Hirokazu Hamamura Part 2

WE GREW VANA’DIEL is a series of interviews with those who were involved in the development of FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI), as well as guests from other companies. In this installment, we interviewed Hirokazu Hamamura, who served as the representative of the Famitsu Group until April 2020 and has been following FFXI at the forefront of gaming media. As a key figure in gaming media and an avid player himself, what were his views on FFXI? In this second part, Mr. Hamamura shared more enchanting episodes from his gaming experiences.

Hirokazu Hamamura

Senior Advisor for Digital Entertainment at KADOKAWA. He was involved in the game magazine “Famicom Tsushin” (Weekly Famitsu since 1995) from its first issue and served as its editor-in-chief from 1992 to 2002, after which he continued to lead the overall media side of things as Famitsu Group Representative until 2020. Mr. Hamamura has produced many publications on FFXI, including “Vana’diel Tsushin,” and is also known as an avid FFXI player who adventures in Vana’diel with his son.

Completing Ochain through exemplary gameplay

  • I’d like to take this opportunity to hear more about your personal experiences in FFXI.

  • Hamamura

    Sure thing. I always choose beefy characters in any game I play, so my main character in FFXI was a Galka. My main job was paladin, and I also leveled ninja, dragoon, and thief.

  • What was your playstyle like, exactly?

  • Hamamura

    FFXI required a lot of time to get anything done, so when starting out, I resolved to avoid getting too addicted to the game. To do so, I decided to only level up between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, a rule that I scrupulously upheld.

  • Your restraint in keeping that rule is impressive!

  • Hamamura

    I suppose, considering many of my fellow staff members weren’t able to hold themselves back. (laughs) As such, I was very stringent about when I’d go leveling, and even when I ended up with more free time than usual, I spent it doing other activities like fishing or crafting instead. I kept at it little by little and eventually managed to make Ochain*.

    * Ochain is a paladin-exclusive shield implemented in 2010. The process of making one is equivalent to making an Empyrean weapon.
  • That’s amazing!

  • Hamamura

    I remember it was difficult to collect Azdaja’s Horns, one of the materials required to make Ochain. For that, I limited myself to two hours in Abyssea from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and worked on it over a long period of time. I still haven’t forgotten the elation I felt when I finally completed it.

  • Ochain and Aegis were highly coveted among paladins, weren’t they?

  • Hamamura

    Ochain excels in defense with a block rate of noughly 100% coupled with high damage mitigation. When used in conjunction with other items like the Defending Ring, physical attacks hardly dealt any damage to you at all. So when I completed Ochain, I obviously went to test it out on a monster that would hit me. (laughs)

  • Considering how busy you must’ve been with leading the Famitsu Group, it’s impressive how you managed to play something as time-consuming as an MMORPG.

  • Hamamura

    I’d established a schedule, as I mentioned earlier, and playing alongside my son was another big factor. After all, as a parent, I couldn’t let my son see me play games nonstop. If it weren’t for him, I may not have found my way back from Vana’diel, let alone finished making Ochain. (laughs wryly)

Gaming with his son and watching him mature

  • Would you tell us about how you and your son played?

  • Hamamura

    FFXI came out when my son was in fifth grade, and he often sat beside me to watch as I played. As he watched, he grew interested in playing FFXI for himself. I had various ideas in mind for when my son started and had him begin as a Tarutaru white mage, but figured he wasn’t going to be playing for long.

  • White mage would’ve been a difficult job to play solo.

  • Hamamura

    That’s right. As a result, I almost always accompanied him when he played. I switched to dragoon to match his level, as I hadn’t leveled it yet, and that’s how the two of us went on adventures.

  • What was your son’s reaction to playing FFXI?

  • Hamamura

    Surprisingly enough, he didn’t quit even after playing for a while. In fact, he wanted to keep playing long-term, so I invited him to the linkshell I’d joined. That was also when I revealed my position at Famitsu to my fellow linkshell members.

  • It must’ve been shocking for them to learn that the Galka they’d been playing with was someone as well-known as you.

  • Hamamura

    Our linkshell was like our second home, and everyone happily accepted me when I revealed my identity. There were other occasions where members who hadn’t logged in for a while eventually returned with their new spouses after getting married or had children like I did, and we all grew closer to each other as our linkshell essentially became one big family.

  • Are there any other moments of playing FFXI with your son you’d be willing to share?

  • Hamamura

    Hmm… it’s hard to choose since there’s just so many.

    One time, we were leveling together on Qufim Island when my son reached level 25 on white mage and learned Raise, which he was eager to try. He exclaimed, “I’ll use my first Raise on you, Dad!” which I was happy to hear at first, until it dawned on me that I’d have to be KO’d for him to do so. My feelings were conflicted on how to respond, but as I was hesitating, it became obvious that he was casting Cure on me less and less frequently. (laughs)

  • I have a bad feeling about where this is going. (laughs)

  • Hamamura

    Sure enough, I was KO’d by the Skeletons, and my son immediately started casting Raise with glee. But then the Skeletons went for him next, and he leveled down, postponing his plans for Raise; remembering that moment still makes me chuckle.

  • That’s definitely an unforgettable story. (laughs) Were there any other memorable episodes?

  • Hamamura

    I’ll never forget the time when I traveled to Shanghai to report on ChinaJoy*.

    My son and I were feeling glum because we couldn’t level together during the weekend as we usually did, but it couldn’t be helped. After my report and business dinner were over, I ended up with some free time in the middle of the night, so I decided to log on and do a little fishing. To my surprise, when I stepped out of my Mog House in Windurst, my son’s Tarutaru was standing right in front of me.

    * ChinaJoy, also known as China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference, is one of the largest game shows held in China.
  • Oh?

  • Hamamura

    It was late at night, so at first I thought he’d just left his character logged in. But then my son’s character greeted me with /wave. So I asked him, “What’s the matter?” and he said, “I was waiting for you, Dad.” I replied, “It’s late, you should go to bed,” to which he responded, “I just wanted to see you and say hi, so I’m going to bed now. Goodnight!”

    Reading that made me burst into tears in my hotel room.

  • That’s a touching story… Did these experiences of playing alongside your son influence your own playstyle in any way?

  • Hamamura

    As I mentioned earlier, I had to be an exemplary player to be a role model for my son. That’s why I never allowed him to play late into the night, except on one occasion. That one time was a Castle Oztroja run, which lasted until 1:00 in the morning because Raise II just wouldn’t drop. My son was a sixth grader at the time, and I regretted allowing him to stay up so late…

  • Nevertheless, I think you have an ideal parent-child relationship with your son through games.

  • Hamamura

    My son and I always talked about many things as we played FFXI side-by-side, like how things were at school, whether he was keeping up with his studies, or what he had on his mind lately.

    Even when we weren’t playing the game, we often talked about what items we wanted to obtain or quests that he needed help with. Spending time together like that allowed me to witness every step of my son’s maturity and established a strong relationship of trust between us.

  • When FFXI first appeared on the market, it was met with many negative reactions regarding its nature as a time-consuming MMORPG. But it sounds like you and your son were able to experience the positive aspects of MMORPGs in your everyday play.

  • Hamamura

    It’s true that certain playstyles made players susceptible to getting addicted to Vana’diel, and there definitely were people who ended up that way. But personally, I was able to experience trust, friendship, and strong bonds with others, and the same goes for my son. Looking back now, I believe I was able to have those experiences because FFXI was designed in such a way that required players to help each other out. I was truly lucky that FFXI was released during that era, as well as to have played the game with my son.

  • You’ve talked a lot about your experiences with your son in your column, which was also published as a book*.

    * Referring to Mr. Hamamura’s book “ゲームばっかりしてなさい。-12歳の息子を育ててくれたゲームたち-”
    [Just keep playing games: The games that raised my 12-year-old son].
  • Hamamura

    Parents often ask me, “My kids won’t study because of video games, what should I do?” but personally, I think they should just play the game with their kids. Enjoying games with your kids and empathizing with their interests can provide a better understanding of what they’re thinking or worrying about. Games can be a great communication tool when used in that sort of way.

  • Flattery aside, that book is a must-read for any game enthusiasts with children of their own.

  • Hamamura

    Thank you.

    My son, who’s now 28 years old, says games taught him about the important things in life. In the thick of my demanding job, I dedicated time to pouring my ideas on parenting into that book, so I hope parents who love video games will give it a read.

  • Although the book features stories from various games you played with your son, what stood out to me was how most of its pages were devoted to FFXI.

  • Hamamura

    To tell the truth, there were many more FFXI-related stories that weren’t included in the book. I begrudgingly narrowed it down after my editor at the time, Mr. Nagata*, advised me to only write about FFXI once a month, since not all of my readers were familiar with the game. With the sheer number of stories that were left untold, I might’ve been able to write an entire book solely dedicated to FFXI.

    * Yasuhiro Nagata, former editor of Famitsu. His book "ファイナルファンタジーXI プレイ日記 ヴァナ・ディール滞在記" [FINAL FANTASY XI journal: My time in Vana’diel] is popular among FFXI players in Japan.
  • By the way, it’s been almost 20 years since you wrote that column, but do you still play games with your son?

  • Hamamura

    Yes, nowadays we play FFXIV and other games together. (laughs)

* Part 3 will be available on September 21.

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