Wisdom of Nym: Almost losing Soken changed how we’ll see Final Fantasy XIV forever

    
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Teamwork.

I’m not over this. I don’t know how to be over this.

Masayoshi Soken is one of the most talented composers working in this industry. His work on Final Fantasy XIV is amazing. I am in awe of his compositions and his musical acumen. Just the night before he floored the entire community, he did an entire performance that was basically a musical meme post for his own music and game, and it was hilarious. He’s amazing. And last week we learned he was working his way through cancer as he was still trying to make new music.

I’ve talked before about the struggle associated with enjoying something when you know that people suffered to make it, but this is something else altogether. No one forced Soken to do this; he did it voluntarily. No one forced him not to reveal this fact; he did that voluntarily. And it’s hard to reconcile that. It’s hard to look at a game where part of the staff was literally dying as he was making more of the game and know how to cope with that fact.

I don’t think I’m alone in not being totally sure how to process this.

You can kind of see this in the fan community. There’s an outpouring of love for Soken, naturally, and it feels very natural and organic… but it also feels surprised and like it’s wrestling with this. It’s like even the biggest fans don’t know quite what to do with this information. Was this a bad thing? Should he not have been working during this time? Why are we only learning about it now?

Would it have been better if the patches were more delayed? Would that have made things all right? Should that have been what happened?

The realization infused a sense of sadness in every part of the game and community. Not an overwhelming one, not one that closes out all of the excitement of the community, not even one that dominates every conversation. If you look at the fandom, you see the posts about Soken are overwhelmingly positive ones, praising him for fighting, honoring and respecting his talent… something that people already did beforehand, but now we have new motivation to focus on all over again.

This is kind of difficult to parse. And I think a good chunk of the reason why is that it’s hard to really understand that degree of identification with a single project like this.

Burning dancers.

We all understand that working on MMOs is a job. Yes, the people who are doing so are almost invariably doing so because they genuinely enjoy the game; that’s just the simple nature of game development. Games are relatively less lucrative fields to work in for most people and so anyone involved in game development is doing so at least in part because of a desire to be there as games are made. But these are still jobs.

And these are jobs for the FFXIV staff, too. But something that is kind of underscored by the Soken diagnosis is that these aren’t just jobs in the sense of something these people are doing for the money. This is work these people are passionate about. Yoshida had frequently said that he considers FFXIV his life’s work, and on one hand that’s long been a thing to giggle about because he’s simply that dedicated and we all believe that at one point he’s just going to keel over from overwork.

Or because he decided to cosplay an even more physically demanding job in a couple of years because I really believe that if he were another decade older he still would be trying to walk around in that Reaper cosplay… the point is the same.

But I think we’ve all also understood even among the jokes and memes that on some level, he meant it. And Soken literally embodied that same unspoken belief. He was willing and ready to let “To The Edge” be his final testament to what he could accomplish as a composer. The edifice of what he has built and the work he has done while here was very nearly capped off by a boss fight against Elidibus.

How do you parse that? How do you start to engage with that on a meaningful level? How do you enjoy these games not when you know people suffered to make them, but when they considered the suffering worthwhile work? When the suffering and the sacrifice and potential death was hovering around the corner… and more than anything, he decided to keep working on this composition and making it the best it could possibly be?

The answer, unfortunately, is that I don’t know. I don’t think anyone in the community does know at this point. I don’t know how you reconcile that with the man’s hilarious performance of Civilizations one night earlier. This is one of those things that’s just… big, in ways that MMOs and video games in general rarely are.

It's a middle life.

Leukemia claimed both my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother. I remember watching them both grow sicker and weaker over time despite their best efforts. And I wonder… would I have felt OK about either of them working up until what could have been their last days on a video game? Would I have understood why that meant so much to them?

My grandfather kept working as long as he could as an engineer, working on boats. He loved boats. I can understand that and appreciate it. Would I have felt the same way about it if it were just an entertaining video game? Could I have done what he did?

We’ve had to deal with death before in the MMO sphere, but thus far all of those deaths have been surprising tragedies. This was a tragedy averted. Soken was up on stage with the rest of the staff celebrating, getting to show off a crossover project with a customized Fender Stratocaster. I don’t play the guitar, but I know that’s a big name; I know it’s a big deal to be able to look on a branded guitar related to your own work and say that this was something you had a hand in. I can understand it.

I can be happy that he’s still with us and still floored by the fact that he nearly wasn’t. I can marvel at the fact that he wanted to keep working on this game so much, that he loved it enough to work through the pain and suffering he was doubtlessly experiencing along the way. I can be amazed by it. Respectful. Awed. Thankful.

I don’t know totally how to feel about it.

The one thing I do know is that it gives me basically less than zero respect for anyone who calls this development team anything less than dedicated. This isn’t the sort of thing that happens because one member of the team has an insane work ethic; this happens when everyone is so dedicated to the project that part of the machinery is unwilling to let something like cancer stand in the way of doing good work. Everyone working, buckling down, loving this game, loving the players, loving what they do, pushing as hard as possible.

Soken beat cancer and he’s still with us. I don’t know how to parse that. Maybe the next time I’m listening to some of the music, I will… but maybe not. It’s big.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, reactions to patch 5.55, as you’d expect.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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Sean Walsh

A wonderful, very thoughtful article on the topic Elliot.

I’d go so far as to say that Soken is THE difference maker that FFXIV has head and shoulders above their competition. The music in the game is so amazing I listen to it even when not playing, and is one of the key elements that make this game feel more immersive than most for me personally. (which is an odd feeling, knowing that in real life, music doesn’t follow me around and change as my scenery does.)

The writing, class design, world building, development consistency, and many more things stand out as well. But I can point to other MMOs as great examples of those as well. But the music? It’s in a league of it’s own.

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Sarah Cushaway

I found FFXIV’s soundtrack to be largely forgettable, but that’s personal preference. Doesn’t take away from the fact the guy beat cancer and busted his butt during, even if the game music isn’t anything I enjoy (or even remember, tbh)

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David J. Quin

Good work or strength is to show vulnerability and accept your true soul. That’s all I can say to that and most people don’t want to hear it but I feel very sorry for the whole developmenth team working that long and having to find excuses live on stage how they relax after work because they simply don’t do it. It’s a deeper issue than that.

It’s very easy to say he wanted to do it and he would most likely say the same but stopping him and taking responsibility as a company or himself putting a break to it is real strength. No player would want what they claim they made and if I were you I wouldn’t step a foot into the game because they simply do not care. Crying on stage means nothing and a strong producer wouldn’t act like that. Take it as you wish but taking time for your inner self and finding true balance is much more worth in this chaotic world than pleasing everyone around you.

You can’t escape your own self forever in a game. They’re great tools when used in moderation. Just like anything.

Think about it.

Amen.

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styopa

“The one thing I do know is that it gives me basically less than zero respect for anyone who calls this development team anything less than dedicated.”

Genuine question: has anyone ever questioned their dedication?
Honestly, I played FF14 for about 2 years, loved it and would still be playing if anyone in my family was interested, but they play other games so …I do too.
But I pay attention to FF14 discussions and I don’t recall anyone impugning the dedication of the team.
Some of their decisions, sure.
The way the game plays, the single-character thing, the baby’s first mmo barely-even-a-ramp rampup over the first 30 levels. The locking progress to dungeons. People can complain about CHOICES without suggesting that the team isn’t dedicated.

And let me not Godwin this post entirely by posting that ‘dedication’ by itself isn’t necessarily a laudable personality feature, either.

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Vincent Clark

Your post made me chuckle. You get points for the Godwin reference but you lose more for being passive aggressive. Remember, it’s ok not to reply to an article.

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styopa

Completely true, I just get a little triggered when someone works themselves up to high dudgeon over something that – in my limited experience – I haven’t actually witnessed despite being reasonably attentive in these threads.

I don’t want to accuse anyone of outright Ray Bolgering, it just makes me wonder if it’s a tempest in a teapot.

In case people are wondering if I’m just callous and insensitive, both parents, and 6 of 8 aunts/uncles died of everything from multiple myeloma to kidney cancer to lung cancer to brain cancer.

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Louie

I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when I was 4 years old, and went through chemotherapy until entering complete remission when I was 8. I was lucky enough to not know much of a difference when my life became comprised of constant hospital visits, but I can still clearly remember the looks on my parents faces. As an adult, looking back on those memories and realizing how clearly scared and worried they were underneath the brave faces and the smiles has been very impactful for me to come to terms with as I get older. Thinking about it, I realized that seeing Yoshi-P during the announcement and hearing his words during the conclusion felt a lot like I was seeing what emotions my parents tried to keep hidden from me when I was sick.

It served as a reminder for me that cancer is one of those things that affects every one of us, but simultaneously no two experiences with cancer are the same. I think this is why it’s so difficult to parse and fully come to terms with learning about people we know and love being diagnosed with it and suffering through it. There’s no framework that you can apply from one situation to another with something that operates on such a devastating scale. I think that’s where a lot of the uncertainty comes in with figuring out how to feel about something like this.

I feel privileged to be able to play a game made with as much passion and love put into it as XIV. Calling Soken a workhorse would be the understatement of the century; his passion and talent comes through in every single one of his compositions. As someone struggling with a lot of these same feelings, I feel like the best course of action for myself personally is to simply be grateful and happy that I’ll be able to continue to hear compositions from Soken for a long time to come. And realize that I should never take something I get so much happiness from, even if it seems smaller in the moment, for granted.

Thank you as always, Eliot.

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Vincent Clark

Been looking forward to this article, Eliot, and you did not disappoint. Well done and thank you.

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Bereman99

Why are we only learning about it now?

This particular question I feel like I might have some insight on and understand why we didn’t hear about it until recently.

Feelings that come with fighting/dealing with and surviving cancer can be…complicated, and in deeply individual ways.

Knowing something is up or wrong, having that diagnosis, wondering what is going to happen next. Has it spread? How much? What are the options for treatment? What is the success rate?

A lot goes through your mind. During and after.

Sometimes the answers to those questions are full of mostly good news – no it hasn’t spread, just surgery, very high success rate for this type if caught early…you just have to give up a part of your body. That was an easy trade to make.

Sometimes the answers to those questions are still uncertain. It has spread but not so much that we can’t treat it, it will take radiation/chemotherapy, and success is possible but not guaranteed, it will likely go into remission and may take some years before we know if it’s fully gone.

And when someone does go through that…when is the right time to mention it? The right context? Is it right to talk about it, when others are still suffering, and others didn’t make it when the survivor did? Doubt can sometimes creep in, feeling like maybe it’s not the right thing to mention, because others had it worse. Sometimes it feels like it’s too early to celebrate, cause you don’t yet know if it actually spread or not and there’s a small chance it did.

And then talking about it in a public space, in front of tens of thousands…that takes a great deal of courage, to open up in that way.

Like I said – deeply individual and complicated feelings can come with being a survivor.

But I think there’s an additional thing going on here with Soken and Yoshi-P.

I think they wanted us to enjoy this wonderful narrative and amazing music without feeling sad or worrying about the people who created it. Much like Soken didn’t want the others in the development team to worry about him because he was worried they wouldn’t be able to do their best if they were worried about him, I believe they wanted us to have the best experience with the content without also worrying about Soken.

I think they didn’t want us to worry.

latorn
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latorn

The man is an absolute legend. I was so touched by the information they shared at the end of Fanfest. The next day I went and made my first mogstation purchase ever (The Scions and Sinners orchestration scrolls of course haha).

I don’t think many other MMO Dev teams exude this personable attitude towards the fans. I think it comes down to the fact that both the fans and the devs truly treasure this game, and it’s that shared feeling that we get to celebrate at Fanfest. As far as MMO teams go, the FFXIV team is unique in the best way possible.

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Danny Smith

Simply put we don’t deserve Soken. He got the world record for most music tracks by one composer in a game back in Heavensward and has just kept ramping up his work ever since. I know Uematsu is always going to be the gold standard for the franchise and it’d be hard to scale up against but in terms of gaming in general right now, not just mmos i genuinely don’t think there is any composer who works as hard as Soken does. To the point the majority response from the community seems to be “but he knows he doesn’t need too right?”.

I get for him it was his way of powering through the cancer treatment alone in lockdown and hey we all have our coping mechanisms right but boy does it feel like he gives far more than we expect and i think years from now -especially if he is composing FFXVI’s ost for example- when his music gets more mainstream recognition he’s going to go down as one of the all time greats.

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Knight Porter

I don’t know if there’s a way to make a true comparison with the composers who came before… but I can say without hesitation that Soken stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes Uematsu and Mitsuda as a peer in my book.

I’m so relieved that working through his health struggles didn’t make things worse for him. Maybe it was something to focus on; to keep him fighting? I don’t know. I just hope it was his passion for the music and not obligation that had him do it.