Interview with Square: Part 1

In the March 17 issue of Famitsu Weekly magazine, the most respected of game magazines in Japan, Famitsu interviewed Square's Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, and also the director of the upcoming Final Fantasy 9, Hiroyuki Ito. Final Fantasy 9 (as well as Vagrant Story) is discussed extensively, revealing many aspects of the game, and RPGamer brings you the translation of this interview. Part 1 of this huge interview will be discussing Final Fantasy 9 with Hironobu Sakaguchi. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Famitsu: Final Fantasy 9 (hereon, FF9) has a fantasy feel, right?
Sakaguchi: Yes, it's fantasy.
Famitsu: In the previous interview, it was explained that it [FF] was going back to its roots. And when you look at the logo, the crystal is there. It really is going back to the roots of the FF series. Why is that?
Sakaguchi: Well, I wanted to try it out. (laughs) I said that it was because it was the last single numbered FF, but, yes, I like the number 9...(laughs)
Famitsu: Why?
Sakaguchi: Because it's "Kabu" (Note: 9 is a good number in a certain gambling game called Oichokabu)
Famitsu: (laughs)
Sakaguchi: I was thinking it as an end. FF10 and FF11 are going to be on PS2 as well as PlayOnline. So with those, we were wanting to concentrate less on the feel of a world but more to use visuals which would push the hardware's ability. In that sense, because FF9 is the third in the series on PlayStation, instead of making it by pushing the abilities of the present hardware, we thought of making the feel of a Final Fantasy world once more.
Famitsu: As you say, with it becoming PlayStation games, I felt Final Fantasy changed a lot, even with the setting.
Sakaguchi: You're right.
Famitsu: FF7 and 8 had a cyber feel. But FF9 this time has a fantasy feel, and crystals will be appearing, and Steiner is a knight. Zidane and Vivi's ages have also lowered quite a lot. And their sizes have changed...
Sakaguchi: Actually, in FF7's planning stages, there were smaller characters, about the size of four heads.
Famitsu: Really?
Sakaguchi: But when we made it have a sword, it couldn't wield it...
Famitsu: (laughs) It could be stabbed?
Sakaguchi: Yes. Even when it lifts a sword...[does a action where the sword stabs into his forehead] and this happens. (laughs) We realized that this couldn't work and so they became taller.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: FF8 became even more realistic as it was favorable in 3D motion and there was also Naora the art director's direction too...But this time, with Vivi the black mage, he couldn't hold a sword because it would get caught in his hat so, we thought "Why not?"...
Famitsu: So it was a logical move.
Sakaguchi: They might move in an anime-like way, and so there might be restrictions in movement, but there is a certain humor in that movement. And the humor of the characters too. We wanted to aim for that in FF9.
Famitsu: Then how about the theme of FF9?
Sakaguchi: Maybe I shouldn't say it... (laughs)
Famitsu: (laughs) You don't have to hide the theme. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: It's actually the same as the movie's.
Famitsu: ?
Sakaguchi: I, I shouldn't have said it. Let's stop this. (laughs) The world and everything else is different in the movie and FF9, but at the root of it, the themes are the same. It's not directly the same, and there is quite a difference, but we were writing the scenarios at the same time, so...
Famitsu: (laughs) You were the scenario writer for FF9 weren't you?
Sakaguchi: The first stages mind you. In the last stage of writing, it changed quite a lot because of the cooperation of two people. Especially, the last half of the game changed dramatically.
Famitsu: Well, there are some things I'd like to ask about the screenshots released this time...First, there are lots of airships flying in the sky.
Sakaguchi: Yes, there will be quite a lot in FF9.
Famitsu: What's more, on top of this airship, there is a building.
Sakaguchi: That's the "Theater Ship."
Famitsu: A Theater Ship! That's the name of it? How about this one?
Sakaguchi: That will appear in the second half. The big airship that appears in the first half has a theater attached. This lid opens and becomes a stage. While in the air it will be attached to the side of the castle and the stage will open. And, everyone watches the play from the castle. It's a once-a-year event in this town...
Famitsu: So it's not just as a means of transport?
Sakaguchi: That's right. So these people are like a travelling theater/ circus troupe.
Famitsu: I see. So it's like a circus moving in the sky with the whole tent. So it's a troupe of actors?
Sakaguchi: Well it's different in reality. The ones inside are actually bandits who took over the theater ship.
Famitsu: What!?
Sakaguchi: Oops. (laughs)
Square Publicity: I will examine you later. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Ah, you're going to run a check on me. (laughs)
Famitsu: Are you going to cut this out later? (laughs) In Zidane's profile, he was part of a bandit group, so he's one of them, right?
Sakaguchi: That's right. As one of the playable characters, Zidane is a bandit.
Famitsu: Huh? Playable characters?
Sakaguchi: Ah, this time, all the leading characters are playable. Although their backgrounds are all different.
Famitsu: I see. But there are no girls.
Sakaguchi: Ah, there is.
Famitsu: So there are only three revealed so far, right?
Sakaguchi: Yes. There will be 8 in total I think. Well, those that become part of the party anyway.
Famitsu: So these three were the first to be made.
Sakaguchi: There are many unusual characters...Anyway, because it's fantasy, it's a world full of different types of beings. The two characters we've announced this time are human, but the others are different. They may be mouse-like, or ghost-like...They are all different.
Famitsu: Oh I see. So would you switch characters when the various beings go into a battle?
Sakaguchi: Switching characters will depend on how the story progresses. Also, there will be situations where the player will switch characters.
Famitsu: From whose perspective will the player play through the game?
Sakaguchi: Basically, it's Zidane, but FF9 will be around 40 hours. So in the length of the game, you will be able to play through different characters. In one of the first scenes, where a boy is being chased by a soldier, for 5 minutes you will control the chasing soldier, and for the other 5 minutes, you will control the fleeing boy.
Famitsu: Ahh.
Sakaguchi: We thought it'd be fun if the player could control the most interesting character in a scene.
Famitsu: Sounds like fun. So there will be switching of characters being controlled, but it won't be just separate stories with 8 characters?
Sakaguchi: No it won't. They are not separate stories: the story will be consistent.
Famitsu: Will characters have jobs (classes)?
Sakaguchi: Jobs...
Famitsu: Well, the black mage and the knight...
Sakaguchi: In that sense, the concept of jobs will be near to FF6, where they are predetermined. And he (Zidane) is a bandit...
Famitsu: Ah, the bandit.
Sakaguchi: The gameplay system will have a lot of customization. I cannot tell you in detail, but it will be a lot of fun...
Famitsu: I feel it to be a lot like FF6.
Sakaguchi: Ito is the director. He made the active time battle, and after that, made several things, including the job change system.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: The gameplay system has developed quite a lot, too.
Famitsu: In FF9, I feel that there will be quite a developed battle system too.
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: Ah-huh. So, Zidane has a tail?
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: Ah, so you say.
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: Ah-huh.
Sakaguchi: There is a reason...
Famitsu: What kind?
Sakaguchi: [laughing it off, and without answering, he points at the black mage] Vivi is quite important.
Famitsu: This black mage?
Sakaguchi: Yes. Quite important.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: Vivi's existence becomes quite closely examined from the middle of the story.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: Vivi is the story's core.
Famitsu: Really?
Sakaguchi: Actually... [while saying this, Sakaguchi looks at the Square Publicity person] Too risky? (laughs)
Famitsu: (laughs) That's new. In the FF series, the black mage has never been closely examined as a main character.
Sakaguchi: And he (Vivi) has no self confidence.
Famitsu: He's a weak human?
Sakaguchi: More than just weakness, he thinks he doesn't exist in this world, that he doesn't have the sense of living.
Famitsu: Ahh.
Sakaguchi: He has anxiety. He's a weak guy.
Famitsu: See this phrase. In the explanation of this screenshot, Vivi says, "I..give up...I'm gonna die here."
Sakaguchi: He's hopeless. (laughs)
Famitsu: (laughs) He has no self confidence and is hopeless? It seems there are many essences of the character hidden.
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: Oh that's right, it seems the graphics seem to have a Disney feel, or something.
Sakaguchi: The colors, right?
Famitsu: Yes. FF7 and 8 had colder colors.
Sakaguchi: That's right.
Famitsu: Overall there were lots of blues and greens.
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: In FF9, I get a strong impression of reds and oranges.
Sakaguchi: You're right. Especially the first town. The roofs lined up in the town are orange...
Famitsu: I feel that this game seems warmer.
Sakaguchi: These are colors Minaba likes. I also like his colors.
Famitsu: Minaba-san was with Final Fantasy Tactics (from hereon FFT), was he not?
Sakaguchi: Yes, he was with FFT too but I worked with him for the first time on FF3.
Famitsu: The characters are full of personality, I feel.
Sakaguchi: We thought it was a bit of an adventure to not have Nomura (FF7 and 8 character designer) as character designer.
Famitsu: As I can see, the character design for FF9 is not Nomura-san but Amano-san.
Sakaguchi: When Amano-san had a personal exhibition at New York, we talked about various things, including bringing the crytal into the logo and also going back to the roots of FF.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: We are thinking of using a lot of Amano-san's work.
Famitsu: This, although quite grotesque, is an airship, right? [looking at an artwork design of airship, by Yoshitaka Amano]
Sakaguchi: Yes.
Famitsu: As there will be lots of art by Amano-san this time, in that sense, there will be a strong feeling of works before FF4. Even words that don't appear in FF these days, such as "princess" and "castle" are coming back...Talking about castles, what are these white wings protecting a castle from a black dragon?
Sakaguchi: It's from the middle of the story, I can't really tell you further. (laughs) However, it's a really good scene.
Famitsu: It's protecting a Crystal Tower, right?
Sakaguchi: No comment. (laughs)
Famitsu: Overall, there seems to be a lot of dragons.
Sakaguchi: Yes. But, it's not a story about dragons too much. Anyway, it is a fantasy, so they will make appearances here and there.
Famitsu: In the movie shown at Square Millenium, there were lots of white dragons shown...
Sakaguchi: That's the scene of shooting down the dragons. That's just a scene where that happens.
Famitsu: What are things you are going to focus on in FF9?
Sakaguchi: We want it to be very detailed.
Famitsu: Story-wise?
Sakaguchi: Yes, that too, but also things that happen outside the main story.
Famitsu: Like special events?
Sakaguchi: Yes. It could be item events or things in battles, but we want to try our best at this more than before.
Famitsu: I feel you are putting a lot of effort into this. The movie we saw at Millenium also was of very high quality.
Sakaguchi: We are trying hard with the movies too.
Famitsu: When I watch that, it's not just realistic, but also realistic in a fantasy way. It's an 'unreal reality', and it looks very cool.
Sakaguchi: There are things Ito wants to do: The places where we cut to a FMV, and also how we do that. In other words, what part of the story should we make a cinema out of. It's a little different from before.
Famitsu: I see. Before, an FMV would start with a certain event...
Sakaguchi: In FF9, we are planning to even change the way we use cinemas for dramatic presentation.
Famitsu: Will the players realize this while playing? Like how it's different.
Sakaguchi: It's a little difficult to answer because the presentation of the FMV is so subtle. The way the player will feel will change, for sure. It's not overly different, but, we will take a lot of care making this.
Famitsu: This time, it seems from looking at the screenshots that each character has a separate agenda.
Sakaguchi: The way they first meet is all different. At first they might be against each other.
Famitsu: I see. So, the knight is on a journey to save the princess, and Vivi is looking for himself?
Sakaguchi: That's right.
Famitsu: And Zidane?
Sakaguchi: Zidane likes girls.
Famitsu: Likes girls?
Sakaguchi: Yes, he does.
Famitsu: With such a cute face?
Sakaguchi: We want to make him like girls.
Famitsu: You want to?
Sakaguchi: Well, he likes girls and doesn't care for much. He has no objective, and lives carefree. But he will be a key character. And of course, the black mage will become a key from the middle. Actually, we don't want much strategy hints to come out. What I'm saying to Ito is you should check the difficulty balance and the way you reveal information so that even without strategy guides, the player can think, "Yes! That's why it was so much fun."
Famitsu: Right.
Sakaguchi: Because he understands that, it will be like playing a game in the old days. We want people to play games like in those days where there wasn't much walkthrough information.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: We'll try not to have places where the player can't progress because there isn't enough information. And, we want to increase the way we simply play. My favorite event is the chickenknife/braveblade choosing event which Ito made in FF5. I really want him to put in that kind of thing too. After all, Ito made that, and as I'm asking him, I think that kind of event will be in FF9.
Famitsu: In FF9, will you be able to cleverly put that kind of thing in?
Sakaguchi: Yes. Ito said he has a lot of confidence.
Famitsu: We are starting to get a vague idea. It's going back to the roots, it's in a fantasy world, and in some ways it has the atmosphere of a pre-FF6 game, but each character has been created with care. When I hear your story, there's a lot of background story, and I feel as a story it has become something very deep.
Sakaguchi: It's not good just simply going back in the way we present the game, and so we want to surpass FF7 and 8. And when we have done that we want to go back to the roots in the setting of the world and the gameplay.
Famitsu: Is the battle something like FF6?
Sakaguchi: The four-party battle has returned. When it's three characters, one is chosen as the healer. However, when there are four people, the assigning of things becomes a little complex. There will be more things to choose from in a turn for the player.
Famitsu: Yes, yes.
Sakaguchi: But, as there are more people and there will surely be more action, we are trying to speed up the battle, even though the effect of fighting will be somewhat restrained.
Famitsu: I see.
Sakaguchi: Instead, we want to improve the sense of accomplishment and battle strategy.
Famitsu: So there will be lots of different ways of enjoying the battle.
Sakaguchi: Because there are four people, we want to spread the battles well, and progress smoothly.
Famitsu: There will be summons too right?
Sakaguchi: There will.
Famitsu: There are some shown in the screenshots this time, but will you show the summons spectacularly in cinemas too?
Sakaguchi: Well, of course. For what needs to be shown, we will take our time properly.
Famitsu: In FF8, because the way you get summons were by quests, it didn't feel familiar. What will it be like in FF9 now that it's fantasy?
Sakaguchi: Because they are an existence to protect yourself, you would want to feel something like body heat. Because it's a fantasy world, coexistence is not unusual.
Famitsu: There are several fantasy elements nostalgically appearing, but is this bringing them all together as a homage, or is there some aim?
Sakaguchi: Basically, it's a story which focuses on two to three elements. They exist as cores to the story.
Famitsu: Right.
Sakaguchi: Although it's not a story with a collection of different elements, what it is I cannot say yet.
Famitsu: With each Final Fantasy, it uses an original system, is there something other than just the complexity of the battle strategy by having returned four people parties?
Sakaguchi: Even I don't know what name they made for it but, yes, there is. It's a data-heavy, combination-like system. It will change depending on the way people play. It's pretty cool. That's why I think people will have fun.

And that was the end of Part 1 of the 3-part interview with Square. Hope you enjoyed it! Soon, there will be two more interviews. Hope this won't be like Sega of America with Shining Force III, otherwise you won't ever see Parts 2 and 3! Part 2 will be with Hironobu Sakaguchi on Vagrant Story, and the last will be on Final Fantasy 9 again, but this time with the director, Hiroyuki Ito.

by Sachi Coxon (SFIII joke courtesy of Acejoker)
Source: [Famitsu Weekly]
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