Dissidia Final Fantasy NT interview: Square talk eSports, reviving classic characters, fan service and expectations

By Alex Donaldson, Friday, 8 September 2017 14:07 GMT

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT’s developers have a lot of fan expectation to handle.

In many ways, I’m one of the people that’s most difficult to please. I’ve fallen off the series a little in the last decade, but I would classify myself as a mega Final Fantasy fan – I got my start writing about video games over fifteen years ago on FF fan sites. I also love fighting games, as regular readers of VG247 will know – I bombard you all with round-ups of tournaments and regular check-ins on Capcom’s process of turning Street Fighter 5 from unfinished mess to viable game. Dissidia basically feels like it’s for me.

Before the Dissidia beta opened up for the public I got to go to Square Enix’s office and play a lot of the game, and honestly the FF/fighter mash-up feels pretty good and has a lot of potential for great high-octane matches. Its three-on-three RPG-inspired format differentiates it nicely, and though it has issues such as a confusing HUD and an interesting way of damaging enemies, it sounds like a lot of that is either due to be tweaked or is easily enough learned with the right advice. Basically, I’m excited for this game.

I got to sit down with Dissidia NT director Takeo Kujiraoka and producer Ichiro Hazama to chat about their efforts to merge Final Fantasy and fighter, dealing with the expectations of fans, eSports ambitions and their own personal favourites from FF. Here’s our chat in full. Enjoy – Dissidia NT is out in January.

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“I myself have been raised on the Final Fantasy series. The mere fact that I get to make these all-star characters and stages… it might have been difficult, but it’s really fun, and I’ve been enjoying every minute.” – Takeo Kujiraoka

VG247: I’m really excited for this game because I’m an enormous Final Fantasy fan and I’m a big fan of fighting games… if you make a Venn diagram for this game, I’m in the middle, basically. I like tournaments – I like watching them, playing them, so – how do you feel about the eSports proposition for this game? You were at EVO…

Ichiro Hazama: The word itself, eSports, it brings up a lot of things that we don’t quite know, if I’m completely honest. We’re not quite sure what eSports will involve, but it’s definitely something we’re going to study from now on, going forward.

One thing we’ve definitely thought at this stage is that it’s not so much going to be about what we want to do with eSports but more about the idea of what the community wants and what it looks like the community desires. That’s going to result in our process going forwards, and we’re not in any rush – we’re not going to rush into any hasty decisions.

eSports brings up all sorts of interesting discussions about things like how easy the game is to watch, a spectator mode, things like that – are those the sort of conversations you’re having internally now as you figure that out?

Takeo Kujiraoka: It’s slightly different to what you say about eSports and the like, but regarding making the game easy to watch, one thing that definitely comes to mind is that for the PlayStation 4 version the user interface is going to be different. What you see on screen is going to be a little bit easier to understand compared to the arcade version in Japan. [The current beta build features the same UI/HUD as the arcade version.].

I know you’re not talking about it in too much detail yet, but can you give an idea of what your approach is going to be like for single-player content? Are you looking to just use it as a tutorial to drive people to multiplayer, or do you see it as something people can sink their teeth into for much longer?

Kujiraoka: We’re very aware that the whole idea of this is to play with others. It’s a brawler where you play with other people, and that’s definitely the best way you can enjoy the game. But there’s also no problem with approaching it from a single-player mindset – that will allow you to get used to playing the game and the different skills, the different character identities – things like that.

Giving you a bit more detail of what we have in mind for the story mode… we’re going to have a reward for playing the story mode in there, there’s the story in the shape of things like cut-scenes, there’s definitely going to be different character skins you can obtain, or weapons, and even moves will develop the further you go into the game. So what we’ve kind of come up with is a collectivity that’s introduced by following the story mode and collecting all those things – that’s something we definitely have in there.

One of the interesting things about Dissidia is that… the Final Fantasy cast of heroes… Well, RPGs tend to have fairly similar main heroes. It’s most often a guy or a girl with a sword, maybe a bit of magic, basic attacks. The more unique characters are often secondary characters, but Dissidia of course is focused on protagonists. There are a few exceptions of course, but the villains are also very often evil, all-powerful mages – ExDeath, Edea, Cloud of Darkness, Kuja… they’re spell slingers. They’re fairly similar, signature moves aside. How do you make characters feel unique?

Hazama: Well, with regards to the battle and the actual action side of things… obviously each character is going to have the original moves from the original game, and that gives a lot of differentiation there. As well as that, each character has their own personality that shows in their play style. But I think the main thing is the appearances themselves. So for example, Cloud of Darkness has her own weapons and the tendrils going on and such. Each character – antagonists and protagonists – really has a different sense of appearance, and that’s probably the main reason they’ll feel different.

You guys have announced six DLC characters now. Have you decided yet where you go beyond that? A lot of fighting games are going for a ‘season’ structure for content – where maybe you add a certain number of characters each year and so on. Have you thought much about your path beyond that initial six?

Hazama: With regards to the six characters that we’ve decided for the DLC… we’ve decided to have six characters, and we’ve really only just begun the negotiations of deciding what those six characters are going to be. We’re nowhere near the stage of actually making the characters! [laughs]

So… with that in mind, it’s really hard to tell the difficulty that’s going to be involved in releasing this season pass. Because we don’t actually know how that’s going to even go yet, it’s impossible for us to imagine… ok, so, how many season passes are we going to do, how long is it going to take? We’re not at that stage yet. So we’re definitely going to make this first before we decide how it’ll go.

“I find Dissidia to be particularly special in that it brings together all of these FF characters from start to finish – and within that, it’s almost like we’re getting them to come out of the shadows and onto the stage.” – Ichiro Hazama

Kujiraoka: Just to go back to why we even came up with the idea of six characters… in the Japanese arcade version, there’s been one new character being released every two months. It’s very much us going make it, release it, make it, release it – there’s not really much of a break in between. There’s no pool where we release them all at once. Just through the sheer mathmematics of it within a year that means six new characters – so that’s how we came up with the idea of six additional characters in the first place.

I will say… with Final Fantasy fans you’re always going to have somebody screaming for their favourite. Nobody will ever be completely happy…! Unless you do all of them. [laughs]

Hazama: [laughs] Yeah! I mean, we’re… the idea of doing all of them… it’s a far-off dream. There are still so many characters that we still think should be released, and we’re in the process of doing so. It’ll be after that we give thoughts to even more characters.

If you put Beatrix from Final Fantasy 9 in the game it’s an instant ten out of ten.

[PR interjects and encourages them to put her in the game for the ten, to much laughter]

Hazama: [laughs] Ohhhh! But yeah, Beatrix from FF9… she’s definitely very popular in Japan, too. We’re definitely aware of that, but… as you said, and as we discussed and laughed about – it’s really impossible. Every person you ask is going to give you a different answer as to their favourite character or favourite series. I’m the same, I have my own personal favourites as well… and you just can’t please everyone. What we can say is that – the next characters that are coming are ones we’re really excited about.

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So now I actually have to ask. Who’s your favourite? Why? Who would you add if you could just do it in an instant, with no other concerns?

Hazama: Ahhhh! My favourite character over all is Auron, from Final Fantasy 10. I like how he’s strong, but also kind, but also strict at the same time. I find that mix of things fantastic – I think he’s a really cool character.

He’d be cool – one handed fighting.

Hazama: Yeah! That pose! [Mimics Auron’s one-hand-in-jacket pose] That’d be exciting.

Kujiraoka: I can’t really pick one favourite character… or actually, it’s more that I won’t pick one favourite character! [laughs] But I’ll go with what I recently… if I could make this new character in game freely, I’d pick a character that I’ve recently been into – and it’d be Aranea from FF15. She’s got a really cool look, she’s got the dragoon stuff going on – I think being able to incorporate that into the battle system of Dissidia would be really cool, and really amazing.

Is it difficult to make these choices? Not just characters – stages too – there’s a lot of iconic imagery to choose from…

Kujiraoka: Yeah, there’s an element of… it becomes really difficult to choose, definitely. As we said earlier, you just can’t please everyone. That’s helped, too, as we’ve gone down the route of considering what characters and stages would probably please the most amount people. An element of that has made things easier.

But I’m not complaining! I mean, I myself have been raised on the Final Fantasy series. The mere fact that I get to make these all-star characters and stages… it might have been difficult, but it’s really fun, and I’ve been enjoying every minute.

How does that feel – to now be in this position where you’re the keeper of the flame for these old characters, looking after these classic, iconic characters?

Hazama: With regards to the whole entire FF series I find Dissidia to be particularly special in that it brings together all of these FF characters from start to finish – and within that, it’s almost like we’re getting them to come out of the shadows and onto the stage and speak to these other characters, right? That’s obviously a really special element of Dissidia that we’re really happy with.

But – it’s not as easy as that. There’s an element where I always have to ask the other producers and directors like [Tetsuya] Nomura-san, [Yoshinori] Kitase-san and [Naoki] Yoshida-san… we can’t really move until we have an approval as to how a character might work. When they say something is cool, we carry on and we do it. I really want to keep that element of things – I think it’s so important because we’re using their characters, we’re respecting the past.

Kujiraoka: With regards to coming into FF from the outside, I came in with the understanding that every single FF title is different and has its own speciality even within the series, right? So, as Hazama-san just said, I really want to keep the importance of each character a precious thing. I want to keep that and maintain that, and that’s definitely one of the challenges we’ve had with Dissidia.

We’re not going to take it lightly, we’re not going to breeze over things – each single action is crucial. I think it’s only in Dissidia that you can bring that – we’re able to bring the fandom this selection of characters, and within that we find such a high level of responsibility. We hope you can enjoy it.

On that note, one of the most amazing things that I’ve felt… we got this from players themselves… when we found out that there were players out there who started playing Dissidia, and that’s how they got into Final Fantasy! They then started playing the original FF games. When I heard that, I was so happy. We assumed it’d be the other way around – that people wanted to see the characters from the games they know in a fighting game, but we’ve also had the opposite, and that was a really great moment for me.

The game is now three-on-three, where the PSP games were just one-on-one with the occasional assist character. How did that come about? I have to be honest, when I originally heard it I thought it wouldn’t work, but it absolutely does…

Hazama: We’ve always had in mind that we’re representing FF as a series. Within that, we’ve seen a lot in each FF title where it’s a party and they go off on an adventure as a party. We really wanted to represent that side of things in Dissidia – fighting as a party. Even at the stage of the PSP games before, we did really want to represent that feeling of being in a party but it wasn’t quite possible to do it at that time.

“We found out that there were players out there who started playing Dissidia, and that’s how they got into Final Fantasy! They then started playing the original FF games. When I heard that, I was so happy.” – Takeo Kujiraoka

When you’re bringing these characters together and writing for them… how difficult was it to find the tone and balance it between all these very different characters? Are there any particular interactions between characters that you really enjoy?

Hazama: There is a large element of the script that takes cues from the originals – each character has their sort of set phrases and catchphrases. Most characters have their own turns of phrase. We obviously had that in mind when creating the game and its script, so we take as much as we can from the original and use that as a basis for what comes out from characters in the game itself. But we still really struggled with it – like, imagine Sephiroth saying thank you… [laughs]

Kujiraoka: Getting Sephiroth to say ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’ didn’t really match the style of the character! We really did struggle to get as much of the tone as we could into those phrases.

I imagine Sephiroth saying thanks is just a grunt…!

Kujiraoka: Yes, yes!

Hazama: [laughs] Yeah, you’re right. You get the sense that… there are actual words, but you get the sense he’s not saying thank you – he just has to.

Kujiraoka: We have used words where possible, but the words are still linked to what the character’s personality is like. As you say, Sephiroth’s is more like a gruff ‘sorry’ while Terra is like ‘oh, please forgive me!’ They still have the personality of each character in there.

Before we wrap up… what are your favourite Final Fantasy games?

Kujiraoka: Ohhh. Man.

Hazama: FF6. That’s… the characters, the game itself, the story – in completion, it’s a brilliant game. In its entirety. FF6 is best.

Kujiraoka: I’m the same as with the characters in that I can’t just choose a favourite…! But with regards to linking it to Dissidia and my experience with Dissidia, I’m actually going to say my favourite is FF11.

The reason why for me it’s FF11 is because with regards to the three versus three system that we’ve introduced in Dissidia NT, there’s obviously a lot of magic being used between players. We’ve introduced buffs and debuffs like protect and bio. You use them on each other, and… with FF11 it was kind of a new and a fresh experience for me, playing with others. It really allowed me to think about how I would create the three by three system.

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