Original Final Fantasy Illustrator Shares A Ton Of Details About Her History With The Series

Original Final Fantasy Illustrator Shares A Ton Of Details About Her History With The Series

Last week at Japan EXPO 2019, Kazuko Shibuya, one of the original artists for the Final Fantasy games held a panel where she shared some behind-the-scenes details about her work on its series’ classic titles.

As one of the original artists and designers who worked on the first Final Fantasy game, Shibuya’s work on the series has had immense influence on the series’ overall look that can still be seen to this day. During her panel at Japan EXPO 2019, she talked about how she first got started at Square, as well as her work on the Final Fantasy series from the first game until now.

Check out some translated highlights below:

Starting At Square

  • Shibuya wished to become a mangaka and became an animator, and most notably worked on the first Transformers anime
  • She joined Square in 1986, back when Square occupied a super small office on one floor
  • Shibuya would only see the programmers in the morning and at night when they had to check-in and check-out
  • Square’s founder Masafumi Miyamoto was still a student at the time, and she became an employee before the founder did
  • Hironobu Sakaguchi and the other devs would often sleep at the office, lying down on chairs they lined up
  • Square had little money back then, so their sole secretary would also take some time to tidy up the office a bit in the mornings
  • Each time she’d find Sakaguchi and the others sleeping, she would wake them up by using the vacuum cleaner on their faces

Final Fantasy I

  • When Hironobu Sakaguchi told everyone he wanted to make an RPG on NES, no one was really interested at first
  • Shibuya decided to help him and became the project’s pixel artist
  • Most at Square simply didn’t want to work on an RPG like Final Fantasy I, thinking it wouldn’t be popular
  • The game’s team, only a handful of people Shibuya included, didn’t really think it’d be a hit either
  • This lead to them being a kind of unpopular group at Square
  • Shibuya handled nearly all of Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy II’s graphics
    • This included the characters’ pixel art, the menus, the battle backgrounds, and the towns
    • The world map was drawn by the sole other artist on the games
  • You could only use 3 colors on NES, so Shibuya would make certain pixels transparent as a trick to use a 4th color
  • This is most notably used for the characters’ helmets and armor outlines
  • Final Fantasy characters always had a similar/now iconic pose because this meant there was less animation to do
    • Characters already having their arms partially lifted up meant they didn’t need to make a “arms lift up” animation

Other Final Fantasy Games

  • When she worked on Final Fantasy V, Shibuya could use 16 different colors for her pixel art
    • She had no idea what to do with all these colors, but gradually got used to it
    • With Final Fantasy V, Shibuya focused solely on the pixel art for the characters
    • The game’s Job System required over 25 different pixel arts for each of the five main characters using each job
    • Shibuya focuses on efficiency and tries to be as concise as possible, despite the characters being limited to 16×24 pixel
    • She focuses on the characters’ head, which is almost half of their length, and their hair
  • Shibuya handled non-pixel art illustrations for old pre-Final Fantasy Square games on PCs
  • She also worked on the illustration which served as the base for the cover art of Final Fantasy IV
  • Shibuya didn’t work on Final Fantasy IV, as she was working on Final Fantasy Adventure instead
    • Only seven people at Square made the whole game, and she drew every single thing in the game
    • This included work on every single visual element, including characters, the monsters, the backgrounds, the maps, and the UI

Final Fantasy’s Popularity

  • Everyone at Square back then had no idea Final Fantasy would become this big and continue to this day
  • The team didn’t really know that Final Fantasy I, IV and VI were hits outside of Japan either
  • As game localization took much longer back then, by the time the games released outside Japan, the team was already busy with something else
  • Once when coming back from vacation, she was told that a Final Fantasy game just released in America, and she had no idea it was even being localized

Other Topics

  • Shibuya supervises the pixel art of Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, and personally handled the pixel art for Katy Perry’s character
  • She drew the monsters in battle more realistically than the characters simply because she could do so size-wise
  • Yoshitaka Amano never changed his illustrations so it could be more easily adapted into pixel art
  • The Black Mage might look a bit less human compared to all other Final Fantasy characters, but that wasn’t particularly intentional, and it’s simply how Yoshitaka Amano and Shibuya drew it
  • Shibuya thinks about all the players who will enjoy the game she’s drawing for when working, and this is what drives her.

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