I’ve been procrastinating on this translation for so long that I’m about to beat the game for the third time in a row again in…well, several years.
Right. This is a follow-up of sorts to the previous (pre-release) interview, which I translated here. Moderated by the same Atlus Net manager, Kosugi (whose named I mistranslated for some reason as Kozuki; sorry, manager Kosugi) this January 2009 interview focuses more on the technical side of the game, like tweaks, rewritings, the original COMP design and the never-ending struggle for more memory space.
Kosugi: So, director Takada is first. I’m going to start right away, so please tell us what concerned you the most about this game.
Takada: My biggest concern was how to highlight the most interesting parts of the game and turn them into an enjoyable experience.
Kosugi: As in?
Takada: For example, the situations leading into battles, good pacing for a scenario full of tension, together with the ability to have the characters properly gain experience, for the people interested in this kind of thing. I thought to myself these were the kinds of problems SRPGs face.
Kosugi: Problems SRPGs face…?
Takada: First of all, battles tend to get pretty long; that is why I shortened each and every battle. The free battles for experience and macca were also compressed.
Kosugi: I see.
Takada: There are a lot of demons to train too, so I also improved the way experience is gained and the pacing until fusion takes place. I decided there was no need to wander around dungeons looking for demons, so in order for the player to enjoy fusing demons immediately I settled on buying them at the auction.
Kosugi: That was a drastic change. But the pacing was better indeed.
Takada: We changed a few rules and developed a function where you can look up the ingredients needed for your favoured fusion.
Kosugi: That’s really useful. No stress and it’s also rather immersive.
Takada: Speaking of which, I wanted to take full advantage of the good points of SRPGs, so I challenged myself to remove the very issues you encounter in SRPGs. Well, I also have a suggestion for the players…
Kosugi: That is?
Takada: Free battles are easy to get through and there are a lot of people who tend to overlevel their demons. That is why experienced SRPG players should try a playthrough where they simply ignore the free battles. Thus, their tactical abilities will develop greatly and the game itself will become more challenging.
Kosugi: That’s fitting for experienced players (laughs). Thank you very much.
Kosugi: Now, about the scenario. I heard you went through a lot of trouble…
Staff: This time there were a lot of divergences in the scenario, so we had to prepare a really big amount of text. The quantity of the text surpassed our calculations, so we had to go not once, but twice and wake up our main programmer at five in the morning to tell him to alter the capacity…
Kosugi: Whoa, that sounds tough.
Staff: The main story went through several rewritings as well. The messages from the day before the Tokyo Lockdown were completely rewritten about six times. The director told us at first that they didn’t sound realistic at all, so we modified them, but the events ended up too long, he went ‘Will you start the plot already!’, so we had to fix the pacing…
Kosugi: Well done.
Staff: In the end we didn’t even manage to get too much sleep, so we could barely tell where reality ended and where the game began. We started calling the DS COMPs, wanted to make sure if random guys wearing jerseys in Shibuya were Kaidou…Sometimes I’d blurt out that Tokyo could get under lockdown at any moment…
Kosugi: Oooh, I’m sure this was all because of fatigue. Somehow it all sounded rather depressing from start to finish. Now, on to the next guest.
Staff: Director Takeda told us in the beginning that one stage should end in five minutes, which determined the movement of the units and the size of the map. It didn’t end up as five minutes, but I’d say it’s got a very good pacing for a SRPG.
Kosugi: This is one of this game’s particularities.
Staff: Also, each race has special skills this time, but because of the Tyrants with infinite MP regeneration the balance gave us a lot of trouble. There were both voices saying they had to be strong since they were Tyrants*, but also voice that they were too strong… Also, in order to emphasise the importance of tactics for training we needed to make it compatible with the tactics of a simulation game, while having the player feel the feedback to gaining experience directly at the same time. That is why the calculation formulas became rather difficult and the balance would be ruined just because of one wrong numerical value. That would make us revise everything and do it all over again. It was hard.
Kosugi: This tells us a lot about your craftsmanship.
Staff: This one’s related to the stylus, but I went ahead without using one until halfway through. One day however, someone said they’d like to use it at some point, so I still remember all the sudden tapping.
Kosugi: Thank you for your time.
Art Director Kotou
Kotou: I am Kotou, the art director.
Kosugi: Can you share any stories about the difficulties you encountered while working on the game? Or anything you were particular about, for that matter?
Kotou: First of all, the game hardware has something called vRAM. I’ll skip a detailed explanation, but basically having a lot of vRAM allows you to have several images on one screen, while less vRAm also means less images. Making the game meant essentially a collaboration with each team of programmers to add maps, characters, interface to that limited capacity.
Kosugi: I see, I see.
Kotou: The DS is a portable device, so it does not have a lot of vRAM. That is why, when approaching the final stages in creating a game, there will constantly be a fierce scramble for more vRAM. There might have even been someone shouting ‘I’d pay 10000 yen right now for 5kb of semi-transparency!’
Kosugi: …that was you, wasn’t it.
Kotou: And then the entire team cried in the name of the design team…
Kosugi: That sounds good…actually no, it sounds painful.
Kotou: We were told by Nintendo to make the COMP a fictional gaming portable based on the DS, but it was actually an original Atlus design in the beginning. However, one day close to the development deadline, we received a phone call from Nintendo asking us if we could make it a bit more similar to the DS…
Kotou: So the entire design team worked at top speed to switch immediately to the new COMP design in all its game appearances. They somehow managed to fix it at the last moment, literally just before the deadline.
Kosugi: You did great. Now on to the next member.
Staff: I will talk about the sprites.
Kosugi: Speaking of sprites, I was really touched by the performance of the MOTHER and the old Dragon Quest characters.
Staff: Indeed. The purpose of the character team this time was to stir people’s imagination as much as possible with their work, since making the characters look like they have realistic reactions using such small information volume also requires the player’s imagination up to a certain degree. Art director Kotou, who had also worked as general supervisor for the sprites in Etrian Odyssey, was really strict, but I think that thanks to her the performances in this game ended up really good.
Staff: Also, the demon pixel art is really demon-like. We struggled to find a way to make miniature demons, persevered and consulted the Persona 1 art, so in the end I can brag that the eeriness and intensity of the demons were transmitted uniquely as they are thanks to the DS. I’d like people to focus on the big demons in particular. I’d like them to see the hard work that went into their creation.
Kosugi: Thank you very much.
Staff: First of all, we were ordered by art director Kotou to make a handheld similar to a contemporary advanced FOMA.
Kosugi: FOMA is about 50000 yen, right?
Staff: Exactly. Compared to this, the DS is about 16800 yen…There’s a difference between what they can and can’t do. Kotou’s handheld had no camera, so it was a really old model…
Kosugi: But that’s not really related to this….
Staff: Well, all right. Since we were told to make a contemporary handheld, we thought about a really extravagant standby screen, so we went to the volume sellers in Yodobashi Camera and checked every single display in order to find a contemporary model.
Kosugi: So you were just window shopping, I guess.
Staff: Anyway, we focused on an animated display, and while the small display was dedicated for the information necessary for the game, we also created an interface with smooth movements with windows and moving images. To be fair, those were also difficult days for the data programmers.
Kosugi: Thank you for all your hard work.
Staff: It was a lot of work, but I think we managed to create a contemporary device that works with the DS.
Kosugi: That interface is also used on the Atlus mobile site and it actually moves on the phone, so it’s really interesting. Thank you very much!
*The Tyrant race is known as 魔王 (Maou, Demon King) in Japanese.