With the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy XV (formerly Versus XIII), there couldn’t be a better time to examine the multifaceted talents that Tetsuya Nomura has provided for Square throughout the years. His work has spanned from item design to the direction of a multitude of projects, and he is easily one of the more well known developers under the banner of Square Enix. Renowned for his distinct, ever changing artistic creativity and analytical approach to game creation, he has worked tirelessly for the honor of reverence within the realm of the JRPG. But where did it all originate?
As it is, he hails from humble beginnings. Back in the early 90′s, he joined the ranks of Squaresoft as a meager debugger for their first story heavy entry in the Final Fantasy series: FFIV (otherwise known as II, for you pre-conditioned Western folk). His responsibility within the company thereafter increased, with his next designated position entailing work as the designer of battle graphics and monsters for Final Fantasy V. While simultaneously being promoted to the position of graphic director, he continued with his previous roles for the development of Final Fantasy VI (III), where he also dabbled in his first (of many to come) work as a character designer. In creating Setzer Gabbiani and Shadow, he introduced two new ‘Jobs’ to the series: the Gambler and the Assassin, respectively, and in doing so effectively tacked the first small bit of his legacy upon the series. After the release of VI, Nomura made his first (transient) stray from Final Fantasy. Still under the mantle of Square, he designed the boss monsters for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and served as a field graphics designer for the widely acclaimed classic Chrono Trigger. Following these latter works, he wandered beyond the SNES, unknowingly marching forward in search of his niche within the company.
In 1997, the release of Final Fantasy VII marked Nomura’s first true exertions as a character designer and storyline contributor – a move that would significantly increase his presence within the JRPG community. Although he considers his designs for VII limited by the hardware of the time, his name and work were widely advocated by fans when the game eminated critical and commercial success. He continued designing characters for a number of Square’s Playstation titles, including Parasite Eve, Brave Fencer Musashi and Ehrgeiz. At this point in his career, Nomura’s style is clearly of heavy eastern influence. Glaring, beady eyes, absurd hairstyles that defy the laws of gravity, and vibrant, eccentric outfit coloring characterize this era of his work as more anime-esque than anything else. That all changed, however, when in 1999, Final Fantasy VIII director Yoshinori Kitase requested that Nomura work together with art director Yusuke Naorato to conjure up a more realistic style of art than the series had previously indulged. This servitude only added to Nomura’s success, and oversaw a major development in his artistic capabilities. Beyond his newly refined creative aptitude, it also further grounded him as a respectable name in Square, who would soon grant him even more creative control than he had hitherto experienced. Nomura skipped out on working with the last Playstation entry of the Final Fantasy series, instead concluding his reign on the console as character illustrator for Parasite Eve II.
With the advent of the Playstation 2, Nomura returned to his chair as character designer for Square’s first release on the console, their mildly successful beat ‘em up entitled The Bouncer. A year later, he worked the same position for the wildly successful tenth entry in the Final Fantasy series. His style continued to increase in realism due to an increased attention to detail and a toning down of absurdity. Mixed with his evidently deep rooted need for quirky garment colorization, this self-perpetuating approach allowed room for his anime-influenced roots to shine, while simultaneously refining and individualizing his style. Nomura then made the largest leap of his career thus far when he became the director, base storyline writer, character and concept designer for the widely successful Final Fantasy/Disney mashup action RPG, Kingdom Hearts. He dived head first into the Disney universe, and his style accommodated the dominion accordingly (as is evident with the game’s disproportionate and cartoonish aesthetics). This project only further animated his artistic groove, and his career was essentially guaranteed to him following the game’s commercial success – a notion that was certainly reassuring when knowledge of the merge between Square and Enix lay on the verge of becoming a reality. Nomura finalized his work with Squaresoft by designing few character models for Final Fantasy XI before creating the main cast of their last officially released game, Final Fantasy X-2.
Following the merge, Nomura worked on various side-projects, including the direction of Kingdom Hearts I and II intermediary Re: Chain of Memories. That same year marked his first work on an exclusively mobile device game, again serving as a character designer, for the Final Fantasy VII prequel Before Crisis. This release also sparked the beginning of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII series, with which Nomura would work throughout its entirety. He then designed the characters for the sequel to Brave Fencer Musashi, Musashi: Samurai Legend, before returning to the Compilation with his first endeavors in the world of OVAs (original video animation). This consisted of two films, both of which thrusted him into a directing role of sorts: a direct sequel to the original game, Advent Children, and the 25 minute short ‘prequel,’ known as Last Order, were released in 2005. Both were well received. That same year, Nomura continued expanding upon his take on the Disney universe with the release of Kingdom Hearts II, which would across the board receive high ratings and a flurry of awards. Serving as the last home console game released under his leadership for nearly a decade, Kingdom Hearts II birthed the dawning of Nomura’s ‘era of the handheld’.
Over the next several years, he would continue in working as the character designer for the ever expanding Final Fantasy VII universe. A direct sequel to the original, Dirge of Cerberus served as the first of the final two entries in the Compilation. It was around this time that the highly anticipated entry in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series, Final Fantasy Versus XIII, was announced. There was a ton of hype for the game, though a miniscule amount of details had been revealed. He was then promoted to the role of creative producer for the most recent release of the Compliation, Final Fantasy VII’s ‘true’ prequel, Crisis Core. It was 2008′s biggest PSP game of the year, and considered by Square Enix to be “an incredible success.” That same year would mark Nomura’s first endeavor on the Nintendo DS, with the award winning commercial success The World Ends with You. His style was continuing to grow in terms of detail, and he was beginning to stray away from his infamous love for belts and straps in favor of a more distinguished approach to his character’s clothing.
He retained his role on Crisis Core as creative producer and character designer for years to come with a number of releases on the PSP. He oversaw the production of Final Fantasy Dissidia, a fighting game featuring a plethora of characters from the series – and the first FF fighting game the West had received in the series’ history. Years later, he would oversee with the aforementioned responsibilities Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, as well as the third entry in the Parasite Eve series, The 3rd Birthday, and Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy (otherwise known as Duodecim, a prequel to the original Dissidia). He also indulged in his second work with the Fabula Nova Crystallis series, Final Fantasy Type-0, before his eventual departure from Sony’s handheld. During this time, Nomura would also begin his work with the core Final Fantasy XIII trilogy as main character designer – the first of which would apply heavily the pressure on the Versus XIII team, from whom virtually no news had been announced. The game was becoming increasingly rumored as vaporware, and thanks to the fanbase’s highly outspoken criticism of the main Final Fantasy entries, their hopes that Versus XIII would ‘save the series’ were becoming increasingly desolate. And despite all of the numerous projects he had recently undertaken, the cessation of substantial updates on Final Fantasy Versus XIII (not to mention the lack of any news at all in regards to Kingdom Hearts III) made it appear that Nomura was finally being pushed to the back burner of Square’s priorities.
With Nomura only having been involved in two projects, the releases of 2012 further sustained the fears within his fanbase. Having creatively produced Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, his legacy continued still in presenting itself as a fading into the world of side projects. Even his first work on the 3DS, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, seemed a mere cog in the machine of stalling for time in between yet another announcement for Nomura to request that his fans “just be patient” for news regarding Versus XIII and KH3. And the first half of 2013 seemed no different, with him having only been involved the with flop mobile game, FF: All The Bravest, as well as the main character designer for the finale of the XIII trilogy. The community had all but abandoned any real news regarding his ‘true’ projects. For some, however, there remained a tiny sliver of hope – and for this rare collection of loyal fans, it finally paid off when, on June 10th, Tetsuya Nomura made an appearance at E3. After years of teasing, he proceeded in giving his fans what they had been desperate for since the middle of the decade prior.
And so, on the tenth day, Nomura said: ‘Let there be games!’ And all the fans in the land rejoiced at the marvelous gift he had bestowed upon them… alright, while perhaps not that dramatic, the fanbase did indeed cheer relentlessly at the announcement. While there wasn’t a great deal of information regarding Kingdom Hearts III (though the fans are certainly ecstatic enough with the development announcement for the time being), the people who had been eagerly awaiting news regarding Versus XIII received a lot more than they had been expecting. The game was promoted to the next entry in the main series, and the announcement revealed quite a bit about the game’s progress, including gameplay footage. Square had delivered in a wondrous way, and since the initial 2013 E3 reveal, they have been shedding more and more light on the game. Interviews with Nomura, as well as increasingly fleshed out footage of the game (which will soon be examined in detail here at Pixelvolt) are piling into the community.
Nomura’s approach to game design is still growing to this day. Both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV are at two totally different ends of the JRPG spectrum. As Nomura notes, this comes from his “love for extremities”. He is becoming increasingly involved in the details of his productions – and as such, the evolution of his eclectic, emblematic style seems to be all but inevitable. Only time will tell, though it seems all but certain that Nomura will once again be making his stand in the gaming world – and, as he’s surely aware, his fans stand waiting in vehement anticipation.