At one point in time, Nintendo and Square were synonymous in the video game industry. Square had released many of their biggest RPG hits on the Super NES like Final Fantasy VI (or III in the US) and Chrono Trigger. Square was loyal to the Big N in the early to mid 90s until Final Fantasy VII came along, as pointed out by Yoshihiro Maruyama, Executive VP Square U.S in a recent discussion with Polygon.
[In September 1995] I was hired by the president of the company, [Tetsuo] Mizuno-san, and he told me that, “Squaresoft will always be with Nintendo. … As long as you work for us, it’s basically the same as working for Nintendo.” And the week after I joined, they started saying, “Oh, maybe we should switch to Sony.” So I was kind of shocked.
And Maruyama-san wasn’t the only one in shock over the fallout between these two Japanese Giants. The rest of the gaming community was just as shocked, and some were devastated and doubtful of how things were going to turn out with Square’s new future outing with Sony (PS One). The decision was simple – it came down to which of the two new systems could offer Square enough storage space to make their RPGs.
Hironobu Sakaguchi, Producer and Executive VP, Square Japan (and father of the Final Fantasy game series):
Of course, back then I wasn’t the president of Square. There was a management level above me, and I talked with them to make the decision. But PlayStation games being on CDs was the biggest factor. If you wanted to make a 3D action game on a Nintendo 64 cartridge with that limited space, you could do it. But I wanted to create a 3D role-playing game. It was very clear in my head what I wanted to make, but that would have been difficult on Nintendo’s hardware.
The biggest problem was, of course, memory. Based on our calculations there was no way it could all fit on a ROM cartridge. So our main reason for choosing the PlayStation was really just because it was the only console which would allow us to use CD-ROM media.
Shinichiro Kajitani, VP, Square USA:
At that time, Square was really close to Nintendo. We were basically like a second party for them. So when their new system was in development, we gave them lots of advice, like, “You’re going to need a CD-ROM drive for it,” “You don’t have enough bandwidth to do what we’re trying to do,” and, “With what you have now, we’re not going to be able to make an RPG.” We gave them lots of advice. But [Nintendo president] Yamauchi-san at Nintendo basically refused to listen to any of it. And that’s when Sakaguchi-san and the management team at Square decided, “OK, we’re going to go with Sony now.”
And it wasn’t like Square didn’t try to make it work with Nintendo.
Hiroshi Kawai, Character programmer, Square Japan
We spent a few days, I remember, optimizing my code, to try to get a few more polygons out, but it didn’t really make much of a difference. And upon returning to Tokyo, there was a meeting with me, Narita-san, Sakaguchi-san and the major stakeholder of Square, Miyamoto-san. And I had never seen [Miyamoto in person before then]. He just comes in. “OK so, how was it?” And I gave a few figures when asked, but Narita-san was the main person who was talking. And he was essentially saying, “We’re just not getting the performance. We’re nowhere near what we did during the Siggraph demo.” Miyamoto-san just silently acknowledged that, and I didn’t hear anything from them until the point when Sakaguchi-san called [the office] together and said, “We’re not doing the 64 anymore.” So yeah. I guess in a sense, I kind of provided the objective data to say that the 64 wasn’t suitable for the next-gen Final Fantasy.
After Square joined Sony to partake in materializing their visions for Final Fantasy VII, the company had a major fallout with Nintendo.
Shinichiro Kajitani, VP, Square USA
When we made the decision to go with Sony, for about 10 years we basically weren’t allowed into Nintendo’s offices. From a consumer’s point of view, it was good to have two companies competing with each other because prices wouldn’t rise and it would be better for them. But from a business perspective, our main interest was making sure that Sony won and Nintendo lost, basically, because that would be better for us.
Yoshihiro Maruyama, Executive vice president, Square U.S
I don’t think [anyone from Nintendo gave us a hard time]. They said, “Oh, we don’t need that.” That’s what they said. [Laughs] Their philosophy has always been that Nintendo hardware is for their games, and if a publisher wants to publish, “OK you can do it.” But if you don’t like it, “We don’t want you.”
Hironobu Sakaguchi, Producer and executive vice president, Square Japan
When we made our decision, the president of Square [Masafumi Miyamoto], our lead programmer [Ken Narita] and I went to a meeting with Yamauchi-san. There is an old cultural tradition where, in Kyoto, someone will welcome you with tea, but you’re not supposed to really drink that tea. It’s just polite to have it there. And Yamauchi-san welcomed us with a very expensive bento meal and beer, and gave us a very nice welcome and basically patted us on the back to say, “I wish you the best.” No bitter feelings or anything.
But Hiroshi Kawai, character programmer, Square Japan, at the time heard things differently.
What I heard was Nintendo said, “If you’re leaving us, never come back.”
A remake of Final Fantasy VII is in progress. We’ll continue to keep you updated on its progress so stay tuned.