Monolith Soft and Nintendo’s first collaboration was the quirky Disaster: Day of Crisis, an action-adventure game that focused on what they described as “never-before-seen thrilling movie scenes”. Since Monolith Soft specialized in RPGs, Disaster was a whole different monster for the company. It took much longer than they had originally expected to finish the game; the development process spanned two years, from 2006 to 2008.
Monolith Soft creative director, Tetsuya Takahashi, himself, however, had finished the now famous model of the two Xenoblade Gods in July of 2006.
Not only was this before the retail availability of the Wii, but Nintendo developer, Hitoshi Yamagami, (Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, The Legendary Starfy, the Fire Emblem games), who was also the producer of the game, was first presented with the idea while Monolith was right in the middle of working on Disaster. When Hirohide Sugiura, president of Monolith, came up to him and announced, “We have a new design,” the model was the first thing Yamagami saw. At the time, Yamagami was just starting to itch to see something new, so the surprise came at the perfect time.
The two Gods ended up being incredibly detailed. Part of the reason was that Takahashi had some of the younger staff members pose for him as models.1 This was not only to establish the pose for the gods, but also to map out the different field areas. For example, just from observing where the lights in the room hit and didn’t hit, he decided that where the “sunlight” hit the back would be the jungle, and where it didn’t hit would be cold, snowy fields.
Seeing this much thought being put into just the models, Yamagami was extremely excited to hear more about this prospective project. Unfortunately, since Takahashi was visually-oriented and liked to represent his ideas with something he could see and feel, this also meant that, even though the model itself was meticulously done, there wasn’t much else to the idea yet. Despite this, Yamagami was still so impressed with the design and the concept that he felt that, no matter what, a game had to be created for this world.
It wasn’t until the April of 2007 that the team actually started prototyping Xenoblade. Along with Yamagami, Yurie Hattori2 (Endless Ocean, Sin & Punishment: The Star Successor) and Genki Yokota (Disaster: Day of Crisis, Fossil Fighters) from Nintendo also helped develop the game. Yokota was experienced with RPGs, and he and Kou Kojima determined the general direction of the system, while Hattori assisted Takahashi and Takeda with the scenario by looking at it from another perspective — both from the eyes of a player and as a female.
The two worked well together after the initial bumps. The hitches weren’t conflicts, though — as Takahashi put it, he experienced a real “culture shock” when they first started.
Originally, Takahashi had wanted to give up on a portion in Xenoblade because he knew that if they tried to do everything they wanted, there was no way they would be meeting the prospective release date. There were many problems when they first began tackling the development of the game, and progress was off to a slow start. Thus, even if the team really didn’t want to, as a professional, Takahashi was prepared to sacrifice bits and parts to make the development deadlines. However, after discussing the problem with Yamagami, the Nintendo developer said, “You’ve already gone this far, so why not go all the way?”
According to Takahashi, there were many times in his career where he jumped into a game, only to never finish it the way he wanted to. Thus, he was actually prepared to compromise some of his concepts when he started working on the game — all the more reason he was so surprised when Yamagami told him what he did. Takahashi gladly took Yamagami’s words to heart and dived enthusiastically into his work. He even did some of the testing himself despite the fact that he, as the leader, was supposed to be more of a “background presence”.
Thanks to this new level of determination, the game’s contents skyrocketed. As we already know, special care was taken with the visuals, and one of the creators’ proudest points with Xenoblade was that you can go anywhere you see. Over and above that, the characters’ appearance and movement speed changed as different pieces equipment sported different appearances or weight. Also, time flowed in this game, and depending on the time of day, different monsters would appear.
The game’s battle system is seamless, meaning that there’s no transition between traveling over the map and battles. The decision to do this, as Kojima, the developer in charge of the battle system, says, was because it wasn’t possible to integrate a turn-based system into this game, yet still make everything feel as immersive and fluid as they wanted. There was also a “future vision” system embedded into both story events and battles where you could see what would happen just a little into the future. This vision automatically activates and usually occurs when the enemy is preparing for an extremely damaging attack. After the quick flash, the battle continues as usual. However, with your new knowledge, you could guard, dodge, or perhaps even somehow spin the enemy around with your party members’ help to avoid the strike.
As for the scenario, not only did the team aim to make a solid story with well-rounded characters, they concentrated on conveying their desired emotions. It would appear they succeeded; Yamagami stated that whenever he got to a certain point, he’d always start yelling enthusiastically (angrily) at the screen, and, according to Kojima, one of the debug staff would always cry at the exact same spot no matter how many times they played through it. (Also according to Kojima, that person had ended up in tears about ten times by the time the game was completed.)
The staff also urged the players to play the game at least twice, since there is a lot of clear data that isn’t available through the first playthrough. Some of the bonus material are more story events and new battles and quests.