Japan Expo 2019 — held in, um, Paris — featured Kazuko Shibuya among its guests. Shibuya is a Square Enix artist who has been with the company since the earliest days of Square. Indeed, she was the original Final Fantasy pixel artist, designing every graphic and menu except the world map in the original NES/Famicom titles. At Japan Expo, and as Dual Shockers relates, she talked about some of her experiences in the early days of Square.
In the beginning, Square was so small (“a super small office on one floor, akin to a university’s clubroom”) that programmers worked in a separate office down the street. Since the founder of Square, Masafumi Miyamoto, was still a student at the time, Kazuko Shibuya says she was technically a Square employee before Miyamoto himself was.
When Hironobu Sakaguchi announced his intention create an RPG for the NES, Shibuya joined his team simply because nobody else was really that enthusiastic about it. She says pretty much no one, including the development team, expected Final Fantasy to be a hit. Her pixel art skills improved with each game she made, and she picked up new tricks along the way. My favorite factoid of the whole story is about how she designed the default Final Fantasy party battle sprites: Shibuya drew them all with their arms up so she wouldn’t have to make them animations for lifting their arms. It had the bonus effect of making them look “ready for action.”
She didn’t work on the pixel art for Final Fantasy IV because she was making Final Fantasy Adventure on Game Boy instead. However, she did actually create the art used for the Super Famicom cover of FFIV (seen at top). On Final Fantasy V, Shibuya worked exclusively on making the myriad party member sprites, which were so numerous because of how many different appearance-changing jobs were in the game.
These days, she supervises the pixel art for Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, but she personally designed the look of Katy Perry’s character when she appeared in the game for a crossover. In any case, Kazuko Shibuya has been incredibly important to the look and feel of this beloved RPG series. Her skill must be applauded, especially for translating the abstract and complex concept art of Yoshitaka Amano into comprehensible pixel art.
Be sure to check out Dual Shockers for even more Square and FF tidbits.