Planning story events a year in advance
Pash: Congratulations on Granblue Fantasy reaching its 5th anniversary! Tell us your thoughts about reaching this milestone.
Fukuhara Tetsuya (FKHR): It’s all gone by in a flash. 5 years is ancient by the standards of a mobile game, but there are still so many plans in motion for new content and things that we still want to do. We’re not going to rest on our laurels; we’re going to keep working hard.
Pash: The game has been picking up a significant number of female players lately. From the development or business sides, are you focusing on them?
FKHR: We haven’t given them any more focus than normal. However, gacha-based games like ours do have a tendency to become overstuffed with female characters for commercial reasons. From GBF’s inception, we wanted to avoid falling into that pattern. At the beginning, we made sure to include characters like Aletheia and Soriz, and we steadily added more cool characters like them. We’ve kept to that over time, and some of our male characters have been the ikemen type and brought in more female users, which has been great. Last year’s The Other Side of the Sky featured a cast made entirely of thugs, and it was received very well by our player base overall, so I hope that we’re keeping most of our fan base happy.
Pash: And in January 2019, GBF’s The Many Lives of Cats event captured the hearts of cat lovers.
FKHR: Honestly, I was scared during the run-up to the event announcement. I thought “is this the one that’s too weird?” But the cat content was far more popular than I expected, and it seems like a lot of players started playing GBF because the game lets you put a cat in your party. That was a pretty big shock (laughs). We originally planned to let you name your cat anything you wanted, but between technical issues involving how many times a character’s named is called, as well as issues with language filters and multilingual support, we made it a multiple choice option instead.
Pash: The news spread pretty far about the cat food option during the Valentine’s Day campaign, too.
FKHR: Immediately after the event released, we received a flood of messages asking “Will we be able to send the cat a Valentine’s Day gift?” and “Chocolate is bad for cats, will the cat be okay?” We had to scramble a few teams to come up with an appropriate response.
Pash: It was a great response! How long in advance do you plan your story events, and how much is planned for them?
FKHR: We get an extended break at the end of every year, and I use that quiet time by myself to think about next year’s plans. Right now, we’ve finalized most of our story plans through February 2020. We pay attention to individual character popularity, but that’s not our only concern when it comes to planning these events.
FKHR: We want to make sure that the events fit the season and are the best fit for GBF. Fitting those considerations in with the proper character themes, balancing the six elements, and not repeating any stories is like fitting a gigantic puzzle together. We also try not to put too many serious events next to each other, separating them by the more comedic events. That’s what goes into representing ourselves with the classic genres that fit GBF stories.
Pash: Which events from the past 5 years have gotten the biggest reactions from your players?
FKHR: You can’t really use numbers to measure reactions like “I was moved” or “I had fun”, so this is just my sense of things, but I think it’s What Makes the Sky Blue part 2: Paradise Lost and Ranger Sign Bravo!
Pash: Speaking of Ranger Sign Bravo!, will we ever get a sequel to that event?
FKHR: We don’t have it in our plans yet, but we ended that event on a hopeful note and I definitely want to have a sequel at some point. If all we do is bring Jade back to life, the story would just boil down to “good for you, Walder” so we want to make sure that there’s more growth and character than that for Walder. But just because I said that, please don’t think that we’re going to curse Walder and make bad things happen to him, either, we definitely don’t want that to happen. (laughs) We just want it to be the best story possible, so once enough time has passed…
Secrets of the anniversary stories brought to light
Pash: The current event in GBF is What Makes the Sky Blue? – how was that series made?
FKHR: Part 1 was released at the end of February 2017, but the planning for that was done 2 or 3 months in advance. Normally, we have our events done about 6 months in advance, so this one was definitely stuffed in there. But our producer Kimura Yuito (KMR) asked me “Aren’t you going to do a story event for the 3rd anniversary?”
FKHR: We hadn’t done anything special for the first or second anniversaries, so I told him “we hadn’t thought about it.”
FKHR: He said “You should do one. This is a good opportunity, want to hold a pitch competition?”
FKHR: So our writers got together and got their pitches together, but nothing we had really worked. In the end, I stayed up all night before our deadline and wrote the outline of what became the anniversary event. While the pitch competition itself didn’t go very well, a lot of the elements and themes of what I saw there went into the story, so it kind of ended up being the combined efforts of all our writers.
FKHR: It was supposed to be a bigger story than we’d ever done, so we went with the biggest peril that anyone had faced in a GBF story event, with the threat of whole islands being cast down from the sky, a scale so big that we pretty much concepted it as Granblue Fantasy: The Movie. After that the whole writing team buckled down and cranked out the rest of the story, but we had so little time compared to our normal event roadmap that it was very tough on us.
Pash: Did you originally plan it as a trilogy?
FKHR: Not at first. After the event, KMR told me “The players loved it, make a part 2.” (laughs).I had no problems making a sequel, but I didn’t want the story to move at a snail’s pace every year, so I wanted it to wrap up as a trilogy. I knew that the “enormous scale” concept had problems that would keep piling up if we went on too long, so I wrote part 2 while thinking about how part 3 would end the story.
Pash: In part 2, a huge number of players were stabbed in the heart by Sandalphon’s grief.
FKHR: In the Kishotenketsu narrative structure, Paradise Lost was the ten, the turning point of the trilogy. We had already decided that Sandalphon, the main actor of part 1, would become a playable character. But we knew some people would not forgive Sandalphon very easily for his villainous acts, so the events of Paradise Lost had to be so powerful that it convinced him to change his ways. We needed a tragedy so great that people felt sympathy for an enemy, and a new foe that would make sense for the player and Sandalphon to team up against. After Paradise Lost, many players have grown to love Sandalphon, so that’s a relief.
Pash: At the same time, Belial sent shockwaves through the player base. How did you come up with that character?
FKHR: We originally planned for Avatar to be the last boss of Paradise Lost. Rage of Bahamut players know that design as Abyss Armageddon Satan, but for many reasons we renamed it as Avatar. The thing is, Avatar’s back story means that it doesn’t have a personality or will of its own, and all it does is roar and scream. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s more like a natural disaster than a villain. That caused a problem where defeating it didn’t lead to a cathartic story beat in Paradise Lost. We needed someone you hated more than Sandalphon, someone more vile and twisted than he was capable of being… and that was how Belial was born.
FKHR: Belial’s lines were written by the chief writer of What Makes the Sky Blue? part 1, and I would never have been able to write any of them on my own. I saw the proposal and thought “This is it!” before immediately granting my approval. (laughs)
FKHR: We looked up what words are allowed on TV, and from there we did a lot of research on just how far we were allowed to go. We had to be very careful with that script. People noticed the dirty mouth right away, but I’m glad that people understood that the sleazy surface concealed a powerful, cunning intellect.
FKHR: From the beginning, we knew that the title of part 2 had to be Paradise Lost. The problem was, there was a 1997 movie of the same name that still holds a strong place in Japanese pop culture today. KMR was opposed to the title, saying “It’s too aggressive”.
FKHR: I kept pressing him, saying “Paradise Lost will be powerful enough to make its own impact on pop culture.” It worked, in the end.
FKHR: After the event started, I also got the question “Aren’t Belial’s lines going to get us in trouble?” and thankfully had the answer already in my pocket: “We checked every single word he says, and they’re all ok!” (laughs) The net result was that Belial gained an unshakeable level of popularity, and people couldn’t stop talking about him, so I’m glad I pushed so hard for him.
Pash: That led us to Part 3, which is going on now. What did you focus on for that story?
FKHR: There were a lot of plot threads that we had to close with Part 3, and I wanted to make sure that we handled those as cleanly as possible. We also had to answer the question “Lucifer, Lucillius, and Lucio. What is the deal?” and to be honest with you, Paradise Lost was so much more popular than we expected, it left a very high bar and we had to figure out how to follow it up.
Pash: For those who are still confused, could you explain the difference between Lucio, Lucillius, and Lucifer?
FKHR: All three of them are completely separate entities. Sahar (Lucio) was created by the Omnipotent in order to guide mortals through the creation of the world, and is called the Speaker.
FKHR: Lucillius is an Astral, but as the world of the Astrals was made as a copy of the skyrealm, he was made as a copy of Sahar.
FKHR: Lucifer was a Primal Beast created by Lucillius.
FKHR: The reason they all look alike is explained in Part 3.
Pash: Were they all planned to look the same from the outset?
FKHR: Lucifer was borrowed from Rage of Bahamut, he’s kind of like a collab summon. From there, we came up with the roles of the Angels and the Primarchs in Granblue Fantasy to differentiate the world of GBF from that of Rage of Bahamut, and explain his presence in What Makes the Sky Blue? Part 1.
FKHR: I think people expected the same thing with GBF Lucifer that they did with the Lucifer from classical literature, with the fallen angel status and the connection with Satan. I love that story too, but in GBF’s world and story, we weren’t able to do any of that. We filled the gaps with a separate group of fallen angels, Lucillius, and Avatar. I think that difference in setting is what makes all these separate stories fun. GBF’s Satan is also borrowed from Rage of Bahamut, but honestly, that thing has no connection to anything else in GBF. We weren’t able to bring Satan in to this story, but we did sneak a few little connections to it, like how Avatar Belial’s pose is the same as Satan’s.
Pash: Part 3 ended the story – what should we take away from it?
FKHR: The angels have been freed from their predetermined duties and roles, so you’ll get to see them in different settings now. Sandalphon has conquered his regrets over Lucifer, so I think players will enjoy seeing him grow and change. All these characters are free to join in other story events now, so that should be fun!
FKHR: As for the Hooded Figure, we never gave him his true name or showed you his face. We’ll reveal those in time, and it should be very interesting. I hope everyone’s excited for the future of these characters.
Pash: Please, if you ever have any more news for us, let us know. Thank you.
Aside 1: Tell us, Fukuhara!
Pash: Who is your personal favorite male character?
FKHR: I’ve been thinking about Cassius a lot lately. Immediately after Right Behind You finished, I spent a year with Cassius’ character in my head. He’s a really fun character, and I’m so glad that the Society fans accepted him with open arms.
Pash: Who are the most popular characters among the female staff at Cygames?
FKHR: The Dragon Knights and Eustace are very popular. I see them all the time on their desktop backgrounds.
Aside 2: Tell us, Fukuhara!
Pash: What kind of song is Ain Soph Aur?
FKHR: The song depicts the conflict within Sandalphon at the time of Paradise Lost. The lyrics are full of words that Sandalphon will never be able to tell Lucifer.
Pash: So it’s a very quiet song?
FKHR: It’s surprisingly uptempo, made to sound cool and dramatic.
(Interview by Waki Michiko)