We always love to hear about modern games that take influence from the golden age of RPGs of the ‘90s and Siliconera got to speak with Lost Sphear Director Atsushi Hashimoto of Square Enix about that and more in our latest interview.
Lost Sphear is Tokyo RPG Factory’s second project. What did the team learn from developing I am Setsuna that helped development for Lost Sphear?
Atsushi Hashimoto, Director: At Tokyo RPG Factory, all of the developers got together because they liked/were on board to do the project. Because of that, it was great that so many passionate people came together, but there were struggles that you typically wouldn’t see other companies go through when we were developing I am Setsuna. But we took that experience and worked on Lost Sphear, so I think we did better this time around.
Also, we received lots of input from the consumers that played I am Setsuna. Based on this feedback, we looked at every aspect of the game and make improvements, so I thought that was great, too.
I am Setsuna was a story about heart-rending sadness and sacrifice. What kind of story did you want to tell with Lost Sphear?
Hashimoto: When we were developing I am Setsuna, our key theme was based on the Japanese word “setsunai” (which loosely translates to “bittersweet sadness,” or “melancholy) which is an emotion that is uniquely Japanese. We wanted to continue in a similar direction with Lost Sphear too, and so we chose “hakanai” (which loosely translates to “fleeting” or “disappears really easily”) for this project.
It sounds like the story focuses on the themes of loss and emptiness? What makes these somber themes interesting for a RPG to explore?
Hashimoto: One of the goals we have is to create “RPG that won’t fade after ten years of time.” To us, games that have not faded from our minds were RPG from the 90s, and the scenes that still remain vividly in our memories tend to be “poignant” and/or “fleeting.” And so, by having “poignant” and/or “fleeting” as our theme in developing a title, we thought we can make a game that would remain in people’s memory for a very long time. That’s why we chose themes such as these.
The ATB battle system has been changed from I am Setsuna with characters that can move in battle before selecting an enemy to attack and it looks like there is an emphasis on lining up skills to hit multiple enemies like using Cyclone in Chrono Trigger. Could you tell us more about these changes and why you added them in?
Hashimoto: As part of the feedback we received from those who played I am Setsuna, people said “if only I could move during battle, I could affect more enemies when I attack!” And so from the early stages of development, we wanted to improve on that.
Then, when it came time to develop a prototype, we tried implementing it. Although there were some issues, we felt this could potentially work as our new ATB system, so we polished the finer details and ended up with the current system.
While the Final Fantasy series is experimenting with different kinds of RPG battles instead of the ATB system after originating it, Tokyo RPG Factory is evolving it. Aside from nostalgia, what makes the ATB system special?
Hashimoto: I believe it’s because it’s a turn-based system that is easy to understand, yet allows you to feel the game is moving forward in real time.
Also, players who want to be more strategic in their approach can set the battle to “wait” in the system configuration, and so another element that makes the ATB appealing is that it allows the player to adjust the settings based on their preference.
Lost Sphear, like I am Setsuna, has a group of young heroes on a quest to save the world. This is a trope in the golden age of RPGs and we still see it today with modern RPGs like Final Fantasy XV. Why do you think JRPGs tend to have teenagers that save the world?
Hashimoto: First to explain from a historical perspective, Japanese games are heavily influenced by the manga (Japanese comics) culture. That is because many Japanese developers grew up reading manga, and have been influenced by them. Additionally, many manga stories are geared toward readers in their teens. Plus many manga protagonists are in their teens. So, I believe there are many characters in their teens in video games as well.
From a functional perspective, I’m assuming it’s easier to depict a character’s growth this way. Another reason is, players of any age group (unless you’re too young of a player, under the age of ten) have experienced what it’s like to be a teenager, and it’s very relatable. Even if we made an adult our protagonist, while we can show their growth by depicting the struggles only an adult would experience, it would be hard for a teenager to relate to something like that. So there’s a tendency that characters in their teens appear more often.
I liked how I am Setsuna left parts of the story and character design for my imagination to fill in – something that was more akin to the 16 bit RPGs where each player had a different idea what Terra looked like in their mind. How do you design characters and a world to suit this idea?
Hashimoto: In a game that leaves room for imagination, I think it is very important to not draw every little graphical detail. We paid careful attention so we can make sure there was room for the imagination in the characters and the world by deliberately not filling in the details, and making it a simple design.
Lost Sphear is longer than I am Setsuna as a response to fans who said they wanted to have more gameplay. How did that change the scope of the project and what did you use the extra time for? (i.e. more dungeons, extra bosses, more story?)
Hashimoto: The overall scope of the project hadn’t changed very much. With our experience on developing I am Setsuna, we were able to work more efficiently, and changed our processes to be able to add more volume to the game.
As for the contents of whatever extra we added… first of all, the story is longer. Also, by adding new mechanics like Artifacts and Vulcosuits, the game system now has more depth, and adds to replay value. On top of that, we’ve added an element where you can test the strength of the characters you strengthened. I believe this is a game that can be enjoyed for a long time.
Lost Sphear releases in North America and Europe on January 23, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The game is currently available in Japan.