Kitase: "I can still remember our very first meetings concerning FFVII there at the office, 14 years ago. We were just done with FFVI and simply wanted to keep going. The idea was to produce yet another SNES game, and Hironobu Sakaguchi explained to us that it was going to take place in the year 1999, in New York."
Q: When you look at Midgar and how modern it feels compared to previous towns in FF, it feels completely logical that a present-day New York was the model image. And I assume that these ideas also formed the basis for Parasite Eve and perhaps even a time period in Chrono Trigger?
Kitase: Right, thatís how it was. Many of us who took part in these early planning sessions worked in parallel on Chrono Trigger, and Sakaguchi went on to make Parasite Eve right after FFVII together with Tetsuya Nomura among other people. So some of the ideas we had at this stage ended up in those games instead.
Q: Describe a typical work day for you back in those days.
Kitase: The development of FFVII went on in several different phases, and my days were fully effected by which phase we were in. It was a big step to abandon the SNES for the PlayStation, and once that decision had been made, there was no turning back. Until then, I had always been able to visualize the games I was working on in my head; I could picture what the final game would look like. But I honestly donít think that anyone in the team had any idea about what FFVII would look like when it was done.
At first, we just tried to come up with ideas that would be doable in 3D graphics. We studied every 3D game we could get our hands on, a lot of them from Western developers and often PC games.
Q: Youíve mentioned 4D Sports Boxing as an early influence.
Kitase: Yes, that was one of the first polygon games I came into contact with and was fascinated by. Another - perhaps a more obvious Ė influence was Alone in the Dark. Infogrames used 3D graphics to create horror moments, but we wanted to make something more grandiose. We kept on working that way all the time, gathered influences from everyone on the team and tried to piece them together into something that resembled a Japanese RPG.
Q: What was your role in the team?
Kitase: I received the title of director. Iíd already had that during the development of FFVI, but the 3D graphics completely changed my way of working. During this time, I did a completely different kind of hands-on work compared to the overseeing role I have now. I could spend entire work days with the Softimage program and experiment with characters, surroundings and scenes in the game. The script writer, Kazushige Nojima, wrote scenarios that he sent to me and I transformed them into storyboards or tried to recreate them with our graphics engine. In many ways, the script and our entire way to work was more reminding of a film production than any of the game projects we had been working on in the past.
Q: And you were an old film student, right?
Kitase: Yes, I loved movies already as a child. My favorite pastime was going to the cinema. One of my earliest memories is when I saw The Bridge on River Kwai, and it was when was twelve years old and had seen Star Wars in the cinema that I decided that I wanted to become a film director when I grew up.
That I ended up in the gaming industry was really by chance. After I had graduated from school, I started to work with animation, but I played a lot of games in my spare time and one day I saw a job ad from Square in a gaming magazine and thought that the job sounded exciting. And all of a sudden it was there that I made a career.
Q: Did you benefit a lot from the knowledge in film when you begun to direct FF?
Kitase: The first years at the company, in the beginning of the 90s, I learned most of it from Sakaguchi. We worked very closely together and his way of creating scenarios in games was unique. He developed his storytelling that was adapted for games with each new FF project, and he taught me how things worked. But when we switched over to 3D, I and the entire team benefited from my experience and knowledge from the film industry. I saw the potential in our early internal 3D demos right away.
Q: So then it was your turn to educate Sakaguchi.
Kitase: Haha, yes, perhaps. But he wasnít as involved in the daily work with FFVII as I was. He wrote the original script, made up the guidelines for everything and created the overarching concepts. It was he who shaped the large metropolis that would become New York but was later transformed into Midgar, and the whole concept of the life stream came from his head.
Q: It feels like FF changed when you took over the directorís chair from Sakaguchi with FFVI. Suddenly the series got a darker theme and a more serious tone. Is that your doing?
Kitase: Yes, could be. Sakaguchi is a very good person. He cares a lot about nature and the spiritual and is convinced that a personís soul can overcome anything. Itís a general theme also in FFVII, but I probably contributed a lot to giving it a darker side.
Q: Howís the relationship between you and Nomura today? Itís been said that youíve become rivals and would rather not work together anymore. And the fact that youíre producing a FFXIII game each of your own isnít exactly a way of killing off the rumors.
Kitase: Haha, noÖ hmm, how am I going to explain this? Let me begin by pointing out that Nomura is designing characters both for FFXIII and FFvXIII and that itís absolutely not a matter of us not being able to work together. But ok, there are differences between us, what we want to accomplish and how we create games. Itís not a hostile rivalry, but we donít share the exact same goal. But wouldnít it be boring if that was the case? My view of it is that weíre two creative minds who work together sometimes and then move on on different paths, but always meet up again.
When we started to plan for FFXIII, I told Nomura that there were certain ideals that we had to attain. Thereís a standard we follow when we develop a new mainline FF. Back then, the plan was to develop the game for the PS2 and we decided that Nomura would make FFvXIII for the PS3. With that, he could do something different; that game wouldnít have to follow the traditional FF format. And Iíve always encouraged him to experiment and try out completely new ideas. Heís allowed to take risks; itís almost an end in itself with that project.
Q: What about Sakaguchi then? Howís your relation today?
Kitase: Well, we actually met up as recently as a couple of weeks ago and had sushi.
Q: What did you talk about?
Kitase: It was mostly personal stuff, the kind that two men in their 40s talk about when they eat sushi, haha. But after a while it actually became very interesting. We entered the subject of the games weíve created together and the future for the genre that we helped establish both in and outside of Japan. We discussed how RPGs could evolve and how the command-based system is in need of renewal, all while being an important part of the genreís popularity.
Q: Whatís his opinion on the FFVII projects that youíve produced after he left Square Enix?
Kitase: Oh, I really donít know. Iím sure that we send all FF games to him, but heís never told me when he does with them or what he thinks about them. On the other hand, Iím not sure if Iíve ever told him when I thought about FF before I started working at Square. It was honestly speaking really only a worse copy of what Enix was doing at the time. Dragon Quest was much better!