Final Fantasy Legend II - Developer Interviews
In these two Famitsu interviews (dated 1990 and 2018), series creator Akitoshi Kawazu, planner Hiromichi Tanaka, and composer Kenji Ito discuss the making of SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu (Final Fantasy Legend II), the popular sequel to the idiosyncratic Game Boy RPG Makai Toushi SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend) and the game that cemented the SaGa series as a pillar of Square's RPG output.
Akitoshi Kawazu (director/battle planner/scenario)
Hiromichi Tanaka (planner/scenario)
Yumiko Ishida (public relations)
—Okay, let's kick things off by talking about the flow of the game, starting from the beginning. In the first area, you're very suddenly joined by your first NPC companion.
Ishida: Ah, Sensei (Mr.S).
—Right! Sensei's a very strong character, so I was able to make quick progress, but then he suddenly disappears from your party, which was a bit of a shock. Later on, I thought, I wish I'd spent more time leveling my party while Sensei was with me...
Tanaka: In the latter half of Final Fantasy II, a powerful mage named Minwu appears—I wanted to create a similar character for this game, which ended up being Sensei. In the user postcards we received from FFII players, we saw an overwhelming number of comments from people who were fans of Minwu.
—When you're left without strong NPCs to help you, it makes you want to seek out stronger weapons and gear—stuff like the Giant equipment.
Tanaka: Ah, the equipment sold in the third world… but I bet you couldn't afford it, huh? Actually, I deliberately made them prohibitively expensive, so that people wouldn't be able to buy them at first, but if you come back at some point…
—I did knuckle down and buy just one piece of that equipment.
Ishida: Well, during the course of normal gameplay, you should just barely be able to afford one of them.
Tanaka: Actually, there's a glitch related to that situation…
—Oh, really? How so?
Tanaka: The stores in the game typically offer eight items, but the store selling that equipment only offers four items, which caused it to be particularly buggy. If you move the cursor all the way to the bottom and hit right on the d-pad, the screen will be corrupted.
Ishida: But if you immediately cancel with the B button, it'll return to normal.
—Did that bug make it to the retail version?
Ishida: It's present in all the ROMs from the initial shipment.
Tanaka: We fixed it for the next print run. (laughs)
—That ROM is crawling with bugs! (laughs) In a sense, that makes the initial version somewhat of a valuable commodity.
Ishida: …but that ends up being troublesome in its own right, y'know?
Ishida: Any prominent bugs present in the initial shipment will inevitably be written about by various magazines, which we'll go out of our way to fix for subsequent print runs as a matter of course. However, when somebody ends up buying one of the later bug-fixed cartridges and then tries to replicate any of the glitches they read about in the magazines, but can't get them to trigger, they come to us like, "my game's defective, please replace it". I wish there was some way to get them to understand that the version without bugs is the optimal version! (laughs)
—Ah, so it's a complex issue.
Ishida: Kai's Body was also quite a challenge to make, right?
Tanaka: It took a while to figure out the precise nature of that dungeon.
Kawazu: If we were going to do it, then it seemed like it'd be weird not to design it with a distinctly human form, so we went through a lot of trial-and-error there.
—I appreciated the eye-catching design of that dungeon.
Kawazu: Compared to the original SaGa, the graphics were intended to look a little more bleak, with more blacks and such.
—The dungeon called "The Final Dungeon" has those cool, creepy faces on the walls.
Tanaka: The person in charge of those graphics said they wanted to create something with as much impact as Kazuo Umezu's illustrations—they leave such an impression that even as an adult, you'll never forget how hard they hit you!
Kawazu: Someday in the future, I hope to hear stories from children who grew up playing SaGa 2 who are like, "the faces on the walls of the Final Dungeon were so scary that I started crying..."
—I hope that happens, too!
Kawazu: Edo was quite memorable too, don't you think?
—That world was pretty off-the-wall, huh? There's that one scene where the okappiki shows up and the party plays dumb about the whereabouts of Denpachi (Kame)...1
Kawazu: None of us paid it much mind at first, but that came back to bite us later…
—What was the issue?
Kawazu: Naturally, when it comes to releasing SaGa 2 in the U.S., everything has to be translated into English, so now I'm wondering how we're going to localize all the text concerning Edo.
—Ah, like Echigoya, for example.2
Kawazu: Generally speaking, the U.S. is very strict about a variety of things: God and the devil, racism, violence, etc. At the end of the original SaGa, you end up fighting God! Pretty wild, huh?
—I'd love to play the U.S. versions of SaGa 1 and 2 if I have a chance.
Ishida: How nasty did you find the Nasty Dungeon to be?
—Oh yeah, the Nasty Dungeon! The character at the entrance advised me against going in there, so I was at a loss for what to do.
Tanaka: If you take the relics (MAGI) at the entrance, you can clear the world without going in.
—Sure, but if there are items in there that are worth getting...?
Tanaka: Right. If you can acquire the powerful weapons and items hidden inside, the end of the game will be quite easy. What's more, since traversing that dungeon forces you to fight a considerable number of enemies, those who give it a serious shot should be able to level their characters quite substantially.
—The probability of escaping from enemies is fairly high in SaGa 2, so my time in the Nasty Dungeon was spent constantly running away from battles.
Kawazu: Everyone's first instinct is to just run away from everything, and then they end up having a really hard time later on… (laughs)
—It's an ant vs. grasshopper situation.
Kawazu: Pretty much.
—Actually, our editorial department made a major discovery: we were able to raise the speed of our human and esper (mutant) party members to 99.
Tanaka: Raise, eh?
—As I recall, it involved opening the item window and selecting the trash can, and before I knew it, we could raise our speed all the way to 99.
Kawazu: Ah, yes, that's a bug.
—No matter how many times I tried to replicate it, I could never get it to work again. What are the conditions for that bug, and what's the process for making it occur?
Kawazu: The item window displays a column of 16 items with the trash can, used for discarding items, at the very bottom—put simply, the program treats the trash can like it's the 17th item.
Kawazu: The item that can be used by selecting the trash can corresponds to the number of relics/MAGI you currently have. Let's say you have 10 relics: when you select the trash can, it'll function like item #10 as designated by the program. Every item in the game is internally designated with a specific number, so if item #10 happens to be a potion, for example, then selecting the trash can will have the same effect as using a potion.
—...so, when the editorial department discovered this bug, the number of relics in their possession just happened to correspond to the internal number of the speed-up item.
Tanaka: But if you go overboard, you might break the game.
—Oh, so we were on a knife's edge, then.
Tanaka: It's a good thing that you quit once you'd raised your speed to 99—if you trigger this bug too many times, the internal number of collected relics will change, and you may no longer be able to clear the game. Besides that, we can't take responsibility for any software that's broken by deliberate abuse of this hidden glitch.
—In that case, it's better not to act too recklessly.
Tanaka: That's right.
—Are there any other secrets you'd like to talk about?
Kawazu: Did you meet Haniwa? They're in the Final Dungeon.
—Haniwa? Nope, I never found them.
Kawazu: Haniwa's a monster.
Ishida: The odds of running into him are extremely low, and the item he drops is very powerful.
—Oh, so something like the Onion equipment in Final Fantasy II?
—What kind of item is it, I wonder? Now I'm curious.
Kawazu: Please wander the final dungeon until you find him!
—You know, I didn't figure out that NPCs could equip weapons and armor until the very end of the game...
Ishida: It's explained in detail in the manual.
—Huh, really? In all honesty, I didn't even look at the manual...
Tanaka: That said, NPCs are naturally quite strong by design, so you don't need to fret too much about keeping them properly equipped.
Kawazu: On that topic, Dad has a electric whip (Blitz) that's very effective against Apollo.
—Really? I don't think I used it all that much.
Kawazu: If you use it at a specific time, Apollo will be unable to move, so you can sneak in an attack while he's incapacitated, and then hit him with again when he starts to move again.
—I had no idea!
Kawazu: Well, there ya go.
—After you defeat Apollo, Dad collapses on the ground. I went over to talk to him afterwards and he didn't respond, which caught me off guard.
Tanaka: Initially, when you talked to him, it'd show the message "There's no response. It's just a corpse."3 (laughs) It was added as a prank of sorts, but I nixxed it right away.
Kawazu: In Final Fantasy II, the soldiers who arrive at the castle after the emperor's death die with a "gufu~!", so I suppose I had Dragon Quest in mind then, too.
Tanaka: Conversely, sometimes people identify certain lines or phrases as "Dragon Quest-isms", even though I wasn't consciously referencing Dragon Quest at all when I wrote them. There are phrases that one would naturally write in certain scenarios, but if they sound too much like Dragon Quest, we'll change them to something else. We've become very careful about our verbiage.
—In the end, "It's just a corpse." was cut, right?
—Why's the game box so big?
Kawazu: Um, just so it'd stand out. (laughs)
—Are you for real?!
Ishida: Honestly, I really wanted to make the manual bigger—the original SaGa's manual was small and difficult to read, so I wanted to make sure this one was nice and large. The artist drew such nice illustrations, so I thought it'd be a waste to print them so small.
—So that's why the package became larger.
Ishida: Yes… but, because it was so big, it ended up taking up a lot of space. That was a slight miscalculation on our part. (laughs)
—So, uh... are you going to make SaGa 3?
—It's gonna happen, right?
Ishida: SaGa 2 just came out, so I can't really comment, but…
Ishida: Thanks to all of you, the original SaGa has sold over one million copies, and so if SaGa 2 sells the same way, of course, I think we'll end up making another one. We are a business, after all.
Kawazu: You're hedging that hard?! (laughs)
Ishida: Correct. We're not going to do something that doesn't seem profitable.
—Are you really still undecided about whether or not to make SaGa 3?
Ishida: The decision to make or not make SaGa 3 depends entirely on the sales of SaGa 2. We're counting on all of you! I'm kidding (laughs).
—Maybe it'll become a 1v1 versus game...
Kawazu: I don't think so. To me, RPGs are a solo experience.
—In that case, let's all wait for SaGa 3 with bated breath. Thanks for your time, everyone!
Kenji "Itoken" Ito on SaGa 2 (2018)
originally featured on Famitsu's website
Kenji Ito ("Itoken") - composer
Akitoshi Kawazu - SaGa series creator/director/producer
—It's quite well-known that SaGa 2 was the first game Itoken-san worked on when he joined Square-Enix. That was 28 years ago... Kawazu-san, do you remember Itoken joining the company?
Kawazu: At that time, we had an office in Akasaka that was set up for music production, and I remember walking into the room and [Nobuo] Uematsu happily greeting me with "we've got a new recruit!" He really talked him up as "someone who'd seriously studied music".
Itoken: I hadn't heard that he hyped me up like that! (laughs) I did tell him that I'd studied piano.
—And so, immediately after joining the company, I heard you were assigned to writing for SaGa 2...
Itoken: For the first month or so, I didn't have any equipment, so I spent that time setting all that up before I began. At that time, there were two development projects that involved Uematsu—Final Fantasy IV and SaGa 2—and Uematsu asked me to write half of the music for SaGa 2, so that's where I got my start.
—Did Uematsu-san decide who'd compose for which scene?
Itoken: I think so. There were a few songs that ended up being left out of the game due to a lack of ROM space.
—SaGa 2 used a 2-megabit ROM, which was rather large for the time, but even with a ROM that big, you couldn't fit all the music.
Itoken: I remember working on a theme for Otama (Hana), a character that appears in the seventh world—if we had the memory to spare, I think it would have made it into the game.
Kawazu: At the time, due to those memory issues, I think we developers came up with a list of which songs to include and where they were to be used, in accordance with the scenario, and handed that list off to Uematsu.
—What was the first song you composed?
Itoken: I think it was "The Tranquil Land". That's quite a long song.
—Was that due to the fact that you hadn't yet got a handle on writing looping songs, which is something unique to composing game music?
Itoken: That's right.
—Kawazu-san, what were your thoughts at the time when you listened to Itoken's compositions?
Kawazu: During development, we weren't told "these are Uematsu's songs and these are Itoken's songs" at first, so I had no awareness either way. When I listened to the songs, I remember being impressed that there wasn't a single one that sounded "un-Uematsu-like".
—That goes to show that you were able to produce hiqh-quality songs from your very first year at the company.
Itoken: That reminds me—I remember being summoned by the president at that time. Out of nowhere, I was summoned via an extension call, and when I walked in the room, thinking to myself, am I about to be fired?, the secretary invited me in and offered me tea. I ended up meeting the president for the first time; we chatted about various things, and he offered me words of encouragement: "SaGa 2's songs are so intertwined that I can't tell which are yours and which are Uematsu-kun's—keep up the good work!"
—Which songs are you particularly fond of?
Itoken: I thought [Uematsu's] "Save the World" was "unbeatable" when I first heard it. There are so many little details all over the piece, like those volume swells in the intro, and I remember looking at the sound data and being amazed, like, whoa, this is how it's done…
—Were you learning how to create game music by looking over Uematsu-san's data?
Itoken: Back then, I did a lot of studying along those lines. "Save the World" is still my favorite of all Game Boy songs, because I remember thinking, I'm never going to be able to top this.
Kawazu: Uematsu's thinking at the time was to intentionally write music that was distinct from what he'd been writing for Final Fantasy, so they don't sound like the typical Final Fantasy battle themes.
—I feel like SaGa's a series with a lot of high-tempo songs.
Kawazu: Fast songs require more notes, so they're a bit of a hassle in terms of data.
Itoken: The songs also require additional data for staccato and rest notes, so the overall data size ends up being doubled.
Kawazu: We did out best to keep the data size in check, but we still just barely scraped by.
Itoken: At that time, Keitarou Adachi was handling the sound design, and his instrument sounds were so fantastic that we ended up using them again for Seiken Densetsu (Final Fantasy Adventure)—that's why those two games sound so similar.
—Do you have a favorite song, Kawazu-san?
Kawazu: It'd have to be "Struggle to the Death", the boss battle theme. From the moment I heard that one, I was like, "whoa…!"
Itoken: Thank you!
—That song's a popular pick among the fans, isn't it? To give one example, during the conversation before the battle with Venus, "Struggle to the Death" kicks in right as your character yells, "You're the most graceless one!"4 , before the transition to the battle scene, and I think little flourishes like that really left an impression on the fans.
Kawazu: I'd been wanting to have the battle music start before the battle ever since Final Fantasy II, so I told Adachi-san, "let's do it with SaGa!".
—Itoken also wrote the standard battle music, "Lethal Strike", and that's also quite a popular tune.
Itoken: I remember "Lethal Strike" being a song that got a lot of praise in-house.
Kawazu: I think it must have been tricky to come up with a new battle theme without straying too far from the style established by the first game.
Itoken: When I wrote it, I tried to roughly match the tempo of the battle theme from the original SaGa.
—All three of those tunes—"Lethal Strike", "Struggle to the Death" and "Save the World"—strike me as tunes perfectly suited for boss battles.
Itoken: All three of those songs play during the final battle, and I have vague memories of being impressed by that little touch at the time… as I was playing the game for debugging, I heard "Struggle to the Death", then "Lethal Strike" and finally "Save the World" and I remember being impressed and surprised to see that degree of production.
Kawazu: At the time, the basic template for the battle themes was "standard battle, mid-boss, final boss", and so I was trying to think about how to squeeze the most of them… the final boss tune can only be used once, but how about the mid-boss theme?
—Looking at the list, I see that SaGa 2 has 19 songs, but as a player, I never got the impression that the game was lacking for music, and the game itself seemed to offer quite a lot of volume.
Kawazu: The first SaGa was very bare-minimum, but SaGa 2 had about as much content as a regular RPG of the time. It didn't really compare to Final Fantasy, though, as the size of those games ballooned massively starting with Final Fantasy III.
Itoken: SaGa 2 was the first game I ever worked on, so I remember being very moved as I played it—it's definitely quite simple in a lot of places, but that simplicity was arranged in a way that made it very compelling… it's a very earnest game.
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SaGa 2's version of this encounter makes explicit mention of Yoshiwara, a famous red-light district during the real-world Edo era.↩
"Echigoya" the corrupt merchant is a stock archetype that commonly appears in Japanese period dramas and wouldn't necessarily require a lot of setup for Japanese audiences.↩
The Japanese version of this line is beloved for its aloof bluntness, and it quickly became a stock phrase that continues to reappear and be referenced across the series.↩
The Japanese version of this line, which reads closer to "You're as hideous as they come!", is considered a standout line among Japanese SaGa 2 fans and gamers in general.↩