Speaking with Nintendo president Satoru Iwata in an “Iwata Asks” interview, Tetsuya Takahashi, executive director of the Xenoblade series, talks about the development of Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii, and what Monolith Soft’s goals for the game were. The first goal, Takahashi says, was to develop a “masterpiece” JRPG that balanced story and gameplay, instead of ignoring one for the other.
“To give a brief outline of the structure of JRPG, first you have the story as the y-axis, and the game system and game play as the x-axis, and it’s really important to keep those two things balanced,” Takahashi says. He goes on to share that he feels a lot of JRPGs—including some of his own—make the mistake of focusing a little too much on the story aspect and ignoring the gameplay aspect, to their detriment.
“So the first thing I did when I was making Xenoblade Chronicles was to use my experiences to decide what a good balance was for the x-axis and y-axis, and structure it that way,” he says to Iwata.
Takahashi then reveals the other goal Monolith Soft had in mind when they designed Xenoblade Chronicles—to boost morale after the poor reception Xenosaga received.
“We began Monolith Soft in 1999, with funding from Namco before they became Bandai Namco. The first game we made was Xenosaga, but because we were developing it while we were building the organization, we didn’t have enough people,” Takahashi recalls. “The programmers and the planners were all rookies. At the time, the director of Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X, [Koh] Kojima, had just joined the company right after graduating college.”
He continues, “And, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but the graphics engine was only completed six months before the development deadline. That’s the schedule we were on. So—and this is a bit of an excuse—but at the time, I felt that because no one on the team making Xenosaga had any experience, it might be a little too difficult for us to make our ideal game yet.”
“We released three games in the Xenosaga series, but they weren’t very well received,” Takahashi admits. “It was really mortifying. All of the young team members felt that way, not just the leaders. So we all decided, ‘Next time we need to make a game that players will enjoy.’ So that made the atmosphere during the Xenoblade Chronicles development very different compared to other games.”
Developing Xenoblade Chronicles involved “burning bridges” with Monolith Soft’s past habits in some sense, Takahashi says. (More can be read about this subject in the original Iwata Asks interview for the game.) Iwata pitches in with his own thoughts on the matter in response, stating that Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii failed to live up to user expectations in a similar manner to Xenosaga, and that this motivated the development team to create Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Splatoon.