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The best of Tetsuya Nomura

Okay, now, after lambasting him in the previous post something awful, we get to be positive about my favourite designer and show you why he’s my favourite!

At his worst, he is patchy, he uses too many accessories and he gets swept up in whatever style he’s enamoured with at the time and doesn’t pay enough attention to the setting even if it’s one he’s worked in before. At his best, though, he pays close attention to the technical side and works closely with the art team to showcase the capabilities of the system he’s working on, he draws inspiration from new fashions to create designs nobody else would think of and to create plausible fashions from alternate realities and he is a master of theming. Let’s have a look…

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Cloud, FF7:

Man now this one is iconic. It’s hard to really get across now that this design is practically the archetypical JRPG protagonist template just how big an impact FF7 made at the time. I mean, RPGs were nearly all set in these european medieval fantasy worlds  with Final Fantasy being unusual for introducing elements of steampunk, then FF7 drops like a bombshell with a grungey, gritty punk dystopia modelled on modern industrial Japanwith classic Fantasy elements thrown in, and it had these characters in grungey punky clothes and it blew everybody’s minds going from the flowing airy work of Amano to this!

So what’s great about Cloud’s design? Okay firstly, as I mentioned in the “worst” post, when talking about the spinoffs and where they went wrong, FF7 has a consistent visual style. heavy fabrics, leather, chunky, worn silver metal, heavy, practical boots, muddy colours; overall the look is industrial. It’s great, every character in FF7 looks like they belong in FF7, which is awesome! Then we have the technical aspect. Before FF7, all the games were sprite-based, meaning that for ease of production, everybody had symmetrical designs so sprites could be flipped. But then for FF7, the reason they asked Nomura to design was Nomura was a technical artist who had done graphics work on previous games rather than being an illustrator like Amano, so he understood that they wanted to show off what they could do in 3D and deliberately made a character with an asymmetrical design because they knew that it’d stand out from characters from sprite-based RPGs and show people something they hadn’t seen before! Also notice the chunky shapes and the lack of anything soft or flowing or patterned, not only a style choice, but ideal for early 3D modelling which had very limited polycounts available. Even the sword is big and chunky so it’s easy to model and to read on his simple map sprite!

Okay, most of these designs if not all are gonna be from Final Fantasy. I think Nomura probably saves his “top drawer” designs for that series and puts in extra effort, which makes sense because it’s Square’s big franchise! I may as well go in chronological order…

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Squall, FF8:

So, some poeple ridicule this design, but I think it’s awesome. Instantly recognisable, distinctive silhouette, restrained and cohesive colour scheme/theme, nice balance of practical and fantastic, great visual theming with the black leather, silver accessories and the running lion theme throughout. A cosplay classic; if you were going to cons in the early-mid 00’s, Squalls were so ubiquitous as to be a running joke.

The fluffy collar was a deliberate design challenge to show off the abilities of the CG artists in cutscenes and also serves as a really iconic detail. There’s also Squall’s signature Gunblade weapon, a fusion of revolver and sword which is incredibly silly, but damn it looks really cool, great design. The only think I don’t like are the three leg belts; I get why they’re there; to break up the monotony of the legs, and I definitely think they need to be there, I just feel like they’re not the best thing that could have been there. I do at least like them better than the weird furry skirt he wore in Dissidia, however.

 

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Edea, FF8:

WOOOOOOW. Okay, THIS. This is how you make a sexy character work. Wow. The story behind this design is interesting because it’s actually Nomura trying to make a design like something Amano would make, hence we have these strange, organic horns in bright colours and a flowing, smooth shape to the dress and cloak. The cloak is also partially transparent, showing off the PS1’s ability to render that very nicely! I absolutely love how that metal ornamentation on the back hints at the visual theme of the main antagonist; time/clocks, and I love how restrained this design is. In fact overall, the thing I love about the designs of FF8 is the restraint. They’re not over-accessorised, they stick to just one or two main theme colours each (and in most cases it’s colour+ a neutral colour like black, brown, white or grey) they’re practical and appropriate to the scenario that character is in, they’re not fanservicey, they’re a great bunch of designs overall!

But I can’t stay on FF8 all day, let’s move on…

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Yuna, FF10:

Practically as ubiquitous among cosplayers as Squall for good reason. This is a great design. The first thing to note is Nomura paying attention to current trends. At the time, there was a growing fashion for young ladies to wear their graduation Yukata with boots rather than the traditional tabi and geta, both for practicality and because it looked cute and modernised the look of the outfit. So since he was designing for a game in a very asian setting about a girl going on a long journey in a ceremonial role which also served as a “coming of age” story for her, he took inspiration from that! I just think that’s brilliant! Also, again, like Edea, this outfit is sexy and feminine without feeling fanservicey or failing to fit the character or setting.

Also amazing with this outfit is  the theming. Yuna is themed around the moon, hence her white and deep blue colour scheme, but also her name, Yuuna, which means ‘moon’ in Okinawan, also is the Japanese word for the sea hibiscus, which is the flower you see on her obi and furisode!

As with all the FFX designs, Yuna’s look was made to show off the huge jump in polycount the PS2 could render compared to the PS1, so she’s highly detailed, just short of being busy (some FFX characters cross the line a bit there), and has soft, flowing sleeves, which also showcase the fabric simulation tech both in her famous dancing scene and the underwater romantic scene FMVs.

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Lightning, FFXIII:

Yes, Lightning. No, I  don’t care if anybody doesn’t like her, her original FF13 design is awesome. The first thing I did in Lightning Returns was get the DLC I had that allowed me to dress her in her FF13 outfit and switched immediately to that because I love this design and no outfit she has worn since has ever been as good as it.

As usual, Nomura’s showing off the new tech here. She has a cape, allowing for dynamic fabric simulation to be showcased, she has curly hair, showing off new hair modelling and rendering, and she has a shoulder pad with two glowing stripes because the PS2/XB360 have glow maps, so everybody has glowing stuff all over them in FF13 as though Cocoon is a giant rave party dyson sphere planet.

I really like the restraint of this design. It’s mostly brown and white, but has nice splashes of bright colour; blue gloves, yellow glowing sergeant stripes and of course, that bright red cloak which adds visual interest when you’re watching her back run through environments and also makes it very easy to pick her out from the mostly blue and green environments in the game. She has a nice mixture of tough/rebellious and feminine/sexy going on, with her mixture of spiky and curly hair, her practical outfit and well-covered torso with tough leather accessories and bullet-shaped knuckle plates, but cute miniskirt and elegant, long, uncovered legs (note: she wears shorts underneath, no panty shots and makes complete sense, A++).

Gonna leave the FF canon for one last design here:

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Roxas, Kingdom Hearts II.

While I may have been known to playfully nickname this guy “Angsty mcEmopants”, I can’t deny that this is a sweet design! Roxas’ design is intended to be a sort of negative of Sora’s. So on the one hand, he looks very much like Sora, but at the same time, many of the details are the opposite of Sora’s. There are also a lot of nice little visual themes going on here.

The first obvious thing about Roxas is that he is almost completely monochromatic, even his hair is a light blonde, bleached out from Sora’s brown. The only elements of colour on his clothes are the red parts, but they’re not brilliant primary red like Sora’s red, they’re a rusty vermillion, a little nod to his link to Diz (very clever). The sparing use of the red balances the design nicely, and the dark/light balance is really nice.

There’s yet more visual theming too! The decoration on his zip and the silver colour directly references the appearance of the Nobodies, hinting at his connection with them, the checkered theme is great because it both symbolises his existance between light and darkness and real and unreal, but also his status as a pawn in a greater game. Finally the straighter and more mature cut of his clothes with the long pants and the high collar gets across his more uptight, closed off nature when compared to the very gregarious and outgoing and sometimes rather childish Sora.

So yeah, Nomura! When he’s good, he can be really good, and he’s been a huge inspiration to me as a character designer. I may well do character dissections of other game characters at a later date.

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