We’ve once again had the pleasure to sit down with Michael-Christopher Koji Fox to pick his (and Banri Oda’s) brain about the lore of Final Fantasy XIV!
Read below for the interview or hit that play button at the bottom to listen to it as the latest episode of Lorecast from Aetheryte Radio!
* Due to time constraints (which, as it turns out, we actually didn’t need to worry too much about) we forwent the usual podcast intro in our audio. In addition, the questions in the audio were shortened a fair amount to make sure we didn’t go over our allotted time. These questions were submitted to Koji and Oda-san before our sit-down and so their answers were prepared for our full questions, which are contained in the write up below.
Much of this interaction has been paraphrased and formatted for readability. You can hear the raw conversation in all of its run-on glory at the bottom of this page.
Gamer Escape: This one slipped through the cracks of our last chat, so let’s start here. The properties of aetherial energies have gotten a bit confusing.
Once upon a time, the only binary in the game was [astral & umbral]. These polarities existed in all things, and seemed to be part of the six elements rather than independent forces. Since A Realm Reborn, a second binary exists: [Light & Darkness]. As one might expect, NPCs don’t seem very well informed about these concepts, using phrases like “void energy” and “umbral energy” and “Dark energy”. As time went on, we even started to see Dark and Light sprites! Can you help us understand the boundaries for these concepts? Are they in any way related?
Koji Fox: So, you have the elements—and it’s still six elements, there are no newly-discovered ones. Those elements have charges—umbral and astral. If something has “umbral energy”, it is one or more of those elements, individual or combined. So if elements have an umbral charge, it can be said that they are “umbral energies”. That’s where those terms come from, “astral energies” and “umbral energies” are not individual things, it’s a blanket term. Light and Dark are not elements, but they are energies…in a different sense. They are not elements, they are not of the elements, and they are not astral or umbral. It’s a different type of energy. You might see a Light and Dark sprite and think, oh, they must be elemetals, but those are made of an entirely different form of energy.
Gamer Escape: How does linkpearl technology work?
I don’t recall Final Fantasy XI explaining it beyond some humorous hand-waving in my time, but it seems like something XIV’s team would have put some thought into.
Koji Fox: As you know, I played and worked on Final Fantasy XI. Even back then, I did think that linkpearls just seemed so convenient, but no one ever explained them. So, back when I joined XIV—this was before 1.0 launch, when Iwao-san did the lore—I told him we should have an explanation.
Conveniently, we already had aether. Everything is aether and there’s this sea of aether out in the world and there’s the Lifestream and that’s how people can use aetherytes and so on. Why not have linkpearls follow this reasoning?
We’ve explained before that aetherytes act as beacons. Your body gets drawn towards these beacons so you don’t get pulled into the Lifestream and drift off forever. Linkpearls are very tiny beacons—not ones you could use to teleport—but you can speak into them and then that gets converted into a…packet…of aetherial disturbance which shoots out into the world and is drawn to another beacon that’s been assigned to the same thing, whereby it flows into the beacon and is transformed out.
So these packets of disturbed aether fly throughout the world, and they can be disrupted by any other energy, or intercepted. The Garleans are intercepting them—remember Minfilia knew she was probably being listened to—and then you have Garlean technology which can jam linkpearls.
So Iwao-san and I were like, “That works. That’s a good idea.” And then we never got around to explaining it. But we actually decided on it like seven years ago!
Gamer Escape: At the end of Heavensward, the Warrior of Light saw themselves through Thordan’s eyes as he asked, “What are you?” The moment looked downright sinister. Should we be worried?
Koji Fox: This was a combination of things. First, the cutscene team wanted to do something really dramatic. You see that a lot in anime—that dramatic perspective. The other half is that you’re literally seeing it through his eyes. He’s convinced himself that the way he was doing things was the correct way and that he was in the supreme right. Then you come in and you break all of that down. In his mind’s eye, you’re the evil one—and the last thing he sees is you in that evil image.
Gamer Escape: Where did Ramuh get a Crystal of Light?
Lahabrea once hinted that Hydaelyn’s champion was able to “interfere with the aetherial realm” to manifest Crystals of Light. That’s sufficient to hand-wave most of the crystal acquisitions after the first one was gifted to us. However, we received one as a gift from the Sylphs, which was in turn (allegedly) a gift from Ramuh. Why would a primal have a sliver of Hydaelyn? Did the Sylphs once confuse an Archon for Rhalgr-incarnate?
Koji Fox: I discussed this one with Oda-san and there is a reason…but we plan on expanding on that pretty soon. We can’t tell you everything, but we want you to know that it has a lot to do with Ramuh’s past. Ramuh is clearly different from the other primals. They hate the five—six races, now; they’re all enemies. So, Ramuh’s not the same type, and he knows a lot about the past, and there’s a reason he knows so much. There’s a reason he’s not an enemy of the six races. Therein lies the hint of why he had this crystal and why it came to you.
Gamer Escape: How did a diresaur end up in the Final Coil of Bahamut?
Heavensward taught us that the aevis, syricta, and diresaurs are the draconic transformations of those descended from Ratatoskr’s murderers. It’s an Ishgardian thing. The Meracydian diresaur in the Final Coil, then, seems very out of place. Are there other mortals who’ve taken such forms?
Koji Fox: All of the things that happened with Ratatoskr’s murder…and the consuming of the flesh…and the drinking of the blood that gave people the power to transform… Something similar happened in another war between dragons and man—in Meracydia. At that time, you had others who partook of the blood of one of the originals and thus became similar creatures. The link is Mercaydia. Ratatoskr was murdered. Where did they get the blood? I won’t touch on that…
Gamer Escape: It sounds like Allag’s capital was near Silvertear Lake. Where was Midgardsormr?
Given the Battle of Silvertear Skies, it seems incredible that Midgardsormr could have slept through (or abstained from action against) Allag’s activities, especially late into the Third Astral Era. Where was the Father of Dragons whilst Allag warred with his children, killed his son, enslaved primals, and entreated the void from a tower built on his waterfall? (All while apparently working with Omega, his nemesis from another planet and/or dimension!)
Koji Fox: [Laughing] Yeaaah…! “Why weren’t you doing anything!?” Omega—just gonna ignore that. Primals—just gonna ignore that. Crystal tower… Actually, the backbone of this story exists, and hopefully—not in 4.1, after—we’ll delve into what he was doing, or at least what he was thinking, at that time. We’re going to tell that story, but in the game.
Gamer Escape: What was Unukalhai up to for all those years he was with Elidibus?
If Unukalhai is from the world that became the void, he’s old. Really old. Between roughly 6,000 to 20,000 years years old. Yet he also still seems very childlike and naive. How did he go so long without learning or maturing or reflecting on Elidibus’s motivations?
Koji Fox: Basically, Unukalhai was a sort of trump card for Elidibus. He put him in stasis (stasis is the key here), and held onto him until just the right time to use him. “Oh, a calamity is approaching? Time to play the trump card!” So his origin is very old, but he was in stasis, so he’s very immature.
Gamer Escape: How did the summoning of Susano work?
He kind of came out of nowhere, there! If I had to guess, I’d say the Magatama acted a bit like Zantetsuken, but that’s the best I’ve got.
Koji Fox: This one was in the forum questions, as well, but I can answer you guys here. Actually, there’s nothing new going on, at all. It’s the same way primals have always been summoned: strong belief, the power of the crystals—aether within the crystals consolidates to make a manifestation. Until now, the beast tribes have been like, “Okay, we need Ifrit NOW!” “We need Garuda NOW!” and the belief and aether in that area would result in a manifestation of that belief. With Susano, there was no intention, but everything else just fell into place. There was a ritual in a sense—intense belief, aether latent in the treasures, and even though it wasn’t intended, it just sort of happened. It wasn’t a mistake, just happenstance.
Gamer Escape: Lately, we’ve seen a few apparitions of the dead. Can you explain what was happening?
Until recently, it seemed that the Lifestream’s call was nigh-irresistible, suggesting that many things Eorezeans believed to be the spirits of the dead were actually misunderstood entities (such as voidsent). For example, the 2.0 white mage story arc seemed to bend over backwards to explain the appearance of A-Towa-Cant. More recently, we’ve seen apparitions of Haurchefant and Ysayle in the Dragonsong War arc, and Ivon Coeurlfist in a recent dungeon. Is there an explanation for their appearance? Are there true hauntings on Hydaelyn?
Koji Fox: We’d like to leave this open to interpretation. It’s unknowable, and that’s why sources differ. It’s intentional. We want players to ask if this is real. We want players wondering, “Did I see Haurchefant because that’s where I believed he was? Is some of his aether still on this plane combining with my belief that he was just the greatest and it’s forming this thing? That’s for the player experience. That’s for you to believe what you want to believe. [pauses] AND, NO, HE’S NOT A VOIDSENT! There’s nothing possessing his corpse like [spooky voice] “I’M HAURCHEFANT!” [laughs]
Gamer Escape: How do Calamities empower Zodiark?
We’ve learned a lot about the nature of the cosmos and why Calamities happen, but if the dimension that is compressed has all of its aether return to the Sea, why does Hydaelyn get increasingly weaker while Zodiark, exiled as the moon, is empowered?
Koji Fox: A lot has been revealed, but a lot of backstory is still hidden; there’s a method to the madness. I talked to Oda-san about this for over an hour and we picked it apart. He’s decided to go back and rethink a few things, and even then he doesn’t want to reveal too much here. You mentioned the E3 interview where Yoshida-san spoke of the Ascian storyline not being complete? We still have more to reveal on that. But Oda-san wants to leave you with a hint: That Zodiark was stronger than Hydaelyn before the division is significant.
Gamer Escape: Did Neo Exdeath manage to tap into the actual void from the Deltascape or was that more Omega-synthetic shenanigans?
Koji Fox: Omega shenanigans. Exdeath is from the void, so Omega compiled some void.
Gamer Escape: Are the statues in the Mhachi raids their interpretation of Rhalgr?
Koji Fox: Hmmm. [Pauses] (That’s all Oda-san wrote.)
Gamer Escape: What is the “Ver” prefix on the Red Mage spells? Ver-million? Ver-
Koji Fox: Vermillion, yes. We knew that it wasn’t really white magic or black magic and we needed something that was one syllable and punchy and works cross-language and vermillion worked out well. You write out every spell with each of your ideas and you see what looks best.
Gamer Escape: Would a “Light-born” void differ from the “Dark-born” void we know?
Koji Fox: Actually, yes. There’s that that “blank, white perfection” line in the game. That’s accurate. The Dark void that we know is void of aether, but you still have the people and animals that were there and they’re aether-starved and trying to break through into our world and suck that aether back into their own. Whereas in a light void there’s NOTHING. It’s empty. Beyond that I can’t say anything.
Gamer Escape: The lore book introduced this concept of the “Whorl”. How did this find its way into Eorzean mythology? Is there some great swirling Chaos out there beyond the cosmos?
Koji Fox: Who knows? No one was there at the beginning of the universe, so they have to speculate. Why did they create this answer? Because there can’t be no answer. It’s like a metaphor for the womb, this dark void from which something emerges into the light. Something can’t come from nothing, and birth is something familiar to them. I don’t know if I want to go deeper into it than that, it’s like, what, 10am?
Gamer Escape: Koji? [pauses] Where do babies come from?
Koji Fox: FROM THE WHORL!
Gamer Escape: If they arrived here as the Ascians did, did Unukalhai and the Warriors of Darkness have to possess vessels to interact with our plane, as well?
Koji Fox: Hm! Yeah… Um. Yeaaah… That’s a good question. Like, did Derplander die and some guy’s like, “Hey, this is a good vessel, I’ll take this!”
Gamer Escape: [laughing] It was the Warriors of Darkness in the trailer the whole time!
Koji Fox: No, no, no, no, no!
Gamer Escape: So…vessels?
Koji Fox: I can’t. [laughing] Oda-san laughed when I asked him this question. I can’t.
Gamer Escape: Can you give us any time frame for how long ago the floating continent was torn from the planet and later shattered? The moogles don’t seem entirely reliable with history.
Koji Fox: But they’re the only history we have! Whether to believe them or not is up to you. Oda-san wants to keep this vague. Keep people looking for hidden truths! Should you believe the moogles because they’re all you have, or not because [laughing] they’re pretty much full of b.s. every other time you talk to them…
Gamer Escape: Let’s talk about the development process a bit. It feels as though there’s less “pre-fabricated” lore to build on, these days; that all-new ideas are built alongside foundations. Has that had any effect on the lore team’s process?
Koji Fox: A little bit. We had a foundation in 1.0, and then in 2.0 we had to decide, okay, we’ll keep some of this, we’ll change some of this—but we had that foundation. And then we built on it greatly in 2.0, and fleshed it out in 3.0, and now in 4.0 we move to a different land. We needed a lot of foundations for Hingashi and such that we can continue to build upon in the 4.x series and beyond.
But, yeah, there are a lot of times we’ll get some high-ranking dev team member—like maybe some director slash producer—and he’ll be like, “I wanna do THIS!” Oh… Okay… How do we make that happen? That’s one of Oda-san’s main jobs: figuring out how to make things work with the foundation that we have even though it’s something we never imagined would come way back when we invented it.
There’s a lot of scrambling to make things work, but the hardest part is making it consistent. That’s what we try to do—go in, check the backstory, make sure we’re not going to contradict anything. That part is getting harder in a sense because there’s more stuff to check, so it’s taking more time.
And of course you get new team members. The scenario team is getting new people in and out—same is true in localization—and we have to get them up to speed. Again, it’s not more difficult, but it takes more time.
Gamer Escape: We were surprised to see the Longhaft didn’t get a nod in the lore book! I might regret this but…wasn’t there a song we were supposed to be looking out for?
Koji Fox: Yes, there was! The Ode to Hunberct Longhaft. I still have that on my desktop and I’m waiting for the Japanese team. I translated it roughly into Japanese so they would know what it was, and they were like, “We can’t. We can’t. Really!?” It’s going to come down to where can we do it, and I wanna do it someplace official. You know, in-game, or some kind of publication, if that’s ever gonna happen again after the first lore book. (Oda-san’s like, “Yeah, about that…”) If it’s not possible it might just be one of those things where I tell them they don’t have to translate it into Japanese and embarrass themselves but I’m going to put it up on the English forums just so it’s out there. I’m still pushing, though, because I [laughing] really want to see a Japanese translation of it.
Gamer Escape: We talked to Yoshida-san at E3 and he said:
We haven’t actually clearly decided on how we’ll bring a resolution to the Ascian arc. <…> [E]ven if we did reveal all that and have closure, it’s still not the end of the story. We can always make more expansions, maybe we’ll go to Vana’diel or something like that. “Return to Vana’diel” (laughs)
Vana’diel!? Have there been discussions on this topic? Being as involved in Final Fantasy XI as you were, what kind of elements would you be excited to include in the world of Final Fantasy XIV?
Koji Fox: We haven’t heard anything like that yet, so we were kind of surprised. Not really surprised, after all the stuff he’s thrown at us, nothing really surprises us anymore, but… For both myself and Oda-san, XI has a special place in our hearts.
Before he worked at Square Enix on the XIV team, Oda-san was writing the guidebooks that were made for the company, including for XI. And this was back in the old days—when the XI team didn’t give any information to third-party guide makers—so they had to sit and play the game to get all of the numbers. One of the first jobs he had was to go on that ferry from Selbina to Mhaura—the real-time one where you could fish. He was in charge of fishing stats; you know, the moon phases and directions kind of stuff. He had to check all of this. So they gave him this super high-level character—a private character that one of the other people working there had used. They told him, “Just fish a bunch of times and write down all your data.” And of course he fishes up one of the krakens, which kills the character. So he has to go bow down to his senpai like, “I’m sorry I killed your character! And also he leveled down!” It was his first job and he totally thought he was going to get fired, but he didn’t. But he said that with a Return to Vana’diel opportunity he’d love to bring back that real-time ferry where you can just sit and fish or do something between one place and another.
Gamer Escape: I had a similar experience on one of the first boats to Aht Urhgan. One of those new NMs pops and someone tries to call for help and it’s like, “No, we need to see what it drops!”
Koji Fox: Myself personally, my best memory from all of XI is Promyvion. I loved that content and I loved the design of the monsters and I would love to have something like that in XIV. Like, maybe connect it with the void and go in there and fight those husks of enemies. That would be really cool, that’s what I’d like. Or we could bring in a Valkurm Dunes and just get parties grinding out there for like 30 hours.
Matt Hilton: [shaking his head from the other side of the table]
Koji Fox: [laughing] Matt’s over there like, “Nooo!” Magicked skull, man! Best memories from XI!
Gamer Escape: Goblins all rushing over, beating you with fishing poles.
Matt Hilton: The train…
Gamer Escape: [laughing] Train to zone!
Gamer Escape: Back at the Tokyo Fan Fest, we talked a bit about Rise.
At the time, you told us that Fiend was your favorite song to perform, but that you would love to do Rise once you figured out how to sing it without tripping over yourself because it’s so fast. And yet at Frankfurt you did Rise! Was it just a lot of practice and repetition needed to pull that off? How did that happen?
Koji Fox: That happened in two weeks. Soken’s like, “So, Koji! You said publicly that you can’t do it. But you can do it, right?” “I don’t know, I can practice.” “So we’re gonna do it for Frankfurt.” “What? That’s in like two weeks!” “You can do it!” Typical Soken. “It’s okay! You can do it!” This was before we even practiced once with the band.
So we started practicing, and it was just every night on the thirty-minute walk from the station to my house listening to it and mumbling along and I’m sure all the Japanese people were like, “Oh, crazy gaijin.” [laughs] But finally we brought the band together and we hadn’t played it before, so it felt like a jam session. But they’re pros, they play it one time and they’re like, “Okay, I got this.” and now it’s all on me. “The band can do it. Can you?” But being in that situation, where you’re surrounded by these guys who’ve played with the top artists in Japan—consumate pros—and Soken-san is there batting his eyelashes like “You can do this right, Koji!?” We just practiced it over and over and got it down.
It’s still absolute nonsense. The way Soken took the original song and cut it up to feel how he wanted it to feel, words that were longer and grammar that was there are gone. But I have to sing it like this—here’s a half word that’s not a real word but now I sing it that way. It was really hard to force myself to sing something that wasn’t what I originally wrote, and wasn’t what I’d sung the first time—I had to re-learn it. But it was a lot of fun.
I’m still going to say Fiend is my favorite song, but it was a lot of fun. And the… where we stopped [poses] in the middle.
Gamer Escape: I loved that. That was great. Who came up with the idea?
Koji Fox: That was actually a background organizer in the sound department. He suggested it and piecemealed it together like, “This is how you could do it.” and it was like, “Wow, this actually works. Let’s try it.” So we got there and saw the lighting and it’s like, “We have to get it real bright, and we’ll look like shadows up front.” And we’re up there and it’s bright and we can just see everyone and it’s like, “Oh, my god, this is so embarrassing.” But you see it from the floor and it’s all shadow and it’s okay. I felt like a moron up there, though—stopped like, “Okaaay, when does this end? Eight bars, gotta count eight bars.” But it was a lot of fun.
Gamer Escape: We got the Far Edge of Fate soundtrack with the lyrics to Rise and I’m looking at it as the song’s playing, like “How did he do this!?” It’s crazy. I can’t do it.
Koji Fox: It is crazy. Ask all the people that I walked by on the road home. They know how crazy it is, they heard it many times.
Gamer Escape: As long as you didn’t do, like, the stop-freeze in the middle of the walk. [laugh]
Koji Fox: No, no, [laughing]