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Interview: Developing and Balancing Square Enix’s Dungeon Encounters

Interview: Developing and Balancing Dungeon Encounters and its Characters

Dungeon Encounters ended up being one of Square Enix’s 2021 surprises. A more stripped back and traditional approach to an RPG, it goes back to basics and can be incredibly difficult. To help better understand Dungeon Encounters and how it came to be, Siliconera spoke with Producer Hiroaki Kato and Director Hiroyuki Ito about its development, features, and characters.

Jenni Lada, Siliconera: When did development begin on Dungeon Encounters and what did the creation process look like for it?

Hiroaki Kato, Square Enix: Unfortunately, we are unable to share the specific timing at which development began, but several years ago, Hiroyuki Ito showed me a proposal for “an RPG that has an overall simple design in everything from the story to effects, where the fun lies in the system mechanics itself,” and that’s what triggered the development of this game.

That being said, my initial response after seeing the proposal was, “if the system is what’s fun, then maybe the game would sell better if we were to design it elaborately?” [laughs]

From there, we spent time discussing on several occasions, and in the process, our
thoughts shifted towards the idea that “this looks like it’ll be a gameplay experience that’s never quite existed, where the process of thinking is what’s fun.” It could be a game in which the simplicity of the design is what makes it easier to see the situation you’re in, and players can use information in the game as hints while going through trial and error to figure out how to progress.

Furthermore, the gambit system in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age–a game we previously worked on–included the fun of thinking about how you could build gambits in order to fight as advantageously as possible in a given battle situation. We wanted to capture the fun of thinking, which is a core element of games, through a different approach, and that desire drove us to start developing this game.

In terms of the production process, almost all specification documents were available at the start of development. All specifications were single-handedly created by Hiroyuki Ito! So, we decided to proceed by working with an external studio that excels in developing RPGs.

In terms of the music, Hiroyuki Ito mentioned that he “previously spoke with Nobuo
Uematsu about how it may be interesting to arrange classic music tracks as it’ll exude a unique sound, and that he was keen on realizing this direction.” I shared this desire with Nobuo Uematsu, who kindly agreed to take on the project, leading to the creation of these wonderful guitar arrangements.

Interview: Developing and Balancing Square Enix's Dungeon Encounters and its Characters

How did pen-and-paper RPGs influence Dungeon Encounters and are there any particular games that inspired you?

Hiroyuki Ito, Square Enix: I don’t have knowledge about tabletop games, so there was no influence from them. However, if tracing the history of RPGs ultimately leads back to tabletop games, then I suppose that would mean a universal way to play lies here as well.

Kato: As Ito-san commented, it wasn’t inspired by tabletop games. However, during playtests, there were times I felt that the gameplay style of “thinking is fun,” which is also what is so appealing about Dungeon Encounters, has similarities to the universal fun that lies at the core of tabletop games, which are the forefathers of RPGs.

Each Dungeon Encounters character backstory is surprisingly detailed. How did you come up with characters and their general abilities?

Ito: The backdrop for the story is a rural town, and the characters that appear are the townspeople with varied circumstances. I thought that they would embark to battle in the dungeon that has appeared, in order to find a means to breakthrough from their current circumstances.

Interview: Developing and Balancing Dungeon Encounters 1

There are 99 floors and tons of events in Dungeon Encounters. How did you come up with the map designs?

Ito: I had clearly written “a 100 x 100 x 100 dungeon (100 floors total including the ground level, with each floor being 100 squares x 100 squares at most)” in the proposal deck presented to management, so I had no choice but to realize this. I just continued working on this title, believing it’ll all somehow come together. I did reference the last dungeon from Final Fantasy V, just a little.

Kato: After the game starts, it’s up to the player to decide how to progress. So, there are as many ways to experience these various tales of adventure as there are players, which is what we were striving for. Hiroyuki Ito’s know-how he has cultivated throughout the years was poured into the game, and a lot of care and thought went into adjusting the balance to finish it up. Dungeon Encounters may appear simple upon first glance, but the data volume from maps to battles equate to that of the mainline Final Fantasy titles that Hiroyuki Ito has worked on thus far.

When creating events, how did you determine which kinds of shops to offer and puzzles to use?

Ito: There were initially 32 shops with an assortment of items that were aligned with the progression, but I ended up categorizing and reducing the number since it’s quite the task to manage. For the puzzles, I focused on omitting elements that use units and expressions that differ between countries.

Square Enix puzzle

While difficult, Dungeon Encounters is a game that can be quite fair. What challenges did you face while working on balancing it?

Ito: My desktop and folders are flooded with spreadsheet files, so distinguishing which one was the latest and which one was the real deal was quite the challenge.

Kato: Ito-san inputs his battle calculation formulas in Excel. He organizes the overall balance from game start to completion in his mind while looking at the table in Excel, and the data gets reflected in the ROM being developed. This gets balanced through fine adjustments made while actually playing through the game.

The data volume found in Dungeon Encounters, from components such as characters to battles, equates to that of mainline Final Fantasy titles that Ito-san has worked on thus far, and he single-handedly controls all this data. Managing all this data alone is a herculean task, and I truly felt this ultimate craftmanship can only be accomplished by Ito-san as I watched him develop this game beside me.

The idea of wandering characters is an innovative means of finding new adventurers in Dungeon Encounters. How did you come up with the concept and do you have a favorite wanderer?

Ito: The point of the game room is the map’s coordinates (the display in the upper left corner of the game screen), so we need to ensure that the gameplay is made to utilize this. If a player makes it their objective to go rescue an ally, I thought that, in itself, would become one of the stories of this game.

The “Cavied” status effect is fresh and endearing. How did it come to be?

Ito: It came to be for the sheer reason that they’re cute. When I was living in Honolulu while developing Final Fantasy IX, I was watching a TV show where guinea pigs took on an active role.

Square Enix Cavied Status Effect

Square Enix’s Dungeon Encounters is available worldwide on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Jenni Lada
Jenni is Editor-in-Chief at Siliconera and has been playing games since getting access to her parents' Intellivision as a toddler. She continues to play on every possible platform and loves all of the systems she owns. (These include a PS4, Switch, Xbox One, WonderSwan Color and even a Vectrex!) You may have also seen her work at GamerTell, Cheat Code Central, Michibiku and PlayStation LifeStyle.