13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim director George Kamitani recently held an email interview with 4Gamer, where he talked about the long-awaited mecha strategy game’s inspirations, why the first teasers were released so early, and more.
Here are the highlights:
When was the concept formed, and what led to the making of this game?
George Kamitani, director: “Atlus gave us the go-ahead in early 2013. Back then, we were still in the midst of developing Dragon’s Crown, and as you know, the original release schedule was Spring 2013, but it got delayed.
Even though I knew it wasn’t possible, I thought that if the project really did end in Spring, our company would be crushed suddenly by financial troubles, so I scrambled to come up with the next project.
I was tired out from continuously drawing event scenes for Dragon’s Crown, and what rushed into my mind was 13 Sentinels – something decidedly un-fantasy. I wanted to animate high school girls.
The concept of doing a time leap story structure with multiple protagonists and all the sci-fi genre bells and whistles has been in my mind for quite a while. Back then, the draft proposal had 7-8 characters fighting with superpowers. Even with 13 Sentinels as it is now, the plot structure has mostly stayed the same, and the last scene completely the same.
Approval for the project came quick, but we were working on the Muramasa DLC until Summer 2014, and then Odin’s Sphere Leifthrasir until just before Summer 2015, so the project actually got started after that.
In order to hype up sales of Odin’s Sphere Leifthrasir in Fall 2015, we released the first trailer for 13 Sentinels, but it was all test materials we had created up to that point, and had no actual content to it. When the trailer was first revealed, I was shaking with fear as to the reactions.”
Why did it become a mecha game?
Kamitani: “There is a reason why robots became the theme for the fights – 13 Sentinels was originally a proposal meant for a certain other company. What that company wanted was a title for domestic audiences, that could have anime and toy expansion potential. Not needing to care for Western audiences, and having a relatively manageable scale and sales target… that proposal was very appealing to someone like me, who had been living in the vortex that was the Dragon’s Crown project for four years. Brand-wise, I thought that that company would be able to accept robots. I thought, if the robots I designed became plastic models, that would be nice.
If we were to do robots, I felt that it had to be hulking armored titans like in Robo Jox. And so I designed these heavy armors. To set up a bit of a gap in expectations, the characters and world would have a shoujo aesthetic.”
Why the emphasis on the number 13, like the number of protagonists?
The plans for 13 Sentinels were created during when the development of Dragon’s Crown was heating up, so I wasn’t really able to make art for the project.
However, I have a mission to draw a New Year’s greetings illustration no matter what, so I drew the project art for the 2013 New Year’s illustration. It was a bit forced, but I went and did the presentation for the project proposal to that company with just that one painting.
As it was something to be made public, I made the ’13’ from 2013 part of the title without much planning. The original plans were to have 7-8 protagonists, but I easily decided that 13 characters wouldn’t be that much extra work. That decision ended up coming back to bite us.” (laughs)
The representative of that company really liked it, and things were coming along when I suddenly remembered that part of Atlus saving Dragon’s Crown was a promise that they would get right of first refusal for the next project. I panicked and contacted Atlus, saying that “Well, it’s robots and doesn’t match with what you make, so you don’t need it, right?”, but they got angry.
Well yes, Dragon’s Crown was running late as well… Atlus was like, “we’ll pass your proposal immediately, so stop negotiating with the other company”, and I was surprised that we had our next job so suddenly. And then we’d find out later on, that what Atlus wanted was a bigger scale project, with a more worldwide appeal. (wry smile)
How hard was producing the story?
Kamitani: “Originally, I wrote the plot, while others would write the script, like with Odin’s Sphere.
However, problems would keep popping up. The number of art assets needed would balloon, and we’d test various solutions without much result as to conclusions. In order to find out what was going wrong, I took a look at the script myself in February 2017.
And what I determined was that ‘it didn’t hold up’ [in terms of character actions]. The only way to have [the character convincingly say what they’d say] was to create a new set of animations, or to change the character setting or story script. […] Basically, I would write the script while rewriting the scenarios until the plot and lines would match up, or otherwise rewrite the scenario completely. It was that time that I realized that this was the only way.
For the past three years, I’ve been holed up writing the entire script. It was really a despair-inducing workload. (laughs) It’s not possible to keep workers around this long, but if it’s the company president working day-in, day-out, it won’t be counted as a ‘black company’ offense. In fact, I’d say I was slightly happy that, even as the staff rested, I was slowly gaining back the time lost from delays.
When I was finally able to leave that hell, and got to see the project which everyone else had built up while I was gone… it was better than what I’d expected. Even with the captain not present, the staff had done their best.”
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim releases for PlayStation 4 in Japan on November 28, 2019.