Final Fantasy Brand Manager On Why He Stayed At Square After Hironobu Sakaguchi's Departure 1
Image: Square Enix

Yoshinori Kitase has worked on some of the most famous JRPGs ever made, including Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X, and is currently head of Square Enix's Creative Business Unit I, as well as company vice president, a member of its board of directors and an executive officer at Square Enix Co, Ltd and Square Enix Holdings.

He's also the Final Fantasy series Brand Manager and has been on the road recently promoting Final Fantasy VII Rebirth – and that includes being a guest on Simon Parkin's excellent My Perfect Console podcast, where he not only talks about his career and his favourite games but touches upon a particularly difficult moment in his time with Square.

Back in 2003, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi parted company with Square following the disappointment of the CGI movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which cost $137 million but only generated $85 million at the global box office.

Kitase touches upon the upheaval that was felt when Sakaguchi left Square under a cloud (no pun intended):

We were planning many Final Fantasy mainline titles, like 10, 11 – which would be the first online title – and 12, and so on. These are all currently being planned and in discussion. And with Sakaguchi-san being this mentor and someone that I had worked alongside, and grown with from within the company, of course, it was a very sombre time for me to experience his leaving.

When Sakaguchi left Square, he was joined by many of his former staff members. Why was Kitase not tempted to do the same?

I think there were two main reasons for me in deciding to stay at the time. And I think one was that Sakaguchi-san, I believe, was this creator that has sort of established this history for himself and had worked on these various projects throughout his sort of legacy and time here. I, myself, was still feeling as though I was forming my vision and still working towards that. That was one of the reasons that I felt to stay.

A second reason was I felt that I truly wanted Sakaguchi-san to have this sort of point of connection also with the Final Fantasy series, despite his departure. So that was another sort of consideration. Of course, once he went kind of independent, there was no sort of a connection back into Final Fantasy until 2016 with the Mobius Final Fantasy, [a smartphone title that included a crossover with Terra Battle, a title created by Sakaguchi's Mistwalker studio].

And that was the first time in which, since Sakaguchi-san had left, that he was able to promote and be connected to the Final Fantasy franchise again. And nowadays, he can be seen again with promos for Pixel Remaster or through the FanFest, and he continues to retain this kind of connection there, but that was also a consideration for me.

Kitase also feels that Sakaguchi's legacy lives on in Square Enix, even today – and was present in The Spirits Within, despite its commercial failure:

In terms of what the movie was trying to accomplish at the time, this was the first time anyone was attempting something that was extremely photorealistic, a movie in full CG like that. And so, just considering that pure ambition of trying to go about this huge challenge of trying to create something that the rest of the world has not quite accomplished before. And that sort of spirit, I think, still lives on within Square Enix, and it's sort of alive within our creators today, despite Sakaguchi-san's departure.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is out now. Our pals over at Push Square gave it 8/10, saying:

If you can push through the tedium of its open world busywork and padded storytelling, there's a great sequel at the heart of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. It retains all of Remake's most important strengths, but builds on an already brilliant combat system, and excels at showcasing an iconic RPG setting. If you enjoyed Remake and you have fond memories of the PS1 original, you'll likely love every minute of Rebirth's memorable, character-focused adventure.