Final Fantasy XIII doesn't offer the same concrete understanding of where your characters are and why. There's Pulse and Cocoon, and that makes sense; but it doesn't have the same sense of progression or differentiation.
TT: And for Final Fantasy IV, because for each of the characters you know the country that they came from and their backgrounds and how they grew up, it gives you more of an ability to relate to each of the characters.
I also remember something that FF XIII director Motomu Toriyama said last year at his GDC presentation, which was that, in the old days, it was much easier for people on the team to throw out different ideas and have those be accepted, whereas the kind of planning that goes on for contemporary games doesn't allow for that.
TT: I think there's something to be said about everyone freely offering their ideas and that creating a really great game, even if that means you're sacrificing some consistency; at least it's offering a wide variety.
Is it possible to do that these days, and, for that matter, is that something that could happen, say, with The After Years when that was being created?
TT: Yes, for The After Years that I had done, and also Final Fantasy Legends, which is a content scenario-based game for the mobile platform in Japan, we are doing something like that. Essentially, I create the concept in the beginning, and then, in the middle, the staff throws out all of their ideas; and then we bring it together and finalize it at the end. I really feel like that helps motivate the teams and also creates something that's more than we expected.
Final Fantasy Legends
Especially when you're working with mobile or portable titles, it's not as complicated; but also you don't have as many resources, so trying to keep the team focused on contributing interesting ideas has got to be a real challenge, I think.
TT: Similar to Chrono Trigger, which has many different worlds, for each world to have a director of its own is kind of another way to work on that, and a way to use the team.
One of the things that I think was interesting about Final Fantasy IV originally, is that it was one of the first games that had a real character arc for the main character. Cecil went from being a dark knight to being a paladin and learned a lot about himself. That really set the stage for the kind of characters we would see from RPGs from that point forward. I'm interested in why you arrived at that sort of character arc originally.
TT: For Final Fantasy I and III, of course, we used the job system where you could change jobs to grow. For Final Fantasy IV, the growth of the characters is really tied to the abilities they gain in battle; so the ability growth they receive through battle is directly related. That decision was definitely a major one.
Tying together the arc of the story to the way the characters develop throughout the game, and deciding to make characters that couldn't change -- characters that were tied to their roles.
TT: Yes, the story-driven part was the main component; the fact that we focused on the characters' stories first, and laid those down initially and then, after we had that finalized, added the variety on top.
It's actually something the series has moved away from a little bit in the sense that characters like, say, Yang or Kain, had roles in battle where the character class was very well defined, and tied into their character from the story perspective. It seems like, in the newer games, the character's role doesn't have as much to do with the character's skills.
TT: All of that has to do with how the team is organized. For now, because the teams are so large, the teams creating the story, the teams creating the battle, and the teams doing the level design are completely separate; whereas, for Final Fantasy IV, I handled the story all by myself, and then there was someone who did the battles by himself, and someone who did the maps. It was very easy for them to communicate very clearly and to coordinate, whereas now just the sheer size of the teams makes that a little more difficult.
As you address process changes and the way that games are made in the company, do you think that's something you want to address, and try to bring back a way to collaborate, and add consistency into the games?
TT: Yes, definitely. We're looking for different ways that we can reorganize some of the large teams; we're definitely working towards that. That would definitely help in terms of teamwork, and also individual motivation for the people on the team.
I attended a talk in November given by Julien Merceron about the collaboration that's happening between Eidos people and Square Enix; about how things move forward on the teams. Has that affected anything on your end in terms of the way that you're thinking about moving forward with development?
TT: Definitely. For last year, when we were in pre-production, we received some feedback from Eidos and incorporated that into what we were doing.
It's a very interesting time for the company, for Square Enix. Well, it's an interesting time for the industry, because so much is changing, but at the same time your company is at a spot where you have a lot of different ways you can go with how you move forward, I think.
TT: I definitely think there's a lot of change going on in the world overall. It's not just about games, but things like Facebook mean that those categories are increasing. Having the freedom to create your own concepts and having that motivation to come up with new things is definitely interesting.
To return to the question of The After Years, it was originally a mobile phone game in Japan. Was it motivated by the mobile platform being available, or was FF IV something that you had wanted to come back to and that was the right time to do it?
TT: When we were making the FF IV remake for the Nintendo DS, we were talking to the mobile staff. The conversation was: "Wouldn't it be great if we could create a game that would continue the story that would be available immediately after the DS game was out?" In order to create a game that quickly, the mobile platform was the best option.
Obviously, when that was announced, there was no way it was going to come to America because the platform wasn't available. It was a nice shock when it came out on WiiWare. It was interesting to see what form it took there, because episodic gaming has never quite hit the mainstream the way I think people have been anticipating for a number of years.
TT: For long RPGs, it can take a really long time to develop them. In this current climate, if you're developing something for a year, everything can change within that year. The way the market is right now, I think it makes more sense to make the kind of content that you can release monthly, similar to a TV drama, where you can watch the reaction of your fans and your market and adjust accordingly. That also helps to motivate the teams, as well, for developers.