In a world where you must expand your portfolio into various genres or face obscurity, tri-Ace is one of the few developers that remains solely an RPG developer. And what's refreshing to note when speaking with the team behind Star Ocean and Valkyrie Profile is just how forward-thinking they are.
While the world worries about whether Japanese creativity will be stifled by the ever-sobering realisation that games must attract a worldwide audience, tri-Ace takes the future in its stride. The results can be seen in its upcoming RPG with SEGA, Resonance of Fate
– visually, it's quite unlike your traditional strategy turn-based affair, but under the hood comes a myriad of options and features that feel closer to home for the classic JRPG player.
SPOnG spoke to Resonance of Fate
's director at tri-Ace, Takayuki Suguro, to discuss the game's unique art style compared to other Japanese RPGs, and whether the traditional JRPG is on its way out in favour of an approach that favours the Western market.
How does Resonance of Fate
differ to that of your past RPG titles in terms of how you tackled development?
Our previous titles, like Star Ocean
, had a heavy focus on action gameplay. It does look like we're going down the same path with Resonance of Fate
, but despite its presentation it is in fact a very strategic title. I would say the difference between action and strategy would be the biggest difference.
But we also didn't want it to be simply one or the other – just action, or just strategy. We wanted to emphasise the strategy, but the game is built so that it would beneficial to action and strategy players. My hope is that even the experienced strategy gamer will want to go out of their comfort zone and explore the action side of things too.
In terms of the game world, what sort of inspirations were there for the clockwork city and the art style for Resonance of Fate
In terms of visuals, we could have gone in one of two directions; the Sci-Fi look or the Steampunk look. We decided against the Sci-Fi style because with that sort of setting, you have to look very far into the future in terms of story and design, and I don't feel that really allows for a sense of reality and imminence of the world around the characters.
Also, a Sci-Fi theme conjures up images of computers and lasers, and that style's been used in an awful lot of games. So in going for the gears and rustic metal setting, we managed to add a uniqueness to the visuals that I hope will make it stand out and tell an interesting story.
I noticed that the game seemed to be influenced by Steampunk designs, but I also got a bit of a Western vibe out of it. Carrying on the inspirations theme, were there any specific things that gave you some influence, like John Wayne films perhaps?
With the guns and holsters, right? Well, we wanted to achieve this very cinematic style of action, so classic RPG weapons like magic and swords – particularly swords – would have made this difficult to achieve. It's kind of hard to get the close-up cinematic shots that we wanted out of that. So that's really the reason why you use pistols, machineguns and grenades as main weapons in this game. It's not like we particularly used them to target a Western audience or anything.
This is the first time tri-Ace has partnered with SEGA to make an RPG of this calibre; what are the differences in working with SEGA as opposed to past publishers such as Square-Enix?
So... (laughs) Well, they're both very good publishers, I wouldn't say one is better than the other (laughs)! But I'd say SEGA is... more willing to take risks with new titles, and to that end we have a bit more freedom in that sense, than if we were doing a sequel to a well-established RPG. It's easier for SEGA to accept these changes to gameplay and new ideas than Square-Enix.
Ultimately, the reason we went with SEGA for Resonance of Fate
isn't because we wish to compare with other publishers. It's more because all of our RPGs with Square-Enix have been sequels, and that's what we are expected to create, so it makes it difficult to introduce new IP in that environment.
With Square-Enix, we work on instalments to established franchises. That immediately puts us into a set way of working, a set way of designing and creating gameplay mechanics. And to be fair, that's what the audience wants – when something popular comes out, players always want and expect the sequels to come out and don't expect completely different gameplay. So this is not really a detriment to our work ethic at Square-Enix.
SEGA in particular was looking for a new IP, and it is always eager to try new things, and from us it needed a rather different and edgy kind of game. That's probably the best explanation as to why Resonance of Fate
has so many new and different features.
There have been recent comments from the Square-Enix president, Yoichi Wada, that suggested that publisher won't be making another game quite like Final Fantasy XIII
anymore – and that is kind of a representation of what we would consider a traditional JRPG. Square Enix is clearly looking more towards the West these days – is that your aim with Resonance of Fate
too? The game appears to be innovating a lot more than other JRPGs right now – do you think that it will captivate a more Western audience as well?
In Japan, the traditional RPG – with the commands list and turn-based gameplay – does still have a very strong fanbase. There continues to be a heavy demand for that kind of adventure game, and I think the reason it's not as popular in the West is because players in Europe and America don't see that genre as a tradition like Japanese players.
For Westerners, players might see JRPGs as old-fashioned and not engaging enough for them, compared to the games they are used to. It's a different sort of desire for each market that needs to be satisfied.
Also, taking into account that developing for a current-generation console costs a lot of time and money, it's only natural that Japanese studios start to think about the worldwide market to recoup those costs, instead of focusing solely on the local audience. In that sense, it's clear to see why and how a lot of developers appear to be making games that look to attract a more Western audience.
With Resonance of Fate
, we have tried to cross that balance by providing some action and a unique art style while still including all of the strategy elements you may find in a Japanese title. So there are ways around that issue of trying to please everyone.
With those pressures of needing to please a Western market, is it limiting Japanese developers with what they want to do in a game?
It's not like Japanese developers should look to develop Western games or Western-oriented games in order to be successful. They just need to try something new. Despite what I said before about there being a large tradition with classic Japanese RPGs, there is a growing number – albeit small right now – of Japanese gamers who are quite tired of the traditional game structure.
This means that, disregarding the West for a second, we're in a phase that Japanese studios have to try and think of new ideas to even capture its local audience. This might be why a lot of studios are changing their style and all of a sudden trying bold new things with their games. It's almost too liberating in a way, that sense of trying something new, because there is the danger that people won't like it.
So I think Japanese developers are simply trying to reach a situation where they can try something new, rather than style their games in any particular way. I would like Resonance of Fate
to be the first game to set this new approach from Japanese developers. We should be looking to make games that is fun for everyone, rather than fun for just one particular market.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much.