From Final Fantasy VII through to XIII (and Kingdom Hearts in between), one man has stood as a beacon of everything people love — and loathe — about Square Enix. And that man is Tetsuya Nomura.
Joining Square over twenty years ago as an artist, Nomura had his first big break designing many of the monsters for Final Fantasy V. His responsibilities increased with 1994's Final Fantasy VI, but it was Final Fantasy VII, in 1997, that shot both Nomura and the series itself into the stratosphere.
Between Final Fantasy VI and VII, a lot of things happened. Having previously appeared on Nintendo consoles, the series made the jump to Sony's new PlayStation. This move also meant that Final Fantasy's traditional 2D presentation would be replaced by new 3D visuals. But there were personnel changes as well: Yoshitaka Amano, who had long defined the look of Final Fantasy with his bold and beautiful artwork, stepped aside and Nomura took his place, meaning he'd be responsible for all the character designs in what was shaping up to be Square's most important video game to date.
While Final Fantasy games had been a big deal until VI, the series really blew up with VII's international (and mainstream) success. A traditional JRPG series was now one of the biggest franchises on the planet, and it was Nomura's character work that was front and centre. Characters like Cloud and Sephiroth, with their sharp, modern and iconic designs became instant gaming legends, characters that captured the imagination then but which still live on and endure today.
Final Fantasy VII's success meant that Nomura would spend the next 15 years almost single-handedly (Amano remained on logo duties, and Akihiko Yoshida played a big part in FFXII) defining the look of not just Square's flagship series, but other games like Kingdom Hearts, and even movie projects like Advent Children. Over that time, he doubled down on what's become known as his trademark character design style, which usually features long, angular hair, over-sized weapons and ornate, overly-detailed clothing.
For fans of his work, that's been fine! But his work has not been without criticism, particularly of late, as many feel that just as Final Fantasy itself has become somewhat stale, so too have his character designs become predictable and clichéd. Venture into any conversation online about Nomura's work in the past decade and it doesn't take long before people are making cracks about too many belts.
Maybe, like most JRPGs themselves, he's simply grown to comfortable with a familiar template. Or maybe, as his responsibilities increased at Square over the years — he's progressed from a mere artist to a game director, on titles like Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV — he'd spread himself too thin over too many responsibilities.
Which might explain why, at least partly, Nomura is no longer the director of Final Fantasy XV, having been replaced recently by Hajime Tabata.
It's easy to get lost in these recent criticisms of Nomura and forget that, hey, this guy designed Cloud Strife. But that's what I love about Fine Art on Kotaku; as a retrospective, we're able to take in the entirety of an artist's work, not just their most recent, so even if there have been too many belts recently, Nomura's work has still been hugely influential, and is still deserving of much of the praise people still throw his way.
Below you'll find a gallery of some of his more important works over the years. I've obviously leaned more on Final Fantasy VII than other games. You can see more...well, all over the internet, but there's a good curated gallery over at the FF wikia.
To see the larger pics in all their glory (or, if they're big enough, so you can save them as wallpaper), click on the "expand" button in the top-left corner.
Fine Art is a celebration of the work of video game artists, showcasing the best of both their professional and personal portfolios. If you're in the business and have some concept, environment, promotional or character art you'd like to share, drop us a line!