As part of the release of Granblue Fantasy Versus, Cygames Magazine interviewed the series’ director, Fukuhara Tetsuya (FKHR) on his thoughts about developing GBVS, and what the future holds for GBF in general.
The concept behind GBVS
Cymaga: GBVS is finally out! How are you feeling now that it’s on shelves?
FKHR: A lot of veterans I talked to told me “The game goes gold 6 months before release, so by the time the game comes out you’ll have forgotten about it”. However, we had to work on the day 1 patch, work on store registries, and work on promotion. That kept us really busy right up until the release date. All I can think is that we’re finally out, and people are receiving the game well.
Cymaga: What were the pillars of development and planning for this game?
FKHR: We focused on two major points: first, we wanted to make a game that GBF players would play. As a spinoff, we wanted to make sure that GBF players would still enjoy this console game. Since this game would co-exist alongside Granblue Fantasy, we needed to make sure that it was an exciting and fun experience for our players. There are a lot of gamers who’ve never touched a console before, so we kept our systems simple and easy to play for mobile gamers.
Cymaga: What was the other pillar?
FKHR: The other pillar of our development process was that it could work as an esport. Cygames’ goal is to boost the game industry, and in recent years, esports has given us a new culture and a new way to get people hyped about games. Cygames’ Shadowverse is already working along this track, and so we wanted GBVS to follow in its path. Esports is a wide umbrella that can fit many genres under it, but we think that fighting games are one of its shining gems. We wanted to make a game so good that it could be considered a major in the fighting genre. Part of the esports experience is the spectator experience, so we focused on making a game that was as fun to spectate as it was to play.
Cymaga: So you made a game with the viewer in mind as much as the player. Was GBF planned to be a fighting game from the beginning?
FKHR: No, we weren’t thinking about anything like that when the game launched 6 years ago. All we cared about during the development of GBF was “We need to make this a hit!” and there wasn’t time to think of anything else. With that said, once we started supporting the live game, and we gathered up enough of a fan base for Granblue Fantasy as a franchise, spinoffs like fighting games started becoming more and more of a reality. We started talking internally about how to make that happen.
Cymaga: Why did you pick a fighting game as your first spinoff?
FKHR: It was a good fit on both sides. One of the most appealing factors about GBF is the strength of its characters. Fighting games have you take control of characters and learn their intricacies, which makes it easy to put a spotlight on each character and really show them off. Those two points make it a perfect showcase both as an entry in the GBF franchise and as a fighting game.
Cymaga: That does make sense when you put it that way. A lot of GBF fans must imagine taking freer control of their favorite character.
FKHR: Yes. When we decided on this project, we knew that Arc System Works had a lot of experience and expertise in the fighting game genre, so we started this as a joint project. Personally, I’ve been a huge fan of fighting games for years – I’m the type who loses track of time and plays them obsessively, so being able to work on GBVS was a dream come true.
Animations that show off the best of each character
Cymaga: This isn’t just a fighting game, though, it’s an action RPG. Could you talk about that?
FKHR: So we have a fighting game “Versus Mode” and an action RPG “RPG Mode”. Versus Mode is a traditional fighting game, while RPG Mode lets you enjoy the story of GBVS. You can level up your characters just like the main GBF game, and it’s not just a single player RPG – you can play both local and online coop.
Cymaga: Did you make a second mode outside of a fighting game in order to make the game closer to GBF?
FKHR: Yes. Like I said before, we wanted to make a game that GBF players would enjoy, and that’s how this came about. Fighting games and RPGs are completely different genres, so we wanted to make a mode that would be appropriate for players who love RPGs but find fighting games difficult to get into. So we made an RPG mode where there’s no one winner or loser, and that you can play at your own pace. The controls are the same between RPG mode and Versus mode, though, so I hope some players learn from RPG mode and go to Versus mode from there.
Cymaga: And when it came to making to GBF‘s characters, what did you focus on for them?
FKHR: So GBF‘s graphics are 2D, and in GBVS they are 3D for the first time. Just like in GBF, we focused a lot on the visuals in development of GBVS. For example, our 3D animations in GBVS work a lot like animation, with each frame adjusted by hand to make the characters more expressive.
Cymaga: We definitely see that in the fights! There needed to be a lot of variation in the same basic animations for each character, didn’t there?
FKHR: Yes. We wanted to focus on the parts that really make this a fighting game, from their movement to their attacks. There are a lot of animations that have never been in GBF before, but really fit the characters.
Cymaga: Do you have any examples?
FKHR: For example, Gran is a young man, and he fights with a wild, self-taught sword style and brawls with kicks and other moves. Katalina is a knight, so she focuses on using her blade – she doesn’t punch or kick at all. Djeeta will focus on using her sword, and when it comes to close quarters combat, she won’t punch at all – she’ll use high kicks and similar moves.
Cymaga: That’s a lot of attention to detail! GBVS has a lot of facets of the characters that have never seen before, how did you go about working on those?
FKHR: We paid a lot of attention to their backstories and focused on staying true to the fans’ imaginations on how each character should fight. On the development side, there were a lot of new concepts we had to try, and there was some trial and error involved. Some of those errors were pretty big, honestly, with some things that felt out of character.
And this may seem minor, but we worked a lot on the dialogue and chatter. As a fighting game, GBVS involves a lot of friends and allies fighting each other. Fighting games have a lot of win quotes and one-liners, but we made sure that we preserved the characters’ relationships. No one looks down on the opponent, and no one uses any inflammatory language. Yes, they won, but everyone respects their opponent and speaks appropriately.
Cymaga: You put a lot of thought into even the smallest things, didn’t you? When it came down to it, which bore more weight: Arc System Works’ recommendations, or Cygames’ guidelines?
FKHR: I’d say it was about half and half between ASW’s recommendations and our guidelines. Things like the character Skybound Arts were always going to be based on each character’s GBF versions, but that just gave us a general direction. We made a lot of suggestions, ASW sent back a lot of feedback, designs, and so on. There are a lot of dedicated GBF players on the Arc System Works staff, and that made it easy to talk to them over many of these points.
The joy and reward of working on both mobile and console games
Cymaga: This is your first console game development project – what was it like to be part of the process?
FKHR: I feel like I understand the difference between the mobile and console game development mindset, but also feel like the basics of both games’ development are the same.
Mobile games pile on a lot of updates in a very short time span, and iterate quickly based on player feedback. Meanwhile, console games take time to release and have a more coherent product in the end… that’s what it looks like on the surface, at least. Recently, mobile development has undergone a huge evolution, and really, the development and logistics of both types of game development are the same. We were developing both a console game and a mobile game side by side, and our teams were able to learn a lot from each other. From the rapid development and support pace of GBF to the challenges of developing a high-end console title, I feel like I was able to get a lot of experience as a director.
Cymaga: GBF has another console title in the works, too – Granblue Fantasy Relink. How did that project come about?
FKHR: Shortly after GBF launched, we received a lot of feedback saying “I would love to see this world in a console game.” Out of the suggestions, the most common request was was an action RPG, so we decided to make that a reality.
Just like GBVS, we wanted to make sure that GBF players will enjoy Relink. I think that Relink is for players who love console games, but aren’t quite receptive to mobile games. I’d love for them to be able to play Relink.
Cymaga: So it’s a game that can bring a lot of new players into the Granblue Fantasy franchise. One of Cygames’ strengths is that it can create both mobile and console games at a high level – what do you think of that?
FKHR: It’s a great environment for developing games. We’re also developing a triple-A console title named Project Awakening at the same time, as well as some others. If we keep up this quality in our console games, I think that a lot of possibilities and opportunities will open up for Cygames.
Cymaga: Now that Cygames is taking part in both console and mobile development, what do you think is the most fun part of making these new games?
FKHR: I think it’s being able to use the same IP to provide more game experiences. GBF has a lot of players who’ve been with us for many years, and they can play the mobile game while also experiencing a different face of GBF through GBVS and Relink. There haven’t been many game franchises that let you do all that at the same time. GBVS is the kind of game that both GBF players and non-players will be able to enjoy together, and we’re working to make Relink a good follow-up to it.
Cymaga: Finally, could you talk a little about future GBF developments on any of its many fronts?
FKHR: Granblue Fantasy has, with the support of its many fans, become one of Cygames’ flagship franchises. Thanks to them, we’ve been working on games like Relink and Versus, and two seasons of anime have been made.
So we’re going to up the speed – we’re not just going to spread Granblue Fantasy in Japan, we’re going to bring this to the world. There are a lot of games out of Japan that have become household names, and we’d like GBF to become one of them. We’ll keep working to make that happen.
Cygames’ vision and slogan is to “create the best content”, and that’s why I think we can do it.