’s game. How did that come about?
I met Ms. Kato through live streams for GBF, and she invited me onto the show during one of our conversations. Just like Ms. Kato, I also really like FFXI and was thinking, “If I were to do a gameplay broadcast, I’d want to play FFXI!” She seemed like she was having a great time, so I invited Fukuhara* and accepted her invitation.* Tetsuya Fukuhara, Director of GBF.
How did the people around you react to that?
People would often tell me, “Oh, I saw you on that show!” Later, when I met with Square Enix to discuss the GBF collaboration, they were also like, “Oh, we’ve seen you on that show!” and it made me very nervous. (laughs)
I thought it was great when you took on the Shadow Lord at level 50 with voice actress Asami Imai. (laughs)
For that challenge, we were joined by a special guest (Apos, the first player across all Worlds to defeat the Shadow Lord), but the Shadow Lord doesn't feel very strong nowadays. It was a reminder of just how much stronger adventurers had become.
Back in the day, he was very difficult to defeat even if you were level 55.
You’d get K.O.’d instantly if you didn't have a lot of hi-potions on hand. As I recall, magic bursts were just hard to resist and didn't increase your damage by much. Nowadays, you can do a lot of skillchains and magic bursts, which I think is what allowed us to win. But to be honest, I would’ve enjoyed it more if I was beaten to a pulp. (laughs)
FFXI is my textbook and second homeland
FFXI had its 20th anniversary this year, while GBF also had its eighth anniversary in March. Do you feel any similarities between the two games, in terms of long-term operations and prolonged storytelling?
Fukuhara, who is in charge of the main storyline, may have a different opinion, but personally, I believe FFXI and GBF have fundamentally different styles of stories. For me, FFXI isn’t a direct reference since we don’t have expansions or add-on scenarios that bring new stories, heroines, and such. In terms of GBF, we have yet to reach Estalucia (an island at the end of the sky; the destination of GBF’s protagonist), which would be like leaving the Rank 10 mission incomplete in FFXI. However, FFXI is a great reference for how to proceed with updates to our game system.
Do you have any specific examples?
FFXI is like a textbook for me on how to provide updates, expand the game, what to do when the game has been around for more than 10 years, and more. I have access to 20 years’ worth of knowledge on what kind of updates were made to FFXI and how players received them. This knowledge has not only been applied to GBF, but all service games. For example, when you add something new to a game, its impression and reception will be completely different depending on how long the game has been around for, so timing is very crucial. With things like that, I pull them from my memories of playing FFXI and reference them.
Please tell us what FFXI means to you as a player, and as a game developer.
First, as a player, FFXI is a game that taught me important things, like about meeting new people, or the feeling of accomplishment you get after working hard together with others. I also feel that Vana’diel is another world that I live in. When I returned to Vana’diel after my long absence, I felt as if I’d returned to my hometown, and so it’s like a second homeland to me.
As a game developer, as I mentioned earlier, FFXI is what led me into the game industry and is my starting point as a developer. There’s been all sorts of changes to the game throughout the past 20 years and getting to experience them in real time has been an asset to my work and a treasure of mine as a game developer.
Do you have any words for FFXI and its players for the 20th anniversary?
First of all, congratulations on the 20th anniversary of FFXI. There was a time when I set 10 years as a guideline for how long I could continue to operate a game. When Rage of Bahamut was released, I told the company, "I will keep it going for 10 years. After all, FFXI has been able to continue for 10 years." At the time, no mobile game had lasted that long, and everyone was like, "There's no way this game will be around for 10 years." But thanks to our players, Rage of Bahamut celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Now that FFXI has reached its 20th anniversary, I’m now determined to reach our 20th year too. That’s the sort of way FFXI has been giving us courage as a role model that we respect and admire very much. I can only imagine the many hardships their development team went through to get to this point, but I’d like to tell them, “Thank you very much for continuing to develop this wonderful game.”
And to my fellow adventurers, I hope that we can continue to enjoy FFXI together. As an adventurer myself, I assure you there are endless ways to have fun in Vana’diel. If you see me shouting in-game, you’re more than welcome to join in. When I returned to Vana’diel, there were many static parties and I was sad to find fewer shouts than before. I very much enjoy the culture of shouting, and always enjoyed watching the chat to see if anybody was recruiting for something I’d be interested in, or to meet people and make new friends. I personally hope those days will come around again.
© Cygames, Inc.