Famed Japanese developer talks candidly on the original mega-hitís creation
In an interview in the latest issue of Famitsu celebrating twenty years of Final Fantasy, translated by Develop, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has spoken candidly about the development conditions that surrounded the birth of the series’ first outing.
Final Fantasy hit after Dragon Quest had proved that role-playing games were a viable genre on the NES. “There were four games that were following on from Dragon Quest,” reminisced Sakaguchi. “Final Fantasy was one of those challengers.”
Yet despite the groundwork that Dragon Quest had laid before, getting the word out about the game was difficult. “I took an in-development ROM to the editor of ‘Family Computer Magazine’, but was turned away. They told me they didn’t deal with games like that. Only Famitsu dealt with Final Fantasy in any grand way, for which I’m still very thankful.”
However, development of the game didn’t go smoothly, even within Square. The development team was comprised of seven people – not a small number given the era – but Sakaguchi could tell that things weren’t quite right.
“Hiromichi Tanaka [producer of Final Fantasy XI as well as various other Square titles] was heading the other team in Square, and they had about 20 people. That’s how I knew we really weren’t popular.
“I probably hit the staff with that pretty harshly. But Kouichi Ishii [who worked on planning Final Fantasy, before going to create the Mana series] and Takamura [who worked with Sakaguchi on publicity] took it the other way – me saying ‘It’s impossible with this team’ actually spurred them on.”
The atmosphere left Sakaguchi doubting the potential of the game, thinking that the game wouldn’t sell thanks the shortage of staff and other factors. The series name, Final Fantasy, is often attributed to Square’s dependence on the product as its last throw of the dice – but the truth, says Sakaguchi, was that it was his personal last effort.
“The name ‘Final Fantasy’ was a display of my feeling that if this didn’t sell, I was going to quit the games industry and go back to university. I’d have had to repeat a year, so I wouldn’t have had any friends – it really was a ‘final’ situation.”
Evidently, at some point Sakaguchi gained confidence in his product, because the final challenge he faced wasn’t even in the development period – and it was only through his persistence that Final Fantasy was able to become the 400,000-selling hit that it was.
“Initially, only 200,000 copies of the game were going to be shipped. At that time, manufacturing the ROM took two to three months, so your initial shipment equalled the number of copies that you could potentially sell.
“So I argued within the company, and pleaded: ‘If we only make this many, there’s no chance of a sequel – please make it 400,000’. But the costs were high, so as a company all they could think was ‘that’s a lot of money!’ despite having this great game. So the reason it became such a hit was thanks to Square’s management taking a chance – for which I’m really grateful.”
Finally, when asked what Final Fantasy means to him, Sakaguchi – who left Square during the development of Final Fantasy XI – said: “Way back then, the spirit was that we weren’t making a product but a creation. It was putting our soul into the production – pouring all of your ideas into the game, even if they crop up during development; not saving anything for the sequel.
“So when you finish, you’re empty – you’ve got no idea what to do next. But by pushing yourself forward, new things come to light. I think it’s good if that spirit is continued forward with Final Fantasy from here on.”