Since its inception on the Famicom system in Japan, the Final Fantasy series has undergone several subtle changes, particularly in its character design, which has ranged from the realistic look of the Final Fantasy VIII characters to the series' return to the super deformed characters in Final Fantasy IX. In that time, celebrated artist and collaborator Yoshitaka Amano has done a great deal of conceptual work for the Final Fantasy series. His designs and concepts have inspired the developers at Square to create the familiar Final Fantasy gameworlds and their inhabitants. Aside from his work on Final Fantasy, Amano is currently involved with the development of Capcom's episodic RPG Eldorado's Gate, and he's working on his own ongoing project, Hero.
Further information on Amano and his work can be found at his Web site, amanosworld.com. Additionally, the site is giving away several copies of Final Fantasy IX autographed by Amano and the game's executive producer, Hironobu Sakaguchi. GameSpot had the opportunity to speak with Amano about how he got started in the video game industry, his work on previous Final Fantasy games, and the upcoming games in the series.
GS: How did you initially become involved with the video game industry, and what are some games that you're working on?
Yoshitaka Amano: Well, the first one was Final Fantasy - I think it was in 1985, maybe. It was a new [genre] to be involved with, and Final Fantasy just happened to be the first game that I worked on. It was a new media for me, and it sounded interesting, so I decided to do it - not as work, but for fun. I had no expectation to be paid for it, because it was such a new thing. I just wanted to try it. To be honest, I still am not quite familiar with this industry. Currently, I am working on FFX, a game for Agent 13, and my original story, Hero.
GS: How were you involved with the development of Final Fantasy IX?
YA: I did the concept illustrations for the characters and the environments. The creation of my work and the production of the game happened simultaneously.
GS: Despite the success of FFVII and FFVIII, Square decided to go back to the character style of previous Final Fantasy games with FFIX. Do you have any insight on the thinking behind the decision to go back to the series' roots in designing the characters in this latest game?
YA: I was not involved in the decision making. It was Square's policy. I was talking to Mr. Sakaguchi, and he mentioned that it was a part of this big "stream" called Final Fantasy. It is a part of the world of Final Fantasy.
GS: Which style do you prefer? The more realistic look of FFVIII or the look of the FFIX characters?
YA: With Final Fantasy VIII, Square tried to challenge the PlayStation technology to its limits, and with Final Fantasy IX, they wanted to get back to the original style - the idea is that Fantasy is something that cannot be explained by science. But speaking of my images, I liked working on both Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX.
GS: What were your inspirations in creating the lead character in FFIX, Zidane? He certainly has a unique look.
YA: Of course, something that is not a human being - he has a tail. There was no reason to limit the character's appearance to a normal person's look.
GS: What is the extent of your involvement with Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI?
YA: I am working on Final Fantasy X right now. I just finished the title logo design. I am here in New York working - I mean, supposed to be working - on the promotional images for the environments and the characters now. But the full extent of the involvement, it is a secret! [laughs]
GS: Because next-generation consoles can render more-detailed characters, will you approach the character design differently for games on those consoles?
YA: My approach will not change. I do not think it will change because when the platforms changed from the Famicom to the Super Famicom, and then to the PlayStation, I did not change the way I approached the models. But you never know about the future - I may be interested in changing. I never know how I want to approach a specific game until I actually start drawing - no plans.
GS: What type of style can we expect to see from the characters in the upcoming Final Fantasy games?
YA: I think the series will get more and more sophisticated. There will always be a balance between the new and the old. It will somewhat be a repetition of the two styles, but within the so-called "stream." I must say, as long as Mr. Sakaguchi is there, the series will always have a great future. It is not about the title Final Fantasy, but it is all about the people that are involved with the games.