Xenoblade Chronicles X is the latest in Monolith Soft's slowly growing Xeno metaseries. The thing about the Xeno games is there's really not much that connects the games that aren't direct sequels. Xenoblade Chronicles X isn't even a real sequel to the first Xenoblade Chronicles, coming across as a spiritual successor.
This game focuses on open-world exploration, with open-world gaming being the current zeitgeist for Western developers. These days you can't rock a rock without hitting an open-world game, sprawling out before the player with a ton of missions and side-quests to tackle. For Takahashi and company, that focus is partially based on preference and partially on logistics. Takahashi told TIME that he prefers Western games, movies, television, and novels to those made by Japanese creators.
"Japanese tastes are unique compared to those in the West, so if you focus solely on gamers within Japan, you'll always find yourself running into this problem," he explains. "I think this is easy to see when you notice that FPS-style games sell only around 100,000 copies or so in Japan, as opposed to 10 million worldwide.
"This may be a surprise to hear, but I don't have very much interest in 'current' Japanese anime and games, and I don't play them, either. I do get hands-on with them for future reference, though, and I still love older games that came out 30 or so years ago. Most of the movies, TV dramas, novels, and games I pick up are made in the West. I don't do this deliberately; that just turned out to be the kind of thing I like. As a result, I've come to the realization that it's best to try and organically make the kind of things I like, or want."
He notes that aiming at a Japanese audience requires not only different cultural values, but also a different budget. Japan's overall market is a fraction of other regions. If you make games for Japanese gamers, you may find that you have a title which is difficult to import to other regions, meaning you're limiting your sales potential.
"Except for a subset of titles, Japanese RPGs are budgeted so they'll make a profit off sales within Japan alone," says Takahashi. "It seems to me that building the entire world of the game itself (making it open-world) is considered one must-have element for Western RPGs nowadays, but that just can't be done in the current Japan scene."
"But lately, I've started to wonder about whether this is really just because of budgetary issues. I think this is probably due to differences in cultural tastes, but in the current situation, it's difficult to take content created in Japan and have it accepted in the West. As a result, you can only create things scaled to make money within Japan alone, and it becomes this negative spiral."
On the logistics side of things, Takahashi realized that it'd be difficult to build an entire world for players to explore and provide the philosophicals themes players have come to expect from the Xeno series.
"The design focus for this game was on map exploration and character builds during battle," he says. "We deliberately distanced ourselves from having philosophical themes intertwined with the core of the story. Given that we at Monolith Soft had no experience with developing HD titles, our goal with this project was to experiment with and implement the assorted tech skills we needed for HD game development. We decided that trying to balance that with an epic theme-laden story would pose difficulties. Our hope is that we can start by creating the core system, then expand on the story and thematic elements in our future project."
For his part, Takahashi is content to make the games he wants to see, without being constrained by a specific region or even the series' name.
"I tend to get bored with things pretty easily, so I'd like to keep creating things with different approaches every time," says Takahashi. "Along those lines, I'd definitely like my next project to look and feel pretty different from this one. The 'Xeno' name, by the way, really just exists to make it clear that these are Tetsuya Takahashi productions."