“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI). Our seventh guest is Tetsuya Nomura, one of Square Enix's leading creative minds who worked on various initial character designs for FFXI. In this second part, Mr. Nomura spoke about his involvement in the character design process for FFXI, including the creation of the face types for the Hume and Elvaan races.
One of the main creative minds at Square Enix on the FF series. He bolstered the fame of the FF series with iconic characters such as Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Squall, Yuna, and Lightning. He is also the director of the Kingdom Hearts series, another flagship IP of Square Enix, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022.
Behind-the-scenes of FFXI’s character designs, revealed for the first time
Moving on from where we left off, I’d like to hear about Mr. Nomura’s involvement in FFXI.
It all began when Mr. Sakaguchi* asked me to prepare illustrations for announcing FFXI at the PlayOnline presentation. I asked myself, “What sort of imagery would convey the essence of an MMORPG?” and ended up drawing an illustration featuring a large assembly of characters.* Hironobu Sakaguchi, one of the founders of the FF series.
Stories of Mr. Sakaguchi’s bold leadership, namely his reckless behests, are something we keep hearing about from different sources.
Mr. Sakaguchi was like that towards everyone. Back when I was planning a new game for the Mana series, he was like, “We’re making an MMORPG next, so you guys are coming too!” and hustled us into it without letting us have our say.
This isn’t related to FFXI, but I had a similar experience before joining the FFVII project. Around the same time as FFVII, Mr. Takahashi* was in the planning phase for Xenogears, and I was asked to join that project as well. So I had a meeting with Kitase* from the FFVII team and Mr. Takahashi from the Xenogears team to decide which team I’d be joining. As we were still talking it over, Mr. Sakaguchi suddenly came into the meeting room and said, “Tetsu* will work on FF,” and left without another word. And that was the end of the meeting. (laughs)* Tetsuya Takahashi, now Senior Director at Monolith Soft.
* Yoshinori Kitase, Director of FFVII.
* “Tetsu” is Mr. Nomura’s nickname.
Seeing Mr. Nomura’s character designs in Xenogears might’ve been interesting too, but either way, that sounds quite domineering! (laughs)
My impression was that Mr. Sakaguchi was really fond of you, Tetsu, but how was it really?
Personally, I didn’t really get the impression that he was fond of me. He never seemed to stop treating me like a grunt.
Back then, background designers were considered the top graphic designers, while designing monsters was considered an entry level job with a low salary. But I had no intention of becoming a background designer and wanted to continue in monster design, so my salary was always low. Because I believed monster design would become a crucial profession in the future, I once protested to Mr. Sakaguchi, who replied, “Then it’s up to you to spread the notion that monster design is important.”
See, he was fond of you after all! (laughs)
That being said, I think he liked the female characters I drew. For instance, when the Parasite Eve* project launched, Mr. Sakaguchi suddenly phoned me at home and asked me to draw the protagonist, Aya Brea.* Parasite Eve is an action RPG released for the PlayStation in 1998, based on Hideaki Sena’s novel of the same name.
By the way, these concept designs are being revealed to the public for the first time, aside from a few exceptions. How did you go about illustrating them at the time?
I drew this under the direction of Mr. Ishii* and Mr. Tanaka*. They asked me to avoid making all the face types look handsome since MMORPG players have various tastes, so I agonized over how to add variations right up until the deadline. It was a huge struggle.* Koichi Ishii, the original Director of FFXI.
* Hiromichi Tanaka, the original Producer of FFXI.
A bald character with a tattoo in his head is quite an eccentric design. I think it still has some handsomeness to it, though.
Were you only involved in designing the Hume and Elvaan face types?
That's right. I first drew rough sketches for these two races and submitted them during an FFXI development team meeting. Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Ishii looked at them with great interest, but the responses from the designers weren’t all that great. Aside from Hume and Elvaan, the designers at the time seemed to have a pretty solid direction for the other races, which I left up to them.
Is that so? I wonder how things might've been if you’d designed the Mithra, Tarutaru, and Galka.
I ended up using a Mithra myself, so I’d say they turned out well. (laughs)
You also designed major NPCs, such as Lion and Cid.
Aside from his name, Cid’s character varies wildly with every game, so I designed him freely. The Cid I imagined for FFXI looked like the foreman of a smithy, a lively character who wouldn’t mind being showered in sparks as he works. But when I actually saw the final version of him in the game, he was wearing very little aside from his apron. (laughs)
And of course, we can’t forget the brothers, Kam’lanaut and Eald’narche.
Mr. Kato* gave me a rundown of the overall story when I showed him the aforementioned face type designs. He also showed me his rough sketch of Kam’lanaut and Eald’narche and told me they were the final bosses.* Masato Kato, writer in charge of the main scenario up to The Rise of the Zilart.
I see, so he already had a rough sketch of what he wanted.
In his original idea, they looked like elderly figures in robes and it didn’t show what they looked like underneath, so I was given quite a lot of freedom in what I drew.
By the way, the two of them are quite different in physique. Were you aware that Eald’narche is the elder brother when you designed them?
To be honest, I only found out quite recently. I might’ve missed it when Mr. Kato was filling me in, but for the past 20 years, I’d assumed that Kam’lanaut was the elder brother. Man, I was really surprised. (laughs)
Are you serious!? (laughs)