• 7 June 2024

FINAL FANTASY VI 30th Anniversary Interview

This year marks FINAL FANTASY VI’s 30th anniversary!

In honor of this, we decided to interview the title’s character and monster designer, Tetsuya Nomura.

Profile: Tetsuya Nomura
Nomura first became involved with the FINAL FANTASY series during the development of FINAL FANTASY V. He was also character designer on FINAL FANTASY VII and was most recently the creative director for FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH.

Could you start by telling us what you were responsible for during FINAL FANTASY VI’s development?

Nomura: I was mainly involved in designing the game’s monsters and working on the visual aspect of the battles. Back then, we didn’t have that many employees so everybody pitched in when it came to brainstorming ideas for games’ stories and other things we’d like to put in any given title. We’d write those up and have meetings where Sakaguchi (Hironobu Sakaguchi, producer on FFVI), and other key members of staff would decide which things got the greenlight. That’s how some of my own ideas ended up being used for the game’s lore.

That’s nothing like how games are made now. Would you be able to tell us a bit more about which of your ideas made the cut?

Nomura: The idea of machinery and magic coexisting—best represented by the intro scene where the Magitek armors are walking through the snow—was taken from a document I wrote with another employee. The idea of an Esper being frozen in ice came from that too. I also contributed the core ideas for Shadow and Setzer’s backgrounds. Back then we had an unusual way of making games’ stories: we all contributed our own ideas and then Sakaguchi would choose what went into the game. It didn’t matter what your job title was, we all just proposed whatever we wanted to do. The next title in the series, FINAL FANTASY VII, started out that way too but then Nojima (Kauzshige Nojima, scenario writer on FFVII) got involved and from that point on one person tended to handle the story. I got to be involved heavily with working on the setting for FFVII thanks to having so many of my ideas used for FFVI.

Do you have any favorite characters/monsters that you’ve designed?

Nomura: The last sprites I worked on were the Statue of the Gods and Kefka in the final battle, so those have a special place in my heart.

The way the screen was split in three for the Statue of the Gods boss fight was really novel at the time. Was this always planned to be the way that fight played out?

Nomura: Honestly, there wasn’t really anything planned for it—I had them adjust the battle to match the enemy’s design. Back then, we didn’t really decide anything too concrete before we started designing monsters. I just knew it would be the final boss, so I wanted to make something big.

I actually created monsters for FINAL FANTASY V as well with a senior artist, and then on FFVI I worked on them with two junior artists. Everyone always wants to design the game’s bosses, and on FFV my coworker let me handle them. Exdeath is huge in his own right, but I wanted to make something even bigger—that’s what inspired the Statue of the Gods’ creation.

I made a point of drawing my designs first before moving on to creating the sprites, but not many people did it that way at the time. I drew the boss in a sketchbook screen by screen.

The original design for the Statue of the Gods in Nomura’s sketchbook (a combination of three separate drawings)

Usually, I would have my sketch to hand and then create sprites based on that, but for the Statue of the Gods I actually scanned the sketch and made the sprite using the scan. Back then, there were limits to how many colors you could use, so I scanned it in monochrome. It looked a bit rough, but I was able to improve it by editing it and adjusting the colors manually. I honestly thought that was going to be a big breakthrough in how I created sprites, but then FFVII came along, everything turned into polygons, and I never got to use this method again. (laughs)

The original sketch and the final sprite

The sketch of Kefka’s final form is fairly simplistic compared to the Statue of the Gods drawing. Obviously, it got much more fleshed out when it became a sprite, but could you tell us what the reason for this difference was?

Nomura: Basically, I just didn’t have enough time. (laughs) I drew it right at the end of the project, and I used up all my energy on the Statue of the Gods.

You mentioned working on the monsters for FINAL FANTASY V—Gilgamesh was designed by you as well, right?

Nomura: Indeed he was. The battle lead, Ito (Hiroyuki Ito, director on FFV), told me he had plans for him and he ended up being this larger-than-life gag character. I think Gilgamesh really stands out as an example of how you can have the story play out during battles as well, not just in cutscenes. What the team had unfold mid-battle was revolutionary at the time.

Were you involved in the character designs as well?

Nomura: Yes, I was responsible for making the illustrations of the party-character sprites. I also drew rough storyboards for the cutscenes and did the original drawings of the chibi characters in the instruction manual. At the time, everyone wrote up their planning documents on PCs, but since I been learning about advertising I liked to make them as if I was going to use them in a presentation—I wrote the text by hand, including my fair share of pictures, and I tried to make the letters really stand out. Then one day Sakaguchi saw that and told me to make something similar for FFVI.

Do you have any favorite characters?

Nomura: Shadow and Setzer, since I did a lot of work related to them. They don’t get much screen time, but I think they really make their mark.

Of course, there’s every chance players won’t see some scenes with Shadow if they don’t meet certain criteria.

Nomura: Exactly. The whole inn scene with Shadow was my idea. Then it was Kitase (Yoshinori Kitase, director on FFVI) who decided you’d lose him for good if you didn’t wait for him when the Floating Continent is destroyed. Kitase has a bit of a dark side to him. (laughs)

Setzer the wandering gambler is also a really interesting character.

Nomura: I do gravitate toward characters like him. He’s not exactly raring to go all the time, but there’s passion bubbling under the surface.

Some of my ideas which didn’t make it into FINAL FANTASY V wound up getting used for VI—the original versions of Shadow and Setzer are two such examples. I came up with Shadow’s general profile and the idea of him having a dog that follows him, but I didn’t come up with every part of his character. Different elements were added by others to my ideas to give birth to the Shadow we know today. I think we were able to do that thanks to having such a small team. After all, back then you were basically either working on the game design, battles, or art.

In short, you happened to come up with characters for future entries while you were all working on your own ideas.

Nomura: Exactly. There were quite a few cases where ideas which didn’t fit a particular project got revamped later and reused. Edea, from FINAL FANTASY VIII, for example was a design I originally drew for FFVI or FFVII. The final bosses of our games tended to be men, so I came up with her thinking it could be novel to face a witch in the final fight.

Do you have any memorable stories from your time working on FFVI?

Nomura: This may be hard to believe, but I invited a coworker over to my place and we made planning documents together. I also remember working late into the night at the office with the others and cranking the volume on our CD player like we were on a school trip or something. Even before any planning documents had been made for a project, I’d design monsters and characters, and come up with my own ideas. I’d then go and show those to Kitase when the time felt right. Looking back on it now, I was always trying to come up with new, interesting concepts. I like to think it was that approach which convinced my coworkers to give me even bigger tasks in the future.

Lastly, is there anything you want to say to mark FINAL FANTASY VI’s 30th anniversary?

Nomura: FFVI was the last mainline pixel-art FF, and I think we’d gone as far as we could with that style. I’m incredibly glad I was able to work on it as a pixel artist, and I definitely feel the love for FFVI even today.

That said, while I tried to do everything I could during the project, there are still parts I feel I could’ve done a better job on. I don’t really feel that way about many other games; it’s just something about FFVI specifically.

Obviously FINAL FANTASY changed drastically from VII onward, so I think it’s natural that VI is viewed as the culmination of all that came before it. There are all kinds of players out there: those whose first FF was VII, those who stopped playing after VI, and those who have been along for the ride from the very beginning until now. Whatever your perspective, VI and VII mark a big turning point for the series, and in that sense, I think I have a strong attachment to VI just like its fans from back when it released.

Play FINAL FANTASY VI with completely new graphics and audio in FINAL FANTASY PIXEL REMASTER!