Final Fantasy X – 2001 Developer Interviews

Final Fantasy X – 2001 Developer Interviews

This assortment of Final Fantasy X developer interviews originally appeared in a special edition of V-Jump magazine in 2001. These interviews mainly cover the art and design side of FFX, with a special focus on the novel south asia aesthetic and the new opportunities presented by the PS2 hardware and voice acting. I’ve also included a selection of concept art with accompanying commentary from other designers.

Tetsuya Nomura – Character Designer

—There’s many fascinating characters in FFX. What is your typical character design process?

Nomura: This is the approach I took for FF8 as well, but the first thing I do is draw just the character’s face, and then I consult with the rest of the team on how “realistic” the design should be. After that I ask about the backstories for each character and work out the details of their design. For instance, are they the athletic, sportsy type, or are they a summoner type of character. One big consideration for FFX was that the world has an “Asian” vibe to it, so I tried to be conscious of that style while at the same time, making sure the main characters weren’t too familiar looking. Tidus was the one character where the rest of the team asked me to make him stand somewhat apart from the overall world, so his design is very distinct from the Asia aesthetic.

—In FF7 you have Cloud, in FF8 Squall (which means rain)… so what does Tiida (Tidus in US) mean?

Nomura: Sun. After FF8 we talked about wanting our next main character to have a brighter and more cheerful personality. Nojima gave him the name Tiida, and I think he had that “bright” motif in mind since Tiida is an Okinawan word that means sun.

—Now that you’ve switched platforms to the PS2, have there been any changes to the way you work?

Nomura: Yeah. The PS2 is capable of showing lots of little details of the clothing and accessories, so in turn I went super deep and detailed in my designs. Lulu, in particular, I went kind of crazy on. I even mapped out the exact way and order that those belts attached to her skirt. I explained the ordering to her character model designer and had him reproduce it to my exact specifications.

—Did you also design Tidus’ accessories then?

Nomura: Yeah. For those I thought about different things related to the ocean, like fishing hooks, fishbones, whale fins, and based my designs around them. That necklace of his, it’s the logo for his blitzball team. And also, this is something I thought of before the Al Bhed language was written, but the design for his necklace also combines the “T” for Tidus and the “J” Jecht (Tidus’ Father) and has that meaning too.

Tetsuya Nomura

—It’s amazing how much meaning a single accessory has.

Nomura: Yeah, I don’t like meaningless designs, so I always try to make sure there’s something behind mine.

—What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Nomura: The characters I design don’t automatically get put into the final game until there’s been a whole process of checking and review, and that process was very tough this time. In FFX there’s three models that need approval, you see: a low-poly model, a high-poly model, and a CG (movie) model. Each model has a different person in charge, so getting every design on the same page was very hard. For example, this version of the character would have a belt on their model, and this other one wouldn’t. I kept having to go back and check and re-check things to figure out which version was correct, and I was doing that up to the end.

—Next I’d like to get into the individual characters… what colors do you associate with each character?

Nomura: Wow, that’s a toughie. (laughs) Let’s see, if I had to broadly divide them up, I’d say there’s red, blue, yellow, and black…

—And which characters are which?

Nomura: I’ll do Yuna first. In the concept art CG, there was a scene where Yuna is performing The Sending against the backdrop of a sunset. The color I imagine for her is that subtle red, the red of the sunset. Also, speaking of red, there’s Auron. Unlike Yuna in his case I imagine a deeper, stronger red, the color of blood.

—The way Auron’s hand pokes out of his sleeve left an impression on me. Was that a detail you wanted to include from the beginning?

Nomura: Ah yeah, that… when I was creating his design, I thought I’d try drawing him that way and presenting him to the rest of the team. Since the PS2 allowed for more expressive designs, rather than having normal sleeves, I thought it would look more striking to have one of his arms tucked away like that. I actually bought a doll of Toshiro Mifune and studied it a bunch. (laughs) I tried a lot of different things… I tried removing the kimono sleeves, putting them back on, until finally I came to the pose I liked.

—Who knew such a “top secret” model existed for Auron! Next tell us which character you associate with blue.

Nomura: Blue would be for Tidus and Kimahri. I guess that’s pretty obvious with Tidus, just from looking at the CG. He’s a young man and the ocean matches him well. For Kimahri, he’s more of a deeper blue. In my very first rough sketch, I drew Kimahri with that broken horn. I didn’t have any info on his backstory but I handed it to Nojima with the idea that he could use that detail as something interesting to write around. When I saw him again in the actual game, I was glad I drew him that way. It ties into the story and helps him stand out from the other Ronzos.

It’s fairly well-known that Toshiro Mifune (particularly his role in Yojimbo, shown here) were key influences on Auron’s design. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an image of the doll/model Nomura mentions!

—Because Kimahri is always so taciturn, it makes you really want to know about his past. Next tell us who the yellow characters are.

Nomura: That’d be Wakka and Rikku. They’re both bright, cheerful characters. Wakka is the brilliant yellow of the shining sun. If you look at how he acts, there’s a bit of Kirenger in him too. (laughs) Rikku is more of a lighter yellow that’s easier on the eyes, a soft color almost like cream. I get a very “orange” vibe when I think of her.

—I see! And finally we come to the black character…

Nomura: That would be Lulu, of course, who’s also a black mage.

—Lulu seems a bit different from the black mages we’ve seen in previous Final Fantasy games.

Nomura: Yeah. Most of them have been closer to Vivi from FF9, right? I wanted to create a new type of black mage with Lulu, so I made her hairstyle and clothing designs very unusual.

—What aspects of FFX are you especially excited for players to see?

Nomura: If we’re talking about the characters in general (not just their designs), then it would be the voice acting. I admit even I was a bit anxious about the addition of voice acting. But once I saw the scenes in motion, with the voices added, it really made everything feel more alive. And I think players will be able to empathize with these characters on a level beyond anything we’ve ever achieved. I really want players to experience just how big a change it is now that they’re voiced.

—Who’s your favorite character, by the way?

Nomura: Jecht. No seriously though, I love Tidus’ Dad. (laughs) My typical design-process is very detail-oriented and exacting, but for Jecht I drew him in a burst of inspiration, with a certain rough vigor. Those kinds of illustrations are very rare for me and they always feel cool to me. Even afterwards, I still look at it and think “Daaamn!”

—Finally, tell us what Final Fantasy means to you, Nomura.

Nomura: It’s my 20s. (laughs) I’ve been working on it since I was 21. I gave my 20s to Final Fantasy, is how it feels. I’ve been working on it in one capacity or another for ten long years now…!

Designer Tomohiro Hasegawa: “With the introduction of seamless battles, we had a lot of fun thinking up terrain features and other contrivances as we designed the enemies. When we got stuck, we’d break out the clay and do some modeling. Compared with paper, it’s a much easier way to concretely visualize your ideas, while also serving as a refreshing change-of-pace.”

Kazushige Nojima – Scenario Writer

—This is the first Final Fantasy game for the PS2. What’s changed?

Nojima: We could dream big this time. When we’re designing things we imagine how it will look on-screen, but with FFX and the PS2, once we got down to work, what we were able to produce completely exceeded those initial expectations, so the development was actually really exciting for us. As for what specifically impressed us so much, well, it’s just as you see in the final product. I guess it’s true that new hardware is much more inspiring than hardware you’re familiar with.

—What things do you want players to pay particular attention to?

Nojima: The relationship between Tidus and the player, it’s a little different. I say “a little”, so I’m very curious what effect it will actually have on players. Besides that, the voice acting, of course. For the dialogue we didn’t go for simple movie or anime cliches, so I think this “FF with voices” presents a totally new world to explore and enjoy.

—What are the themes of FFX’s story?

Nojima: Independence and autonomy. It’s about the world of difference that lies between saying to your job or school “I’m quitting!” and then actually doing it and living in that reality. In some ways, I think, it’s deeply connected to what Irvine was saying in FF8… well, I don’t want to reveal any more for now. Another theme would be “journey.”

—What were you hoping to express with the story of FFX?

Nojima: I wanted to cast doubt on the things that everyone takes for granted as normal, the status quo. And then to show, well, after you’ve had those doubts… what do you do about it? That kind of thing. And I wanted to suggest that everyone has Yevon inside of them.

—Did the fact that the characters can speak now influence how you wrote the story?

Nojima: With actual voice acting, we can now show the hidden feelings that lie beneath the words we speak. That had a very big influence.

Kazushige Nojima

—If you have any favorite lines of dialogue, please share them.

Nojima: One would be the part where Lulu is explaining about Spira to Tidus. I want to take a trip with a guide like that! Another would be when a certain character says “mata shiren ka yo” (“another trial…”) Look out for that one when you play!

Yusuke Naora – Art Director

—To start off, tell us what you worked on for FFX.

Naora: I handled the overall world art direction. Specifically I did image boarding for the movies and event scenes, and also drew textures for the polygon character models.

—Where did the idea for an “asian” themed world come from?

Naora: Let’s see… after the cyberpunk and “near-future” settings of VII and VIII, we returned to our roots with FFIX. So the question became, what should we do next…? And to be honest, that question vexed us. Around that time, I happened to be looking through some books and travel pamphlets and randomly thought to myself, “you know, Asia is really nice too…” (laughs) There haven’t been many fantasy games in that kind of setting. There have been games set in China, or with a Chinese atmosphere, but nothing with a Southeast Asian or similar setting. So I thought I’d try drawing some pictures to flesh out this vision I had, when lo and behold, I read Nojima’s script and by chance it turned out to have the same feeling. Then it was like, OK, now we’ve got to do this. (laughs) We all brainstorm ideas on our own, but when we meet up and share them, the ideas that happen to be similar to each other are always good ones.

—Did the switch to the PS2 hardware cause any incidents?

Naora: We had people doing research on the new capabilities of the PS2, and that work was running concurrently with the FFX development. It actually extended into the very end phase, and during that time they were still presenting us with new hardware tricks they’d discovered. Of course it was like, “whoa… that’s amazing!”, but on the other hand, I wasn’t sure including new stuff at this late hour was a good idea, and I was a bit anxious about that. (laughs)

—Did the change to the PS2 affect your work personally?

Naora: It allowed me to make higher-quality promotional illustrations. The image of Tidus standing in the ocean, that would be one example. I sketched out the storyboards and layout designs, and then passed those off to others to be turned into CG.

Designer Takashi Honjou: “The Al Bhed shop, the Zanarkind ritual, the chocobo spot… now that those designs are done, the atmosphere is readily apparent, but when I was designing these areas the Al Bhed culture and the Zanarkind rites were still pretty vague, and there was a lot of trial-and-error back then, and taking shots in the dark.”

—And how did the adoption of real-time polygons affect your work?

Naora: It made me more aware of the existence of light. A scene can feel totally different just by changing one lighting source. The person in charge of the movies became almost like a lighting director, constantly changing the lighting and trying out different sources in every scene. It was something we kept tinkering with and trying to perfect right up to the very end. For the storyboarding, too, I included more cuts that made use of lighting cues, and it affected the coloring choices I made, too. And when I saw the actual in-game screens, sometimes there was way too much lighting which made the whites stand out and everything looked totally washed out. (laughs) Then I’d be like, “OK, we need to dial back the lighting a bit.” But I wanted the colors to be vibrant too, so we didn’t want to make it too dark. The interplay of light and dark is the true essence of Final Fantasy, as you know. In the end we got the balance right and I’m once again very pleased with the graphics for this game.

—FFX also introduces facial motion. Did that affect your work?

Naora: Yeah, of course. It’s a whole new field for us, and the motion capture guys themselves had a ton of research to do on it, how to combine the data, pretty much everything. Wherever they could find free space, they added more facial expressions. When I was drawing Tidus and other characters, I was very impressed by the work they’d done and all the new expressions—and it made me go back and revise my drawings to take advantage of these new possibilities. Owing to the facial expressions there were some moments where the characters seemed almost real, like dolls suddenly come to life or something. The tech guys responsible for these put so much work setting it all up that I felt I had to give it my all too. I was revising those face textures up to the very last minute.

—Did the absence of a world map this time have any influence on you?

Naora: We worked hard to make sure the world didn’t feel too small. “How to make FFX feel like it has the scale of a Final Fantasy game” was one of our big topics. One idea to impart an overall sense of scale was to make the backgrounds much bigger… but then, wouldn’t that look kind of clumsy from a purely visual standpoint? There was a lot of back-and-forth like that.

Yusuke Naora

—How did you feel personally about the lack of a world map?

Naora: It seemed like a natural evolution. And it was one less thing I would have to do. (laughs) I mean, it seemed like an OK idea. But one pleasure of the Final Fantasy games has been the flight simulator-esque thrill of zooming around in your airship. I was concerned about losing that, but on the other hand, the airship can also make travel *too* convenient. Nojima had said that for FFX, “it’s all about the journey”, so we wanted a system that would elicit that feeling of traveling, and removing the world map seemed like it fit that goal.

—I imagine with walking becoming the main mode of travel now, you had to pay extra careful attention to the map design.

Naora: That’s very true. Some unassuming flowers on the side of the road, birds circling in the sky, mountains in the distance… we thought a lot about those little details, and wanted players to notice them along their journey. Even everyday things like that, we tried to give a “Spira” touch to them… which resulted in everyone drawing reallyyy detailed designs. The color of the trees, the texture of the rocks, everyone wanted to put their own spin on them, to make them look otherworldly. There’s so much nature imagery this time, and no one ever said this explicitly, but I could tell they were all trying real hard to produce enough variety so that players wouldn’t get bored. So for something as simple as a duck, they’d hand me the design and say “It’s not just a duck! It’s a Spira Duck.” (laughs)

—To create the feeling of another world, you focused on even those smallest details.

Naora: That’s right. We were very focused on trying to make everything feel like it was a product of this world, like it was made there. For example, when you look at the boats, the concept of a “port” for boats to use and stop at doesn’t really exist, so we tried to think of a different way for the boats to stop themselves. Maybe they use ropes? But then it was like, why not use those dyed hand towels, since we already designed them and they’re already a part of this world? Our entire staff took that approach, of first trying to imagine what the denizens of this world would do, and how something might fit into their everyday lives… and then making sure it had the appropriate visual appeal for the game.

—Having put so much effort into every last detail, it’s kind of an invitation to players to explore every nook and cranny.

Naora: Yes, definitely. We put a lot of effort into the camera and camera angles this time too, as it’s a tool for exploration. If the camera is always centered on and following the player characters, it can induce motion sickness, which is another reason we didn’t do that. I personally have bought games before—games that were quite interesting, but they gave me motion sickness and I couldn’t play them, which sort of pissed me off. (laughs) I didn’t want people to feel that way about Final Fantasy.

—It sounds like the game’s systems influenced your designs as well.

Naora: That’s right. Up to now I would say that we’ve prioritized the quality of the visuals themselves, but we also wanted FFX to have that diorama-like appeal of a video game. Of course we still wanted it to look great too. Well, maybe we could do both…!? That was our attitude at least, and looking at the finished product I think we did a pretty good job.

Designer Fumi Nakashima: “My inspiration for the Al Bhed’s clothing was bondage fashion. I remember how I had all these bondage books and magazines on my desk, and the other developers were giving me weird looks… it’s a cherished memory!”

Nobuo Uematsu – Composer

—Did the switch to the PS2 hardware change the way you made the music for FFX?

Uematsu: The way I write the melodies didn’t really change all that much, to be honest. The PS2 does have double the number of sound channels available, but we ended up using the extra channels for sound effects. So even when there’s no music, there’s always environmental and atmospheric sound effects playing, like wind and bugs. Because of that, the amount of channels specifically alotted for the music didn’t really change much from the PS1. In exchange it’s a big upgrade to the sound effects though.

—There certainly is a lot of nature in this Final Fantasy, and it very much exudes that southern tropical vibe. Was that mood something you kept in mind while composing the music?

Uematsu: No, not at all actually. (laughs) I mean, the staff was bouncing around a lot of ideas, and it just so happened that their ideas ended up having that southern tropical atmosphere in common. But it wasn’t something decreed in advance.


Uematsu: Yeah. I guess in that sense the FF team has a certain modesty. I feel like they don’t go in with these big, grand ideas beforehand… a lot of things in these games are the products of chance. I think they feel confident enough in their abilities to play it improvisationally like that, to know that when a good idea comes up, they’ll be able to take it in a good direction.

—Did the addition of spoken dialogue change your approach to the music?

Uematsu: The absence of voice acting has meant that, up to now, we’ve had to rely on the melodies to convey moments of heightened emotion and drama. But now thanks to the voice acting it’s possible to have emotionally convincing scenes even without music. The emotional highs-and-lows of a scene, which previously were all conveyed by the music, can now be expressed with the human voice, so my music doesn’t have to always be so dramatically dynamic. I think it’s allowed me to be more selective about where we use the music, only using it where it’s most effective. And I can also focus on emphasizing the melodies in my compositions more.

—Is voice acting something you’ve wanted to see in the Final Fantasy games for a long time, then?

Uematsu: Since FFVIII, Kitase has been saying he wanted to include voice acting. I was against it at first, actually. I thought, no way, this is going to turn our games into anime. But once we tried it, I saw how it made the story and drama much more realistic and convincing, just hearing a human voice speak like that. It was amazing.

—You mentioned using melodies more effectively… could you elaborate and tell us what we should listen for there?

Uematsu: I think there’s two main melodies in FFX. The first is that piano music that you hear on the opening screen. The thing about that tune is, I didn’t actually write it for FFX. (laughs) After FFIX was complete, a flautist I know named Kazunori Seo had a recital coming up and he asked me to write a piece of music for that. I sketched out a number of different melodic ideas then…

Nobuo Uematsu

—And the FFX opening theme was one of those?

Uematsu: That’s right. Of course I spent some time re-arranging it for this game. I was kind of being pestered by the rest of the staff to give them some music… “We don’t care what, just give us something to work with now!” (laughs) So I handed them a few pieces, and it was actually they who selected that melody for the opening scene. (laughs) But it fit perfectly! So perfectly it made me feel like I’d written it specifically for that scene, I thought! Even today the staff still talks about it, how the moment they heard the music there they got goosebumps. The FFX development had been lagging behind a bit then, so the mood around the office was a little low, but when they heard that music there it was a like a much-needed shot in the arm: “FFX is going to be a hit!” Ultimately it got used for the OP theme, and I also bring that motif back here-and-there in certain climactic scenes. I apologize if all the game music I write follows that format. (laughs) Well, in any event, that was a very memorable song for me.

—What would be another memorable one?

Uematsu: “suteki da ne” which Rikki sung for us. This was going to be FFX’s theme song, and I had a feeling from the beginning that it would be a central part of the soundtrack.

—How did you end up selecting Rikki as the singer?

Uematsu: We’ve been having theme songs in the FF games since FFVIII, and each time Kitase and I hold a meeting to decide who the singer should be. Everyone brings in CDs of the singers they like and we listen and share our opinions, but this time, even after a couple such meetings, we just couldn’t decide on someone. Around the same time, one of our staff members happened to pick up one of Rikki’s indie releases at a CD shop, and he showed it to me. I loved it the first moment I heard it, and I got pretty excited: “This is great!” We contacted Rikki right away.

—Were there any new experiments you tried for FFX’s soundtrack, or songs you’re particularly fond of?

Uematsu: Hmm, maybe the rock song that plays during the blitzball movie. We’d never done anything like that before! My roots are in rock and popular music, you know. That’s why I thought it would be fun to make a song based on those genres. It only took me 10 years of FF games, but I finally figured it out!

The blitzball cutscene Uematsu mentions with his long-awaited Final Fantasy rock debut.

—Yes, it took awhile, but you’ve finally reached the promised land. (laughs)

Uematsu: Indeed. I think there’s a strong association in most people’s minds between RPGs and orchestral music. So I always had the idea in my head that users wanted that, and until now I’ve forced myself to write orchestral-style music. But you know what… I’m sick of it! (laughs) I’ve started to think, hey, what’s wrong with me doing it the way I want, you know?

—Do you compose your music to match the specific scenes and movie visuals on-screen?

Uematsu: No, I don’t. The music for Final Fantasy takes me over a year to write, so it’d be pretty rough if I had to wait for all the visuals to be completed first. I create each piece of music as I go, in that moment, and the music of FFX is simply the collection of those pieces. Some composers, the first thing they do is get a clear, overarching picture in their minds of what they want to write… I don’t do that. Or rather, I *can’t* do that. I’m simply not that clever. (laughs) Of course, for event scenes and special battles, I do create music specifically for things like that.

—Then the last boss theme was deliberately created for “last boss fight” music, right?

Uematsu: Of course, yeah! The final boss theme is full of cool little musical details. You’ll see what I mean when you play it. I’ve included a lot of those touches in the composition, so please look forward to it!

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