Vor kurzem haben Hironobu Sakaguchi und Hajime Tabata der Famitsu ein ausführliches Interview zum Uncovered: FF XV-Event gegeben. Neben einem Blick hinter die Kulissen des Events erzählen sie von ihrer Leidenschaft für die Final Fantasy-Reihe und berichten von ihrer ersten Begegnung. Lest hier das unterhaltsame Interview auf Englisch:
In the wake of the big reveal
–”Sakaguchi-san, you took part in an official Final Fantasy event for the first time in a long while.”
Sakaguchi: That’s true. The last event I participated in was the reveal for FFXII. I mentioned my love for Matsuno (Yasumi Matsuno, creator of numerous popular games including the Ogre Battle series. Supervised the production of FFXII) at the event, and there were all sorts of rumors flying around afterwards. (laughs)
–”I remember that now. (laughs) Was it Tabata-san’s suggestion that Sakaguchi-san appear at the beginning of the event? ”
Tabata: That’s right.
Sakaguchi: When Tabata-san came to my office and asked me to open the event, my reaction was “Hmmm? Are you sure?” (laughs)
–”What led up to this request?”
Sakaguchi: I’d enjoyed several meals with Tabata-san, and we’d had a passionate discussion at one point, not related to this event. Apparently I can be pretty inspiring with a glass or two, though details are sketchy. (laughs)
Tabata: Wait. You don’t remember? (laughs)
Sakaguchi: I do have a vague memory. Something along the lines of “You need to challenge yourselves! I’m doing so myself!” A while later, he asked me to share that discussion at the event’s opening, so I agreed.
–”Tabata-san, what made you seek Sakaguchi-san’s help for the event’s opening?”
Tabata: I could give you any number of reasons, but the biggest reason was my gut instinct. I wanted Sakaguchi-san, the creator of Final Fantasy, to stand on the FFXV presentation stage and invite our users to enjoy the event together. When we were eating out together, I told Sakaguchi-san that I wanted to bring Final Fantasy back to its roots as a challenger. His response to my words was the first thing I wanted everyone to hear at the event, so I asked him to tell them what he’d told me. I wanted to open the event with a heartfelt message from us to the fans.
–”Sakaguchi-san, what ran through your mind when you were offered this role?”
Sakaguchi: Thinking about it objectively, I found this an interesting twist. Wait, I’m the first one in…? (laughs)
Tabata: You told me the crowd would roar! (laughs) You were immediately seeing things from a producer perspective.
Sakaguchi: I requested subtitles, as waiting for interpretation each time would disrupt the flow.
Tabata: The idea was to display subtitles behind him so the audience would get excited at the same pace, also allowing him to talk at his own pace. We knew the event was going to be streamed online too, so we discussed and agreed that this would allow both the online viewers and attending audience to see the same thing.
Sakaguchi: That’s right. I found myself thinking about how to showcase myself. (laughs)
–”So the message conveyed at the event was written by Sakaguchi-san himself.”
Sakaguchi: It was. The message was a condensed version of my dinner discussions with Tabata-san; we wanted to get across that XV would be returning to Final Fantasy’s roots as a challenger in the market. Not to say that the previous titles weren’t challengers in their own right.
–”Each installment did indeed have its set of unique ambitions.”
Sakaguchi: What we meant is that the challenge this time around is as big as ever.
–”After opening the event you got to sit down and watch; what did you think of the presentations?”
Sakaguchi: When a Japanese product or company is presented to a Western audience, the presentation tends to be one of two extremes: very Japanese, or completely Western. This event, though, struck me as featuring Japanese elements while also being relatable for a global audience. A combination that has been hard to pull off. The atmosphere was fantastic.
Tabata: That happens to be something at the very heart of the Final Fantasy series. It’s an IP with strong Japanese elements, while also being popular worldwide. The event was designed to reflect that.
–”Tabata-san, what was your impression of the event, in retrospect?”
Tabata: I felt a strong sense of accomplishment that day, while also knowing that there was no going back now that we’d finally set the release date.
Sakaguchi: Tying our own nooses in front of everyone with the actual date! (laughs)
Tabata: Precisely. (laughs) That being said, the announcement gave our team a sense of resolve and responsibility; we’re feeling more driven as a result.
Sakaguchi: So it’s been a good experience for the team.
Tabata: We’re really grateful for the event. The cheers and support of the audience really pumped us up. Though Sakaguchi-san did have some qualms after the event. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: I did?
Tabata: “Air Button*? Are you serious!?” (laughs)
*Air Button: a physical button held by Tabata, and not a button carried by the MC, was meant to be pressed to announce the release date. However, Tabata had to improvise after appearing onstage without being handed a working button. He took out an imaginary button from his pocket and made a show of pressing it, announcing “It’s Air Button!”
Sakaguchi: That’s not what I meant! I was impressed that you improvised in English!
–”An impressive feat indeed.”
Sakaguchi: Right! That was well played. By the way, I’m not complaining, but because my appearance on stage was meant to be a surprise, I was driven up to the rear entrance of the venue and hastily ushered in before anyone notices me. Not all fun and games behind the scenes. I realized how much effort goes into springing a surprise! (laughs) I had another ordeal onstage too. Under orders from my wife, I was doing my utmost to suck my belly in.
Tabata: Really? (laughs)
Sakaguchi: At the rehearsal she told me it was fine when I was talking, but stuck out when I walked. I kept worrying about it. (laughs)
The team’s colors make the game
–”Both released on the same date as Uncovered: FFXV, how have users responded to Platinum Demo: FFXV and Brotherhood: FFXV?”
Tabata: Thankfully, reactions to both were better than expected. One of our goals for Platinum Demo: FFXV was to have something playable immediately after the announcement, so the phenomenal response from our fans has been a massive encouragement. I’m really glad we did that. The feedback we’ve received has given us an objective sense of what we’ll need to fix and improve for the game itself. As for Brotherhood: FFXV, the venue audience’s reaction was better than we’d been hoping for. We’re getting many more views than we’d estimated, and it’s turned into a major new point of contact for newcomers to FFXV. We’ve received a lot of feedback for it too, which we’ll be keeping in mind as we work on the series.
–”FFXV does seem to evoke a lot of discussion among the users.”
Tabata: Final Fantasy is indeed something else. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t that passionate about the series when I started working at Square Enix. I’d played the first game a lot, stopped mid-way through FFII.
Sakaguchi: That’s because FFII was made by Kawazu (Akitoshi Kawazu. After working together with Sakaguchi on FF and FFII, he went on to create the SaGa series). (laughs)
Tabata: I really don’t know how to respond to that. (laughs)
–”I don’t think that was the implication there.” (laughs)
Tabata: I have no intention of bad-mouthing Kawazu-san. I felt real promise in the fighting system where the characters grow stronger by being attacked. Yet the system made it a valid tactic to attack your own party to boost yourselves. I messed things up a couple of times and it started feeling like a chore. (laughs) Of course, the release of any Final Fantasy title would draw my attention, and this was still true after I became a game developer. I was conscious that I wouldn’t be able to make games like that at the company I was with then, so I was also trying to avoid falling in love with the series.
–”So you were almost envious of the series?”
Tabata: You might say that. Only after joining Square Enix did I realize how many people were involved in making Final Fantasy happen, how hard they’d work, and how passionate and sincere the fanbase was… This all became very tangible. The many people here are doing their best to respond to the expectations, criticism included, in creating Final Fantasy, a series which is one of the pillars of the whole company. It was through witnessing what goes into its production that I’ve come to love the series as I do now. Our recent event made me feel I’ll finally be able to actually contribute to Final Fantasy.
–”So you grew an emotional attachment to the series over time.”
Tabata: Ten years ago I would never even have contemplated working on a numbered Final Fantasy title. Now I’m hoping to do my part to truly add to the series.
–”Sakaguchi-san, in the past you commented that in your eyes, all a game needed to be a ‚Final Fantasy‘ title was its trademark blue text box. Tabata-san, how did you come to grips with what a Final Fantasy game is about?”
Tabata: Working together with Kitase-san (Yoshinori Kitase. Joining the team for FFV, he both directed and produced several games in the series) and Nomura-san (Tetsuya Nomura. Selected to design the main characters for FFVII, he has been involved with multiple series titles since) probably influenced me the most. The passion with which the two worked gave me a good sense of what Sakaguchi-san expected from a Final Fantasy title, and what challenges he tackled in its name – including what it takes to be worthy of the Final Fantasy banner.
Sakaguchi: Great to know Kitase had been doing his part too. (laughs) As far as I’m concerned, he’s the one I handed the torch to. It’s heartwarming to know that Kitase’s values are living on through you.
Tabata: He never directly told me how things should be done, but I learnt a lot by working with him.
Sakaguchi: His mindset, if you will. Where NOT to compromise.
Tabata: Another essential element of Final Fantasy is the team itself. These aren’t games that could be created by individuals. I feel it’s the sum of what the team’s members bring to the table that counts.
Sakaguchi: You’re right. From the very beginning Final Fantasy was the fruit of a team effort. To compete with games like Dragon Quest or Mario Bros., both of which clearly show the presence of highly talented individuals, I realized we’d need to aggregate the energies of multiple people. Maybe this team approach has grown into a tradition of sorts.
Tabata: I strongly feel that way. It puts you in the mindset of ‘with such a great team, we can aim this high’!
Sakaguchi: It was because we were working as a team that we were able to incorporate CG into the games. If Final Fantasy had been more of a solo effort, the series might have looked quite different now.
–”Sakaguchi-san, do you have any advice about making a numbered Final Fantasy title?”
Sakaguchi: This isn’t just about Tabata-san, but also Yoshida-san (Naoki Yoshida. After working on titles in the Dragon Quest: Monster Battle Road series, he was appointed Producer and Director of FFXIV), who asked me when we met whether his work was worthy of the Final Fantasy name; My answer was to proudly call it so. Both of them were clearly ready and in the challenger’s mindset.
Tabata: You told me to do it my way – words that left a strong impression on me.
First encounter between Sakaguchi and Tabata
–”You were both at the company at different times, so there wasn’t a point of contact between you back then. How did you two meet?”
Tabata: We didn’t have any connection, besides almost bumping into each other at PAX Prime 2014. I’d heard that Sakaguchi-san was coming and was hoping to introduce myself, but my timing was off.
Sakaguchi: I only heard this after the event. I was there promoting Terra Battle, and press commitments prevented us from meeting.
Tabata: I was musing on the missed opportunity when I heard about Sakaguchi-san congratulating us on our 10th anniversary (a joke about the lengthy development period of FFXV)! (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Sorry about that. I was tired from the interview and went a bit far.
Tabata: The comment didn’t bother me, but Sakaguchi-san contacted me at a later date saying he wanted to apologize and chat about FFXV. Kitase-san and Sakaguchi-san met as part of Famitsu’s Mobius Final Fantasy coverage, so the three of us went for a meal afterwards.
Sakaguchi: That’s right. Kitase was there too when we first met.
Tabata: Yes. Sakaguchi-san knew that I was working on FFXV, and his first comment was “Sorry about that ’10-year‘ remark. I finally get to apologize.”
Sakaguchi: I’d been feeling remorse over that comment.
Tabata: Then I introduced myself as working on FFXV, and we talked about many things.
–”What did you discuss?”
Tabata: Our first meeting was pretty casual. My impression of Sakaguchi-san was far more laid back than I’d heard. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Curious about those rumors. (laughs) Kitase being there might have helped.
Tabata: Over the meal Kitase-san and Sakaguchi-san told me about how they used to work together. Sakaguchi-san also told me to ask him anything, so I asked him how much he was earning! (laughs)
Sakaguchi: That’s one I didn’t answer! (laughs)
Tabata: The only one you didn’t, actually. (laughs) We didn’t discuss anything too deep that first time, but our discussions grew deeper with time.
–”Sakaguchi-san, what did you think of Tabata-san’s take on Final Fantasy?”
Sakaguchi: Up until FFXIII, the games were made by members originally from Square, including Kitase, so FFXIV and onwards constitute a new generation of Final Fantasy. Although calling them a ’new generation‘ may be a stretch, I do feel that the series is evolving into something new. For FFXV, I played the demo and was shown raw footage of the game, and was moved by their dedication to the franchise.
Tabata: You even told me so back when we met.
Sakaguchi: Final Fantasy is my baby in a way, so seeing you working hard on it really makes me happy.
–”The team’s passion for the series must have helped deepen your discussions.”
Sakaguchi: Indeed. I also realized that things probably aren’t easy for Tabata-san. It was the same for Chrono Trigger; taking over from someone else and rebuilding a project is hard work. So I was commending him on his effort; “It’s actually pretty rough, isn’t it?” (laughs)
–”Those words must have been encouraging to Tabata-san.”
Tabata: They were. I was really happy Sakaguchi-san felt I was part of the effort to look after his baby. But what I really appreciated was, when we met before the Uncovered: FFXV event and Sakaguchi-san asked me how I was tackling FFXV, his delight on hearing that I was hoping to return Final Fantasy to its challenger roots.
Masterclass comment from Sakaguchi
–”What else did the two of you talk about?”
Tabata: When we first ate together, Sakaguchi-san told me there was one thing he was concerned about. I was immediately anxious about his upcoming comment.
Sakaguchi: In the first in-game demo, a Behemoth’s hind leg was sticking through a fence. I told him “You can’t have that.” (laughs)
Tabata: Suspension of disbelief.
Sakaguchi: I love getting nitpicky over little details like that. I was all over that hind leg! (laughs)
–”I myself remember Sakaguchi-san mentioning that back then.” (laughs)
Tabata: It must have really bothered you. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: The heinous case of the Behemoth leg!
–”I don’t suppose many people would have noticed that detail. You saw it because you cared so strongly.”
Sakaguchi: I figured pointing out this minor detail would let the team know that I really care about their work. Just another reason to pay attention to detail. My own team’s programmers prefer having the finer issues pointed out to them. That being said, the consensus seems to be that this was a drunk outburst from me. (laughs)
Tabata: It was! (laughs) Sakaguchi-san doesn’t pull punches when we’re sharing a drink. There’s usually a comment somewhere pretty much every time we meet. The second time we met, he told me that the character animations looked creepy! (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Oh no, I didn’t say it like that, did I? (laughs) I was playing the demo, and when you’re fighting, your companions go out of their way to run up and heal you. My gut feeling was I don’t want to be healed by another guy!
Tabata: Sakaguchi-san’s gripe was, they all look so tough but act so touchy-feely. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Not a sober comment at all. (laughs)
Tabata: He begged me to make the healer a woman, and was disappointed when I told him we simply couldn’t. His take was that we then should at least make sure the characters felt more human, lest we alienate our younger users.
Sakaguchi: Did I say that? I sound so self-important. (laughs)
Tabata: At the time the AI was still pretty weak, so character behavior wasn’t organic enough to convey their mutual relationships. So some players may have found their actions creepy.
–”Do you feel this kind of feedback helps the development process?”
Tabata: Of course. When we met for the third time, I showed Sakaguchi-san Kingsglaive: FFXV. A non-sober comment that time was “Sure, the graphics look good, but look right here! The eyes are immaculate. Far too so.”
Sakaguchi: The father (Regis)’s eyes were clear and child-like. Not the eyes of an aged man. I remember telling Tabata-san that they weren’t the eyes of someone with a lifetime’s worth of experiences.
Tabata: You mentioned here too that Regis‘ eyes took away from the immersion. That the visuals were high-quality enough to convey the illusion of watching a movie with human actors, but it was those eyes that betrayed the characters as CGI.
–”Did you decide to fix this?”
Tabata: The director of Kingsglaive: FFXV, Nozue (Takeshi Nozue. Worked on numerous high-quality movies including FFVII: Advent Children), was also there, and he took this feedback back to the team right away. They discussed and decided to do a polishing pass.
Sakaguchi: Now the users are bound to complain about the *jaded* eyes in the final cut. (laughs)
–”That’s some fairly detailed advice, I must say.” (laughs)
Tabata: Another of Sakaguchi-san’s comments was that FFXV’s action-packed battle system might be too much to handle for users more used to turn-based combat. He reminded us to think about our long-time series fans.
Sakaguchi: Something you always need to keep in mind.
Tabata: The actual feedback from the demo is clearly divided between those who want more depth to the action, and those who prefer having it simpler. When Sakaguchi-san asked me what we were planning to do, I told him we’re considering adding an Easy Mode; a decision he approved of.
Sakaguchi: Tabata-san was worried because there’s never been a numbered FF which allows the user to select difficulty. Personally, I think it should be fine if that’s the solution they arrived at through thinking about the current generation of users.
Tabata: Sakaguchi-san told me “there’s no need to stick to tradition as long as you’re doing it for the fans.”
A message from Sakaguchi to Tabata
–”Tabata-san, will you continue asking Sakaguchi-san for advice in the future?”
Tabata: I definitely will whenever there’s ever something I’d appreciate his opinion on. Every discussion is a masterclass in game creation. For example, I don’t really know about the planning and efforts that went into creating FFVII, as I was in another company back then. It amazes me each time how different and how deep the process was back then compared to what we’re trying to do. It really reminds me of all the effort so far to establish the Final Fantasy brand, and how passive we’ve been in just building on the IP’s existing success. That’s why it helps to discuss things with Sakaguchi-san every now and then. To keep our eyes open. The proverbial wake-up call. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: Feeding me alcohol ensures my comments will at least be blunt. (laughs)
–”Aren’t you worried that you’re going to show him the final game and he’ll tear it to shreds?” (laughs)
Tabata: That might well happen. (laughs) But Sakaguchi-san created and produced the Final Fantasy brand; there aren’t many people around with that level of know-how. I count myself lucky to be able to go to him for advice. (laughs)
–”Sakaguchi-san, did you ever share your opinions on any of the previous numbered Final Fantasy titles?”
Sakaguchi: I did. I spoke to Matsuno when he was working on FFXII, and both Kitase and Toriyama (Motomu Toriyama. Worked on FFVII and FFX, Director for the FFXIII series) visited me at my home in Hawaii as part of a holiday trip. We had an intense discussion in a yakiniku restaurant. I’m pretty blunt with my opinions, but Kitase doesn’t flinch either, so he was probably shaking his head at the old guy asking for the impossible again. (laughs)
Tabata: Kitase-san is a tough debater. I was witness to a heated exchange, where Sakaguchi-san was pointing out that Kitase-san knew in his heart what he should be doing, yet not doing it, while Kitase-san’s argument was that some efforts are simply not realistic.
Sakaguchi: I recall saying something along the lines of “Nothing is impossible, you’re just not trying, break the box and think outside it!“ (laughs)
–”There might be a Sakaguchi vs. Tabata version of that debate before this is all over, then. (laughs) With the final stretch around the corner, any words of encouragement for Tabata-san?”
Sakaguchi: With the release date set, you’re starting the final struggle uphill and it’s the toughest stretch of them all. When you look back, though, going gold is a very fulfilling moment. Both FFIII and FFIV were finished around the break of dawn, and I couldn’t help striking victory poses on my way home alone. (laughs) I still remember those moments as the most enjoyable and fulfilling moments of my life. I’m sure this will be a shining milestone in Tabata-san’s own life, so do what you do, and enjoy every moment of it. This is your Final Fantasy, and the start of a new era.
Tabata: My team will take those words to heart, and hope to bask together in the morning sun as we go gold. We’ll be sure to enjoy the process, and won’t let up until we’re done!
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