ALHAMBRA, Calif. — Printed on one of the large white walls at Gallery Nucleus are five simple words: “Together we will rebuild Spira.” In the Japanese role-playing game Final Fantasy X, the heroes have to stop a monstrous creature known as Sin from destroying their world. While they eventually succeed, natural disasters in real life rarely have a happy ending.
In November, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people and displacing millions more. To help rebuild parts of the country, developer Square Enix teamed up with the gallery to auction off original art pieces from Final Fantasy X and its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2. Both PlayStation 2 games were recently updated for modern consoles as part of an HD Remaster package (read our review here). The online auction ends on March 26, and all proceeds will go directly to Haiyan relief efforts.
Despite the sad occasion that prompted the charity event, the first day of the auction was also a day of celebration. In addition to viewing the art pieces in person, attendees could buy the game a few days ahead of its release as well as a plethora of FFX and X-2-related merchandise.
But the main draw, however, and the reason why hundreds of people lined up outside despite the sweltering 80-degree weather, was for the chance to meet veteran Final Fantasy producer Yoshinori Kitase and art director Yusuke Naora.
GamesBeat spoke with both the developers and the fans to find out what makes FFX and FFX-2 so special more than 10 years after their release.
Rekindling their love
Kitase and Naora have each worked on multiple games in the Final Fantasy series, but they both have a soft spot for the world and characters from FFX and FFX-2.
“Final Fantasy X was very special to me, just like Final Fantasy VII [which he also worked on],” said Yusuke Naora through a translator. “But unlike Final Fantasy VII, which has various spinoffs like [the film] Advent Children, I thought that Final Fantasy X was a game that I’d never be able to touch or do anything with [again].”
For Kitase, FFX fulfilled a vision he had for the series ever since he worked on his first Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy V for the Super Nintendo. At the time, he felt that the games were “flat” compared to movies. They relied solely on text boxes for dialogue, and the limitations of the hardware meant that the team had to use 2D worlds and character sprites to tell their stories. The lack of realistic graphics and voice acting “were the kinds of gaps I was seeing between films and the FF games,” he said.
While the graphics dramatically improved when the franchise moved to Sony’s more powerful PlayStation console, they still weren’t enough to satisfy Kitase’s ambition. It wasn’t until FFX that Square was able to use “more movie-like camera work” and finally hire actors to bring the game’s ensemble cast to life.
“FFX is the game where I felt I was able to fulfill those last missing pieces and accomplish something I was envisioning back when I was working on FFV,” he said. “It has a very special significance for me.”
One particular moment from FFX’s PS2 development stands out in Kitase’s mind.
“When we were initially working on FFX, we were working with low-resolution graphics,” he said. “So the textures were kind of rough. The next-gen consoles at the time, such as the [Sega] Dreamcast, were coming out, so it was a very difficult thing for the team to [continue working with the low-res textures]. Two to three months before gold master was ready [the point at which a game can be mass-produced], I said to the team, ‘You know what? All these competitive consoles are coming out. Let’s really bring up the quality of the graphics.’ … We actually had a lot of arguments and fights over this because it was very difficult for us to go back and re-do them. [Laughs]”
In hindsight, Kitase said those fights were worth it because the extra work they put into the game made it easier for them to work on the HD rerelease.
Braving the heat to meet their idols
Brandon White, his girlfriend, Amanda, and their friend Shawn lined up near the entrance of Gallery Nucleus at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, exactly 24 hours before the shop would open its doors to the public. To mark the special occasion, Brandon decided to show off something he has been working on for the past two years: a costume of one of FFX’s most memorable characters, Auron [below right]. As a reward for lining up so early, Brandon and his group already had a chance to meet Kitase and Naora when they stopped by later that Friday.
But other fans weren’t as lucky. Square Enix limited meet-and-greets to the first 200 people who showed up. That line already wrapped around the building by the time I arrived at noon Saturday.
Beyond that was yet another line that snaked its way through the parking lot behind the gallery. Those who showed up late had to wait back there. Some brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, while others who didn’t have anything for cover used pieces of cardboard leftover from Square Enix’s empty water bottle cases, which they passed along to those waiting in line.
It was here where I spoke with Crystal, who dressed up as the Final Fantasy X-2 version of Yuna [below left], an outfit that she had always wanted to make. A nine-year veteran of the cosplay scene, it took her three weeks to put it together while also working at her full-time job. She drove down from Northern California to meet the developers and buy one of the new Final Fantasy figurines that were also making their debut at the event.
Just a few seconds after she told me this, a representative from Square Enix announced to the crowd that autographs were sold out. Though visibly disappointed by the news, Crystal remained upbeat about her experience.
“I love talking with everyone in line and reminiscing about our favorite moments from the games,” she said. “It’s been really fun wearing this, even though it’s really hot.”
Humbled by their fans
Kitase and Naora don’t take their fans for granted — at some point after I’d left, they both went outside to greet more people in the parking lot. But a few hours before that, when we were still talking in the second floor signing room that overlooked the gallery, I asked them if, after all these years, they were still surprised at how passionate their fans can be.
Kitase noted that due to his constant traveling for community events and media tours, he’s always aware of just how big the fanbase is and how much they continue to support the games. While Naora hasn’t traveled around the world as much as Kitase has, he keeps up with fans on various social networks, and he said he can’t wait to share his experience here with his colleagues back in Japan.
“Fans come up to us and ask for autographs,” Kitase said. “Often times, they bring all their FF games or even [the Super Nintendo JRPG] Chrono Trigger, and they’re already autographed by others like [designer Hironobu Sakaguchi] or [composer Nobuo Uematsu]. And they want our autographs to be on it, too. That’s the difference between the Japanese and Western audiences: Western audiences still value and really appreciate even the older works. I very much appreciate that.”
Click the pages below to check out more pictures from the event.
The Final Fantasy X wall
Square Enix split the artworks between two distinct sections: one for Final Fantasy X and one for Final Fantasy X-2. If you can’t make it in person, you can bid for them online at Gallery Nucleus’s website.
Art from Final Fantasy X-2
If you’re wondering why the gallery looks a little empty, it’s because Square Enix permitted members of the press to walk around for a few hours before opening the doors to the public.
An awesome Blitzball-themed foosball table
Based on the Blitzball minigame from Final Fantasy X, Square Enix had this table made just for the charity event. A representative from the company said it’ll mostly likely be shipped to Japan after the gallery show ends March 26.
A compilation piece featuring many of FFX’s artists
It includes the work of Yusuke Naora, Isamu Kamikokuryo, Honjo Takashi, Hasegawa Tomohiro, Dairaku Masahiko, Izumisawa Yasuhisa, Sagawara Mizushi, Hama Eiichi, Tsukamoto Tetsu, and Matsuda Toshitaka.
Giving your own autographs
Fans can write messages for the team on these boards, which Square Enix will bring back to its offices in Japan.
Yuna’s wedding ceremony
This original sketch comes from character designer Tetsuya Nomura.
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