Features// Hironobu Sakaguchi at BAFTA

Posted 17 Feb 2012 16:35 by
“My daughter once told me, ‘With Final Fantasy, Lost Odyssey, The Last Story... how come you always give your games such similar names? The next game I make will definitely have a different kind of title!” Legendary games developer Hironobu Sakaguchi laughed about his sudden awareness of this fact to a crowd of captivated fans at BAFTA’s Piccadilly theatre last night.

The Mistwalker founder was in London to showcase his latest role-playing epic, Wii-exclusive The Last Story. And I’ll admit, it does sound a little bit like he’s packing it all in. In fact, Sakaguchi said that he worked on the game as if it really was his last. But it’s not. Don’t worry.

When the audience saw the game in action on the big theatre screen, it was evident that Sakaguchi’s approach to its development had resulted in some truly exciting and inspired gameplay. In The Last Story, you control a group of six mercenaries that come to the castle town of Lazulis Island seeking work. Such available work involves, as you would expect, defeating various enemies and monsters that threaten the mountainous region that surrounds the town.

Eschewing science fiction and fantasy elements that have been prominent in Japanese RPGs in the past (particularly in Sakaguchi’s own games), Mistwalker has decided to keep things rooted largely within reality, taking inspiration from medieval England.

The fantastic voice acting and localisation direction includes Cockney-sounding females, softly-spoken Scots and even hardass Welshmen.

As the leader of the pack, Zael has the power to engage in tactical combat while also deliver punishing blows in a real-time battle environment. This works using a rather cool feature known as “Gathering” - the ability to draw the attention of nearby enemies towards you so that your companions have enough time to attack and cast spells. While your sword can vanquish all kinds of grunts, bosses are a little harder and require some lateral thinking in order to defeat - environmental attacks and setting up traps, for example.

“Because I wanted to create a completely new battle system for this game, we had a year-long experimental phase where we tried out twice as many systems,” Sakaguchi revealed, speaking of the battle mechanics. In the end, the Gathering system was decided upon. “My ultimate goal was to create a game that would be held as a new style of RPG and I hope people will feel the same way.”

Of course, having led the Japanese RPG scene for several decades now, it must be hard to stay ahead of the competition. Over the last 25 years, Sakaguchi notes the three main events in the games industry that has allowed (or forced) the genre to evolve. “Firstly, the transition from 2D to 3D, certainly for the development of Final Fantasy VII this was a huge turning point.

“Another thing is the increased usage of the internet. The incorporation of an online element to a game has also given an additional dimension to gaming. Thirdly, with the advancement of console hardware, games have evolved greatly in terms of graphics and sound. Presentation has become much richer now than I knew 25 years ago.”

Back to the title tattle - perhaps the reasoning for the ominous naming of Sakaguchi’s games stems from the one that made him famous: Final Fantasy. And indeed, many of the gamers and industry professionals in the audience were interested in asking about his past experiences on the franchise.

“The first few games I designed ended up failing, so when it came to Final Fantasy 1... I gave it that name because I thought, ‘if this fails, this is going to be my last game and I’m going to leave gaming industry.’ But the reason why I previously failed was because I copied what was already on the market. My advice would be to free yourself and follow what you believe.”

That philosophy led Final Fantasy to be not quite so final, as a huge number of sequels and spinoffs have been developed since its release. Sakaguchi is not so sure that The Last Story will end up the same way, should it prove to be successful. “It’s a good idea, but I don’t know whether I will be doing [sequels] for The Last Story.”

What is certain is Sakaguchi’s next venture - mobile gaming. It was revealed on Twitter earlier in the day that Mistwalker will be developing for iOS. The developer said on stage that he was in fact working on three separate titles for the Apple platform, including a platforming game. Does he think, like many mobile advocates, that the home console as we know it will die out?

“I can’t be certain about what will happen in the future, but the images that PCs and consoles can output are always going to be of a very high quality, so they will never disappear off the face of the earth. But at the same time the smartphone market is increasing rapidly, so it really remains to be seen.”

But would he ever expect to see - or develop - 20-hour epics on iOS? “Well, MMORPGs are also fun to play. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we saw these kinds of games on the iPhone either.”

The Last Story will be released exclusively on the Nintendo Wii on 24th February.

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