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Years After: The Final Fantasy IV Interview
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Years After: The Final Fantasy IV Interview

April 19, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[Takashi Tokita -- a lead creative force behind Square's Final Fantasy IV and lead designer of recent sequel The After Years -- looks back at the creative process of the original game from 1991, and also reflects on how the developer has strayed from its glory days.]

Lead designer Takashi Tokita joined Square 25 years ago -- prior to the company's merger with Enix, and prior to the Final Fantasy series becoming popular in the U.S. He was a lead creative force behind the game Final Fantasy IV, which is being rereleased on the PSP this week. Originally released on the Super Famicom (SNES) in 1991, the game has also hit the original PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS.

It is a seminal title in the series, in which two Final Fantasy mainstays were introduced: the real-time Active Time Battle combat system, and a reliance on rich character-based melodrama -- two elements which remain part of the series to this day, forming the underpinnings of last year's Final Fantasy XIII.

In this candid interview, Tokita, also lead designer of recent Final Fantasy IV sequel The After Years, looks back at the creative process of the original game from 1991, reflects on how the developer has strayed from its glory days, and examines what Square Enix could do to bring those days back in an age of changing consumer behavior and rapid platform expansion.

When did you originally join Square?

Takashi Tokita: Twenty-five years ago. I started just as a part-timer, and not a full-time employee, doing graphic design. From FF IV, I became a full-time employee.

So this [revisiting of FF IV] is you returning to your roots at this point?

TT: Yes. With FF IV, as a game designer, I was previously doing graphic design as well; but it was the first time I really saw a project from beginning to end. With The After Years, and these additional titles, and then also the 20th Anniversary Complete Collection, I really feel like I was able to return to my roots -- it was a fated project.

Has it been reflective for you? Twenty years is a big milestone. Has it given you a lot to think about?

TT: Yeah, I realized I've done so much over these years, and the game industry overall is an industry that changes so quickly. It used to be that every five years was essentially a new platform, but now we're at the point where the environment itself, including mobile, is just constantly changing. You never get bored, and so I feel like I blinked and it's been 25 years.

Game development used to be "what can you create? What kind of software can you provide for a specific platform?" But it's no longer really about platforms; it's about infrastructure and content. In terms of that, it's really a lot more flexible, and it's really about what kind of fun content can you create. That's what's going to get noticed.

That's a big change for Square, I think, because it was always about what is this epic new world that's going to be created, with what new characters. Maybe hooking people isn't going to be the same in the near future; maybe gaining interest isn't necessarily going to be about that as much.

TT: Yeah, I definitely feel that now, as well. Of course, we have the main big franchises of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but beyond that it's about what kind of opportunities and challenges can they take on. Like getting into military, it's not just about having an Air Force and an Army anymore; it's also about having your guerilla troops and your people who are looking into R&D (laughs). It's just a much wider range of teams and areas to explore.

Final Fantasy IV has probably been ported to more platforms than any other Final Fantasy game. Can you give me an idea of why that is?

TT: When we made the original Final Fantasy IV, we wanted to collect all the best aspects of Final Fantasy I, II, and III, and create what is the basis for what a Final Fantasy is. As the standard for Final Fantasy, we really wanted to bring it to a variety of platforms.

You're right; it introduced Active Time Battle, and it introduced melodrama to the series, which is probably just as important. If you can think back to when you originally created it in 1991, what were you thinking? What was the goal with the original project?

TT: For Final Fantasy I, II, and III, they were for the NES. At that point, Dragon Quest was the number one most popular game in Japan. With Final Fantasy IV, we really wanted to surpass that. The previous Final Fantasy titles were not million-sellers yet, and so we really wanted to jump over that hurdle this time.

One of the things I really respect about Final Fantasy IV is that it seems like every dungeon has something different to do in it.

TT: Yeah.

I was wondering if you would talk about why. That didn't continue throughout the series; it's very specific to that game.

TT: What we really wanted to do was to have a variety of different concepts for dungeons, and we felt that, without that, it just wouldn't be interesting enough. So we spent a lot of time brainstorming the different concepts that could be applied to each dungeon.

It certainly had a lot of different settings, as well. We had the underground, the main world, and the moon -- in a sort of similar way, is it just to keep the variety to the game?

TT: Even the monsters in the different dungeons -- if you were on the moon, they would be very alien-like. We spent a lot of time creating ideas for all the different types of characters.

Why did you feel the need to have multiple different worlds? At that time, that was pretty rare. Was that just another thing that you thought would improve the game and propel it to the kind of sales you were looking for?

TT: It wasn't just about the story. Each person who was handling the map design or the battles came to the table with their own ideas, and there was kind of a sense of a competitive spirit among us, of how we could make this more fun for the fans. Right now, a lot of games are more movie-like and more cinematic, and it doesn't offer the full, robust feel, when it's that kind of cinematic game.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Kamruz Moslemi
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Well looks like Square already has all of the right advice for how to better themselves as creators, all that remains is seeing it all through.

Bryson Whiteman
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Christian, you do this interview? Great stuff!

Gamasutra does it again!

Christian Nutt
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I did. I'm an unabashed FFIV fanboy. =) Thanks.

Lech Lozny
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That last question is a good one. It really hits at the core of what I feel about games in general, and my dwindling interest in the genre I loved. That's a question that I'd like to put to as many Japanese devs as possible. I feel that the decision to feature younger protagonists has more to do with ill-advised, cheap cash-ins, than any emotional connection with players.

Christian Nutt
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It's something I've wondered about for a long time, and his answer put it into just enough context to give me the last push I needed to understand it. People in Japan put aside childish things, so to speak, when they get older. They stop playing games. Since the manga and anime industries are designed to hook in kids, they grow into fans. RPGs are targeted for when they're in the intense fandom ages (early to mid teens.)

Put that together with his comments about how marketing has the creators caught, and you get a real understanding of why JRPGs usually pander to this audience.

Aaron Truehitt
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I've started to really like very young protaganists (15 and younger) or very old ones (50+). I feel theres a lot of connection to be had here that is overlooked so much because of the focus on 18-30 year olds. Maybe I just like stories that feature the unlikely hero. The only game I can think of where you play as an old man as the main character is..The Immortal...which is a veeeery old game.

But I understand what you are saying. They feature the hip guys to make cash ins for the people who think they are hip.

Eric Kwan
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I—like most of you, I imagine—have played pretty much every iteration of this man's game, and I can't wait to play it again. I can't say I feel the same way about any other modern game, much less any recent Final Fantasy game.

FFIV is a masterpiece, and now I feel like I know why. Thanks for the awesome interview.

Ted Brown
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Thanks for the detailed interview. I got a lot of validation for my own creative process out of it. Oh, and I'm 33 as well, wondering where I'd ever find the time to play an RPG. =)

Joe Cooper
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I'm only 24 and I've had Chrono Cross on my shelf for years saying "I'll get around to it!" Between programming and study and the upcoming baby there's no way for the foreseeable future.

Eric McVinney
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Great interview!

I feel like FFVI could get the same treatment as FFIV, in the touch-up department and adding in some more bonus shtuff for us aged FF fans ;D (The GBA FFVI remake was good, but not good enough!!)

Cordero W
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To be honest, FF IV had way too many ports/ remakes. Same for ever Nes and Snes title of theirs. I think it's time they focus on the PS1 FF titles if they want more revamps. I enjoyed the classics, but there were other classic FF games that were much more successful. Aka, 7, 8, and 9, the ones later and current generations know better, and the west in general.

Calin Cheznoiu
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I'm surprised no one's commented on the many truths Tokita put out there about what's wrong with the industry today and why someone who grew up on games like FFIV (FFVI and VII for me) would be turned away from the current gen; namely: marketing trumping creativity, overproduction, and the dissolution of ideas due to instant feedback from what the competition's doing or even what us gamers respond to. Unlike Mr. Nutt, I don't think there's even a question of whether we'll return to the days of early FF caliber, but let's not buy into the junk that our current environment is producing, either.

Bryan Ma
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This stuff would be great material for a classic game postmortem. It is so refreshing to see how the black box has opened up! Would be lovely to see some unreleased development materials or those cut three-quarters of the game out in the wild somewhere...