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Iwata Asks: The Last Story

Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi details some of the uneasiness he had with his return to directing.


Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata usually asks his staff about their games just ahead of release. Not for The Last Story, though. The Mistwalker RPG doesn't even have a release date, but Nintendo has already posted the first in a series of Iwata Asks columns for the game.

Fittingly, the person in the hot seat is Mistwalker CEO Hironobu Sakaguchi. As detailed here earlier, the column reveals Sakaguchi to be The Last Story's director. This marks the Final Fantasy creator's first project as director since Final Fantasy V.

Mistwalker CEO Hironobu Sakaguchi sits opposite Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata. (Photo from Nintendo.)

Typical for an Iwata Asks columns, this one began with some jokes between Iwata and Sakaguchi. Iwata joked that he was filled with deep emotion about meeting Sakaguchi for the interview. The reason for this is that he gets the feeling that many people throughout the world feel that Sakaguchi is distant from Nintendo. Sakaguchi responded that he gets the same feeling.

While Iwata admits that there was a point in the past where Sakaguchi may have been distant from Nintendo (he managed to say this without mentioning Final Fantasy VII), he currently does not feel this distance in the least bit. He pointed out that Sakaguchi appeared beside him back in 2005 for the announcement of the Nintendo-published and Mistwalker-developed ASH.

Iwata asked Sakaguchi to describe his feeling when starting up work on The Last Story. Sakaguchi explained that after leaving Square in 2003, he took a break. He eventually started up work again, but while working on a number of projects, he felt that he was "riding on the wrong wave" -- that is, he felt that he was riding a wave different from the wave he should be riding. The Last Story project started right as he came to this realization.

A glimpse at The Last Story's battle system, which promises to blend real time and menu elements.

Sakaguchi's feeling when starting The Last Story was one of gratitude. He was, first off, glad to be able to make something of such a large scale.

Additionally, The Last Story gave him a chance to take some new challenges. These challenges arose because of the different development formulas he's been taking with the game when compared to his past work. Much of the remainder of this first Iwata Asks column discussed this particular area.

Sakaguchi had some unease during the development of The Last Story. In addition to having to move away from the development formulas he'd gotten used to in his past projects, he felt that his role as director on The Last Story would bring him closer to the project and would thus reveal more of himself as a creator. He had great unease about whether or not gamers would accept him.

Despite the unease, Sakaguchi has also been enjoying himself. The reason for this is that he has the feeling that he's playing around and trying out new things. Iwata actually stepped in to explain this feeling, noting that if you do your work according to a formula, you won't feel uneasy, but at the same time, the work becomes routine, so you won't get excited. However, if you try out a new formula, although you can't help but feel uneasy, you'll also be excited.

Regarding Sakaguchi's return to a more hands-on role as director, Iwata noted that Shigeru Miyamoto will sometimes make a similar switch and will later express enjoyment with the process. Sakaguchi agrees with Miyamoto in this area, saying that sinking his teeth into development gives him the uniquely nice feeling of being able to get rid of unessentials and concentrate on work directly related to the game. Being directly involved in the development process also allows him to see things he normally might not see.

Sakaguchi also feels that another advantage of being directly involved in development is that his excitement may be transferred over to players. He believes that the reason he and his staff at Square were able to make the original Final Fantasy into what it became was because they were all excited as they made the game.

Towards the end of this first interview, Iwata at long last began getting into specifics about The Last Story's development process. The first things that Sakaguchi decided upon for The Last Story's development was its story and world view. The emphasis on story is unchanged from the past 25 years of development work, Sakaguchi said.

Iwata noted that over time, it's become possible to do more and more in terms of story and world view. Sakaguchi agreed that there were limitations in visuals and audio back at the time of the original Famicom. However, because of these restrictions, he was forced to begin the game by thinking how he would tell the story. With all the technological advancements now, he can tell the stories without trouble, but he feels that things may have gone too far -- you end up showing too much.

Because of this, Sakaguchi felt that the time was right to do an about-face, or a "reset." He took a look back at the origins of games and considered what what it means to tell a story in a game. The first thing he did for The Last Story was to think at length about this area.

It looks like Sakaguchi thought first about the story and world components of The Last Story.

Sakaguchi's considerations about the origins of games concerned not just The Last Story's story parts, but its gameplay systems as well. He spent a lot of time working on fundamental problems, conducting a large number of gameplay tests during the game's R&D phase. He feels that the solutions he came up with are not extensions of current methods.

Wanting to express the world and story with a new style, he ended up devoting his full strength to the project. This is the origin of the name "The Last Story."

Explained Sakaguchi, "It was the same during the time of Final Fantasy, but I always give my all and develop with the feeling that 'it would be fine if this were the end.' However, this time, that feeling is particularly strong."

Responded Iwata, "It's like you're putting in so much that even if it were your last project, you would have no regrets."

"Yes," said Sakguchi, laughing. "Because if I were to fail, I'd be told to retire."

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