Final Fantasy IV – 1991 Developer Interviews

Final Fantasy IV - 1991 Developer Interviews

Final Fantasy IV was a major turning point for Square, and marked the real beginning of their cinematic storytelling ambitions. These interviews chronicle the release of FFIV, with a major emphasis on addressing the criticisms from FFIII. They also piece together the timeline of how the Famicom FFIV was abandoned; please note that the first two interviews refer to the SFC game as "FFV".

11/23/1990 Famicom Tsuushin

—So FFIV is going to be released on the Famicom?

Sakaguchi: Yes. Right now there is no release date planned at all, but the development is moving forward.

—Then FFV is going to come out before FFIV...?

Sakaguchi: When FFIII was finished, we started IV and V at the same time, but after looking at the current state of each development, and the market trends, we made the decision to release the SFC FFV first. Right now all the staff from IV are working on the FFV development.

—So FFV will come first. I get it now. So, does that mean you'll be releasing FF games for both Famicom and Super Famicom from here on out?

Sakaguchi: As far as Famicom releases go, nothing is set in stone right now… and that includes FFIV, actually.

1/25/1991 Famicom Tsuushin

Hironobu Sakaguchi – Director
Nobuo Uematsu – Composer

—Each time we talk with Square, we hear exciting new developments: like the fact that the new Final Fantasy for the SFC is going to be released before the Famicom sequel. And so we've gathered everyone here today to ask you what this new Final Fantasy is all about! Now that we know the Super Famicom will be home to both a new Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy game, tell us more about it!

Sakaguchi: It feels weird to talk about it this way, but when you compare Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, in a lot of ways I think it's easier to imagine how the Final Fantasy game will be, you know?

If you ask people what they think the next Dragon Quest will look like, you're going to get a lot of different answers. But with Final Fantasy we've always put an emphasis on strong visuals, and in that regard, I don't think players will be disappointed.

Hironobu Sakaguchi (1991)

—How about the number of items?

Sakaguchi: There's two schools of thought on items. Older, adult players have complained about there being too many items and being unable to remember them. In contrast, a lot of people have also said they love having all that variety… I guess with Final Fantasy, our way has always been that if at least half the people like something, we'll keep doing it. The final dungeon from FFIII was also controversial. Your magazine really took us to task for that. (laughs)

Uematsu: There was even a manga about it. I never thought it would blow up like that. (laughs)

—Seriously, though, as the creators... how do you feel about the final dungeon of FFIII?

Sakaguchi: Right after it was released, we received a lot of complaints saying "that was way too hard, please don't do this kind of thing again. A salaryman can only play about three hours a day, so don't make dungeons that take longer than 3 hours to clear!" At this point, though, those complaints have stopped coming.

—Do you think that's because players just gave up? (laughs)

Sakaguchi: No, I think the people saying that persevered and finished it.

Uematsu: We also can't forget, I think, that the more you struggle, the more satisfying it is when you finally beat it. And players who feel that way often send us postcards. People who fork over 6000 yen (~60.00 USD) for a game, realistically speaking, I think very few of them actually give up. I mean, we're not saying that the length of the FFIII final dungeon was necessarily the best length. But we've never been bashed as much as we were for that. (laughs)

—Personally, I didn't feel it was as tortorously long as everyone was saying.

Sakaguchi: We had some people tell us it was too short!

Uematsu: Really? (laughs)

The final dungeons for FFIII and FFIV are similar in both visual design and length, but Square thankfully took the fan criticism to heart and added intermittent save points for IV.

—Not being able to save in the middle of the dungeon was very punishing though.

Sakaguchi: In games like the PC version of Ultima, you can spend 7 or 8 hours in a dungeon, but if you answer one wrong question in a quiz, you get sent back to the beginning… and there's lots of people on our development staff who like that kind of thing. But for FFV, we're going to let players save more easily. That way you can play for just 2 or 3 hours, and kids who are only allowed to play for a limited time can enjoy the game too.

—I'm happy to hear that! By the way, how many people do you think were able to beat FFIII?

Uematsu: Hmmm, I wonder. Obviously we haven't asked everyone, so this is just my intuition, but I think over half the people probably beat it, despite those grumblings. It's been quite awhile since FFIII came out, after all.

—And how many people do you hope will make it to the end?

Sakaguchi: Ideally, 100 percent. Even FFIII was made with that goal. We're not actually trying to be cruel… we still thought everyone would be able to beat it, even at that difficulty. And I guess our intuitions were off there… Now that some time has passed, I can say this, but originally there was going to be a place to restore your HP and MP after you entered the World of Darkness.

I think we kind of messed up our playtesting though… we couldn't get enough actual children to playtest the game. So we instead had the same few children running through the game 3 or 4 times while looking for bugs. Naturally, because they were playing it over and over, they knew how to clear the final dungeon very quickly, and that made us think it was too easy, so we removed the recovery spot from the final version.

The rare clean-shaven Nobuo Uematsu (1991)

—Interesting, I never knew that. Weren't there also two dungeons that were attached to each other...

Sakaguchi: That's Final Fantasy II. The Jade Passage and Pandaemonium were attached. Our balancing for FFII was a mess. We couldn't get any kids together for testplaying, so the balancing was all over the place.

Uematsu: Yeah, and ironically the game became famous precisely for that funky balance. (laughs)

Sakaguchi: If you look at it another way, though, the truth is we wanted to do something that severe. In our efforts to more clearly distinguish ourselves from Dragon Quest, we even considered removing the World Map… we went back and forth on that one a lot.

Also, at the planning stage for FFV, some of our staff wanted to simplify things and make the final dungeon just one floor. We abandoned that idea though. With save and recovery spots, after all, players should be fine. We're thinking it's going to be reallyyyy long this time… ah, I guess I should stop. If I say things like that no one will buy it. (laughs)

—You know, FFIII was actually my first Final Fantasy...

Sakaguchi: Please play them all!

—I did go back and play FFII after finishing FFIII.

Sakaguchi: I imagine that must have been frustrating. I bet the first one would feel impossibly primitive to you now. (laughs)

—Actually, I'm playing through FFI right now!

Sakaguchi: Does it feel too slow to you? There's the message speed as well. I still say that FFI is my favorite of all three, though.

—All the people I know who've cleared them all say the same thing.

Sakaguchi: Even at Square, it's a common opinion. I say it's because they worked the hardest on it. (laughs)

—To be honest, I did try FFII before FFIII, but I couldn't get into the whole magic growth system...

Sakaguchi: FFI had less magic, and less items, but perhaps that uncluttered simplicity made it easier for people to get into.

—In FFI, there's four spells available for every level, but you only have three spell slots. Was that intentional?

Sakaguchi: It was. Choosing between them is part of the fun, and we wanted you to have to think seriously about which ones you really needed.

Uematsu: Speaking of which, I don't think any other game at that time had a system like that, where you buy your magic.

—The summons in FFIII were also very popular... will they be making a return in FFV?

Sakaguchi: I can't say for certain yet, but probably. If we do, we want to make them even more visually impressive.

A nice compilation of all the summons from FFIII. It's amazing how consistent they've remained across the series.

—Odin was so cool, I really hope you leave him in...

Sakaguchi: Ah, you must like that attack. You know, that came from a split-scrolling technique we invented and then applied here to make it look that way. Which is also why, in the game, it had to destroy the enemies outright—it had to be that way if they're getting sliced up.

—What is the story of FFV going to be like?

Sakaguchi: We want the characters to be easier to empathize with, for them to grab you emotionally. In FFIII you have 4 characters in your party, but for story purposes, it might as well just be one person. The only time you feel like you're fighting as a team of four is during battle, whereas the story feels like it's really being told about one person, right? I guess, to compare to the previous games, FFV will probably be closest in vibe to FFII, with each character having their own personality, and the number and makeup of the party changing. Depending on the scene you might only have one person in your party, or the main protagonist might disappear temporarily, those are the lines we're thinking along.

—Will it be like Last Armageddon, where each party member has specific story events for their character...?

Sakaguchi: No, not quite. It's more that each member will have more of an impact on the story than they did in FFIII. Of course, we want to make the way you interact with NPCs deeper, too. I want to have love, romance, even heartwarming elements this time.

—So that means there will now be genders for the characters, then.

Sakaguchi: Yeah, and we've been hearing from people that they want to play as a female character.

—Since you'll have men and women now, does that mean there will be weapons that only men can use, and vice versa?

Sakaguchi: We're not thinking of anything like that, no.

—By the way, in FFIII, weren't some people saying the airship Invincible was too slow...

Sakaguchi: A lot of people did, yeah. They were like, come on, it's the final airship! Make it go 16x speed! (laughs) I mean, if you want it fast this time, we can make it fast… provided we don't do sprite scaling. Should we make it fast? If that's what the fans want, we will. (laughs)

—I guess one worry is that people will become too used to the high speed.

Sakaguchi: The 4x scrolling for the airship in FFI was considered breathtaking for the time. And now everyone has grown accustomed to those speeds. (laughs)

Famicom Tsuushin seems to have thought this concept art of Cecil was actually for a ninja character.

—Uematsu, what new things will you be adding to the music now that you're working with the Super Famicom?

Uematsu: We're adding a "love theme" this time.

—What's that...?

Uematsu: Like Sakaguchi mentioned a moment ago, we're going to interweave romance into this Final Fantasy. I love that kind of stuff, that cinematic quality. I don't know how far they're going to go in portraying the bonds between man and woman, or how much the kids playing it will understand. But here on the creator's side, it's an important for us. And I've been thinking of this song that will only play during love scenes.

—Is it long?

Uematsu: Well, there's the length of the text to consider, so no, it probably won't be especially long.

Sakaguchi: It could be fun to make special characters specifically for these love scenes too. (laughs)

—Are those love scenes at the end then?

Sakaguchi: No, not the end. We're planning to have them peppered throughout the game, right off the bat.

—Based on everything you've said so far, it sounds like this will be a tale of love and gallantry... or something like that.

Sakaguchi: It's not the "theme" or anything. But if you look at FFII… for a lot of people out there, the biggest shock in that game was when Josef died, right? It's not that his death scene was spectacular or anything. You're struggling to get out of this dungeon where you can't use Teleport, and then just as you can see the exit and think "At last!", he suddenly dies. I think that was a big shock to players. I want to include more things like that… not a story that unfolds in a straightforward fashion like a novel, but using the dungeons to prey on the player's psychology and expectations.

For example, say you reach a certain area with your party nearly wiped out, and in that moment, we throw a boss fight at you—but one that's balanced for the party's current weakened state. I'm hoping we can prepare a lot of scenes like this, stuff that's custom tailored to the psychological moment of the story.

As Uematsu explains below when talking about the unreleased song "Save Rosa!", originally this scene was going to have a strict time limit; perhaps it was ultimately considered too difficult (or gruesome if failed!)

—Have you already planned some of those scenes?

Sakaguchi: Well, it's something we're spending a lot of time on. We're still in the middle of all that.

Uematsu: There's a lot.

Sakaguchi: Yeah, a huge amount.

—Are there any scenes where you feel confident, "this is gonna make you cry for sure!"

Sakaguchi: Yeah, of course. Creating a good scene like that, it all comes down to the subtle balance of the sound effects, visuals, and dialogue. But very often when you try to hard to make a "tearjerker" scene, if often comes out a failure. So I think it's important to have a variety of many different emotions.

Uematsu: We all decided at Square, if we're going to do FFV, let's do it right. No more half-assed stuff. When we look back at the previous three Final Fantasy games now, we see all sorts of things we'd change, be it pacing, or better dialogue… there's lots to improve on. So in that sense, we see this game as a make-or-break challenge for us.

Sakaguchi: Yeah, the previous games didn't quite reach the level of presentation they could have.

Uematsu: You can consider them a "trailer" for this game.

Sakaguchi: Wait, that sounds just like Dragon Quest. (laughs)

—The other thing I was concerned about is the ending...

Sakaguchi: We're going to make a proper ending this time. Although the plans aren't completely done yet…

—Is a satisfying ending something you can create at the very last minute though?

Sakaguchi: Usually we start working on the ending about 2 months before the finish.

Uematsu: Though we often run into memory problems then.

—Is it safe to assume the crystals will be making an appearance again?

Sakaguchi: In the beginning of FFV's development, we thought about ditching them entirely. But they serve as critical moments, moments where important things happen in the story. I suppose we could use something else, but… it was sort of like, we've come this far with them, so we might as well continue.

—Will you be able to change your job with the crystals again?

Sakaguchi: No, we're not doing that this time. Please forget all the stuff from the previous games.

—Does that mean there's no jobs...?

Sakaguchi: No, the idea of jobs and classes is still there. I don't want to spoil the excitement for you though, so that's all I'll say for now.

—So there won't be any job changing, then...

Sakaguchi: Yeah, and we know that seemed to be popular with people.

—Do the dungeons have any visual upgrades?

Sakaguchi: They're very beautiful. There's a dungeon enveloped in mist, and one that takes place on mountain paths.

—What do you think the biggest selling point for FFV is?

Sakaguchi: The battle scenes, definitely. We've overhauled the battle system as well.

Uematsu and Sakaguchi talk over dinner. For some reason, a lot of the Square and Enix interviews from this era (the early 90s) were conducted at restaurants like this.

FFIV Development Cancellation Notice
(Famicom Tsuushin 2/22/91)

What?! Now FFV is going to be FFIV…?! Yes, that's right. Brace yourself for what you are about to read. The following fax was sent to our editorial office the other day.

Notice and Request Concerning The Name Change of Final Fantasy V

We are contacting you regarding the Super Famicom software "Final Fantasy V" which our company, Square, announced last November. We are hereby changing its name to "Final Fantasy IV".

As we explained previously, Square had been developing the Famicom "Final Fantasy IV" and the Super Famicom "Final Fantasy V" concurrently. Because a single game at Square takes, on average, over 18 months of development, we are always carefully monitoring product quality. We concluded at the end of last year that a Famicom version of Final Fantasy IV would meet our high standards of excellence and would not bring shame to the Final Fantasy franchise.

However, after making further progress on the Final Fantasy V development, we've realized that it far exceeds the Famicom in every dimension: story, visuals, characters, and events. Naturally, this is largely owed to the greater power of the SFC hardware itself, but as a company, we feel we have a responsibility to always present our fans with ever more superior products, so we have decided to cancel the Famicom Final Fantasy IV development. As a result, Final Fantasy V will now be known as "Final Fantasy IV". The release date (this summer) has not changed. Thank you for your understanding.

This screenshot from Famicom Tsuushin of an 8-bit "Final Fantasy IV" gave people hope that a prototype for FFIV might exist, but later interviews confirmed it was merely a mock-up (a Sakaguchi interview from Dengeki Famicom around the making of FFVI allegedly disputes this, but I haven't seen this interview).

8/91 Hippon Super (Post-Release)

Note: The first half of this interview was translated by Rebecca Capowksi and can be read here (I suspect the book she worked from may not have reprinted the original Hippon Super interview in full). It has some great info on the FFIV development so be sure to check it out!

—Final Fantasy IV was developed entirely by Square internally, correct?

Sakaguchi: That's right. Well, Amano did draw the characters… but other than that, it was all our internal staff.

—Can you tell us what your role has been on each Final Fantasy development, from I to IV?

Sakaguchi: In FFI, I didn't do any programming, but together with Nasir Gebelli I helped create the underlying game data. Then, in FFII, I contributed notes and ideas for the story… basically, helping out with ideas for each event. It was mostly the same for FFIII, I think. In FFIV, I didn't have as much of a hands-on role… well, I did help touch-up the story here and there. But mostly I've been relegated to the role of director. Naturally I'm involved in every facet of the game to some extent, and I make my voice heard where needed.

—Have you been at Square since the very beginning?

Sakaguchi: Originally I worked as a part-timer. I was planning to quit after a month. (laughs) The first game plans I worked on unfortunately never made it to see the light of day. Square wasn't making any money, so even though I didn't exactly want to, I knew I could probably manage to make an adventure game, and that's what I did, on the PC-88. It sold about 3000 copies, maybe? I got paid royalties, and I felt very rich then, way richer than I feel now. I drank it all up though. (laughs)

—Was Final Fantasy your first RPG then?

Sakaguchi: No, that would be Cruise Chaser Blassty. It was a big flub but the opening demo was incredible. (laughs) We insisted on full animation for all the attacks, making the whole thing span three disks… which left us room for just 8 enemies. (laughs) At that time, a lot of the game shops wanted something with a cool opening demo that would loop in-store, but once people bought it they realized it was really boring. (laughs) The game design was just too superficial.

The in-store demo for Cruise Chaser Blassty, showing off some of the enemy animations that ate up all the memory.

—Sakaguchi, what are some recent games you've enjoyed playing?

Sakaguchi: Mario, F-Zero… conventional stuff, I know. Also… Ultima VI. I bought an IBM specifically to play that. It's really hard. I'm stuck, I can't make any progress.

—What do you think of Japanese RPGs?

Sakaguchi: I always play every Dragon Quest. That and Zelda. Also Nihon Falcom's games, like Ys. At first I thought it was kind of a dumb game, but after beating the first boss I was hooked… it's actually really fun! (laughs)

—Now that you mention it, the dungeons in FFIV have a somewhat Ys vibe to them.

Sakaguchi: Yeah. We took the dungeons pretty far this time, but next game we're going to think of what more we could do.

—What would you say the selling point of FFIV is?

Sakaguchi: The ATB (Active Time Battle) system. For the first half of the development, I was pretty scared about it. The first version we created, I tried it, and it was like… this sucks! It was boring. (laughs) We revised it a lot though.

—Then the hardest part of the FFIV development was also the battle system, I'm guessing?

Sakaguchi: Yeah. It gaves us a lot of trouble, for sure. The programmer had to revise it 4 or 5 times. The whole process was basically similar to how you'd make an action game.

—And I imagine there's a lot of stuff you couldn't include, if it were turn-based.

Sakaguchi: That's also true. As I mentioned before, our basic premise for the monsters this time was to have more variety in their actions. It's not quite AI, but the monsters in FFIV have simple "thinking routines" for what actions they take.

Nobuo Uematsu - 1991 Composer Commentary

from the FFIV Minimum Album Line Notes

The Origin (Unreleased Track) - This was the first song I composed for Final Fantasy IV, and you could say that the image of this song set the tone for all the other pieces that came after. It was meant for the opening introduction, but Red Wings ended up being used instead.

Rosa o Sukue! (Save Rosa!) aka Restless Moments (Unreleased Track) - In our early plans, we were going to have a scene where you had to save Rosa within a time limit. If time ran out, it would be game over. This music was planned for that section. And yup, that scene was the Tower of Zot.

The Sea of Silence (Unreleased Track) - This was planned for the Moon overworld map, but the atmosphere didn't quite match so it got canned, much to my dismay. I'm personally very fond of this one. It's not bad, right?

I can see why they rejected this for the moon overworld music in favor of the more mysterious and rhythmic "Another Moon", but it's a shame it couldn't be used elsewhere as the melodic callbacks are sweet and romantic.

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