This next series of posts is going to be something a little different for Game in Japanese, but I hope you enjoy it all the same. I’m going to be posting my translation of the Iwata Asks column featuring Akitoshi Kawazu. The initial conversation was posted across 6 pages so I’ll be posting them one part at a time as I complete them in the following weeks. Be sure to check out my Translations page if you’re looking for more reading material.
You can also find the original interview in Japanese here.
Iwata Asks – Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers
1. A Part-Time Job Listing to the Game Industry
Iwata: Today, we have Akitoshi Kawazu who just wrapped up work on Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers and joined us in Kyoto. Just yesterday, you brought the completed version to Kyoto and presented it, right? You must be tired so thank you so much for being here today.
Kawazu: Thank you for having me.
Iwata: We actually share a connection in that we both attended the Tokyo Institute of Technology at the same time.
Kawazu: Yup. And if I’m not mistaken, I was three years your junior. (laughs)
Iwata: We were in different fields of study when we were students so we never met back then, but when I learned about you and what you were doing in the industry and that we graduated from the same university, I felt that we had a mysterious connection. For our generation, it’s rare that schoolmates both end up making games for a living. We’ve met many times over the years, but this is actually the first time we’ve been able to have a 1 on 1 chat, right?
Kawazu: That’s right. (laughs)
Iwata: Alright, so before we jump into talking about the new game, I want to start by asking about what kinds of things got you to this point, if that’s okay.
Iwata: To start, what was it that got you involved in making games?
Kawazu: Thinking back to when I was kid, I would think up my own games and enjoy them with everyone. I think all elementary school students do that but…
Iwata: Yup, I did that as well. (laughs)
Kawazu: I’m not an exception, but I would, for example, take leaflets from the super market and make games by hand on the backside of them to play with everyone.
Iwata: Handmade board games, right?
Kawazu: Yup. I think those were probably the roots of me making games. And then after entering university, I was introduced to computers. It was a science and technology school so I had a lot of friends that liked computers. At that time, the Apple II had just launched.
Iwata: The Apple II was really expensive. I couldn’t afford one so my first computer was the PET2001. In those days, only people with money could buy the Apple II.
Kawazu: That’s right. In my case, I had a friend who had bought one and would say, ‘check it out,’ and let everyone get their hands on it. That was around the time my eyes were opened to computers. So you could say that friend was my teacher when it came to games. It wasn’t just with computer games though. He was also my teacher when it came to analog games. He loved board games and would even import them himself.
Iwata: He was importing games himself at that time?
Kawazu: Yeah, every two or three months he was having board games sent to him from the United States. There were so many that they extended further than your arms would stretch. There were tons of them in a giant cardboard box.
Iwata: Wow, that’s awesome. There weren’t many people doing things like that so long before the spread of the internet.
Kawazu: When a box would arrive, his friends and family would get together and open the box together. It was like, ’You read this rule. You read that rule.’ The rulebook was written in English and would get divided up and read, and it was like everyone playing together.
Iwata: So you were interested in making games since you were a kid, but in university was where you sharpened your understand of game rules and tactics.
Kawazu: That’s right. When reading the rules, I’d get a rough grasp of the sequence and then look at the board to quickly understand what kind of game it was because if you carefully read all of the details, the game can’t start. (laughs)
Iwata: Even if your goal is to play the game, If you’re reading a thick rulebook written in English, that alone would take up your whole day. (laughs)
Kawazu: So we didn’t worry much about the details and just tried playing. At that time, it was like studying the flow of games and the merits of the various parts. It definitely became the base for my current self. And on top of that, I finally started getting closer to the ‘dream machine’ I had been thinking about since I was a kid. The computer.
Iwata: I’m just a little bit older than you, but we’re from around the same generation and the idea of the computer being a dream machine was probably a common thought in our school days.
Kawazu: I think so too. In those days, computers were expensive and weren’t something many people could get their hands on. But even then, I thought if I could just touch a computer then whatever I wanted could become reality.
Iwata: When I think back to those times, I have a really strong memory of a certain computer ad. It was for the TK-80 circuit board microcomputer by NEC, but the copy for the ad said ‘Infinite possibilities.’ We didn’t have the word ‘personal computer’ at the time so it was called a microcomputer, but I thought, “Why are they saying ‘infinite possibilities’ about a computer with such little memory?” (laughs)
Iwata: But there were things like that ad and people who were interested in computers felt that there were ‘infinite possibilities.’
Kawazu: We sure did.
Iwata: We both had that similar feeling which probably led us down similar paths. So we have the same roots. (laughs)
Kawazu: We do. (laughs)
Iwata: So you were immersed in games as a student, but how did you get in making games with Square (currently Square-Enix)?
Kawazu: It’s an embarrassing story but… It started with a part-time job listing magazine. Occasionally, they would have job postings, but I didn’t know anything about a company called Square. However, right when they released 水晶のドラゴン [Suishou no Dragon], they had an ad with one of Gen Sato’s illustrations and it caught my eye.
Iwata: Game software and the company that made that weren’t related, right?
Kawazu: Right. On top of that, there wasn’t much recruiting for jobs making games at the time, so I decided to apply. I received a call and the first thing they said was, ‘The deadline was yesterday.’
Kawazu: And I was like, ‘Oooh… Oops.’ But we got to talking and they told me to come in for an interview.
Iwata: If the person on the phone would have said it’s past the deadline so don’t bother coming here…
Kawazu: I wonder how things would have turned out. (laughs)
So I went in for the interview and the first person I met was Final Fantasy series producer Tanaka-san. Next was an interview with Sakaguchi-san and they said, ‘For the time being, start here part-time,’ and that’s how I joined Square.
Iwata: Our connection really is mysterious. I also worked part-time at HAL Laboratory and working there was something that fell into my lap by chance. I met the person who had just founded HAL Laboratory, with a bunch of other students with similar hobbies, at the Ikebukuro Seibu store. We started talking and that’s where it started.
Kawazu: I think it was really just by chance. Meeting that friend who I called my teacher earlier gave me computer and game knowledge and then coming across Square in that magazine was just coincidence.
Iwata: And if you didn’t’ come across those coincidences, you might have taken up different interests and walked a completely different life.
Iwata: And that’s not even considering if Square said it’s past the deadline so don’t come in. (laughs)
Kawazu: If that would have happened, you probably wouldn’t have asked to chat with me either. (laughs)
Iwata: Mysterious, isn’t it.
Kawazu: It is.
And that’s the first 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 to get started. And be sure to stay tuned for part 2!