Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest: Developer Panel Highlights & Insights

28 Jul 2023

Warriors of Light are looking to the future as the first day of the North American Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival brought the official announcement of the newest expansion, Dawntrail, due next summer. However, day one of the event also included an in-depth panel featuring members of the development team looking back on the creation of the wildly successful Endwalker.

In this exclusive panel with Director Naoki Yoshida and Senior Story Designer Natsuko Ishikawa, attendees and livestream viewers got a glimpse into the writing, localization, and development of the 6.0 main scenario. Localization Director Kate Cwynar and Project Communications Manager Aimi Tokutake joined them to translate and add to the discussion.

Annotations: Context, References & More

Ishikawa introduced the panel by showing screenshots of her main editing document to explain the title of the presentation, clarifying that annotations are notes for the translators, animators, and often herself to add context to dialogue. The annotations often include explanations of literary allusions and references to past story content.

She shared annotations from a few key points in Endwalker, beginning with Emet-Selch’s narration from the beginning of the journey across the sea to Sharlayan. Annotations included important contextual information, like that Emet-Selch is narrating the story from the aetherial sea.

Another annotation reveals that “the depths where souls and stars rest” refers to both the aetherial sea and the Endsinger’s nest at the end of the universe.

Speaking of literary allusions, they blame nearly all of FFXIV’s many Shakespeare references on Koji Fox. While he admitted to hating studying Shakespeare in high school, he’s come to love and appreciate his work as an adult – much to Yoshida’s chagrin.

Endwalker also included multiple instances of dialogue referencing the “Tales from the Shadows” short stories, including Azem’s legendary adventure for grapes and the Ironworks’ heroism during the dark future of the 8th Umbral Calamity.

Drawing Connections

G’raha Tia and Amon were meant to be foils in their perspectives on how memories shape the current self. Amon rejected that his memories as Hermes lead to him wanting to end the world, whereas G’raha Tia – as the Crystal Exarch – believed the opposite. However, the two had similar thoughts regarding the soul’s “natural disposition,” musing that no matter how many experiences (or reincarnations) one might have, the soul retains its original nature.

She compared Hermes’ reflections on his guiding question about the meaning of life with Zenos’ monologue in Garlemald. In the referenced scene, Zenos declares that any meaning of life must be found on ones own. If we relate this back to G’raha’s assertion that your life is shaped by your experiences and the people in it, Alisaie’s powerful retort to Zenos about his philosophy ultimately leading to him being alone holds a bit more weight.

Friendly(?) Faces

Continuing their dicussion of the same scene, the devs touched on the ongoing challenge of writing and portraying the Warrior of Light as an individual player character while still showing emotional expressions and responses. They are very cognizant and careful about making sure the WoL’s actions and reactions can be interpreted in a variety of ways so as to not alienate players with differing opinions. 

The WoL’s facial expression in response to Zenos’ dialogue was a particular example of a time when they tried to find balance between showing emotion while keeping the reaction open-ended.

Still on the topic of Zenos, they mentioned having trouble deciding how much they wanted to explain his appearance at the end of 6.0 – exposition would obviously have interrupted the drama of the moment. 

Ishikawa admitted it was ultimately too little explanation for her taste, but that it was important to remember the scenario taking place in a realm of Dynamis – a place where emotion dictates reality. As the finale of the story showed us, the laws of physics are nothing compared to the power of strong feelings.

The Levellieur Legacy

Circling back finally to the annotations, Ishikawa presented some of her writing notes about the Levellieurs in Garlemald. While the two are trapped in the cold, Alisaie reflects on the fact that purpose and meaning should come from oneself rather than others.

Ishikawa’s notes mention her callback to dialogue from Louisoix in the Binding Coil of Bahamut: “You must needs find your own reason to fight for this realm – your own meaning in this sea of chaos.”

Ishikawa explained that in working with such different languages like English and Japanese, sometimes it’s necessary to use completely different words or phrases to communicate the same message. Kate expertly explained this in detail, breaking down the original Japanese phrasology and how it relates to Alisaie’s Endwalker dialogue.

The team discussed linguistic intricacies between English and Japanese at length, exhibiting the great lengths the writers go to to make the game both understandable and compelling to all audiences. 

They also mentioned using visual clues to draw parallels and reference past dialogue choices, particularly showing Forchenault in the same pose as Luisoix in speaking to the twins. 

Using animation and camera angles, they can communicate far more and add depth to already memorable scenes.

After some reminiscing about raid experiences in Binding Coil, Ishikawa and Yoshida spoke about the early days of cutscene creation and finding the right balance between story and gameplay. 

Ishikawa remembers it as a time when it was not common for MMOs to have a heavy emphasis on storytelling, but that Yoshida has always asserted the importance of the Final Fantasy legacy of great storytelling. Ishikawa says this idea has served as guiding inspiration for her ongoing work.

Onward to Dawntrail

Ishikawa also made sure to note that the players’ enthusiasm and positive reactions to past content have allowed them to keep writing this story – and will continue to encourage them along their journey through 7.0 and beyond. 

The new story in Tural will have a “new generation” of writers taking the helm, but Ishikawa will continue to provide narrative guidance alongside Yoshida.

Images courtesy of Square Enix.