Final Fantasy V – 1992 Developer Interview
In this interview, key members of Square’s Final Fantasy V development team, including director Hironobu Sakaguchi, composer Nobuo Uematsu and then-fledgling designer Tetsuya Nomura, discuss their ambitions for the game and the challenges faced during production, and their desires to differentiate from and improve upon FFIV. Though mainly taken from Famicon Tsuushin, portions were collated from brief interviews in Dengeki SFC and the GSLA.
—So, is it safe to say that FFV will be an RPG that weaves together all the strengths of the previous Final Fantasy games?
Sakaguchi: No, distilling the essence of Final Fantasy into a single game was not our intention. We created this new job ability system in order to carry forth and further iterate on the good ideas we had in FFIV. In that sense it was a distillation. But rather than some summing up all of what Final Fantasy has been, it’s more that we simply wanted to give players a kind of fun they haven’t experienced yet. That doesn’t necessarily imply that we wanted to cut out the good parts from FFIV, though.
—FFIV had a fairly linear story. What’s the connection here with FFV?
Sakaguchi: Even if FFIV was well-received, there’s many people out there who would dislike it if we just made a continuation of that game, so we’re always trying to do something new. We’re putting FFIV down for awhile.
—Has there been a lot of pressure to create something bigger and better than FFIV?
Kokubo: We got some critcism about FFIV, that it was too linear and thus boring, so we’ve tried our best to take that into account when making FFV. We only had 8Mb of memory for FFIV, and we stuffed it to the brim. This time we’ve got 16Mb, so from the very beginning everyone was saying how now we’d finally have some breathing room. (laughs) But of course, once we got down to it, we were still struggling with the memory limitations. We pushed the map compression as far as we could, so for a 16Mb game it’s quite the bargain. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: At the start of the development, all the developers were being very liberal with the memory, and by the end, they were all stealing whatever space they could from each other.
—What other new additions have you added?
Kitase: Maybe the concept of time. There’s scenes on the overhead map where time is a factor, like a certain explosion scene.
Matsui: I created over 100 new programming algorithms for the battles alone.
Akao: One nice detail we added, is that the map music now continues playing from where it left off after a battle. It helps provide a sense of continuity.
—Was it always known that FFV would be a 16Mbit game?
Higuchi: At first, we were planning to make it with 8 or 12. There’s no substitution for having a lot of memory, though.
—Are we to expect more tearjerking scenes with FFV?
Kokubo: I don’t know whether people will actually cry or not. But there are 4x as many event scenes as FFIV.
Nomura: There’s no way you’re making it through the ending without tears. (laughs) After the last battle there’s almost 30 minutes of ending content to watch.
Kokubo: Yeah, if we aren’t careful during the development, the memory needs will quickly spiral out of control. This time there’s some very idiosyncratic, unusual bosses that may throw you for a loop if you aren’t leveled. But we do want people to make it to the ending of course. (laughs)
—If you keep changing jobs, the game never really ends, right?
Higuchi: No, it ends. We had some people at Square who beat it without ever changing jobs too, with the default job.
Kokubo: And if you’re one of those people who decides on a job and then never wants to change it, that’s a perfectly valid way to play the game too.
Dobashi: There’s none of those restrictions we had in IV, where you can’t beat some of the bosses unless you use a specific character.
Takai: There’s probably people out there who won’t be into the whole job thing. For them, they can just stick to the default job. (laughs)
—Was this high degree of freedom for the player something you had planned from the start?
Sakaguchi: No, I don’t think we were especially preoccupied with “freedom” per se. It was more about throwing a wide variety of elements together, and the fun that the player has in choosing from among them.
—The graphics are a sight to behold too. It feels like you’re pushing the SFC to the utmost limits of what it can do.
Sakaguchi: Oh, we haven’t reached the limits yet! (laughs) We had some of our more “obsessive” designers working on these graphics. I watched them working and they were doing so much, I got worried they’d eat up all the memory.
—Did you face any crises during the development? Or if you have other interesting anecdotes to share, please do.
Nomura: We almost couldn’t include the last boss, because we miscalculated the amount of memory we had.
Akao: Losing all my data! That took the wind out of my sails for a few days.
Dobashi: Yeah, my machine crashed and I lost work a bunch of times.
Matsui: There was a fire at Square too.
Kitase: There was some interpersonal drama too, but there’s not much you can do about that.
—What were some other challenges you faced during the development?
Akao: The biggest challenge for me was definitely when we lost all the data. There was nothing to be done other than re-do it all.
Minaba: The castles were a real challenge to draw. (laughs) The final versions bear almost no resemblance to my initial drafts. I had to remove a lot of towers and other architechtural features as well.
Nomura: When I’m drawing the monsters, I can’t help but develop an attachment for them, so I end up making them very strong. (laughs) Can’t have players just knocking the over, after all. (laughs)
Higuchi: The way the programming is handled at Square was a big culture shock to me.
Dobashi: Yeah, the hardest thing for me, was being given maps drawn by the other designers, and then having to delineate where players could and couldn’t walk. The maps were very tricky so they caused a lot of grief for the programmers.
Kokubo: For the maps with multiple grades/elevation levels, making the characters who walk on the upper levels look natural was a big programming challenge. Depicting the water’s surface was likewise difficult. A designer would create the individual sprites, then another person would make a map out of that, and then a programmer had to come in and put it all together, so no one knew how it would really look until the very end of the process. This game, in other words, is collection of each individual staff member’s personal passions.
Takai: One good thing, for me, was getting to create the magic for FFV, my first time doing so for a Final Fantasy game. (laughs) When I got into it, I was told we had twice the memory from FFIV, so I capitalized on that and tried to come up with a lot of different spells. But when I looked at the list I’d made, I realized it was 3x as many spells from FFIV. (laughs) So I went around behind the scenes, to all the programmers and planners, begging each of them to give me what memory they could: “Hey, if you’ve got any space to spare… I need it!”
Narita: There’s so many abilities that sometimes amazing combinations would pop up that the developer-in-question had never intended or even realized existed. We’d discover them ourselves as we played. (laughs)
Itou: When I heard about them I tried to address them. (laughs)
Narita: That’s why we all made a point of not telling you. (laughs) We knew you’d go and add resistances or defenses to the monsters if you knew. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: We wanted players, too, to enjoy the thrill of discovering these techniques, so we tried not to remove too many things like that.
Matsui: There’s so many different jobs, and we decided to make them all viable. Players are free to make any kind of party they want. Player A and Player B might have completely different parties, but ultimately any party can make it to the last boss. After players beat the game, I recommend trying a party that caters to your aesthetic sense. Like Lena as a monk. (laughs) For players who like to use all-brawn characters, yes, you can go all the way with an all monk party. I hope each player finds their own way to enjoy FFV.
—Were there any ideas that were rejected, or dropped due to technical or memory issues?
Kitase: We didn’t have the space to add any goofy events, unfortunately, like the developer’s room from FFIV.
Nomura: Several monsters ended up getting deleted.
Sakaguchi: There was a rejected job too, the “Diver”.
Narita: That’s an ancient one. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: In our planning documents, we wrote that they could equip harpoons, and they were stronger when fighting in the ocean. (laughs) That idea goes back to the very early stages of the planning. Also, I think there was some kind of “Beastman” character…
Narita: That ended up becoming the Berserker. The Beastman had that crazy “Breathe Fire” command, I remember.
—Was the Blue Mage concept created by someone at Square?
Sakaguchi: Yeah, it was. One of our designers who created the monster data and stats for FFIV, he had an idea that it would be cool to let players use those monster abilities too. It was kind of a joke at first, like “wouldn’t it be funny to use Death Sentence on an enemy…?!” There were a lot of ideas like that in FFV, which came up in our early concept meetings, and survived to the end of the development.
—Regarding the sound effects, I love the wind drake’s roar. It’s very powerful!
Uematsu: Sakaguchi rejected a bunch of sounds for that roar, before we finally found this one. He’s very opinionated when it comes to the music, so it’s no surprise that he’s the same way with the sound effects. “Sorry, that one sucks.” But that meant the sound effects couldn’t just be phoned in.
—Speaking of the music, to what extent did you try to connect FFV’s soundtrack with FFIV?
Uematsu: FFV’s music is its own thing. They’re separate. Of course, being a part of a series, there are certain songs and melodies I’ve got to include, but in Final Fantasy, even if I re-use melodies from past games I always try to arrange them differently, so no two songs are ever completely the same.
—Why did you make the black chocobo songs a mambo?
Uematsu: Well, it was a samba in FFIV. Originally I was imagining the Balinese kecak music for the chocobos. (laughs) I sampled it over and over, but just couldn’t bring out that same kecak atmosphere. After that I had the idea of using a human vocal sample, and the mambo just fit. I’m not sure where the original idea for it came from though.
—And how did you approach the music writing process for FFV, by the way?
Uematsu: There was a 150-page planning document that outlined FFV’s story and script, and I read that and tried to get the feel for the story’s development in my own way. I extracted the elements that seemed most necessary, and mentally simplified everything by about 50%. There are about 50 “main” songs for FFV, and if you add in the shorter themes, it’s about 60-70 total. When I was writing the music, however, the graphics and art had not yet been completed. At Square, the musicians write the music in tandem with the development (they don’t wait till everything else is done), so I read the script myself and came up with my own image for each song. Sometimes the songs I wrote wouldn’t get used for the scenes I wrote them for though. (laughs) That happened a lot actually.
—Did you ever argure over songs that didn’t fit?
Uematsu: No, there weren’t any arguments like that this time. When I thought a song was no good, I’d can it on my own. “Sakaguchi will probably say no way to this one,” I’d think. (laughs)
Sakaguchi: I don’t say that!
Uematsu: I think the best approach is when the designers, planners, and the composers like me, can all meet face-to-face, work things out together, and make adjustments in real-time. At Square, though, everyone is very dedicated to their own field. I prioritize the thoughts of the planners first and foremost—which is why I never have conflicts with them over where a song should be used. (laughs)
—So the composition went smoothly?
Uematsu: It’s never smooth. (laughs) I began writing towards the end of last year, and it took a very long time. There were more songs to write than FFIV, so yeah, it was just time-consuming.
—The SFC sound chip has more voices, too.
Uematsu: Yeah, having more tonal possibilities makes it more fun—that’s not a problem on the SFC. Recently the memory limitations have really eased too, a luxury which extends to the music. (laughs) We can do sampling, and songs like that mambo. A song’s feeling can change just by varying the textures and tones, so in that regard it’s become a lot easier to compose now. I hope that when they’re playing, whether they like the songs or not, people can tell how much effort was put into them. (laughs)
For FFV, I wrote a big variety of songs, in formats and styles that I haven’t used in the previous games, so I’m very scared whether players will accept them or not. It’s quite a diverse selection of songs. I’m not sure I can top these! (laughs) I really felt that way, and I hope that passion registers with players. What I’m doing right now might be my limit—you’ll never face a greater opponent than yourself.
—How did you work through the challenges?
Uematsu: Take break, have a beer, and hit the hay.
—Of the work you each did, what is your favorite part, or thing you’re most proud and confident about?
Matsui: The jobs and abilities, obviously. We managed to come up with a lot of interesting stuff there I think. Maybe the weird weapons too…
Dobashi: All the different map features. A lot of my ideas are in there.
Akao: I’d have to say the ending, it’s great.
Nomura: There’s an event that features a new character who is unlike any we’ve ever had in a Final Fantasy game. I knew that if we weren’t careful, he could end up being more popular than the heroes themselves! Also, there was a certain boss who I was worried Nintendo would veto up to the very end. That and the last boss, that one was so hard to draw it brought me to tears. It’s very memorable for me.
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