The latest RPG adventure from Gust, the studio behind the ever long-running Atelier series, is based on a popular shonen manga series about wizards who think they’re pirates. It’s called Fairy Tail, and that’s also the game’s title–no fancy subtitles here. It almost seems strange that Gust would pivot to a pre-existing IP license after decades of original content, so naturally we had some questions. Luckily we were able to chat with Keisuke Kikuchi, a Fairy Tail producer. He talked to us about his role at Gust, the game’s unique battle system, what it’s like to adapt a huge story, and more.
Lucas White, Siliconera: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Gust hasn’t been involved in many IP-based games, much less shonen anime like Fairy Tail. How did this project come to be a Gust project?
Keisuke Kikuchi, Gust: I felt that Fairy Tail as a series would work perfectly as a fantasy RPG. The world being so full of fantasy, the iconic magic wielding characters, the intense battles, and the bonds between the characters all fit well within this genre. Gust’s love of the Fairy Tail series and [Hiro] Mashima-sensei and Kodansha’s desire to expand the franchise were in alignment for this project, so this lead to our team undertaking the development of this title.
Can you talk about your role as a producer and what your day to day work is like?
Kikuchi: As a producer, I don’t have a set daily work routine, and instead work on anything and everything in order to develop and market this title. My role consists of a number of tasks including establishing the overall direction of the title and planning the concept, meeting with Mashima-sensei, managing the budget and progress of the game, and working with the promotion team in order to bring the fans a title that is the result of the entire team’s hard work.
Can you describe how the story is being adapted? I’ve seen arcs listed but are they presented in linear fashion, or is Gust taking a more creative approach?
Kikuchi: The main story primarily revolves around the major plot lines from the Grand Magic Games arc and the Tartaros arc which the player can experience in chronological order. We set up the game so that players can take on quests from the Request Board and tasks from their companions, along with upgrading their guild and strengthening their bonds with the other characters in their party in order to become the No. 1 guild while playing through the main story.
Is there anything in the game that might come off as strange or unexpected to Fairy Tail fans?
Kikuchi: We were designing the game so that it falls in line with the expectations of Fairy Tail fans, but we are including story element combinations and brand new Unison Raids that did not appear in the original manga or anime.
Fairy Tail came to an end in 2017, and adaptation projects made while a manga is still running are the norm. Did Gust’s RPG start development before the story was over? If so, did that impact creative choices?
Kikuchi: The concept and plan were being worked on before that. After the series finished, our team was able to view the story in its entirety. I think that as a result of this, we were able to decide what parts we wanted to focus on.
Can you tell us about some of the key creative goals the team established to adapt so many volumes of manga into one game?
Kikuchi: As Fairy Tail is a very voluminous work, we really put a lot of time into deciding what part of the story we were going to focus on. We ended up choosing the Grand Magic Games arc as the focus, due to three major points: many of the main characters appear in the story, Natsu and his group attempt to bring the guild back to its former glory, and there was a good balance of serious and humorous parts of the story.
How involved was mangaka Hiro Mashima? Did the team have to deal with any restrictions or specific needs from the creators/IP-holders?
Kikuchi: Mashima-sensei was involved from the planning phase and would often give us advice on the 3D models, supervise the magic abilities, and periodically try out and check various aspects of the game. Mashima-sensei often told us that it was fine to have the game differ from the original manga, and that he wanted us to create a game that the fans could really enjoy. I think we had a lot of creative freedom in developing the game as a result.
Can you tell us about any major problems that came up during development, and what the team did to overcome it/them?
Kikuchi: Many problems came up during the development process as we were working on several other projects as well. One example revolves around the sheer number of characters and magic in Fairy Tail. I realized that trying to differentiate each character and magic ability by their power or an elemental attribute would not be sufficient.
Through trial and error we eventually arrived at the realization that we could greatly improve on this aspect of the game by using the different enemy formations and the effective range of the magic abilities in order to differentiate the characters and magic.
Was this a fun project compared to Gust’s usual work, or was it intimidating or scary?
Kikuchi: It was both. We are really happy that we were able to recreate a lot of our favorite content into the game, and we were really pleased that the finished product would allow for a wide range of fans to enjoy the title.
Fairy Tail has a large number of characters and episodes, so we put in a lot of time and effort into deciding which aspects to put in the game and which characters to include. This process was both stressful and fun.
Is there a feature or creative decision the team is particularly proud of, that you hope the fans and critics respond well to?
Kikuchi: We are really happy that we were able to implement many different characters to allow players to create their own original party consisting of their favorite characters. I hope that fans will enjoy the world of Fairy Tail with a group of characters that differ from the original manga, giving them each their own unique adventure.
And hey, if what Kikuchi had to say about Fairy Tail piques your interest, you can check out our review of the game itself, as it’s available now for the PS4, PC, and Switch.