Learn How To Write Stories, The Nier And Drakengard Way

By Sato . September 13, 2013 . 6:02pm

Those of you who’ve played any of the Drakengard games or Nier may have noticed the games’ unique approach of storytelling. In case you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the mind of creative director Taro Yoko, he explained his entire process in lecture fashion at the recent “10th Creators Night: Taro Yoko’s Game and Scenario Talks” event.


How to sit through boring talks:


“My lectures are boring, so to those of you who may also think the same, I’ll start out by teaching you how to listen to boring talks,” Yoko began.


To the readers who are reading this right now, Yoko says that most of you have likely participated in boring classes and meetings by now. He asks, what do you do during those times? Do you sleep? According to Yoko, instead of sleeping, it would be significantly better to spend your time thinking about what kind of career you’d like to have in the future (or what you’d like to do) and write it down on a memo.


“Whenever I have a vision of the future, I can immediately think of at least 20 different things, and while I think about that (whether it’s during a boring lecture or meeting), as long as I write it on a memo, I believe that it will be useful in the future,” says Yoko.


Basically, what Yoko is trying to say is that whenever he feels that a lecture is boring, he feels that his time is better spent by asking himself why is it boring and what would he do differently. In the end, he believes that spacing out is nothing but a waste of time.


Before moving onto the main subject, Yoko explains, “Being taught isn’t fun, but learning is fun.” He explains that when you learn, it doesn’t necessarily have to be forced upon you by anyone else, and it can be for your own good, which is what can make it fun.


What is a game scenario?


Yoko starts out by explaining the basic scenarios that are often seen in RPGs. The image on the left demonstrates the common structure of the protagonist’s starting town, then the Demon Lord’s castle. As far as the story goes (shown on the right,) it usually starts out with something along the lines of a protagonist’s lover getting killed, followed by a climax where you defeat the enemy.


From there, you can add in sub-scenarios, such as other villages. For example, the aforementioned village can be one that is packed with humorous events, which adds a little more than what you’d get from a straight route.


Since it would be odd to go straight from a humorous village to the Demon Lord, adding a sad incident somewhere in between would give the game a better flow.


The gap between the player’s feelings and the story’s development, can especially be tricky for games that offer a higher degree of freedom, since the players won’t necessarily follow the same paths.


Another thing that has to be put into consideration, is “when” the will player pick the game up again after his previous save. It could be after a week, and the player wouldn’t remember much of what happened in his last play-through, which could end up having an effect on the impact the story has on him or her.


To summarize the matter, just because a game offers a lot of freedom, it doesn’t necessarily make it fun, or leave players with a good impression. There are also other inconveniences or hindrances that arise from a lack of money to create more stages, or a lack of story elements to add more depth to the game.


Scenario and experience:


The above image represents the player and how much time they’ve spent, along with a column of the game’s chapters from one to eight, which shows that the player is currently on chapter 7.


Yoko explains that one part that you must take note of, is the importance of where the players are in the game. To put it bluntly, most players won’t remember everything about the first half of the game. He continues explaining that it’s the same for games and TV dramas—the people who remember all the details of the earlier stages, are in the minority.


Nowadays, there aren’t too many games you can completely digest from start to finish in just a day. This goes especially for RPGs that feature plenty of character development and action, which make the early parts of the game that much harder to remember.


For example, even with a simple scenario, where the protagonist’s princess gets killed and he goes out to defeat the Demon Lord, after a few days, the player’s empathy towards the protagonist will begin to fade, and when he finally goes against the main villain, there will be a gap between the player’s feelings and the story development.


“Every story and chapter must have an added impression that reminds the players that ‘the Demon Lord is a bad guy.’ It is necessary to have that stenciled in,” says Yoko.


Be conscious of others:


The act of expressing your work starts by showing it to other people. While there may be prodigies who can make whatever they want, and have it be accepted by tens of thousands of people, others have to think about how to make it commercially successful, and think about what type of people they’re making the game for. Having an image of the target audience is very important.


In Yoko’s case, whenever he makes games, he first tries to imagine what kind of people will be playing his game. “My games aren’t considered major titles, and if anything, they are a bit more on the otaku-side,” explains Yoko. “I imagine that they like to play games from the Tales of series, or Danganronpa. Since most of my games are published by Square Enix, I would imagine that perhaps there will also be fans of the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series who will play them.”


Finally, Yoko shares that if you can make a game for such people (your target audience,) and guess or imagine what could possibly grasp their emotions, without having it be too similar to other titles, you’ll soon be able to see for yourself whether it can become a product in demand.


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  • Rayhan PromisedGallery

    don’t forget:
    -makes the final battle to be (very) hard, then insert VERY unpredictable ending *coughfighterjetshootingangeluscough* *coughdeleteyoursavedatacough*

    • JustThisOne

      While I was already spoiled for the ending, I don’t think it’s such a good idea to post that so legibly. I’d imagine others who haven’t gotten to the end yet would be quite mad. Needs more “coughcoughcoughwheeze”, maybe. :V

      • Ty Austin

        To be fair, you had to get 100% completion in order to see it. Plus the game is pretty old.

      • zaidandzhadow

        also if you read final battle and see more text ahead, if you know how to read, that’s a clear indication of major spoilers

  • Ty Austin

    I can’t imagine how the whole beginning -> end part works for certain games.

    Final Fantasy IV for example:
    Slaughter entire village for a crystal -> Destroy great evil on the moon

    • Rayhan PromisedGallery

      that’s still not as confusing as :
      slaughter soldiers in the castle to save protagonist’s sister —> cross dimension to modern day tokyo where the protagonist got shotted by a fighter jet

      • Ty Austin

        lol, to be fair, that was an alternate ending. Don’t forget ‘impaled by empire state building’ while you’re at it.

        • DyLaN

          You mean the Ending E of D1? Isn’t that Tokyo tower?

          • Ty Austin

            Ah, my bad. I forget which building and when I think tall buildings, that’s the first to come to mind.

      • Ty Austin

        lol, to be fair, that was an alternate ending. Don’t forget ‘impaled by empire state building’ while you’re at it.

      • Derek E Nay

        That was not that got me… it was the giant pregnant woman with evil demon babys falling from the sky,

        • Syn

          Is this all from the same game??? Wow

    • Rayhan PromisedGallery

      that’s still not as confusing as :
      slaughter soldiers in the castle to save protagonist’s sister —> cross dimension to modern day tokyo where the protagonist got shotted by a fighter jet

  • Guest

    slaughter soldiers in the castle to save protagonist’s sister —> cross dimension to modern day tokyo where the protagonist got shotted by a fighter jet

  • serpentear

    You forgot the demon baby cannibal…

  • Damarius Wingfield

    This could prove useful!

  • Ferrick

    this is good if i want to mentally break readers >=D

    • Bigabu Beaze


      • Ferrick

        drakengard and nier’s story writing has the tendency of blowing player’s minds out

        • Bigabu Beaze

          Yup, thats true. I was saying huh as joke cuz you said you wanted to mentally break readers.

  • Aoshi00

    very insightful and interesting thought process from the director.. sounds like Drakengard 3’s story would still pack a punch.. would be so nice to have a Drakengard 1/2 HD collection.. like FFX/X-2 or Ico/SotC.. so the conclusion is to make even something like Taiko no Tatsujin “Dark” lol :)

    • Belenger

      Would love a HD compilation but it would leave the two games in a pretty stark contrast, if anything a HD trilogy for the 15th year anniversary of DoD would be more fitting, with dod3, dod1 and Nier.

      • Guest

        yeah, but the thing is Nier & upcoming DoD3 are readily available and are alrdy in HD.. HD collection is to let us relive last gen’s classics again w/ convenience, would be nice w/ trophies as well :) Xenosaga or Shadow Hearts are the other ones that deserve an HD collection.

        • Belenger

          Uh Shadow Hearts thats a good one, heck a Koudelka remake would be in line for that too, I wonder who has the rights these days, lets see.. Sacnoth… Nautilus.. feelplus…AQ interactive….. Marvelous entertainment.


        • Aoshi00

          yeah, but the thing is Nier & upcoming DoD3 are readily available and are alrdy in HD.. HD collection is to let us relive last gen’s classics again w/ convenience, would be nice w/ trophies as well :)
          Xenosaga or Shadow Hearts are the other ones that deserve an HD collection.

    • Joe Drake

      Dude, that would be sick. Then Yoko can go back and actually finish Drakengard 1 since it wouldn’t have been rushed

  • Flamboyant Ass Nigga

    Nier was such a beautiful game i love it.

  • AnimusVox

    Those little mascot things are adorable.

    • CirnoLakes

      One of Japan’s many national products.

      • AnimusVox

        They have some of the cutest mascots :L

  • JustThisOne

    Interesting! Devs rarely share storytelling secrets, so this was a very good read.

    If the endgame town must be sad/ramp up to the demon lord confrontation, why do games generally unleash a floodgate of sidequests right before? For one, side quest saturation would widen that memory gap they were talking about. Another concern is how sidequests tend to vary in tone near the end, and may detour away from the “final confrontation” mood.

    I should also note, the boring lectures tip will be extremely helpful in the following months. :V

    • I suppose that depends on the nature of the side quest, right? In Nier, all the side quests had their own background story and contributed to the general feel of “sadness” (just as an example), which only served to emphasize this emotion before the final confrontation. The same can’t be said for other games, of course, which is why Yoko is giving this advice and not someone else XD

      • JustThisOne

        Haha, I guess that’s a good point. :> I hope other game devs take a note of this. I’ve always thought it was a bit dissonant when I would “unlock” the final dungeon, but then go and collect all the joke costumes right after.

        • I think the reason for that is generally … well, you’re likely to be the strongest (or almost strongest) you’ll ever be, you’ll have access to every area, you’ll have likely done every other sidequest, and you’ll have some easy means of transportation. This way, developers can give you sidequests that are more finicky, more OCD, and more challenging (higher-level bosses than final boss!) more for completionist’s sake than anything else. After all, what other reward is there, if the actual award isn’t that great (objectively. Costumes aren’t going to help you complete the story)?

  • I never finished Drakengard, but what struck me most about Nier’s story is the way it is framed. There is a LOT of background material to Nier, and the game only covers a part of it because only that part is relevant to the main character’s journey (not to mention the main character would have no conceivable way of learning about some of these things). There is no need to infodump the extra information in the game; it would be out of place and unwieldy. However, because you spent all that time coming up with the information, you (as the creator) often feel like you have to jam pack everything in. Dilemma…

    Likewise, one of the reasons Nier shocked me so much was where it decided to end. The background materials book covers what happens after the game ends, and it a strong reminder that even after the “ending” of a game, the world still continues and where you end the game / story you’re writing determines what kind of story you have.

    *end rant* XD

  • Very awesome Sato ^_^

    • Sato

      Thanks! It was a very interesting lesson by Yoko-sensei :D

      • It’s very insightful what he said about when you’re bored why is it, I’m normally too lazy to think about it like he does but it makes great sense ^ ^

  • Bentan

    nier made me cry manly tears

  • almostautumn

    I’d be interested in taking a course strictly on writing commerically, as well as approaches and studies that would enable spotting the highest-acclaimed sensationalist fad that is largest adored. It is not so much that I’d like to write commercially but rather understand what makes commercial/sensational opportunities simply occur, as well how best to foster and grow from them. The length zombies and vampires have lasted in the west have made me turn away from bitterness towards sensationalism, and more towards curious and even excited to work within those limitations.

    This is certainly an interesting interview. I’d like to hear more about the overall group effort of multiple game writers, as well as the limitations/pressures set upon them by publishers/directors/market analysts, and how they manage to create a story when so restricted.

  • awaiken

    I have a lot of faith in this man

  • Tom

    I loved Nier, I really hope Drakengard 3 will come to the west!

  • CamulaHikari

    This was a pretty interesting read! As a Game Development student it kinda nerved me how much they talk about everything in our classes EXCEPT story writing.

  • Oh my god, he puts those cute characters in the photos, but he is probably thinking on slaughtering you and your party. Genius.

  • Freud_Hater

    Learn how to localize your games, the Nier and Drakenga- Oh, wait, never mind…

    • Hraesvelgr

      Other than Drakengard 3, all of the games have been localized, so I don’t really get what you’re saying.

      And we don’t even actually know that we’re not getting Drakengard 3.

      • Freud_Hater

        ’twas just me being bitter that they still haven’t announced that the West is indeed getting it (Since they’ve, y’know, said nothing on the matter so far) but I like your optimism ^__^

  • Hraesvelgr

    I was going to make a comment about how you have to throw in a bunch of tryhard elements, but then I read the thing, and it’s actually pretty well thought out.

    I don’t really hold the plots and characters of Drakengard and Nier in as high regard as some others do, but the people that work on the games are actually pretty impressive.

  • Göran Isacson

    Step 1: Wake up and look at the world. REALLY look at it.

    Step 2: Realize that it is all falsehoods and illusions. Kindness. Compassion. Duty, Effort, Ambition. All desolate roads, leading to nothing but dead-ends and and steep inclines. Nobody ever loved you, for love itself does not exist.

    Step 3: Infuse this realization into all your writing. Shine the light of despair into the eyes of all who see your words. Make the world pay for opening your eyes in the first place.

    Step 4: Never stop making it pay.

    Jests aside: I do like the part about how each chapter should have a part where we are reminded that the bad dude is in fact a bad dude, if only so that people who take long breaks can remember they are a bad dude and thus receive extra motivation to bring the pain to them. If I recall correctly, Drakengard followed this formula: I think the Empire commited some sort of atrocity in every chapter, and even when they were beat WHOOPS something much worse showed up!

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