Fantasy Star: Talking to Final Fantasy Scenario Director Hajime Tabata
We talk to the man behind Crisis Core: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Type-0 on his work on PSP RPGs, his influences, and the future of the series.
If you ever wondered who crafted the portable prequels to Final Fantasy VII and the conflict-ridden magic school adventures of Final Fantasy Type-0, then look no further than scenario director Hajime Tabata.
We managed to have a quick word with Tabata and quizzed him on working on Final Fantasy in the PSP space, his influences for the series, and why Final Fantasy Type-0 hasn't been localised for the West.
How did you get started doing Final Fantasy and working for Square Enix?
Since early on in my career, my acquaintances from Squaresoft (back before the Enix merger) invited me to join them. However, the timing for these things never seemed to work out, and I didn’t have a chance to transfer.
About nine years ago, I then switched to become a freelancer and was working with a group of my friends to make a mobile game rather than a console game. That’s when my acquaintances invited me again, saying "you should create a mobile game at our company!"
I remember sitting down with the board members over some drinks and had an interview there. The whole team was brought on board to Square Enix with no questions asked (laughs).
What got me into working on Final Fantasy was when Tetsuya Nomura had indirectly made a request: “Can we make a mobile game that involves the Turks from Final Fantasy VII?” My proposition was Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII.
Right after releasing that game, Yoshinori Kitase moved me to the console division, and so I ultimately went back to working on console games. Coincidentally, this was during the time when the PSP launched.
Who are your main inspirations when it comes to writing and directing for games?
I don’t believe I’ve been influenced by anything, but I don’t know for sure. My standard lies in whether or not I’ve surpassed my past works every time I work on a new title.
If you only had to pick one FF title that's not directed by you, what is your favorite Final Fantasy title and why?
The game that had the most impact on me was Final Fantasy VII. Games that I love but haven’t finished yet are FFVI and FFXII. I have memories of playing the first FF until the very end.
Concerning FF VII and the spin-offs you did, we felt that the story of Zack was one that should be told and you did a great job with Crisis Core: FF. Was this project what you wanted to do, or were you merely assigned to it and you did the best you could?
It was the latter answer. With the launch of the PSP, Yoshinori Kitase had instructed me to develop a Final Fantasy title on that platform and left me in charge of the content. I discussed it with Tetsuya Nomura, and because I have had prior experience with BC: FFVII, we decided to portray Zack’s story from the same FFVII universe.
It was not long after I had joined the company, so I struggled with gathering the development team together. Thanks to them and the FF fans, we were able to complete the project. When I saw the ending rendered by the Visual Works team, I felt that I was able to fulfill my duties to the FF VII development team and FF VII fans.
The schools and militaristic feel of FINAL FANTASY: Type-0 felt like you were doing a grittier take on the Harry Potter universe by J.K Rowling and combining it with something like Battle Royale. Would it be accurate to say that those were your influences?
The school of magic aspect may be a bit similar to Harry Potter, but the other settings are drastically different. The world view has a consistent theme of “a real war within a fantasy world,” and so I worked on the title as a documentary that records the account within a fictitious world.
One of the countries is a land of magic, so the concept of a magical academy was created. Harry Potter is a very mainstream title, and I like it myself, but I can’t say that I’ve been influenced by that work.
As for Battle Royale, I had not thought of it until you had brought it up in this interview. I wanted to make FF Type-0 a fictional documentary, so the team and I built various elements on that template.
What did you and your team felt you did right with FINAL FANTASY Type-0, from a story and gameplay standpoint?
We made combat filled with tension and exhilaration, as well as portray each selectable character's personality shine on the battlefield. The other thing I felt we did great on was the ending. However, what I think stood out was that it was a technical masterpiece that goes beyond the specs of the PSP.
Conversely, what aspects of Type-0 did you feel needed improvement had the team been given more time?
I would have added ad-hoc capabilities and a co-op mode where players could help each other at any time. I would have also been more thorough with the storytelling and making it easier to comprehend. Lastly, I would have also liked to adjust the leveling curve and balance of the magic.
It seems as if I have listed many. (laughs)
Do you feel that there are still many stories to tell after the events of Final Fantasy Type-0? If so, what kind of scenarios and situations do you wish to explore?
At the end of Type-0, the loop structure of the world ended, so there is a direction of history the world took after that. I’m interested in that portion; not so much the events after, but probably in the far flung future of the timeline.
Will FF Type-0 be localized for North America and Europe? If so, when?
Due to market reasons, we are taking a clean slate in terms of our plans. We feel strongly about bringing this title to the fans in North America and Europe, so if an opportunity arises that can become a conclusive factor, we are prepared to go into consideration right away.
Where and how do you see the future of FF head to and progress?
I think the franchise will strive to be considered a triple-A title in the eyes of every player. In other words, to continue the challenge to become the world’s biggest RPG franchise.
When it comes to revitalizing the old ways of Final Fantasy that so many fans requested, if it’s a system in which the player can immerse themselves into the world of FF, there can be many different ways of approaching it.
I personally like a system in which the player can move the characters freely like an open world setting, and in which the player can touch the world and enjoy the feeling and its presence.
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