“There Were No Plans of Any Kind Before Apple Arcade”, an Interview With ‘Final Fantasy’ Creator Hironobu Sakaguchi on Fantasian and More

Ever since Fantasian was revealed for Apple Arcade, it had my interest piqued. Hironobu Sakaguchi and Mistwalker have had quite the journey across Xbox and Nintendo consoles before going all in with mobile. Fantasian has always looked gorgeous and once we started seeing more about it through trailers and bits of information revealed on Twitter. With Fantasian finally available on Apple Arcade worldwide, I got a chance to chat with Hironobu Sakaguchi (Mistwalker) and Jessica Chavez (Localization specialist) about Fantasian and more.

TouchArcade (TA): Fantasian is a gorgeous game going by what has been revealed but the memory system is intriguing. Can you tell us about what makes the memory system stand out compared to a more traditional narrative?

Hironobu Sakaguchi (HS): I’ve used a similar approach to Lost Odyssey’s “A Thousand Years of Dreams.” The text animates with illustrations as backdrops coupled with sound effects and music. It’s like bringing a novel to life.

Compared to simple text, it allowed us to stimulate the reader’s imagination a little more while enabling us to curate the experience to immerse the players in our world.

TA: How did Mistwalker and Apple end up working together on this project?

HS: Projects often begin from unexpected encounters between people. In Fantasian’s case, it was a chance meeting with a few members from the Apple team. They happened to be big fans of the Final Fantasy franchise and Uematsu-san’s music, so we started by going down memory lane, and exploring different ideas and opportunities. All of this was around Apple Arcade’s launch, and we were able to create an awesome environment for our team to develop the game specifically for Apple’s new platform.

TA: Did you plan to release Fantasian as a standalone game before deciding to go with Apple Arcade?

HS: Frankly, there were no plans of any kind before Apple Arcade. “Can we do something on Apple Arcade?” was the first question we asked ourselves at the beginning of this project.

TA: How has it been working on Fantasian during the pandemic? Did this cause a delay from when you initially planned on releasing the game?

HS: Out of the three years of development, our final year was almost entirely remote. It was quite nerve-wracking, considering it was the period where we needed to scale a lot of in-game assets. In spite of the concerns, however, I think we were able to transition to a remote working environment quite smoothly. If anything, had we been hit with COVID during the brainstorming and pre-production phase, that would have been a bigger disaster.

TA: You’ve directed some of the best games of all time both with Square Enix and with Mistwalker for other publishers. What are your favourite games from your career?

HS: Of course, I love them all but if I had to pick, the very first Final Fantasy. And the last Final Fantasy of the Famicom era, Final Fantasy 6. I would also like to mention Final Fantasy 9, when I returned to my roots once.

And how could we forget about Terra Battle?

TA: Do you go back and replay your older titles for inspiration while working on new projects?

HS: That rarely ever happens. However, in the case of Fantasian, I was part of an online event in Japan where a few of my old colleagues and I played Final Fantasy 6 together. It reminded me of how much I loved this genre.

TA: Did any of the recent JRPGs like Octopath Traveler or Bravely Default that bring a wealth of quality of life improvements to the traditional JRPG formula play a part in how you approached designing Fantasian?

HS: Unfortunately, I have not played either Octopath Traveler or Bravely Default so I cannot comment.

TA: What made you decide to split the Fantasian narrative into two parts?

HS: The first half of the game is story-driven, whereas the second half of the game is quest-based and gives players more freedom as to where they want to go. The shift in gameplay experiences served a wonderful breaking point so has not to confuse the players.

TA: Will the second part include new music as well?

HS: Of course, there will be. And they are all wonderful compositions. Especially the final dungeon and last battle are amazing.

TA: How was it working with Uematsu-san once on this project compared to when you first started working with him decades ago?

HS: He has said through this process that, “This might be the last game for which I compose the entire soundtrack” so I felt that he has poured his heart and soul in the project. The same goes for me, too.

TA: Over the years, Square Enix has brought a lot of older games you directed to modern platforms and even remake or remastered many of them. When you revisit your older games, do you play the original releases or try out the newer ones?

HS: I tend to not favor remakes of games. I like the idea of actively taking part in creating original stories and worlds.

TA: Final Fantasy IV is my favourite game in the series and I vastly prefer the original 2D version to the new 3D remake. What do you think of the game’s new incarnation compared to the original?

HS: Remakes are interesting in that they take on a new interpretation of the original by the teams working on them. In a way, they are almost a slightly different experience, which has its own added value.

TA: Considering Mistwalker has been developing for mobile since The Last Story, what do you think of the current mobile gaming landscape in and outside Japan compared to how it was a few years ago?

HS: The evolution of hardware has allowed creators to vastly improve the graphics, while the added memory has made it easier to craft the experiences we envision in our minds.

TA: What are your favourite mobile games in recent years and what do you think of subscription services like Xbox Game Pass?

HS: I confess that I haven’t had the time to play many games recently because I’ve dedicated all of it to making Fantasian. As for the subscription services, I think this is a very consumer-friendly way to experience many games. It has become the golden standard for audio-visual mediums like movies and music, so I imagine it will continue to grow in the gaming industry, as well.

TA: Will the Fantasian soundtrack get a vinyl release?

HS: Uematsu-san is certainly interested in this prospect. I would of course love everyone to hear the music in the context of the game; however, listening to just the music with a good audio environment can bring different types of emotion to the surface.

As I was listening to the complete soundtrack for the first time, I teared up maybe 4 times, I think?

TA: Fantasian is a game many people are considering subscribing to Apple Arcade for the first time to play. These include people who don’t usually play on mobile but are fans of your work. What should fans of older JRPGs expect from Fantasian on Apple Arcade?

HS: I’ve poured all my console-RPG experience into this game. There are various aspects that define the game and the balance is also quite important.

We paid very close attention to detail in various aspects of the experience, so I believe it has become the perfect culmination of various flavors.

TA: What games are you playing right now in your free time?

HS: We are currently working on the second half of Fantasian, so I don’t have much time to dedicate to other games.

Thanks to Hironobu Sakaguchi for his time here and Strangely Compelling for facilitating this.

Fantasian is out now worldwide on Apple Arcade. Head over to our dedicated forum thread for the game here for more discussion and impressions.