July 31, 1970 |
Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan
|Occupation||Art director of video games at Square Enix.|
Isamu Kamikokuryo (上国料勇 Kamikokuryō Isamu , born July 31, 1970) is a Japanese art director that has been working for Square Enix since 1999. He is mostly known for his work on the role-playing video game series Final Fantasy.
He is best known as the background art director of Final Fantasy XII and the art director of Final Fantasy XIII. He originally had the ambition to become a painter, but also liked and played video games. Any occupation could have been fine as a painter, but when the PlayStation was released, 3D graphics and movies were beginning to be used in games. Kamikokuryo thought, "this is the beginning of a great era" and his interest changed towards the creation of games. This was exactly the time when Final Fantasy VII was released in Japan. However, he had always done fine arts, but no design related to video games. He studied graphics design by himself for about three years and then joined Square Enix in 1999. He applied by submitting a resume with a photograph of one of his oil paintings. Since joining, he has worked on major titles such as Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII.
Game art design
Kamikokuryo has been strongly influenced by the works of various photographers, with his favorite photographer being Steve McCurry. He has taken trips to New York City to observe architecture both new and old, visited the Grand Canyon for its evocative scenery and ventured to Italy to view ancient ruins. All these elements have been put to use on future Final Fantasy projects, such as Fabula Nova Crystallis, which he is currently working on. Kamikokuryo says there is no “Final Fantasy look”, as each installment receives many changes in terms of the art direction taken.
He believes past Final Fantasy games had limitations in expression due to the hardware, so the development staff had to let the player expand their imagination for the costumes of the characters. With the games on more powerful hardware, the development staff take in some trends from fashion to make it more entertaining for the player; people who like games enjoy the gameplay and people who also like fashion enjoy the costumes. With regards to the bishonen main characters in Final Fantasy, Kamikokuryo states that it has become a tradition in Japanese story-telling that whenever a “good-looking” individual is featured, they are typically depicted as the main character.
When asked how the development team copes with the uncanny valley, Kamikokuryo noted that it's something everyone on the team is constantly thinking about and they always have to fight against. They deliberately don't go there. For all the things they create, many of the section creators get together and make adjustments so the uncanny valley problem doesn't happen. He adds that they need to pursue something not too realistic. They want to keep the uniqueness of the character designs by Tetsuya Nomura but also want to draw upon real-life inspirations. He's pointed out the series' inspirations from contemporary design and fashion, and how they make playing the game more engrossing and more entertaining. Stylization is also important to Kamikokuryo, and he wants to emphasize coolness and cuteness through stylization. The development team is constantly struggling between realism and a more stylized look and trying to create something at the edge of the uncanny valley.
Kamikokuryo notes that the CGI and in-game development teams are separate, but in a natural way they work together and be in harmony with another. The CG team also works on the high-end visuals and visual expressions and there are no limitations with what can be expressed. He believes Square Enix have a very high quality visual execution. Therefore, they have to have a good program to train their staff at all times. They want the best people to work together and enhance their capabilities. When he first started at Square Enix, nobody guided him, he just had to watch and learn back in those days. He believes photorealism is fundamentally an attractive proposition as it will be quite valuable in Final Fantasy since there has to be a real expression.
Work on Final Fantasy XII
He has stated that he has thought the development of Final Fantasy XII was a long period of time. However, because he could paint the art for the game in extraordinary fine details, he's thankful for having been given such an opportunity. If he had been given two years less to develop the art for the game, the world for Final Fantasy XII would have looked totally different. It's because he took so long to make art for the game that resulted in the look of the final game. He believes he was able to create the art for the game in an elaborate way and that it felt like creating an actual living world.
Work on Final Fantasy XIII
He has spent nearly a year of pre-production solely on art for Final Fantasy XIII. He says the world in the game is set in a more futuristic time than any Final Fantasy game in the past. He took that very futurist framework, but incorporated some great elements of fantasy into it. He asked himself, "How can I put them together?" and "How can I combine them?" This is what he set out to realize with the game and he used nothing from past Final Fantasy worlds for reference. The idea for Lightning to have a sword that can transform into a gun relates to the Eidolon summons in the game. One of the gameplay themes they chose for Final Fantasy XIII was transformation, and the Eidolons can turn into vehicles. So if summons could transform themselves, they thought that weapons should be able to as well. Kamikokuryo says that he wanted anyone who stepped into the world of Final Fantasy XIII to get hooked on the extraordinary visuals, and that he believes the blend of futuristic technology with the wild nature and ecosystem is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. He also believes that each location and scene has a detailed vision and beauty that brings his art direction to life.
Difference in game design between production teams
Kamikokuryo has also noted the game design philosophy difference between Yoshinori Kitase and Yasumi Matsuno. For the Final Fantasy games developed by Kitase, usually catchy and original designs are requested from Kamikokuryo. For the ones by Matsuno, a design faithful to its sound foundation and things highly artistic in nature are demanded. He thinks these differences in the stance towards art design are based on the difference in writing style between Kitase and Matsuno. Also, because many staff members have worked together for a long period of time in each production team, the methods and philosophy behind the creation of games differ significantly from each other. He feels that, because he has experienced working with both teams when making Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII, it was very interesting to realize these many differences.
Isamu Kamikokuryo does photography as a hobby. He likes turn-based strategy games and real-time strategy games, as they give the player the task of making considerate decisions. He is also a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
|Final Fantasy X||2001||PlayStation 2||Gadget art designer|
|Final Fantasy XII||2006||PlayStation 2||Art director (background)|
|Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings||2007||Nintendo DS||Art supervisor, title logo designer|
|Final Fantasy XIII||2009||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360||Art director|
|The 3rd Birthday||2010||PlayStation Portable||Art director|
|Final Fantasy XIII-2||2011||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360||Art director, costume designer (Lightning)|
|Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII||2013||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360||Art director|
- Winkler, Chris (15 November 2006). "RPGFan Exclusive Interview: Isamu Kamikokuryou, Art Director, Square Enix". RPGFan. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Yoon, Andrew (22 February 2008). "GDC08: Final Fantasy, beautiful men, and fighting the uncanny valley". GDC 2008. Joystiq. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Gantayat, Anoop (1 February 2011). "Hey Mr. Tetsuya Nomura, Whatchu Up To?". News. andriasang. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- "The Art of Final Fantasy". Features. PSU.com. 25 March 2008. p. 1. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Lanxon, Nate (12 March 2010). "Q&A: FFXIII's Yoshinori Kitase and Isamu Kamikokuryo". Gaming News. Wired UK. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- "The Art of Final Fantasy". Features. PSU.com. 25 March 2008. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- "FINAL FANTASY XIII Official Release Date Announcement Trailer". Square Enix Co., Ltd. Retrieved 9 April 2011. "Isamu Kamikokuryo: I wanted anyone who stepped into the world of FINAL FANTASY XIII to get hooked on the extraordinary visuals. The blend of futuristic technology with the wild nature and ecosystem is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Each location and scene has detailed vision and beauty that brings the images to life."