Translated by TLS member Hitoshura.
IT BEGAN ON THE SNES
—First off, can you tell us how the development of “FFVII” came about?
Kitase: After development on “FFVI” ended, we started the “FFVII” project on the SNES. All of the team put forth ideas for the characters and game systems, but during that time we needed to help out “Chrono Trigger” team who at the time had run into trouble, so for a time development of “FFVII” was put on hold.
—Was the “FFVII” being developed then different from the finished one?
Kitase: Yeah. It was completely different, and Nomura (*1) had proposed things like a design for a witch. In the end, when development started up again it changed to the current setting centred on mako and the like, but the design for the witch Nomura made was incorporated into “FFVIII” in Edea.
—I see. So then, when the development began again, it become the world we have now which has a strong sci-fi feel.
Kitase: At the time there were a lot of Western-fantasy RPGs around, so we wanted to set it apart, and we wanted to achieve more realist ways of showing the story. Also, Mr. Sakaguchi (*2) had suggested a modern drama-esque story with a strong sci-fi feel.
—Had you decided on making it an RPG using 3D polygons at that point?
Kitase: When development had restarted, talk of a next generation console was already in full swing. Since the next generation hardware was said to have chips that excelled at 3D graphics, we also made a 3D battle demo movie based on “FFVI” and studied using 3D. Soon the idea came up that movies would be indispensible to the evolution of “FF” and we decided to development for the PlayStation, which utilised CD-ROM that had a large storage capacity.
“ALONE IN THE DARK”
—Was the decision to make “FFVII” in 3D a unanimous one?
Kitase: There were two directions the development of “FFVII” could have taken. One was to put pixel characters on 3D maps, like “Dragon Quest VII” and “Xenogears” would later use. And the other was the method used in “FFVII” where the characters are rendered using polygons. The pixel characters used in the story scenes in previous “FF” games were extremely popular, so at first we were considering the former which is an extension of that method. But as we couldn’t made a realistic drama in that way, and with polygon characters we could use the movement of their entire bodies to express things, we went for the later to look for new possibilities.
—Was there no resistance from the team?
Kitase: There was at first. Particularly, with the loss of the pixel graphics, the designer team such as Naora (*3) seemed to have felt that their job was put at risk. But in their own ways, everyone went to the CG training sessions and such and learnt to handle it. The people who had been there since the old days are those who had overcome that sort of times of change. In a sense, that was really the turning point for the development.
—Were there any titles that served as a reference when making a 3D RPG?
Kitase: A foreign game called “Alone In The Dark” was an inspiration. The backgrounds were single images done in CG, and when the polygon character moved along them, the camera would switch and the viewpoint would change. That method was new. “Alone In The Dark” was an adventure game, and its story was set in a mansion, but I thought that by taking this and using in it in RPG with vast field maps, it could be something different and new, so I went around showing this game to all the staff.
MOVIE SCENES YOU CAN CONTROL
—In “FFVII” one of its unique features was being able to control characters during the movies.
Kitase: What I wanted to do most of all in “FFVII” was to seamlessly join the movies and the game parts. We wanted to avoid there feeling like there was a massive gap in the graphics when moving from the movies to the playable parts, and Mr. Sakaguchi also said to not make it feel like the movies stick out. So we did some tests and made the part in the opening where the camera zooms in from a shot of all of Midgar to Cloud jumping off the train. I was in charge of the composition of that part, we used a method where as it moved from the movie to a CG image, the characters were positioned so they didn’t move out of place, and we refined it numerous times to get it to sync up nicely. When it went well without moving out of place, it felt brilliant. By the way, the kind of showy events like the scene where Tifa jumps off the Junon cannon, I was mostly responsible for those (laughs).
—Do you think scenes you can control during movies not being in other games was down to Square’s high level of technical skills at that time?
Kitase: No, rather than technical skill, I think it was more the inventiveness to want to do those kind of things. We wanted to take what “Alone In The Dark” did, having polygon characters on top of a CG background, and take it one step further. And because this was our first 3D game, we didn’t know the limits so we could have reckless ideas. We commissioned an outside CG company for the movie scenes, but when the trial version was completed, we would say “the story’s changed so we’d like to extend the movie scene by about 30 seconds” which really surprised them. Since at that time even just extending a movie by a few seconds costed 10 million yen. We made these unreasonable orders without knowing that. In the end we made do with a few revisions, but we gradually learnt that you can’t get retakes as easy as you could with games (wry smile).
—(Laughs) Did Mr. Sakaguchi give any orders for other parts?
Kitase: I think Mr. Sakaguchi wanted to follow the tradition of the pixel graphics, and to show the characters’ expressions on the field screens, so he paid attention to the size of the heads. In battles you can zoom in the camera, but since the field screens are a single background image, you can’t do that. As a result, the proportion of the characters are different in battle and on the field. But when we looked at it after “FFVII” was released, we thought “people are probably going to feel something is off with the difference in proportion” and so in “FFVIII” we the proportions on the field and battle scenes the same.
A SCENARIO WITH A HINT OF MYSTERY
—How was the story, which was distinct from the RPGs that had come before it, created?
Kitase: Before “FFVI” we had Mr. Sakaguchi’s plots, and based on that each of the staff would throw in their ideas and flesh it out, but with “FFVII” we could express things more realistically, so we couldn’t take a mishmash of all the separate episodes the staff had made up and make a single coherent game. That’s where Mr. Nojima (*4), who was one of the new staff members, came in. He had written an RPG scenario with mystery elements for “Glory of Heracles III: Silence of the Gods” on the SNES, so to make it a surprising story like that we left the scenario to Mr. Nojima and he incorporated the elements everyone wanted to do.
—Things such as Cloud’s true identity were certainly surprising.
Kitase: For Cloud’s identity, we only vaguely had an image of Cloud’s own existence being up in the air and it ending there, but the actual unfolding of events was left in Nojima’s hands. And he made not only the scenario but the actual event scenes as well, and the parts where all the mysteries get made clear like Nibelheim in the past were all in Nojima’s head so he hadn’t written it down in detail in the scenario. So we were doing the test play with no idea how it was going to end, and that’s how we first found out what happens. In particular Zack was made like that as well, he was a character Nojima brought in while he was building up the mystery, so we had no clue that he was that important a character (laughs).
—That’s surprising (laughs). Did Mr. Sakaguchi have any directions for the story, having written the plot?
Kitase: Mr. Sakaguchi had been deeply involved with the story up to “FFVI” but with “FFVII” he focused his efforts on the battles. It was Mr. Sakaguchi who suggested the materia system. At first materia had the name “spheres” which Nomura proposed, but Sakaguchi thought we should make it something that would resonate easily even with elementary school kids, so we went for ‘materia’. Back then, the staff were trying to come up with some cool name, but Sakaguchi said that in order to get it embraced across the board you can’t just think about what’s cool.
DEVELOPMENT BRIMMING WITH ENTHUSIASM
—Was the wide variety of mini-games something you planned to include from the start?
Kitase: We had thought of the bike mini-game where you escape from Midgar, but apart from that we had no plans at all (laughs). Now we don’t have staff who aren’t working on anything, but back then we could have staff who had a bit of free time between projects. There were some new staff as well so, kind of doubling as training, we had them make things that needed specialised programs, like the roller coaster shooting game or the submarines.
—So that’s the story behind it! By the way, were there any specific episodes from back then that left a mark on you?
Kitase: Actually, 6 days after “FFVII” mastered up, my eldest son was born. I luckily got there in time for the birth, but afterwards my wife said “you can’t just simply show up for the moment he’s born and everything’s fine” (wry smile). So while I caused some worry, it was a memorable time also for the birth of my son.
—So finally, can you give a message to the fans of “FFVII”?
Kitase: Looking back on the development of “FFVII” now, the difference in proportion between the field and battle sections encapsulates how the desire to “include the stuff we wanted to do” won over consistency. Those bits that are rough but you can feel the energy behind them, those are my favourite points in “FFVII”, and I think maybe what has been supported for so long. As you get used to game development you try to make something more clean and refined, but even if some things were a bit irregular, like there being so many mini-games, later on you come to realise that those can create some unpredictable sort of fun. I hope we can treasure that energy in the future as well, and not forget the enthusiasm we had at first as we make new games.
*1: Tetsuya Nomura. Character designer for “FFVII”.
*2: Hironobu Sakaguchi. Produced heavily involved with the “FF” series.
*3: Yusuke Naora. Art director for “FFVII”.
*4: Kazushige Nojima. In charge of the scenario of “FFVII”.
– On the 15th anniversary
You’ve mainly received attention for your character designs, but you also suggested various systems like the limit breaks in “FFVII” which would be used in later games in the series. Limit breaks are similar to the special attacks in fighting games, but what an interesting idea it was to think it would be fun to place those into an RPG format. If I said it to you directly you’d get ahead of yourself so I won’t, but I would just like to say ‘thank you’ (laughs). (Kitase)
– On the 15th anniversary
While we were asking you to come up with a mysterious story like “Glory of Hercules III”, me and Nomura kept throwing these elements we wanted without considering foreshadowing, so I think incorporating them must have been tough. But I am grateful that you pieced them together without turning us down. Thank you. But around the time of “FFX” our unreasonable behavior was too much *even for you* and you had a displeased air about you, didn’t you (wry smile). (Kitase)