Akitoshi Kawazu took over as producer on Final Fantasy XII in August 2005 after the original producer and director, Yasumi Matsuno, had to leave the project due to health problems. One of the original founders of the hugely successful Final Fantasy RPG series, in 1988 Kawazu moved on to create the SaGa series. He's also currently working as executive producer for the upcoming code-named Final Fantasy Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers for the Nintendo Wii and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates for the Nintendo DS.
GameSpot sat down for a chat with Kawazu during his whirlwind visit to the UK.
GameSpot: Was it difficult to take over a project partway through?
Akitoshi Kawazu: Yeah, it definitely was difficult. While it's not at all unusual to help out on a number of different projects, to come in at a producer-level role and oversee things was definitely something that was hard to do. That having been said, the original directors that were there from the beginning of the game, Ito-san and Minagawa-san, did a great job and since I only had to oversee the general flow of the project, and they were there doing such a wonderful job--that did make my job a lot easier.
GS: Can you take us through the high and the low points of the project?
AK: It's probably something that's true of a lot of projects in general, not just Final Fantasy XII, at the early stages of the project of course everyone's raring to go, and everyone's excited about what they're going to be working on. Then as time passes, you start to fall into a routine and it starts to become more of a daily grind and up until the point where you have an actual playable version of the game that you can see, people's motivation starts to fall off quite a bit.
You can even hear people blame each other, you know, it's your fault that we haven't got this done yet, or it's your fault that we haven't got that done yet...But once you actually get that first [playable code] and you can touch it and play it and see the fruits of your labor, then from that point on the motivation really starts to pick back up again, which is really useful in getting through that last push because the very end stages of a game are very difficult. But because you can start playing it and realize that it's actually turning into a good game, that gives you the extra bit of motivation to cross the finish line.
GS: Was there any point where the project seemed like it had just got too much, where you were overwhelmed and worried that you wouldn't be able to finish it?
AK: Certainly. Since the project was very long, there were times when just about everyone couldn't really see the end in sight, and so part of my role as producer is to go in there and say well, as long as you work on your area and do the things that we need you to do, then we will be able to finish and see it through to the end.
GS: How did working on Final Fantasy compare to working on SaGa games?
AK: Well, coming in as a producer halfway through, the biggest difference really between FFXII and working on the SaGa titles is as a producer my role is very much to make sure that the project as a whole is going smoothly and everything that needs to be done is getting done. On the SaGa titles, where I was a director, I was much more involved with the game itself, working on the systems of the game and the gameplay and all of those details, but in the producer role, I'm really just overseeing the project in general so there are other people there that are working on the game itself.
GS: Do you feel more attached to a project when you are the director?
AK: Certainly as a game creator myself, I'm very interested in seeing my own things show up in the game. But as a producer for FFXII, I was very careful not to let that happen--I didn't want my own likes and dislikes to show up in this game. I was there to make sure that the people making the game were able to get the things that they wanted to see into the game. So, there is that difference.
GS: Is there anything extra in the European version of FFXII?
AK: From a feature perspective the biggest addition to the overseas versions is of course the 16:9 screen support. As for scenes, there was one scene that was added because for ratings issues in Japan we couldn't have the scene there and get the rating that we wanted, and that's been restored for the European and North American versions. And there were also several scenes that were added because we didn't have time to finish them up for the Japanese version, so with the additional time we had during the localization period, we were able to add those in.
GS: Can you tell us about the contents of the scene that you originally cut to get a lower rating in Japan?
AK: It's a scene where Penelo, who has been kidnapped by some characters in the game, and at the time right before the Japanese release there were various incidents in the real world which...basically there were some similarities there that would have made it a difficult thing to release at the lower age rating that we wanted.
GS: Why did you make the decision to move away from the turn-based systems of previous Final Fantasy games to a real-time system?
AK: The real driving design philosophy behind the game is to have players exploring a world, and so in the same way that walking around a town you see people standing around, we wanted there to be the same experience if you're going through a desert and you see monsters roaming the desert, you know, and walking about as they naturally would, and so since that was the type of gameplay that they wanted to provide to the players, a real-time battle system that got rid of random encounters seemed to be the way to go.
GS: What do you personally think of the general shift away from turn-based gameplay in RPGs?
AK: I think it is fair to say that in general you do see more real-time type of games these days than the more traditional random-encounters style. As to the games that we're making, though, basically depending on what particular experience we want to provide, if we think that a game system with random encounters is more appropriate, then that's something that we will continue to make. And similarly, if the experience that we want to give the player would be better suited with a real-time encounter system, then that's what we will continue to do, too.
GS: Can you tell us about the license board and how the thinking came about for that?
AK: The battle director, Ito-san, wanted a system that gave the player a lot of freedom to develop characters how they wanted to but at the same time keep it from becoming overly complicated, so by putting it into a board layout and giving the player a visual cue to see which direction they were developing a character in, he felt he was able to strike a good balance between the freedom. That is something he likes to give the players in their development and also complements ability, which is very important, as well.
GS: Why is it going to take so long to get to Europe?
AK: The main reason is it's just that there are so many different languages that they need to localize it for, and if they were coming from a standpoint where, well, we can release the UK version first because the English is already done, then yeah, it might be possible to release it a little bit sooner, but they really want to release it simultaneously over here, so...
GS: Did the budget for the game ever get out of control?
AK: Well, any Final Fantasy title is of course going to have a rather large budget, so for whoever the producer is, there's certainly a lot of pressure associated with that, and basically all you can do at that point is really hope and pray that the final product turns out well.
GS: What is the average time it would take a player to complete the game?
AK: If they don't go too far off the beaten path away from the story, maybe about 70 hours.
GS: Can you tell us a little about the DS and the Wii Final Fantasy Chronicles projects?
AK: We'll have a release coming out for the Crystal Chronicles for the Wii soon, but in the mean time, of course Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the GameCube was kind of an experiment in multiplayer gaming for the Final Fantasy series and the version of the game we're working on for the Wii is again looking to provide a game experience that we haven't been able to in the past in the series, something approaching a real-time kind of gaming.
GS: Can you tell us anything about Final Fantasy XIII?
AK: No. (Laughs)
GS: Do you have a message for fans of the series who have been waiting to play Final Fantasy XII?
AK: We're sorry that it has taken as long as it has to get the game out and to you, but we hope when you get your hands on it and see the sheer volume of material that's in the game and the quality of the game itself, that you'll feel it was worth the wait.