Michael-Christopher Koji Fox Part 4

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 Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (often referred to by his middle name, "Koji") from the Localization team, who worked on English translations for the North American version of FFXI. As an American who has loved Japan since childhood, how did he come to be involved with FFXI, and what were his thoughts on the past two decades as a member of the Localization team? In this fourth and final part, Koji talked about his musical activities with THE STAR ONIONS, as well as his thoughts on the name "WE ARE VANA'DIEL," which he provided for the website.

Michael-Christopher Koji Fox
(Michael Christopher Koji Fox)

Senior Translator in Square Enix's Localization department. Born in the U.S. in the state of Oregon, he taught English at a junior high school in Japan after receiving his teaching license from Hokkaido University of Education. He later joined the Localization team at Square (now Square Enix) in April 2003, where he has worked on FFXI's English translations for scenario text and item names and is currently (2023) the Localization Director for FFXVI. Koji has also been a drummer in THE STAR ONIONS (a band of FFXI staff members) and is the vocalist and rapper for THE PRIMALS (the official band of FFXIV).

The trials and tribulations of translating lyrics

  • Koji, you were the drummer for THE STAR ONIONS at FFXI Summer Carnival 2005 and Altana Festival in Osaka (2007). Did you have any experience with music prior to those performances?

  • Koji

    I started in music when I began playing percussion in fifth grade. From there, I played percussion in marching bands and brass bands up through high school. After moving to Japan, I joined a band in university and worked hard to make a major debut.

    In Hakodate, there's this performing arts theater called Aundo Hall. GLAY* has been performing there since their debut, and there's this wall where they wrote "GLAY" in enormous letters. We wrote our band name next to theirs in small letters, but perhaps our shyness was a sign that we weren't going to make it big like they did. (laughs)

    * GLAY is a Japanese rock band formed in Hakodate, Hokkaido that made its major debut in 1994.
  • So you'd been doing music for quite a long time then.

  • Koji

    Those experiences eventually led to joining THE STAR ONIONS for FFXI. I believe the band was formed when Mr. Mizuta* wanted to do a live concert, to which Ms. Tanioka* agreed.

    * Naoshi Mizuta, composer for most of the music for FFXI.
    * Kumi Tanioka, composer, arranger, and pianist who composed numerous songs for FFXI.
  • How did you end up as their drummer?

  • Koji

    We had another drummer in the company, Mr. Hanyuda*, but he was already part of Mr. Uematsu's* band, THE BLACK MAGES, and couldn't commit to another. From there, people in the team knew that I also could play the drums, so that's how I ended up getting nominated. There was an audition sort of thing where I played the drums in front of Mr. Uematsu and Mr. Hanyuda, who instructed me to play certain beats.

    * Arata Hanyuda, original Global Promotion Producer for FFXI.
    * Nobuo Uematsu, composer of numerous tracks in the FF series.
  • And since then, you've played at several large-scale events for FFXI both in and out of Japan, and now you even handle the vocals and rapping for FFXIV!

  • Koji

    I'm not sure how I ended up in those roles. (laughs)

  • I believe you've also written lyrics. What was the first song you ever worked on?

  • Koji

    The first song I wrote the lyrics for was "Distant Worlds," the ending theme for Chains of Promathia. Technically, I was translating the Japanese lyrics written by Ms. Sato*, but unlike a normal translation, it had a melody and needed to rhyme, so it was very difficult. In the end, I essentially rewrote everything from scratch based on the feelings of the original lyrics.

    * Yaeko Sato, planner for FFXI.
  • Sounds like translating lyrics was very different from translating regular text.

  • Koji

    Something I found particularly troublesome was how Japanese songs typically allow for any combination of verse and melody, whereas stressed syllables are crucial in English songs.

    For instance, there are two syllables in the word "paper," and the first syllable is stressed. When you have a melody where the stress is placed towards the end, the word "paper" should not be placed there; instead, you should choose a word that stresses the second syllable. Like so, translating lyrics into English is restricted by the melody and rhyming schemes. Combined with having to preserve the feeling of the original poem, you end up with numerous limitations, and so translating lyrics is the most nerve-wracking and time-consuming part of my job. That said, I feel an immense sense of accomplishment when the lyrics are finished.

  • There's often many cases where foreign songs are covered with completely different Japanese lyrics, and vice versa. Perhaps they too, are the result of prioritizing certain elements and feelings of the original songs.

  • Koji

    In the end, all that matters is that the song is enjoyable for the listening audience. After all, wrestling an accurate translation of the original lyrics into the melody doesn't necessarily make for a good song.


  • Koji, you're also the one who suggested the name "WE ARE VANA'DIEL" for FFXI's 20th anniversary website. Could you share your reasons behind the name?

  • Koji

    First of all, FFXI was only made possible with the many people who have been involved in its development. Many people have been involved in FFXI over the past two decades, including the creators who first came up with the idea, the people who shaped the world of Vana'diel through artwork, those who've been with the project since its inception and those who joined midway, as well as members of the Operations and Publicity teams.

    So it's "WE," and not "I." It was with everyone's presence that FFXI was made possible, and the positive aspects of all of those people were packed into the game we know as FFXI.

    And of course, the other "WE" is the players. Although the FF series had many fans prior to FFXI, each of them was an "I" playing the games alone. Then FFXI came along, and for the first time, all of those "I"s came together to become a "WE."

  • Ah, so the name was also a reference to how FFXI was the first online game in the FF series.

  • Koji

    That's right.

    Furthermore, the actual game content in FFXI could only be played with a community, not by one person on their own. I mean, would you have been able to obtain a Magicked Skull* all by yourself in the early days of the game? (laughs)

    We were all able to keep playing thanks to the help of the people we met back then and a sizable overall community. That's why it's "WE". Vana'diel has countless supporters in its developers and player community, and that's why I suggested the name "WE ARE VANA'DIEL."

    * Magicked Skull is one of the items dropped by Ghouls required in the quest "Elder Memories" in Selbina, which unlocks support jobs.
  • I think it's the perfect name for the 20th anniversary website.

  • Koji

    Of course, this "WE" includes myself. I was all alone when I came from Hokkaido, Square was the first game company I'd ever worked for, and I was new to working as a translator. I didn't know what to do at first, but everyone in the FFXI team eagerly offered their support and taught me what I needed to learn. The FFXI Development team is a comfortable community of its own, and I believe that's why they were able to make a community-focused game like FFXI.

I wouldn't be who I am today without FFXI

  • With FFXI having celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022, how do you feel when you look back at the past two decades?

  • Koji

    It's really an amazing accomplishment.

    When I think about the past 20 years and those who've been playing since the early days, I imagine FFXI has become a truly important aspect of their day-to-day lives. It's sort of like how comfortable a leather jacket can feel after wearing it for so long; you just want to wear it forever and never want to get rid of it.

    In the same way, although FFXI has gotten a bit old, it has a gripping story, plenty of content to play through, and the relationships we've built with other players, and all of that is very hard to let go of. FFXI's graphics and systems may seem dated compared to the latest games, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still a good game. Both the Development team and player community continues to pour their passion into the game, and I believe that's why people are still drawn to FFXI.

  • How would you describe FFXI in the context of your career?

  • Koji

    I wouldn't be where I am today without FFXI. FFXI is how I learned everything about working as a translator, as well as what makes a good or bad translation. That knowledge allowed me to continue translating in FFXIV, and most recently FFXVI, so I'm truly grateful for FFXI. I'm also grateful to the company and the FFXI project for giving me a chance when I had no translation experience, and to Mr. Tanaka* and the Development team who entrusted me with translations.

    * Hiromichi Tanaka, original Producer for FFXI.
  • Last but not least, do you have any words for FFXI and its players as they continue to celebrate the 20th anniversary?

  • Koji

    Everything I've shared so far is my message for everyone, so it's difficult to reiterate all of that in a few words. I imagine everyone who still plays FFXI does so because they love the game, so I feel like "Thank you for playing," isn't quite the right words. It's truly an honor to have been involved in the development of a game that everyone has loved for so long. Although my work only makes up a small part of the overall project, I'd be very happy if anyone was moved in any way by reading the words I wrote.

    It's also a great honor to be interviewed on behalf of the many people who've been involved in the FFXI Localization team over the years, including Richard*, my other senior translation colleagues, the German and French translators, and N, who is currently in charge of the English translations.

    Vana'diel continues to exist thanks to the countless supporters we have in the Development team, the Localization team, and all of our players. All in all, perhaps the message I want to convey to everyone at this moment is "WE ARE VANA'DIEL."

    * Richard Mark Honeywood, original Localization Director for FFXI.

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