Talk:February 8, 2007 - Cubed3 Interview with Hiromichi Tanaka

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Should the link go down, we will post the full interview:

Adam Riley, Deputy Editor of Cubed³: Okay, I suppose the first question would be why was the decision made to make Final Fantasy III on the DS in such a fashion?

Hiromichi Tanaka, Vice President of Square Enix: It has been 16 years since the original version was out and between that time and today, we have had several opportunities to remake FFIII but somehow it didn’t come to the actual final product. But this time we decided to really go ahead and make it. We had been considering the PS2 platform, but at the same time we got a call from Nintendo saying we’re going to make this new DS platform, so would you please make FFIII for this platform? So we thought it was good timing, so we might try a port of FFIII on the DS.

Lesley Smith, Freelance Journalist: Can you tell us a bit more about your role within the game?

HT: On the original game I was working with game design and the game system, the structure of the game, for example the job system, etc, and the game’s design. But this time after 16 years we had huge information from the original game, so we gave it to the company and they worked with it, but myself I worked to make sure the balance is in a good way for the new players and the old fans. So we wanted to make sure the old fans are pleased; it hasn’t been changed so much because the Japanese like to keep the old taste to it. But for Europe and North America it was the first time it was released, so it is new players that are going to try this game, so we didn’t want to have it in an old-fashioned way – we wanted to add some new feeling to it, so the balance was the main point I was looking after.

AR: Have you had any difficulties with the actual DS hardware itself in producing such a strong three-dimensional game?

HT: Because it’s a sort of mobile game and this DS has a lot of special functions like the touch-screen and also two screens, it was sort of a challenge to make the most out of this platform. Since the original game is like a single screen, if we decide to use two screens for the whole game it would be completely different. So what we decided to do is in some parts we use two screens and in some parts we use just one screen. By using one screen, we can have all the machine’s power to one screen, which makes it more possible to have high quality graphics. So that was our decision we made from the graphics point of view.

Also, by using touch-screen, we decided to have it possible to play only with…not even using buttons. You can play from the beginning to the ending by just using the touch-screen.

LS: Apart from those, were there any other changes that were made with the remake? Was anything altered from the original?

HT: Compared to the original version, the four main characters have names, which in the original version they didn’t have any names. This time other characters have names and also have a personality, which enables us to talk about the story and have a backbone behind each character so the players can go into the deep story.

And also the one big difference is the job change system. For the original version you could only progress to these different job titles – at a certain stage you would be like ninja and kenja. So this time we decided to have more flexibility so people could change the jobs whenever they like. They can even go back to the original jobs they played at the beginning.

AR: Can I just ask how the online function of the game…how’s that used?

HT: The original version didn’t have any online functions so it was to add it as a main part of the game. But this time it’s like an additional part of the game, using the Wi-Fi function, which enables the users to exchange letters like emails. So by using Wi-Fi you can send mail to your friend. Before for other Wi-Fi network games both sides have to be online. But this time we have added this new feature to it, which means the other person doesn’t have to be online. So you can send a letter and it’ll stay in the server and when the other person logs in they can see the letters.

By using this system you can exchange letters with your friends and also you can exchange letters with the characters in the game. And by using this function you can find hidden features of the game. It’ll change things slightly.

LS: That includes the…was it Onion Knights from the original game? The job class from the original game?

HT: The hidden jobs?

LS: Yeah…

HT: As I said it’s a sort of hidden event that will happen by using this function – the Onion Knights. In the original version it starts from there, but this time because we changed the job system we didn’t have that job at the beginning, so we decided to have it as a hidden part of the game.

LS: Do you think that considering it’s been 16 years since the game was originally released it’s benefited from the lessons learnt in the other Final Fantasy games in the series, such as the storyline, the way in which the game is played, the graphics…

HT: Usually the other games, when we remake original games it’s like after three or five years. So nowadays if we remake other games it has been remade once after the original release. So even if it was like a 2D game, it has more powerful graphics. But this FFIII, because we haven’t released it for 16 years, we don’t have that middle step between the original version and the completely new version, which is on DS.

And by using DS we thought we would use the 3D function because it will help us give close-ups to the characters give more depth to how we show things. So that’s why we tried to use the DS and after 16 years we might as well renew the whole thing.

LS: It would have been nice if the original version was tucked away somewhere, as a completely, really, really special secret…

HT: ??

AR: If the original NES game was included as an extra for fans of the original.

HT: *Laugther*

AR: Asking for a lot, I know…

AR: It’s sold nearly a million copies in Japan and has been very successful in America so far. Do you have any worries that it won’t be accepted as well in Europe?

HT: The DS itself is doing really well in Japan, North America and Europe, so I think we have a really good chance over here. FFIII is an old game, the original version is an old game – but I think it is really suitable for mobile games. It’s a casual game and has a very original, traditional RPG taste to it. So we hope the European players can enjoy as a new game as well.

LS: You’ve been with the Final Fantasy series since the beginning, basically. Do you have a favourite game in the franchise?

HT: I have been involved in Final Fantasy I, II and III, and we have this concept with the Final Fantasy series, which means it must be (for the developers) the most exciting game for that time so we can make the most out of the latest platform in those days and also the latest technology, storyline, etc. So, for myself Final Fantasy III was the most exciting game to work on. But now I’m working on Final Fantasy XI, now this is my favourite *smiles*

AR: After the original Final Fantasy III you moved onto the Mana series because it was more action-based. Have you incorporated aspects of that into Final Fantasy XI or would you maybe in the future like to do another Mana game with Koichi Ishii?

HT: One of our dreams is to have a sort of seamless battle scene – like between walking through a field and going into a battle. We wanted to have smooth, seamless settings. When we were working with the Mana project, it was originally considered to FFIV, but it turned out to be Secret of Mana, so it’s a bit different. The common, same thing between FFIV and Secret of Mana is that we have this real-time strategy, real-time action battle scene. So it’s not like the other Final Fantasy where you have to input the commands and wait for your turn. We wanted to make it more like real-time action. This Mana series does look like there are action features put into it, but that wasn’t really the main idea – it was more a real-time idea we were considering.

AR: And would you ever consider working on a Mana game in the future?

HT: Personally for myself there are no plans to go back to Mana, but Koichi Ishii-san he’s working on the Mana series as well, and also he worked on FFXI.

LS: Are you much of a gamer yourself? Do you play a lot of games – a particular type you like or console?

HT: Before I really loved shooting games, but currently I’m only playing FFIX *lots of laughter*

LS: And what are you working on now and do you have any future plans at all?

HT: FFXI as it’s an on-going game, but at the same time the same team is working on new generation MMOs…

LS: No hinting? *laughter*

AR: Is this the PlayStation 3 project that has been mentioned previously?

HT: We showed a video clip in 2005 at E3 in the Microsoft booth because it’s based on the 360. Since Final Fantasy XI is a cross-platform game; you can play Windows, PS2 in Japan and North America and also 360, this new MMO is still considering different platforms. Mainly it will be Vista and 360, but PS3’s a possibility.

AR: What are your thoughts about Nintendo’s online plans and the free Wi-Fi service?

HT: It is really up to Nintendo, so it is really difficult to comment…but as far as I can see, the DS has a really beginner friendly function for Wi-Fi network – it’s free and it’s easy to play. But it’s really limited because you can only communicate with a person you already know, having to accept your invitations to become friends. And unlike other MMOs that you play on PCs, you can’t really meet a person you haven’t met before, you can’t really communicate with those people. So if they are considering online features for Wii, because they are already providing some products that are not free – you have to pay for some functions. If you want to have online features, meeting other people than your friends, it is important for them to consider that area as well.

AR: Do you think it’s possible that Final Fantasy XI could make it onto a system like the Wii?

HT: First of all it’s a bit difficult at the moment because of the technology side. We can’t really have FFIX on Wii because of the specs – so it’s a bit difficult to have it on Wii. But also there’s another thing that makes it difficult to have MMOs on Wii because Nintendo’s style doesn’t allow people to contact this third person, unless you are friends – they have different concepts. So, unless we come to agreement…and even if we do come to some agreement at some point, we are not sure if we have enough staff / manpower for people to work on FFXI for Wii…

AR: Are currently in talks with Nintendo to come to an agreement?

HT: It’s not only limited to FFXI, but for online point of view yes we talking with Nintendo and seeking the possibilities of if we can work together. But Nintendo really, as mentioned before, they really want a friendly environment – not having a third person in the community. So it’s a bit difficult at the moment, but if they tend to amend the facilities – I think that’s what they’re trying to do with DS, but for Wii it might change in the future and we are discussing with them.

AR: With such a 3D engine, do you plan to use this engine for future DS games?

HT: Because Final Fantasy III was the first Square Enix game for Nintendo DS, we had to make it from scratch, this engine. So it is possible to use this same engine for other games and we do have some plans. But that doesn’t literally mean we will use the same one for every game – it all depends on what sort of game we want to make.

We never use the same engine for any game – we always use one engine for one title, which is not really efficient so we are *quiet laughter* reconsidering in the company to see if we can use the same engine for several titles. Especially because now we have the new generation of consoles which require really complicated engines…

AR: To save resources…*laughter all round* Considering you’ve had such a large-scale remake of Final Fantasy III, would you consider some of your older games, remaking those – such as maybe Secret of Mana or its Japanese-only sequel?

HT: The Mana series, I think it’s kind of going forward – not like making a remake of original games, but making new games – so it’s a different trend, like Children of Mana…

AR: And Heroes of Mana…

HT: Yes.

AR: It’s Final Fantasy’s 20th Anniversary this year and there’s been an announcement about Final Fantasy I and II coming on the PSP. But will there be anything for Nintendo systems considering Final Fantasy started on the Nintendo Entertainment System?

HT: We can’t go into details at the moment *laughter* But it’s the 20th Anniversary so we are considering different types of games on different platforms, so please look forward to a future announcement.

AR: That’s good news!

HT: *Laughter*

LS: Literally, when Final Fantasy III was released in Japan gamers went crazy over the themed DS Lite that was produced…bundled with it. Do you think if that was released here it would be just as successful?

HT: The bundle?

LS: Yeah, the special DS Lite.

HT: Nintendo kindly helped us make this limited edition. And it’s a really limited one so as you know it’s really difficult to get hold of even in Japan. So it really depends on how Nintendo works for having it in Europe.

LS: So the decision to create one was it a Square Enix thing or Nintendo?

HT: It was more like Nintendo’s proposition ‘How about making this Nintendo DS?’ It was Iwata-san’s idea. *Shows us the first edition of the limited edition DS Lite*

AR: Ah, the first one, wow.

LS: Ooh, oh – serious reverence *heavy laughter*

AR: *Chuckles*

AR: *Ahem* Recently Chrono Cross was mentioned in an interview with you and you stated there would not be a sequel to Chrono Cross because it would be too difficult to get the original team together again…? Does this rule out any possibility for the Chrono series in the future at all? Because Nintendo fans are always asking about a Chrono Trigger remake…

HT: There’s still a possibility, but since the main director is not working for Square Enix now – he’s working on other titles in a different company, Namco Bandai, it’s a bit difficult to ask him to come back and be the head of a team again. And also, Kato-san is working on the fourth game in the Mana series. So there’s still a possibility that he might think he might want to make it again…

AR: It seems to be…the Chrono series seems to have a huge following across the Internet. People are always asking about Chrono Trigger, maybe it will appear on the Virtual Console for the Wii…?

HT: It’s a 50-50 possibility – we’re not sure yet. It contains a really difficult problem of copyright issues, such as Akira Toriyama’s artwork. We’re discussing with Nintendo, but haven’t really come to any conclusion.

LS: Do you think that, again given the original Final Fantasy games were on the Famicom, that they could equally be released on the Wii on the Virtual Console?

HT: *Laughs* It’s also difficult…

LS: It seems like something that would be ideal for the Japanese audience, rather than us, but…

HT: Since it’s 20 years old the game, we are sort of looking for the data. *Laughter*

LS: Ah!

HT: Because in those days there were no networks, we had to keep them on floppy disks – five inch versions *more laughter* We’ll have to look for them.

AR: [ To Lesley ] You got anything else?

LS: No, I’m done.

AR: You created Chocobo, is that correct? The Chocobo character.

HT: Koichi Ishii…

AR: Oh, is it. I thought that you created the Chocobo for Final Fantasy…

HT: The original character design of the Chocobo is actually Koichi Ishii’s.

AR: Ah, I was just going to ask what was the inspiration behind the character…

HT: I’m not sure, but the design itself must have come from his own original idea, but the name ‘Chocobo’ – there’s a similar name of sweets in Japan…

LS: Ooh…

HT: Traditional sweets, Choco – chocolate and bo – balls, so it sounds like Chocobo *laughter all round*

LS: Inspired by chocolate sweets…that’s interesting!

AR: Thank you very much.

HT: Thank you!