The Games That Made Us: THEATRHYTHM creators Ichiro Hazama and Masanobu Suzui

The Producer and Series Director of THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE reveal the games that inspired them, why VAGRANT STORY and FINAL FANTASY VII ADVENT CHILDREN mean so much to them and more!
By Duncan Heaney

If you’ve played THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, you don’t need us to tell you that it’s an incredible game.

Producer Ichiro Hazama and Series Director Masanobu Suzui (from developer indieszero) have created something truly special - a spectacular rhythm-action extravaganza that’s packed with music, characters and love for the FINAL FANTASY series as a whole.

You’ve seen the game that they made, but what about the games that made them? We were interested to know about the titles from Square Enix and beyond that moulded the pair into the talented creators they are today.

So, we asked them.

Hello Hazama-san and Suzui-san. First question: what was the first game you ever played?

Hazama-san (THEATRHYTHM Series Producer): Oh, come on - I’m old! That’s quite a long time. It’s hard for me to remember!

Suzui-san (THEATRHYTHM Series Director): Don’t worry, It’s hard for me too (laughs).

Hazama-san: Eh… I think it might have been Super Mario Bros.

Yeah, I think it was. I remember I was playing it at my friend’s house and his mother came up and said: “Is anyone home? Are your parents not worried?” which is essentially what adults say when they really mean “go home now.”

But it went completely over my head so I just answered with a little smile, “no, it’s fine,” and carried on playing with my friend into the night.

Suzui-san: The first game I played was a title from Taito called Chack’n Pop. I remember getting it when I was in the second year of middle school. I got the Nintendo Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) as a present, and this was the very first game I bought with my own money!

It was originally an arcade game, and they made a port for home consoles. I thought it looked really cute and fun. Then I actually played it and I didn’t like it (laughs).

Theatrhythm Final Bar Line screenshot

What’s the first Square Enix game you ever played?

Okay, so I love retro games so much, it’s almost a problem! I could talk about retro games forever (laughs).

I think the one I was most excited about was Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (The Portopia Serial Murder Case) - an adventure game and (DRAGON QUEST creator) Yuji Horii’s very first game! That’s definitely the first thing I ever played from Enix.

I played plenty of Squaresoft titles too, of course. I definitely remember buying FINAL FANTASY on release day. There was also a system in Japan called the Famicom Disk System, and I was part of a club that gave you a lot of really great games from Square.

For example, there was this really awesome game called Suishō no Dragon (The Crystal Dragon). Highway Star - that was another fantastic game too. It had an amazing sort of running effect…

…ok, I could keep going but I’ve probably gone on too long - plus nobody reading this will have heard of any of these games (laughs).

Hazama-san: My first Square Enix game was SaGa 2 (tiled FINAL FANTASY LEGEND II in North America).

I was at university, and one of my senior friends recommended it to me. I actually didn’t play that many games at the time, so he lent me the Game Boy and the game. I distinctly recall thinking, “Yeah, this is a pretty great game.”

I think I played it all the way through twice before I gave it back to my friend. It’s a game where you can choose the race of your character, and the first time through I picked what I thought looked cool. That meant I ended up with a party of just four monsters!

It was fun, but I remember thinking that it was a shame I was learning about these monsters but nothing else, so I went through again to see more of the characters!

A multi-battle stage in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line

Which single game could you not live without? And before either of you try to cheat, you can’t say THEATRHYTHM!

Both: (Wail of anguish)

Hazama-san: But I do think if I had THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, I’d be okay (laughs).

Suzui-san: I was brought up on DRAGON QUEST and FINAL FANTASY. If I didn’t have either of them, I don’t think I’d be alive. I mean the originals - the first one of each series, by the way.

Hazama-san: Ok, let me think about this properly. Hm…

At the point where I was just coming out of university and was about to go into the world of work… if I didn’t have Bust a Groove, I don’t think I’d have survived.

I mean, Suzui-san also made lots of great games back then too… but I don’t remember any of them (both laugh).

Above: FINAL FANTASY pixel remaster

If you could only listen to one Square Enix soundtrack or album ever again, what would it be?

Suzui-san: (Opens mouth…)

And you can’t say THEATRHYTHM!

Suzui-san: I was about to say THEATRHYTHM!

Hmm… just one, eh? I think the FINAL FANTASY XV soundtrack. That is just divine!

Hazama-san: Uh (deep in thought)… If you talk about individual tracks, there are loads that really hit me.

If I was forced to pick just one thing (and I apparently am), I’m going to say KINGDOM HEARTS.

What Square Enix game do you look at and think: “I wish I’d worked on that!”

Suzui-san: There’s plenty where I think, “Thank you for making that.” I wouldn’t have been able to create THEATRHYTHM if the other guys at Square Enix hadn’t made the games that feature in it.

So we’re really thankful to everyone who made everything in THEATRHYTHM.

Hazama-san: You’re not actually answering the question….

Suzui-san: Oh alright.

FINAL FANTASY III. I really love the job system in that game. That was so good, I wish I’d been able to make that! If I could remake any game, it would be FINAL FANTASY II, just because I personally don’t like the back attack system (laughs).

Above: FINAL FANTASY III Pixel Remaster

Hazama-san: Argh. I can’t think of anything!

Suzui-san: Unlike Hazama-san, I don’t technically work for Square Enix, so I’m free to say what I like! He’s nervous because he’s got to keep all the senior guys sweet (laughs).

(Looks at Hazama-san pointedly) He has to give you an answer though, even if it isn’t allowed!

Hazama-san: I remember when I was coming out of school, I really loved Bust a Groove. I also really love FINAL FANTASY music, so being able to turn that into THEATRHYTHM… I actually made the game I would most want to make!

Another one would be Astronōka. I don’t think it ever released in the West, but it was a farming simulation game, based around winning vegetable competitions. They came up with some really unique and cool ideas for it.

Suzui-san: I remember playing Bust-a-Groove together with Hazama-san while we were working together at Bandai! We used to play Itadaki Street too - now that’s a really good game!

Actually, I remember when we were working on THEATRHYTHM DRAGON QUEST, we spoke to Horii-san loads about Itadaki Street - he created that as well as DRAGON QUEST. We were making our own little board game for our title, and he gave us lots of behind the scenes info and tips! That was great!

Ok, this one should hopefully be easier to answer: what one game do you think everybody in the world should play?

Suzui-san: You think that is an easy question?!

It’s a difficult one because if I say something from Square Enix, it’ll sound like I’m just shilling for you, and if I don’t, that won’t look good either (laughs)!

Ok, I think honestly, it would be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Hazama-san: I would want everyone to play VAGRANT STORY.

Really, really great game.

I think the person in the whole world who enjoyed VAGRANT STORY the most…was me! I don’t think I’ve ever really spoken to anyone about games and them talk about it with as much love (laughs).

It wasn’t perfect, but the way the story unfolded and how the events and presentation showed what was going on was absolutely amazing. I was utterly captivated by that game.

I think a lot of fans would agree with you about VAGRANT STORY!

Hazama-san: I’d love to talk to these people!

Sometimes I talk to people in the company about what I love about the game and the story, and they come back with, “Really Hazama? You think that’s the best bit of the game!?” I’d love everyone to play it, so I can meet more people who agree with me (laughs)!

What’s your proudest career achievement?

Hazama-san: Ok, I’m definitely going to answer this…


Of course!

Suzui-san: I really am genuinely proud of this game!

Hazama-san: I should have said that (laughs)!

But actually, looking back, one of my proudest moments personally was working on FINAL FANTASY VII ADVENT CHILDREN.

We had to get this movie released and make it a success not just in Japan, but overseas as well. I remember sitting down with all the key people on the FINAL FANTASY VII creation team, like Director Tetsuya Nomura, Story writer Kazushige Nojima, composer Nobuo Uematsu and talking about so many different things, such as which companies to go through to get it out and stuff like that.

It was a lot of fun to work on, and it made me a lot more confident in my abilities!

Suzui-san: An early achievement for me was directing a game called Retro Game Challenge. It was based on the Japanese TV series Gamecentre CX.

It was made really quickly and on a really small budget, but it taught me that you can make a good game without spending too much money. I learned so much from it.

So when Square Enix came to me and said, “We want to make this game about FINAL FANTASY music,” I already had built the confidence to do a good job.

Hazama-san: Hold on, that makes it sound like we’re not paying you!

Suzui-san: Don’t misunderstand - they really did treat me very well (laughs)!

It’s amazing though - I’ve been working on THEATRHYTHM for 12 years now, and indieszero as a company has been going for 25. So for half of our existence, we’ve been working on THEATRHYTHM. That’s incredible - and I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity.

I think of all the FINAL FANTASY music I loved as a kid, and Hazama-san and his team gave me the opportunity to make a game about it! And when I see out there playing it, and they feel the same as me about bringing this amazing music to life… it’s just a wonderful feeling.

As you say, you two have been working together for a while now. How did you meet?

Suzui-san: Actually, the first time I saw Hazama-san, he was getting shouted at. This was at a different company to Square Enix.

The Head of Department called him over, “Oi, Hazama! Get over here now - these numbers are all wrong! Go and sort it out!”

And he said, “Yes Boss! Sorry Boss! I’ll do it again!”

That’s my first memory of Ichiro Hazama (laughs)!

Hazama-san: I think I remember that, yes. The more I pulled away, the angrier with me he got!

The thing was, I wasn’t actually wrong! It was to do with a royalties agreement, and I saw that the numbers were too high. I went to the team, they insisted it was fine, and I was the one who got shouted at when it wasn’t!

I did actually point out that I’d checked and done my due diligence, and he said, “That doesn’t make a bit of difference!” That’s what bosses are like, aren’t they (laughs)?

Suzui-san: However, when I saw him being shouted at, I thought, “I like this guy!”

That’s when we became friends and went out drinking together.

And thus a successful team was born! Many thanks to Hazama-san and Suzui-san for sharing the games that made them… them.

Their latest collaboration, THEATRHYTHM FINAL BAR LINE, is available now for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. It’s a celebratory love letter to 35 years of FINAL FANTASY and Square Enix as a whole, with more than 500 songs to play through, depending on the edition.

Three editions are available:

  • Standard Edition: Available physically and digitally, this contains 385 songs from across the FINAL FANTASY series

  • Digital Deluxe Edition: Contains all songs from the standard edition, plus 27 additional tracks, and Season Pass 1.

  • Premium Digital Deluxe Edition: Contains all songs from the standard edition, plus 27 additional tracks, and Season Passes 1-3.

Get the game here:

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