Welcome to part III of Iwata Asks featuring Akitoshi Kawazu from Square Enix. If you’re just finding this, you can start with part I here. We also have a translations page for more translation goodness! Now on with the show.
Iwata Asks – Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers
3. Developing the Game Boy’s First RPG
Iwata: You were separated from the Final Fantasy series for a bit and developed Makai Toushi SaGa (The Final Fantasy Legend in North America). What were the circumstances that led to that?
Kawazu: Masafumi Miyamoto, the president of Square at the time, heard from Nintendo that a new handheld game console was launching.
Iwata: The Game Boy, right?
Kawazu: Yeah. So I was told to make something for the Game Boy and that’s how it started.
Iwata: At that point, were you thinking that if you’re going to make a game for a handheld system, then you would want to start a new series from scratch?
Kawazu: I was. Until the Game Boy, there hadn’t been a handheld game console where games could be switched out and played, right? The similar things at the time were like the Game & Watch series.
Iwata: That’s true.
But if I’m being honest, when I first heard about SaGa, I wondered if people would even want to play RPGs on the Game Boy. Of course, playing RPGs on a handheld is common practice nowadays, but…
Kawazu: Even for developers, when compared to the Famicom, there were lots of limitations. The screen size was small and in black and white. Plus, the environment it was played in was totally different.
Iwata: Because you could play anywhere, it was a different feeling for the player than when playing in the house on a television.
Kawazu: So for that reason, we took a completely different approach than if we were making a Final Fantasy game. From there, we worked on the game while having really thorough discussions about where the game would be played. For example, you power on the Game Boy while riding the train and have to immediately quit when you get to your stop. We thought it was important to have things to solve in a short period of time.
Iwata: Yeah, the Game Boy didn’t have a sleep mode like the DS does when its closed.
Kawazu: On top of that, it wouldn’t be very interesting if you arrived at your stop without having a battle. For that reason, we increased frequency that battles occur. Along the same lines, having stuff constantly happening and things like battles that ended quickly… Basically, while making the game, we kept in mind that it was different than taking your time playing in front of a television.
Iwata: You’ve always liked taking on new challenges, haven’t you?
Kawazu: No, I think it was just a coincidence. I just happened to be free at the time so…
Iwata: I don’t think it was just a matter of you not having your hands full at the time. How should I put it…? You don’t dislike using new tools to think up new things.
Kawazu: Yeah… It actually is fun (laughs). Especially thinking of new ways to play. I think it’s especially important to think about what situation the player will be in while playing the game. It has a big impact on the contents of the game.
Iwata: It does, doesn’t it… But our time is limited so I want to jump into asking about Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles.
Iwata: What initially started development for ‘FFCC’ was Fund Q which was established by former Nintendo president Yamauchi, right?
Kawazu: That’s right.
Iwata: I had heard that it started from a conversation between you two where Yamauchi asked if you could make a new way to play using Gamecube and Game Boy Advance connectivity, but…
Kawazu: Nope, Yamauchi didn’t say to use the connectivity or anything like that. He said, “Can you make a Final Fantasy that’s unlike anything in the series so far with the Gamecube?”
Iwata: Ah, I see. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Kawazu: It is. I was wondering what to do, but nothing clicked. From there, it would take special circumstances, but I wondered if we could make a new type of action based RPG by connecting the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance, and we proceeded with development.
Iwata: At first, what did you imagine that connection would look like?
Kawazu: At the time, I was thinking of something like using the Game Boy Advance for tactical stuff and having the results appear on the television. Something with a lot of strategy involved.
Iwata: That was something you could do because other players wouldn’t be able to see what you were doing, right?
Kawazu: That’s right. Everyone thought about and aimed for that at first, but when we actually tried it, we learned that you can’t really play a game while looking back and forth between screens.
Iwata: When we started developing the DS, we had discussions about that as well, but it’s because a person can’t look at two screens at the same time, right. If you’re working out your strategy on the Game Boy and there are pictures moving on the television screen, you don’t know which one to look at.
Kawazu: That’s right. At that point, I was really worried. But at the time, the game’s graphics and design had come together really well so we decided to focus the main gameplay on the television. In the end, it was totally different than what I was thinking of at the start.
Iwata: When you actually tried making it, how did you feel the player’s reactions would be? The Final Fantasy series has always been about single-player games where you develop characters so it seems like some fans would be apprehensive about adding multiplayer.
Kawazu: Of course there was uncertainty about that, but in the studio we were having fun being noisy and playing together and we wanted to bring that experience to the players. After the game went on sale, it received an award at the Media Arts Festival. At the award ceremony, I heard that one of the judges, Shinya Nakajima, had enjoyed playing the game with his family.
Iwata: Shinya Nakajima, the commercial director.
Kawazu: Yes. He said something like, “It’s fun to play together with everyone. My son would take the lead as we played.” (laughs) And, “There are games like this that you can enjoy with your family,” which I was really happy to hear. I think we were able to get our intentions across to the player.
Iwata: And that’s how Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was born. You like thinking up new things after all, don’t you? (laughs)
Kawazu: It seems like I do. (laughs)
And that’s the third 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 Japanese Practice Through Games – a Beginner’s Guide to get started. Be sure to stay tuned for part 4!