FF XIV, or Final Fantasy XIV: Online to give it its full name, is one of the world's most popular video games. There’s a sense of responsibility that comes across when discussing the art of Final Fantasy XIV with art team lead Yusuke Mogi. He speaks with a reference to the series as a whole, but also on creating concept art for the latest expansion, Endwalker.
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FF XIV can be free-to-play, you can try our the main game and select expansions at no cost. This highlights the depth of this long-lasting series. As a veteran Final Fantasy Online, and involved in Realm Reborn in 2013, artist Mogi-san is aware of the traditions of the world’s leading RPG series.
“The impression of a line-drawing style has been around since Akihiko Yoshida’s time, so I try to preserve that as much as possible,” says the artist, who explains he works almost wholly digitally using Photoshop and Clip Studio Paint, “but in my case, to give it a hand-drawn feel, I don’t use any 3D assets or photo-bash at all. In that sense, it’s almost like a ‘traditional’ way of doing things.”
FF XIV defines an art style
For many, Mogi-san’s art is the epitome of the Final Fantasy style. One glimpse of an elegantly sketched figure swathed in colour washes and flowing robes and you know you’re in Square Enix’s long-running RPG series.
Despite the traditional watercolour feel of Mogi-san’s illustrations, he lets us into a secret of how he captures the facial expressions that fans love so much. “I draw the characters’ faces to convey the impression of actual 3D models, instead of the faces that I’d want to draw.”
It’s an eye-opening approach but one that shows the artist’s connection to the game he’s helping to make. Many of Mogi-san’s designs are created as mood pieces or marketing art to promote the new game’s feel – for example, his sublime Jobs roster – but he still considers how modellers will use them.
“Even if the idea is good, it’ll be a waste if it can’t be expressed effectively in the game,” says Mogi-san, revealing his advice for any wannabe video game concept artists: “Concept artists and 3D modellers are inseparable. So, if you have a chance, do be sure to take on the challenge of 3D modelling. You can also learn more about concept art and it also expands your range of expression.”
Producing art for FF XIV
The age-old artist’s dilemma of figuring out when an illustration is ‘finished’ can be taken out of a game concept artist’s hands, shares Mogi-san. “The design is complete (‘works’) when it can be produced in-game with the modelling and animation, and without any bugs in the data,” he says.
While the process of creating art can be framed by the production process, it doesn’t hinder Mogi-san’s need to be creative, and find new inspiration for his characters and artwork. “Of course, there are influences and numerous things that have served to inspire me,” he tells us.” When I design something realistic and compelling, I’ll start off with textual references, such as a novel.
“As for catchy designs, I look toward anime and manga as reference. For something that will leave an impression, I’ll refer to movies. In such a way, I separate how I use reference materials.”
The artist feels that taking in a broad spectrum of references can foster fresh ideas. New artistic discoveries are made when you can be open to ideas from other media. However, Mogi-san’s biggest piece of advice for a video game concept artist, even if you’re working in the industry, is to play other people’s games.
He explains: “I believe it’s crucial to play games from our competitors in order to foster new discoveries if one finds themself in a situation (or state of mind) where they’ve reached a stumbling point about their abilities or ideas as an artist.”
All of this comes together when the artist starts designing memorable characters. For Final Fantasy XIV Mogi-san reveals he likes to give them a little more of a manga or anime feel, “to make them more unique.”
How Mogi-san designs characters for FF XIV
The artist shares his way of working: “For the face, I’ll make the nose slightly small and the eyes a little far apart. I guess I try to create a face that’s somewhere between anime and real life.
By doing so, they look good in the striking and unrealistic costume designs, but also it enables me to provide ideas that are in line with the game’s graphics and capabilities to express those characters. However, we don’t want to make a game with just beautiful faces, and in this regard I try to employ ingenuity to recreate many unique faces in the game.”
Games such as Final Fantasy XIV are successful for their must-own costume and asset design as much as the impact of the characters. Here Mogi-san also invests time and creativity in coming up with unique ideas he knows gamers will love to collect.
He explains how there’s not a set policy in regards to which pieces of gear they expect players to want or wear in-game as sets, and which are designed to combine themselves. “This isn’t everything but as a general policy. There are some pieces of gear that we want players to wear as a full set and others that we’d like players to pick and choose various combinations.”
There is, however, game design at play. “Raid rewards and token rewards […] motivate players to collect gear, so I try to design gear that has an integrated and impactful design, which would make players want to gather the full set,” says Mogi-san.
“On the other hand,” he reflects, “I endeavour to prepare crafted sets and instanced dungeon rewards with a combination of materials, so that players can enjoy relative freedom in how they want to equip each individual piece as they play.”
FF XIV art's anime inspiration
Mogi-san talks as an artist constantly adjusting to the new rules and workflows of game design. But within that strict production setup he still manages to eke out his own style – one that offers a graceful link between digital art and a deft traditional approach to design.
“I’m constantly changing my taste in drawing and the direction of my ideas, but I’d say that my approach to design basically remains unchanged,” reflects the artist. “Having said that, the times are changing at a very fast pace, and I don’t know what will happen in the future.”
He jokes: “I always just give out a plethora of ideas, so it would be an easier job for me if an AI could produce the clean versions of the designs…” Somehow we think AI couldn’t replace Mogi-san’s talent.
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This article first appeared in ImagineFX – the world's leading magazine for digital fantasy artists. ImagineFX is on sale in the UK, Europe, United States, Canada, Australia and more. Limited numbers of ImagineFX print editions are available for delivery to over 120 countries from our online store (the shipping costs are included in all prices)
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