Final Fantasy Scenarist Kazushige Nojima Explains How FFVIII Was Influenced by FFVII's Success
Final Fantasy series scenarist Kazushige Nojima shared details on Final Fantasy VIII's development for its 20th anniversary.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII, Weekly Famitsu October 24 2019 issue (released on October 10) included a long feature on Square Enix’s JRPG. The feature included a long interview with Kazushige Nojima, who worked as a scenarist on multiple Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games. He’s also one of the scenarists on Final Fantasy VII Remake. We already covered part of this interview, where Kazushige Nojima shared if he’d do a new FFVIII game, it’d focus on Laguna.
Here’s an extensive summary of the interview, with all the points Kazushige Nojima brought up.
Note that this article contains spoilers regarding Final Fantasy VIII.
Kazushige Nojima started the interview by sharing how unlike Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII didn’t have a multitude of projects related to it since its original release, so he didn’t have any occasion to look back on the game. Thinking about it now, a part of himself believes he could’ve done more with the game’s scenario.
Kazushige Nojima: In order to make the scenario work as a game, many changes happened to it during development. There are big differences compared to what we initially thought about, and what we ended up doing.
The fact that Final Fantasy VIII followed the worldwide successful Final Fantasy VII also greatly influenced him:
Kazushige Nojima: Final Fantasy VII was a huge success outside Japan. So right from the start of Final Fantasy VIII’s development, one of our main objectives was making something that would be popular overseas. We didn’t have this in mind at all when making FFVII. So I changed my way of writing. For example, in Japanese, you can make a character speak without revealing their gender. You can use that, and make a reveal later about how that character was actually a woman. This isn’t possible in English as the translation will always use either “He” or “She”. Another example would be jokes. Until then, I only thought about Japanese players, so puns were not a problem. But I heard the translators had a lot of trouble with that when translating FFVII. So we tried our best to write FFVIII‘s scenario in a way that would be easier to translate.
Nojima also shared how he was helping with the overseas version of FFVII when FFVIII was in early development. So he doesn’t remember being on the team yet when Square decided FFVIII would have “Love” and “Academy School” as its themes. He also remembers how himself, Yoshinari Kitase, and the advertising producer on the game, had no idea what “love” as a theme actually means. So they chatted a lot about it.
As for the reason why Square went with “love” as a theme, they wanted a fitting theme to depict a realistic story and characters. For this goal, they also aimed to make the characters’ expression more realistic, but they couldn’t do much without going over their budget. There’s also how each character uses a high amount of polygons, meaning they couldn’t display more than a certain number of characters at the same time. This is something that affects screenplay and thus the story.
At the same time, Final Fantasy VIII was according to Nojima the first step which made himself and the staff realize “this is how we’ll make games from now”, slowly getting closer to the expressiveness and realism they wished. And then they reached Final Fantasy X, where characters were fully voiced fo the first time, allowing for even more expressiveness. Nojima is also happy overall with how they managed to properly show Squall’s growth and how he gradually becomes more expressive, until CD3 where he openly shows he loves Rinoa.
Later on in the interview, Nojima further explained how fan feedback and impressions on FFVII influenced his work on FFVIII:
Kazushige Nojima: With the bonus I got with FFVII, I bought a PC and started browsing the net. I was curious about what players thought of Square’s games so I started reading FFVII bulletin boards. The negative remarks which came back the most where “there’s too many flashbacks” and “the story is too sad”. Taking this into account, I decided to write for FFVIII a story where none of the main characters would die. And I really like using flashbacks, giving puzzle pieces to the players. And then make the players realize what really happened later on. Trying to have less falshbacks is how I thought about the story trick with Laguna’s parts. These scenes makes you believe they’re happening at the same time, but you only realize later on they’re actually flashbacks.
As we already reported, Nojima also revealed how the parts where you control Laguna were initially supposed to be much longer:
Kazushige Nojima: At first, Laguna’s parts were much bigger. They were making around half of Final Fantasy VIII. But as development went on, they got shorter and shorter. The staff worked really hard to make a map for Laguna’s parts too, but in the end it’s barely used in the final game. I always felt bad about that and couldn’t apologize enough to the staff.
When asked for his favorite character, Nojima answered it’s probably Rinoa. One development story Nojima remembers is all the angry remarks the women on the development team brought up when they were working on the dance party scene. They explained how a girl wearing such a short dress would never move the way Rinoa initially did. So they changed her motion patterns to reflect that. Nojima also regrets they didn’t ask more for the women in the staff’s opinion when they were discussing the “love” theme of the game. He also didn’t believe some of Rinoa’s lines, like her “hug hug” lines, would become this famous.
Following that, Nojima was asked which FFVIII character’s lines were the most difficult to write. He cited Quistis and Squall. Squall was the hardest because making him silent would just make him Cloud. But they also needed to take into consideration players who like dialogue choices, to influence Squall’s behavior. This is how Squall ended up being a character who doesn’t say his opinion much but speaks a lot in his mind. And Squall is the complete opposite of Laguna, who says everything he thinks.
Nojima mentioned there’s also a contrast with their comrades. Rinoa at some points says she can’t understand Squall unless he says what he’s thinking, meanwhile Kiros and Wald always understand Laguna before he even says anything. All these elements are ways to reflect the “love” theme of FFVIII.
When speaking about Irvine and the reveals related to the character, Nojima also explained how he always aim to surprise players this way. Without these surprises, the stories wouldn’t have an impact and Final Fantasy games would just be about the battle systems.
When asked about what defines a Final Fantasy game, Nojima answered:
Kazushige Nojima: I don’t know what is a Final Fantasy-like game is either (laughs). But what I know though is when something doesn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game. It’s like instinct. I think while it’s a major series, we work on Final Fantasy like independant developers would. I think Nomura would say the same thing. We never go for a straightfoward route. Or sometimes we make it seem so, but we actually do huge changes. If you can feel this when playing a Final Fantasy game, it means it’s a Final Fantasy-like Final Fantasy game. It’s also possible one day we’ll do a “classic” Final Fantasy game that will definitly be accepted by everyone, with no changes. Maybe we’d need to force ourselves to do it though (laughs). Because we always strongly feel we need to do something new.
Nojima believes the worldwide love for Final Fantasy is explained with how Square Enix always challenges themselves and make each game different, creating heated debate among fans on which game is their favorite. Nojima also mentioned that when attending overseas events, fans often tell him FFVIII is their favorite. He’s quite happy about it and he believes it was worth it back then to think so hard about what overseas fans would like.
Ending the interview, Nojima shared this message for both old-time fans and those discovering Final Fantasy VIII with the remastered version:
Kazushige Nojima: Until FFVII, it kinda felt as if we were students making games. FFVII‘s success made us realize we’re developing awesome games, making FFVIII the first time we really wanted to challenge ourselves. FFVIII is obviously a huge part of the FF series history, but I believe it’s also one of the most important games of that era as a whole. So I hope people will be able to feel that era when playing the game today.
If you wish to read more about Square’s early days, I recommend our report on the panel held by FF series artist Kazuko Shibuya at Japan Expo 2019.
Final Fantasy VIII Remastered is available on PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One.
Final Fantasy VII Remake launches on March 3, 2020, on PS4. If you liked this article, you should grab the game on Amazon to support us.