The FINAL FANTASY TRADING CARD GAME is a tabletop trading card game enjoyed by players all around the world, featuring characters and monsters from the FINAL FANTASY series. Some cards are decorated with familiar art, and others with FFTCG-original illustrations!
We’ll be showcasing these original illustrations along with artist interviews. Some of the art will even be available as wallpaper from the FF Portal App!
Interview with Akane Saito, Plus Original Illustrations
We talked to Akane Saito, who is providing illustrations of characters from FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: Echoes of Time for FFTCG.
Designer of WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY mirages and world assets. Now primarily handling background art design for DRAGON QUEST X ONLINE.
―First, we’d like to learn a little bit about you. Can you please tell us about your career so far?
Saito: I entered SQEX about six years ago, and before that I was at a different company designing characters for games aimed at children. Because it was a small company, my responsibilities were not limited to just character design but included handling many other aspects of work relating to art for games in general. I started to really want to work at a company that makes games I enjoy, and so I came to SQUARE ENIX. Although I was so surprised when I learned I’d be working under Mr. (Yasuhisa) Izumisawa, who was the main designer for some of my favorite games! [laughs]
―I see. So you already liked SQUARE ENIX’s games!
Saito: Yes, I played FINAL FANTASY and DRAGON QUEST series games as hand-me-downs from my older brother when I was a child. My first FF was FINAL FANTASY III, with help from my brother, but the first I beat by myself was FINAL FANTASY IX. Now I’m playing FINAL FANTASY XIV.
―What kind of work did you do first after joining SQUARE ENIX?
Saito: The first game I was involved with at SQEX was WORLD OF FINAL FANTASY (hereafter WOFF). What surprised me was that the quality expected of me was on a totally different level from my previous work. I never had the opportunity to be taught about video game art design before, so there were lots of things to remember every day. It was pretty hectic, but Mr. Izumisawa told me clearly when my work was good and when it was not, so I never felt lost. It was like...if I asked him about something I didn’t understand, he would give me hints rather than the answer itself. I was so thankful that I could find my own solutions and make progress on projects in my own way.
I mostly was responsible for monster design in WOFF. I had never done anything like that before so my first monster, Mimic, received a lot of critical feedback. I focused too much on Mimic’s image as a dangerous monster and a trap, and was told, “I don’t hate it, but it’s too scary.” [laughs] After some number of retakes, the design settled on the Mimic with drill pigtails that you know. In WOFF, I also was in charge of designing Unicorn, Mist Dragon and Tonberry, plus color design for a few other monster variations.
Monster designs end up becoming 3D models, but Mr. Izumisawa took care of the adjustments needed for that. The love for FF and technical skill of TOSE, who handled development for WOFF, was also exceptional. Their skill in taking the design concepts in my sketches and applying them to give movement and life to the 3D models that ended up in the game was really amazing.
―What kind of work are you doing now?
Saito: When WOFF’s development finished, my work under Mr. Izumisawa also reached a stopping point and I switched over to background design for DRAGON QUEST X ONLINE (hereafter DQX). I didn’t have much experience with backgrounds, but it was decided my style would be a good fit for DQX based on a few pages of background illustrations in my portfolio. Now I’m mostly used to my work on DQX, and I not only do backgrounds but a wide range of designs from world assets to character equipment.
―Can you tell us about the process that led to you doing FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: Echoes of Time (hereafter FFCC: Echoes of Time) illustrations for FFTCG?
Saito: The first characters I illustrated for FFTCG were Veriaulde, Norschtalen and Waltrill. The request actually initially came to Mr. Izumisawa, despite these characters having originally been designed by a different person, and since getting illustrations from the original designer wasn’t really possible the opportunity went to me. I not only had beaten FFCC: Echoes of Time but was a big fan, so the illustrations came together with basically no trouble at all.
―Please tell us about any aspects of the illustrations that you really want people to notice.
Saito: All three of these characters are so unique with their own well-established backgrounds, so I focused on illustrating in a way that allows players familiar with them to recall each character’s individuality and story. Since it’s a game I like, I didn’t concern myself with how to style these illustrations so much as doing justice to the characters, so I didn’t stray much from the original work. While drawing, I tried to focus on bringing out what makes each character who they are.
In FFCC: Echoes of Time, Veriaulde is a character whose body transforms into a bizarrely shaped monster when he comes into contact with the Crystal Core. He’s a reasonable, mild-mannered person by nature and so he’s suffered alone for many years to avoid harming other people. Variaulde also happened to be the first character I started drawing, so he took the longest to get image composition and so on figured out. What I really focused on here is the part of his body that’s partway through transformation. I wanted to convey how, even though it’s his body, it’s still not him, so I drew it to look like sticky tar.
For Norschtalen, I’ve drawn that shocking scene where she’s singing that anyone who’s played the game is familiar with. [laughs] This came up in Mr. Izumisawa’s interview as well, but while Norschtalen and her mentor Waltrill have separate cards, the illustrations on the cards actually come from one single image. I left the background all white since I knew they’d be separated as cards, but once I started handling backgrounds I regretted not giving this a proper backdrop... And so, as something special for this interview, I added one!
You might have noticed the paper in between the pages of one of the books...yes, it’s that memo. People who have encountered this will know what it’s referring to. [laughs] As a teacher, Waltrill is the type to let Norschtalen figure things out on her own rather than interfere too much, and I drew them with their backs facing each other to show that. At first I had drawn them separately, but with their shared love of magic studies I thought it would be interesting to put them together with books as the centerpiece, which brought us to the image you see here. The bookstand and so on are in the image of the library dungeons from the game.
―Was there anything you struggled with doing these illustrations?
Saito: I don’t really think so. I stayed faithful to the source material, referencing the original character designs, so I didn’t have any trouble there. And I got to draw characters from a game I like, so it was really just a lot of fun. Of course there were parts that I wasn’t satisfied with how they were turning out and took a lot of fine tuning, such as the positioning of the ribbon on Norschtalen’s head―I was doing that until the very last minute. [laughs] Mr. Izumisawa told me I could draw however I like, so truly nothing got turned down. But it really hit me how much responsibility comes with working 100% at your own discretion.
―So you’ve handled these other FFCC: Echoes of Time illustrations for FFTCG as well. Can you tell us how that came to be?
Saito: Right. In much the same process as the three illustrations we already spoke about, they brought the request for these like, “Please do these too.” [laughs] It was for the four tribes from the FFCC series games, and it got split between Mr. Izumisawa and myself―I was tasked with the Yuke and Lilty. Since I had drawn Yukes for the previous three illustrations, and I used Lilties when playing FFCC: Echoes of Time, I was very happy to be able to draw those tribes.
―So Mr. Izumisawa handled the Clavat and Selkie. Did you and Mr. Izumisawa collaborate at all on how to approach these illustrations?
Saito: We spoke when the process started and decided to have each tribe with its starting outfit and weapon. Personally, I also wanted to include really nice backgrounds since my previous pieces didn’t have any. We had some leeway time-wise too, so I looked over collections of card art and previous illustrations that had been done for FFTCG for reference.
The first three illustrations I did were of characters with established personalities and backgrounds, but this time it would be tribes that represent the player so I tried to stick to only drawing the unique features of the tribes themselves. Because each tribe has its own specialties and fighting style, I decided to draw them in action to really give them some flair. That was pretty different from the previous illustrations. I also heard that they would be full-art cards, so I made sure to give the parts that would normally be hidden behind card info proper attention as well. When I was shown the cards themselves, the holographic art looked great―they did an amazing job!
I knew from the very start what kind of composition I wanted for the Yuke. Yukes as a tribe are powerful magic users, so I chose a scene with the Yuke incanting a spell. I went with “fire” because the reflection of the flames on metal looks so cool!
I really debated over whether to go with a cute or cool style for the Lilty. A big part of what makes Lilties so charming is their warrior spirit despite their small size, so it ended up like this. By the way, the Yuke is a boy and Lilty is a girl. It’s hard to tell with these two tribes though. [laughs]
―What was different about these illustrations from the work you normally do?
Saito: It is indeed different from the design work I always do, and I actually hadn’t done much illustration work in the first place. It’s rare in design to draw a piece as one single illustration; rather you’ll draw a sort of character sheet to show the structure and form that will become a 3D model, so this was considerably different from my usual work. I had some anxiety about my drawings, as is, becoming cards for the whole world to see. I was also nervous and excited being included among such prominent illustrators for FFTCG...I had my worries whether my work was good enough, but on the other hand, more than anything, I was just happy to be able to draw characters I like in the way I want. In that sense, I really just enjoyed myself with these illustrations.
―Please tell us if there are any other characters or series you’d like to try doing illustrations of.
Saito: I want to try drawing Cait Sith or Red XIII from FINAL FANTASY VII! I love drawing and looking at animals both (especially beast-like creatures)...I’d like to try drawing summons like Ixion and Fenrir too!
―Wow, you really do love beast-like creatures! We’d love to see illustrations of summons and monsters from you as well. Thank you for your time today.
Original Artwork Wallpaper: Waltrill and Norschtalen
Akane Saito’s original illustration of Waltrill and Norschtalen is now a wallpaper!
Wallpaper: Original Illustration "Waltrill and Norschtalen"
Valid Until: 5.31.2020 (GMT)
Download the wallpaper on the FF Portal App!
Download the FINAL FANTASY Portal App here!
What is FFTCG?
FFTCG is a one-on-one tactical card game featuring FINAL FANTASY characters and summons. Not only is there fun in collecting cards featuring familiar faces, the main draw of the game is the simplicity of the rules combined with the complexity of the gameplay. The art drawn for the game by famed illustrators is also a popular aspect of FFTCG!
Find out more about FFTCG, including upcoming products and events at:
Play the FFTCG tutorial: