Talking Talent, Western Development and Sequels with Final Fantasy Producer Shinji Hashimoto
Square Enix's Shinji Hashimoto isn't what I'd categorize as a game creator, but he is certainly a game changer. While talent such as Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura are the face of Final Fantasy development, Hashimoto is undoubtedly the face of the franchise on the business side.
Officially the corporate executive of Square Enix's 1st Production Department, Hashimoto is the acting Series Brand Director for Final Fantasy as a whole and also has deep involvement with the Kingdom Hearts series. He became something of a meme earlier this year after asking fans to "please be excited" at the PlayStation 4 reveal.
We were over at Japan Expo 2013 in Paris to chat Kingdom Hearts & Final Fantasy XV with Tetsuya Nomura and Final Fantasy XIV with Naoki Yoshida when we spotted Hashimoto hanging around the Square Enix interview rooms.
We asked him if he'd give us a few minutes, and the following impromptu chat about the future of Final Fantasy, development talent and East-West collaboration within Square Enix is the result. Thanks to Square Enix Europe for letting this fly and translating last-minute.
RPG Site: The last time you and I spoke directly was at E3 a few years ago, and you were working with Double Helix on Front Mission. This year at E3 I was very surprised to learn that Murdered: Soul Suspect is a Japanese game being developed by a Western team.
Last time we spoke, you spoke in some detail and rather passionately about how you felt about East/West collaboration - mixed-origin teams, or swapping properties - how do you feel about all that now, a few years since we last spoke?
Shinji Hashimoto: Obviously, since the merge with Eidos, the company as Square Enix has been trying to put and get more input from the Western types of games and everything - as you already know anyway. Especially Murdered, like you mentioned - Tomb Raider, as well, Visual Works of course created the trailer - that kind of stuff. It's a mix of things we've been doing.
I think it's a great thing. It's a really great thing for us to be doing going forward.
RPG Site: Along those lines - theoretically - if a Western Studio approached you and said "We want to pitch you a FF spin-off with a Western flavour," what would you say?
Hashimoto: [laughs] I wouldn't say no straight away! [laughs] It depends on the proposal and everything, though, of course. Obviously Final Fantasy is traditionally a Japanese game, so it would really just depend on how discussion goes. But, yes - if any Western studio actually approached us, we'd of course think about it.
Of course, there's a lot of different genres the Eastern and Western studios are doing - we've seen loads, for decades now. I don't know why, but one of the things about Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts is that they're very unique - it's a very unique proposition that we have.
I think that's why it's quite difficult for people to approach us with such ideas.
RPG Site: One of the things that's changed about FF in recent years is sequelization - three FF13s, FF15 sequels confirmed and so on. Some fans love this, but some feel that some of the magic is lost by not having a new world to experience every time. As someone on the business side of things, what would you say to that group?
Hashimoto: This may be a bit of generic answer, but we do treat each game, even sequels, like a full numbered game. They're... thick. They're very, very important.
Thinking about the creators' feelings towards the project, obviously, we can't just release an all new game every year or so - it's quite difficult.
It's not like because we're creating sequels - that doesn't mean we don't include new elements and things. We're always building new stuff, and putting new things in, even with a sequel. Please understand that; we treat every game we make the same, and as a very important game.
RPG Site: A question about talent; it's 16 years since Nomura-san stepped into the spotlight with FF7, longer for Kitase-san and so on -- but I feel like we haven't seen as many new young bucks coming up into the FF series in the last five to ten years. Do you internally have your eyes on developing young talent within the FF and KH teams? Do you have an idea who the next Tetsuya Nomura might be at this point?
Hashimoto: I just want to make sure - we have loads of other talent within Square Enix already! [laughs] However, because they're still junior or are quite young, there has been no opportunity to introduce them, to put them in front of the public just yet. Please be assured that there are loads - and you will probably see them soon!
Of course, at E3 this year and Japan Expo this year, we've seen that so many people still appreciate Final Fantasy and still appreciate Kingdom Hearts... that is very, very unique proposition we've got as a company.
That's why we need to treat these two big IPs very carefully, with staff we present, too - they're very important.
RPG Site: I can definitely see that - The showing at E3 conjured a very strong feeling for me, and I feel I'd become quite jaded. You delivered at E3; hopefully that continues.
Hashimoto: [laughs] Thank you so much. That's good to hear.
RPG Site: I can see Nomura-san's crew need the room back for their next interview, so I'm going to wrap up by betraying my inner fan and ask a more specific talent question - Hiroyuki Ito, the creator of ATB, the director of FF9 - my favourite, which of course you produced - and FF12... Is he still at the company - and is he working on anything that we already know about?
Hashimoto: [laughs] You're a very unique journalist, asking about Ito-san! Yeah. He's still at Square Enix. He's been planning and doing some proposals for a new project at the moment, so... Really, he's the kind of guy that wants to challenge new things all the time, so, yeah. At the moment, he's doing... [laughs] He's putting some ideas together.
RPG Site: I'm very interested to see what he does next. For RPG gameplay systems I really do feel he's one of the best there is; one of your strongest assets.
Hashimoto: Like you say, he's very talented and very involved. He's very, very in-depth... he likes the depth of the gameplay systems side of things. He really loves to go really deep on mechanics and things, and that takes time. I'm very excited to see his ideas soon!