FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 1): Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda
Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team.
I work on the FFXIV team alongside producer and director Naoki Yoshida and the many other team members who are passionately working on all aspects of the game. As a member of the Promotional team, I have many opportunities to connect with various staff, and I eventually came to realize, "I want to tell the players about this wonderful team!"
This led me to create the FFXIV Backstage Investigators, a new blog series that will share some stories from the team members who work on FFXIV.
I hope that these posts offer some insight into the passion that the development and operations teams put into the game!
The subject of our first interview is...
Without further ado, let's get interviewing!
Miyamiya: Hello Mr. Oda, thank you for agreeing to the interview... This is my first interview, so I'm nervous... S-so, please introduce yourself and tell us about your line of work!
Oda: (Smiling) My name is Banri Oda. I have a leading role in both the Lore team and the Scenario team.
Miyamiya: I see, so the Lore and Scenario are handled by different teams. I guess it's safe to say you're one of the masterminds behind the world of FFXIV!
The Shadowbringers storyline reached its climax in Patch 5.3, and I'm sure players had a lot of thoughts to share with you! How do you feel about finally reaching the climax of Shadowbringers?
Oda: My first thought is just a feeling of relief that we were able to release the patch. Due to the situation with COVID-19, we experienced several major changes, such as working remotely to develop the game. On top of that, all sorts of adjustments occurred right before we were about to release the patch. It was a very hectic situation, and I was worried whether we would really be able to make it happen, but we were able to release the patch despite all that, so I'm just glad that we were able to deliver something for our players to play.
Main Scenario Writer Natsuko Ishikawa, who was in charge of the Patch 5.3 main scenario, and all the staff members working on quests, cutscenes, and battle content were facing all sorts of hardships while working on the game. Having witnessed that, I'm very, very relieved to hear that players enjoyed the patch.
Aside from the main scenario, we received overall positive responses for the Sorrow of Werlyt, YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse, Ishgardian Restoration, Custom Deliveries, and tribe quests. We even tried out some new things in them, and we're glad they were well-received.
Miyamiya: Indeed, all of them featured amazing stories, and the new gameplay aspects were really enjoyable! I could go on and on, but let's move on to the next question.
Going back a little bit, I'd like to ask about your past, before you started working on FFXIV. Were you always interested in writing stories? Did you have a similar role at previous jobs?
Oda: Although I enjoy reading books, I'd never written a story before. To be honest, I'd never even considered working in that area of expertise.
I previously worked as an editor and writer for a company that published game strategy guides, lore books, and fan books.
One day, we were creating a strategy guide for an arcade game when it was decided to add an official short story at the end of the book. Originally, our plan was to hire a scenario writer, but complications arose that left us without a writer. We couldn't just leave those pages blank, so I said, "I guess we don't have a choice!" and gave it a try. We sent the plot to the developer and received their approval, and so I ended up writing the rest of the short story. That would be my first time writing a story, but I was just filling in, and still hadn't considered working as a scenario writer.
Sometime later, Square Enix posted an ominous job listing seeking "someone who can write in Japanese," and I joined the company. I was thinking they were going to ask me to come up with the text for the official website or something, so it came as a surprise when the job turned out to be lore creation. My supervisor at the time asked, "You can write scenarios too, right?" and so I began writing the plot for sidequests and such, which led to my current position.
Miyamiya: Sounds like it was fate! After joining FFXIV, you've created countless stories and their settings, written the lore books, appeared onstage at Fan Festivals and other live events, and even oversaw some marketing projects that involved the main scenario and characters.
Of all the things you've worked on so far, is there anything that stood out to you the most?
Oda: It's hard to pick something as "number one" but I'd say live events have left quite an impression on me.
▲ A photo from gamescom 2019 in Germany.
I've had the privilege of participating in the Fan Festival and other live events, and it's truly moving when you see the tremendous number of people attend the event and all their fervor. After all, I'm typically working at my desk and don't get to see that sort of thing. That said, I'm all the more eager to find out how we'll approach our next Fan Festival, given the current situation.
Miyamiya: The operations team is working on that, so we hope you'll be looking forward to updates! It'd be great to have the opportunity to meet with players again after the situation has improved. Does talking with players translate into motivation for when you develop the game?
Oda: Of course, it is a powerful source of motivation. Aside from meeting players directly, we've been receiving many presents and letters addressed to the development team and characters during Valentine's Day in recent years. For members of the Scenario team, our excitement swells when someone addresses a present to a character we wrote, or when players send us letters detailing their impressions of our work, so it's definitely a great source of motivation.
▲ The Valentine's Day gifts the development team received this year.
When one of our younger Scenario team members saw a letter addressed to their very first character, they were absolutely overjoyed. We've had similar heartwarming moments, and we're truly grateful for them.
Miyamiya: That's very touching! So everyone, rest assured, our team members are receiving your love for the game in full!
So then, I'd like to ask about some recent events as well. Do you have any interesting stories, anecdotes, or discoveries to share about the projects that you're in charge of?
Oda: In that sense, I have a funny story about "Dwarven Decking."
In Patch 5.35, we added a new instanced dungeon, the Heroes' Gauntlet. Towards the end of the dungeon, a Dwarven character named Giott appears and deals massive damage to the enemy with an attack named "Dwarven Decking."
▲ The Japanese screenshot showcases Giott's "dwarven decking" attack and features text that's included when the player has completed the healer role quest series. The English version is: "A good old-fashioned dwarven decking, made mightier in exile!"
Creating an instanced dungeon usually involves me coming up with the lore based on the main scenario, which I hand off to the Level and Monster teams to be included in the actual project proposal. So as usual, I prepared some references on what sort of enemies would appear in the Heroes' Gauntlet, and Natsuko Ishikawa mentioned that it would be nice if the Crystarium guards and characters from role quests showed up to lend a hand, since the final segment of the dungeon would take place in Lakeland. The remaining details were left up to the level designer in charge.
In the following meeting, I was asked how these characters should participate in the battle, so I simply responded that it'd be nice if they fought alongside the players. As I was in charge of the healer role quests, I was aware of the dwarven decking joke. However, I didn't want to give preferential treatment to a character I wrote myself and bringing up a silly gag could ruin the seriousness of the dungeon, so I intentionally didn't mention it.
Despite that, Ms. Ishikawa and the level designer in charge enthusiastically encouraged me to include dwarven decking in the dungeon, and we ended up implementing it. But then when we got around to play testing, dwarven decking dealt an absolutely ridiculous amount of damage, and I couldn't help but laugh! I wasn't sure if it'd be okay to implement something like that, but we left it up to Producer/Director Yoshida, and dwarven decking ultimately became what it is now. So that's one funny incident that we've had recently. I feel like Giott's character gained more depth as a result, and for that I'm very grateful.
On a different note, when the other scenario team members were play testing the dungeon, the writer of the tank role quests mentioned in dismay, "If I knew this was allowed, I would've added a 'Granson Kick' or something!" (laughs)
▲ A "Granson Kick" may have been interesting!
And now, I'd like to ask about your tools of the trade. Is there anything you simply can't work without, carry everywhere with you, or find useful?
Oda: My "tools of the trade" would be these!
▲ Books, books, and more books! I was also intrigued by the figurines. Apparently, he also likes dinosaurs and other animals.
When it comes to creating lore, you need to come up with names for thousands upon thousands of things, whether it be weapons, monsters, regions, actions, and more. Encyclopedias and historical references are extremely useful in this endeavor. You could even say I couldn't get anything done without them! I purchase new encyclopedias when necessary and don't always read through all the volumes, but I've always enjoyed history-related books and I'm glad I already had them on hand.
On the other hand, I had to relocate my workspace from the company office to my home, which meant bringing home all the resources I'd been keeping in the office. The other day, I drove there and returned with about five cardboard boxes full of books... I think there were at least 150 books in all.
Miyamiya: Oh my goodness, 150 books! If we return to working from our offices again, it'll be a struggle to bring them all back! (laughs)
Since we're almost out of time, do you have any final words for players who are reading the blog?
Oda: The COVID-19 situation had a drastic effect on our release schedule, and we unfortunately kept you waiting for Patch 5.3. And yet, you waited for us during that time and some of you even sent us words of encouragement. The development team faced myriad concerns in our new working environment, but your encouragement became our motivation, and I was very grateful for that.
Many in Japan are still affected by COVID-19, and there are other places where the situation is even more dire. But even in these circumstances, we've received heartwarming messages from players all over the world, and so I'd like to take this opportunity to convey my gratitude. Thank you.
Although this situation may persist for a while longer, it would make me truly happy if FFXIV can provide some measure of relief for you during these times.
Miyamiya: Thank you for joining us and sharing your delightful stories with us today!
How was our first entry? I hope I was able to give you a glimpse into my beloved FFXIV team! I wonder who should I interview next? See you next time!
- Promotional Team