Zanki Zero: Last Beginning was the latest game from some of the people behind the Danganrona series, and it offered people a different way to try and survive while also seeing how people connect to one another. Because you get to play as almost every main character and see how they connect to one another, it could make people feel really close to the cast. Siliconera recently spoke with Zanki Zero Creative Director Takayuki Sugawara about what went into the game and making characters distinct.
Siliconera: How and when did you first come up with the concept for Zanki Zero?
Takayuki Sugawara: I’ve always wanted to make a survival-themed 3D dungeon RPG set in the modern world, and I’d been thinking up ideas since the development of Danganronpa 1. At first, the world’s setting and story were an afterthought for me, and I had a rather simple dungeon RPG in mind, where the main goals were to enjoy exploration, combat, and growth.
But as I was working on the plot, I became inspired by other titles with survival themes, like the American drama LOST. It made me realize that the game would be more interesting with a plot full of mystery and human drama, so I changed my strategy. This was when I came up with the idea of incorporating human clones.
Since the game has a survival theme, the game design naturally focused on facing death head on, through elements such as hunger and injury. And with death looming around every corner, it creates a need to strategize for survival.
But in many RPGs, a character’s death is a source of stress for the player, and there’s no reward in the death itself. I thought about how we could provide a sort of reward system in the game for dying, and that’s how I came up with the concept of clones adapting through death.
I thought that whether you’re good or bad at video games, a game designed with the constant threat of death could still be enjoyable by implementing a system in which the characters can use death to their advantage and become stronger by dying.
I believe the concept of a survival RPG featuring human clones and a plot that makes you want to know what happens next while tying in that concept of dying is a major draw of Zanki Zero.
What made you decide to showcase the characters’ more human struggles in each chapter and how did this allow you to better showcase individual stories?
Sugawara: There are two major reasons as to why I decided to have the chapters feature different characters’ points of view.
One reason is that I believe all eight characters are the “main protagonist,” and I wanted them all to be engaging for the players.
The other reason is that, in Zanki Zero, I wanted to feature “adult” characters rather than boys and girls who were completely unified in their thoughts and actions. The characters don’t always say what they’re thinking, and their thoughts are often different than what they show outwardly, just like adults in the real world. This could be for many reasons, like putting on a brave front so as not to worry others, or not wanting to show weakness.
By showing the story through differing viewpoints, the player is able to look into what’s going on deep beneath the surface. I believe this is an interesting way for the player to get to know the natures and personalities of the characters in Zanki Zero.
Characters in Zanki Zero have different moralities and natures. What efforts did you take to ensure characters who were more chaotic or perhaps villainous would still be sympathetic and approachable?
Sugawara: When conceptualizing the characters in Zanki Zero, I wanted them to be adults that you could run into in the real world. I suppose what I mean by that is, I wanted them to have values similar to those of adults who live today. I thought about making the main characters over the top at first, but that would mean their principles would need to be over the top as well. I thought that if I went that route, it would be harder for the target audience of people in their twenties to find it believable that these characters could exist in the real world. But at the same time, a character without quirks would end up being rather bland, so I was very conscious about balancing out their eccentricities and sense of values.
As well, many of the characters’ pasts were depicted in a way similar to Japanese daytime soap operas, which feature stories of love, hate, and family issues. This is because I thought issues that can occur in the real world, or issues that occur because we live in this world, would allow players to relate to the characters more.
But despite immoral events that may have taken place in their pasts, they are the products of terrible situations, so none of them are evil at heart. They have innocent souls.
Because of this, I believe each of the characters have a charm to them that makes you want to utilize them in your party.
How did Zanki Zero’s relationship elements evolve from Danganronpa’s and what made you decide to offer more in-depth interactions?
Sugawara: One big difference is that in Danganronpa, there were events for pairings between the main character and the rest of the cast, while in Zanki Zero there are events for every pairing between any of the main characters.
The reason we created bonding events for all the possible combinations is because, as I mentioned earlier, the title was created with the idea that each of the eight characters are all the “main protagonist” and we wanted the players to enjoy the various pairings in the game. Though, the bond levels aren’t just a parameter for viewing events. There are also elements that affect the RPG side as well, like deeper bonds making combination attacks stronger. This is because one of Zanki Zero’s main themes is that no one can continue living all alone, so familial and friendly bonds are very important.
As for the bedtime events… Well, they’re all adults, and I thought they would naturally cuddle with each other as their bonds deepen. (laughs)
They just take off their clothes because it gets hot!
Do you have any favorite pairings in Zanki Zero?
Sugawara: There’s something to like about every pairing, so it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to choose, I think it would be Yuma and Zen, because their bunking effect is very useful. [laughs]
There are a lot of different Shigabane people can earn from the varying designs of dying, and each have methods specific to them. How did you come up with some of these unique deaths?
Sugawara: Since the early planning stages, I thought it would be fun to have different causes of death even for the most trivial things so people can enjoy the special element of “finding ways to die.” “Death by Tripping” is an example of one of the rather anticlimactic causes of death. However, many of them were actually ideas from the developers, a studio called Lancarse. Just like “Died at a Dead End,” some ideas only came about because Lancarse had such an intricate understanding of the game system. Creating the sticker-like illustrations for each Shigabane was also an idea from Lancarse. Thanks to those images, it gives players another incentive to collect all the Shigabane.
Zanki Zero has a number of difficulty options that can essentially change gameplay to something similar to a straightforward adventure game. Why did you decide to add such a variety of difficulty options, and how much did player feedback influence them?
Sugawara: We created the difficulty levels with the expectation that players would change the settings freely from the beginning. It was designed so players could think, “I’ll raise the difficulty to earn more SCORE Points,” or, “I’ll lower the difficulty since I’m entering these ruins for the first time.”
Of course, we do have a “recommended” setting as well, so playing it all the way through with that setting is always an option. But we didn’t want players to feel restricted to this play style, so we didn’t create any trophies that can be earned for playing a high difficulty level all the way through.
The “Difficulty I” setting, which makes the gameplay more like an adventure game, was added when we created the North American version. This is because once the game was released in Japan, we had many users saying they couldn’t clear it using the original Difficulty I setting, and they just wanted to experience the story.
The gameplay is rather integral to the story of this title, so we did wonder if it was really okay to make it so easy to beat, but [Yoshinori] Terasawa’s view was that “Offering an easy difficulty isn’t going to make the experience worse for the players,” so we decided to go through with the change.
However, by changing Difficulty I, the difference between Difficulty I and Difficulty II became much wider, so next time, I would like to prepare something like an Adventure Game Mode instead of changing Difficulty I.
Where would you like to see the Zanki Zero series go from here?
Sugawara: Based on all the feedback we’ve been getting from our players, I would like to create a sequel to Zanki Zero some day. But rather than a direct continuation of the story, I believe it should be a new story that inherits elements from the original title, like its setting and game mechanics.
Of course, we still don’t know whether we will be making a sequel at this point, but…I do hope more people purchase this one!
Whether I end up working on a sequel or another project, I’m always striving to take on new challenges.
I will try my best to continue bringing you games that are enjoyable and unprecedented.
Zanki Zero: Last Beginning is available for the PlayStation 4 and PC.