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Sakaguchi's Last Story

Legendary Japanese developer talks us through his mould-breaking new RPG for the Wii.

It wouldn't be unnecessarily hyperbolic to describe Hironobu Sakaguchi as the godfather of the Japanese RPG. After all, he created Final Fantasy and oversaw its ascent as one of the biggest of all videogame franchises.

With 25 years' experience of making RPGs under his belt, he now runs a developer called Mistwalker - having made the break from Final Fantasy and its parent company Square in 2001. We caught up with him on a rare visit to the UK, the morning before he demonstrated his latest epic RPG, The The Last Story, to an audience at Bafta, before fielding questions from the audience.

Breaking the gameplay mould

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Sakaguchi-san began by explaining that with The The Last Story, he wanted to try something a bit different and thereby break out of his comfort-zone: "I have an RPG formula from the 25 years experience I have in the industry, which is a turn-based, orthodox JRPG one. But for The The Last Story, I wanted to completely change that formula and come up with something new.

"The battle system is probably the most important aspect of the game. We had an experimental phase of about a year, in which we had so many ideas - and the best ones have been incorporated in the final game. For example, the protagonist uses a move called Gathering.

"This attracts the enemies' attention towards the protagonist. So, the concept is that on a chaotic battlefield, by using this move, the player can bring order to the battlefield. Or, conversely, can cause chaos on the enemy side. So that brings strategic elements.

"Also, when your party's Mage fires a magic attack, it leaves a magic circle. When the protagonist diffuses this with his move called Gale, this causes a secondary effect. So, for example, if the mage attack is an Ice attack, it leaves an ice circle, and when the protagonist diffuses that, it creates an effect called Slip, where the enemies slip over. We experimented with different ideas and, in the end, I believe we've been able to create a new type of battle system."

Sakaguchi is also keen to point out that The The Last Story's graphics and music are key elements: "We should give credit to [Kimihiko] Fujisaka-san, who was in charge of the character design, as well as the design of the whole environment. Of course in my games, I always place much emphasis on the graphics, so I did ask Fujisaka-san to put a lot of effort into that area."

Music-wise, he turned to a stalwart collaborator, Nobuo Uematsu - who has crafted the music for pretty much all of Sakaguchi's games, and boasts an equally lofty reputation in the games industry. Sakaguchi jokingly refers to how the pair have been likened to a married couple, and reveals that for once, their collaboration didn't go as smoothly as it might have on the The Last Story:

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"When it came to requesting music for the game, due to the change in the battle system, the general flow of the game had changed. So I wanted him to change the direction of the music accordingly. But the three pieces of music I received were all rejected, because they didn't really match.

"There was no contact from Uematsu for about a month - I was worried that, if we were like a married couple, there was a danger of getting divorced. But after a month, he sent over three new pieces of music, which were used in the game. So there was that episode, but we overcame the danger of a divorce."

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