Siliconera got to speak with the makers of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness from tri-Ace and Square Enix. We talked battle, the making of characters, and also asked about a new Valkyrie Profile.
From left to right: Hiroshi Ogawa, Akira “Akiman” Yasuda, Shuichi Kobayashi.
You mentioned bringing new users into the Star Ocean series, but tri-Ace is known for having intricate battle systems designed for core users to dissect. It’s almost divergent since games designed to attract new users have simplified systems while tri-Ace developed titles have systems with a lot of depth to them. Why is it important to attract new users and what do you think Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness does to bring them in aside from the new storyline?
Hiroshi Ogawa, Director at tri-Ace: In Star Ocean games, especially Till the End of Time you really had to do item creation from the start. It was so difficult at times you couldn’t even get through the main scenario if you didn’t do item creation. The game balance was more difficult and skewed towards people who have played Star Ocean and know how to use that mechanic. This time we made it so you don’t need to know [about item creation]. We have heard voices from fans saying that it’s a little bit too easy or they wanted more difficulty, but we made it so you didn’t need to know that kind of system. You didn’t need to use that system to get through the game. With just a couple of simple buttons you could play a flashy battle on screen with seven characters. That is the game balance we aimed for this time.
Shuichi Kobayashi, Producer at Square Enix: I’m going to candidly say this, but Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness is very simple especially compared to the Star Ocean series until now. Compared to the previous Star Ocean games there wasn’t that much time between games. Players who played the first Star Ocean or another game would know how to use these complex mechanics and we were able to add more complex systems in each proceeding game because we knew users would know how to use them to get through the game. But, this time since has been seven years we prioritized more on how the game plays, the controls, the simplicity so new players that are not acquainted with our previous titles will be able to play.
I haven’t asked Gotanda-san if it was OK to say this and I don’t know if he thought this way, but when we created this title we tried to make it a Star Ocean title that everyone could jump into and play. Like Ogawa-san said we have been getting feedback from a lot of players who wanted it to be more difficult, but we focused to make it as simple as possible. When you start it feels simple, but when you dive into it there is a lot you can do.
Akiman-san, you’ve worked on character design for many fighting games. Can you tell us how you designed characters to telegraph what attacks they might have or to hint to players what they should watch out for when fighting them?
Akira Yasuda (Akiman), Character Designer: Because this game and graphic technology has been upgraded to better show what characters can do it’s become more detailed and refined these days. I don’t think games need to be as character oriented as before where you see a character and you know what they do. However, I always strive that make sure you will be able to tell what kind of character they are by the silhouette. I’m not really trying to make anything new. Instead, I use symbolic items. For example if there is a witch then she will have a big hat that way you can tell she will use magic or he will use magic. I use those kinds of symbols on purpose to create characters and like I was saying earlier I’m not trying to make something new. As long as these symbolic elements are in a character I think that is enough. Especially with games now and how characters move you can tell what kind of character they are, I think I don’t need to create characters where you can tell what they are just by the design. I am thinking of changing my design now.
What would you want to do differently with the characters you make since you don’t need to rely on character design to communicate gameplay mechanics to players?
AY: Just as movies and theater performances, I do not feel that character design should be complete or perfect. For instance, if you see a regular old man and he looks like an old man who is a karate master. I think that is fine in movies. But, for games until now we didn’t have that kind of technology to be able to create that. If you’re about 5’6” and then you meet someone who is 6’ tall in real life there is only a little difference, but in a video game you have to design the character so players can clearly see that character is larger because if you get hit by him you might die. [Laughs] We needed a way to show this, not exactly exaggeration, but a way to show this kind of detail. But, because graphics and movements have improved so much we can design characters that are not perfect. To create more ways to develop characters through the storyline or through the entire game. If I need to add symbols I will, but that will depend on what kind of orders I’m given.
How do you design sci-fi characters? What in your opinion makes a character “sci-fi” for the Star Ocean series?
When I researched the Star Ocean series to create characters for this title, I felt what is cool about this series is when they discovered planets there were all of these fantasy world settings. The other Star Ocean games had human protagonists going to underdeveloped planets, but this game is more like Star Ocean 1 where you start on an underdeveloped planet and then you go out into space. Because of this there isn’t any science fiction element to the characters from the start because you don’t need it. You don’t have those kinds of characters.
I referenced Star Ocean: The Last Hope to create characters for Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness. To have that kind of fantasy element, I thought I had to make all of these characters and their clothes complicated like The Last Hope and that is why I did all of these complicated details. I actually wanted to make Anne and Emmerson have computers around them, but I started thinking I wanted to make Emmerson when he shows up this weird old guy who came out of nowhere. I wanted to make Anne someone who travels with him and you have no idea where they came from. I thought having those kinds of characters would raise a red flag with players that they are too weird or mysterious. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything sci-fi with these character designs. I actually designed details about what they are wearing inside too. There are all of these details and back settings with these character designs that you can’t see in their models.
One of the big changes with the Star Ocean: Integrity & Faithlessness is the dynamic cut scene system, but a player could be standing away from the event and miss seeing the scene.
HO: When Gotanda-san came up with the first concept for the game he was focused on this dynamic cut scene system. It may sound a little bit weird to say this for a game, but what he wanted to accomplish was to be as natural as possible. It’s not really natural if two characters are conversing and all of the other party members aren’t doing anything. It’s natural if someone else is doing their own thing. For instance, if we were walking together there will be groups of two and three with each group conversing on their own. It is natural to have that. That is what we wanted to achieve with this game and the dynamic cut scenes. Especially because the game has real time events there are some events you have to watch as a player, but we wanted players to also see the changes that happen around as well. We hope it will add more to the experience. You can’t freely roam around the world, but we hoped it would add to the free feeling.
SK: To be frank, Ogawa-san and Gotanda-san are not that satisfied with it. What we did this time was not what they wanted to do or a full realization of it. We have scenes where there are characters talking there and other characters talking over here, but more was supposed to happen around them. For example, if there was an area with a flower bed we wanted Relia to rush over there and start picking flowers to have that kind of realness to it. Because we wanted to leave one traditional element in the game to have that kind of complexity, the game itself would be more complicated and we would have too much on our hands at this moment. So we are not satisfied with this at all, but this time we were able to create the basis for that technology and if we have a chance to create another game after this we really want to elaborate that even more to create something even more natural. We actually all regret that we weren’t able to do it with this title.
In another interview, there was a proposal about a new Valkyrie Profile game.
SK: That was something I mentioned on NicoNico Live. After that I did restate it was just my idea and my proposal. tri-Ace is not involved in it at all right now. I haven’t even brought it to tri-Ace yet. It is all my creation and it spread through the Internet.
It’s only in Japan, but we released Valkyrie Anatomia and Yamagishi-san is the producer for it. I read the plot and storyline for it and I thought I need to see the user reaction first before I could create something new for Valkyrie Profile. Even if something moves, I would have to see how that game does.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is currently available on PlayStation 4. You can check out our earlier reports for more from the creators who talked about Star Ocean’s timeline and about how Square Enix changed the way games get approved since Yosuke Matsuda became CEO.