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Akitoshi Kawazu

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河津 秋敏
Akitoshi Kawazu
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Basic Information
Born November 5th, 1962
Oguni, Kyushu Japan
Residence Japan
Company Square Enix
Position Director, Producer
1985 - Present
Video Games SaGa
Final Fantasy
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Akitoshi Kawazu is a long time staff member at Square Enix, having created the SaGa series and directed several titles in the Final Fantasy franchise.


Kawazu was born in Oguni on the fifth of November in 1962. Self-described as a rowdy lad who never saw his own short comings, he would spend his youth in the small town surrounded by volcanic caldera and mountains. First introduced to the genre of science fiction by the release of Star Wars in his middle school years, Kawazu picked up an interest in the style of fiction quickly and found himself watching dubbed episodes of Star Trek. When a licensed Apple II computer game based on the tv series was released, he found himself mesmerized by the fact that ship-to-ship combat was being displayed on a television screen and under his own control.

Being a fan of board games for years, Kawazu was drawn to several published by the company Avalon Hill in his college years, and would play everything from war games set in World War II, Napoleonic wars, and even economic simulation games. At the behest of a friend, he joined the gaming news periodical Beep! as a writer and became further immersed in the industry, covering topics such as role-playing games being developed in America to arcade hits being released at home in Japan.

Earlycareer at Squaresoft

Kawazu joined Squaresoft Co. in 1985, first working on the Nintendo Entertainment System title Rad Racer as the programmer for the credits sequence and post-credits score board. With the smash hit of Enix's Dragon Quest sending shockwaves through the industry and proving that Nintendo's 8-bit machine was home to more than just action games, Kawazu worked with co-worker Hironobu Sakaguchi to create an RPG of their own and strike while the iron was hot.

Contributing the thematic elements of crystals that correspond to the elements of fire, wind, earth, and water to the plot, Kawazu's main task was developing the battle system for the game. Working with Iranian-American programmer Nasir Gabelli and communicating genre terms in broken English, the design focus was to adhere to the intricate standards of the board game RPG genre first and foremost instead of keeping game balance in mind. This lead to a few bugs in the game's first release, but it helped give Final Fantasy a distinct air and contrast to the more manga-esque look and simplified gameplay of Dragon Quest. The game proved a success, and Kawazu began work on the sequel with the rest of the original's team for the 1988 holiday season.

Final Fantasy II proved to be a watershed moment in the man's career, as the decision to do away with classes and levels gave him free-reign to implement his own design philosophies for the first time: Makai Toshi Saga. Features that would later define the SaGa series, such as character growth determined by ability usage instead of experience points, a open world map that could be freely traversed at any time, and an operatic plot were all originated in Kawazu's design work on Final Fantasy II.

Origins of SaGa

Kawazu's next major project would not be the third entry n the Final Fantasy series, but instead a debut project on the small screen: an original RPG developed for Nintendo's newly released Gameboy hardware. Intrigued by the prospect of a portable console emulating tv-based hardware by having it's own interchangeable cartridges instead of having games pre-programmed to specific models, Kawazu began to consider the possibilities the new system offered. Wanting to condense the RPG experience into a concise package that could be completed over the course of a seven hour trip (the usual flight time between Narita and Honolulu, specifically), development began.

Because the project was to be a wholly original work with a distinct setting from Final Fantasy, the development team brainstormed for an appropriately fresh setting. Deciding that "saving the world" was passe, the team crafted a scenario in which a team of unusual allies would have the choice to descend underground to kill a demon or climb a babylonic tower and defeat a god. Due to the desire to include transforming monsters as playable characters and the limited memory capacity of Gameboy cartridges, the demon scenario was scrapped in favor of ascending the tower of god. As deicide was unheard of in video games at the title, the team broke further ground by including science fiction elements such as cybernetic enhancements, espers with psychokinetic powers, and a post-apocalyptic landscape in one area of the game. The game proved to be a smash success upon release, being Squaresoft's first million seller and a contributing software to the Gameboy's early popularity. Having established SaGa, Kawazu would focus on the series almost exclusive for the majority of his career with Square hence forth.

Dawn of Romance

Makai Toshi SaGa would see two more sequels on the Gameboy, with Kawazu serving as director and scenario writer with the first and as a general supervisor on the second. With development of the third game wrapping up in 1991, Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System had an entire year to establish itself as the premier hardware in the Japanese market. Feeling he had accomplished all he could with the Gameboy's capabilities thrice over, Kawazu proposed to the chairmen of Squaresoft for a full-color SaGa game, and was given the green light to begin production on a new title.

The resulting game, Romancing SaGa, would sell 1.3 million units in Japan and begin it's own trilogy of titles on the 16-bit hardware, establishing Kawazu as a certified hit-maker for Squaresoft. Though niether of these three games would see releases overseas unlike Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy IV, this would change with the SaGa Frontier duo for Sony's Playstation console. Released in the light of Final Fantasy VII then-realistic graphics, the chibi sprites of the two games were met with askance in America but exposed Kawazu's work to a new audience and earned the man a greater international appreciation.

The SaGa series would continue on the Playstation 2 console with Unlimited Saga, a highly unorthodox game that challenged the genre rules of RPGs, and Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song--the 3D remake of the original Romancing Saga game and the first of the trilogy to be released overseas. Th series would enter a hibernation in 2005, reviving in 2016 with therelease of SaGa: Scarlet Grace for the Playstation Vita and the multiplatform release of an updated Romancing SaGa 2.

The crystal chronicles

During the financial disaster of the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within film, Sony purchased a 19% stake in Squaresoft that resulted in an exclusivity contract for mainline, numbered titles of the Final Fantasy series for Sony hardware. With Squaresoft's finances still precarious even after the financial aid from Sony, the decision to broaden the company's console representation was implemented and a shell corporation known as The Game Designers Studio was set up in 2002 as a way to traipse around this contract stipulation via legal loopholes. This was possible with Squaresoft holding only 49% of the rights to the studio while Kawazu held the remaining 51%, and the fact that Kawazu was an employee of Squaresoft being written off as pure coincidence.

Being intrigued by the the connectivity of the Gameboy Advance and the Gamecube by the link cable technology, Kawazu petitioned that the studio's premier project would be a title that capitalizes on the unique playstyle presented by the connectivity. A brainstorming session with the assembled team was held, and a cooperative multiplayer action RPG was decided upon. Player freedom was considered a core aspect of the game, and thus character creation was chosen over pre-written characters.

The game would be titled Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and would be released on August 8th, 2003 in Japan and early Spring in the rest of the world. Though the reliance on each player owning a Gameboy Advance in order to participate was harshly criticized, the game proved to be financially successful and shipped 1.3 million copies worldwide. This surprise hit would lead to the establishment of the Crystal Chronicles as a sub-series of Final Fantasy, with Kawazu serving as the executive producer for each title.