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PSLS Presents – Takashi Tokita, Lead Designer for Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection

March 8, 2011Written by Cameron Teague

At the Game Developers Conference this past week, PlayStation LifeStyle had the honor of interviewing one of the biggest legends in the RPG genre and really gaming in general when we sat down to have a chat with Takashi Tokita. If the name does not ring a bell, Takashi was the lead designer of Final Fantasy IV, which released over 20 years ago in Japan. He is now bringing back this epic game along with The After Years and an Interlude story between the two, giving players a story spanning 3 games and featuring plenty of content.

Enough of my blubbering, check out the full interview below with Takashi Tokita through a translator.

PlayStation LifeStyle: What made you want to make a new compilation release after the initial release of Final Fantasy IV on the Nintendo DS?

Takashi Tokita: When we were working on the DS version of Final Fantasy IV, the mobile team approached us about how we could work together and the idea that came up was about how great it would be to release a continuation of the story that could be released right after the DS version came out. The best way to do that was on a mobile platform because on the DS it would take another year.

Was there always a vision when creating the original title to expand upon the universe?

No I never every thought of it. It was 20 years ago and we never imagined or dreamed that they would continue the story or that they would create a game for a mobile phone.

Did you ever think there would be such a legacy behind the game you were creating?

After we created Final Fantasy 1, 2, and 3 in Japan the number one title at the time was Dragon Quest so we really wanted to approach that and surpass it and that was the goal with FFIV. In the U.S. we of course released this as FF2 and regardless of all that we never imagined it would have such a global impact.

How do you think the game has held up after 20 years and would it hold up to today’s standards if it were released as a brand new title?

Back when we were creating FFIV we were adding and bringing in a lot of new elements for the first time; whether it was the animation or using the same type of music you might use in a movie soundtrack. There were all these things we created that become the foundation or standard for RPGs and right now for the current high-end console games the concept is a lot more important and so right now in this industry it would be difficult to create a game like FF4 with that same volume of content this game had.

The RPG genre has always been popular in Japan, did you ever believe it would be so successful in the United States mostly due to Final Fantasy IV?

For the other big Japanese RPG in Japan was Dragon Quest and that was more in the line of Ultima Wizardly and had more of than manga style in it whereas Final Fantasy was a lot more like Dungeons and Dragons and we brought in a lot more realistic elements and a lot of components of Japanese anime. Through that I think we became a leader in entertainment sub-culture by bringing those elements in.

As you said earlier, the core FFIV experience with this collection will be the same. Were there any changes that you wished you had made 20 years ago that you have implemented in the After Years or the Interlude.

We really didn’t want to change that much, though we could have if we wanted to, but it was very important that we didn’t. In terms of the After Years or Interlude we kept in mind the memory balance and how much content you could have in the previous games and tried to maintain that consistency, because we felt that was really important.

In terms of things we have wanted to change, we have included those elements of learnings and different things we wanted to change in different games I have worked on and I don’t feel there was anything in particular with FFIV that I wanted to alter.

Specifically with Interlude since the After Years is its own standalone game, will saved data from the original FFIV transfer up in to interlude?

We initially considered that, allowing players to bring over their saved data from FFIV but if you do that, then you don’t have the freedom to play which game you want to. Since some fans have already played FFIV The After Years, they might just want to play Interlude. In order to give people this freedom to play what they want, you cannot let saved data be transferred over.

For the audience 10 years ago, this is the way they probably would have done it, have it be a continuous way so you can bring over your saved data but now I think the market has changed where people want to play more freely.

How large was the original development team and about how long did it take to develop the game compared to the size of the team and length of development in Interlude?

For the original FFIV development it was about 14 people and it took around 14 months. For interlude its of course not have as much content and shared some graphic resources so it was about half the staff and took about 5 months from the beginning of scenario writing to completely finishing the game.

FFV is where the team really started expanding while FFIV was kind of a bare bones team but because we were so small we had the benefit of everyone having very clear rules and everyone being able to voice their opinions and share their ideas. With such a small team we created such a big hit so it must have been a big profit. You cannot do that with the current AAA titles.

What kind of influences did you have when creating something like Final Fantasy IV?

Personally, I did not know foreign games very well and so there were not any specific titles that really influenced him. In terms of the rest of the team, there were games like Dungeons & Dragons and Ultima. But for me I tried to bring in a lot of different genres beyond games into his game making like anime or theater and different ways that people setup scenes.

How do you think Final Fantasy has changed as a franchise over the years?

A lot has changed over the course of the franchise with Final Fantasy IV of course it expanded worldwide, with FFVII we introduced FMVs and 3D and really no one thought games could progress and go that far. With FFX we introduced real-time and with FFXI we went to the MMO genre so the Final Fantasy series has crossed genres and really expanded throughout its history.

Do you see games out there now that we will be talking about 20 years from now as having the same impact that FFIV is still having?

Final Fantasy has been I think 23-24 years, Dragon Quest 22+ depending on what country, maybe Call of Duty. Part of the reason Final Fantasy has continued for so long is that we have released it on so many different platforms and we have been able to introduce it to a wide fan base and introduce new audiences to it.

It is similar to TV re-runs where every time an old show gets shown it brings in a whole new generation of fans and users. Similarly in Japan for the big anime shown over and over like Evangelion or Yamato. By continuing for a long time and re-introducing the game and introducing new fans to Final Fantasy is the key to a long life.

Aside from what you have worked on, what is personally your favorite game?

For me, Dragon Quest 2 is the most influential game. It really showed me how traumatic an RPG could be. There is a part where you are looking for your 2nd party member for a long time and you are exhausted and you can’t find him. You come back to your camp and he is there sleeping and you get really pissed off but you bring him into battle and he cures you and is really reliable. That was when I saw how the storyline of an RPG can do so much and can tell so much. Until then I had only been working in the games industry a short time but with that game it made me feel like this is what I wanted to spend my life doing and it really made me commit to being a game developer.