Famitsu interview with Kazumasa Habu and Katsuaki Tsuzuki on Digimon Survive

(Original title: “Digimon Survive‘s producers talk about what makes this new approach to the Digimon series so appealing”)

A translation of this Famitsu article from September 25, 2018, featuring an interview with producers Kazumasa “Habumon” Habu and Katsuaki Tsuzuki about the video game Digimon Survive.

The Digimon series has a wide range of outlets, from toys to anime to games. Digimon Survive, which is currently being developed for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 as a completely game independent from existing series, and involevs a different approach to the world and game system from previous games. We asked both of this game’s producers to share their intentions with this new approach to Digimon.

Kazumasa Habu
Chief producer, and in charge of production for a number of Digimon series games. Also the leader at the front of the production site for this game as well.

Katsuaki Tsuzuki
A producer who is participating for the first time in the Digimon series with this game. His main focus for this game is in providing his perspective as a younger person.

Nostalgia within the new? Reaching what makes this new approach to Digimon so appealing

–Please tell us about this game’s concept, as well as the details that led up to its creation and development.

Habu: Digimon games have recently been developed for two pillars, the Digimon Story and Digimon World series, but we decided to try launching a new series, and we wanted to try making a game that would capture the experience of Digimon evolving through emotional connection and growth of the heart, the way the anime depicted it.

Tsuzuki: In producing a new Digimon game, one of our goals was to try and make a game that would take a new and different approach from previous series. We thus came up with the visual novel portions for this game, which are easy to play casually and easy to understand, and so you can enjoy the story comfortably. Then, we built a battle portion on top of it, in the form of a simple and conventional strategy RPG. One of our concepts behind this game is that we want to express what’s appealing about Digimon by using familiar game systems.

–So instead of building tons of intricate specialized systems, you want to make the battle portions easy to understand?

Tsuzuki: That’s right. We’re thinking of making it a very orthodox system, without anything particularly elaborate about it. We want it to be easier for a large number of people to play.

Habu: Digimon’s main target audience is composed of 25 to 30-year-old gamers, and I think visual novels1 and SRPGs are both genres that they’re very familiar with and are attached to. Nowadays, they might be considered a bit old-fashioned, but on the other hand, they’re genres in which you can get a general grasp of the game without needing too much explanation, so we think it’ll make it easier for people to understand how the game works even though it’s a new series. Naturally, we’re also adding Digimon’s unique characteristics, like “evolution”, and we’d like to invoke what gives Digimon originality.

–What position does Survive have in relation to Digimon games overall?

Habu: We’re currently developing a new Digimon Story game with the PS4 as a base, but it’ll be a while before we finish development. Hardware specs have recently improved, and we want to have better worldwide support, so it’ll take a very long time to develop a single game. But in that case, next year and the year after it will end us up in a situation where nothing will be released at all. For the most part, people lose interest when there’s a long period without any content. So in order to prevent that from happening, we want to keep grabbing the fans’ attention by constantly putting out Digimon in games. So for now, we’d like to offer Digimon Survive as a new piece of media. Digimon became popular with the original LCD games, but they also gained popularity as anime characters when it began broadcasting on TV, and so once you put them all together, you have a large range of fans, from hardcore ones to casual ones. So we’ve created a brand-new take on a Digimon setting so that the fans who’ve been supporting Digimon this entire time, fans who haven’t been near Digimon in a long while, and even people who don’t know a single thing about it at all can enjoy it together. That way, I hope we can gather a wide range of fans and make this into another new series that can serve as a pillar.

–Digimon certainly is a long-running series with a wide range of fans. I imagine there must be quite a few people looking forward to it specifically because it’s a completely new work.

Tsuzuki: Right. But there are a lot of people among the casual demographic, or more accurately, people who watched the anime a long time ago as kids, who have since drifted far away from Digimon. Our current challenge is in how to bring those people back.

–Is the name “Survive” because the characters’ lives will be on the line?

Habu: Yes. This game will be focusing on a story of children who get lost in another world and go on an adventure to return to the real world. So we used the word “Survive” for the title because it communicates that concept clearly and is easy to understand.

–You’ve said that “choices” will be important in this game, so can you tell us how that’ll be involved in the story?

Habu: The visual novel portions have you move between different areas, talk to the characters there, and investigate things in order to gather information and advance the story. The story puts the main character in different situations, and the story will change depending on what choices you’ve made. Depending on your choices, you’ll see things that wouldn’t have been easily possible in the anime, such as characters dying. So for this game, you can experience the tense atmosphere of survival through the choice-based system.

–It’s surprising to hear that your choices could result in someone dying!

Tsuzuki: We wanted to try using the game medium to show things that would be difficult to do in children’s anime. If a human, especially a human child, wandered into a world full of dangerous monsters, it’s only natural that they’d probably get killed (laughs). Even in that respect, choices are very important in this game.

–Makes sense (laughs). Incidentally, are there multiple endings?

Tsuzuki: There won’t be a huge number of branches, but based on the accumulation of individual choices, the story will branch off in the middle. We’re currently thinking of having around three routes, and we’re also thinking that we’d like to add a bonus route.

–Will the choices also affect the battle portions as well?

Tsuzuki: Yes. For example, depending on the choices you make in the story, such as “prioritizing helping your friends” or “heading directly towards the enemy to defeat them”, we plan to have them affect factors such as who’s your enemy or ally, or what the victory conditons are.

–How will the monsters’ evolution be portrayed?

Habu: You evolve by consuming “energy” during battle. In previous games, evolution would basically mean that they would stay in that form for the most part. For this game, there’ll be an evolutionary management aspect that involves consuming energy to evolve and returning to their original form when that energy runs out, just like in the anime. So for example, if you have Agumon evolve during battle, he’ll still return to his Child form once the battle is over.

–Will your opponents also evolve?

Habu: For the most part, no. Some enemies will evolve during story events.

–Makes sense. Does energy have any effect besides in terms of evolution?

Tsuzuki: Besides just evolution, energy is also consumed when using special attacks. Also, in this game, you can see the opponent’s attribute value, so you can attack based on the enemy’s weak attribute, talk with friends and support members, and do different things in battle in order to restore energy. The key is in managing your energy and defeating your enemies with continued evolution. That aside, if you keep leveling up, you’ll be able to make your monster stronger even if you don’t evolve it to its final form, but that’s only for the express purpose of allowing for a replay factor.

Habu: The protagonist’s evolutions will occur at fixed time points in accordance with the story, and the evolutionary form will change depending on your choices in the story. Those forms will have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of enemy attributes, so choices will also have a big impact on that as well.

–So for example, even after evolving, will it be possible to de-evolve and then evolve into a different form?

Habu: Evolutionary routes will be unlocked depending on your accumulated choices, so I would say it’s technically possible. However, you won’t be able to unlock all of the evolutionary routes in one playthrough. Your accumulated evolutionary options will carry over on a second playthrough, so I hope you can play it multiple times and try out different things.

–On top of those evolutionary forms, we’re also interested in the total number of Digimon in this work. Also, are there any monsters that’ll be making their first appearance in this game, or monsters that’ll have new evolutions?

Habu: In regards to whether they’ll be any newly appearing monsters or any new evolutions, we’ll keep that a secret…(laughs). The number of monsters in this game totals around to a little over 100. It’s probably an uncommon approach for current Digimon games, but while the Digimon Story series normally focuses on collecting and playing with a large number of different monsters, this game will focus more on the dramatic narrative with partner monsters, which means the planning concept is fundamentally different from that of other series, and we’re not really prioritizing the number of monsters in gameplay. Instead, we’re prioritizing choosing monsters that’ll match the atmosphere and setting. This game takes place somewhere much like a deserted island with lots of nature, and there aren’t comparatively as many “digital” aspects, so we focused on monsters that would fit in there. Incidentally, some wild monsters can join you as allies if you meet certain conditions. So you can enjoy raising them yourself, too.

–It’ll probably be a fun experience to try predicting what monsters will show up in the game. In closing, please tell us about your outlook on the future of Digimon games, and what you’re enthusiastic about wanting to do.

Habu: I hope this game can also continue to expand the world and setting of Digimon in its own way. Digimon is a series that’s got many different sub-series to it, such as in animation and toys, and it’s gotten quite complicated. So it’s probably gotten very difficult for new people to get into it for the first time, but on our part with the game side, we’d like to make it so that even people who don’t know anything about Digimon can learn about it and enjoy it through games…Also, while this is probably going to be a long way from now, I’d like to consider making a Digimon game that makes use of online features. However, the more complex the game, the higher the barrier to entry is, so I’d personally like to prioritize gameplay and play ease so that even casual players can enjoy. Naturally, I also want to keep in mind how to create more interesting and appealing concepts, characters, and settings.

Tsuzuki: For now, I hope you can really play and enjoy Digimon Survive. I personally love visual novels and strategy RPGs and play them quite often, and I was part of the generation that Digimon was originally targeted at. We’re working diligently to create something that’ll be easy for the target generation of players to play and easy to handle, and also from a certain fan perspective as well, so we hope you can continue to give Digimon your support.

Habu: At this point, I’ve been involved with the series for so long that my perspective is getting too much like an extreme hardcore fan’s. My thoughts about it are going to come off strongly no matter what I do. I personally still intend to continue being involved with Digimon games, so I’d like Producer Tsuzuki to plan his own kind of Digimon game with his idea of what would make a Digimon game interesting, instead of trying to imitate me. I imagine the fans would also prefer to see something new. So I hope the world of Digimon can continue to expand in this way.

  1. The term translated in this article as “visual novel” is actually “adventure game” (アドベンチャーゲーム), which is what the genre is usually known as in Japanese; the term “visual novel” is mostly an English invention. “Adventure game” can refer to any kind of game that predominantly focuses on navigating through a story by player input regardless of presentation style, so there is no associated stigma regarding how much text an adventure game may or may not have, making it a historically respected and popular genre among young adult Japanese gamers as Producer Habu describes. Insinuiating that an adventure game isn’t a real video game will probably get you laughed at and seen as petty. []

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