RPGFan Exclusive Interview: Isamu Kamikokuryou, Art Director, Square Enix
translated by Chris Winkler
Since Final Fantasy XII finally hit North American retail store shelves, RPGFan sat down with a key member of the development team responsible for the critically acclaimed title: (Background) art director Isamu Kamikokuryou. Final Fantasy XII however was not the first major project the 36-year old Tokyo-native has been part of. His previous track record includes Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X. Currently, he is serving as art director of Square Enix's first PlayStation 3 title, Final Fantasy XIII, and acting as art supervisor for the upcoming DS title, Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings.
Despite his busy schedule, Kamikokuryou-san was kind enough to talk about the development process of Final Fantasy XII, the upcoming Revenant Wings, and the challenge of working for two different production teams inside Square Enix.
Q: Mr. Kamikokuryou, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: Originally I had the ambition to become a painter, but I [also] liked games, so I played them a lot. When you draw pictures, every occupation is fine. However, at the time when PlayStation arrived, 3D [graphics] and movies were beginning to be used in games as well. From [just] thinking "that was the beginning of a great era" my interest changed towards the creation [of games]. This was exactly the time when Final Fantasy VII was released. However, because until then I had always done fine arts, but no design, in particular not game-like pictures, I studied design for about three years by myself and entered my current company in 1999.
Q: Let's talk about Final Fantasy XII. What is your personal impression regarding the development process, which had lasted more than three years? Certaintly there was a lot of hardship involved, given the departure of Yasumi Matsuno, head of the fourth production team (editor's note: Matsuno originally served as the game's director and producer), and the fact that the game which originally was supposed to go on sale in 2004 had to be delayed for two years?
A: Frankly, I thought it was a long period of time (laughs). But because I could paint [Final Fantasy XII's] world into extraordinary fine details, I'm thankful for having been given such an opportunity. There were various moments of hardship. I think, for instance had we been able to develop [the game] two years earlier, the world would have been totally different [from what it is now]. I think, only because we took that long to make [the game], resulted in the creation of the world as it is now.
Q: Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is developed by which team? The game's director is Motomu Toriyama (note of the editor: the director of Final Fantasy X, X-2 and XIII), but are many members of the Final Fantasy XII team participating in the development as well?
A: It's a brand new team. The staff that worked on Final Fantasy XII is cooperating with us mainly on the aspect of supervision.
Q: During an interview the other day, Motomu Toriyama had the following to say about Revenant Wings: "After taking off from Ivalice by airship, a newly built world will become visible." Let's hear a little bit more about this new world.
A: In Revenant Wings, many floating continents will be introduced. In the original Final Fantasy XII, the setting of floating continents was very important from the very beginning. Hence the image illustration that I had initially drawn, was one depicting a floating continent. Eventually, we could only put one continent into Final Fantasy XII. The world we could not depict back then [in Final Fantasy XII] will now be introduced in Revenant Wings. New airships designed with the keyword "The Wings of Freedom" in mind, a new civilization whose stage is the sky, and new races will also make an appearance.
Q: You have taken part in the development of Final Fantasy X, which was developed by Yoshinori Kitase and the first production team, as well as Final Fantasy XII, which was created by Yasumi Matsuno and the fourth production team. What is the difference between "Kitase-style" games, like Final Fantasy X and XIII, and a Matsuno-style game such as Final Fantasy XII? Actually, when playing Final Fantasy XII, I got the impression that it felt more like a sequel to Vagrant Story than a main series Final Fantasy installment.
A: As for the Kitase team, usually catchy and original designs are requested [from me]. In case of the Matsuno team, a design faithful to its sound foundation and things highly artistic in nature are demanded. I think, these differences in the stance towards design, are based on the director's writer personality. Because in case of both teams, many staff members have worked together for a long period of time, the methods and philosophy behind the creation of games differ significantly [from each other]. Because I have experience in [working with] both teams, it was very interesting to realize these many differences.
Q: Among the backgrounds you have painted so far, which one is your personal favorite?
A: The image illustration of Final Fantasy XII's Archades.
Q: What are the influences on your work?
A: Because photos are a hobby of myself, I have been strongly influenced by the works of various photographers. My favorite photographer is Steve McCurry.
Q: Mr. Kamikokuryou, what games are you playing yourself?
A: I'm digging games like Grand Theft Auto. Apart from that, I also like simulation and realtime strategy games, that is games one plays alone while making considerate decisions.
Q: Last but not least, seeing that Final Fantasy XII was just released here last week, a message to all the game's fans in the US, please.
A: I myself also looked forward to the release of the US version of Final Fantasy XII. Because together with a huge team, it took an unthinkable amount of time for the creation of a normal game, I believe I could create it in a elaborate way. Actually the [pieces of] artwork alone amounts to several thousand and arranging all those in a [single] form like in an artbook, would result in an unbelievable number of pages. Probably I'm exaggerating, but it feels like having created a world. I definitely want you to pick up the game and experience it [by yourself].
RPGFan would like to thank Isamu Kamikokuryou and Ayako Kawamoto for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.
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