INTERVIEW: Tetsuya Nomura

INTERVIEW: Tetsuya Nomura

As the old order of Final Fantasy moves on, from Hironobu Sakaguchi to Yasumi Matsuno, the new order settles in…

Although Tetsuya Nomura began at Squaresoft in 1990 as ‘monster designer’ on Final Fantasy V, his big break came when he was promoted to character designer for Final Fantasy VII, the PlayStation 1 game that became by some distance the most popular entry in the series, thanks in no small part to the iconic cast that is still inspiring prequels and sequels today.

At the recent Square Enix Party 2007 his work permeated every corner, from the figures on sale to the trailer theatre, and the vast majority of upcoming Square Enix products feature his input in some way. His roles within the company have ranged from creating and directing the Kingdom Hearts franchise, to directing the CGI film Advent Children. With his appointment as character designer for the entire FFXIII: Fabula Nova Crystallis project, as well as director of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, no one within Square Enix is more important to its future success. We spoke to Nomura about everything final, fantastical, and just plain antithetical.

The word ‘versus’ suggests it will be a counterpoint to Final Fantasy XIII rather than a companion piece – is the intention in a way to create a play of light and dark, to contrast with XIII rather than complement it?

Tetsuya Nomura: In Versus XIII we want to elaborate more on the world and the human side of the characters, their way of thinking and how and why they behave like they do. This might take the game conception to a darker level than the other games in the FF series. Because of this, it has to be more realistic, but Versus is not an antithesis – I don’t want to simply go in the opposite direction to XIII. That’s absolutely not something I’m willing to do.

How Versus XIII’s concept works is difficult to explain, because it’s really more about the series as a whole than just FFXIII. There are no explicit rules for how a Final Fantasy game should be – and so every version is that design team’s interpretation of certain themes, and their answer to that question of what FF should be. FFXIII belongs to that mainstream tradition. I want to propose another view of how FF could be, or should be: there is a long tradition, and my intention is that Versus will be distinct from that.

How do you consider that Versus XIII can offer this counterpoint to the Final Fantasy series?

The stories from the past entries in the Final Fantasy series are not exactly as I would have done, but that’s as it should be because I didn’t direct them. My only concern in terms of Versus XIII is that FF always talks about human emotion and psychologies in a broad way, and I want to go deeper in terms of offering some crude reality in terms of human emotion or human behaviour. The goal, when a player holds a controller and plays an RPG, is to make them believe in another world – to experience a dream in a fictional world. It will be different in Versus XIII because of the intrusion of the real world, and things that are really happening. There will be less fiction and more reality.

Do you mean real-world events?

Absolutely.

So Versus XIII shares little with the other games in Fabula Nova Crystallis?

The only common element to all three games is an underlying mythology that inspires each game’s story. There are no particular shared aspects of the stories, characters or locations, but there is a battle of the gods that lies behind each tale and gives it inspiration in a different way.

Do you think the power of the new generation of consoles means that there is a responsibility on game developers to deliver a new kind of gaming experience, rather than just better graphics, and is this part of your thinking with Versus XIII?

Is there a new direction for game conception in general? If there is, then like you say it’s less about breathtaking graphics and perhaps more of a level design problem – one of the directions that interests me is how to manage and create, using the PS3, a seamless environment. In the past, field space has always been limited technically – in Versus XIII we want to see a seamless environment, and that in itself will create new situations and game elements. For example, someone could be shooting at you from a very great distance, or a battle could be happening both outside and inside a building in a very seamless manner. That’s part of what we want to do using new technology.

All the games you have been director of have tended to move away from a traditional RPG interface towards more dynamic interactions, particularly in battles. Will this be something that is carried over to the new game?

It’s true that we don’t want to create a classic RPG with a game system driven by command menus. Our intention with Versus XIII is to create a more action-oriented system with more intuitive controls, but this doesn’t mean the entire game will be action. The only firm instruction I’ve given the team is to look at the best examples of the third-person shooter genre – not in simplistic terms, like controls or mechanics, but in the way they create tension and mood and incorporate the action within that.

Those previous projects as director were the Kingdom Hearts games, which are much lighter than what we know of Versus XIII. Is the darker concept you have outlined a necessary change for you as director?

The world of Versus XIII might be a little closer to my personal taste than Kingdom Hearts, but the entire project owes something to Kingdom Hearts as well. When I first began KH I was part of the FF core team, and tried to bring elements of that into the development. The KH team was always inspired by FF, and I’d like to see that reversed. But as for the differences between KH and FF, KH is a lighter world of magic, fantasy, and people doing good things. I’ve been in that world for a very long time – perhaps too long.

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