A translation of this Famitsu interview from January 22, 2015, with Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth‘s producer Kazumasa “Habumon” Habu and director Tetsuya Ohkubo.
The producer, who loves this series a little too much, and the development director tell us all they can about Digimon Story!
This was published in the January 29, 2015 (released January 15, 2015) Weekly Famitsu run, in the article for the PlayStation Vita game Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth. The article contained an interview with the game’s producer Kazumasa Habu (Bandai Namco Games) and development director Tetsuya Ohkubo (Media Vision) in which they were asked about the highlights of the work, but the full text could not be published in the magazine, and so the full text has been published on Famitsu.com. We would like fans of RPGs and, of course, fans of the Digimon series to please take a look.
Depicting the Digimon coming into the real world
–It’s been nine years since the first Digimon Story game was released, hasn’t it?
Habu: It’s been nine years since the beginning. It’s also been four years since the release of its most recent game, Digimon Story Super Xros Wars Blue/Red. So, after such a long period of time, it’s a revival for the Digimon Story series.
–There’s been a significant change in atmosphere compared to that of all of the previous games. Why?
Habu: Digimon media, like anime, toys, and games, were originally centered around elementary school students, but now the average age of the audience has been getting older. Right now, many people who were fans of Digimon in elementary school have become around 20 years old, so they’ve effectively graduated from Digimon. So this has become an opportunity for those who liked Digimon when they were children to try playing another game. In addition, I wanted to introduce people who weren’t necessarily familiar with Digimon before to this game, get them interested in it, and present the kind of worldview the anime series has. The anime’s main story about children being thrown from the real world into the Digital World and going on an adventure with Digimon is a key draw factor, but its solid depiction of the real world is what I think to be one of the aspects that makes the Digimon series truly unique. A huge theme of this work is that Digimon wander into what people call the “real world” from the “Digital World”. When people come into contact with these foreign entities called Digimon, how would the world change? I think it’s an interesting way that this game approaches the concept of Digimon. That’s something I want the players to experience as they play.
–I see, so the players who grew up with Digimon at the time and wanted to play another Digimon game are the main driving force behind this renewal.
Habu: Yes. When we released the PSP game Digimon World: Re:Digitize in 2012, we produced it thinking very consciously about our adult fans, and received a good response from a number of gamers. As a result, our company became increasingly aware that the main target audience for Digimon is now being made up more and more of adults. Thus, we did our best to produce a concept that could still be called Digimon at its root, but had its focus shifted from children to adults. If it hadn’t been for the success of Digimon World: Re:Digitize, I don’t think we’d be here right now.
–I see how that was the case for Digimon World: Re:Digitize, but surely you ended up having trouble changing the image of this series so drastically, like a recoil or such?
Habu: Firstly, when the question of “why should we continue making Digimon works?” comes up in the company, when we look at the sales figures and user surveys, we feel that the age group is going upwards every year. So, we made the decision that we really have no choice but to raise the target age group. Of course, there was the fear of “should we accept that?”, but we felt that there would be no future if we kept forcing things to be the way they were before, and because we were constantly feeling the danger of potentially having to stop producing Digimon games, we thought about why we wanted to continue making Digimon games and how we could go about doing that, resulting in why we’re here now. But Digimon itself is a long series, and every work in the franchise has changed the universe it’s set in and its characters. Since it’s quite difficult for our followers to keep track of all of them, I think it’s better for them to enjoy it as something completely new. The root of the franchise will not change, but we’re aiming for a new series that can have new aspects about it.
–While you were solidifying your concept, what led to Media Vision becoming the developers for this game?
Habu: We wanted to make something that felt like a solid-quality RPG, and because Media Vision had the know-how on making solid RPGs, we talked with them and asked them to assist us.
Ohkubo: I myself didn’t actually know much about Digimon, I only knew something about something like a “yellow monster” (laughs). But because it was a character-based RPG, and because moreover it was a big-name title, I really wanted to do it. All our company had to do was make a “solid RPG” and “graphics”, and so we thought about how to make a game that would focus on the player.
–It was certainly surprising to see Suzuhito Yasuda-san’s illustrations moving in full 3D.
Ohkubo: We originally thought it’d be better to have Yasuda-san’s illustrations left as-is, but it does make the game look a little outdated, and people would be somewhat bored with it. It’d also be tough to just replace the illustrations when lip-syncing, and we wanted to make them move. So we did them in full 3D.
Habu: It was very difficult making the 3D models, because we wanted to display Yasuda-san’s style in an interesting way. For instance, Yasuda-san draws the hands and feet in a thin and stylish way, but when you try to reproduce that faithfully when the game screen has such a small display size, when the models move, the hands and feet become really thin and you can’t see them. So we asked Media Vision to do the modifications for us, and had them make the 3D models look good without destroying Yasuda-san’s style.
Ohkubo: Also, we created a special shader so that we could reproduce Yasuda-san’s illustrations faithfully. We represented something in Yasuda-san’s drawings called soft texture with the special shader, so please keep a look out for that. Then, after that, was the issue of the Digimon.
Habu: In an average RPG, you could just add dozens of monsters by swapping out their palettes, but you can’t keep reusing Digimon body structures because their shapes are so distinctive. For this game, we have 230 Digimon, most of which are unique.
Ohkubo: It’s the first game for which we’ve devoted this much time to producing monsters. But we were lucky, because when we launched this project, we asked our staff “is anyone here interested?”, and quite a lot of people, mainly from our young staff, said “I want to do it! I love Digimon!” So in terms of “how the Digimon move”, said staff members already had a solid image in their minds of something like “this one should move like this!”, which was a huge help.
–If you have Digimon fans within the staff, there must be a lot of fan commitment, and that passion will probably be reflected very well in the final game.
Habu: Every time we produce a Digimon work, we struggle because there aren’t many companies who know Digimon very well. Like Ohkubo-san just said, he, too, came from the position of “I know the franchise name, but I don’t really know it that well”, and that kind of thing is actually what we struggle with the most. But these days, the people who were fans of Digimon from the beginning have become working adults, and as they’ve become increasingly involved in the game development field, we’ve become able to work with people who like Digimon. We’re very happy to be able to do that. I feel like we’ve finally arrived at a point where it’s easy to make a Digimon title. We want to make all kinds of Digimon games, alongside this young generation of creators who like Digimon.
–I see, I’m looking forward to that.
Habu: But that’s a story for when this game sells well.
A game retelling the world of Digimon, to people who don’t know Digimon
–Are there any particular things to look out for with this game?
Ohkubo: Of course, the graphics and the system, and such, have all been upgraded. We’ve made a lot of RPGs for a very long time, but there’s an incredibly top-class amount of text in this game. From the main story to the sub-events, this is an RPG with some intense stories, so I think RPG fans will enjoy it.
Habu: While the Digimon World series is more about raising Digimon, the Digimon Story series is more of a simple-approach RPG system, so they’re games for which you can enjoy the story to its fullest extent. The worldbuilding for this one was also created with the anime in mind. We wanted to make something fun even for those who don’t know much about Digimon, so we built the world in such in a way that you can get to know Digimon from scratch.
–So how has the game system evolved?
Habu: Personally, I think the battle scenes have gotten very nice. We’ve been receiving opinions from players with things like “the pace is bad”, so we made the battle system for this game a lot more pleasant to play.
Ohkubo: That’s right. Pace is very important.
Habu: Beyond that, Digimon actively move around in battle. So it’s interesting to watch while you play, and it’s hard to get tired of it. On the other hand, it also gets you thinking, “I want to collect more Digimon, so I can see how they act in battle.”
Ohkubo: We ideally wanted even people who don’t know about Digimon to watch it and think “this is cool!” In addition, befriending more and more Digimon makes managing them much more difficult, so we went ahead and made the user interface (hereinafter, UI) more comfortable to use. Since we were aiming for a good aesthetic and a system that felt pleasant, I do hope you pay good attention to the UI.
Habu: The UI is tied to the root of what makes it easy to play. Ohkubo-san himself designed it, and he put quite a lot of effort into it.
–The cyberpunk setting is a very fresh and new angle to approach it with.
Habu: Honestly, I don’t really think so. At the beginning, when the first toys were released, the background lore behind it was that “a Digimon is created when you attach a wireframe model and a texture to a computer virus program”. So that original foundation’s lore was already fairly cyberpunk to begin with. For this game, I would like you to pay attention to this game’s own lore, which takes advantage of this. While you’re hacking in the cyber world, you can break through security if you have specific Digimon, and since the series’s unique worldview has been fully expressed in this game, please keep a look out for it!
–I see. So more accurately, you feel that you’re taking lore that had been there since the beginning, and reiterating it.
Ohkubo: Since Digimon lore was already well-established, we focused on creating a story around it. After that was where the story would be set. We worked hard on making our version of “modern Tokyo”, so that it would feel natural.
Habu: For this game, we made the real world actually give off a genuine sense of realism. I hope players will find it interesting and fun to see monsters appearing on a familiar backdrop. The anime had been invoking this kind of image ever since Digimon Adventure, we thought that we wanted to try achieving this in a game, and we were able to do so for this one. On top of that, I got the idea for making the protagonist a cyber detective from the anime Digimon Adventure 02, which was broadcast in 2000. In Digimon Adventure 02, everyone gathered in the computer lab or some similar location after school, accessed the Digital World from there, and would resolve incidents that occurred both in the Digital World and real world. It was a very attractive concept, so we used that as a reference and created a story where a group of friends gather in a detective agency saying things like “it’s not this one, but it’s not this one either” while addressing ongoing incidents. Also, when we were making Digimon Adventure for the PSP, I was given an opportunity to talk to the Digimon Adventure anime’s Director Kakudou about Digimon. Director Kakudou told me, “Digimon may have already existed as entities like youkai2, ghosts, or spirits. Maybe these spirit-like beings were recognized as Digimon programs to humans through computers…” It was very interesting to me. So the way that Digimon incidents in the real world are portrayed like ghost stories takes inspiration from this idea.
–From what I’m hearing so far, I don’t think there’s a producer who loves his own work as much as you do. (laughs)
–If Habu-san is like that, I feel like a lot of people must have been thinking, “he’s so persistent!” Is that what happened, Ohkubo-san?
Ohkubo: Um…(laughs nervously)
Habu: It’s fine. Don’t worry about offending me. (laughs)
Ohkubo: Well, you see…(laughs) Yes, you’re right about Habu-san. He was quite a handful (laughs). But you really are right. Of course, there were things said that caused some conflict at the development site, but everyone was able to understand “well, whatever, let’s do it”. Moreover, I don’t think there’s any doubt, and what I mean by that is that, among all of us in the production staff, Habu-san is the biggest Digimon fan of all. Because of that, I’m sure everyone who plays this game will love it.
Habu: Saying that I’m the biggest Digimon fan, what a loaded thing to say…But because I know Digimon fans are very picky, I feel a sense of responsibility that, in the end, I do have to deliver a high quality product. With all these “obligations”, I always get this feeling that “I have to make the best possible product”. The people in the development company have worked really hard, and I feel that, during our time together, they put in more than 120% of their efforts. In that sense, because we put everything we had into this game, I truly hope that you can enjoy this new iteration of Digimon Story. We’ve got training and the evolution branching system, the adjustments to the game balance, and the highest degree of freedom we’ve ever produced in the series, and I wonder if this game’s content will make training RPG fans feel something akin to satisfaction. It’s a Digimon Story game, but in a sense, I think you can expect this to be the culmination of every Digimon game released to date.
–Thank you very much. We’ve reached the end of the interview, but is there anything else you want to say?
Habu: I could talk for two or three more hours about this. (laughs)
Ohkubo: We still have an overwhelming amount of debugging to do, so please let us go back soon. (laughs)
- The Famitsu article is naturally referring to the PSP Digimon Adventure game.
- Youkai = A type of spirit in Japanese folklore.