Home » Dev Blog: FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 14): Background Concept Artist Mariko Higashi

Dev Blog: FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 14): Background Concept Artist Mariko Higashi

by Xenor

Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team!

FFXIV Backstage Investigators is a blog series that shares behind-the-scenes stories from the team members who work on all aspects of FFXIV.


The subject of our fourteenth interview is…

Background Concept Artist Mariko Higashi!

The ever-growing world of FFXIV contains a diverse range of towns, areas, dungeons, and many other fantastic environments. In this interview with Ms. Higashi, we’ll uncover how background concept artists go about designing those outstanding landscapes!


* Certain images can be clicked to be viewed in a larger resolution!


Above are some of Ms. Higashi’s work. She not only works on the overall imagery, but structures and other intricate designs as well.


Miyamiya: Ms. Higashi, could you tell us how and when you joined the FFXIV Development team?

Higashi: I joined the team in 2018, back when Shadowbringers was being developed. My previous job was also at a game company, and I’d worked on several titles including simulation and monster-taming role-playing games. But I wanted to try working at a company with their own intellectual properties and moved to Square Enix.

Miyamiya: So you had prior experience with working on games of various genres. What are some of the most memorable backgrounds you’ve worked on for FFXIV?

Higashi: I’m especially fond of Labyrinthos, the first area I ever designed.


With Labyrinthos, we added “high-tech machinery” to Old Sharlayan’s imagery of “Greek architecture and conch shells.” While these conflicting visuals were an intriguing combination, a poor integration would look out of place, so I spent many painstaking hours getting the balance just right.

Out of everything in Labyrinthos, I’m especially fond of Thaumazein’s shell-like roof and the bizarrely cute roundness of the cisterns.



I was also in charge of backgrounds for the Copied Factory and the Puppets’ Bunker of YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse. As a big fan of the NieR series, I was absolutely thrilled when I was assigned to the crossover!

I enjoy imagining the internal structure of mechanisms or how they might move, so I had a lot of fun designing Hobbes, the second boss in the Copied Factory. Since its mechanics involve the chamber’s walls, we background concept artists had the rare opportunity of designing both a boss and its arena, which was a gratifying experience.


Miyamiya :The Hobbes encounter definitely feels like you’re fighting the entire arena. I’m surprised that you designed both in tandem!

I’m also a big fan of the fairy tale look of Lyhe Mheg and the mural in the Loporrit tribe quests, do you have any stories about those?

Higashi: We were directed to make Lyhe Mheg “a picture-perfect location,” so we set out to create a charming area where you can’t help but take screenshots.

Back then, I had a toddler at home who was just as mischievous as the pixies, so the toys we played with together inspired me to add slides and other playground equipment. I also have a sweet tooth, so I went all out with adding sweets! (laughs)

The final design was simply brimming with hope, and I’m very grateful to my team for helping me make it happen.


For the mural, we were told that some of the Loporrits were great artists, while others were… not as talented, so the other artists and I drew together to depict that variance. Each and every sketch captured that “crude but pretty” look, and I remember being impressed that we all could draw in so many different styles. In the end, I compiled all of their ideas and drew the final illustration. My favorite part is the Loporrit who loves carrots so much that they drew themself with carrots for ears and arms. (laughs)


Miyamiya: You’ve worked on backgrounds of various different genres, but is there anything that you keep in mind when designing them?

Higashi: It’s crucial to discuss with the other developers who will be working on the scenario or backgrounds before we start designing. It obviously helps ensure that our ideas don’t clash with the setting, but talking with them can also give us new ideas, or even solidify details that were still undecided.

Miyamiya: I see, so the artists’ active participation in the world-building aspects helps to create convincing designs.

I’ve been told you were also in charge of Island Sanctuary’s backgrounds. Do you have any stories from behind-the-scenes, or anything you’d like our players to look out for?

Higashi: The structures of Island Sanctuary are built from resources found throughout the island, so most of them have conventional designs. On the other hand, the water otter fountain was one of the structures I intended to be more eye-catching.


When I was brainstorming structures, I happened to be reading “The Namazu and the Greatest Gift.” The picture book was so adorable that I ended up designing several structures based on its characters, and ultimately chose the otter to be the motif.

Miyamiya: I never would’ve guessed that the fountain was based on the picture book! How do you come up with detailed designs for buildings or small objects?

Higashi: In the case of Island Sanctuary, my ideas came from taking my toddler to the beach or the park. For example, “Water-based playgrounds are easier to enjoy with shorter structures” or “Having a swing here might be fun.” Island Sanctuary involves “living” in the island environment, so I tried my best to make the designs as compelling as possible.


I’ve always been fond of interior design as well, so when I’m designing furnishings, I try to imagine how someone might navigate the various rooms. In my head, I’d think, “There’s the entrance with a rug, a coffee table on the side for placing various items, a sofa to relax on, and some drinks…ah, bliss!” (laughs)

Miyamiya: I see, so your designs are inspired by both your real-life experiences and imagination!

The upcoming expansion, Dawntrail, will include a graphical update. I’m sure it’s still in development, but how do you feel about this upcoming change and how it’ll affect your designs?

Higashi: My workload has started to calm down a bit, so I went for a stroll in the world of FFXIV as its being updated!

First of all, I was really impressed by how even more gorgeous the world could be with higher-resolution textures. Buildings and settlements were decorated with more “props” too. Seeing those everyday objects reminds me of the people who go about their daily lives in those places and really enhances my immersion. The update is sure to bring the world of FFXIV a step closer to its ideal form, and that makes me truly happy.

▲ A trailer from Fan Festival 2024 in Tokyo showcasing new areas.

Miyamiya: I imagine we’re all eager to adventure in the updated world! Last but not least, do you have anything you’d like to say to our players?

Higashi: Thank you all for playing FFXIV.

I’ll continue creating all sorts of new designs and memorable areas in hopes that you’ll have brand new experiences every time you play. Seeing everyone’s screenshots is a huge source of motivation and fills my heart with gratitude. Our designs are the work of everyone on the Background Concept Art team, and we’d all love to hear about your favorite locations or anything else you’d like to share.

A background concept artist’s job is designing our players’ surroundings. So if you enjoy traveling, gaming, and playing outdoors, and want to help create a new world where you can have those kinds of experiences, we’d love to work with you! (laughs) Thank you!


Something that stood out to me in this interview was Ms. Higashi’s cheerful expression and how often she mentioned words like “fun” and “happy.” We talked about a few in-game locations, but perhaps there’s even more discoveries waiting to be found in various other places! It might be nice to take a stroll in FFXIV’s cities, areas, and dungeons when we have the time!

-Promotional team

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