I've long been a fan of Yasumi Matsuno -- not just for the dense, challenging games he creates, but also for the unique approach to world-building he brings to his work.
Matsuno has been fairly active of late, most recently bringing us the quirky Crimson Shroud, a 3DS RPG that was equal parts visual novel and tabletop role-playing session. Currently, he's teamed up with Playdek to create an entirely new game world that will presumably serve as the home to a number of games. We spoke with him at Tokyo Game Show about his new projects.
Joel Goodman, Playdek: The quick rundown is that Playdek is a publisher and developer for hobby gaming. We formed Playdek in 2011 to conquer the world for all good things in board gaming. The initial strategy for us was to partner with creators and physical products and bring those into the space, but always with an eye toward creating something new and fresh and merging those two. Along with that, this great opportunity has come along with Mr. Matsuno.
Three years ago, Yoshi [Maruyama, Playdek advisor] and I were talking about games in general. I had mentioned that Vagrant Story was the greatest game I had ever played. He let me know that Mr. Matsuno was one of his good friends, and we started a conversation from that point – obviously having great respect for not only Vagrant Story, but also Final Fantasy Tactics. We continued that conversation, discussing and exploring how to create something new and bring that tactical gameplay to the more modern digital platforms.
To that end, we’re announcing a partnership to create Unsung Story, the world that he’ll explain to you as a whole. The plan is to have this world that we can create products into. The centerpiece at this point is the tactics-style game we’ll be making, where he’ll be designing core mechanics and so on. Initially, as a prequel, we’re making a digital card game – a strategic tactical card game – with the mechanics being designed by Chris Boelinger, a renowned board game designer from France. That game is being set as a prequel in a subset of that world. That’s the quick, underlying layer. I’ll leave it to you guys to fire away now.
USgamer: You said this is a world. It seems like you’re a big fan of world-building, with things like the Ogre series and the Ivalice series. Can you talk more about your vision for this and how you plan to explore the entirety of this world?
Yasumi Matsuno: The setting of the Unsung world will be very deep and detailed, as you’ve already experienced in some of the other worlds I’ve created. In particular, the card game is aimed at very hardcore gamers, so we want that to be very detailed. More completely, the game world will be composed of nine small countries, each competing to be the hegemon. Those nine countries will be very complex. Certain races will live in certain countries, but other divisions will also come into play – it’s like the Balkans. It’s going to be very complicated.
USgamer: That seems to be something you’ve gone to before. Tactics Ogre had a connection to history there as well.
Matsuno: You know us very well. [chuckles] It’s not just going to be about battles, but there will be very strategic implications in the world map. This game won’t be one big story you have to follow as a main character. You can start with any country, as the head of the country, and you can compete with the others, or you can try a different country. The game systems become very important, because the story may not be as strong or big a part of the game. Once you play one country, you have a certain story to follow. With the other countries, they’ll have their own stories to follow. It’s going to be a multi-story type of presentation.
USgamer: This is beginning as a card game, but that’s just the first of many projects in this world, is that correct?
Goodman: Yeah. We’ll start with the card game, and the next project will be the full tactics game.
USgamer: And that’s more in the style of Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics?
USgamer: I feel like your work has a very consistent aesthetic. I know you’ve worked with a lot of the same collaborators, like Mr. Yoshida and Mr. Minagawa. Are you collaborating with them on this project as well?
Matsuno: This time, I’m not the director myself. I’m more of a story writer. The direction is handled by Joel and his company. So I’m the original writer of the story here. I’m working on more than one project at this time, so I can’t really be the full-time director of this project. I’ll be involved, but in much less of a capacity than with some other projects. I’ll ask Joel to make a decision and he’ll give me his feedback on it.
USgamer: So will you be offering feedback and direction – not as director, but just any kind of guidance for how the card game plays? Will you be more involved with the tactics-style game?
Matsuno: Yeah, I’ll be much more involved in the tactics game than the card game. The card game’s being designed by Chris Boelinger, as [Goodman] said. For the tactics game, I’ll be designing the game mechanics and battle systems myself.
Goodman: He’ll definitely be giving us feedback. The intent is to make sure that with what we do… The pulse of the world resides with Mr. Matsuno. The first step, what we’re doing now, is taking the rules and the mechanics that Chris has made and bringing those into a demo that we can start playing. The key for us is that we’re in better hands with everything we’re creating if the look and the feel are as cohesive and balanced as possible in relation to the overall vision of the world.
USgamer: Do you have a target release date for this? Is it next year?
Goodman: We’re looking to bring the card game out in early 2014. Then the tactics game is a longer-term plan. We don’t have a release for that yet.
USgamer: Going back to the concept of the world that you’re creating, do you see this going beyond the two games that you’ve talked about? Also, how do these two games relate to each other?
Goodman: We do hope to create more properties in the world, yes. As far as tie-ins between the tactics game and the card game, we don’t know about that yet. We don’t have any plans so far, but things might emerge through the design process where it makes sense to do that. I just don’t want to force it right now. With the tactics game, we don’t have to create a massive property from the get-go as far as content and everything else. That alone can be expanded upon in every facet. We intend to keep that world living and growing. Past that, we’ll look at other properties.
USgamer: With the ability to play as any of these nine different nations, races, religions, are you doing a lot of writing within the story to reflect all those different personas you can play as, all the different perspectives?
Matsuno: Yes, I’ll be working out all of those details. Originally I thought of making just two major powers competing for hegemony. That was what I first conceived. But after I read the game design document from Chris Boelinger, I changed my mind. I thought it might be more interesting to have several more countries competing together. So I’m ready to adapt to requests from the development side of the game.
USgamer: That seems like a lot of different factors to keep track of.
Matsuno: Initially, it might be pretty simple, but as we go into expansions, we can incorporate more complex elements. It brings up some very contemporary issues, like the question of the Syrian civil war. Maybe just simply attacking the ruling government won’t solve any problems. You have to understand a lot more than that. There are other ways to solve these kinds of problems than just fighting, and that’s an idea I’d like to incorporate into this. The reason why we call this world “Unsung” is that I don’t just want to focus on big heroes, but also on the ordinary foot soldiers from each country – how they feel and how they act. That’s something else I want to incorporate into the story. I want to strike a fine balance between battles and solving problems outside of going into battle. That’s how I’d like to write the story.