Next Generation interviews Hironobu Sakaguchi

[01.07.99] » Sakaguchi discusses his greatest hits -- Rad Racer and 3-D Worldrunner -- his popular PC titles, and the obscure cult-hit "Final Fantasy" series.

   Hironobu Sakaguchi was recently interviewed by Next Generation in issue #50 (the one with Squall Leonheart on a gold cover). The interview begins with Sakaguchi discussing his early years at Square. The name Final Fantasy was chosen because, "basically, I wasn't very pleased with the way my first games came out before I worked on Final Fantasy, so I decided 'OK, this is going to be my last shot.' So the game was going to be my final fantasy."

   He describes the 3 pre-NES PC games he designed, Death Trap, Death Trap 2 and Blasty. His first NES games were Highway Star (known as Rad Racer in the US), King's Knight (a mediocre shooter), and 3-D Worldrunner (similar to Space Harrier on the Master System, although he claims it wasn't a rip-off). 3-D Worldrunner and Highway Star were created to show off the programming prowess of Nasir Gebelli).

    When he decided to make FF1, his boss had never heard of an RPG. He simply asked, "Will it be fun?" Sakaguchi said, "Yes," and he got the green light. The game was designed backwards -- he looked at the memory capacity of the Famicom, created a world and locations to match, then added a story. The story of FF was drawn from the classical concept of the four elements of the world. He says he was largely inspired by James Cameron's work in "The Terminator" (!) - rather than lots of flashy cut scenes, he uses carefully timed camera actions enhanced by music. The process of creation has since changed; Sakaguchi now can create the story and characters first, and then flesh it all out with the world and locations and battle engine.

    Square sold 3 million copies of FF VI in Japan and expected similar sales in the US -- which they didn't get. They were later happy to sell one million + copies of FF VII in the U.S., and he attributes much of the game's Western success to the improved visuals and lack of SD (super-deformed) character sprites.

   FF VII cost $25 million to develop and FF VIII will cost considerably less, though he doesn't have an exact figure. Probably the expenses of FF VI factored in the capital outlay for all the SGI machines.

    Sakaguchi is enjoying his work on the FF movie at Square USA, although he is remarkably evasive about its details. He says it's different than creating a game and requires more resource management and coordination. He suggests the movie will deal more with a "realistic" world, rather than one of magic and fantasy.

    Finally, he said he was looking forward to Zelda 64, and that he expects games of the future to diversify. While some will try to be cinematic experiences, others will focus on action, gameplay, or "even text-oriented games." Yep, you heard it here first -- Infocom will return! Anyways, he thinks nice graphics will become more commonplace as technology increases, but that not all developers will want to focus on graphics.

    The interview with Nasir was interesting as well. He mentioned his involvement with SoM, FF1 & 2, and said that of all the producers he's worked for Sakaguchi best understood his needs as a creator. He is not currently a game developer.

    The GIA would like to thank Jeremy Parish for his help in summarizing this interview.

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