You’ve probably heard about this before, mainly because it’s the latest known Kaneko interview. This one took place back in August 2017, about a week before the release of The Lost Child and features Kaneko Kazuma, Takeyasu Sawaki (producer and character designer, of El-Shaddai fame) and Hasegawa Zin, the director of development. Why Kaneko? The well-known Megaten influence, of course.
(I apologise in advance to The Lost Child/Takeyasu fans if I got terminology wrong)
Read the interview below!
We decided to try something no one would, but once we put all the pieces together, it ended up a lot like Megaten?
4Gamer: Today, together with Kaneko Kazuma, we are going to discuss many things about The Lost Child, a game said to greatly resemble the Megaten series. But first, can you please tell me the details of this project?
Takeyasu Sawaki: The concept came from Kadokawa Games in the first place.
Hasegawa Zin: Indeed. The first thing that came to mind was ‘What can I do together with Takeyasu?’.
Kaneko Kazuma: Did you two already know each other?
Hasegawa: No, we met through common acquaintances. The first time I met him I thought ‘It’s the El-Shaddai guy!’.
Kaneko: Oh right, The Lost Child is also related to El-Shaddai.
Takeyasu: Exactly. El-Shaddai was conceived as something unique, but this time we made a game in accordance with Kadokawa’s request.
Hasegawa: In order to prepare for my work together with Takeyasu, I first played El-Shaddai like crazy. After that, I thought about a game that would not be a sequel to El-Shaddai, but something that would use Takeyasu’s ‘Mythology Directory’, a challenge for Kadokawa Games. The El-Shaddai game left a strong impression on me because of the angels and fallen angels and the ability to capture them.
Kaneko: The ability to capture angels and demons existed from the time of El-Shaddai?
Hasegawa: The story of El-Shaddai was about capturing fallen angels who had disobeyed God’s will and had come to earth in order to build their own kingdom. After that, we kept thinking how to apply this fascinating worldbuilding to an interesting game, and the newest challenge that came to mind was capturing during battle angels, fallen angels and demons, in other words, the Astrals, in present-day Japan.
Kaneko: That sounds really familiar (laughs).
Takeyasu: However, speaking of genre, this was based on Kadokawa Games’ ‘Demon Gaze’.
Hasegawa: Demon Gaze is a Kadokawa Games original dungeon RPG. The challenge of using that format was one of our methods. Still, if the setting is current day Japan and you add demons and angels, then yes, it’s basically Megaten, just like Kaneko said.
Takeyasu: The first time I heard the story I also said it resembled Megaten a lot and he agreed (laughs).
Kaneko: Was there a reason for using current day Japan?
Takeyasu: That was my proposal. My ‘Mythology Directory’ contains a detailed fantasy world, including El-Shaddai, but sharing that world view with the other staff would have taken too much time during development. Present day Shinjuku would be easy to understand though, so I ended up proposing that. It went through smoothly, but, on the other hand, it came to resemble Megaten more and more. We didn’t plan for it to be like Megaten, but as we kept putting it all together, we can say the end result was precisely that.
Hasegawa: There are also a lot of other creators who try to avoid this, especially since they’re told their ideas resemble Megaten when they’ve only presented the keywords.
Kaneko: Since we’re talking about RPGs, I think one other reason is the deeply rooted influence of The Lord of the Rings style fantasy in people’s minds as well. It’s not common to think about an epic journey that takes place in the current world in the first place.
Takeyasu: Maybe the world might see it as a project that took a road already been paved by others, but to me current day Japan as the setting is a first, since I’ve only had games in fantasy settings so far.
Kaneko: But have you never had any idea along the lines of ‘Let’s crush Tokyo!!’? Even though you’re not a rockstar.
Takeyasu: Oh no, of course not (laughs).
Kaneko: Frankly speaking, making Tokyo the setting of Megaten came at first from a reason similar to yours. ‘Why weren’t there any games with Tokyo as the main stage?’.
Hasegawa: Speaking of influences, besides the obvious Kaneko and Megaten, there’s also Kikuchi Hideyuki’s novel ‘Demon City Shinjuku’.
Kaneko: Yes, that inspired me too.
Hasegawa: Shinjuku does seem to have this chuuni, ‘demon city’ image, doesn’t it…
Kaneko: When I was young, I actually had a taste of that demon city feeling. I witnessed risky things, I was in danger myself. That is how I came to know this dynamic side of the city and always wondered why no one made use of it.
Hasegawa: Speaking of current times, the fallen angel Lucifer wears modern clothing in both The Lost Child and El-Shaddai.
Takeyasu: That is because Lucifer is a ‘time traveller’.
Kaneko: Oh, like the Count of St. Germain.
Takeyasu: While travelling through various ages in order to broaden his views and information, he ended up falling in love with our times, hence the outfit.
4Gamer: He also uses his mobile phone a lot.
Kaneko: That’s very interesting.
Hasegawa: We used these keywords and all the inspiration sources from our age and the natural end result was The Lost Child.
Takeyasu: I created my ‘Mythology Directory’ by mixing various myths and legends, and I feel that this might as well be regarded as one episode out of the many it encompases.
4Gamer: Where would you place The Lost Child in your ‘Mythology Directory’?
Takeyasu: El-Shaddai takes place in a world named Seta, but The Lost Child takes place in another world named Ryuta. That is why these two have similar but different concepts, with The Lost Child’s story being completely independent from El-Shaddai.
One important difference is the constant ability to strengthen your favourite Astrals
4Gamer: As a result, The Lost Child ended up resembling Megaten, but are there parts you wanted to make different on purpose?
Hasegawa: There might be common elements, but the themes are different, so it is safe to say that once you actually play it, it will feel completely different. There’s also the similar mechanic of collecting angels and demons, but there’s a huge difference in the way you use and play with them. Megaten, for example, has the innovation known as ‘demon fusion’, an important keyword, but in The Lost Child’s case we attempted to create a different play style.
Takeyasu: Two main factors related to the Astrals are the EVILve* and the skill transfer.
* The original term is SIN化 (read as ‘shinka’ which can also mean 進化, ‘evolution’)
Hasegawa: The Astrals can EVILve, but they cannot fuse. When it comes to skill transfer, the system is more like an exchange between the skills of the Astrals. In this type of RPG, the characters that show up later are stronger, so it becomes more and more difficult to use the same characters as in the beginning. Through skill transfer, The Lost Child allows even demons that were initially unable to use magic to later gain magic attack skills, so you can keep using your favourite Astrals for as long as you like. Also, by resetting Astrals and their skills, the initial status used as a base goes up and it is possible to make them even stronger. We also prepared a network competition mode for those Astrals that are continuously used and strengthened.
Kaneko: In other words, two players can fight each other in The Lost Child.
Hasegawa: Yes. Anyway, I want the players to thoroughly enjoy training their Astrals. I wanted to create a game that would remain in the hearts of those who played it, whether there were tens or a few hundreds who poured their time and effort into it. It’s difficult to successfully create a new IP without that in mind.
Kaneko: At first, Megaten simply used demons as tools, that’s why you were able to fuse or throw them away. However, in time, there were several voices saying they wanted to use Kerberos until the end, so we ended up adding the growth factor. Furthermore, the players also became able to give them names.
Hasegawa: It’s difficult to ascertain how far you can go.
Kaneko: Yes, it’s a different story when you have to decide whether something is really all right or not. We thought a lot about that.
Hasegawa: In the end, we decided that the base Astrals themselves would never change.
Kaneko: I see. As you said, that is definitely a different feature compared to Megaten.
Hasegawa: It would be great if the players enjoyed that… Anyhow, it is very important to me when making an RPG that the players will be able to play it for as long as possible. I actually heard the other day about someone who still plays Wizardry every single day. I would be so satisfied if The Lost Child had that same kind of play value.
4Gamer: Speaking of playing for a long time, the dungeon R’lyeh Road with a high degree of difficulty and 99 layers takes over 400 hours to complete.
Hasegawa: Exactly. I do believe the play time greatly varies from player to player.
4Gamer: I think most players tackle it after finishing the main story, but how much can you advance on the level you have right after the ending?
Hasegawa: 30-40 layers, I think. You can’t advance to the next layer until you solve the mystery on your current layer, but each mystery is so baffling you probably won’t be able to do it all by yourself.
Kaneko: Does that mean you need to exchange information on the internet?
Hasegawa: Yes. We have also prepared hints, but there are also moments where you go ‘Oooh, I see!’ for the first time after finishing it. That is why you’d be able to finish one layer in ten minutes if you solved the riddle, or in 3 or 4 hours if you failed. There might also be people who simply give up.
Takeyasu: I gave up after about 10 layers…
Kaneko: Isn’t that a little too early? (laughs)
Hasegawa: Basically, this content is meant to be enjoyed after you have seen the ending. It is also difficult in itself.
Designs inspired by Ultraman, fashion and music
4Gamer: So, what do you think, now that you have heard The Lost Child was inspired by you and by Megaten?
Kaneko: I feel a certain affinity, since they did not copy me, but saw and were inspired by the same things as me. I had a discussion with Araki Hirohiko before about the reason Persona and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure were so similar. The characters that show up in Jojo have names inspired by western music, right? I also love western music, so I asked Araki about that and it seems he used the names of foreign artists because he thought it was interesting.
4Gamer: You can definitely feel the affinity once you hear about such an episode.
Kaneko: There’s also Trish. I was faster this time, but since Jojo is more well-known, people say I copied Araki (laughs). Either way, both Araki and I realised we had both been inspired by the very pretty supermodel Trish Goff.
Hasegawa: You both had the same approach.
Kaneko: Exactly. We both love fashion, so we both got inspired by design collections. That’s why we agree on all those points.
Hasegawa: So you also draw ideas from this type of material.
Kaneko: I may not be fully conscious of it, but it seems I draw inspiration from a lot of sources.
Hasegawa: When I look at the demons in the Kaneko art books, I often think ‘This idea came from somewhere, right?’.
Kaneko: I would say that happens because I get inspired by a wide range of things. On the one hand, I love legends about gods and demons, so I’m fairly knowledgeable when it comes to that, on the other I also love the monsters in Ultraman, and I also love fashion. I mix various unrelated things.
4Gamer: Do you also take various sources of inspiration into account when you design demons and other characters?
Takeyasu: My style is close to Kaneko’s. I must confess I was actually a huge anime and manga otaku until 15 or so. However, once I entered the anime and manga industry, I realised I can’t create good things if I only focus on that, so I decided to make more fashionable friends.
Hasegawa: You decided to become one of those people with a good life*.
*the term he used is ‘riajuu‘.
Takeyasu: I actually did.
Kaneko: You did!
Takeyasu: Yes. As a result, I obviously became more knowledgeable about music and clothes. However, when I turned 22, I decided I’d return to being an otaku, started making my own anime and here we are.
Kaneko: You drew a sudden line. You didn’t change your mind gradually.
Takeyasu: Once I made up my mind, I just did it.
Hasegawa: Did you stop chasing the good life because you got bored of it?
Takeyasu: Oh, no. I’ve always thought otaku are refined beings. See, they refuse to get passionate about things that have no merit to them. I feel that they are looking for something that surpasses their spirit.
Kaneko: I see. Speaking of acquaintances, back in middle school, I hung out a lot with young delinquents, nowadays known as yankees. After that I became an animator and got to where I am now, so, like Takeyasu Sawaki, I know both the world of delinquents and that of otaku. Both live with pride, but their pride goes in completely different directions. Another interesting thing is the similar taste in music. On the one hand you have eurobeat, on the other anime songs, both different, but both with up-tempo and several beats per minute. They give off that feeling of swiftness.
Takeyasu: Yeah, I understand. Back when I was chasing the good life, I got a little into punk and glam rock and only hung around with rock loving friends, but once I got back home, I would play the Ideon theme song. I love it so much, might as well call it my life’s theme song.
Kaneko: I love Ideon too. It’s great, starting with the design. We definitely have to talk some more about Ideon from now on (laughs). I do believe your life sounds very interesting though. It seems very cool at first glance, but also pretty drifting on second thought.
Takeyasu: Indeed, back then I was told both by my fashion oriented friends and otaku friends not to hang out with the others or to stop showing off, and it made me feel pretty gloomy. But I felt this was the only way I could broaden my views.
Hasegawa: Those experiences influence your demon designs now, right?
Kaneko: As I thought, you also bring together several factors into your work.
Takeyasu: However, I don’t have a voice in my head telling me something is absolute and complete. It’s rather something more like ‘this is the way it is now’, ‘this will be next’.
We’ve been through the same process and seen the same things, but the way we express it is different
Our driving force is wanting to see things we haven’t seen before
Hasegawa: This is my personal view, but when someone designs unpleasant characters like monsters, they probably need negative thoughts or something similar. Even when drawing the same monsters, if you draw them with different feelings and thoughts, they seep through and the result is clearly different. The Astrals Takeyasu draws, for example, look the way they do based on his roots.
Kaneko: Well, my influence comes into play here too (laughs).
Takeyasu: Indeed, you did influence me more or less.
Kaneko: That is, most likely, the ‘aesthetics of evil’. In the case of Star Wars, it would be Darth Vader. I feel like Sawaki might be aiming for that.
Takeyasu: Yes. That is why there is nothing difficult to me. I can create and draw as much as I like.
Hasegawa: The way I see it, that might be the wicked part inside you.
Takeyasu: Well….I wonder about that. Kaneko also mentioned it, but I am also extremely attached to Narita Tooru’s Ultraman monster designs. They feel so alive.
Kaneko: Back then, Narita was the only designer, so his Ultraman creations became the basis of today’s monsters and other creatures, but what I would really like to see is what kind of design he would come up with if he were to show up in our times. Perhaps they would end up looking unexpectedly plain.
Takeyasu: I would like to know his thought process while designing Zetton. He’s got such a last boss feeling, just like Darth Vader. They’re actually in the same position, but you can tell he’s a last boss by his design.
Kaneko: It looks like Narita decided to create either straightforward designs or establish a theme, depending on whichever series he was working on. I’d really like to imitate that way of creating something by establishing a theme. This time, for example, adding the concept of things that are scary nowadays to the traditional fearsome factor.
Hasegawa: Indeed, you do feel affinity for designs that seem familiar. If you see a completely new design, you aren’t able to tell whether it’s scary, grotesque or something else.
Kaneko: Association of ideas is important as well. Not simply piling up gross things, but also adding something beautiful. Sawaki is most likely thinking about this very thing, but he doesn’t actually realise it, because it’s something normal to him.
Takeyasu: I don’t realise that. Not at all.
Kaneko: Really. He doesn’t realise he’s thinking about it, even though it’s always on his mind.
Hasegawa: How do I put it…like getting to feel infinity.
Takeyasu: Why does this feel like counselling (laughs).
Kaneko: Let’s just say we’re praising you (laughs).
4Gamer: On the other hand, how do you see Kaneko’s work and style?
Takeyasu: I started doing monster design around the time of Devil May Cry. I researched monster design a lot back then, and when I stumbled upon Kaneko’s art, the first thing I thought was ‘Perfection’. I know it may sound ridiculous, but I was so filled with respect, all I could think was ‘No one can draw better designs’ or ‘No one can win against him, not even if they use the same weapons’. That is why, even though we have the same roots, I have absolutely no intention to create the same things as him.
Kaneko: Perhaps Sawaki has seen the same things I have and has gone through the same process. But the gateway to expressing that is narrow, so he is stuck.
Takeyasu: Exactly. I can’t help but think that since you’ve already done it, I have nothing do add. So I was able to make it because I chose a different way.
Kaneko: Not to mention that I am me, so I’m different. I drew thinking ‘It’s ok like this’.
Takeyasu: To be perfectly honest, there aren’t too many inspiring demon designs around. A lot of them were made following very simple rules. However, Kaneko was a point of reference to me because his style was so varied.
Kaneko: I guess it’s because a part of me thinks that if something doesn’t pique my interest, then it’s just not worth it. If I don’t go ‘Wow!!’ when I watch a movie, something on TV, even a commercial, then I end up thinking it’s like the rest and am not in the mood to watch it anymore.
Takeyasu: Because you understand the rules according to which they’re made.
Kaneko: I want to see something that’s made according to completely different rules. Still, not everyone thinks like me, and there are also people who want to see normal things, and there are also people who only see normal things in the first place. If someone were to show these people something more, it wouldn’t speak to them at all. That is why it’s also necessary to create things in a way that speaks to people. Having said that, sometimes I can’t help but think I’ve chosen a rather difficult path.
The usual and the unusual and the thirst for knowledge, all brought together in a one-of-a-kind style
Kaneko: However, you can really do anything, Sawaki. Not only illustrations, but you also create manga, anime and videoclips.
Takeyasu: I actually have a novel serialised as well.
Kaneko: Daring! I’m sure you also work very fast.
Takeyasu: Software applications have been coming in handy lately. I’ve ended up writing general plots for novels on the smartphone and adding details at home.
Kaneko: So you prepare the outline first, then put everything together.
Takeyasu: Yes, exactly. That’s why, in that sense, hearing people call me a ‘visual artist’ makes me a little uncomfortable. I don’t really want to draw that much. It takes too much time.
Kaneko: Writing does work faster indeed.
Takeyasu: If a novel says ‘A huge dragon appeared’, the rest can be left to the reader’s imagination. For visual arts though, you really have to draw an obvious huge dragon (laughs).
4Gamer: What you said now might change our image of you a little (laughs).
Takeyasu: People tend to think I do my work in an artistic style, but truth is, my style complies with my partners’ requests. I am sure Hasegawa is quite familiar with this, but when I am told they would like a certain thing to look a certain way, I come with my own proposal. I haven’t really met people who wouldn’t have it any other way but theirs.
Kaneko: Wait, then Hasegawa is the one behind you?
Hasegawa: Well, quite a lot of Takeyasu’s ideas have also been fleshed out.
Kaneko: No, no, more like an apparition of sorts! When I heard that, I immediately thought Hasegawa would be like a malevolent senior (laughs). Speaking of which, I really think Sawaki and I are alike.
Takeyasu: It’s an honour for me to hear that.
Kaneko: I’m repeating myself, but we are seeing the same things. I think if we were to work together, the result would again be something different.
Hasegawa: I see what you mean. Thanks to the unexpected air of closeness we experienced today, I feel like I was able to have a better look at Takeyasu and the common points between you two.
Kaneko: It’s like we opened Sawaki’s box. Or gate, both work.
Takeyasu: I personally don’t think there’s anything worth the fuss.
Hasegawa: Really? I wouldn’t say that.
Takeyasu: If I had to say, what’s important to me is wanting to create new things or wanting to be unlike others. But it looks like today’s conclusion is that I’m similar to Kaneko (laughs).
Kaneko: The games we make are definitely similar. But that is because we think the same way, like, the characters getting involved in something in the very beginning or so.
Takeyasu: Oh, so that point is similar too. I actually haven’t played Megaten past the first games.
Kaneko: Oh yes, they are similar. I would like to get involved in something like this myself. For example, instead of me going ‘I have to fight!’, my mum would ask me to go for some errands and I’d be attacked by some weirdo. This guy would turn out to be a monster, and while wondering why I got attacked by a demon, I would realise there are actually a lot of things hidden behind this whole incident.
Hasegawa: The passage from the usual to the unusual.
Kaneko: I actually wish for something unusual to happen because there’s nothing of the sort around me.
Hasegawa: Makes you think about unusual events caused by a small strange thing.
Kaneko: However, for most people in the world, this unusual would be something very unpleasant, so perhaps they wouldn’t understand it unless it resembled the fictional stories shown in television drama. Complicated SF settings are too difficult.
Hasegawa: The Lost Child was created as a ‘what if’ with angels, fallen angels and demons in the real world. The layers simply vary, so people usually don’t know about their existence.
Kaneko: So the world is multilayered and when you change the channel, you can bump into angels and demons the way you wouldn’t if you stayed in our layer.
Hasegawa: I would say it’s close to the shinto belief that gods are close to us even though we do not notice or Mizuki Shigeru’s words that youkai are all around us. That is why the protagonist writes for a magazine specialising in the occult. A real, normal person would discard such unusual existences.
Kaneko: Japan usually stresses that ‘presence’ when expressing the unusual. Ghosts, for example, are shown as transparent. Abroad, though, they need a ‘shape’. That’s why not even urban legends have ghosts, but sinister monsters chasing you around with an axe.
Hasegawa: Not to mention that Shinjuku really feels like something unusual lurks around. I wanted players to feel that, so I made the setting feel like something might pop up any minute. Like the Fuji spirit energy. However, what is there aren’t spirits, but perhaps angels and demons. This is the kind of game The Lost Child is.
4Gamer: Both Takeyasu and Kaneko have used myths, legends and demons as themes for several games. What is the charm of these themes in your opinion?
Kaneko: Thirst for knowledge, simply put. There are the scriptures, right? Sayings like ‘the scales falling from somebody’s eyes’ are originally from the Bible. Same with ‘pearls before swine’. There is a surprisingly high number of things that we consider a staple of our lives that actually comes from the Bible, yet we know nothing about the source. I noticed that and wanted to learn more about the scriptures, then thought they sounded interesting, and ended up wanting to want to know more and more. That’s how, before I noticed, I also ended up interested in demons as well.
Takeyasu: I have been through pretty much the same process, except that my interest didn’t come naturally, but I started researching when I received a task at work. That ignited my thirst for knowledge and I wanted to learn more, more, more.
Kaneko: Also, for me, demons were an extension of monsters. Back when I thought simple monsters were lacking something, I stumbled upon demon and ghost dictionaries in old bookshops, with their eerie illustrations and slightly erotic demon ladies, like Alraune. These feelings back then got mixed with my thirst for knowledge and it led me to a better understanding of the sacred writings.
Takeyasu: The Bible started spreading once printing was developed in Europe. A lot of people were able to read it, which led to religious wars; this is similar to the propagation of information on the internet, with people learning things they didn’t know before. Once I noticed that, it got a lot more interesting. For example, my ‘Mythology Directory’ connects all kinds of myths and legends, but it’s quite a difficult thing to do, because they are not really consistent. When I understood that influential people of each age modified these legends so they’d put themselves on a pedestal or name themselves gods, I saw this as a different world we hadn’t realised existed. It was so much fun.
Takeyasu: El-Shaddai is based on the Book of Enoch, which ended up considered an apocrypha of the Old Testament, because Enoch spoke in God’s stead. The powerful people of those times could not approve of any other spokesman of God besides themselves. That is why they called Enoch’s scriptures a fake and created different writings. These kinds of details are interesting.
The earlier discussion, even more enjoyable if you read Takeyasu’s ‘Mythology Directory’, is available as a first edition special
4Gamer: By the way, does the first edition special booklet ‘Mythology Directory Chronicle’ also include the earlier discussion about the relationship between the protagonist Ibuki Hayato and the El-Shaddai protagonist, Enoch?
Takeyasu: It does. I am even writing a short story about that.
4Gamer: That isn’t included in the game itself, right?
Hasegawa: Exactly. I decided Enoch’s image was too attached to El-Shaddai for him to be included in a new IP.
Takeyasu: Perhaps the people who already know my ‘Mythology Directory’ will react naturally to The Lost Child. If they only know El-Shaddai, they’ll probably feel a little uncomfortable at first.
4Gamer: This booklet exists for the people who know El-Shaddai, but haven’t gotten as far as the ‘Mythology Directory’.
Kaneko: Is this booklet only available together with the first edition?
Kaneko: Well then, everyone should preorder The Lost Child right now. …am I advertising it right? (laughs)
4Gamer: Nice one, thank you very much (laughs). Now, since we have reached the end, please leave a message for everyone interested in The Lost Child.
Hasegawa: We were able to have this talk with Kaneko since we made a game with the theme of angels, fallen angels and demons. I hope everyone finds their favourite Astral and raises it with love. I believe it is like searching for one’s beloved.
Takeyasu: I would be really glad if the people looking for something close to El-Shaddai in this game read my ‘Mythology Directory’. The ones who have already read it will find the contents more enjoyable. Of course, the people starting with The Lost Child can enjoy it as part of an omnibus. Make sure to play it.
Kaneko: This was my first talk with Sawaki, but I have to stress again how similar we are. The fact that we are so alike makes me feel like all my work so far has been validated. However, even if we’re alike, our ways of expressing it are different. I’m happy to know I am succeeded by people who saw the same things I did, then expressed them in new ways. I have learnt a lot today as well.
4Gamer: Thank you very much.