Final Fantasy VI – 1994 Developer Interview

Final Fantasy VI – 1994 Developer Interview

These Final Fantasy VI interviews first appeared in the 1994 editions of Game-On and Hippon Super magazines; I have joined them together and slightly edited them for content and readability. Although some names will be known to Final Fantasy fans (like veteran pixel artist Kazuko Shibuya), this is mainly a view from the trenches, with the spotlight on the lesser-known junior developers at Square.

Akiyoshi Oota (Planner)
Yoshihiko Maegawa (Field Planner)
Yasuyuki Hasebe (Programmer)
Tetsuya Takahashi (Graphics Dir.)
Kazuko Shibuya (Graphics Dir.)
Hitoshi Sasaki (Monster Graphics)
Tomoe Inazawa (Field Graphics)
Eiji Nakamura (Sound Engineer)
Hirokatsu Sasaki (Magic Effects)
Kaori Tanaka (Field Graphics / Character Design)

—I understand that FFVI eschews the old medieval fantasy world of the previous Final Fantasy games in favor of a new, mecha setting.

Takahashi: One of our staff really wanted to do something with an industrial revolution atmosphere, so that became the basis: a world of magi-teki armor, metal, and machinery.

—How was FFVI made?

Takahashi: The first thing we did was to collect every individual’s ideas, and then we just got started with the actual development. I think having a master planner doc where everything is spelled out is certainly one valid approach to game development, but that’s not how things work at Square. We develop the game in an on-going way, by mixing together everyone’s ideas and input.

—I understand that for most of the people who worked on FFVI, this was their first time working on a Final Fantasy game. How did it feel to shift your perspective from “player” to “developer” ?

Hasebe: It was a big change. Playing these games is a ton of fun, but when you get down to actually making it yourself, you quickly learn how difficult it is. The pressure of it being a “Final Fantasy” game is huge. Everyone has the highest expectations which you, as developer, must answer. It was just a full-bore effort all the way through, until we looked up one day and realized it was done!

Maegawa: I knew it was going to be difficult before we started, but I didn’t realize just how tough it would be. Even after we finished everything, I feel like there was so much left that we didn’t get a chance to do.

Inazawa: Before I joined Square, and ever since I had been making video game graphics, Final Fantasy was one of those games I was always aware of. I was very curious about how they were made… with this development, I got to experience firsthand the awesome powers of the Square staff!

L-R (top): Yoshihiko Maegawa (Field Planner), Akiyoshi Oota (Planner), Tomoe Inazawa (Field Graphics); (bottom) Eiji Nakamura (Sound Engineer), Yasuyuki Hasebe (Battle Programmer), Kaori Tanaka (Field Graphics/Character Design).

Nakamura: Before joining Square, I was only working part-time, so when I suddenly got put in charge of the sound effects for FF6, I had no idea what I was doing. Before the project began, I was also told not to rely too heavily on other games, so I was really at a loss. Thankfully I got some ideas from listening to the sounds in FFV, but it was still very difficult.

Inazawa: The sound effects have been getting really good reviews so far. They’re great.

Nakamura: Thank you.

Tanaka: This is my second Final Fantasy, so in addition to the graphics, I also got to work on the maps and the dialogue for Edgar and Sabin. Seeing the lines I’d written actually spoken by the characters in-game got me really anxious, though. (laughs) “All the characters are good, except Sabin and Edgar”… I was very afraid to hear those words. (laughs)

Oota: There’s like this silent pressure in any Final Fantasy development, that this must be the ultimate, most fun game ever.

—Yeah, that goes along with being such a popular series.

Oota: That feeling was definitely there in the FFV development too, that it had to surpass all other RPGs.

—What were some of the challenges you faced in terms of creating a new Final Fantasy, distinct from the previous entries?

Oota: Well, for our systems, we didn’t use any of the data or routines from FFV. No one told us we couldn’t, but we all decided we wanted to make our own. So although the visuals may resemble FFV, everything under the hood is completely different.

—That’s kind of a staple of the Final Fantasy series, isn’t it? Each game looks similar, but the content is very different.

Oota: I think it’s because the team changes for each game. It isn’t really about pressure from fans; rather, everyone has a certain pride about not wanting to do the same thing as others. We all hate thought of resting on someone else’s laurels, so the next Final Fantasy is always something new.

Inazawa: It’s a bunch of B blood types, as you can see. (laughs)

—Everyone has been talking about the graphics in this new Final Fantasy. Was there a specific goal you had in mind for the development, visually?

Shibuya: We had wanted to use bigger characters for a long time now. I’m really happy about that.

Sasaki (Hitoshi): The world itself is very different. In our previous games, machines were shrouded in mystery, the product of some unknown, advanced ancient civilization. This time all that technology was created by the Gesthalt Empire, which changes everything, especially the graphics.

Tanaka: Because it’s not your typical fantasy setting, so the outset we had to think more carefully about each location, and make sure they felt realistic in their own right.

Inazawa: Yeah, we tried to give the maps a sense of realism, like people actually lived there and inhabited these spaces. With the dungeons too, there are a few different varieties, but we tried to make them feel more like real places. I think players will notice the difference compared with the previous games.

More of the FF6 team. L-R (top): Kazuko Shibuya (Graphics Director), Hitoshi Sasaki (Monster Graphics); (bottom) Tetsuya Takahashi (Graphics Director), Minori Akao (Music Programmer); Hirokatsu Sasaki (Magic Effects).

—How about the magic system?

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): FFV set the bar very high with its impressive effects. When I started describing the effects I wanted to the programmers to code, however, none of us really knew what we were doing, so it was mainly a process of trial-and-error.

We really focused a lot on trying to make the effects more realistic. Our first step was to create the overall form of the graphical effect in a separate 3D software tool, then we’d add a visual overlay to that form, and then once it looked convincing and realistic, we’d import it to the Super Famicom sprite software and finish up there. Drawing everything by hand would have been ok too, but using the 3D tools allowed us to use light, shadows, and reflections in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

—Wow, I don’t think the graphics in FFV went that far, did they?

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): No, I don’t think they did.

Inazawa: Hey, should you really be saying that? (laughs)

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): I don’t know. (laughs)

Tanaka: The magic effects in FFVI are awe-inspiring. Especially the stronger spells, they’re amazing.

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): Yeah, we kept making them flashier and flashier—maybe even too much….

Oota: It’s inflation. (laughs)

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): When you see them over and over and get used to them, that initial wow factor wears off, and you just want to keep adding more and more…!

—The sound is also a big part of the magic effects. Were there ever any times where the graphics and the sound didn’t match up?

Nakamura: Not really, because the way we created the sound effects was to first look at the finished visuals, and then try and imagine what would sound cool with it. Sasaki also compiled a list of requests for me, but getting everything to fit within the limited memory we had was quite a challenge.

—The job system from FFV was very popular, yet I see you’ve removed it for FFVI.

Takahashi: This time, each of the characters has a distinct ability, similar to the job system, and you can think of their fixed abilities as job commands. I think the battles actually have more strategy than FFV.

—Who are your favorite character(s), by the way?

Shibuya: Mine is Celes. I really like her personality too. She’s very popular!

Matsuo: Yeah, I want to support Locke here, but… I’m going to have to go with Celes too.

Takahashi: I like the Figaro brothers, Sabin and Edgar. They’re really versatile.

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): Mog. He’s actually super strong!

Sasaki (Hitoshi): Gau. He seems kind of useless at first, but if you spend time building him up, he’s very good.

Takahashi: There isn’t a single protagonist this time, so you’re free to use the characters you like throughout the game, which I think makes for a more interesting playthrough. People who like fighters can level up the martial artist Sabin, and people who like little girls (laughs), can use the young artist Relm.

—What other things are you proud of, and that you’re especially excited about players seeing?

Oota: The last boss, I think. Don’t kill him until you see his big magic attack! In reality it’s not something you want to happen, but it’s kind of a shame if you kill him before he gets a chance to use it.

Tanaka: The last boss really is beautiful. You might end up so enraptured by him that you completely forget to fight, and get wiped out. (laughs)

—How about the maps and backgrounds?

Inazawa: The sea floor is dark this time!

—The sea floor…? (laughs)

Inazawa: The bottom of the ocean. I love how dark and mysterious it is. (laughs) There’s a scene in FFVI where you travel along the ocean floor via the “Serpent Trench”, but the perspective is different from previous Final Fantasy games. I drew it. (laughs)

The Serpent Trench scene was impressive for its time, and the developers were very proud of it.

—Why did you make it dark?

Inazawa: Well, in reality, that’s how the ocean floor is: dark and impenetrable. What has been depicted in earlier games is really a shallower image of the ocean. So I was thinking about how to convey something more realistic, so I made it dark. Dark and alluring.

Tanaka: I even went again just because I liked that scene. You actually only have to go through it once (a shorter way opens up after), but I went back and took the long way just to see it again.

Inazawa: Please experience it many times. (laughs)

—Were there ever any communication problems within the team?

Oota: It might seem a little strange, but everyone is very direct and forthright about sharing their criticism. They have no problems coming over and saying, “Hey, fix this!” (laughs)

—Do you mean everyone is really hard on each other, or…?

Oota: No, not really. The tone of those requests is more like a challenge, and everyone is willing to heed the call.

—Did you have regular meetings then, where everyone could exchange their ideas and opinions?

Oota: No, only in the beginning. After that, it was more like someone would just sidle up behind your chair and be all, “hey. what the hell is this item you made?” (laughs)

Tanaka: We do have a proper network setup for email via our Macintoshes, but nevertheless, its still more common to just yell out to someone across the room!

—Do you have any other interesting “tales of woe” from the development?

Inazawa: This isn’t specifically related to FFVI, but it seems like whenever I take a moment to sleep, some bigshot at Square comes by my desk! And yet somehow, no one is ever around me when I’m hard at work… (laughs)

Tanaka: That’s like a rule of game development. (laughs) Another saying we have is “bugs will be big”.

Inazawa: I don’t know if they’re always big, but they’re always scary.

Tanaka: That’s because they get found by our scary bosses. (laughs)

—Do you have any stories about bugs…?

Oota: Well, as usual, right before the final deadline, a bunch of bugs were found. My boss came over to my desk and said “This is no good! Fix it, fix it all!” We had to really scramble.

Inazawa: As Oota said, towards the end of the development there’s always bugs and other problems, but it’s also a really lively time at the office. I remember hearing Sakaguchi singing from accross the room, and when I listened closer, he was improvising some lyrics to Terra’s theme: “Another buuuggg… has been founnndddd…” (laughs) I guess he got the “singing” bug, hah. At that point, there’s little you can do but laugh.

Tanaka: Yeah, it’s really not funny, but what else can you do!

A moment of respite for the FF6 team.

—Do you ever get stuck in the development, where you’re just at a loss for ideas?

Inazawa: All the time.

—What do you do then?

Sasaki (Hirokatsu): When I’m stuck, I like to go to the movie theatre, watch a video, or maybe go to the amusement park. I get a lot of visual inspiration from going out in person and doing stuff like that.

Oota: Personally I take that moment to get a good nap in… limiting my naps to only those times, of course…

—Right, another “rule of the development.” (laughs) Thank you for your time today!

Developer Profiles

Yasuyuki Hasebe – Battle Programmer
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFIII
Favorite Game: Legend of Zelda series
Message to Readers: To those interested in a career in making games, it’s hard, but I’d recommend trying to make your own game.

Akiyoshi Oota – Planner
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFI
Favorite Game: Garou Densetsu (Fatal Fury)
Message to Readers: Once you’ve bought it, make sure you play to the end!

Yoshihiko Maegawa – Field Planner
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFII
Favorite Game: Human Gran Prix
Message to Readers: Hey everybody, try Human Gran Prix. It’s really fun.

Eiji Nakamura – Sound Engineer
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFII
Favorite Game: Backgammon
Message to Readers: Turn it up!! The sound is really good quality this time.

Tomoe Inazawa – Field Graphics
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFIV
Favorite Game: Hanjuku Hero
Message to Readers: I’m can’t wait to read your letters, so please send away!

Kaori Tanaka – Field Graphics / Character Design
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFIII
Favorite Game: Garou Densetsu (Fatal Fury), Ogre Battle
Message to Readers: Please send me your FFVI fanart of Edgar and Sabin!

Hirokatsu Sasaki – Magic Effect Designer
Favorite Final Fantasy: FFV
Favorite Game: Xevious
Message to Readers: I want fan letters!

More of the FF6 team, as featured in the developer profiles below. L-R (top): Satoru Tsuji (Field Planner), Keita Eito (Field Planner), Hitoshi Sasaki (monster graphics); (bottom) Yuusuke Naora (Field Graphics), Takahara Matsuo (Field Graphics), Kazuhiro Okawa (Object Graphics).

Satoru Tsuji – Field Planner
Favorite Movie: Mad Max
Comment: At first, I thought the story was going to be very lighthearted, but it turned out to be really dark and heavy. You’ll cry!

Keita Eito – Field Planner
Favorite Movie: Subway
Comment: Gau and Relm are adorable. I love the scene where Gau joins the party.

Yusuke Naora – Field Graphics Designer
Favorite Movie: ZOO
Comment: I don’t have anything specific to draw your attention to; please enjoy all of it.

Takahara Matsuo – Field Graphics Designer
Favorite Movie:
Comment: The sense of speed you get from flying around the airship is my must-see. I also like the way Gau lives.

Nobuyuki Ikeda – Field Graphics Designer
Favorite Movie: Laputa Castle in the Sky
Comment: The ending is really great. It’s a long one, again…

Hitoshi Sasaki – Monster Graphics
Favorite Movie: Best Kid
Comment: The rabbit monster that appears in the beginning was modeled after my pet rabbit!

Kazuhiro Okawa – Object Graphic Designer
Favorite Movie: Young Guns
Comment: I like Locke, and how you can steal with him right from the start. The Airship scenes are a favorite of mine, too.

Final Fantasy VI – Character Design Interview
serialized from 9/94 to 5/95 in V-Jump Magazine

—How did you come up with the character of Terra?

Sakaguchi: From the beginning, we knew she would be half-Esper/half-Human. There was also a time when she was actually a slightly older, male character.

—What is Terra’s role in the story?

Sakaguchi: In the first half of the game, her personality is very passive. We did that because we wanted to show her growth as the story progresses. In the process of being manipulated and used by others, she gradually awakens to her own destiny. The awakening of the self, of one’s own humanity—those are her themes.

Hironobu Sakaguchi, 1993.

—Were there any major changes to her character during the development?

Sakaguchi: At the end of the game, we originally were going to have Terra disappear along with all the other Espers. We thought it would be a waste, though, to have Terra erased like that just when she had awoken to her humanity. So instead we made her lose her magic powers and remain in the world.

—What was Locke like in the beginning of the development?

Staff: During the planning phase, he was a more mysterious (dark, even?) character, older, and he could wield the Runic skill. His relationship with Terra was different too: he was her friend, and in some ways, rival.

As we solidified his character, however, his personality became more open, and we also transferred the Runic ability over to Celes. Ultimately he became more traditionally boy-ish, and a character who helps propel the storyline forward.

—Can you tell us more about Locke’s relationship with Rachel, how they met, etc?

Staff: From an early age, Locke had travelled the world with his Father, a Treasure Hunter. After his Father’s death, Locke was treated like a petty thief by everyone except Rachel, who still called him a Treasure Hunter. But Rachel’s own Father didn’t approve of him. Locke ventured to a dangerous cave in search of a great treasure that would prove he was more than just a thief. He had know way of knowing what terrible fate would befall Rachel in his absence…

—Can you tell us about Figaro brothers’ backstory?

Tanaka: In the beginning of the planning, Edgar was the stereotypical “sleazeball.” But I thought was too cliched, so I removed that aspect of his personality. As for his love of women, because he lost his Mother as an infant, he has an especially strong attachment to women generally. Moreover, his first crush/love (an older woman—one of his Father’s cousins) was always very firm in telling him he must grow up to be a good man, so Edgar studied with great fervor the art of chivalry.

Ultimately, this woman was killed in a political rivalry, and Edgar’s feelings toward her remained forever unrequited. Her spiritedness and lively wit, however, left their mark on Edgar and have influenced his personal vision of the ideal woman. He’s a little bit different from the typical “ladykiller” character because he was written by a woman (me!), so if anyone notices that I’ll be very happy.

Sabin, Gau, and Cyan act as a surrogate family for each other: it’s two children who have lost their fathers, and one father who has lost his child. Sabin, in particular, sees an aspect of himself in Gau. And they both share that connection to nature and what is natural. Terra senses that in Sabin when she calls him a “docile bear.” And he does kind of look like a big cuddly bear, doesn’t he? (laughs)

Kaori Tanaka actually wrote a doujinshi exploring the background of Edgar and Sabin, titled “Figaro no Kekkon” (“A Marriage of Figaro”).

During the development, for the Tzen event in the World of Ruin, originally if the time ran out, Sabin would actually die! Then if you came back to Tzen with Edgar in your party, it would trigger a scene with Edgar wandering forlornly around Tzen in the middle of the night, searching through the rubble in vain for his brother… “I’m coming... I'm coming to save you!

But we decided that the World of Ruin already had more than enough dark stories, and changed it for the final version of the game. For Sabin fans, it’s a good thing we did!

—Why does Edgar wear that blue ribbon in his long hair?

Tanaka: Figaro is a desert country, so the colors yellow (symbolizing the Sun) and blue (symbolizing Water) are sacred colors. As you can see, then, by wearing a blue ribbon in his golden hair, he’s striking a dignified pose for the royalty!

—If he’s so strong, why is Sabin so afraid of squirrels?

Tanaka: When he was a kid he tried to give one of them a nut, and it bit his finger.

—Edgar’s hobby is listed as “re-arranging the furniture in his bedroom.” Why?

Tanaka: By changing the layout of his room, it’s an easy way to destress and refresh his state of mind. By the way, his current room is done in a Safari style, and he sleeps with lion paw slippers.

—Edgar and Sabin are supposed to be twins, but they don’t look like each other…?

Tanaka: I think they do! When Edgar got older, he started working out and developing his body, becoming more like Sabin.

—If Edgar had not inherited the throne, what would he have done with his life?

Tanaka: Become an airship mechanic. He loves machines! And didn’t they used to name boats and ships after women in the old days…?

—What is his most precious memory of his Father?

Tanaka: His Father’s old saying for cheering up: if you flip a coin and it comes up heads, something good will happen.

—In the ending it shows the initials for Sabin and Edgar’s middle names… what are they?

Tanaka: Edgar’s is Roni, and Sabin’s is Rene. Only their closest friends and family members are allowed to use those cherished nicknames. Even in the party, Relm is the only person who knows Edgar’s middle name, and only Cyan and Gau know Sabin’s.

—How did Relm learn Edgar’s middle name…?

Tanaka: One day, Relm’s companions asked her about the secret of her Control technique. Relm replied: “Monster have secret names… if you know a monster’s true name, you can control its soul.” Edgar was standing nearby and laughed when he heard that, saying, “I have a secret name too, you know”, and he whispered it in Relm’s ear.

—When (and who?!) was Sabin’s first love?

Tanaka: When Sabin was 5, the brothers saw a tantalizing wedding cake at their Father and Stepmother’s wedding. Edgar said to Sabin, “let’s get married so we can cut the cake!” and Sabin replied, “Yeah!!” … Perhaps we could call that “yeah!” his first love, maybe…? (laughs)

—What can you tell us abot Celes’ backstory?

Staff: In the very beginning of the development, Celes was an Imperial Magitek Knight who pretends to be the player character’s ally. Using magic requires a great deal of mental energy, and the mental strain of it has caused Celes to become unhinged, prone to sudden outbursts of tears and fits of hysteria… this state of mind strengthened her desire to find someone she could rely on: enter Locke, who speaks to and treats her kindly. By the time she is supposed to betray everyone, Celes realizes she has fallen in love with Locke, and the conflict tears her up inside.

—Why does the story start with Celes in the World of Ruin?

Staff: There’s no central main character in FF6—all 12 of them are equally the “main character”, so starting with Celes then just made sense in the overall flow of the story. We were concerned that if we started it with Terra, it would place too much relative importance on her story. Also, we wanted to give Terra some extra backstory, and show what she had been up to since the world had been destroyed.

Celes in the World of Ruin cosplay by @yayoitsukikage

—Did Cyan’s character change at all?

Staff: During the development, there was another character named Angela, who acted like a stereotypical “big sister” to Cyan. She wielded a whip. She would half-jokingly flirt with Cyan, and he would always brush off and cringe at her attention, but later when he was alone he’d pause and flatter himself to think it was all true. It allowed us to show a shy, private side of his character. There were never any actual romantic connections between the two of them, though: he remains loyal to his departed wife’s memory.

—How about Gau?

Staff: Gau is not a “main” character, in the sense that he’s not really connected to the overarching story. His character is there to give a sense of breadth to the world. The reunion scene with his Father was more detailed during the development, and it also took place in the World of Balance, but it was basically the same scene.

—Are there any interesting stories you have to share about developing Setzer?

Staff: The Gambler job was actually one that we really pushed to have added in FFV. As a job, though, it seemed to have too much personality, so we ended up not using it. In VI though, big characters with lots of personality were exactly what we wanted, so we brought the idea back. That’s the origin of Setzer.

—How did he get those scars?

Staff: Some were from accidents on the airship, while others were “occupational” hazards. To Setzer, they’re all testaments to the times he risked his very life!

—Setzer joins the party equipped with a bandana, but when he takes it off, he can’t re-equip it…?

Staff: Setzer is very particular about fashion, and he doesn’t like to wear the same styles as everyone else! The bandana, you see, is Locke’s signature piece of apparel—plus it looks really good on him. Once Setzer joins the party and sees this, he loses his love for his bandana!

—Are there any interesting stories about Strago?

Staff: He originally had a wife named Lara (or “Rara” in the Japanese phonetic spelling). She was 65 and a Geomancer. They were always bickering:

Lara: “You’re definitely going to die before me!”
Stragos: “What? You’re the one with more wrinkles!”

But then, in a later scene:

Stragos: “Looks like I’ll be the one dying first… in heaven or hell, I’ll be waiting for you!”
Lara: “Hey, you can’t leave yet, what about all this debt?! I’m going first!”

—Finally, what can you tell us about Gogo and Umaro?

Staff: Umaro was originally a character who wandered around the world map. You could meet him in a random encounter, and catch him with bait, much like the event with Gau on the Veldt.

During the development, Gogo was actually a lot harder to find. He was a mysterious character who wandered between the different pubs in the World of Ruin, disguised as one of the main characters who you hadn’t yet got to rejoin the party. For example, he might be disguised as Locke in one town, and if the players tried to talk to him thinking it was Locke, they’d only get rude, curt responses from him. After the player gets the real Locke, if they realize something is weird and come back to that pub and talk to the fake/disguised Locke, he would reveal his true self and join the party as Gogo. The pub he appeared at would change on a timer, though, and he’d also change which person he was disguised as. Tracking him down was very difficult.

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