Final Fantasy IX Event Designer Looks Back at Its Development, Concepts, and Characters

FF9 20th Anniversary Interview Kazuhiko Aoki

Final Fantasy IX celebrates its 20th anniversary today, and Square Enix is sharing special interviews with some of its original creators. In the first interview, we heard from Kazuhiko Aoki, who handled the event design and scenarios for Final Fantasy IX.

FFIX had big themes of “returning to roots” and “return of the crystal” and the idea was there from the start. This is also why we saw a return of the medieval fantasy theme after seeing more sci-fi elements in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. Kazuhiko Aoki talked about the concepts and references to past Final Fantasy games:

Final Fantasy IX FF9 20th Anniversary Interview Kazuhiko Aoki

Kazuhiko Aoki, Event Designer: “There were some things that were planned from the beginning, and then there were other elements that came about from those in charge of each part of the game during the creation process.
The newborn Chocobo, named Bobby Corwen…smash those names together and you get Boco.
The foundation is 10%, and the remaining 90% comes from individual creators putting their own ideas and heart into a project. I think that’s the creation process of not only Final Fantasy, but all games from Square Enix.”

He also talked about the Tantalus members Genero, Zenero, Benero, and how they came to be:

Final Fantasy IX FF9 20th Anniversary Interview Kazuhiko Aoki

Kazuhiko Aoki: “There wasn’t a trace of them until right before the game went gold. Not only limited to Final Fantasy IX, each FF series title has a period of about three to four months of quality improvements and brushing up after all elements that will be included in a game are implemented. How can we make it more interesting, what would make it easier to understand, what new discoveries can we find to add to the experience…as a creator you approach the process with a feeling similar to recreating something entirely. Those siblings came about suddenly right in the middle of that final tweaking for Final Fantasy IX.”

The characters in Final Fantasy IX are built shorter than the characters in Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. According to Aoki, the developers struggled in using the know-how gained from Final Fantasy VIII and it took some trial-and-error:

Final Fantasy IX FF9 20th Anniversary Interview Kazuhiko Aoki

Kazuhiko Aoki: “I don’t know the reason for making the characters shorter in stature, but I did often hear that the cutscene team had a hard time making use of the know-how they gained working on FFVIII. It was apparently a lot of trial and error.
The characters in FFIX excel at showing a certain sweetness or silliness, but even when they take on a totally different serious tone their expressions are so genuine. I feel that FFIX had quite a good balance going in that sense.”

Lastly, Aoki shared a neat little tidbit about the Black Mages that appear in Cleyra while talking about his favorite monster or gimmick used by one. If you ever noticed and wondered why the party doesn’t do a victory pose after beating them, here’s why:

Final Fantasy IX FF9 20th Anniversary Interview Kazuhiko Aoki

Kazuhiko Aoki: “I’m not sure if you could call it a unique monster, but my favorite are the black mages who appear in Cleyra. Your party characters don’t do a victory pose even if you win against them. That came from the battle system team’s consideration of the scene those battles take place in. You grow used to the characters celebrating when they win a battle, so I was really surprised the first time I saw that.
I don’t know if this is still true, but development happened with next to no meetings between the event and battle design teams. Although that’s not to say that those teams didn’t get along.”

You can read the full interview over at the official website. The next parts will include interviews with Toshiyuki Itahana and Hiroyuki Ito.

Final Fantasy IX originally released for the PlayStation in Japan on July 7, 2000.

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