The surprise announcement of "Final Fantasy XV" at Monday's Sony press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles showed a somber tone, a modern-world setting and a huge break from the franchise's trademark turn-based combat. NBC News sat down with the game's director and character designer, Tetsuya Nomura, to hear all about Square-Enix's next big role-playing game. A translator helped during the interview.
NBC News: Some say that the "Final Fantasy" games are getting too modern for a game with "fantasy" in its name — but of course, tech and magic have always been at odds in the series. How do you see it?
Tetsuya Nomura: I don't like the extreme cases of tech or magic. If I choose, I choose a modern setting — but that's not a good setting for a game. So if you look at "FFXV," it starts in a very modern world similar to Shinjuku (in downtown Tokyo), but when the story starts, you go to the medieval world — but the weapons they are using are high tech-weapons; that kind of combo is what I like.
In all "FF" titles in the past, there were no titles in extreme high or low fantasy, they always had a mixture. There was some weight on one side or the other, but it was always mixed. Personally, when I play games, I cannot be emotionally involved if the game starts in an imaginary fantasy world — so I want to start in the modern world and branch out into the fantasy.
Q: Does character design have a big effect on gameplay, or is it the other way around? Do level designers say "We need an ice monster" and you comply, or can you also say "This character I've made should definitely use a spear"?
A: When I design the "silhouette" (i.e. general outline) I make suggestions such as "this character should carry something long on his back." Before, I used to design weapons as well, but now I only design characters. It was until "FFX" that I was doing weapons — if you remember the Buster Sword and Gunsword, those were suggested back to the developer teams and they used them in gameplay.
It was until "FF8" that I designed monsters. If you look at the trailer for "FFXV," the behemoth and giants were originally designed for "FF7" and "FF8" by me; they were redesigned for "XV."
Q: Where does character inspiration come from? Modern fashion, history books or does it just spring into your head?
A: It's not like I'm always thinking about character design. When I receive orders, I start imagining things. The image of that character, the "silhouette," comes into my mind, and from that I start thinking of details. In the past I would probably flip through the pages of fashion magazines, now I look through the Web pages of my favorite brands.
Q: On that note, and this might sound a little silly, but hair has always appeared to be a big part of your character design. Has that become more important as technology enables it?
A: If you look at the real world, you don't see too many extreme hairstyles. That's why characters in games should have unique hairstyles. It's just one way to showcase each character's personality. We do have to deform some realistic hairstyles to more game-appropriate styles.
Sometimes I wish we had the easiness Western FPS (first-person shooters) have, to make everyone bald. We're a company that's known for unique hairstyles, but in a way we're running out of ideas.
Q: Are there any artists or games in particular that have inspired you or that fans should check out?
A: The reason I joined Square was because I loved Amano-san's art (Yoshitaka Amano, who has done "FF" logos and design since the beginning). When I was in high school, my art teacher told me about Amano-san. I really only joined because of him; I wasn't interested in the gaming world at all. In a way, it was him who hired me, and whom I respect the most.
"Final Fantasy XV" will be coming to PS4 and Xbox One. No release date has been set.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.