It’s not every day that we have the chance to talk to a living legend! I had the great pleasure of being able to chat with Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, among others! Sagakuchi-san has of course told us about his brand new game in development, Fantasian, which has been eagerly awaited on Apple Arcade since the first trailer until the launch of the platform.
Images courtesy of Mistwalker Studio
Back to basics
For Hironobu Sakaguchi, Fantasian is an opportunity to rediscover the essence of Japanese role-playing games (JRPG):
Sakaguchi : About 3 years ago, I had the opportunity to replay Final Fantasy VI with a few of my old colleagues who I developed the game with at the time, and it reminded me of how I love this genre and want to make games like that.
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Fantasian contains everything you would expect from a JRPG such as entering villages, talking to NPCs, gathering information, and going to dungeons. There are random battles with a turn-based system, but in the spirit of innovation that we’ve kept since the days of Final Fantasy, we wanted to bring something new to the genre. First there are dioramas, then innovations in combat mechanics.
I tried to create a unique world in Fantasian, in particular by putting forward a multiverse, where there is the universe of humans, the universe of machines and several others that are linked to each other.
What is first striking and intriguing about Fantasian is undoubtedly the fact that the action takes place in handcrafted environments, which have been filmed, and then integrated into 3D characters. and the player interface.
Sakaguchi : Everything in the environment are hand-made objects. It took over 150 artists and artisans to create 150 dioramas. And not just the exteriors. If you are in a village and walk into a house, everything inside is also handmade.
We chose to make dioramas for several reasons, first, of course, for the unique visual style that it gives to the game, and just simply to try to push back the barriers of what is possible in visual expression. It is also because the game will be played mainly on a touch screen, iPhone or iPad, and for me there was an almost poetic synergy between the fact that these are dioramas created by hand and that we can touch them with our hands across the screen. So, it’s like you can really touch those dioramas when you’re exploring with the characters.
Fights and Dimengeon
Are you tired of JRPGs where your exploration is constantly interrupted every five paces by random combat? Fantasian offers an interesting solution to this, in addition to some mechanics that should energize the traditional turn-based combat.
Sakaguchi : The first thing you will notice is how well you can aim. Depending on the skill or the character, some spells are cast in a straight line, but others can have a curved aim and allow you to hit multiple enemies more effectively.
The second is the dimengeon, which allows you to keep enemies that you encounter randomly on the ground in another dimension, then to be able to fight them all at the same time at the time that the player wishes. It’s very satisfying to be able to purge all enemies at the same time. Boss fights, however, require more strategy.
The return of another legend
Fantasian also marks the return of Nobuo Uematsu, famous composer of the Final Fantasy series. Fantasian will be his last project of such magnitude.
Sakaguchi :The other important aspect is of course the music by Nobuo Uematsu with whom I have worked on various projects for 35 years. He wrote the 60 compositions you hear in the game.
When we approached Nobu Uematsu to compose the music, he had health problems and it was not certain that it was possible for him to compose everything. I showed him the dioramas and that’s when it really clicked for him. He embarked and composed 60 songs and it was really a great moment during the development of the game, considering his health issues.
The advantage of Apple Arcade
Fantasian, for the moment at least, is coming exclusively to Apple Arcade, a Game Pass-like platform that works by subscription.
Sakaguchi : When developing for Apple Arcade, we had to develop for different screens and platforms. We rendered the game in 4K, it’s like developing for a new generation console, but with Apple Arcade we have to make sure that the experience is the same regardless of the platform used. iPhones and iPads and all… it took a lot of tweaking to get the resolution right on every screen.
The advantage of Apple Arcade is first and foremost immediate access to a market made up of more than 150 countries and territories. The potential “install base” is enormous.
Also, Apple has a special place in my heart; when I started my career 35 years ago I was playing Wizardry on an Apple II computer and I was also using an app that was a predecessor to Excel. It was a great culture shock for me at the time which was possible on Apple II! And now I have the opportunity to work with Apple and come full circle with a new game, it’s a big time for me.
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What part of Fantasian’s development did you enjoy the most?
Sakaguchi : This is when the different parts of the game start to fit together and take shape. This was especially the case with dioramas because they are physical objects that we can take in our hands, that we can touch, look at from all angles. Of course, also when I started hearing Nobuo Uematsu’s compositions through my headphones. There is a really unique feeling when the different parts of the game take shape and you feel you are progressing.
What makes JRPGs still so popular today?
Sakaguchi : It’s really the story and the characters. The characters who each have a certain role, their relationships and the different perspectives they bring. The player is invested in the story and he too grows at the same time as the characters, and in the end the feeling of accomplishment which is unique. It’s being part of an adventure and growing up with the characters.
What’s the favorite game you’ve worked on?
Sakaguchi : I don’t know if these are my favorites, but the ones that stood out for me were when there was a big change or innovation. So of course the first Final Fantasy will always be a highlight and then Final Fantasy VII because it was the first to use 3D polygons. It was quite a challenge with its particular set of challenges, but I think we accomplished something. Then also Final Fantasy XI, because we were bringing the game online for the first time, that was a big moment in my career.
I hope you are in health and well.
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