Earlier this week, the infamous matome blog Hachima Kikou posted an excerpt of an interview from 4Gamer about Star Ocean 5 in which the consideration of certain female characters’ designs was raised. It was revealed that their clothing has been changed both due to internal Japanese pressure and overseas feedback. Miki’s clothing change received a lot of attention, but personally I must admit I found it odd that Fiore’s clothing change received comparatively little.
The actual interview though, is much longer and covers much more than that, and as I received a request to translate it all, here is the first part. As the entire interview is gigantic, I’ll post part 2 later. For now, this first part covers mainly the beginning stages of development and character design.
I Want to Create Soul Food for the Fans. An Interview With Star Ocean 5 Creators Shuichi Kobayashi, Hiroshi Ogawa and Akiman
Star Ocean 5 – Integrity and Faithlessness (below, SO5) is about to release on March 31st (the PS4 version, the PS3 version is on April 28th). The latest entry in the series that meshes science fiction and fantasy together in one setting features a system that seamlessly links movements on the field with battle and private actions (events that occur between characters).
We shall deliver the contents of a chance we got to speak to this game’s producer Shuichi Kobayashi, director Hiroshi Ogawa and character designer Akiman. Since this release comes after a seven year gap from the previous Xbox360 verson’s release, it appears as if there was various troubles and effort involved in starting up the plan for the game and its development work.
4Gamer： Thank you for speaking with us today. I think you’ve still got work left to do on the PS3 version, but I want to hear your feelings right now as you’re about to release the PS4 version.
Akiman： It’s been a while since I’ve been in charge of the graphics all the way to the in-game UI, so I’ve been happy to be able to be involved with the game in every respect. I’m not good at depicting heaps of people, so this job, where I have to draw seven people certainly was a study for me.
Hiroshi Ogawa (below, Ogawa)：We still have work left to do, but the feeling of “immense relief” has been huge with this release. Part of that is because I’ve been involved with the series since 2003’s release, Star Ocean Till the End of Time, and when this title was announced, the reaction was more than I anticipated. I’m glad to be putting a period on the project, because I’ve always felt this nervousness and pressure involved with the job, thinking, “I have to create it with a genuine sense of meticulousness.”
Shuichi Kobayashi (below, Kobayashi): I want to look back on it as something of a difficult pregnancy, but after the PS3 version, we have to work on the overseas version, so I don’t feel like it’s “finished.” In the first place, there’s so much we still want to do with Star Ocean, so once the development work has a period put on it, I believe it becomes the “thinking” turn in the battle. Once SO5’s jersey has been retired after every player’s impressions and the sales come out, it’s time to think about how to continue the series.
4Gamer：Just then, used the word difficult pregnancy, but from the first announcement there was a delay of one month for the PS4 version and two months for the PS3 version. What part of development needed that delay? In this one, the game enters events and battle seamlessly from the field and on top of that in battle a maximum of seven characters can participate, so I imagined that tuning that bit would take some time.
Kobayashi：We did do some balance tuning, but we received some time to add in some new elements in response to feedback we got from our demo at Tokyo Game Show 2015. To put it more concretely, during battle we added the ability to “step,” and while moving in the field the ability to “dash.”
4Gamer： So you were still adding new elements even during that period? Now development is at its climax.
Kobayashi: Well, yes. I had argued with Ogawa quite a bit, that adding the step move would not be for adding tactics to battle, but as an improvement to the feel of play, and that’s how we brought it in. And because of that, it’s not like you could say the gameplay has greatly changed.
Ogawa：We added an element where you can start a new battle with the character you ended the previous battle with. When we initially announced it, it was something that we wanted to put in, but there were problems with that and a seamless system, so we weren’t able to realize it at the time of the demo. We got a lot of opinions from people who played it, so we thought to implement it in that time period.
Kobayashi：When the development had reached a climax and we had come to a point where we saw the remaining number of things to do, we were able to reach a decision and say, “If we had a month, we could add this.” At the beginning, we had too much to do and couldn’t see that far forward. I was the one who came out with it, but the actual work was tough and in the midst of it, honestly I regretted the delay. (laughs) It was one hellish month.
4Gamer： Just because you’ve delayed it, doesn’t mean you’ve got the time to relax, I’d say it on the other hand it means the things you have to do have increased.
Kobayashi：In the titles up till now, if you fixed a certain part, like battle or events, then it was all good, but this time because it’s all connected together seamlessly, if you add a change to one part, that influence comes out in other areas you don’t predict.
4Gamer：Ah, that sounds like it takes lots of time and hands.
Kobayashi：On consoles, there are people who aren’t connected to the internet, so I thought I wanted to squash as many bugs as humanly possible and checking everything was a pain.
Offering Akiman, “the designer with the will and the power,” the job twice
4Gamer：In the last interview we heard the story of how you’ve been involved with this title’s character design from the first days of development, but I would like to hear how you decided on hiring Akiman from all the other designers you could choose.
Kobayashi：All right, this time I thought I wanted to continue development jobs in a different style than what has been usual up to this point and and have the character designer and 3D model production unit play catch with each other, reflecting each other for the game and illustrated characters. And that’s why, I thought I’d like to work with designs that have “the will and the power,” and what immediately came to mind was Akiman.
Akiman：Actually, the first time I got an offer from Kobayashi, it didn’t fit into my schedule and I totally turned him down. After that, I received another offer, and I was a little surprised, because until now there weren’t really many cases like that.
Kobayashi：The first time I met him, I had talked one-sidedly of our schedule, and I felt as if I had only spoken of my situation, and so I thought to offer again, by asking what kind of thing might work?
Akiman：And the second time, it had just been around the time that I had lost a job I thought I would have to put all my energy into.
Kobayashi：And then we had a little more detailed conversation and it was at that point that we got his attention. Inside my head, I had already decided I would pester him at least three times.
4Gamer：It’s the “Three Acts of Gratitude.” (laughs) [Translator’s note: This refers to a famous scene in Sangokushi or Romance of the Three Kingdoms and is an expression wherein someone pays special reverence and politeness to someone to get them to do something.] So that’s how enamored you were of Akiman. Now I’d like to ask you Akiman, for the designs you did in this game, if you have a character you are most partial to, or there’s a character that took a particularly long time to develop, please tell me about it.
Akiman：I had a little trouble with Miki. I pretty much designed all the other characters from scratch, but with Miki there was a certain basis for her design. There were various levels of trial and error with that.
Ogawa：For Miki, we had already implemented a prototype for the basis of her character model in early development.
Akiman：It’s probably best to use the series other works for reference when designing characters, but when I looked at Star Ocean 4, the lines used to draw the characters were so intricate ……
4Gamer：The characters from 1-3 weren’t all that complex though.
Akiman：Yeah, that’s true. In the end, my illustrations became quite complex with line work, but it took a long time to get it all to come together. When you’re illustrating and have a lot of lines, it can become a bottleneck. (laughs)
4Gamer：You took the illustrations from 4 in your hands and that just happened to connect to the character illustrations of this title. Speaking of that, in the last interview, we heard about Kobayashi’s reservation about odd-numbered title’s having a main character with blue hair, so he asked you to do that, didn’t he?
Akiman：Yes. I gave Fidel blue hair like he had in the planning documents. For every character, I first start by choosing their color. Since 7 of them will be acting all together at once, that was in order to suggest which one is which by one glance. For instance, for the smallest character, Lilia, I made her a yellow so that would stand out.
4Gamer：Certainly, when I look at the official site, it’s easy to understand.
Akiman：Because if the player think “where is he?” for even a second, the game’s fun is lost. Today’s console’s games have such a great power to express things, we could have brought out a black-type character that we couldn’t have done before, but instead I didn’t and chose colors that would stand out.
4Gamer： Certainly, if there’s that many characters, black might be hard to see and not stand out. Is there anything else Mr. Kobayashi asked of you, Akiman?
Kobayashi: “How does this character act and what do they do?” I wanted him to make it so you could tell from their appearance.
4Gamer： Like someone looks like a magician and someone looks good at martial arts … that kind of thing?
Akiman: We truly made Fiore feel like a traditional magician, but when I presented the rough draft to them they were absolutely delighted about it, and I thought, “I’m really on the same wavelength of this development team.” (laughs)
4Gamer： Now that you mention it, Fiore’s design really makes an impact.
Kobayashi: It was OKed on the first try. (laughs)
4Gamer： Had you been holding on to a design like that for a while?
Akiman: No, I just got the idea on a whim. This series’ magic users are typically erotic* or so I’ve been told, and that’s where the idea was born. Lately in the game industry, if you put out a female character with lots of skin showing, you’ll have to eat up time to correct it, so I then decided to go with the principle of, “She’ll be erotic, but won’t be revealing too much skin in terms of total area.” … It actually turned out we got a CERO C!
*The setting is that Fiore shows off her pride in her high level shaman magic by exposing her skin and the runes she has on it.
4Gamer：Whoa, wait a minute, the reason for the rating couldn’t have been just Fiore’s clothes, right? (laughs)
Ogawa: Nope, most of the reason was Fiore’s clothes. (laughs)
Kobayashi: And then, from overseas, we had this feedback about Miki, “it’s not good for teens to be wearing sexual underwear,” and so we increased the amount of cloth covering her.
Ogawa: That was really a shame. I felt bad about it. (laughs)
Kobayashi: When we designed the 3D models from the base of Akiman’s design, and added texture to it, the voluptuous quality of it increased and I was bit surprised. “I wonder if this is okay for inspection?” I thought. (laughs)
Ogawa：That’s because when we put them up in their 3D model form, their proportions were a little squashed and the feeling of body fat being emphasized became really strong.
Akiman：When something based on geometry gets stuck onto something that was organic, that will happen. (laughs)
4Gamer：Akiman, you’ve been involved with games since the time they were pixel graphics, but as the power to express things in these consoles has grown, I bet the methods of production and character design have changed.
Akiman：It has changed. Back then, you’d draw illustrations to help players’ imagination. “On the screen right now is a collection of dots and that’s supposed to be a girl,” that type of thing.
These days the amount of information in games is so huge, if you don’t include as much information into your illustrations as time allows for, then they’ll be overshadowed by the environment around them on the screen.
Kobayashi：Just a while ago we were talking about how the 3D model team and and the character designers played catch with each other, but to put it more concretely, first Akiman would draw a character, based on the 3D model of the character that would be created, it would be returned to Akiman, Akiman would draw illustrations of them standing or for PR use based on the 3D models … it was that type of back and forth.
4Gamer：From the stance of an amateur, they’re probably thinking why take the time to do things twice, why take such an approach?
Akiman：I wanted to make the difference between the in-game characters and their illustrations as small as possible. As well, because there were others who added details to characters beside myself, I thought it best to unite all of the feeling we were trying to bring about.
Kobayashi：I asked him to get near to the balance we’d have with the 3D models when drawing the illustrations. When you do it that way, when the player sees the Fidel shape they recognize it as Fidel, whether that’s an illustration or 3D model. That way we can perhaps keep it like past series entries where you don’t feel the difference.
4Gamer：So when you first designed the characters and when the final design came through, what parts changed?
Akiman：If we’re talking Fidel, it was his hair. At first, it flared out more and the behind was like Cyborg 009’s Joe Shimamura with wild shaved spiky hair, something like that. When it became a 3D model, while they did accept that image, the prickly parts were smoothed out into a more natural feeling and from then on, the illustrations followed that kind of hair style.
4Gamer：So both the 3D modellers and the illustrators gave each other influences and it became like it’s current form.
Akiman：That’s right. SO5’s 3D models have a unique charm to them. It’s not photo real, or comical. The illustrations I draw are have tall proportions, but when they become 3D models, they are squeezed and shrunk and it feels like the amount of visual information per unit increases. Since the screen is longer on the sides, I suppose it’s also best that they shrink. Seeing the character I’ve drawn be reborn, I think I’d like this new power too. (laughs)
4Gamer：Of course. To return the discussion a bit, Akiman said there was a base for the prototype of Miki’s character model from the days of early development. Why wasn’t that Fidel?
Ogawa：It had been a while since the last game when we decided to start work on the sequel, so the first hurdle was deciding how we should approach making the visuals. Should we make them photo real, or like cartoons … we’re talking about the direction of how to represent them materially. When you think of that from that point, the most appropriate decision is to start thinking of this problem with a girl, because when it comes to getting the size of their eyes, the balance of their parts and the amount of defined features in their faces, the hardest characters are them.
Akiman：When we say it’s photo real or toon, that’s to make it easy to understand, but actually, for each work, the most appropriate art style ends up changing slightly.
I personally think cartoonish manga is the type of drawing that has evolved to involve the least amount of effort when you want to tell a story. Is it best to represent things in a manga art style where you draw each frame by frame, or would it be best represent them with computeristic expressions … you always have to think about stuff like this.
For SO5, I thought it would be interesting not just to aim for a simple cartoonish thing, but search for the most appropriate art style, and I like this way of doing it.
4Gamer：And with an aim to search for those points that can’t be expressed in words, Akiman and the design team’s back and forth boiled those character design’s down.
Akiman：That’s it. Perhaps after SO5 is released, we’ll have words to express what the art style is like.
Kobayashi：There’s an easy part to toon shading, but I noticed that the type of drawings that make players excited have things that are different from that. Especially, when the it’s a setting for adventure, you want the background to be dense with detail. We argued quite a bit how to depict this. Of course I oversaw each character, but until the “final form of the pictures” came out with all the background and lighting, I couldn’t confirm that the choices I made were right and there was a time spent being quite anxious.
When I showed Akiman the test version of an event scene between Miki and Fidel, he said, “This Miki is cute,” and I remember being incredibly relieved.
Akiman：When Fidel started moving around in-game and the remaining 6 characters came running out of the woodwork, I thought it felt so fun … like the type of fun you have when on the way home from school you all go to a department store and buy stuff to eat.
That’s it for now. Tune in later for Part 2.