A German version of this interview can be found here.
Thomas Nickel: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what exactly was your job during the production of Final Fantasy 12.
Hiroshi Minagawa: I had two basic roles in the development of Final Fantasy 12: I started as the graphics and real time visual director, and as the project proceeded, I took over more directorial and supervising roles.
Thomas Nickel: You're part of the old Ogre Battle team – together with Mr. Matsuno, Mr. Yoshida…
Hiroshi Minagawa: Yes, that's right. You've got the right Minagawa.
Thomas Nickel: Your team has been working together for quite some time and on projects of different sizes. When you got to do Final Fantasy 12, what was it like? What about expectations and pressure?
Hiroshi Minagawa: Well, of course the development team of Final Fantasy 12 is very large, and among its members, there are people who worked on several Final Fantasy Games in the past. Although for myself, it's the first Final Fantasy title. So it's a mix – some have worked on previous Final Fantasy games, for some it was the first Final Fantasy title. So we weren't necessarily nervous whether we were going to be successful. But of course we did feel the pressure.
Thomas Nickel: Can you tell us about the early planning stages of the games? How did you start the creative process?
Hiroshi Minagawa: Since this is my first Final Fantasy title I can't say if this is the way every Final Fantasy starts, but I can tell you about the experiences we had. In the beginning, we had several departments. People working on the graphics, people working on the story… They decided themselves in what direction they wanted to take their aspect of Final Fantasy 12. For example, some of the members of the graphics and design department took a trip to Turkey and went to Istanbul to use that as an inspiration for the artistic style they wanted to put into the game.
And the battle system – its seamless nature is a big departure from the earlier games in the series. It was decided very early on that this was one of the main things we wanted to accomplish. Once that decision was made, we thought what type of story and what type of game we could build around that that can make use of that system. That was then the main aspect in development.
Thomas Nickel: When you started working, did you look at the old Final Fantasy games and decide what works, what you wanted to keep and what you want to do differently?
Hiroshi Minagawa: It was really a mixture of both. Some members of the team were fans of Final Fantasy since the very first installment on the Famicom, and then there are people on the team who only started playing the games and becoming familiar with them on the PlayStation. So there are definitely people from both camps in the development team. So there are people who said I want this boss who appeared in a earlier Final Fantasy game to be in Final Fantasy 12… Then there were people who said: "We've done that in the past and we also want to see it in our game", other people were very strong-voiced especially about the battle system which is a huge departure from the earlier games. They said, this is different from what we've done before, this is new, but we really want to do it. So it's definitely a mixture of the two.
Thomas Nickel: What do you think about the reactions of the players towards the new system?
Hiroshi Minagawa: For players who were familiar with and were expecting something more like the older command based battle system, it can be a very big shock at first before they become adjusted to the system. But I think that if they can get over the initial shock how different it is, and particularly in the active mode where the pace of the battle is very quick and speedy compared with what came before, I think they can really get into it. After playing Final Fantasy 12 in active mode and then going back to the earlier installments, it can really feel slow… like it's missing something.
Thomas Nickel: The game seems a lot more mature. Was that one of your intentions?
Hiroshi Minagawa: In the beginning, we didn't start saying we want this to be one way or another, it just kind of naturally evolved into the game that you can play now. But if you look at the main staff and at some of the games we made in the past, these kinds of characters and stories just keep coming up. Because it's just these things that we like and this is something that we like to see. Ultimately, what we make is infused with that. It may not be a conscious decision, but it certainly turns out this way in the end.
Thomas Nickel: What I noticed – the male characters look like they really fit into the world of Final Fantasy 12. The females, however, really seem to stick out.
Hiroshi Minagawa: At first, it was a decision to have the clothes of the average people that walk around and those of the main characters different. And because of the way the game was actually played, you'd end up seeing them primarily from behind for the most time in the game. That's why our approach to their design was very unusual. Akihiko Yoshida designed the six main characters primarily from the rear perspective at first. All the other characters that show up in the game were designed from the front. That was a major difference to begin with.
And something we wanted to make very sure in the design process for these six in particular was that no matter where you're seeing them from, you should always be able to distinguish these six main characters. And it's possible that some of the realism in their design might have been lost, but it was with that in mind that the development moved in that direction.
So let's take the character Basch as an example. If we had put him in a cape and armor, if you saw him from behind, it would be very hard to tell who he was. Is he just one of the many regular soldiers walking around, or is he one of your party-members…? It's difficult to distinguish that. So the clothes the main characters are wearing are very different from the clothes all the other characters in the game are wearing, but this way they're very distinguishable when you're playing the game.
Thomas Nickel: Can you tell us about things you wanted to put into the game but had to drop during development?
Hiroshi Minagawa: Of course in the early stages of development, there's a ton of features we want to put into the game, but as the work progresses, we have to drop a lot of these. For example, at one point in the development, we wanted to have the possibility for two people to play at once – you could have a second person controlling some of the characters. But ultimately, this had to be dropped.
Another feature that we wanted to have at first was that you could recruit some characters for the monster hunting – they would go on those hunts with you. And again, we had to drop this at some point. There were a lot of features like these – we thought about them a lot and wanted to put them in, but for some reason or the other, they didn't fit into the final game.
Thomas Nickel: The development progress was especially long, even for a Final Fantasy game. What made it so difficult? Can you tell us about the problems you faced?
Hiroshi Minagawa: From a technical standpoint, the thing that caused the most difficulty in development was the move to the seamless battle-system. This presented us with a lot more difficulties and problems that we had expected. And this increased the time of development considerably.
Although it might seem like a similar system to Final Fantasy 11 on the surface, this isn't really the case. For example, we can't use the hard disc that Final Fantasy 11 requires. Also, in this game, one person has to control multiple characters. So as we started to adress these various issues and at the same time wanted to add all these other features, the physical limitation of what the PlayStation 2 can actually do became quite a problem, the limitations became very, very tight. And to get all these things to work at once also took a very long time.
Thomas Nickel: You've worked on the biggest blockbuster imaginable. So for your next project, do you want to work on a smaller project? Something for a handheld, something more personal…?
Hiroshi Minagawa: Right before we finished Final Fantasy 12, I couldn't imagine working on a title of that scope and scale again. It was pretty much pushing me to the limits. But now that some time has passed between the finishing of the game and the Japanese release, I've had the chance to look back on things a litte bit, I see a lot of things I'd really like to try in a project. After seeing the fans responses and all the feedback… things that I'd like to do in the next title… so I'd like to work on such a big title again.
Thomas Nickel: I really loved the first Ogre Battle on the Super Famicom. Would you like to do something like that again?
Hiroshi Minagawa: Well, Ogre Battle is a very special title for me as well. It's the first title I worked on and it was enjoyed by tens of thousands of people. And you know, because of that it´s a special title for me and something I would be interested in. But at the moment, there are no real plans for it and I´m not sure myself what my next project is going to be.
Thomas Nickel: Thank you very much for the interview.
Text Copyright Thomas Nickel 2006
Screenshots, Artwork Copyright Square Enix