The 5 November 2020 issue of Weekly Famitsu includes a 25th anniversary commemorative interview on Tactics Ogre with some of the original developers who worked on the game: Director, writer and game designer Matsuno Yasumi, art director Minagawa Hiroshi, and music composer Sakimoto Hitoshi. Though unable to participate in the interview, illustrator Yoshida Akihiko also answered several questions outside of it.
The Precursor to Final Fantasy Tactics
Originally released in 1995, Tactics Ogre was an SRPG created by Quest for the SNES. Tactics Ogre saw great popularity, and became a defining game for the genre. Core members of the development team went on to create Final Fantasy Tactics, which was released two years later, and is a spiritual successor to Tactics Ogre. Quest was purchased by Square in 2002, and Final Fantasy has included references that suggest that the world of Final Fantasy Tactics (Ivalice Alliance) might be connected to that of Tactics Ogre (Ogre Battle Saga).
Also see: Final Fantasy Tactics’ Ending Explained: Ramza’s Fate and the Return to Ivalice
The interviewer begins with pointing out how the first proposal document already had a drawing of island of Valeria, and asks Matsuno about his creation process: Whether he starts with the world, or the characters. Matsuno says that he is actually bad at starting with characters, and has to first think of the history of the world, and then decide on which part of that history to write about, which is how he handled working on the Ogre Battle Saga.
As Tactics Ogre is part of the same world as Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, this means that its world had already existed before they started work on it. The route split at the end of chapter 1, what happens to Lancelot Hamilton, and the conversation between Hamilton and Tartaros were also in the very first iterations of the plot.
Matsuno says that in June of 1992, development on Ogre Battle had ended, and there was some time between that and its release. The NES game Solstice was popular with them at that time, and they decided that they wanted to make a similar action game with a 3D field, and were carrying out technical tests to see if this would be possible.
When Ogre Battle’s release was fixed for March of 1993, however, they got an initial order of 200,000 copies, and an additional order for another 200,000 copies, making for a total of 400,000 which was a huge hit for a company that had been nameless at the time. The company of course requested that they make a sequel as a result, and so they stopped work on the 3D action game and instead began work on an SRPG with a 3D map.
Minagawa says that they loved 3D action games like Solstice and Landstalker, and were thinking of them while working, like when making a jump-like functions with three-dimensional feeling to it. They already had a tool running on the SNES which would apply a panel to a 3D map when the panel’s type and height was defined at that point, and the action game they were making would let the player character move and jump around that map.
Art and Animation
The sprite work is discussed next. Minagawa, who also handled pixel art in the game, says that since they already had the units from Ogre Battle, he just made sprites and animations for these pre-existing characters. He also made the effects and UI.
Creating the tool for maps was also done by Minagawa, but actually making the background graphics and scene composition was handled by Yoshida. Yoshida also handled designs for new characters for Tactics Ogre like Denam, Catiua and Vyce and illustrations for new characters and classes, as well as the in-game portraits. Minagawa says that the portraits, having the limitations of 16 colours and 32 pixel widths, are something that he would never have been able to do himself.
The interviewer brings up how at the time there was gossip on the internet saying that Minagawa worked on pixel art seeing Final Fantasy as a rival, and asks if it was true. Minagawa says that he did of course think of Square’s games while working, but also Capcom’s, especially their arcade games. But the timing meant that Final Fantasy VI and Seiken Densetsu were close, and so he did try not to lose to them.
As Minagawa was the only person working on the characters in the first half of the development process, he also created the template for animations, and with the help of the programmers also made a tool for animations to make it easier to work on them, creating an environment where animations could be defined by the tool before working on the sprites.
The game had many classes and weapons, but would have to fit into a limited amount of space, and so they made the animation tool and sprites early on so that they could experiment via trial and error. There was very little V-RAM available, meaning the game would not be able to load the animation patterns for every single character participating in a battle. As such, only the most simple of animations such as walking or taking damage were perpetually loaded into the memory, with the animations for the attacking and defending units swapped in only in combat. This was also handle with a tool they made which allowed them to manage the animations and memory.
Though Tactics Ogre has many units and classes, they mostly share the same poses. Minagawa says that without an environment where they could put these poses together to see if they formed movements that looked right while switching weapons and classes around, they would not have been able to make the animations which made use of the limited resources, and he says that making development tools to fit the content of the game was very important even back then.
Minagawa is asked if Matsuno had any requests for him during development. Minagawa says that when he used how each unit has its own specialty weapon as inspiration to make a unique animation for the valkyrie class spinning its spear around and showed it to Matsuno, Matsuno asked him if he could make similar special animations for all the classes. In the end he could not come up with an idea for bows, however, meaning that they never got a unique animation.
The User Interface
The interviewer next brings up how well-organised information is on the game’s user interface, and Minagawa says that work on the UI would begin with Matsuno coming up with a list of the information he would like to see on the screen, and Minagawa replying with how possible that would be: For example, with the character edit screen, he would actually make something to show how many characters would be able to fit into the screen when lined up. Matsuno would then edit this and come up with documentation on how to fit all the characters into one screen. Matsuno says that while the UI flow and structure were mostly his job, he consulted Minagawa on everything that had to do with graphics.
Next, Minagawa says that in the prototype phase, the game actually had white text on dark backgrounds like Ogre Battle, but he got sick of it halfway through and decided he wanted black text on light backgrounds. He researched how to make it look good, and then remade all of it on his own.
The unique font used for numbers was also an original creation of Minagawa’s, and he says that this slightly wide and flat typeface style is something that he likes and still uses.
Being able to use the select button to get instant help on things shown on the screen is brought up, with the interviewer asking if this too was something they planned on doing from the beginning. Matsuno says that it was a function that had already existed in Ogre Battle, but they decided to go further with it in Tactics Ogre: Instead of just explaining how to control the game or the effects of items, they used it to include things like flavour text explaining the world, or dialogue showing what units think of the player.
System text, help text, and story text added up to 300,000 Japanese characters, and they had to set aside the memory for that from the start of the project. The PSP remake of Tactics Ogre has more than double that amount at 700,000 characters, which is more text than Final Fantasy XII (which Matsuno also worked on).
Part 2 of this article is available here:
Tactics Ogre 25th Anniversary Interview (Part 2)
Final Fantasy Tactics’ Ending Explained: Ramza’s Fate and the Return to Ivalice