The worst of Tetsuya Nomura
Tetsuya Nomura is one of my absolute character designers. I’d cite him as one of my biggest influences in a second and I love how he applies elements of modern fashion to his designs, his bold colour choices and colour theming, his adventurous and playful approach…
But he’s hit and miss, and everybody does bad designs sometimes. It’s important to be able to criticise even people and companies you like and admire. So here we go, it’s Nomura’s worst designs (and yes, I’ll be doing a best designs post too) with my thoughts, as a character designer, on what’s bad about them…
So the scenario is, you’ve got to basically make a guy who strongly resembles Tidus, coming from the same rough setting/time period as Tidus but who has a darker overall tone as a character. He is also the main antagonist of your game (come on, that’s hardly a spoiler, the game’s over a decade old and his first appearance is all scary music and screaming!).
The “Like Tidus” aspect is pinned down here, but… the time period thing feels off? He lacks the futuristic look of the Zanarkand era of Spira’s past and many elements of his design look a bit too natural and rough and would fit better in “present day” post-Sin Spira. Also, his battle techniques suggest he was a blitzball player, yet he has that weird harness around his legs, and I know Tidus and Jecht’s clothes weren’t all that pratical either but still… kind of an odd choice. But the real major issue is… this is the main antagonist of the game but he could easily be mistaken for an NPC or a supporting character! Boring, very grounded silhouette that’s not imposing at all, lack of a strong colour theme… he just looks bland! Sometimes a bland design is a worse kind of bad than a silly one, because at least with the out-there one, you tried!
and speaking of out there designs… HOO BOY….
Nero, Dirge of Cerberus:
Okay, let me be honest here, Dirge of Cerberus is an awful game, the only redeeming feature of which is Hamauzu’s music and those cool orange hats some of the NPCs wear.If I was asked to design characters for a game I knew was going to be awful, I probably would have half-assed it too in all honesty. I could have made this entire list just characters from Dirge of Cerberus and…another game I’ll mention shortly.
This design gets points for creative ideas. Having the arms strapped up while the metal wing-like things act as arms is really cool and could have looked amazing. The idea of having all the bad guys have these glowing tron lines as a consistent visual theme was an interesting concept too, it’s just… this whole design is awful. Bright blue and grey isn’t a great colour scheme for an antagonist, it just doesn’t have any presence, way too chilled. The bodysuit looks very silly especially that glowing line that draws attention to his…very snug looking crotch. The big sailor moon gogo boots with glowing soles you’d see on a seven year old’s trainers are hilarious, the big goofy cartoon robot hands on his wingaling things are just silly, then he has these bandages wrapped around his hair?? Like, if you’re gonna make a scary bondage character like Voldo or Psycho Mantis, you really need to commit to that image rather than chickening out and making it a bishounen in a tight shiny tron suit with some light bondage elements. I feel like he was trying to capture the look of Anima from FFX here and didn’t really commit enough.
Dirge of Cerberus also gave us:
Okay, so I said Shuyin was bland. This guy isn’t bland, but I’d use the subtly different but related term UNINSPIRED. This is a really uninspired main antagonist who feels like a frankenstein of bits from other characters. Shirtless and silver haired like Sephiroth in the final battle of FF7, he has katanas, but hey, remember how FF8 had gunblades? Let’s have GUN KATANAS (though actually these are more accurate to historical gun-sword combos than Squall’s awesome but silly weapon). Throw some DBZ hair on there and call it a day. BORING.
Okay last one from DoC!
The first thing I’d expect, looking at this character, was that she was like… from a porn movie about naughty scientist ladies.
There’s nothing wrong with being sexy, okay, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a character sexy or necessarily in having a character wear skimpy clothes, but there needs to be a reason for it that works with the context and personality otherwise it’s just fanservice.
Shalua’s appearance doesn’t mesh at all with her backstory, story role or personality. She is not a sexy, playful, flirtatious person. She’s a very serious science lady dedicated to the very practical goal of helping her sister. She’s wearing a lab coat, suggesting that she’s just come from a lab and yet that outfit looks like a very uncomfortable and even dangerous choice for lab work.But even if we take aside the element of fanservice, it’s just not a great design anyway. The shapes are strange, it wouldn’t actually work in real life (that skirt thing would actually ride up and twist inside out if you tried to walk in it) it doesn’t have a pleasing visual balance or match the lab coat well. It’s just bleh. Oh also, her backstory says she was in a terrible accident hence only one eye and a prosthetic arm, and apparently she lost a bunch of organs too. It’s pretty incredible given that that she has no scars whatsoever. Really feels like a design that isn’t trying into the character at all, you know?
I also want to say regarding ALL the Dirge of Cerberus characters that a massive problem with all of them is not fitting into the style of FF7 despite being in the world of FF7 only a couple of years after the game was set. FF7 characters have a bulky, practical, punk-influenced look, lots of heavily worn leather, chunky metal accessories, ribbed knits, rough fabrics, big heavy walking boots and strong, but not bright or airy colours (Aerith’s dress being a deliberate exception with it’s flowing, soft fabric and soft, light colour to make her look like a ‘flower’ in the slums, but the rest of her design conforms to these rules!).
Speaking of bad things inserted into the canon of FF7…
AUGH. THIS DOUCHEBAG.
Genesis, Crisis Core (G, Dirge of Cerberus, okay so I kind of lied, but he was only kind of a secret extra in that game):
Genesis is not a bad design in a vacuum. He’s not a stand out design, he’s okay. The problem is how he fits, or rather fails to fit into the FF7 universe. A designer must always respect the text they’re working on, and FF7 has distinct style rules. Putting a real person’s face into a game universe where all the faces were based closely on Nomura’s art was a mistake for starters. (He’s based on the popular Japanese pop/rock star, Gackt, literally has his face directly modelled on the guy, and in Japanese was voiced by him). Genesis’ design feels like a fandom self-insert character because he’s “like Sephiroth, only…” So he’s almost identical to Sephiroth, but with a polo neck and a shiny cherry coloured satin coat and instead of a really long Katana, it’s a really long longsword…and it’s red and has a fancy looking hilt. So first off he’s practically like those “original characters” kids make by palette swapping Sonic characters, but secondly, the added elements don’t feel FF7. Cherry Red just doesn’t feel like an FF7 colour. Colours I associate with FF7 would be black, blood red, muddy brown, gunmetal, muted violet, royal blue and khaki green contrasted with the bright blue/green of the lifestream and mako. Satin doesn’t feel like an FF7 fabric, though you could argue that it’s saying something about the role of this poetic character in the grimy, practical world he lives in, I guess. The delicate design of the hilt of his sword looks much more suited to the artistic, art nouveau world of FF8 than the grim industrial world of FF7 too! Respect your setting and its style bible, people!
Next! Okay I’m finally done with FF7 spinoffs…
Sion, The Bouncer:
Like Dirge of Cerberus, I could basically just include the entire cast of The Bouncer because they ALL LOOK TERRIBLE. If you’ve never played this game, you may well be going “….wait, Sora?” Yeah, Nomura would go on to reuse many of these elements for the design of the Keyblade master, but also Tidus, I’m pretty sure they were all designed around the same time from the stylistic similarity. I guess Nomura was on like a “shorts and hoodies!” bender in the PS2 era? It actually works rather better as a design for a cartoonish character in a game for kids, but also Sora’s design, while it’s not gonna make my “best” list, at least has cohesive visual elements and themes, like instead of having just a chain of crowns, all his accessories are crown themed.
This design is a mess. It’s goofy looking for starters, which is bad because this is a fifteen rated game for older teens and up, and we’re supposed to believe that this guy is a tough nightclub bouncer who beats up people with his bare fists. The clothes look too big for him, which would be a great detail if we were supposed to believe he was a little guy with a complex about his size or that he was a pretentious whigger or something, but we’re supposed to take him as a hardass, played straight. He’s also really, really over-accessorised. This design is busy, has a boxy, uninteresting silhouette.
Okay So I think we’re done here. Next post I’m gonna go through some Nomura designs I think are really good, and that’s gonna be fun!