Many people outside of the gaming industry have never heard the name Hironobu Sakaguchi, but many have seen or played his stunning work. As the head of video game giant Squaresoft, he has sold more than 40-million units of computer game software worldwide. He is most known for his beloved creation Final Fantasy. By any measurement possible this game series has been a huge success, selling more than 33 million units and breaking sales records worldwide.In 1991, Sakaguchi was promoted to executive vice-president of Square, where he oversees the development of all of Square’s games as well as producing other film projects. His dream of building an advanced digital studio was fully realized several years ago when Square opened the doors to their advanced studio in Honolulu-Hawaii (and hey I’m still waiting for my invitation to come and tour the place.) The early result of his labor of love is the 60 million dollar, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. It took Sakaguchi, four year to research, develop, and create this movie. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sakaguchi during a quick 15-minute telephone interview. It went a little something like this.
EMLet’s start by talking about the transition of Final Fantasy from the hit video game series to the theater. What made you want to do the movie?HSThe original motive wasn’t to do a film, but to build a brand new state of the art digital production studio that could push digital technology and the Final Fantasy game series to the next level. While working on new games for the next generation of gaming systems, I decided that there was no reason that we couldn’t use this new technology to make a new kind of film.EMWhen you first started thinking about this project, it was long before the Playstation 2, X-Box, etc. became known to the general public. Did you think that gaming platforms at that time [four years ago, circa 1997] were too limited for your vision?HSNo, it was actually the opposite. I was involved in all the original conversations regarding the development of the Playstation 2. The reason I wanted to build a new, more advanced digital studio was so that we could actually maximize the full potential of the new console.EMAre you using the Mya software [the software used to create the film] in any of your current games or just for film projects?HSOf course we are using Mya in several of our game properties. We used it in the last several installments of Final Fantasy, including Final Fantasy 10 and are using it again in some upcoming titles. EMThe Final Fantasy series has always been known and loved for its totally immersive game experience. The stories have been long and involved, while the game play itself has always been stellar. It takes the average gamer at least 40 hours (or months) to complete a typical installment of Final Fantasy. How do you translate such a deep and involving experience like this to the big screen, without disappointing the fans of the series?HS Yes, as a feature film, the story and experience will be much shorter than fans of the series are used to but I do not think fans of the game will have any problem getting involved in the storyline of the film. EM With a film like Final Fantasy, you have a built in audience base. When creating a film based on a franchise you have to create a film that will appeal to a broader audience, while maintaining your base. How difficult was it to translate the film to the big screen without loosing the essence that fans of the series love?HSWell actually, the Final Fantasy game series does reach a pretty broad audience already. We have done research, and have been surprised by the findings. When were doing this film we did it with our fan base in mind.EMFinal Fantasy VII is credited with reviving the Role-Playing Game genre and expanding the entire market. When Final Fantasy VII was released, it broke numerous sales records, and sold over 2 million units in the first week. The series has gone on to sell over 33 million units worldwide. How do you explain this amazing accomplishment?HS Well for starters the RPG genre was not dead. It was always hugely popular in Japan and other parts of the world. It was only in the US where RPG’s had a hard time selling. Why the breakthrough with Final Fantasy VII? I think there was a number of reasons, for starters, it was the first RPG to move away for the flat 2D image of the past. Final Fantasy VII was truly a cinematic experience, in story, game play, and in graphic quality. Also Sony did an excellent job of marketing the title.EMWhat other projects are you working on now?HSWe have a number of projects in the works now, including finishing up Final Fantasy X for the Playstation 2, and working on Final Fantasy XI, which will be completely online. For movie projects we are having several discussions about what to do next, everything from doing sequels, to taking several of the characters from the movie and putting them into other movies that are not Final Fantasy related.EMDo you think that the realism of these characters and the advancement in computer animation will ever make live action films and actors obsolete? HSNo, I don’t think animation will ever replace live actors. I think it can enhance live action films, but never replace them.