Sin & Redemption
By: Karl Castaneda
Sakaguchi and Sin
As a student at Yokohama National University, Hironobu Sakaguchi was on the road to being a computer technician, and would've likely gotten his degree were it not for Hiromichi Tanaka (Fun Fact: If this name sounds familiar, it's because he directed the first game in the Seiken Densetsu, i.e. Mana, series.), who introduced the young scholar to Wizardry. A Western RPG on Tanaka's Apple II Computer, Hironobu was soon obsessed with the game, playing it from early afternoon to the wee hours of the morning.
On Spring Break in 1983, the pair decided to drop out and get jobs at Denyu, a PC software company looking to start a video game division. Working inside a small two-bedroom apartment in Yokohama with three other new hires, Sakaguchi designed many-a-game for their little branch at Denyu, this branch called Square...
When Square broke off from Denyu in 1986 as their own seperate entity, Sakaguchi was put in charge of Square's A Team, which would develop games in cartridge format for the Nintendo Famicom, whereas the B Team would design titles in the Famicom's extension, the Disk System. Despite what you might think, the B Team was thought to be more important, since it seemed like the Famicom Disk System was the future of gaming (Fun Fact: The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 2 were Disk System games.). Despite this, he worked on great games that met huge success with fellow prodigies Nasir Gebelli (Notable for being able to develop games to their final builds within five weeks) and Koichi Ishii (Director for subsequent Seiken Densetsu titles).
Unfortunately, A-Team frequently didn't see eye-to-eye with Square's management, who kept pressing for quasi-3D adventures like Tobiase! Daisakusen (released by Acclaim in the U.S. as 3-D World Runner). Deciding that he was fed up with constantly battling for control over his games, Hironobu started work on what would be his last game at the company, known today as Final Fantasy.
Meeting of the Minds
Not wanting to fall into the same cliché’s that had befallen Yuji Horii's Dragon Quest, Sakaguchi wanted Final Fantasy to showcase a more adult look, rather than the Akira Toriyama-designed characters of that series. For this, he went to Yoshitaka Amano, who had been working as an artist since he was fifteen, first with Tatsunoko (Speed Racer, Gatchaman), and then as a freelance illustrator on films like Vampire Hunter D. Bringing his signiture artistic style, Final Fantasy's art was already destined to be fantastic.
Finding a composer was a little more simple, since prolific music-man Nobuo Uematsu had been working at Square since 1985 and had even worked with Sakaguchi before on games like King's Knight. Adding the final ingredient, Hironobu dipped his pen in the ink as a spectacular scenario writer, fleshing out each character and plot twist to ensnare gamers into the world that would become legend.
Final Fantasy set itself apart by borrowing numerous techniques from film, such as an opening cutscene before the game actually started. And even when the action began, you still weren't shown the title screen until you had begun your real quest. With its creative story-telling mechanics and mature look, the game was met with massive fanfare and popularity. Sequels obviously followed, making Sakaguchi and Co. famous, not only in Japan, but in the West as well.
Final Fantasy VII
Continuing with his film-inspired direction of the Final Fantasy franchise, Sakaguchi was as excited as anyone for Nintendo's 64-Bit console, which would promise to showcase advanced visuals. Unfortunately, he was let down to the greatest degree when he learned that Hiroshi Yamauchi had confirmed that it would utilize cartridges instead of the CD format that Sega had taken advantage of. Having felt constrained by the Super Famicom's relatively small storage, he had no objections when Square announced that it would no longer support what would be the N64, in favor of greener pastures.
In a move that could only be called ridiculous, Yamauchi shrugged off what had been one of his greatest allies, saying that this decision "couldn't be helped," rather than taking this as a warning that he should reconsider his options. In retaliation, former Square president Nao Suzuki vocally discounted Nintendo as a competitor in the next generation and encouraged other developers to follow them off of Yamauchi's territory. To Nintendo's dismay, they did, and developers like Capcom, Konami, and Enix either left Yamauchi's camp altogether or only rarely contributed a game.
But where did they go; where did they follow Square to? Sega's Saturn had been doing well, but they instead decided to go with a newcomer to the video game industry. Instead of being rooted in software, this new player had been known for quite some time as a general electronics giant, and with their new console, they expected to conquer yet another market. This company was Sony, and their console, the system that would be the home of Final Fantasy VII and the death knell of Nintendo's supremacy, was the Playstation...
Next Time: Ken Kutaragi
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