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NTV Tokyo Interviews Hironobu Sakaguchi

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NTV Tokyo recently interviewed the man behind the the Final Fantasy games, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Read a transcript of the interview here.
  Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi recently sat down and talked with NTV Tokyo. Yopics covered include Final Fantasy 9, PlayOnline, and the upcoming Final Fantasy Movie. Thanks to Core Magazine for finding and translating the interview.

  Question: What's the inspiration behind Final Fantasy IX?

  Sakaguchi: The Final Fantasy series has spawned sequels across the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and PlayStation consoles; three incarnations each. The last incarnation on each platform has been extremely sophisticated, but still conformable in terms of gameplay. Final Fantasy 9 is the third sequel on the PlayStation, and we've tried to continue our tradition of making the third incarnation for each console the most sophisticated. It's quite thick in terms of content.

  When we began discussing ideas for Final Fantasy 9, we wondered whether it should be a sequel to Final Fantasy 7-8 in terms of realism. Considering it's the last sequel on the PlayStation and the final single digit sequel in the series (Final Fantasy 9), we wanted to bring the series back to its origin. Based on the essence of previous titles in the series, we tried to recreate the presentation of the original Final Fantasy games through new technology. A black magician has always played a major part in the Final Fantasy series, so I wanted him to be one of the main characters in Final Fantasy 9 as well.

  Question: In your opinion, what's the most important aspect of the series?

  Sakaguchi: The most important aspect is the depth of the storyline. Aside from that, we always try to create the best music and visuals we can, something typically avant-garde. I think that's the essence of the series. But the most important aspect of the series are the storylines.

  Question: How is development on the PlayOnline network going?

  Sakaguchi: The technical specifications are done, and we've begun development. I had a drink with the director behind the PlayOnline network last night actually. [laughs..] He's confident it will be the greatest communication tool ever, and I think it will be an excellent product. There are several kinds of communication tools on PCs, and PlayOnline is being developed to unite all the best aspects. So users can enjoy the network without even playing games on it. Still, the network is being developed for games, and we're making it as compatible as possible for users on different platforms.

  Question: Any chance the PlayOnline network will be compatible with mobile phones?

  Sakaguchi: Technically speaking, it wouldn't be difficult. We're working on it now.

  Question: What do you think will be the biggest difference between existing Final Fantasy games, and future series incarnations which will feature network gameplay?

  Sakaguchi: There will be 2000-3000 characters being played by actual people within a virtual world. Players will be able to communicate through the network and chat as they play. So that's almost a drama in itself. You can encounter people who might befriend or betray you. Since it's Final Fantasy, we will incorporate real storylines also. Existing online RPGs for the PC typically have little story development. In that sense, it will be different from other online RPGs.

  Question: You want to release Final Fantasy XI (11) simultaneously in America and Japan?

  Sakaguchi: It will be tough to release the game simultaneously in both Japan and America, but I don't want there to be a significant release gap between both regions. We want to release both the PS2 and PC versions simultaneously.

  Question: So there will still be a Japanese version and an English version, not 1 standard version?

  Sakaguchi: Probably, yes. There will likely be Japanese and English online servers too. But I want players from different countries to meet and communicate online. In-game communication will be somewhat basic, and you can converse through a series of game-related commands. That way people from all over the world can actually play together and they don't have to know each others language. If you'd like to chat though, I think we'd like users to stick to the English alphabet.

  Question: Can you tell us about the Final Fantasy movie in production?

  Sakaguchi: It's scheduled for release next summer, and development is progressing smoothly. I'd say it's probably about 3/4 done, and the test version is already 98 minutes long! We recently previewed it, and I think it's really good so far.

  Question: The movie is named Final Fantasy, but it's much different than the game series, right?

  Sakaguchi: Yes, it's based on our earth in the year 2065. So it's meant to be realistic, just set in the future. I think players will feel as if the movie is an extension to the game series. We're using a different development approach and new characters, but the storyline is similar to the Final Fantasy game series. Since the characters and storylines in the game series are always changing, I don't think the movie will be much of a stretch for the players.

  Question: Why did you decide to do it completely in CG?

  Sakaguchi: Movie as a media plays a huge role in our society, and we've always wanted to explore it. I think it would be impossible to create a movie with real actors based on the Final Fantasy series. I'm confident we can create a realistic world though CG, and we've been working with an extremely talented group of CG artists since Final Fantasy VII. Through the movie I think we can show the mainstream world our talents. We didn't want to limit our development team to strictly our artists in Japan though, so we've been working with a team in Hollywood for a while now. The staff is actually split between both US and Japan.

  Question: What's the budget for the movie?

  Sakaguchi: $70 Million.

  Question: By contrast, how much did it cost to develop Final Fantasy IX?

  Sakaguchi: $40 Million.

  Question: Is there anything specific you want our readers to know about Final Fantasy IX?

  Sakaguchi: The game is based on eight characters, each with their own background story and personal trauma's. One of them is a black magician named Vivi, who I am passionate about. Through Vivi I wanted to convey the differences between people just living boring lives, and people who make the most of everyday.

  When we decided to 'return to the origin' of the series, I was worried as to whether people would accept it. But once we finished development our staff was pretty impressed. The game testers also thought Final Fantasy 9 was much more fun than 7 and 8. Based on the questionnaires from our gameplay testers, most people thought the characters are unique and the storyline is very deep.

  When creating these types of games, it's never good enough to just have a 'good' concept. We really focused on the details, so when players wander through the world they'll encounter different things. It will make most players want to explore the world and take side trips across the map. That's something we focused on, and I think we've succeeded. The battle sequences were also important, and I wanted to convey... How should I say this... the 'customization' of characters. So the more time you spend developing your characters, the stronger they'll be. I think we've succeeded in doing that too. The music is also enjoyable, and it actually includes arranged music from the original Final Fantasy. Personally, I'm very happy we included that.

  Question: Lastly, what are your long-term expectations for the PlayOnline network?

  Sakaguchi: I think we'll find new levels of entertainment though network gameplay. PlayOnline is fun for our developers because they're molding new ideas about gaming. Even after we're done with Final Fantasy XI (11), we're going to continue to challenge ourselves with new network games, much like our new endeavors in CG and movie creation.

  - Translation by Akira Miyauchi

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