In February 2020, an interview with the character designer for most Story of Seasons (Bokujou Monogatari) series titles, Igusa Matsuyama, was published. In it, they talk about some aspects of how they design characters across the series. [Kind thanks to fan community Ranch Story!]
For those who don’t know Matsuyama, they have been credited for the Bokujou Monogatari series as far back as character image artwork in Harvest Moon GB and began to design the characters starting with Harvest Moon 64. They have continued to serve as character designer for every entry in the main Bokujou Monogatari series up until and including Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, which released in Japan in 2019. Matsuyama was also the character designer for Little Dragons Cafe.
Here are some of the highlights:
Ranch Story: How much influence do you have on the character’s personality during the design process?
Igusa Matsuyama, series character designer: “To me, when it comes to creating characters, personality is everything. If the personality isn’t strong enough, you’ll end up creating characters that are too alike to one another. Even so, I am not very particular about creating characters that are outstandingly beautiful.
Additionally, in regards to the designs from games within the past few years – there are usually requests for me to design their appearance and clothing when creating [illustrations of] the characters.
During the process, I get to make suggestions like, “Wouldn’t it be good to make the characters like this?” However, I try to incorporate all the requests made into each design as much as I can. Because it’s not only me who creates them, the designs are conceptualized by the entire staff.”
Ranch Story: Has there ever been a case of a design being rejected and then re-used for a future project?
Matsuyama: “Alisa, from Island of Happiness, has hair and facial features which were carried over from the original design of the game’s heroine, Chelsea.
The original features were deemed “too demure” for someone like Chelsea, so the design had been scrapped; however, I thought that such a design was perfect for a character like Alisa, and so she was created from those [scrapped] features.
Likewise, the character called Wada [from the same game] uses a design originally meant for the character called Shea. As Shea is a marriage candidate, I knew that such a design for him would never be accepted [by the staff], but even knowing this, I wanted to create that design anyway. Of course, the design was scrapped.”
Ranch Story: It feels like as time has gone on, outfits have steadily become more complicated with more patterns and other details. Were the simpler designs of older games because of graphical limitations?
Matsuyama: “Yes, that’s correct.
In the first Bokujou Monogatari title (Harvest Moon for SNES), the color palette was limited to a few colors for each character. We were only able to make detailed parts after the release of Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland.
Until then, they had to be simple designs that still conveyed the characters’ personalities. So, when working on designs, I always kept in mind, “How would this design look when deformed into a ‘chibi’ character?”
Nowadays, it’s an era where you can reproduce just about anything unless it’s absolutely impossible. Even so, I try to keep making designs that emphasize characters’ personalities and heritage, rather than distracting people with fancy decorations.”
Regarding the character design changes for the Mineral Town remake:
Matsuyama: “I really love Harvest Moon 64.
I am very much attached to all of the characters that first appeared in that game.
As the new game includes a cast whose personalities and relationships have been changed, the designs do not necessarily represent them completely. There is quite a bit of regret on my part because of that.
Regarding Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, I was prepared for negative feedback, of course. However, rather than branching off of the cast of Harvest Moon 64 again, the characters were designed according to the new setting.
Of course, this isn’t a decision I made alone.
We all wanted to honor the feelings of the fans of the original Mineral Town games. As such, the colors of the original designs were used as much as possible when creating the redesigns.
Regarding whether the new protagonist designs were inspired by Sara, GB games female protagonist:
Matsuyama: “As you pointed out, she does look a little bit like Sara.
The instructions I received from the producer were to give her a short haircut, lively personality, hoodie, and shorts. When it comes to a heroine wearing shorts and a short hairstyle, you would surely end up thinking of Sara.”
“Additionally, the male protagonist [of the new game] has been designed a little similarly to that of the A Wonderful Life protagonist.”
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town is available on the Nintendo Switch in Japan. It will eventually be released worldwide by XSEED Games.