Yoshinori Kitase is a Final Fantasy legend. From Final Fantasy V onwards, Kitase's had an influence, either as game director or producer, on most of the Final Fantasy games of the last 18 years, including seminal JRPG Final Fantasy VII. Now, as producer of the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy XIII, and PSP fighting game Dissidia: Final Fantasy, due out in Europe this autumn to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, Kitase is in great demand. We caught up with the man himself, as well as Dissidia senior director Takeshi Arakawa, and quizzed him on everything from his favourite Final Fantasy game to Square Enix's plans for a Western Final Fantasy XIII demo.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to make a fighting game in a 3D arena, something we haven't seen from the Final Fantasy series before?
Takeshi Arakawa: We started off with Kingdom Hearts 2. We came up with the idea that it would be interesting if we created a fighting game based on Kingdom Hearts 2. As it happened it's been 20 years since the birth of the FF series so we decided to combine those elements into the game.
VideoGamer.com: How did you decide on the characters that have been included? What made a Final Fantasy character suitable for Dissidia?
TA: Dissidia has got two gods opposed to each other, Chaos and Cosmos, so obviously we initially took a main "goody" character and a "villain" from each past title, and started to sort them out and find a place for each character.
VideoGamer.com: Most of the characters are male. Was this a deliberate approach?
TA: To start with, if you take at the past FF games, there aren't that many female characters. As you said there are very few female characters, about which we did have a bit of a debate within the team.
VideoGamer.com: The game is coming out on the PSP. Why did you decide to make it for the PSP and not the Xbox 360 and PS3?
TA: If you take a look at other famous fighting games like Street Fighter, the battle actually goes on on a 2D screen. But with Dissidia we decided we were going to make 3D battles possible. On that note, if we wanted to do it on an ordinary console the screen would have to be split into two to realise this particular battle. Therefore in order to stick to the desired realistic sensation, as well as the strategic characteristics, we had to choose the PSP.
VideoGamer.com: The game has one versus one wireless play. Did you ever consider online play and why wasn't it included?
TA: Initially we did single out the possibility of doing online, but because of the capacity of the PSP it was not quite possible.
VideoGamer.com: In Japan people play PSP wireless together in public. In the West people don't often meet to play PSP. Does this matter to the game's success in the West?
TA: As I said we really wanted to make online play available, but we couldn't. The reason was the hardware specifications really. Even though what you've just said is right, that wasn't the reason.
VideoGamer.com: Some of the fans have noticed that Tidus from Final Fantasy X looks a little younger than he does in the main game. Was that intentional, and have any of the other characters undergone redesigns?
TA: Obviously we hand-picked all the characters from the past FF games, but in order to create a new story with them, we had to make readjustments on the way they look and the age they look, so that they can play the most appropriate part in the comprehensive story.
VideoGamer.com: Square Enix seems to be one of the few companies willing to invest in triple-A PSP games, like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. What is it about the PSP that attracts Square Enix and makes it willing to invest in creating such high quality games for it?
Yoshinori Kitase: Obviously when we talk about Square Enix games, typically they have a very long story, with 3D visual aspects, voice over and video, which takes up quite a lot of memory. On that note, if you create a game for the PSP, all the games we have created in the past for PS2 you can actually recycle some technical aspects. Also, the UMD is also used, as opposed to a ROM for the DS. It allows for a lot more memory, which means we can have more voice over and better graphics. PSP is a platform that has more appropriate conditions for the kind of games we want to make.
VideoGamer.com: How do you feel about digital downloads for the PSP?
TA: Regarding Dissidia, as you know one good and one bad character has been picked from each numbered title in the past. So if there is a big need for seeing a larger number of characters in Dissidia, if digital downloading is available that would be very handy. But obviously at the moment we have UMDs so not a great degree of expansion is possible. But in that sense a download digital service would be very convenient.
VideoGamer.com: Dissida marks the 20th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, and Kitase-san has worked on many Final Fantasy games down the years. Why do you feel it's remained so popular when so many other Japanese role-playing games have fallen by the wayside?
YK: In the space of 20 years, since the birth of the series, we have experienced platform changes at a few points. Each time I think we've managed to evolve the graphics and other aspects of the game to keep up with the evolution of the actual hardware. And we've always pursued cutting edge graphics and sound, to the extent that most of the users are quite satisfied. That was one of the reasons.
VideoGamer.com: There's a feeling among some fans that Japanese role-playing games have not evolved to keep up with modern global tastes. Is that something you agree with? If so what is being done to help Final Fantasy keep up with modern tastes?
YK: For example, regarding XIII, obviously it's going to be another RPG product, but also we're going to release Versus, which is more action based. We're going to set up different concepts and combine different types of genre. If we were to suddenly just turn to FPS and action games, that would leave all the RPG fans behind. So obviously we would like to take up what we have been doing with all the RPG titles we have released in the past, but then all these elements would have to be combined with some other types of games, like action games. So we do not believe we haven't moved on, or evolved. We have moved on, but then we need new concepts.
VideoGamer.com: You've worked on many Final Fantasy games down the years. What is your proudest achievement and why?
YK: I've been involved with the FF series since FF5. In those days Final Fantasy had not recorded such remarkable success yet abroad, outside Japan. Probably after VII, maybe it became a really strong title globally, and that situation hasn't changed up to now. Now other FF games are widely played globally by lots of people. OK sometimes we receive quite critical comments from players, as well as nice comments! But that kind of situation, how widely it is played across the world, would have been completely unimaginable. That is something I am very proud of.
VideoGamer.com: What is your favourite Final Fantasy game and why?
YK: I would single out FFVII, partly because that was the first FF title that was really widely played by global players. Also I have been involved with some FFVII-related titles as well.
VideoGamer.com: What is your favourite Final Fantasy character and why?
YK: I would like to stick to VII, and I'd like to appoint Cloud as my favourite character.
VideoGamer.com: What is the most requested Final Fantasy game from the fans?
YK: Lots of fans would like to see FFVII and FFVII-related titles, such as Crisis Core.
VideoGamer.com: Are you referring to a Final Fantasy VII remake?
YK: Yes. I would like to work on it one day. Some day!
VideoGamer.com: I think you've probably been asked that question many times before...
YK: Yeah, similar questions have been asked! Even when I came to Europe last year.
VideoGamer.com: I imagine it will be asked every year until the game is made...
YK: And the answer will be the same every year!
VideoGamer.com: You're also the producer on Final Fantasy XIII. The demo was recently released in Japan bundled with the Blu-ray release of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Complete, and has contributed to an increase in PS3 sales. Will a demo come to the West? If so, how might it be packaged?
YK: The demo version we released in Japan, we currently have no plan of doing that abroad, partly because we are going to carry on with the project alongside the Xbox version, so we really can't just make it available only for the PS3. But we hear that the demo version normally means something that you can download in the West, so that is a possibility we would like to check.
VideoGamer.com: We understand that development of the Xbox 360 version won't begin until after development of the PS3 version has finished. Is that true? If so, has development of the Xbox 360 version began?
YK: When it comes to the basic engine it's likely we are going to keep them on the go simultaneously. But the finishing touches, the details, the PS3 version will be completed first, then we will move on to 360.
VideoGamer.com: So, the finishing touches of the 360 version haven't begun yet?
YK: We will have to wait until we are done with the PS3 version.
VideoGamer.com: It looks like the game will be coming out in Japan at the end of this year. Can you give us an idea of when the game will be released in the West?
YK: Obviously we would like to release it over here as soon as possible. Traditionally the FF numbered series, it takes about half a year between the release in Japan and the release in North America, and another half a year before it's released in Europe. But we would like to minimise this, this time. For example we have already started recording English voices, and also the text localisation has been in progress, too. Normally we complete the Japanese version first, then move on to the US and EU versions, but this time there are some tasks that are happening simultaneously. So this time we're hoping to release sooner than a year later than the Japanese release.
VideoGamer.com: So there might not be a big gap between the US release and the EU release?
YK: We would like to make the gap as short as possible.
VideoGamer.com: You've worked on many Final Fantasy games down the years. Will Final Fantasy XIII be the best Final Fantasy game ever made?
YK: Yes, I'm convinced it will be the best Final Fantasy game.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy is due out for the PSP this Autumn. Final Fantasy XIII is still without a release date.