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FFXII TZA : Interview with Katô & Katano (EN)
Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age's release is imminent and director Takashi Katano and producer Hiroaki Katô made a stopover in Paris. We had the privilege of asking our questions directly with our friends from Final Fantasy Dream and Final Fantasy World.
The interview took place in English with a translation to Japanese on Friday, May 12th
FF Dream: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age comes out in two months. Can we say that, at this moment, the development of the game is coming to an end? How do the developers feel about the whole development?
Hiroaki Kato: When we started out on the remaster of Final Fantasy XII, we set out to enhance the graphics and the sound to make it a more beautiful game. We also wanted to make it more easy and convenient to play, and add in some system changes to make it relevant to current gamers. At the end of the development, we now look at what we've done in the finished product, and we really feel we have achieved the goal to make a new Final Fantasy XII experience for a new generation of gamers.
FF World: We recently learned it would be possible to unlock a second job in The Zodiac Age. What inspired this change, and not for example the possibility to change jobs at any moment?
Kato: First of all, you probably know we based this version on Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System that was only available in Japan, in which you could pick only one job out of twelve for each of your characters. We wanted to expand on the possibilities of the system by giving you the option to choose between two jobs. We felt we didn't really need to offer the option to change jobs halfway through because all of the jobs are pretty well balanced and provide a good choice to the players. There's no "weak" job and no job that you can't complete the game using. It is really designed to let players pick the jobs that they like and use them. You can enjoy any of them.
On the other hand, because of all the other enhancements we've added to the game to make it more convenient, it makes it easier to back to it and play it again and again to use different job combinations and try out the other things you wanted to the first time. We decided that, overall, this would be the right direction.
Finaland: Square Enix did a special treatment for Kingdom Hearts by creating a movie instead of a playable remastered version. Have you considered bringing the DS game Revenant Wings as a movie or maybe as a game?
Kato: The real focus of the project this time around is to redo Final Fantasy XII itself and to upgrade it to be suitable as a modern game. And the other big thing, of course, is to offer the contents that is in the International Zodiac Job System version that was never released in the West, and to use the PS4 to make it an even better game. We didn't think about Revenant Wings, because there was already more than enough to do in one development session. We really feel that Final Fantasy XII alone already has such a deep level of side stories and quests, and you don't really need to see the other pieces of the Ivalice saga to enjoy the story of Final Fantasy XII. We feel it stands alone very all.
FF Dream: The Zodiac Age is based on the International version, which brings a good number of elements people have not knowledge of. Was it important to make it more than just a remaster to make the experience more complete but also more interesting?
Kato: One of the biggest reasons, obviously, was to make the contents from the International Zodiac Job System edition available to players in the West. The other one was that we didn't want to simply make a cosmetic upgrade, because with the change in hardware, the way people play games and what people expect from games has changed somewhat. So the way we did it is that we wanted to make a game that would be accessible by modern gamers. We spent around the same amount of time as you would to develop a new game, to make it like a new game for the modern day rather than a simple remaster. Of course we want those who played the original game to enjoy it and have a new and exciting experience, but we also think the game is so good that we want new players to experience it too. Certainly, a new generation of Final Fantasy players, who maybe started with FFXV, are now looking for another Final Fantasy to play. We thought that we really needed to make a game that they would pick up and enjoy, and be able to get into very easily.
FF World: Are there any plans to add DLC, such as new costumes for characters? I've heard some people say they'd love having Vaan's costume from FFTA2.
Kato: There are no plans for DLCs for this game. We feel there's already so much contents in the main game itself, especially from the side quests and all the lore than you can get about the world of Ivalice. So we hope people can use this as another chance to go back to it and learn more about Ivalice. We think it's a package that's so good in itself that it doesn't need DLC. There is actually another addition to the International version, the Trial mode, which is essentially a whole new game using the same mechanics. It's a mode where you have to fight 100 battles in a row. In that sense, we feel that with just The Zodiac Age on its own, you've got what is essentially a game and a DLC expansion.
Finaland: Ten years ago, FFXII divided the fans because of its very serious scenes. Do you think that young players at the time now have the maturity to understand and enjoy the story more than before?
Kato: I do believe they will be able to understand the story more now. One particular reason is that the enhancements in the graphics and the sound provided by the new hardware has really enhanced the resonance of the emotions and the impact of the cutscenes. You can see the subtle performances a lot more. I think players will be able to have a lot of new discoveries about the scenes that they've known from before. For example, you can see the subtle movements of the eyes and the mouth, of their facial expressions. It's so much clearer now. You will tell yourself: "okay, he's saying that because he feels this way." It will be a more convincing portrayal.
The extra side quests and contents around the main storyline add a lot more to the background and world of Ivalice, so I think a lot of players haven't explored all of that when they played the first time around. If you only play the main story of Final Fantasy XII, you only get a small part of the overall tale. With the new upgrades to make the game more accessible and convenient to play, like the auto save function and the high speed movement, people will more want to get into these other pieces and have a fuller understanding, we hope. Again, maybe because they are older, they will have a new take on the story this time.
FF Dream: We know redesigning the graphics was a big job on The Zodiac Age. Did it represent a challenge for the team, in particular to convey more emotions through the remodeled characters?
Takashi Katano: One of the things we were really focused on is the textures of the characters, to make them work with high resolution graphics, especially with things that exist in the real world. We worked very hard to make these look just right. It's the building up of these small touches that improves the emotional power and resonance of the performances. The closer the textures are to reality, the more convincing they are, and that really makes the characters feel more real. The original FFXII has a sort of very stylized and artistic visual approach. In making that into a modern, HD game, there was a gap, and a lot of things didn't really quite work. For example, the metal, like on Vaan's clothing, was very hard to make it look shiny in HD.
FF World: Hiroyuki Ito has helped supervising The Zodiac Age. It's been a while since he has worked on a new major title. Any idea what he's up to?
Kato: Sorry, but that's a secret. (laugh) Mr. Ito was very much involved in the rebalancing for the International Zodiac Job System version of the game. He used his experience and know-how as a battle designer to make that really great. Obviously, in translating that into a new version with The Zodiac Age, he was being consulted on every point. We talked to him a lot about what changes and enhancements we can make. He really helped out and was very much involved in this one too.
FF World: Was it his idea to add the ability to unlock a second job?
Kato: The idea of having a second job was actually something that most of the team wanted to do. When we started out trying to work out the best way to do the remaster, the original design team from FFXII sat down together and we played through both the original and the International Zodiac Job System versions of the game. Most people's opinion was that it would be great if we could add another job and select from two of them. When we put that down and decided to do it, we worked out a number of ways that we could do that, and consulted with Mr. Ito at that point to find out what would be the best way to implement it, what would be the easiest and most fun way to add another job. It was a group decision, but he did help in how this was realized.
Finaland: With the new generation of console players and the coming remaster The Zodiac Age, does the idea of expanding the Ivalice universe with other games come to your mind?
Kato: After we've released The Zodiac Age in July, we really want to sit back and watch the feedback from the players, to see what people liked about it and what they want to see from the future of Ivalice. Based on that, we'll think about what we want to do with the world of Ivalice in the future. If people like it, there's a good chance something could happen. Of course, it has to be a big call, and if you guys can help by creating a buzz around it, that would be amazing.
FF World: Final Fantasy Tactics!
Finaland: This year is the 20th anniversary of Tactics!
Kato: (laugh) It is. We haven't thought about it.
FF Dream: To complete this question, has working on a dense universe like Ivalice given you and your team the desire to create a similar universe in the future?
Kato: There are different approaches than you can take regarding what you do with your next project. You're right, Ivalice is a very detailed world that has a lot of depth, but it depends if people want us to make another game in Ivalice or not. Another way of thinking what to do next is asking yourself what kind of gameplay experience you want to give people. Very often, we start designing new games from that idea. The new hardware available now, like the PS4, allows us to do what we haven't been able to do in the past.
FF World: Any plans to bring The Zodiac Age to PC?
Kato: The thing about the original game is that it was fully optimized to make the fullest use of the PlayStation 2 hardware. This time again, we decided that, in the same way, we would use the PlayStation 4 hardware and optimize everything to work really well with it. For the time being, we're quite happy keeping it for the PS4. We think everyone should buy one to play this game!
Finaland: Composer Hitoshi Sakimoto came back to rework the music. Did he received specific instructions from the team?
Kato: When we discussed with him the way we wanted to do the soundtrack, my original proposal was to have the option to have the original game music or the music from the original soundtrack CD that was released around the time of the PS2 game. But he didn't think that was enough, and said that with the enhancements of the sound and graphics, we had such a great opportunity to use a live orchestra to rerecord every single piece of music from the game. The original was only done with a synthesizer and it could really improve the impact of the music, so I said "let's try that", and we decided to go ahead with the idea to use a full orchestra. But he didn't quite realize how many tracks there were in the game, almost a hundred, so when he started to understand how much there was to do, he was a bit daunted. (laugh) But we went through and did all of it anyway.
FF Dream: Can we expect last minute details about The Zodiac Age at E3, or if not, about your next projects?
Kato: You're going to have to look forward to E3 to find out! (laugh)
FF World: When you look at FFXII as it is today, what is it that you are the most proud of?
Kato: As I said, when we sat down and played the two original versions of the game at the beginning, and see what we could change, what really struck me was that even if I know this game incredibly very well from start to finish, I was making new discoveries and found out new things I had not quite realized about the game. Even if it's a game from ten years ago, I was really surprised that it didn't feel old. It's still very current and relevant. It really pushed the hardware of the PS2. I was proud to be able to work with a group of people who put that much efforts into it, to make a game of that quality, and I'm also proud to have been able to come back and work on it again.
Transcription & Translation : Jérémie (FFWorld)
Special Thanks: Square Enix France / Europe / Japan, FFWorld, FFDream
Interviewers : Jérémie, rom-staytion. Fat Chocobo
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