Hitoshura has translated this monster of an interview with Tetsuya Nomura, from the Dissidia Final Fantasy Ultimania. Enjoy reading about the creation and designs of Dissidia!
Director’s Section 2 — Tetsuya Nomura
I decided to step aside so the younger staff could grow
— Just as many titles have been started in the past based on your ideas, I’ve heard that the Dissidia project was another that began as one of your ideas. What kind of idea was it?
Nomura: It started when we were making ‘Kingdom Hearts (KH)’. I thought it would be fun to fight against others in Traverse Town (a large city which serves as a base for the main character’s adventure). But for various reasons we couldn’t have that in the KH series. Even so, I still held on to that desire to have competitive battles on a 3D field like that, and started to think that if we used do it with KH, we could use the FF characters who appeared in KH. And for several years since, I had been thinking of this project for an action game: taking characters from each numbered FF game, each using their own unique gameplay system from those games, and being able to freely move around a 3D environment while using obstacles. So with that, just as I was thinking it was about time to get this started, the younger staff including Takahashi (Mitsunori Takahashi: planning director) came to me and said they’d like to be given a project, and that they’d like me to direct. I told them that I’d give them a project, but would they try doing it, including the direction, themselves.
— Since Mr. Takahashi was original in the KH team, did you guess that the development of a game applying the KH gameplay system would go smoothly, then?
Nomura: Yeah. They had only worked on two title previous to that, and truthfully it was still too soon to put a title in his hands. Creatively they are excellent, but if they were to take the lead role in producing a game, I wanted them to realize the importance of managing a team. I thought that with me as director, they wouldn’t have had that growth, so I decide to step aside. However, I couldn’t just let them fail, and wanted them to experience success at the end of the struggle, so rather than making a new RPG from scratch, I thought that this project would be best, as it saves on the amount of resources outside of the battle system while allowing them to make use of their knowledge from KH. It was also just in time for FF’s 20th anniversary, and by using the FF characters I wanted to have them feel a sense of responsibility.
— Having the weight of 20 years of FF history must have been a heavy responsibility for the young staff.
Nomura: At first it didn’t really seem to click with them, but when we started making it they seemed to get that they had been given something very big.
I wanted to include rival characters, without worrying about the final bosses
— I heard that in the planning stages you chose the 20 FF characters, and that they were used pretty much as you selected, but how did you make the choices?
Nomura: For the FFI~FFX characters, it’s true that the present members were the same from the start. For the Cosmos side it was rather simply a matter of deciding, “well, from the main characters, it’s got to be this one.”
— In, for example, FFVI, there were a lot of characters who fit the role of main character. Did you have trouble deciding who to pick?
Nomura: If it weren’t Terra, then there would be no female characters on the Cosmos team. I was also a member of the production team for FFVI, and based on my feelings from that time I thought it had to be Terra. She’s on the cover image, and Terra appeared in the advert, so really I didn’t have a reason not to choose her.
— Like how you took Kuja rather than Necron from FFIX, the characters of the Chaos side were not limited to those game’s final bosses, were they?
Nomura: If we stick exactly to final bosses, we’d get characters such as FFX’s Yu Yevon. Characters who it would be difficult to give much personality to, or whose design doesn’t fit in with a fighting game. So I thought that it would be better to take characters with a rivalry, or with strong connections. Also, I personally really wanted to have Kain in the game. Originally we planned to have about 5 hidden characters, and even as that number started to shrink, Kain remained a candidate right to the end. When it was finally decided to cut him I said, “for FFIV’s Chaos character wouldn’t Kain and not Golbez be fine?” But we had to think of the balance with the other titles, and he was cut.
— In the end hidden characters from FFXI and FFXII appear, but were you involved in selecting them?
Nomura: I don’t have that deep a knowledge about all of FFXI’s characters, so all I said was basically, “in terms of popularity, the Tarutaru are popular, right? And Shantotto seemed like a popular character?” When it came to finally deciding on who it would be, it was down to Shantotto and Prishe, but I basically left it to the development team. As for FFXII, the other staff recommended Balthier, and it seems like they kept talking it over with each other. “Vaan’s the main character, isn’t he? No, Balthier would be better.” In the end they decided that Balthier appearing again, after having just appeared in “FF Tactics: War of the Lions”, wouldn’t be much of a surprise. And the FFXI and FFXII characters are treated as guest characters, so it was settled on that we’d move away from the main character types this time, and finally it went to Gabranth, who had an impact being in the logo for FFXII. Also, we’d wanted to include Lightning from FFXIII, but its staff thought that it wouldn’t be a good idea to reveal the abilities she uses in FFXIII here first, so we gave up on having her in the game.
I believed I could combine recreating the originals and having a unique identity
— You also worked on the character illustrations for Dissida, which caused quite a reaction at first, didn’t they.
Nomura: Although this game is a Final Fantasy installment it’s not an RPG, so I was expecting a more somber response, but the responses from the fans was a lot more enthusiastic than I expected. The images we revealed first of Warrior of Light and Zidane were drawn in a lot of detail, so after that I couldn’t get lazy with any of the other images (laugh). The characters from the FF series have been drawn by several people including myself, but I want to have all the characters together drawn in the same style, so I took care to give them a sense of unity.
— It was very interesting to see how you would draw the main characters of the games which you weren’t involved with, like FFIX’s Zidane.
Nomura: FFIX’s illustrations were surprisingly trouble-free, actually. It was easy to imagine, this is how I’d draw them. Maybe because I used to do the job of converting Mr. Amano (Yoshitaka Amano)’s designs to pixel images, but with these illustrations as well I drew them believing that I could combine recreating the originals and having a unique identity. Thinking about it later, it wouldn’t have been strange if the fans had been more opposed to them, but I’m relived that they seemed to have accepted them.
[When the subject of Terra came up, Nomura showed us his original character drawings done during the production of FFVI. “It became the basis of the illustration used in the character introductions at the time, but for some reason when they were made public someone else was credited for them.“-Nomura]
— With FFI or the original version of FFIII, because of the nature of the games the characters’ names and personalities weren’t set out, did you have any difficulties when making the pictures for them?
Nomura: For FFI, there was several pictures from which I could form an image, so I was able to draw those without much trouble. But I had quite a hard time with Onion Knight. From the start I was working with the plan of having a cartoony Onion Knight, but in the first image I drew it was too cartoony. As I finished the other characters’ images it felt out of place, so for a time I decided to use a style like the one on FFIII’s cover and redrew it. But then the key visuals that we’d asked Mr. Amano for at the start of production were completed, and when I say the cartoony Onion Knight there I though I go in this direction as well, and found a balance for the design with the rest of the characters.
— Were there any particularly hard times when drawing the illustrations for the Chaos side?
Nomura: I didn’t really have much trouble with the Chaos characters. But for Garland the only references we had were pixel images, so that was a problem. There was a super-deformed illustration drawn by one of our designers for the GameBoy Advance remake, but this was the first time he was being drawn with the intention of recreating that within the game, so in that sense he was like a new character. But it was hard to have to give him a presence, like he’s always been around. But it was worth the trouble and I was able to draw him without any sense of not fitting in as a character from FFI, so I’m fond of Garland.
— The Cloud of Darkness is another character who has quite an impact.
Nomura: For the Cloud of Darkness, I drew her exactly like Mr. Amano’s FFIII illustration. When I joined this company, I was flipping through some of the many the strategy guide that were around, and there was Mr. Amano’s drawing of Cloud of Darkness. At first, I didn’t know how it was so I asked one of my co-workers. He told me, that’s the Cloud of Darkness, and I thought to myself, it’s nothing like the one in the game! Why didn’t they just use it in the game exactly like that? So I decided to use that design someday.
For the early titles, we chose the voice actors based on the illustrations for this game
— How did you go about casting the voice actors?
Nomura: For the titles I directed or produced I basically choose the actors, while asking the staff what they think. I always match them with the image I had in mind while designing, and it goes relatively smoothly. But this time, there’s a lot of characters I hadn’t originally worked on, and I think the gamers each have their own images of them, so there were a lot of times we struggled with casting. Especially FFI through FFIII, which I not only had nothing hand in the production of, but there’s also little concrete character portrayals to draw on for an image of the voices, so I had them let me select voices which matched the image for the illustrations I drew for this game. On the other hand, FFIX’s Zidane and Kuja were the ones I had the most trouble with. They do have tangible personalities, but I wasn’t involved in it, so I selected from several candidates for the actors the staff suggested.
— Do you know a lot about voice actors, Mr. Nomura?
Nomura: Since I started doing casting work myself, I think I’ve gotten familiar with them to a degree. However, I don’t really know much about voice actors from recent anime series… as you can see if you look at the choices I made this time (laugh).
— When recording the voices, do you give any instructions to the actors about their performances?
Nomura: I don’t usually give the actors direct instructions. Since KH, we usually hire outside voice directors who work on dubbing foreign films, and it usually takes the form of me giving that person various requests and explanations, and they give instruction for the performances directly to the actors based on that. However, even for the titles where I’m only in charge of the character design, I always attend the very first voice recording, when we’re building the characters, and decide what direction to go in after having the actors try out several different styles.
— Speaking of voices, during the cutscene where Terra and Kefka fight, you can hear Kefka shouting out “Pike! Yellowtail!” as he attacks.
Nomura: That was Mr. Chiba (Shigeru Chiba: Kefka’s voice actor) ad-libbing. From what I’ve heard from the other actors, Mr. Chiba occasionally does seafood-related ad-libs when shouting (laughs).
If there’s a sequel, Kain’s definitely in
— Before you said that you took a step back so the younger staff could grow, but how specifically were you involved in this project, Mr. Nomura?
Nomura: Up until the basic elements of the game such as the project and direction were settled on, there were a lot of meetings and the work of confirming everything carried on, but after actual production began I stepped aside and basically acted as a consultant when anyone needed it. I handed over the project book, which was the start of everything, and left how they interpreted and expanded on that up to them. The original plan as the tentative title of ‘Shade Theory’, and a remnant of that title remained until the end stages of development as a name of a mode in the game.
— Were there any instructions you gave for them to keep a check on anything , when making a game in the fighting genre?
Nomura: I didn’t really give them any specific instructions, but before the basics were finalised there were several course changes. For example, at first there was a proposal of having absolutely no health gauges or numbers on screen, but I opposed that. I convinced them, saying that you wouldn’t be able to tell how much damage you or the enemy were doing, and tactics-wise one of the fun things is when you were just 1 damage point away from winning. Also someone said that the abilities should only be majors ones, and wanted to get rid of the lesser abilities, so I said that it would be bland that way. I said to them at linking smaller attacks together, landing several hits and then when you’ve made an opening finish them with a single hit is one of the fun things about fighting games.
— What was your responses when it was almost complete?
Nomura: I didn’t expect it to have this much in it. They worked hard right up to the deadline, and I think they’ve made something that the players will really enjoy. The first project I was given charge of was KH, and the fact that the whole team were able to focus and succeeded has had a major influence on their game production after that. Similarly, I think Arakawa’s (Takeshi Arakawa: Senior Director) experience on “The World Ends With You” had a good effect on Dissida. And for Dissidia’s staff as well, I believe that the experience gained from this game will be a boon for them when making a different title in the future.
— With Dissidia’s good sales and critical reception so far, I’m looking forward to a sequel.
Nomura: Hhm, I can’t say I don’t like that idea, but at the present moment we have no plans for a sequel. To tell you the truth, up until a couple of months ago I was motivated to do it too. I called Takahashi and Ikeda (Ryuji Ikeda: main programmer), and talked about some ideas for a sequel. I said to think about stuff to do and be prepared. But circumstances within the company meant that idea went straight back to the drawing board. Kitase asks me, “aren’t you going to do it?” but…
— But you do have some concrete ideas you’re working around in your mind, right?
Nomura: Well, if we did a sequel I think Kain is definitely in (laughs). I’ve got a lot of interesting ideas, but as far as the situation goes actually going ahead with the project would be tricky… If there were enough demand for a Dissidia II, the situation might change, so I think I’d like to rethink it at that time.
(Recorded 29 December 2008, at Square Enix // Interviewer: Akira Yamashita)
CREATIVE PRODUCTER & CHARACTER DESIGNER
Major works: “FFV”, “FFVI”, “FFVII”, “FFVIII”, “FFX”, “FFX-2″, “KH” series
Favourite Character: Terra
Reason: I like long-range attacks. Terra can use a lot of magic attacks, but I’m particularly fond of “Tornado”, so I use it over and over.
— A secret about Dissidia only you know
The images on the “Dissidia FF Potion” cans of Terra and Bartz are the ones from before they were finalized. With Bartz, his height is just different so it’s hard to tell, but for Terra I later redrew her face, so it’s completely different.