As some of you might remember. Back in June of this year we did an “Final Fantasy XIV” interview with Natsuko Ishikawa and Banri Oda, and in that interview, I did mention that we aim to do a Final Fantasy XIV” interview series. Well, I’m happy to inform you all that we got a chance an interview with Square Enix Koji Fox =) So we talked about everything from “Final Fantasy XIV” to Fox’s memories of working with Square Enix and the “Final Fantasy” series.
So with that said, please enjoy our interview with Koji Fox 😉
I’m going to start off this interview by asking you if you could do a short introduction of yourself. So please go ahead and do so =)
My name is Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (you can thank my father for that mouthful). I hail from Portland, Oregon USA and I’ve been working as a translator/localizer at Square Enix headquarters in Japan since 2003.
My past projects include FINAL FANTASY XI (including the Rise of the Zilart, Chains of Promathia, Treasures of Aht Urghan, and Wings of the Goddess expansions), FINAL FANTASY VII – Dirge of Cerberus, and FINAL FANTASY XIV (from 1.0 to present). I’ve also been credited on countless other titles, but most of that is a result of helping out in various stages of the games’ development, and not necessarily because I did any of the heavy lifting.
What has it been like for you to work for Square Enix for such a long time? And how did you end up working for Square?
There have admittedly been both ups and downs, but for the most part, it has been fifteen years of ups of varying degrees. Getting to work with people I idolized as a child (both Nobuo Uematsu and Yasumi Matsuno were still at Square when I joined) was a dream come true.
Learning most were just as nice in person as I had imagined them to be while grinding EXP on FINAL FANTASY VI (sorry, FFIII) was also a relief, though that time I drank with Uematsu-san in his hotel room until 5 a.m. one E3 forever changed how I view the maestro (in a completely good way, of course). Now, I have people come up to me on the street and tell me that they’ve liked my work since they were kids…which can be both cool and overwhelming at the same time.
As to how I came to work at Square Enix…well, let’s just say it was a long and winding road. After growing up in the US, I came to Japan to attend the Hokkaido University of Education (or HUE for those who prefer their institutes of upper education abbreviated) when I was 20.
I graduated with a degree in English education and linguistics and after getting my teaching license and government certification, I taught at a middle school for three years. The job was rewarding, yet stressful, and so I would take a break every night by participating in the beta test for Squaresoft’s online extravaganza, FINAL FANTASY XI. It was my first online game, and let’s just say it got me through a lot of hard times. When I came across a web page saying that they were hiring people to translate my gut told me to give it a shot…and the rest is history.
You have done a lot of translations and localization jobs for a handful of Final Fantasy games over the years. So, what has that experience been like for you? And which FF game did you have the most fun with while working on the said game?
They say you always remember your first, and so it goes without saying that FINAL FANTASY XI has a special place in my heart. It was on FFXI that I learned a lot about localization in general, and my experiences while on the project saw me grow and evolve into the translator I am today.
The most fun I’ve had on a project, however, would have to be the first six months spent on FINAL FANTASY XIV (FFXIV). Yes, I know that the game eventually turned into the mess that angered fans across the world, spawned countless apology letters, and saw the entire game rebuilt from the ground up, but those first few months were golden.
Getting to work on a AAA game at the conceptualization stages, creating lore, conceiving languages, building the framework for everything else that is to come—there’s nothing more exciting or rewarding. You get to be one of the gods up there on Mount Olympus deciding the unique cultural backgrounds of races or how many hells exist in the afterlife. Seven is a good number, I find.
What was it like to write the Encyclopaedia Eorzea book? Because if I’m not wrong now, it’s a +300 pages long book. In other words, it’s a rather thick book.
On average, the FFXIV localization team usually produces about 250-300 pages of text each patch, and four times that each expansion, so when it comes to pumping out massive quantities text, we’ve gotten used to it. What was challenging with the lore book was that we had to do another 300 pages while doing the 300 expected of us for the next patch.
That said, it was extremely rewarding work. As a long-time fan of Japanese games myself, I understand that feeling western players get when they see another 500-page Ultimania-type tome released in Japan, revealing all the important information (favorite color in the rainbow, swimming trunks size, age when pet axolotl was tragically lost in a fire) about their favorite characters…and then realize it will never be translated into English. So, when talk of the first FFXIV lore book came around, I took it as a challenge. It was high time the rest of the world got their hands on the juicy stuff as well!
What do you like the most about “Final Fantasy XIV” and its story so far? And if you could change, add or remove anything, then what would that be?
The most amazing thing about FFXIV’s story so far would have to be its continuity. For the past five years (seven, if you count 1.0…which we do!) the game has added character after character, quest after quest. With every patch, the game grows the size of a standalone RPG.
To make sure that new pieces fit perfectly with existing ones (especially when you have hundreds of development team members throwing new ideas at the project daily) is an exhausting task, and one that requires a lot of patience, perseverance…and imagination (especially when something doesn’t fit, but the director said it’s going in anyway). I think the lore team and the localization team have done a great job to ensure that story, characterization, and background remain consistent.
One of the benefits of working on an online game with regular updates is that there’s always an opportunity to tweak things…though we try not to do anything major, as people often grow attached to lines of dialogue or used to certain turns of phrase in their system messages. If there was one thing that I’d change (but cannot, for whatever reason), it would probably be the spellings of several NPC names. I shall be the first to admit we went slightly overboard on…let’s just say, more than a few (OH HAI Slafswys Helbloefwyn…)
What’s your top five favorite Vs not favorite “Final Fantasy” games of all time?
Are you asking my top five favorite non-Final Fantasy games of all time? If you are, they’d be (in no particular order):
Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warship, Blaster Master, Demon’s Souls, Tactics Ogre, Wizardry Series (up to VI)
If you are asking my five favorite Final Fantasy (outside of FFXIV) games, then that would be:
FINAL FANTASY I, FINAL FANTASY V, FINAL FANTASY VI, FINAL FANTASY XI, FINAL FANTASY XII
During all your years as a translator and localization person for Square/Square Enix, what would you say have been the hardest game project for you yet? And how authentic and true has the English localizations been in comparison to the Japanese releases? (in your opinion).
For most of my time here at Square Enix, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with development teams that trusted my judgement when it came to localization calls. This added freedom makes my job a lot easier, and will sometimes result in slight deviations from the original Japanese for the purpose of maintaining a natural feel in the English.
While this will affect “grammatical authenticity” (as I will often tweak grammar, word choice, word order), we will do our best to maintain the text’s intended message, as well as the overall feeling the writer wishes to invoke—something that we can achieve due to our proximity to the writers.
Having a seat literally next to the person who wrote the quest means I can turn to him/her and confirm what they want their readers to get out of a line. This is especially important considering how vague and context-heavy the Japanese language can be (there is no plural, no articles, both the subject and the object of a sentence can be omitted, gender pronouns exist but are rarely used, etc.). Having the writer within arm’s reach means that context can be clarified without having to guess at things (something that can happen a lot when translating blind).
Is there anything at all that you could tell us about the future plans for FF XIV in terms of its story?
Absolutely not! Yoshida-san would have my head (literally…I’ve seen him do it). However, I can tell you we have no plans of letting up. Story outlines for content more than a year away is already being worked on. And while I cannot go into details, there are things that are sure to blow your mind (headquarters janitors were on viscera cleanup detail for a week after the writers passed out their plot outline for the coming main story).
What would you say that you’re most proud of when it comes to the world of FF XIV? And is there any development stories that you could share with us?
I’m most proud of my localization team. I get to work with people who are not only great English writers, but great writers who are also proficient in Japanese…and conveniently happen to know FFXIV inside and out (they’re also pretty cool people to hang out with).
They consistently put out what I believe is some of the best text in any MMO, let alone one that features the volume of text that FFXIV does. I couldn’t do what I do without them, and the world of FFXIV wouldn’t exist in the capacity it does today if it wasn’t for their hard work. A lot of times I get credited for funny lines or wicked turns of phrase that are actually the brainchildren of my team members…though the “punniest” ones are usually mine…for better or for worse.
What’s your plans, hopes and expectations for the rest of this year? And is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
The largest thing on my plate right now is getting the second lore book finished in time for the November Fan Fest. Once that’s out of the way, I move on to work for the next big update. As I mentioned earlier, work has already begun on the new content, despite its release still being quite far off.
This type of work is by far the most exciting part of my job on FFXIV, as it involves creating a lot of new lore, whether it be background stories for new NPCs, names of new locations, or even quest ideas. My hope is that I can maintain my sanity through it all.
And for the readers, I’d just like to say thank you for all the support you’ve shown FFXIV. It’s not every day that a game gets a second chance, but we were fortunate enough to have been provided one, and will never forget that without our fans, we never would have had this unique opportunity to redeem ourselves.
Robin “V-Act” Ek
Editor in chief
The Gaming Ground
More by Robin Ek:
Save 3$ with our Play-Asia coupon code "thegg"