Welcome to part II of Iwata Asks featuring Akitoshi Kawazu from Square Enix. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out part 1 here and my translations page for more translation goodness! Now on with the show.
Iwata Asks – Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers
2. They were calling it ‘ファイファン(FaiFan)’
Iwata: When you started working at Square, what was the first project you were involved with?
Kawazu: At first, I was told to help with a Famicom game called Highway Star. After helping out there a little bit, Sakaguchi-san said, ‘We’re making an RPG so come on.’
Iwata: When you were invited to work on it, did you have any interest in RPGs?
Kawazu: I did. I had of course played games like Wizardry and Ultima so I was interested.
Iwata: So on top of understanding the fun of RPGs, you got to be involved with the Final Fantasy project from its legendary beginning.
Kawazu: That was also just a coincidence but…
Iwata: What was the development environment like at the time? It was probably made by a fairly small number of people in a short period of time, right?
Kawazu: Yeah, overall, there weren’t even 10 people. At the time, Square’s office was in Ginza and it would be full when 10 people were in there. There was a divider in the middle of the room and the programmers and designers were on the far end with people like myself, Ishii-kun, and Sakuguchi-san just in front of them doing our planning.
Iwata: Ishii-san is the Koichi Ishii that would go on to make the Mana series, correct?
Kawazu: That’s right. At the start, we thought about things like the plan for the first part and the battle system together. In the beginning, after defeating the Four Fiends, you would go to the Chaos Temple and destroy the source or evil. While talking with Ishii-kun, he said, ‘After defeating the Four Fiends, let’s have them go back in time and fight a boss,’ so we went in that direction. That was decided in like a day.
Iwata: All of that was decided in just a day? (laughs)
Kawazu: It was decided in a day. (laughs) It’s because we were working with so much enthusiasm. For that reason, I think Ishii-kun being there was really important. The design for having the battles at a side-view also came from conversations with Ishii-kun. That was also decided relatively early on.
Iwata: The view for battles where the heroes and enemies would face to the side, correct?
Kawazu: That’s right. From the start, his appearance didn’t match the dream-like stuff he was saying.
Iwata: Okay (laughing)
Kawazu: We’re already on the topic so I’m going to say a little something about it (laughing). At the time, he wore this fluorescent blue jacket and had gold chains around his wrist that he would make jingle as he came to the office.
Iwata: To a Ginza office? (laughs)
Kawazu: Yes (laughing). His appearance was a little scary, but the pictures he drew were so cute (laughs). He’s also the person that designed the chocobo.
Iwata: That contrast must have surprised everyone. (laughs)
Kawazu: There was a huge contrast. (laughs)
Iwata: At that time, what direction where you trying to head in while making ‘FF’?
Kawazu: This was after Dragon Quest had become a successful RPG so…
Iwata: With the release of Dragon Quest, the RPG suddenly became popular in Japan.
Kawazu: Yeah. So we analyzed various aspects of Dragon Quest. Dragon Quest had taken the American RPGs that had come before it and made them gel with Japan and more approachable for a regular person. We tried to be more cutting edge with ‘FF’.
Iwata: So you had Dragon Quest in mind when you started making ‘FF’.
Kawazu: Yes, but in some regards, we may have been thinking too much about Dragon Quest. For example, things like Dragon Quest has brown mountains so we’re to make Final Fantasy’s mountains green. (laughs)
Iwata: There was pressure to be visually distinct, right?
Kawazu: But we went too far and the company president at the time, Masafumi Miyamoto, got mad and said, ‘This bland of a screen is no good!’ From there, we made the base green and changed the mountains to white. This was Ishii-kun’s idea, and he thought if we did that, then we could have a distinct look from Dragon Quest.
Iwata: So you did that and differentiated yourselves.
Translator note for the following section: ‘FaiFan’ is short for Final Fantasy. ‘FF’ is also short for Final Fantasy but has the pronunciation ‘EfuEfu’ in Japanese. It might get a little confusing if you aren’t familiar with Japanese syllabaries.
Iwata: How did the title ‘Final Fantasy’ come about in the first place?
Kawazu: At some point Sakaguchi-san said, ‘It’s been decided that the title is Final Fantasy.’ It was decided on with that kind of enthusiasm.
Iwata: One day it was just suddenly chosen?
Kawazu: That’s right.
Iwata: Final Fantasy is a big name in the game industry these days, but when you first heard it, what did you think?
Kawazu: I said, ‘Whaaaat!?’ (laughs)
Iwata: When I first heard the title I thought, ‘if you use the word final then can you make another one?’ It wasn’t my business, but I was a little worried. (laughs)
Kawazu: (laughing) But originally, we had a policy in place when giving the title. When abbreviated, it should be two characters from the alphabet stacked together. Like how another game at that time, Deep Dungeon, abbreviated to ‘DD’. We thought having initials that stacked like that sounded good.
Iwata: Ah, I see. You already had the abbreviation in mind before making the title.
Kawazu: That’s right. One way or another we wanted ‘Fantasy’ to be in the title, so the other word had to start with ‘F’ which narrowed down our options. From there, the word ‘Final’ was selected.
Iwata: I see.
Kawazu: And we wanted everyone to call it ‘FF’ (pronounced Efuefu), but elementary school students were calling it ‘FaiFan’.
Iwata: FaiFan (laughing)
Kawazu: Even one of my relative’s kids called it that so I scolded him and told him to call it ‘FF’ (laughs). Then he said, ‘But even ‘DoraKue’ (Dragon Quest) is abbreviated with katakana.’
Iwata: But an abbreviation doesn’t really feel good to say if it isn’t four characters (syllables), right?
Kawazu: Right. So it’s ‘EfuEfu’.
Iwata: So you did that and were involved with Final Fantasy through the second title. To you, what is Final Fantasy? I know it’s hard to summarize that but…
Kawazu: This is something I’ve also talked about with Sakaguchi-san. For Final Fantasy, even if it’s online, the story has to develop. That’s the common trait among them. In other words, no matter what form the game takes, I think Final Fantasy is playing and feeling the drama.
Iwata: Playing and feeling the drama. That’s also true for Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, isn’t it.
Kawazu: Of course.
And that’s the second page of the discussion. If you’re wanting to study Japanese yourself, you’re in the right place. Maybe try the Zero Experience Beginner’s Guide or the ‘Let Me Introduce You to‘ series for some Japanese reading practice. And be sure to stay tuned for part 3!