Famitsu interview with Naoya Shimokawa on Monochrome Mobius

(Full title: “Interview with Naoya Shimokawa on Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten: Approaching the full story of a man lauded as ‘Utawarerumono’ and his companions”)

A translation of a Famitsu interview with AQUAPLUS executive director Naoya Shimokawa on April 4, 2022 regarding the game Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten.

During the “Authorized Charge!! Utawarerumono 20th Anniversary Special Livestream” event on November 24, 2021, a surprise announcement revealed the game Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten. This is a completely new kind of game for AQUAPLUS, and is an RPG depicting adventures from the younger days of the hero Oshtor, who will one day become “one who is lauded”, or “Utawarerumono”.1

The game has been given a release date of September 8, 20222, and it has been announced to release for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Steam. What ideas are going into the development of this completely new RPG, one that depicts a new story of an “Utawarerumono” and his companions? We’ve interviewed AQUAPLUS executive director Naoya Shimokawa, asking about the game’s development status and its behind-the-scenes secrets.

Naoya Shimokawa
COO of AQUAPLUS, who has participated in a number of different games. He is in charge of the Utawarerumono series’ music, and is also the producer for the new game Monochrome Mobius: Rights and Wrongs Forgotten.

A user-oriented campaign leads to a first press bonus at a great price!

–How did the playerbase respond to the announcement of Monochrome Mobius?

Shimokawa: This game has Oshtor and other returning Utawarerumono series characters play an active role in the story, but we’re developing this game as a new one that anyone can enjoy. When we announced it, we presented it in such a way that it felt like a completely new game, so I think that probably led to a lot of people being surprised.

–Looking at social media, it definitely seems like a lot of people are interested in the release date and platform.

Shimokawa: We’ve announced the release date and platform, and we’re planning to release it for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Steam on September 8, 2022. We’re currently at about 90% of the way into development, and all of the assets are already done. We’ve made it multiplatform so that we can get as many people as possible to play it. Our company started off developing games for Windows, so I think our longtime fans will have a sense of familiarity when it comes to the Steam version. Incidentally, those who purchase physical copies of the PS4 version can upgrade to the PS5 version at no additional cost (*). On top of that, players who buy the download version will be able to get both the PS5 and PS4 versions for the price of one with cross-buy.

–For players who still don’t have a PS5 yet, the ability to upgrade for free will be a very welcome feature. I also get the impression that the first press edition having such luxurious bonuses at the same price as the regular version is also a good way of catering to the fans.

Shimokawa: We figured that our core fans would be the ones who are most likely to buy the first press release, so we wanted to provide something for those fans, and we also wanted as many people as possible to play this game, so we decided to add some free bonuses to the first press edition. The price is the same as the regular version, but not only will there be a special version of the packaging, there’ll also be an artbook with character art and other illustrations, as well as an original soundtrack with 30 songs from the ones in this game, for which there are over 100. I hope they’ll enjoy it. Also, there are extra bonuses depending on which store you buy it from, and information on that is available on the official website, so please do take a look.

*Those who purchase the physical version cannot upgrade to a digital copy of the PS5 version if their PS5 does not have a disc drive.

A story that anyone can enjoy, including completely new players

–You’ve also now officially announced the story outline, as well as the appearance of main characters Oshtor, Shunya, Munechika, and Mikazuchi.

Shimokawa: Oshtor, Munechika, and Mikazuchi are returning characters from the Utawarerumono series, but if you haven’t played those games, please rest assured that the game is made to be enjoyed not only by existing fans but also for new players. In fact, I’d even say that new players will be able to enjoy new and fresh surprises because they don’t know the older games. Our stance is that if people play this game and take an interest in what happens later in the story, we’d like it if they could play the Utawarerumono trilogy on their smartphones for free after that.3

–The game’s slogan is “It’s the story that brings an RPG to life,” and it sounds like you’ve put quite a lot of effort into the story.

Shimokawa: Story is our games’ biggest weapon, and I think “story” is what’ll stick in player’s memories for five or ten years, so in order to give this game an interesting story, the entire staff is working together to develop around Suga (Munemitsu Suga, the scenario writer who’s in charge of the original script and plot outlines for the Utawarerumono series)’s script. Once we made a solid and interesting story, we then built up characters, sound effects, and battle systems that’d bring the best out of the story. I can’t give you any specific numbers (laughs awkwardly), but of all the games I’ve worked on so far, this has been the most expensive in terms of development costs.

–It’s a work that puts AQUAPLUS’s name value to the ultimate test. What should we look out for in the story?

Shimokawa: In this game, Oshtor, who will eventually become known as a hero, meets a mysterious girl named Shunya, and learns that his father, who was thought to be dead, is still alive. This leads to a grand story that he follows through on his journey to track down his father. If you listen carefully to all of the lines without skipping anything, it’ll probably take more than 50 hours. We live in an era where you can play many kinds of games easily on smartphones, but that’s exactly why I want this to be a game that one plays while sitting down and playing slowly. As I said earlier, Suga is writing the script for this story. As you probably know already, Suga has a long history of things he’s written, and there are a lot of people who are fans of his stories. So if we wanted to make a game on a scale that we’ve never made before, we decided it’d be best to leave the story entirely to Suga, and that the players would also want to read the story he’s written.

–Suga-san was involved with the story for the Utawarerumono series, so I think he’s perfect for this role. On the other hand, instead of having Tatsuki Amazuyu-san or Misato Mitsumi-san do the character designs, you’ve appointed mi-san as your new character designer. What was the reason for this?

Shimokawa: We wanted everything from the title “Monochrome Mobius” to the use of the RPG genre to the character designs to be completely new. But although this game has younger versions of Oshtor, Munechika, and Mikazuchi, they’re still returning characters, and the fans would probably feel something was off if their designs were too drastically different. So under the supervision of Amazuyu and Mitsumi, who worked on the character designs for the original series, we asked mi to maintain the characters’ original feel while also creating a fresh new look for them.

–It definitely does feel fresh, and I think the illustrations are beautiful, allowing you to feel a new sense of appeal from the younger Oshtor.

Shimokawa: We’re also working on setting up cutscenes that allow you to enjoy the story and characters even more. So far, our games have been based on 2D illustrations and backgrounds, but for this game, you can enjoy the game with the characters acting in 3D. The backgrounds are also 3D, and we’re making it hoping that you can gradually see that this work is set in the far future of the world where humans once lived.

–Please tell us if you had any particular difficulties with producing this game in 3D.

Shimokawa: It was something I’d already expected beforehand, but it was a lot more difficult to think about camera angles in 3D than in 2D. Also, I personally was very concerned about ambient noises. When you have 3D, if you’re missing even a little bit of environmental noise when the characters movie, it feels awful. For instance, when the character moves, it feels off if you don’t hear the sound of clothes rubbing. So after all of the “we need this sound, we need that sound,” the production got more and more expensive (laughs awkwardly), so we had a hard time getting a feel for it.

–You’re also a music composer, so you’ve always put a lot of thought into the music for previous games, so I imagine you’re putting even more into this one.

Shimokawa: It’s our studio’s specialty, so I’m as dedicated to the music in this game as ever. So on top of the environmental sounds, there’s the music, and I’ve worked on making a lot of different songs for the game that’ll make you want to hum along with the melody, and I try to make each of them have the exact kind of sound each scene needs.

A battle system built to make it easier to enjoy the story

–I’d now like to ask you about the game system. The game is an RPG, but what exactly is the system like?

Shimokawa: 3D allows the player to adventure freely in a vast field to some extent. Combat uses a symbol encounter system, meaning you encounter monsters by coming into contact with them on the field, and the main system is a turn-based system where you fight by picking commands such as options, combat skills, and tools.

–AQUAPLUS has made 3D action games before, so one might have thought you’d make an action RPG instead. Why did you decide to specifically go for a traditional turn-based RPG instead?

Shimokawa: We did naturally consider having it be an action RPG, but our strongest motive was that “we want people to enjoy an interesting story.” Action RPGs require the players to go through a learning curve and get used to the controls, so for those who simply want to enjoy the story, the action elements may get in the way. So in order to make it easier for more players to enjoy the story, we deliberately decided on an easily approachable turn-based RPG. You can also enjoy the fun of getting attached to a character in the story and watching them get stronger.

–I’m curious about the “HALU” option in the command menu. There’s also an icon with HALU’s face and a gauge in the upper right corner of the battle screen…

Shimokawa: I can’t give full details about the HALU command and gauge, but HALU will be participating in battle as a so-called helper character. We’re also implementing a system where you can customize and strengthen HALU, so please look forward to more information on this.

–The circle in the upper left corner of the battle screen also stands out. It seems to indicate the characters’ turn order, but what are the specifics of that?

Shimokawa: The upper left circle is part of the “chain system”, and as you pointed out, it’s a system that controls the characters’ turn order. I’d like to explain the details in a later report, but in short, by using this system, you’ll be able to consider your allies’ next moves, set up traps, and make the battle play to your advantage.

–It seems like the battle system will be quite deep.

Shimokawa: Our most recently released PV also shows off how battle works. I was also particular about how the battle scenes were presented, so please check out the PV, where you can see a bit of the characters acting out a variety of motions in full-scale 3D.

–Since we’re talking about the new PV, please tell us what we should look out for in it!

Shimokawa: The PV doesn’t directly convey the game’s appeal using the momentum of its scenes or songs, but is designed to make the viewer wonder “what kind of story will this be?” and what’ll happen next. We’ve packed a lot of information in to such a short amount of time, so I hope you can discuss it with other people on social media and speculate about and imagine what kind of story it’ll be.

–When this game was first announced, there were already a lot of fans starting to make speculations, so I imagine that the new PV will get people even more excited for the release.

Shimokawa: A lot of people are pretty sharp, so we’re actually a little scared (laughs awkwardly), but we’d like to use the game’s release to make it even more exciting. To be honest, while it might be a bit too early for it, we’re already thinking about what’ll happen in the story after this game’s ending. Like the Utawarerumono series, this is a game that centers on a specific time, with a long history from a world in the far future. So if more people play and support this game, we’d like to make new “Monochrome Mobius” stories as well.

A new PV that showcases battle has been released!

The official website is now featuring the game’s newest PV. Not only does it include our first look at the game’s battle scenes, but it also showcases the game’s cutscenes. In addition, videos featuring the prologue and other cutscenes have been released, so please check them out alongside the new PV!

Translator's notes
  1. The title “Utawarerumono” (うたわれるもの) is written in hiragana, deliberately making the potential meaning ambiguous. The original series brand name has remained officially untranslated, but the official English version of the Monochrome Mobius website uses the translation “those who are lauded”, which I am also using for the purposes of this interview translation. []
  2. The article here includes the originally announced September 8 release date; the game was aftewards delayed to November 17, 2022. []
  3. Unfortunately, the localized versions of the trilogy weren’t released for iOS or Android, but they’re on Steam! []

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