Former FGO Creative Director Yosuke Shiokawa Working on Something ‘Irreplaceable’

Yosuke Shiokawa

In a new and wide-ranging interview with Denfaminico Gamer, Yosuke Shiokawa revealed a little more about what he’s planning with his new studio, Fahrenheit 213. The interview itself covers large portions of Shiokawa’s career, particularly his experience with mobile hit Fate/Grand Order and why he left developer Delightworks.

On leaving Delightworks and what’s next for Fahrenheit 213

In the interview, Yosuke Shiokawa talked about when he decided to leave Delightworks and “start fresh.” He mentioned that the turning point came in the Fall of 2020, when he had wrapped up development on Fate/Grand Order: Waltz in the Moonlight/Lostroom, a rhythm game spin-off of FGO. He said that as he was between major tasks, he tried to take on the challenge of launching a completely new title. Through 2021, he worked on things like preparing prototypes and pitches for new IP. However, things changed at Delightworks, and according to him, “the gap between what I wanted to do and what the company wanted to focus on grew larger.” During this time, Delightworks President Akihito Shoji, one of the people who brought Shiokawa onboard resigned from his role, and it was decided that development would move from Delightworks to Aniplex (under what would become Lasengle).

By March 2021, Shiokawa had created Fahrenheit 213 within Delightworks as a “one-man department” to continue exploring the original IP project. Shiokawa resolved to “buy out” the rights to Fahrenheit 213, spinning it off fully from Delightworks and Lasengle to go independent. Now, it’s operating as a small, four-person studio (with Shiokawa as CEO). Their eventual goal: To create a “3D action” game that is “irreplaceable”. In essence, they wish to create a game that might not appeal to everyone, but will be executed such that someone out there will see it as something that can’t be substituted for, something unique and resonant on a singular level. Shiokawa said that as his favorite genre is in character-focused 3D action, that’s where he plans to direct his energy.

Shiokawa also went on to say that many action games have a “flavor” that comes out in things like how a player defeats an enemy. Some games highlight aggressive combat, and others let a player read an enemy and use special tactics. At Fahrenheit 213, they want to make a game that has its own unique flavor as well where a player might think “I can only get this response from this game.” He highlighted Splatoon as a game with that sort of unique, inimitable quality. He remarked that were one to try to describe Splatoon using just words, it wouldn’t sound like much fun, but that its uniqueness is conveyed instantly once someone sees it in action. He also likened that quality to one of his previous works, Dissidia Final Fantasy. At the time, he said, there wasn’t anything quite like Dissidia, with that kind of action, and that kind of combat.

The interview was light on specifics about Yosuke Shiokawa and Fahrenheit 213’s ambition, seeing as the project hasn’t even truly begun development. At the moment, they’re also working on a more indie-scale title for PC. The indie-scale title is self-funded, and it’s not even a year out from beginning development, so these are very early days.

On Kingdom Hearts and lessons learned working overseas

Speaking about his career, Shiokawa also revealed some interesting tidbits about his early career and work on games like Kingdom Hearts. After moving to Square Enix, he got involved with Kingdom Hearts as a battle planner, where he was put in charge of designing many of the game’s enemies from scratch. While the Battle Planning Leader worked on the game’s combat from the player’s perspective, Shiokawa had to work on how the enemies would behave and what kinds of challenges they’d pose to Sora. He started out by trying to answer the question “What is an enemy in this game?”, and looked to other titles to see how they answered that question. He looked at other 3D action games, including titles like Sega’s Dynamite Cop and Power Stone in particular. At the time, there were relatively few 3D games that allowed for free movement around the map. Arcade titles (like Dynamite Cop and Power Stone) were on the cutting edge of 3D movement and combat.

Yosuke Shiokawa also spoke about his experiences working in a North American game development company, and some of the difficulties of surmounting the differences between game development cultures in Japan and overseas. He noted that in Japan, it was common to describe things on the basis of “sensation” or “feel”, such as saying things like “It’s more refreshing to do things this way”. Whereas at the development sites he worked in, things tended to be framed in less ambiguous terms. He contrasted the focus on “sensations” with a focus on “events” or “actions”. He learned to frame comments and suggestions in those more concrete terms. For example, instead of just saying “It’ll be more exhilarating this way,” he’d say “If you do it this way, the enemy characters will be more reactive, and the player will notice and appreciate their responses.”

On differences in game development between North America and Japan

He also learned that while differing cultures can see things in different ways, peoples’ motivations, and the things that help them feel a sense of accomplishment, are common, and those feelings extend past cultural and national barriers. Tapping into those “universal” feelings can help games in Japan reach out across language and cultural divides to attract global audiences, and vice-versa.

One thing he admired about how games are made overseas is the development of what he called “common language”. From things like commonly used terms and best practices to management systems that help teams disseminate knowledge about a project to every part of the project, he said that overseas developers (particularly in North America) work to build a common base of knowledge that helps production at every level. Even general things like books on game design (as opposed to programming or 3D graphics) were common and widely used overseas, but rarer in Japan, where oftentimes a developer would create a game starting from first principles. This approach, he said, makes it easier to create titles of great scale and complexity, and with less need for excessive “crunch time”.

Though he did qualify that these were his experiences from years ago, he still worries sometimes about the state of game development in Japan. While companies like Nintendo and From Software are widely recognized as world-leading developers, there are overall much fewer companies left that can operate on their scale. Many below that scale are now working on smartphone titles, competing in Asia, rather than creating home console and PC games.

On righting Fate/Grand Order‘s ship

Shiokawa also spoke on his time as consultant, and then Creative Director for Fate/Grand Order. He said that right after FGO launched, he was able to meet with Type-MOON founders Takashi Takeuchi and Kinoko Nasu. He appreciated how serious they were about their creations, and their sincerity, and wanted to work with them. At the time, Delightworks President Shoji had invited him to consult on the game, which was struggling with many issues post-launch. He said that Delightworks was quite small (about 20 people) and was desperately trying to salvage the game’s future.

In fact, he was hesitant about consulting on the project at first, seeing the level of vitriol online. But after he got some free time, he tried the game out, to see its issues separately from the online criticism, as a new player might. By the time he’d finished summing up the various issues with the game, he had 10 PowerPoint presentations worth of material, full of highlights and suggestions for what to do.

The problems with FGO were seen as being so intractable that Delightworks was considering rebooting the game, similar to how Final Fantasy XIV was salvaged into A Realm Reborn. However, Shiokawa said that the general direction of the game wasn’t the issue, but rather that the multitude of problems could be solved and steady improvement put into place. He prioritized first fixing issues that could be handled quickly and have a visible, wide-ranging effect. These included things like fixing text, and improving the user interface. These small changes would be seen by players immediately, and help assure them that improvements were incoming. One of the first fixes was ensuring that the rarity of a character was visible on the character’s portrait.

He even suggested a counter-intuitive course of action, such as prioritizing fixes that people weren’t complaining that loudly about immediately. Instead, the issues that got the loudest feedback would have more time spent on them, to ensure that the team could get the fixes right rather than make things worse. Such items included things like combat balance and the strength of enemies. Ultimately, hundreds of small changes were implemented, ranging from corrections to skill descriptions to increasing the size of characters onscreen. Though individually minor, the litany of fixes was long and comprehensive enough that they made the game more satisfactory to actually play, and helping to placate the dissatisfied playerbase.

Josh Tolentino
Josh Tolentino is Senior Staff Writer at Siliconera. He previously helped run Japanator, prior to its merger with Siliconera. He's also got bylines at Destructoid, GameCritics, The Escapist, and far too many posts on Twitter.