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Tetsuya Takahashi is a role-playing game legend, so picking his brain is a huge treat.
I had just that chance during last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, where I got to talk to the man behind the Monolith Soft studio about his upcoming Wii U role-playing game, Xenoblade Chronicles X.
During our interview via a translator, I asked Takahashi about expectations, building a game for two audiences, and the legacy of the Xeno series.
GamesBeat: Xenoblade Chronicles X is already out in Japan. Are you anxious to get it out in North America?
Takahashi: Yeah, although there’s still quite a lot left for us to do. We’ve announced a release date and everything, but all we can see is a looming deadline.
GamesBeat: This is more of a spiritual successor to the last game. Is that deliberate? Xenoblade Chronicles was more of a fantasy, whereas this one is about refugees from Earth specifically. Did you deliberately want to ground the story closer to reality?
Takahashi: The simplest answer, probably, is that I felt like, after working on a fantasy setting, it might be nice to try something new. Science fiction is a great change of pace. It’s a really interesting flavor.
GamesBeat: What’s the biggest challenge in bringing an RPG franchise to high-definition for the first time?
Takahashi: Probably the biggest challenge for us comes in the planning stage, where we have to think about how we’re going to use these limited resources — I’m talking mostly about time on the schedule — to create all the assets in such a huge world. What order do we need to take tasks in to accomplish them all in the most efficient way? There’s a lot of tech that goes into expressing the open world concept as well, making sure that it’s a seamless experience from one end to the other. That’s probably the biggest challenge.
GamesBeat: With Xenoblade Chronicles, it took a lot of time and petitioning from fans to get that game to North America. How does it feel to see Xenoblade Chronicles X be pushed by Nintendo right away as a big title?
Takahashi: We’re happy that we’re having the releases so close together between the Japanese, European, and American version. It makes it all a much simpler process for us.
GamesBeat: For a time it seemed like Japanese RPGs were making a lot of breaks with tradition. Now we have games like Xenoblade and others that are going back in a traditional direction. Do you think the future of Japanese RPGs is more tied to the past, or are you looking more toward the future?
Takahashi: I do have to say that you don’t always want to do the same thing every time. People get tired of playing the exact same experience. You should treat every new development project as a new challenge. But to answer your question more specifically, I do enjoy many of the elements you find in this Japanese style of game-making, but I want to make sure that it’s accessible to a wider audience as well.
GamesBeat: With Zelda moving into next year, it seems like Xenoblade Chronicles X is a tentpole release for the Wii U this holiday. Does that add any more pressure for you?
Takahashi: To be honest, I don’t feel much pressure in this situation. Maybe it’s just one of my idiosyncrasies, but as soon as I’ve finished a development project, all I can think about is the next one.
GamesBeat: Are you already working on your next game?
Takahashi: Yes, that’s always the case, every time.
GamesBeat: A lot of the Xeno games aren’t tied to each other directly, but do they have an overarching theme, going back to Xenosaga and Xenogears?
Takahashi: The theme is actually a little bit different every time. I don’t think there’s necessarily a thematic link between each game. Rather, I think of what sort of game I want to make, what sort of challenge I want to take on. There are links between each game, but they’re not quite that clear.
GamesBeat: Is it almost more like a director’s signature? All your RPGs have a “Xeno” on them.
Takahashi: Yes, that’s right.
GamesBeat: We’ve had Shulk in Smash Bros. That must be a neat thing to see. Now we know Nintendo is doing downloadable content for Smash Bros. Would you like to see Xenoblade Chronicles X characters in Smash as well?
Takahashi: I’m not entirely sure, but you could always ask Mr. Sakurai about that. [laughs]