- Kitase was 24 years old when he started working at Square. His first job was scenario-writing for Seiken Densetsu (the GB mana). He was soon hand-picked by Sakaguchi to work on FF.
- Nomura turned 21 that year and came from a commercial school where he had studied design and illustration. The characters from FFIV were very popular at that time, and so they became sort of his reference point, and his dream was to create even stronger characters than those. He got the chance to do that when Amano stopped designing main characters, and Sakaguchi chose him to work on the next FF.
- By that time, Tetsuya Takahashi left his position as the series' art director and commenced working on the script that'd later turn into Xenogears. Yusuke Naora joined Square in the middle of FFVI's development, so he was surprised when Sakaguchi put him in charge of the next game's art direction.
- Nojima came to Square from Data East and was working on Bahamut Lagoon when Sakaguchi asked him if he wanted to help out with the FFVII script. Nojima had originally planned to take some time off after BL, but he couldn't resist working on FF.
Nojima: "I tried to gather new information every day. I hung out with people from the team, whether or not they were in the smoking area or the restroom, and asked them about just about everything."
Sakaguchi on Kitase: "When Kitase started working at Square, he told me that he had actually wanted to become a film director. I knew that he had studied film science and produced some short features of his own, so I was convinced that he was perfect for this role [as director].
Kitase on the team's inexperience: "This was Nojima's first FF, it was the first time Nomura was in charge of the character designs and the first time Naora led an own team of graphics artists. We were also working on a next-generation console format. There was a lot of nervosity involved, but also a great deal of curiosity and many heated emotions And I think we managed to convey all of this to the players. It became as exciting for them to play FFVII as it was for us to create it."
Kitase on FFVII's initial development: "Our first plans were interrupted, since we had to help out with Chrono Trigger, which had turned into a huge project. But as soon as we had done what we could with that game, we started over from the beginning with FFVII. And back then we were fully focused on the disk system that was gonna be released for the Nintendo 64 (the 64DD). We never actually received a working prototype, but we did everything according to the planned specifications."
Nomura on experimenting with the N64 analog stick: "We had an idea about how you would be able to look around in the dungeons with the help of it, but we never really got further than that."
Kitase: "We actually began work from the ground up on three separate occasions. First directly after FFVI, then again after Chrono Trigger, and finally when we decided that CD-ROM technology was going to be a necessity and that it would therefore be released on the PlayStation."
Nomura: "But some of the ideas we had been discussing from the beginning are actually still intact in the finished game. And other ones, like Edea, ended up in FFVIII."
Naora on development tensions: "To tell the truth, there wasn't a lot of things we agreed on when development began. Sakaguchi and Kitase argued a lot about various details. And I didn't even want to make the game 3D.
Kitase had been inspired by the game 4D Sports Boxing a couple of years earlier: "It looked so new a fresh, and I was convinced that this was the future."
Naora remained skeptic: "I really couldn't imagine that anyone would be awed by crude polygon blocks. I had a whole different vision and it was two-dimensional."
"But as soon as I got to the see first drafts of the 3D characters moving on the screen, I was extremely impressed. It was a completely new experience, it almost felt like the first time I played a game. In that moment, I realized that the third dimension really contributed something unique."
Kitase and Naora weren't the only ones involved in conflicts...
- The look for FFVII was finalized after Square had created a graphics demo for SIGGRAPH.
Nojima on creating characters together with Nomura: "Nomura didn't listen to me. It seemed as if he wasn't interested in my ideas at all."
Nojima had also just come from a complicated co-op with the somewhat eccentric Motomu Toriyama: "When I started at Square, Toriyama taught me a lot. He always had advice on what to do if one was tired at work and wanted to slack off. Most people thought that the smoking room was a good place to run off to, but Toriyama had noted that many Square executives smoked, so you were never really safe there. There was however this park behind the office that no one used to pass through where you could really relax. Toriyama was a specialist at that kind of knowledge, and he also had a very different way of working."
"When we did Bahamut Lagoon together I realized that at first, he often seemed to listen to other people's opinions, only to later change precisely everything to get it the way he wanted."
Nomura confesses: "I can't recall that Nojima and I ever sat down to discuss either characters or scenarios."
Nojima: "We were situated very far from each other at the office. To be completely honest, I didn't even know who Nomura was out of all the employees. The question is if we were ever even introduced to each other."
- They had experimented with pre-rendered backgrounds in FFVI, but now that they had CD-ROM tech at their disposal, they knew it was feasible to build the entire game around backgrounds like that. CG cutscenes also became a possibility, so lots of new staff was hired and the budget shot up.
- Before coming to this conclusion, they had been experimenting with 2D characters on a 3D background (instead of the opposite). This tech got used in Xenogears instead.
One of the biggest obstacles was Sakaguchi's story...
Kitase: "His ideas were extremely hard to realize. They were so abstract, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced in a game before."
- Going from Sakaguchi's original script, Kitase came up with the concept of the Lifestream. Then it was passed along to Nojima, who was supposed to compile their visions and scenarios into a working script.
Nojima: "I tried to incorporate all of their ideas, but some parts I just had to leave out. It was amazingly difficult and demanding work like I had never done before."
Nomura and Nojima continued to work together in their special way...
- Nomura sat in another part of the office, surrounded by countless sketches. He changed his working hours according to his creative rhythm. He was often hard to communicate with during office hours.
Nojima: "But when I came into the office in the morning, there was often a drawing of a new character on my desk."
Kitase: "It was almost like a silent agreement. When Nojima came to work, Nomura left, and the other way around."
Nomura: "My first assignment at Square was to design enemies for the battles in FFV, and when I got to read the game's script I didn't like the ending at all. I thought a lot about it and finally gathered up enough courage to explain to Sakaguchi how I felt. I presented a new alternative to him and the game actually received a new ending, based on my suggestion. Since then, I've always dared to say what I think and come up with ideas that aren't design-related. So when I'm asked to draw characters, it's natural for me to also contribute to their personalitites."
Kitase on Naora: "I was convinced that Naora would never hit it big. The first thing I saw him create was the city Zozo for FFVI, and he used a very dull color scale that separated itself from everything you connected with Japanese RPGs. What he did honestly looked like nothing else available for the SNES at that time. I didn't get it at all."
Naora: "I was really into French comics back then. Also, Zozo was a city for criminals, so I really wanted to create a darker theme and probably enhanced that style additionally. But at the same time it's on purpose that I've always tried to utilize different colors."
"I also thought a lot about the lighting. I tried to simulate the feeling of light in darkness rather than trying to pick a specific color. That put its mark on FFVI, and when we decided to make FFVII 3D the lighting got a much bigger importance before, which suited my style perfectly."
- FFVII was originally planned to take place in New York (!).
Nomura: "I still have the drawings to Sakaguchi's original story. Around that time, Cloud didn't even exist. We had a duo who were the heroes of the game. I remember that one of them had rivets on the outfit and that they were chased by the police."
"The headlights and metropolitan feel are remains from our early interpretation of New York."
- Sakaguchi rewrote the script and the city turned into Midgar.
- Virtually everyone in the team really liked Sephiroth, and they added in as many scenes as possible with him into the script. Large parts of the story were developed around him.
- They were trying hard to make the characters feel like real people. Especially Cloud and Aeris received a lot of care in this area. Cloud got his weak side and Aeris was made as sort of a counterpoint to typical "strong" heroines like Jeanne d'Arc and Nausicaä. Her death was created to maintain this "real" feeling - because death and disease can hit unforgivingly suddenly.
Lots of interesting stuff in there. You can extrapolate certain things in there and apply them to how development of FFXII probably was.
I never thought FFVII had two in-progress versions running on Nintendo hardware. Were they planning on releasing it for the SNES at first or what? The time gap to the N64's release was pretty significant, so surely they couldn't have been planning for that all along?