It has been 12 years since the father of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, has had anything to do with the blockbuster role-playing game franchise he created in 1987. Despite over 100 million sales and numerous successful sequels – including series high point Final Fantasy VII in 1996 – he was eventually undone by his debut as a movie director. His disastrous all-CG movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a global flop that lost tens of millions of dollars at the box office and blew a hole in Square’s finances so big it had to merge with rival Enix Corporation in 2003.
Sakaguchi resigned in 2004 and formed his own studio, Mistwalker, famously enraging his fans by announcing a deal to publish his first non-Square RPG, Blue Dragon, exclusively to Microsoft’s Xbox – a console that had been received in Japan about as warmly as bird-flu. Since then, he’s moved to Hawaii, launched some DS games, another RPG (this time for Nintendo, The Last Story), a successful mobile game (Terra Battle) and even a surfing game for phones called Party Wave.
It’s been quite a ride. We met with Sakaguchi at his Mistwalker studio in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo this summer to talk skipping school to watch movies, his early dreams of being a musician, reconciling (or not) with Square Enix, and what he thinks of the latest addition to the series he created: Final Fantasy XV.
You were brought on the stage for the Uncovered Final Fantasy XV event this March, which was a surprise. It also seemed like this was sort of a reconciliation between you and Square Enix. Is that how we should read this?
That’s a difficult question. Do you want the honest answer? As a company, it made sense for [Square Enix] to distance themselves from me. Obviously, I had a strong influence on the people who were there and that’s not necessarily a positive thing for a company that needs to carry on and continue growing. I can understand why things played out the way they did. However, 15 years have passed, and the people who are working there now and making Final Fantasy games now are not people I have worked with before, so my influence won’t be as big on them as it might have been in the past.
I wouldn’t say this represents a reconciliation so much as a new era. But I think Square Enix is also afraid that people are going to associate any success of the new Final Fantasy with the my seeming return, as if I have any influence on the game or am involved with the development. So they simply want me to show my face once in awhile as the initial creator of the series.
So it’s more of an endorsement?
Yes, that’s right.
How did the outreach happen?
I had dinner with Tabata-san three times or so. He wanted to do an interview like this one, to talk about the creation of Final Fantasy because he wasn’t there at the beginning. So since he’s taken the Final Fantasy baton, he was wondering who would be best to talk to about the initial games and eventually came to me. We had dinner several times and through talking with him, I told him that I liked where his head was at. He was doing his best to make Final Fantasy XV something impactful. At the end of one of our meals, he asked me if I would go up on stage and tell people that his is a team that is up to the challenge. He thought that would really excite and unify his development team.