Hashimoto's unique portfolio of experience makes him the ideal person to juggle movies and games for Square Enix in the way that both Advent Children and Kingdom Hearts 2 demand. As well as his work on videogames, which stretches right back to Chrono Trigger in 1995 and includes key production roles on recent titles such as Star Ocean - Till the End of Time and Final Fantasy X-2, he's also done a lengthy stint in the Japanese animated movie industry - including work on the groundbreaking and hugely successful Akira, for which he worked on computer graphics.
With Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, however, he faces one of the toughest challenges in the Japanese games industry right now - both satisfying the incredibly loyal fans of the original Final Fantasy VII game, and ensuring that Square Enix' second venture into movie production doesn't meet the same fate as the technically stunning but commercially disastrous Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
That challenge alone would be enough for most people - but Hashimoto is also involved in Kingdom Hearts 2, the follow-up to Square Enix' first collaboration with Disney, which saw Final Fantasy characters and Disney character rubbing shoulders in an action RPG game which won over many fans of both fictional universes with its charm, humour and solid gameplay. Trailers for the second game suggest a darker, more mature approach which may be closer to Square Enix' traditional strengths - but even with a successful first game (and well-received GBA follow-up) in the bag, working with Disney's characters is still an area mired with pitfalls.
We sat down with Hashimoto to talk about his two projects - how work is progressing, how the company is approaching them, and how it is overcoming the difficulties involved in creating two of the most highly-anticipated products that will come out of Japan this year. First up, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children....
Final Fantasy VII: Advent ChildrenHow did the idea of doing a movie set after Final Fantasy VII come about? Did the team have an idea for it even when they were making the original game, or is it a new idea?
To be honest, all of the staff was burnt out after we made the original Final Fantasy VII! But as you know, Final Fantasy has both a game part and a movie part - and as we made the movie part, we decided to make it longer, because it's so connected to the game part.
We don't really think of it as a feature film. It's more like a collection of clips; it's become quite long, but we don't take that too seriously in terms of having a massive concept behind it or anything like that. It's just naturally come about.So it is true that you increased the length of the movie during production, then?
As I mentioned earlier, we set out to create a collection of clips more than a feature film. That started out at twenty or thirty minutes, and now, at the end, it's seventy minutes long.... Because we were not intending to make a film, that's just how it happened.How many of the original Final Fantasy VII creative staff are working on Advent Children?
The staff have drifted around quite a bit, because it was a while ago. But the main key people, like Mr Kitase (Producer), Mr Nomura (Director), Mr Nojima (Script Writer) and also Mr Naora (Art Director), the key figures like that still remain.How would you compare the quality of the visuals in this film to something like Final Fantasy: Spirits Within? Has the technology moved on a lot since then?
Yes, definitely. Because we have the experience of making The Spirits Within, we've developed from there - piling up on that work, in of way. The quality has definitely increased.What sort of specific changes have taken place since The Spirits Within, in this regard?
The main software program that we use is Maya, and Maya hasn't really changed itself. However, we're using some systems that we developed internally, and they have developed since then - since The Spirits Within - so that's the main difference.Do you think that this film will appeal to people who aren't fans of Final Fantasy VII, or is it really only for fans of the game?
With the visuals, we've made them to a certain quality so that people who are not particularly fans of the Final Fantasy series can enjoy it. As far as the characters and the story, we will explain enough for the people who have never played Final Fantasy - that's one thing I can confirm.Are there any plans to re-release the Final Fantasy VII game on a modern platform to tie in with the release of the movie?
Nothing so far. We have to make Advent Children first!When will the film be released, and are you intending to release it simultaneously around the world?
We're preparing for announcements about the release, so please be patient about this!Will the film be released in theatres, or is it appearing first on DVD and UMD?
We do have some ideas about this, but because we're working in conjunction with other companies to provide the film, we can't talk about it yet. We're making the film, but we're using others to actually provide it.
Kingdom Hearts IIWhat are the major changes we can expect to see in the new Kingdom Hearts game?
One of the big changes you'll see when you play the game is to the camera - we've changed how that works. Also, the levels now have more events in them, with mini-games and so on. We're basically keeping the same concept and everything, but the changes are to the system of the game - we've made a massive block of changes that you will see.After the success of the first game, do you think Disney trust you more with their characters and worlds now in the second game?
We definitely feel a new sense of trust from the Disney side. Based on that trust, we can make new developments - the kind of drastic changes, new discoveries and surprises that we couldn't before. So yes, look out for that!Kingdom Hearts 2 looks like it is a lot darker and more adventurous with its story and characters than the first game - is it aimed at a slightly older audience?
We're still keeping a sort of balance, so that younger audiences can enjoy it as well. Certainly, at the top end, you'll see some serious scenes and so on - but that's not the main part. So, for example, even if the player is really young and doesn't understand the serious parts, they can still enjoy it - we've kept that sort of playful element in the game.
There's some cross-over with how Disney approaches things [to make their films appeal to all ages], of course, but we make the details quite different. We add more mysteries and so on, which appeal more to an older audience, maybe.
Shinji Hashimoto is co-producer of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and producer of Kingdom Hearts 2. Interview by Tom Bramwell and Rob Fahey.