Tetsuya Nomura's 20sSpecial Features | Sheila Knight | 13.10.2003
Ever since the Final Fantasy series has gone 3D, the characters have become the moving force at the front of each story. Behind the character designs of Final Fantasy 7, 8 and 10 is a name which is soon becoming a household one to Final Fantasy fanatics: Tetsuya Nomura.
Note: Images (aside from Yuna, Tidus) are unique to this article and not for reuse. This article was originally written in 2001 for FFOnline.com. Since it was not published, you can only find it on FLAREgamer.
Born in Kochi prefecture and now at the age of 33, Tetsuya Nomura has become revered by his fans. His own personal taste in clothing, jewelry and hairstyles make their way into his designs, creating an offbeat flavor while still being acceptable and quite likeable among casual gamers. Characters are not the only thing he works on. He was needed to help create conte (also known as storyboards) for animation sequences, summon beasts, artistic logos, symbols and monster designs. In fact, he first became involved with Squaresoft doing battle monster graphics in 1991 for FF5.
Tetsuya Nomura is often compared with Yoshitaka Amano, not because of their differing methods, but because they were both given lead roles as character designer. On the one hand, Amano as an artist can work with any medium, and without thinking of the game as a game. Nomura however participates heavily in the creation of the game's graphics and prefers 3D renders to still drawings. Nomura does this mainly so that his designs turn out the way he wants.
There is no rivalry between them aside from the one created by fans. In fact, Nomura admitted that he is heavily inspired by Amano's insanely detailed, emotional and fantastical artworks. It's this kind of inspiration that gave him the general idea for Edea's design. The rest of his inspiration for designs and camera sequences come from movies and magazines. In particular the dramatic camera movement found in music videos and the couture found in fashion magazines.
Squaresoft staff's success was rooted on their internal communication, which Nomura is comfortable making full use of. Aside from simply making the designs, Nomura's input actually has changed or added to the storylines and dialogue of the games he had been involved with.
Final Fantasy VII
FF7 was a dark game, and within it the characters each had a dramatic story. This was actually Nomura's most enjoyed Final Fantasy project. Aside from character design, he suggested the base of the story.
Nomura also has a habit of changing or perfecting his designs, FF7 in particular had gone through drastic changes long before it's release. He also directed the visuals in battle, designed various FF-recurring and new monsters with two other staff members, and re-designed mascots like Chocobos.
He had a hard time with thinking of how the monsters would attack. However, when creating Yang (Yang is half of another monster called Ying) for the Shinra Mansion, he finally got into it. Everything in the house was "Make it more and more like a Zombie!", however he got carried away and battle time would take so long if he kept things as is. There were monsters which were encountered at specific places and low probability like Yang, so he wanted players to travel around and discover them.
Limit Breaks are another thing he took charge of. In FF6 they had a deadly blow which occurs when on the verge of dying, but the probability was too low and nobody ever noticed it. Nomura decided to make better use of that idea and set up a way to show secret skills by making use of how the characters motions were done with polygons.
Conte (continuity) of the Summon spells was another thing he liked to do. Titan, Ifrit and Knights of the Round were his favorite. His imagination of "pulling and peeling the ground" with Titan became a reality, same for "holding monsters up" with Gigaflare. Knights of the Round he knew would take so long, it broke the 1 minute limit but he didn't care, he decided to go as much as he wanted.
Cloud's initial design was 'all back' slicked back hair, nothing spiky. To make him stand out more and have the 'image' of being protagonist, Nomura revised his hair to be pointy and bright blonde. The major antagonist Sephiroth, was also made to be a complete contrast with original Cloud. Sephiroth's design basis was 'Long Coat' and long silver hair.
Nomura wanted the story to revolve around Cloud being an ex-Soldier who was going after Sephiroth. The main two elements they began with were Cloud's travelling and a search for the Land of Promise.
Originally Barret didn't have a 'gimmick arm'. When FF7's production had just begun, he had a bow gun for a weapon. Another detail on his design is his pendant. A keepsake given to him from his friend Dyne, which belonged to his wife Eleanor previously (but it doesn't even look feminine). It was meant to be given to Marine.
It was also Nomura's idea for Aerith to die and Tifa to become the main heroine of FF7. In the beginning there was Aerith and no Tifa. Then one Sunday night, during a phonecall to Yoshinori Kitase (Director), he said "Let's kill Aerith and bring out Tifa". They never had a type of story where there were two heroines and one dies.
For Tifa, he could not decide between pants or a mini-skirt, so he passed his sketches around the office and the majority liked the mini-skirt. On the other end, 'Long Skirt' was Aerith's trademark.
RedXIII's tattoos gave him an American-Indian touch to match the name Nanaki and 'image' of his hometown, Cosmo Canyon. He also has the number XIII tatooed, this was written into the story as something Houjou gave him. The flame at the end of his tail is a major feature, but it's flammability is questioned since he was able to hide in a ShinRa uniform!
Yuffie's design was immaculate if ever looked at closely. All of her accessories have to do with being part of a ninja's lineage. Her equipment was on her left side to allow flexibility with her right arm and leg (which is dominant), it's more like armor. Loose socks are also her 'policy'. Originally there was a red and white version with nothing on her leg. It looked plain in the polygon model, so it was botched. Satisfied with non-symmetrical costumes, Nomura's later designs continuously became less symmetrical to take advantage of the games being in 3D.
Cait Sith is a black cat (known as Stray for English FF6 players) which drives a big mascot. Nomura decided on a fat moogle instead of a fat chocobo, or a toad. However you do see the fat chocobo still in the game, it's in the Gold Saucer.
Vincent's character was changed from being a Horror researcher, then detective, then chemist! His mantle (cloak) is blood red and he wears completely black underneath. It shows he carries a heavy past on his shoulders involving death.
Not much was mentioned on Cid's design aside from Nomura wanting to do a little "something different with Cid this time". As usual he would be a pilot, but this time he was also a heavy smoker who keeps a pack in his pocket. He also would be a Dragoon, something relating to his family name.
Nomura felt the ending of FF7 was far different from other FFs, as many people took or saw it differently. To some the Land of Promise was the huge Northern Cave, while personally, Nomura felt that it was Midgar because Ancients say it's where the Lifestream is. The game was meant to be interpreted in many ways and according to him, 100 men being asked the same question all had different answers.
Tetsuya Nomura's FF7 designs were revised and used yet again in the fighting game Ehrgeiz. The english FF7 game was actually a re-release of FF7 (known in Japan and Europe as FF7 International) put straight to english. It also had slightly revised designs.
The game had many graphical limits, therefore Nomura's designs were very plain and not what he calls his true style. Only in FF8 did we begin to see his true style with very little holding back. Among his creations were many extra sketches and comic strips of FF cast characters (and staff!) in a 'super deformed' style, some were even made for merchandise and guidebooks.
Nomura also came up with the idea for the characters Fuujin and Raijin at this time. Since FF7 already had the Turks which are similar types of characters, the pair would not be included in FF7. When he drew Fuujin and Raijin, he imagined them to be characters most likely found in shonen-manga of the past. They ended up fitting much better into FF8's cast.
Final Fantasy VIII
Right when FF7 was finished, talk about FF8 between the developing staff had already begun. Nomura was in L.A. at the time and busy exchanging emails with Yoshinori Kitase (Director). The idea for a school-type story eventually came up. FF6 and FF7 were both dark games and they agreed that a happy/lighter story would be nice for once. From there, they decided that they would make a storyline which starts off in a 'school days' genre.
Nomura actually designed the school uniforms and SeeD uniforms with several overlooked details (like the Garden mark on the links). Aside from having character portraits drawn at this time, the character personality is thought up as well. Nomura had put some traits and habits to his designs before he handed it to Kazushige Nojima (Scenerio).
Since Kitase was already thinking of a story where all the characters were the same age, the school idea worked. There was a huge contrast between the main party and Laguna's party. Laguna's party had members in their 20s, good buddies who trusted each other, fought together and were experienced while Squall's party was young and inexperienced, moreover Squall didn't understand how important friends were.
This time the game was aiming for an international appeal, so the characters were all to have attractive foreign designs. They would be using proportinal bodies and internationally recognizable but still fantasy-like locales. Key locations and structures were drawn by Yusuke Naora (Art Director) but all backgrounds were rendered by Kusanagi Corporation, the same company has handled previous Final Fantasy games as well. Backgrounds ranged from mainly futuristic European, to ancient Greek and even ancient Egypt inspired. Most locations were given a specific signature feel and some even had a flag designed, related to the country's history. The staff took care to make the world fit the type of characters which were designed.
The inital character that was designed was Squall. Nomura had a hard time with Squall. When he first drew Squall, Squall had much longer hair and appeared more girlish (you see this now in Squall's older self, which looks like Laguna in Kingdom Hearts). Kitase didn't think this looked right, so Nomura redrew Squall to the present Squall. Nomura doesn't remember why he created the scar, just that it was something spur of the moment. Like Cloud's distinguishable hair, he wanted something that set Squall apart and made him more recognizable. The scar was there before establishing the character's history, and this left things up to the story planner's imagination. Nomura also added the collar on Squall's jacket because he felt it would be a challenge to show in the FMV movies.
The weapons were also designed by Nomura. Right when he was thinking of Squall's weapon, he was into silver accessories. He felt he wanted Squall to have a silver weapon as well. Another key factor in creating Squall's weapon was how he wanted some new way for the player to control the weapon in battle. With both of those ideas combined, he came up with a gunblade. Now that Nomura thinks back on it, he says it has a rather odd appearance.
Rinoa is another character Nomura likes, and he also had difficulty drawing her. When compared to FF7, FF8's graphics have become more human, making it easier to draw a beauty. However, if you make the character too beautiful, it doesn't leave any impression on the viewer. It would just end at "how pretty". Nomura wanted to create a character that would leave an impression on the viewer; instead of a beauty, he wanted something cute. He had a hard time with this, and feels that some of his personal preferences were included in the design. For Rinoa he also created a cute vocabulary list and some ideas for her habits which were then sent off to Nojima.
More: Further information on Tetsuya Nomura's artwork and designs for the heroines Rinoa and Tifa can be found at Rebelling Princess and LOVELESS.
Seifer was one character Nomura created since he wanted to have a love triangle between Squall, Rinoa and Seifer. He's ended up being more like Squall's rival, though. FF7's Sephiroth was a rival with a strong impact, but he didn't want to repeat that same pattern. From that, he made Seifer more human since Sephiroth wasn't. When Nomura first thought of Seifer, he imagined him decent, proper, a cool guy and manly. Ultimately, Seifer ended up becoming someone that was broken.
Selphie was already thought up when Nomura was drawing his first version of Squall. The first thing Nomura came up with was her hairstyle (and he thought it would be improper if there was such a hairstyle in real life). He drew her in overalls at first, but noticed that if he did that, no one would be wearing a skirt. With that, he designed Selphie to be wearing a mini-skirt. He was planning to make Quistis wear a skirt, but decided she would look better in pants (it only looks like a skirt). With Quistis, he was surprised that they had set her character as the teacher after they saw her design. When the ages were decided, some people thought it might be unusual, but Nomura and the staff agreed that foreigners normally look older.
Zell was drawn with the "main character of a shonen-manga" image. Beforehand, Nomura saw a music clip on MTV featuring a man with an all-over body tattoo. Remembering how cool it looked, he decided to add a large tattoo on Zell's face.
Nomura had to redraw Irvine many times, and didn't have anything set until the last minute. At first he made him very handsome, but was afraid that it will overlap with Squall, so he figured he should make someone relatively good-looking. When he thought about that, he came up with the conclusion that if that was the case (where he was relatively good looking), they wouldn't let him into the main party. So he created Irvine's character as one that was cool looking, but wasn't too serious personality wise. This made him a little less desirable. At first, Nomura had him wearing goggles, but that made him seem too similar to FF7's Cid. Out of that, he came up with the idea to give him an American style cowboy hat. His personality and dialogue seemed to easily draw from there: "BANG!"
The idea that there should be two main characters had been there since the beginning. Due to this, Squall and Laguna were drawn around the same time. Laguna was different from Squall in a sense that Squall was a character unique from the main characters of the previous Final Fantasy games. This is the reason why they made Laguna the opposite of Squall. They made Laguna a character that doesn't worry much and moves ahead, much like that in previous Final Fantasy games.
Nomura had Laguna's face decided, but he had a hard time thinking of what to make him wear. Nomura was the one who suggested that Laguna be a soldier for contrast. If Squall's side is based on a school life, then Laguna's should be based on battle and war. The Laguna party members were designed to be very different individuals, so that they woudn't be overpowered by the main characters. The way Laguna's friends talk with each other is also based on the way the staff working in the Squaresoft offices spoke.
Kitase suggested to Nomura that he would like to use a character Nomura created 3 years prior, before they even started work on FF7. The image of the Witch had been up for a while, and was based on the images of Amano Yoshitaka's illustrations. To him, Amano's image is strong in the FF series... almost like the origin of FF. He wanted to create a character similar to those in Amano's images and from this got the design for "the Witch". There's something different from the previous FFs in the Witch parade, something heavy. In watching it, he felt that the Witch had a powerful existence.
For Cid, he felt that there would be a Cid as in the previous FFs, but he didn't think he would end up being the head of the school. There were 7 Cids prior to this one and he felt that although the players already had an image of what Cid should be like, he didn't want to create something similar to the ones in the past. Kitase already had specific directions as to what Cid should be like, and from that he was able to draw Cid of FF8. He was someone that was nice to people, who knew everything Squall and the party didn't. Cid would be watching over the Squall team, yet would never join the party, so he felt perhaps his friendly looking design would be okay.
Other than the characters, Nomura did the G.F. designs. Being different from summoned beasts in the past, he heard that training them would be a key factor in the game. This made him come up with the idea that they should be designed as a totally different being, without clothes or human-like concepts in the design. Raising other people like pets did not make much sense. He wanted to make them far from human: more like a being from another plane, or something similar to a boss monster.
This created a problem for Nomura because he didn't want the GFs to be too monster-like. Although he had the idea of the GF's being monster-like, he didn't want them to "become the actual monsters" so he took great care in designing them. Old men like Ramuh were replaced, while creatures who were humanlike, (ex: Shiva, Siren) were nude, yet redrawn as more creature-like, although covered where necessary.
Along with other battle animation sequences (like the impressive Limit Breaks), Nomura was in charge of the GF summoning sequences in FF8. The summoning in FF7 had such an impact on players, that he wanted to create something even greater. The only problem with that was that the summoning scenes in FF7 were very hard work and it almost seemed excessive during the days when FF7 was being created.
Leviathan was the first GF they created as a test, and it was included in the demo version of the game. He was worried as to whether or not it was good enough, but the responses from the players were good ones. From there, he decided to create the other GF summoning scenes in a similar fashion. But, there is always a limit since they couldn't make the battle sequences too long. They still ended up with something which would rival the Knights of Round sequence of FF7.
Final Fantasy X
Yusuke Naora (Art Director) heard that many people were interested in Asian themes, and since he personally was interested in them too, he shared the idea of making FFX incorporate the idea and theme with other staff members. They all shared the same thoughts about having an Asian themed game and Nomura worked to merge that into his designs.
Most of the inspiration for FFX's colorful and embellished overall designs came from Thailand, the South Pacific and in turn parts of Japan. This reflected the way of life on rural islands and matched the feel displayed in holiday brochures, which the team actually got much inspiration from. Most of the more tribal looking fashions were found on the NPC characters and the elaborate decorations hanging from everyone's hair. The Asian look is further obvious with the shape of eyes and face on many of the main characters, even if they had non-Asian coloring.
When asked how Nomura designed his characters, he explained that he draws the face first and adds in the rest of the details once he gets more information about the character (ex: "sports athlete", "summoner"). He also did the same thing for FF8. He learnt that the atmosphere should be Asian and was requested to "make Tidus different from that overall theme" in order to make him stand out, apart from that world.
On character names: FF7 had Cloud, FF8 had Squall... and Tidus? After FF8 was finished, Nomura mentioned that he wanted a character with a cheerful image. Nojima was the one that named Tidus (Sun in Okinawan), and Nomura felt perhaps this was because Nojima was aware of the whole cheerful image thing.
When Nomura heard that Yuna was going to dance, he decided to make something that would flow and create a nice form. He then thought of a furisode, but did not know much about it. A furisode is the type of kimono with long sleeves (worn by young women).
Nomura had to do plenty of research beforehand, to not only use old asian styles, but incoporate his new personal touches in them, making them unique. In the example of Yuna he researched kimonos. One of the incorporated styles used among many of the main characters is traditional Okinawan clothing. The cut, patterns, texture, folds (like her pleated skirt) and colors chosen were a main influence seen on most FFX characters. Still, the clothing is not purely traditional. There are details and unconventional materials making it something that could only exist in a fantasy.
There were some big changes made upon moving up to the PS2 platform. According to Nomura, with the PS2's capabilities, it was possible to show the details of the clothing and accessories, so he drew the character designs out to the smallest (and hardest) details he could. With Lulu's character design an example of such would be those belts on her skirt. He mentions that there is actually an order and certain way those belts are supposed to be buckled. He made specific requests to have everyone working on the game keep the order of the belts.
When he designed Tidus' accessories, Nomura said he thought of things that had some sort of relationship with the ocean. He mentions how he used things like fishing hooks, fishbones and whalefins as design references. That mark found on Tidus' jewelry is his team's logo and was thought up before they had the Al Bhed, Spira and Yevon alphabet created: but it was also drawn to stand for the 'T' in Tidus and the 'J' in Jecht.
For Yuna, her necklace and dress has hibiscus flower designs known as Yuna. These flowers also bloom at night, which is another detail. An Okinawan word for night is 'Yuna', opposite to 'Tidus' (pronounced Tee-da) a word for sun. Why so much meaning for simple ornaments? Well, Nomura says that he doesn't like unexplained designs anymore, and decided to make ones that have meanings behind them.
Nomura mentions how the hardest part was making sure "the characters all matched up". This added a new level to his perfectionism, because if you remember FF8, colors of clothing and details were noticeably different on the FMV models. Since FFX had the low model, high model and the movie model of the characters in the game, he had to make sure all those versions and models of the characters matched. Like having to make comparisons, and dealing with problems like "this character has a belt in this version.. where is the belt on this one?". Since they had different people making each model, he had to go through and repeat the same process until completion.
Also, the way the characters move isn't programmed by Nomura but it added much to their personality, drawing ideas from the way they were designed. Koji Sugimoto made sure that special details were added to Nomura's design, to draw attention to them and to make the characters more lifelike ingame. Examples include Yuna's sleeves when she waves or does the Yevon handshake, Tidus' hood bouncing, Auron putting his arm slung outside of it's sleeve.
Continuing with the new meanings hidden inside his designs, in FFX Nomura placed image colors to each main character. The characters are split among red, blue, yellow and black. The characters with the 'red' image color were Yuna and Auron. Yuna's red image color was the red of a sunset. Just like the red sunset in the background of the scene where she's doing the Ikai Okuri. Auron's red image color was a dark red, like the color of blood. Characters with 'blue' as an image color were Tidus and Kimahri. Tidus' blue color was of a young man who matches the ocean, or is a part of it. Kimahri was given a darker blue color than the one used for Tidus. Wakka and Rikku had 'yellow' as their image color as they had bright personalities. Wakka's yellow was based on a bright sun. Nomura made a remark about his behavior having similarities to the Yellow Ranger (from Power Rangers!). Rikku's was a lighter yellow color, a pale color like cream. As an image, he feels it's something closer to orange.
Lulu's image color was black. She doesn't fit the image of the black mage that had been seen in previous Final Fantasy games. Nomura believed players had the impression that all black mages were something like Vivi from FF9. He wanted to create a new type of FF black mage, and made her hair and clothing as eccentric as possible.
When asked what it was that he wanted people to pay particular attention to, Nomura mentioned the voices. When he heard that voices will be added to the characters, he was a little worried. When he saw the clips with the voices added on, the characters became full of life. He felt with the voices, more emotions can be expressed in comparison to the older Final Fantasies. He wants players to see and feel how the characters change through the addition of the character voices. The voice actors' personalities also added more to their character counterparts as they did motion capture as well, and even changed the scripts with their ideas and personal quirks.
Nomura's favorite FFX character is Jecht. He mentions how he draws a character out with precision/exact details from the very beginning, but in the case of Jecht's design, it was more like he drew the character roughly and liked the end product. When he was done drawing that character, he thought it looked cool.
So what does 'FF' mean to Nomura? He replies "My twenties". He had been working on FF related stuff since he was 21 years old, and since then it's been more than 10 years: he devoted his twenties to Final Fantasy!