Hirokazu Hamamura Part 3

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 third part, we discussed Mr. Hamamura’s FFXI-related publications and his memories of live events.

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.

Leveraging the strengths of print media

  • How have Weekly Famitsu and other game media approached FFXI over the years? The rise of online games has surely been a major change for game media, but how did they adapt to that?

  • Hamamura

    At first, I was very conflicted over how the media should address online games. First of all, online games with monthly subscriptions have completely different business models compared to packaged games. For example, packaged RPGs were sold for about $40 to $50 (USD) with a single playthrough providing roughly 40 hours of gameplay. Weekly Famitsu published issues and earned ad revenue based on the premise of players purchasing a game, playing through it, then purchasing the next one. However, once you get hooked on FFXI, 40 hours go by in the blink of an eye and there’s no time to play other games.

  • Not to mention that online games can remain in service for a long time.

  • Hamamura

    Considering the vast amount of information in FFXI, there was no concern of running out of topics to write about if our intention was to keep publishing weekly columns as before. However, a column alone couldn’t fully convey the appeal of an MMORPG like FFXI, since the game balance frequently changes through updates. Not only that, but online strategy guides were also gaining prevalence at the time, allowing information to be published instantly and edited freely afterward. When it comes to breaking news, print media could never keep up with online media.

  • What was your response in that situation?

  • Hamamura

    We believed that even with the rise of online media, print media still had a role to play. For example, we summarized FFXI-related news that came up during the past week, wrote informative articles like “Tips for Leveling Ninja,” and conducted interviews after official broadcasts to provide supplementary information. The nature of print media makes it suitable for presenting complex information in a concise way, so we focused on that aspect to distinguish ourselves from online media.

  • I see.

  • Hamamura

    On the other hand, our conventional articles offered very little for well-informed fans who were truly devoted to FFXI. For fans like them, we launched a new periodical dedicated to FFXI that was separate from Weekly Famitsu. We assembled editors who were familiar with FFXI and sought new ways to satisfy fans, such as including a DVD containing visuals.

  • Ah, so that’s how “Vana’diel Tsushin” and Famitsu Wave DVD were launched.

  • Hamamura

    Other companies also had their own publications at the time, one of them being Lightning Brigade*, which even as a competitor, I had to admit was extremely well-written. I loved the comics that were included with their articles and read them with my son all the time, much to my chagrin as a rival publication.

    * Dengeki no Ryodan (“Lightning Brigade”), is a group of editors and writers for the game magazine Dengeki PlayStation, who wrote articles and books related to FFXI.
  • Incidentally, I heard you were quite strict when overseeing FFXI-related publications, since you were an avid player yourself. From what I heard, there was a time when you were lecturing some staff members in the president’s office, saying, “Why haven’t you tried alchemy and cooking? You bear the responsibility of giving them a try and properly understanding them.” (laughs)

  • Hamamura

    Yes, I remember that. I told them making a quick buck off of NMs wouldn’t last as a business, and that the same went for other games, work, and life in general. On the other hand, synthesizing and selling high-demand consumables like melon pies and sinking minnows would ensure a stable profit, and I think it’s our responsibility as the media to introduce that sort of useful knowledge.

Events for online games and their devoted fans

  • Weekly Famitsu was also actively involved in live events for FFXI at the time. I’d like to hear your memories of those events as well.

  • Hamamura

    FINAL FANTASY XI Summer Carnival 2005 was the first offline event we organized, if I remember correctly. Our editorial staff and I were completely enamored with FFXI, and we planned the event without regarding profitability. We felt eager fans would be delighted if a concert was the main event, preceded by a talk show about version updates and other news. Incidentally, I love the song that plays in the Sanctuary of Zi’Tah and considered asking the Star Onions* to perform it, which essentially would’ve been abusing my position. (laughs)

    * The Star Onions was a band comprised of Square Enix employees at the time, led by FFXI Composer Naoshi Mizuta.
  • I believe that was held at the Nippon Seinenkan, wasn't it?

  • Hamamura

    Yes, that’s right. The stage in the Nippon Seinenkan is where they used to do public recordings of “It’s 8 O’Clock! Everyone Assemble,”* and it’s easily recognizable by anyone who’s watched the show. When Mr. Hiromichi* and Mr. Uematsu* entered the venue, they spotted the stage and immediately began an impromptu “moustache dance” (a recurring gag from the show), which I found oddly hilarious.

    * “Hachi-ji da yo! Zen'in Shuugo” (literally “It’s 8 O’Clock! Everyone Assemble”) is a long-running Japanese variety and comedy show aired between 1969 and 1985.
    * Hiromichi Tanaka, original Producer for FFXI.
    * Nobuo Uematsu, composer of numerous tracks in the FF series.
  • Game-related offline events have been around for a long time, but what were some reactions from attendees that you’d only see at an FFXI-related event?

  • Hamamura

    Everyone who attended the event was more familiar with FFXI than I had imagined. You could tell they were hardcore players by the way they reacted to the talk show. For example, when we mentioned, “I have this friend who mains dragoon and hangs out in Ru’Lude Gardens all day looking for a party...” it garnered the appropriate reaction from the audience. Their enthusiasm for FFXI was on another level, and I really felt that their passion for the game ran deep.

  • I also remember the finals for the Ballista tournament, Ballista Royale, were held at that event.

  • Hamamura

    The Ballista Royale was also more exciting than I had imagined. The players were so skilled that despite teaming up with strangers they were meeting for the first time, they knew exactly what to do and were in perfect sync. Some of them were even shaking hands afterwards, saying, “Let’s meet again in Vana’diel!” and there was just this strong sense of solidarity throughout the event.

  • There were many other memorable events organized by Square Enix in Japan and overseas, as well as FINAL FANTASY XI FAN EVENT 2018 organized by KADOKAWA.

  • Hamamura

    In retrospect, perhaps the success of FFXI’s offline events helped establish the notion that fan events are a natural part of long-term services like MMORPGs.

  • FFXI celebrated its 20th anniversary this year in 2022. Did you think that FFXI would last this long?

  • Hamamura

    When FFXIV launched in September 2010, I expected it to gradually replace FFXI, which would eventually be phased out. However, some of our linkshell members remained in FFXI and continued to enjoy the game as before. Seeing that made me worried that our linkshell would be split between FFXI and FFXIV.

    Then when the rework of FFXIV was announced, the members who’d left came back to FFXI. But when FFXIV returned with A Realm Reborn in 2013, once again, many members moved over while others remained in FFXI. In other words, even if a successor title is released, no matter how perfect it is, it doesn’t guarantee that the community will make a smooth transition to the new title. I suspect that many people, even those who now play FFXIV in earnest, feel that Vana’diel is their home away from home.

  • What’s your own situation regarding playing FFXI?

  • Hamamura

    I’ve returned from time to time, but the last time was when I played for a bit around the conclusion of Rhapsodies of Vana’diel.

  • That was around the time when FFXI was going through major changes, so you must’ve been surprised.

  • Hamamura

    Oh yes. I was shocked at how much I could play solo. When I did some research for this 20th anniversary, I found out that a new scenario, the Voracious Resurgence, was recently added to the game, which I’m quite interested in.

  • Now that you play FFXIV quite often, how are your adventures with your son? Do you think you’d be able to write another column?

  • Hamamura

    That’s the thing… With my son having grown up, our roles have been reversed these days. He’ll take me through content and teach me all kinds of things, and there’s even times when he’ll be like, “You can’t even do this?” Sometimes I think, “You cheeky kid!” but well, it can’t be helped. (laughs wryly)

  • You say that, but surely it makes you happy to know that he’s all grown up now. (laughs)

  • Hamamura

    That's true. But even then, as a paladin who bears Ochain, perhaps it’s time for me to return to FFXI and show him who’s boss around here. (laughs)

* Part 4 will be available on September 28.

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