Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest 2021 online ended in the wee hours of the morning here on the west coast of the United States.
A fixture of those events is usually that the development staff on-hand do an outro, thanking fans for being there (or in this case, watching online) and putting a cap on the event.
This time, however, there was something sort of special to it.
Masayoshi Soken is a name you’ve likely seen if you’ve ever engaged with FFXIV on any level. He is the composer of the game, responsible for most of the sweet music that defines the game’s appeal to many. He is a perpetually-excited, honestly engaged type of person who always seems like the most genuinely cool guy to meet. His work is a big part of the experience to many players of Final Fantasy XIV and without it, the game would have a genuinely different character.
The Fan Fest this year had Soken doing some crazy and funny stuff. He performed a rendition of the Rak’Tika Greatwood theme from Shadowbringers that was funny as hell and incredibly meme-worthy:
But it was that video up top, his farewell to the fan fest for the year, that was the real surprise.
Soken clearly loves his work and enjoys what he gets to do, and it shows in the craftsmanship and thought he puts into everything. One of his best works in my opinion is the theme to the patch 5.3 trial, a song titled “To The Edge.”
It used a common musical refrain from the finale of the launch content of Shadowbringers coupled with a ticking clock and some powerful lyrics.
More powerful with the revelation today that Soken was in the hospital for 7ish months in 2020 for chemotherapy, battling cancer. He made this song from the hospital, with only the senior leadership of the FFXIV team and Square Enix even aware that was the case.
And like, whoa, the lyrics suddenly hit a lot harder knowing that.
It’s easy, sometimes, to forget that games and media in general are made by people. People with flaws, with problems, with other things going on, many of whom the games they make being a job they leave behind when they go home. It’s easy to be critical, harsh, even downright nasty when discussing the developers of games or the end-result of their work.
I think there’s value to keeping that in mind when we discuss things about said games, but that is perhaps a larger topic for later.
Right now, I’m listening to this song just reading the lacing of meaning into the lyrics, the clock motif, all of it. It is a powerful metaphor for cancer and the process of healing, and it suffuses the work with these layers of meaning that it would have been easy to dismiss even just a few days ago – and I linked a lyric video for the song specifically because I think it is worth seeing in that lens, knowing what is said and knowing that meaning.
Soken showed a very vulnerable side through his art, as most artists do, and it was so easy to go “wow cool song” and miss all of the depth and vulnerability there.
More than that, though, I found the ending of Fan Fest with YoshiP most interesting.
Yoshida wears his heart on his sleeve, and this isn’t the first time he’s cried at an FFXIV event. But you could tell this was different and a lot stronger. He broke down when it was his turn to speak, expressing gratitude that his best friend was back, and told a story I had heard previously in the NoClip documentary about FFXIV. When Yoshida took over FFXIV, Soken was working the sound system for the event, and Yoshida’s speech was focused on making the best effort to save the game. Few had much to say to him after, but Soken came up to him and said “Let’s do it!” with complete earnestness. Arguably, the game is a far greater product now than it was in 2010, and you can see so much of the creative identity of both in it – Yoshi-P’s exposure to western MMOs and Soken’s fun, stylistic musical flourishes.
I know that I am grateful for the work both men, and the myriad of other people working on the game, have put in, but today, I have such a deep appreciation for what Soken has done for the game, for my enjoyment of it, and am glad that he found purpose in it and fulfillment in that work, such that he personally wanted to do it even as he was potentially facing death.
Games are art, and as Soken said, games can heal. I’m glad he healed, not just for the enjoyment his music continues and will continue to bring, but for the sake of the person who so joyfully approaches everything he does, but doesn’t take himself overly seriously.