With Fire Emblem Fates launching later this week, I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with several members of the development team about the proces of creating two games at once, the input of Shin Kibayashi, and more.
Joining me was Fire Emblem Fates director Kouhei Maeda, producer Masahiro Higuchi, and Nintendo director Genki Yokota. We discussed a number of topics, but the overaching theme was the quest to make the series more accessible. Here are some selected highlights from the interview.
On developing two games at once
Making one game is hard; making two games at once is kind of ridiculous. Intelligent Systems is a veteran studio, though - many of its developers have been working on Fire Emblem since its debut back on the original Famicom - and it employs around 150 people. Moreover, Birthright and Conquest utilize the same pool of assets, allowing the studio to focus on developing two very good scenarios.
For Conquest and Birthright, Intelligent Systems had one team working on the core of both games, but separate teams focusing on the level design. But despite the added workload, it was more or less business as usual at Intelligent Systems, says Higuchi. "I'd like to say that the main staff involved in this project has been more or less similar to those who worked on previous games."
On the input of Shin Kibyahashi, novelist and manga writer
Fire Emblem Fates is notable for the input of Shin Kibayashi - a well-known manga writer, novelist, and screenwriter. Kibayashi's best-known works include Kindaichi Case Files, a mystery series, and GetBackers - a a story about two misfits in Shinjuku out to retrieve stolen goods. I asked Maeda what Kibayashi brought to the table in terms of the scenario development.
"We got the hint that the story has to be simple and easy to understand from a lot of people who will be playing the game, and that's sort of the idea that comes from the fact that he has been involved in a lot of stories, or manga, which is typically read by a lot of people," Maeda says. "So... to address a big crowd... it's sort of the idea that Mr. Kibayashi brought to us, and that has influences us in working on the story for this game."
Kibayashi was also involved in the development of the family members who form the core of each faction. "As you see, there are four major characters on each of the paths, four of each in Hoshido and in Nohr. If you look at those main characters, there were quite a bit of ideas that came from Mr. Kibayashi, and we salso had opinions from the development team here at Intelligent Systems. We combined everything to develop all the main characters that you see in each of the kingdoms."
On the characters that Maeda and Higuchi had their protagonist marry
The protagonist in Fire Emblem Fates can marry almost any member of the main cast outside of a family member. Out of curiosity, I asked Maeda and Higuchi who they ended up choosing.
"Well, there are quite a fair amount of characters that you can build your relationship with, and I do have many characters that I like," Higuchi says, "but I feel like through my gameplay, I feel like Felicia was the one that I had the support conversation go up to max the most. Since Felicia is always around in the story, it sort of felt natural to build the relationship with her."
Felicia, incidentally, is the male protagonist's assistant no matter which side they choose (Jakob takes Felicia's place if the protagonist is female). She's a fairly traditional representation of a maid in anime - bubbly and a bit clumsy, but in a cute way. Maeda, by contrast, prefers Nohr's Camilla, who is a bit more of a vixen. "I just really wanted to be with a unique type of character, and that was sort of the natural choice that I had."
On what Fire Emblem needs to continue its current mini-renaissance
Fire Emblem has experienced a mini-renaissance in North America since the release of Awakening. The decision to make permanent death optional and put a greater emphasis on character relationships garnered it a much broader audience than before. Longtime Fire Emblem fans grumbled, but pretty much everyone else sang its praises.
With the series continuing full steam ahead through Fire Emblem Fates and beyond, Yokota seems intent on not rocking the boat. "Personally, I feel it's very important to keep what's been working well in the series, as well as challenge ourselves to implement new things in order to make it more fun and enjoyable for a broad audience."
Higuchi also speaks to the need to continue cultivating a broad audience, "Maeda-san mentioned earlier about this game being a tough RPG - sort of like a simulation type of game - with a turn based system; and while some people really enjoy the interaction with the various characters that you play with during the game, there are some other players enjoy more of the storyline. We feel like it's very important for us to continue suggesting all these different ideas that would make the game more accessible to various people, and, to be honest, there's not a single answer to this. But, I feel like the key to continue making the Fire Emblem series successful is to continue challenging ourselves and implementing all these good ideas that come up during the development process."
Naturally, every series wants to continue broadening it audience; but for Fire Emblem, the need is especially urgent. By catering to casual fans with Birthright and veterans with Conquest, Intelligent Systems is hoping Fire Emblem can be all things to all people. And in the end, their strategy may well pay off.
Fire Emblem Fates launches on February 19. Look for our full review of Birthright and Conquest later this week.