Dragons! We all like the odd dragon now and then. Whether it's behind the bike sheds during lunch break or camped down at the bottom of the garden by torch-light, there's nothing quite like whipping out an eighty foot scaled reptile that breathes fire and showing it off to your mates. No wonder Square-Enix's Drakengard aims to combine our favourite scaly beasts and the developer's noted story-telling skills. In the following Q&A session, producer Takamasa Shiba, movie director Kazuya Sasahara, monster designer Taro Hasegawa, character designers Kimihiko Fujisaka, director Taro Yokoo, line director Takuya Iwasaki, art director Akira Yasui and lead programmer Masatoshi Furubayashi get together to try and establish why Drakengard (due to be published in Europe by Take-Two Interactive later this year) is that much hotter than other dragon related titles, touching on everything from the quality of the PAL conversion to the name change to how it plays. Enjoy, and thanks to Take-Two for providing the transcript...
The strongest mode? In Drakengard, what I believe is that they all balance out. All three modes merge into one very interesting game. So one could argue that the overall effect is like an orchestra, where a cello or a violin don't exist individually, they merge into one harmony. It's about 20 years since videogames first emerged and here we are with PlayStation 2. Videogames are becoming more and more difficult to put into genres so what I thought was that we'd attempt to make a game that was simply fun to play. A game that has lots of different features - not just a different action game or a different RPG game - but something that was ultimately fun.
It is considered an action RPG, but the emphasis is definitely more on the action side. The player likes to have more storyline and plot so we made it so that the stories diverge to ensure that that RPG element was in there. There are five different endings to the game and there are diverging points throughout the story arc that players can explore. One good point is that because this is an action/RPG the player knows why he is fighting and why he is entering into this battle. There is a strong background to this game.
In a more traditional action game, it's unlikely that the player will know why he has to go after one big mushroom, say, but here with Drakengard, the motivation is explained clearly for the player. Despite the fact that the game is weighted more on the action side, the player is given a plot to lead him through the action.
There's this game called Dynasty Warriors that's been selling well over here [general laughter]. It's a game that has a similar cinematic appeal to the Final Fantasy series, which also sells well. So I think that Drakengard benefited from this combination of game styles and also in the fact that there's certain, obvious irony involved in the way Drakengard takes the Dynasty Warriors idea and expands it.
Yes, there haven't been many games where the central character can become a dragon knight as well as fighting against hordes of enemies on the ground.
There are two things which attract Japanese players especially. The dragon's strength and the ability to call upon his ferocious attacks, plus the second reason why we believe the game was so favoured by the Japanese gamers is the fact that we've tried to create a compelling story. There's also the issue of the storyline dealing with taboos. The focus on the sin of killing and how this affects the personality of Caim.
One satisfying point was the freedom we had when creating the monster types. We actually ended up with many more monsters than we originally planned to have. I would have loved to place more gigantic monsters on the battlefield, but I wasn't able to do this time round.
I also enjoyed the challenge of bringing so many monsters to the screen at once as well as making all the battlefields feel really sizable, expansive. It's good that we were able to illustrate the vision that the director, Yokoo-san, had in his mind.
There are a lot of goody-goody heroes in action titles at the moment. I've always found it difficult to believe that these kind of heroes would be comfortable going around and killing people. In the case of Drakengard I think - by having monsters as antagonists - that we've created a convincing foe for Caim to fight against.
One thing that we weren't able to do was have much more sinister central characters. Shiba-san suggested that we not make them as dark, so that's how they ended up.
We were able to bring in 3D computer technology from Japanese animation and, as a result, we've ended up with some really high quality movies.
As for disappointments... We weren't able to do the background in the kind of detail that I'd envisaged and the number of soldiers that appear on screen means that I wasn't happy with the way their feet fall onto the ground.
I'm pretty much satisfied with what we achieved. It's the first title that I had a chance to explore character design within. I think it's good that we ended up with such a high number of sales in Japan. I makes me hopeful as far as overseas sales are concerned.
Ridge Racer numbers one to four.
I was involved with the Ace Combat series.
Um... Alpine Racer 2 in the arcades.
Just Drakengard so far. [laughs]
A Namco title called Seven.
The Biohazard [Resident Evil] series and Dino Crisis 2.
Valkyrie Profile, a previous Square-Enix game.
Because I'm a Japanese creator, I'm not sure how the game will be received in Europe. I feel that the European market has more culture and, as such, is very different from the United States. More historic background if you see what I mean. So I think that the game will suit a European market.
I'm looking forward to the fact that we've used medieval Europe as a motif for Drakengard and how the European market reacts to this.
I'm really happy we've managed to debug the game a lot before it reaches Europe. We're hoping this will be the final version of the game and I hope that sells well.
I'm personally a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons and other table-top games and we've used these as an influence for the environments and monsters within Drakengard. So I'm looking forward to seeing what the reaction will be from European gamers.
We've been creating the game with the overseas market in mind right from the beginning. I think, as well as the obvious motif of medieval Europe, you pick up on the Japanese colours that are also in there and enjoy the way the game looks and plays.
I have created lots of brutal movie scenes, so I hope people will enjoy them.
We have launched the developmental company Cavia for the creation of Drakengard. Each member of staff has interesting characteristics and we hope some of that individuality has appeared in the game. I think the move to Cavia has allowed all of them to become more free creatively putting out more of their individual colours and causing a greater appeal to Japanese otaku culture. We're hoping that this cult-driven aspect will also find fans in the European market.
[General laughter] The camera angles are different between the previous versions and the PAL version. The camera hangs back further from Caim so that the player can easily manoeuvre the player through the world. Also, there are less bugs in the European version.
Compared with the US and Japanese version this shift in camera angle has resulted in what we consider a better quality perspective on the action rather than just a 'different' view point.
I think the game inherently possesses a European taste because of the D&D influence and the use of medieval culture as a motif within it.
The game sold well in the Japanese market, it went to number one over here. So if the US and European versions sell well we always hoped that there would be an opportunity to create a sequel to the game. If we were to create a sequel, we would also like to surprise the player and create something unexpected.
This time the game will support a full PAL conversion. So there'll be no problem there.
Besides Caim there are three other characters that the player can fight with. There's Seree - a young boy, Leonard - a blind warrior, Arioch - a widow. You don't actually have to play all these characters, they're just support characters. Using them, though, gives a further strategic level to the way the game unfolds. Do this, and you'll find it much easier to complete the game.
Only Caim can ride the dragon. The other three characters have also made a pact with other mythical creatures which they can use as a form of magic to support them.
It was extremely difficult to get the program running on PS2. As we've said previously, the multiple view points of the battlefield were very difficult to perfect. Switching between the two perspectives on a single map was the hardest hurdle we had to face in development.
For reference materials, we used the web - the wonderful web. Personally, I lived for several months in Europe - France, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Italy. I wasn't developing games at the time, I was just a student [general laughter]. One of the most powerful influences on the way the game looks is my love for Europe and especially European rock music - Queen, Halloween and Deep Purple.
We'll leave that up to you guys.
Yep. Lots. [General laughter.] But the were also influences from The Mummy and The Scorpion King. Anything with large epic battle scenes.
When we started out the team were enclosed in one section of the office were we sat down and watched a pile of DVDs. So there were also influences from Gladiator, Dragonheart and many other epic Asian films.
We only chose the Japanese title - Drag-on Dragoon - for its sound. There's no actual meaning buried within the change for the US/UK market, it was just a better sounding title.
Each weapon will level up to level four. As they increase in power their physical appearance also alters as does the range and power of their magical attacks.
Despite the fact that there 90 missions to play through, you do not have to play every single one. The are two modes in the game; Free Expedition and Story. As for the diversion points, they are not driven by moral choices. It's more a result of how well you've done previously. How many missions you have completed or the time it has taken you to complete these missions.
I would like to add that the divergences in plot come about as a result of moral decisions that the central character Caim has to face. In total there are five different endings to the game. To see all five the player will have to satisfy a lot of different criteria, like meeting all three support characters, levelling up and acquiring all the weapons in the game.
We don't want to give too much away but the final ending is one of our favourites. To give you a hint, the player who has experienced the medieval era will then experience something beyond his imagination. That's all that we can say.
When you're playing an RPG, there are times when a player has to do something over and over again in order to achieve a goal - like the levelling up of weapons. We think we've balanced this repetition with a constantly evolving action portion of the game that should keep things stimulating. Sometimes, in RPGs, defeating a boss is a weapon-specific event. In Drakengard, this isn't the case. Some weapons may help you more than others, but you can kill any boss with any weapon. It's all part of our idea that we weren't out to create an Action/RPG, just a game that is fun to play.
It was very hard to make any precise decisions about the way the game came together. The way we achieved this was to utilise a vast bank of testers. If they thought one element was too difficult, we'd lower the difficulty in one area but then increase it in another.
I think that Furubayashi-san's work on the Ridge Racer series resulted in the balance you get between difficulty and ease of play. We actually did a survey once the game launched in Japan and the results were 70 per cent thought it was well balanced, 29 per cent too difficult and just 1 per cent too easy.
When developing any action game there's always conflict between the plot and the forces of action. Basically, we always started with the plot, but weren't afraid to alter it at any point if it was felt the action side of the game required such a change.
Everyone would come together and we'd throw ideas about. The best would get worked up into storyboards.
We wanted to keep that ancient motif running throughout the game, but we also wanted to create something truly fantastical. As such, I imagined that I was working within that period as modern Japanese stylist sent back in time.
For example, Caim's armour is almost the result of giving an ancient piece of armour to a modern Japanese designer and seeing what they would come up with.
The team is made up of an unusual selection of strong characters. When you get otaku-minded people making a game the result is something that appeals to the sub-culture parts of ourselves and otaku culture as well as having the power to draw in a mainstream audience.
No dragons, just nightmares about people continually asking me to work in more RPG elements. [General laughter.]
To get married [laughs]. If Drakengard is successful worldwide then, of course, we'd like to launch more titles in this genre - if genre is the right term to use. It always seems as though genre is a categorisation that other people create to pigeonhole something that naturally resists this. I don't think that our game easily fits into any genre. But, yes, the general feeling is that Drakengard could well develop into a series.