Electronic Gaming Monthly recently sat down with Yoshinori Kitase and interviewed him about Square Enix's upcoming Final Fantasy VII spin-offs, collectively known as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Here is the transcript of the interview, which appears in the October issue that came out today.
OPM: Where did the idea to do the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII come from?
Kitase: The idea began with AC [Advent Children], which has become the "sequel" of the original story of VII. But one title was not enough to cover the entire world of VII, so around the same time that AC started as a project, the team came up with the ideas of BC [Before Crisis] and DC [Dirge of Cerberus] in order to support the world.
OPM: The Compilation is a very large undertaking, with four projects in development at the same time. We noticed that the CG movies in Dirge of Cerberus use the same models as the Advent Children movie. Have you been able to share many resources between the projects?
Kitase: Originally, the team expected that there were a lot of things that could be shared between the titles. But actually, it ended up being difficult to share anything. A good example is the design of Vincent in AC and DC. If you look at his hair in AC, it's very smooth and beautiful, but in DC it's very pointy and animated. [Tetsuya] Nomura did the character design, and he wanted to use a different style for each different title. So everything ended up being customized for each different title.
OPM: Which came first, the idea to make a Final Fantasy VII action game, or the idea to use Vincent as a character?
Kitase: First, the team had the idea to make an action game. And second, that was the time when we were starting to think about the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. In the world of VII, Vincent used a gun--it was his signature weapon. So that's why it ended up becoming Vincent's story.
OPM: A few years ago, there was a rumor that there was going to be a Final Fantasy VII action game, but everyone thought that Cloud was going to be the main character. Vincent is a somewhat unusual choice--he's a secret character, and his backstory is hidden deep within the game. Why not Cloud, Yuffie, or some other "action" character?
Kitase: Of course, AC was already in the middle of being made, and in AC, people can deeply experience Tifa and Cloud's story. AC completes Cloud's story. Also, Cloud doesn't use a gun at all, and the idea was to make a gun game, and that's when Vincent came along. Even though Vincent was a hidden character in the original VII, he was very deeply involved with Shinra, Hojo, and Sephiroth. So in a way, he had a lot of drama associated with these other characters.
OPM: It's interesting that the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII has four projects, but none of them are traditional RPGs. Was this a conscious decision? Or did it just end up that way?
Kitase: An RPG takes so much time and so many people to create that if the team decided to make one, it would have stood out. It would have needed a lot of preparation and taken a lot of physical and emotional attachment. Instead, the idea was to make original games in the world of VII. There were never any plans to make a traditional, hardcore RPG.
OPM: The first "sequel" to be set in a Final Fantasy world was Final Fantasy X-2. A major reason Square made that game was because it was cheap--they could reuse the art, the characters, and the world of Final Fantasy X. Even though the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII uses the same world, the team has had to remake everything from scratch. So why focus on Final Fantasy VII at the expense of new projects?
Kitase: Final Fantasy VII came out when the PlayStation console was introduced and 3D visuals became possible; it was the first title in the franchise to basically create this whole new style. VII was a milestone for the franchise and the beginning of a new direction. Until Final Fantasy XII, the style of the series came from VII. That was one reason.
The second reason is that VII is a popular and world-renowned RPG, and there are lots of fans all over the world that have a strong emotional attachment to it. The team had to do a great amount of preparation so as not to disappoint the fans. When we created X-2, we learned how we could make a sequel by reusing resources, but we thought that for VII, we had to have a different type of approach--serious projects that would satisfy the fans.
The original staff members of VII, such as Naora, the art director, Uematsu, the composer, Nojima, the scenario writer, and Nomura, the character designer--they were all working on different projects when this Compilation plan came up. But they were able to gather again to work together once more on the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. It would be kind of nonsensical to have a whole new team create a sequel for VII, but we thought it would be possible now that the original members were gathering together to create it. The titles would be good enough not to embarrass the team, the company, or the fans.
OPM: Some American fans were...offended by the very silly tone of Final Fantasy X-2. Did the team ever think about making a silly Final Fantasy VII game?
Kitase: The team definitely didn't consider any silly concepts. But actually, it might have made for a funny story if we had used Cait Sith as a main character.
Before X-2, Final Fantasy was already established as a franchise that fans expected to be very serious. Because of that pressure, the team always had to protect themselves; they couldn't be as creative as they might like, and they didn't have the freedom to come up with something different.
If you look back, the original Final Fantasy games were very funny and silly, but eventually the Final Fantasy franchise became nothing but seriousness. X-2 made the team remember that there's lots of possibility contained within "Final Fantasy." Because of X-2, we had the freedom to choose what we wanted to do for the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. If there were no X-2, we could only ever think of making a pure, perfect RPG.
OPM: Before, you said that making Final Fantasy X was very difficult, but making X-2 was very fun. What sort of feeling do you have making Dirge of Cerberus?
Kitase: It's still on the PS2, so technologically it's been very smooth, but it's the first time the team has made a gun action game. We already know from experience how to make a good RPG, so we know what kind of reaction to expect from the fans. But with a gun action game, we've had to start all the way from just making it simple to control. Because it's our first game in this genre, we're always going back-and-forth, back-and-forth on every decision.
OPM: Reeve (who controls Cait Sith) appears in Dirge of Cerberus. What's the story behind his uniform?
Kitase: Those are just his clothes.
OPM: Oh. Well, Reeve is heading up the WRO (the World Recovery Organization). Can you tell about the group?
Kitase: It's a volunteer organization trying to restore the world after Meteo messed it up in the original VII. Originally, their purpose was to go to different destroyed towns and help the towns recover. But in the story of DC, enemies show up, so the members of WRO form a volunteer army to fight against them.
OPM: And the big blue guy, Azul? He seems to be the main villain...
Kitase: He's not the absolute strongest enemy or boss in the game. There's a group of enemies, the Deep Ground soldiers, and Azul is one of the strongest elite soldiers within the group. Originally, Deep Ground was just a group of soldiers that were all at the same level. Eventually, fighting within the group led to some soldiers becoming stronger, more elite, while others became inferior. In the online mode, these soldiers fight against each other.
OPM: How do you earn medals in the online ranking mode?
Kitase: There are lots of conditions. For example, a player who was the MVP of a battle might get a medal. And someone who performed really poorly in a battle might get a bad medal.
OPM: Do the medals affect your character's ability? Or are they just for show?
Kitase: They don't give bonus points or anything like that.
OPM: In an online game, it's important to maintain a level field. But in Dirge of Cerberus' online mode, you can earn weapons and armor that improve your character. How will a new character be able to fight against a character with strong equipment?
Kitase: Players can set conditions for battles, such as restricting the use of strong weapons, or restricting a match to only powerful players. But there's no way to control if one player has a strong weapon and they fight against somebody weaker.
OPM: What kind of online gameplay modes will be available?
Kitase: There are three modes. Team vs. team, free-for-all deathmatch, and mission mode, where a team fights against a boss.
OPM: Has the team size been decided yet?
Kitase: We have to wait for the results of the beta test, but it's going to be about 20 to 30 players on both teams together.
OPM: Your name has become synonymous with the modern Final Fantasy series, but if you could make your dream game--something outside of the Final Fantasy series--what kind of game would you make?
Kitase: Storywise, I can't really say anything yet. But gameplaywise, I'm a big fan of the gun shooting game I'm working on right now. I really enjoy playing FPSes like Half-Life 2. If it's a non-Final Fantasy title, I'd be glad to try a gun shooting or FPS type of game.
OPM: Hironobu Sakaguchi, who started the Final Fantasy series, recently left Square to start a new company, MistWalker. His company is making two RPGs for the Xbox 360. How do you feel about competing on next-generation consoles against the father of Final Fantasy?
Kitase: I sometimes go out to eat with Sakaguchi, so we have a good relationship. His message for me is something like, "Let's improve each other's quality. Let's grow up together and complete each other's work."
Before Square Enix was Square Enix, when it was still Squaresoft, there were multiple key titles like Mana, Saga, and Final Fantasy within the company, so the teams were sort of competing with each other to make better games than the rest. So a culture like that already existed.
That culture's kind of been extended, after Sakaguchi left. Our intention is still to make good games that impress each other. If you look at the market in Japan, it's somewhat saturated, so it's good to have a rival that stimulates you to do your best. That's our relationship.