LOS ANGELES — An unlikely collaboration is still coming together.
Though the Atlus and Nintendo announced their collaboration Genei Ibun Roku (Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem) last year, details on how the two companies would mix the two popular role-playing franchises were scarce until recently, leaving fans of both Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei and Nintendo’s Fire Emblem franchise wanting.
In an interview during the Electronic Entertainment Expo yesterday, Atlus producer Shinjiro Takata and Nintendo producer Hitoshi Yamagami revealed that the time since the initial announcement was spent figuring out just how this collaboration would come together.
GamesBeat: Has it been fun to see, especially early on, how much speculation there was, and how much of it was potentially wrong?
Shinjiro Takata: Everybody is pretty much off the mark with what they’ve thought about this game, but one thing that people got wrong the most in Japan—at the end of the first trailer we announced, there was a line that said—people who are fans of Japanese voice actors knew the voice of Yuichi Nakamura. He generally voices main characters, so they were saying, oh, Nakamura’s going to voice the main character. Actually, he voices someone completely different. They were off the mark there.
GamesBeat: I was blown away by the initial announcement, because it was literally nothing — just a tease of what could be. Since then, everyone’s been trying to figure out how this game comes together. I’d bet you had a similar issue internally. How did this come together? What was it like trying to put major franchises like this into a single coherent production?
Shinjiro Takata: What happened was, in the process of making this game—the whole idea started when Mr. Hitoshi Yamagami, who is a producer at Nintendo, brought the idea of making a simulation, a strategy game, to Atlus. This was a problem, because Atlus is well known for making JRPGs. That’s our bailiwick. The next thing was, well, what do we do? Do we make it fantasy-based, because Fire Emblem is known for fantasy settings? That kind of fantasy game isn’t really what Atlus tends to put out, though. In the beginning phases of making this game, we really didn’t know which direction to push it in. Do we push it closer to Fire Emblem or to the modern setting of Shin Megami Tensei?
GamesBeat: How long did it take to get to a point where that decision was solidified and production went forward?
Shinjiro: Deciding what to make it closer to, that happened a bit after Mr. Yamagami brought us the idea. The problem is, if you make it too much like a Fire Emblem game, then why doesn’t Intelligent Systems just make it themselves? The goal for this was to do something that the Fire Emblem series can’t do. In the end, the reason the game looks the way it does, the reason the content is the way it is, is because this is something we wanted to do as an Atlus game, a game only Atlus could make.
GamesBeat: That decision came directly from playing with how the story would go? Or was it decided from the beginning that regardless, Atlus was going to take charge?
Shinjiro: No, we hadn’t done anything with the story at that point. We were just talking about it after Mr. Yamagami brought us the idea. That’s the conclusion we reached on Atlus’s side.
GamesBeat: Fans will be interested to know about the particulars of how the conversation came about. You said Mr. Yamagami put it forth. Where was that? How did the connection happen initially?
Shinjiro: I’m not too sure, since this all happened a long time ago. But the way it all started, Atlus was involved with Nintendo when we were making a Print Club app for the Nintendo DSi and the Nintendo 3DS. Then there was a conversation that started about whether Atlus might be in charge of making a new Fire Emblem game. It wasn’t anything serious at the time. I think we turned it down at first because we had too much on our plates.
GamesBeat: For fans of one or both series, the appeal is easy, but I wonder about someone who’s never played a game from either series. Is there anything that could get in the way of their enjoyment? Was that considered at all in your approach?
Shinjiro: This game was made as an entirely new IP. It may use some bits of the Fire Emblem series as motifs, but there are no demons or anything like you’d see from Shin Megami Tensei. If you know both series, you’ll notice some things and think that they’re very interesting, but we made this so that any player who’s new to the game won’t need any information beforehand to appreciate it.
GamesBeat: The visibility of Fire Emblem in particular was helped by the release of the last game in the series. It did well here in the West. I know a lot of people who’d never picked up a Fire Emblem tried the last one after word of mouth got out. I wonder if any considerations were made, maybe even a nod toward the new western popularity and acceptance of the Fire Emblem franchise.
Shinjiro: I’ve heard that the number of Atlus fans in the U.S. has been growing lately. Because of that, the idea behind making this game is that we’ll make it as if we’re making any other Atlus RPG. We’ll do it just as we’ve done before. As far as the popularity of Awakening and how it’s affected the popularity of the series in the west, we didn’t really have that in mind when we worked on this game.
GamesBeat: The previous trailers showed very small teases of battle systems or other aspects of gameplay. Was that intentional? It got a lot of people talking, to the point where we saw frame-by-frame analysis of the trailers. It was fun to look into and explore.
Shinjiro: We weren’t paying too much attention to the response to the first trailer, but we did check out some of the Japanese YouTube comments. People were making some really strange predictions. A few of them got pretty close, though. We put a lot of Easter eggs in the trailer for people who were looking hard. You’ll see that some of the posters have tikis in them and stuff like that. On 2channel, the Japanese message board, they were looking at that and doing all kinds of analysis. It was fun to watch that.
GamesBeat: So you were playing with the fans a little?
Shinjiro: We’ve put together such a big project here that we’d like fans to look in every corner. They’ll be able to see lots of different things. There’s one thing I forgot to talk about when we were discussing the way the game came about, by the way, talking about whether to make it more like Fire Emblem or Shin Megami Tensei. We were talking about different systems and had to drop certain things as far as the scenario was concerned. One thing we were worried about at first in the scenario was, how would we treat the way the Fire Emblem characters work? What we finally ended up with was a role that is very similar to how the demons are used in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
But we were wondering — should we make them into humans that can become friends with the main characters? That was one thing that changed throughout development. We were able to figure out throughout the scenario that we were going to make the Fire Emblem characters into demon-like figures, like the demons in Shin Megami Tensei. They would serve as heroes that helped your main characters in battle situations. However, one thing we were worried about was how the battle system would work here. Initially we thought it would be closer to a simulation-type game, where there would be different lanes and you controlled different characters. But in the end we made it look more like a traditional RPG. I think that’s the right decision, but we were really worried.
GamesBeat: I’m guessing that a lot of approaches must have been thrown out in the process, given how hard it is to fit some things that are so different together – not only making them work, but also making fans happy.
Shinjiro: While we were worrying about all these things, Mr. Yamagami came in and said, you should make the games that you guys are known for making. Do it the way you want to make it. While we were worrying about what we’d do with the characters’ names, how we would represent the characters from the old series in this new game, basically we decided to go the simple route and make in the way that our company is known for.
Hitoshi Yamagami: When you make something new, if you’re trying to make something out of two different things, if you just choose what’s directly in between those two things, what you end up with is extremely strange. What I told him is, if you’re unsure what to do, just make you want to make. That’s why, if you look at parts of the game, there are lots of parts that really resemble the Fire Emblem series. If you look at other parts of the game, they resemble the Shin Megami Tensei series. But the game itself stands on its own as a new game.
GamesBeat: The very first showing, the announcement, was basically just character portraits. There was a lot of room to think about what could potentially happen. When the first true trailer debuted, it was a surprise for a lot of people, because they just had these preconceived notions of how these two things would come together. Some people said, this is not at all what I expected. That speaks to some of the struggle you had, perhaps?
Shinjiro: When we showed that first trailer, just the Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei character portraits, that was basically two months after we decided, between the two companies, to make this new game. We weren’t too certain of where we would take the direction of the game at that point. We just wanted to say that this collaboration was coming.
GamesBeat: Was there ever any concern that one franchise would take a backseat to another in the way it’s come together, with Atlus having full rein over how the game looks and plays?
Shinjiro: That’s probably not going to be the case. We took the essence of Fire Emblem and tried to put it into a Shin Megami Tensei style of game, but it’s not as if one series is stressed over another.
Yamagami: When we thought about making this game, we thought, what would Fire Emblem look like in modern times? If we set the Fire Emblem series in modern times, it would be this game. This game contains elements of Shin Megami Tensei and elements of Fire Emblem that are mixed in, but really this game is being made for someone who’s new to both series to jump in and play as its own thing. While fans of either series will be able to jump in and say, oh, this is from Fire Emblem, that’s from Shin Megami Tensei, really the mix of that creates something that someone entirely new will be able to enjoy.
GamesBeat: Were there any efforts put in to really support this as a gateway, something that can bring new players to either or both franchises?
Shinjiro: In my opinion, this game is a Shin Megami Tensei-type of game. It’s a game that Atlus would make. People will inevitably be drawn to other Atlus games if they enjoy this game. Fire Emblem is a little bit different, because it’s a simulation game. It has players working with a tile set and things like that. While it’s true that they may go to play other Atlus games, I’m not so sure about the Fire Emblem aspect. We didn’t think too much about that when we were making this game.
Yamagami: What’s probably the case is that there’s a lot about the Fire Emblem series that Atlus fans would like as well. Once the two games come together, there’s something that Atlus fans will find here to like about Fire Emblem. They’ll be drawn to that. Although I said before that the Fire Emblem system of combat is a little different, I’m not bothered by the fact that the method of play for one game was a different before. I think that there’s a good chance someone who’s a fan of this game will drift over to the Fire Emblem series and try that as well.
GamesBeat: As a fan of the music from both companies, I’m curious about how the music is coming together. Who is handling the soundtrack?
Takata: The background music is being handled by Mr. Fujisawa. He’s famous as the composer from Love Live. But the music you heard from the first trailer, the singing, and a lot of other songs with voice in them, that’s being handled by a Japanese record company called Avex. We’ve gotten them to handle music for us. We’ve asked a famous producer who deals with a lot of Japanese artists to write the songs.