Hironobu Sakaguchi Final Fantasy Knights Interview Translation

[Translator's Note: The following interview was published in the 1992 book Final Fantasy Knights, pgs. 22-25. It was originally published in the August 1991 issue of the magazine Hippon Super!.]



The following article consists of excerpts from an interview with we conducted with Hironobu Sakaguchi, vice-president of Square and General Director of the Final Fantasy series, just before the release of Final Fantasy IV.


- There's something we've just gotta ask about the creation of FF4: um, about that Famicom version that got canned...

Sakaguchi: Ahh, yes - there was talk of that. (laughs)

- Was it a completely different project?

Sakaguchi: Yes. It was actually stopped at the point when it was still just in the early concept stage, though. There are even rumors that Seiken Densetsu was [what became of] FF4, things like that.

- Is that true?

Sakaguchi: It's a bald-faced lie. (laughs)

- I see. (laughs) But when the Famicom version was abandoned, did you incorporate any of its ideas into the Super Famicom version of FF4?

Sakaguchi: Yes, of course. It'd be a waste to leave behind perfectly good ideas.

I think hearing that will put the fans' minds at ease. But plotwise, the games are different, right?

Sakaguchi: Well, the plot wasn't finished yet, either, so. After all, the project was canned while it was still in a pending state.

How was that? Didn't the programmers have anything to say about having to start over on the SFC?

Sakaguchi: Well, it seems like they had fun, of course! It [the Super Famicom] has so many modes and everything, so I guess for the programmers, fate was smiling upon them.

- So it fostered creativity on your end, I take it?

Sakaguchi: There were a lot of ideas coming from the programmers' side, like with battle animations. For example, when Odin slices up his enemies, the programmers said that it'd be neat with partial scrolling, why don't we add him as a Summon - that sort of stuff would actually happen.

[Translator Note: In researching this interview, I came across a post on 2channel (yeah, I know) with an alleged quote from a Sakaguchi interview during FF6's development that directly contradicts some of the claims made above. The OP *thinks* the interview was published in Dengeki Super Famicom. It's quite odd that the OP has a lengthy direct quote from this supposed interview but isn't clear on its source, so take the following with a grain of salt:

- This is going back a little, but you were [at one time] developing FF4 for the Famicom and FF5 for the Super Famicom at the same time, right?

Sakaguchi: ...The Famicom version of FF4... (laughs) That's a difficult subject. When development stopped on that title, I was asked about it in several interviews with game magazines, and I answered that it was nothing more than an "initial concept" - that there was no plot, that it was scrapped or something. (laughs) But that was a bald-faced lie. It was actually 80% complete! But I just grit my teeth and lied like a loser. (laughs)

- Do you still have the data?

Sakaguchi: I don't really know, but I think we might.]


- By the way, speaking of Odin: the stories are completely different, but there are characters and stuff who frequently reoccur throughout the series, right?

Sakaguchi: Ahhh! (laughs) Yes, there are.

- That's fine for the adults who understand these abstract connections between the series, but I'd think kids would be kind of confused. Could you give a solid explanation for all this?

Sakaguchi: Honestly, we don't really think about the connections between the series. (laughs) For example, for a Final Fantasy game, you've got to have airships, right? So we decided, well, this character who's connected to the airships, we'll have his name be Cid. There's just a tacit understanding that there's nothing much behind it. I guess we'll really have to think the whole thing over.

- But storywise, the games aren't sequels...

Sakaguchi: See, if we tried making direct sequels...I'm not casting aspersions on other games here, but, well, you'd get tired of it, we think. Another reason is that it'd be hard to change the systems.

- That's the issue, then?

Sakaguchi: Yes, like, in FF3, the story revolves around the Job Change system, right? If you change the system, the story also has to change. But with Final Fantasy, it's been a feature how every game since FF1 has had a new system.

- So if you were to identify a theme for the system in every game since FF1, how would that shake out?

Sakaguchi: Let's see. Well, FF1 was just thrown together. FF2...let's see, we wanted to be able to please the people who'd become experts on the gameplay, to make them happier. Then in FF3, we went in a completely different direction. We called it a "Thunderbirds feeling," like with the Mole in that show - we wanted to really give the player the fun of being able to change abilities on the fly. So this time, we put all our efforts into the Active Time Battle system, and that wasn't because we wanted to incorporate a sense of time into the game, either. It was because we didn't want the monsters to be just slugging you for fixed damage; we wanted them to have more capabilities, that sort of thing. And we had ideas that came from that, such as how it's like you really experience that countdown until the Bombs explode!

- I think that there's a comparative sense of real time passing in the plots of the Final Fantasy series too. You don't actually need to hurry, but the presentation ends up making you feel that way.

Sakaguchi: Ahhh (laughs), of course.

- In that sense, was there ever an idea to incorporate the element of time not just in the battles, but in the story as well?

Sakaguchi: There are a lot of things that we just didn't have time to pull off. There were two or three ideas that we really wanted to do but couldn't.

- In previous games, there have been things like temporary timers, haven't there?

Sakaguchi: Simply speaking, yes, there have been. There have also been other - well, lots of things...this and that...I want to save some ideas for next time, so I can't talk about this. (laughs)


- It's awesome how the little characters on the screen have so much animation to them!

Sakaguchi: That was planned from the start. We wanted to accomplish at least that. I really wanted them to move a little more, though.

- You wanted to make them more detailed because they carry the story, then?

Sakaguchi: I mean, you see it so often in American games, right? These little characters scurrying their way across the screen. Little Computer People is like that, too, and you see it in shooters and stuff too, right? It's kind of cute, and there's a real charm to it. I've wanted to do that for a long time. There was no use trying it on the Famicom, since we just didn't have the pixels, but really, I mean - when they raise their arms like this, for example - when they do that, you want their hands to just shoot right up smoothly, animated with like 16 frames, but... It kind of feels nice, I guess, when you see these little guys moving in such detail.

- Did you also have that sort of concept in mind right from the start for the battle animations as well?

Sakaguchi: Oh, of course - it's pretty fun and cute, isn't it?

- But you've always asked Mr. Amano to handle the character designs.

Sakaguchi: Oh, yes.

- But there seems to be this disconnect between his designs and these cute little animations in the battle scenes...

Sakaguchi: (laughs) I guess! I suppose you could say in that sense that Mr. Amano isn't the character designer... Well, he does design the monsters, of course, but still. On the other hand, when we are creating the story, we do have those designs posted up on the wall when we're thinking about stuff.

- Like they're helping you envision the story?

Sakaguchi: Yes, when we ask Mr. Amano to create character designs, we don't really give him specific instructions. We tell him how the character's dressed, their age range, details like those. At most, we give him a simple backstory for the character, his or her gender, things like that. Like, for this game, for Cid, we didn't tell him anything more than "he's your usual airship-guy Cid." And he drew this really great piece for us, and we thought, we have to give him this really outsized character, you know. So we were inspired by that, and it really defined Cid's character storywise. Now, as for putting Mr. Amano's art into the game as-is...

- It's not easy to render it in pixels, is it?

Sakaguchi: Yes, so the only places where we use it unaltered in the game is for the monster design. We use it elsewhere in any number of capacities to promote an image of the game - strategy guides, so many things. On the creative side, it really expands the image we have of the game. I imagine it does the same thing for the players as well - helps them envision the game.

- If I could just grill you on a related topic for a moment (laughs) - in FF1, the characters became adults after their class changes.

Sakaguchi: Yes, yes, they did. They went [from a two-heads-high style] to a three-heads-high style. That wasn't a popular decision.

- Because players thought these cute characters weren't cute anymore.

Sakaguchi: That's right.

- But those three-heads-high characters, they were influenced by Amano's art, weren't they? But you've settled on the current relatively cutesy style; was that due to the unpopularity of those...

Sakaguchi: Yes, it was. But now, there's a lot of demand for us to go in the opposite direction, back to the three-heads-high characters.

- FF4 is a relatively serious, heavy story, isn't it? You can really put so much work into the art, too. Wouldn't this have been the perfect opportunity to bring back the three-heads-high characters?

Sakaguchi: Mmmm, well, that [two-heads-high] look is entrenched now, you see. But, the starting character is a Dark Knight, someone who looks like a villain, so I think it's a pretty significant departure in a different sense. And he has this dark mask on and everything. So initially, he was wearing a mask on the world map screen, too, but we thought, "isn't this a little much?", so we decided to have just his face showing.

- The magic system and other systems change every time, don't they?

Sakaguchi: That's right. It's because we start from scratch with every game. We don't really think that much about the previous game. That's why there are magics that switch back and forth between white and black with every game. (laughs) While we're making the game, we think, huh, which type of magic is this?, uhhh, I guess it's white, yeah, that feels right - like that, that's how it goes. We'll have to reconsider that process. (laughs)


- Now, I'd like to ask about your next game. (laughs)

Sakaguchi: But we just finished with this one! (laughs) I haven't even put together a team yet!

- But, like, with Seiken Densetsu, you worked with a different team, didn't you?

Sakaguchi: Yes, that was fun! Even if I do say so myself! (laughs) And it might get a sequel, you know, depending on how popular it is. In other words - I hope you enjoy the game.

- How many teams can you actually have going at once?

Sakaguchi: That's a secret. (laughs) Well, I am working on *one* game. We'll be announcing it soon.

- Judging from your cycle, it's gotta be an experimental title like Hanjuku Hero or Tom Sawyer!

Sakaguchi: Hmmm.... (laughs) Maybe!

About this reprint:

Square has announced that it is currently working on two big titles: a Super Famicom Hanjuku Hero title and Final Fantasy V. I hope our audience enjoys this second look at this interview in light of these announcements. As the interviewer, I had a good time getting this interview ready for publication, even as I think back on the portions that were edited out at the request of the manufacturer. If I have an opportunity like this again, maybe those portions will be able to see the light of day. Here's to the continued glory of the FF Knights!

Translated by R. Capowski, RACapowski@sceneryrecalled.com, 7/30/18. Final Fantasy IV is property of Square Enix, which has not sanctioned this document.