(translated from the 04/11/2019 issue of Famitsu by @vibratingsheep, all mistakes are Sheep’s. All bolded phrases were highlighted in the original interview.)
The Granblue Fantasy style built over 5 years
Famitsu: When you look back at the last 5 years, what stands out?
Kimura Yuito (KMR): I left the Granblue Fantasy team for a time, but when you consider the time we were in development, I’m right at 5 years now.
Fukuhara Tetsuya (FKHR): I’ve been here since we started development, so it’s been about six and a half years for me. You could say that I’ve given this game my 30s.
Famitsu: That’s quite a long time since development on GBF started.
KMR: We started developing GBF as a browser game, but during development we expanded to the [Apple] App Store and Google Play. This game really made us feel how much times have changed for games.
FKHR: 5-6 years ago, native smartphone apps were all the rage, and we spent a lot of our early days debating how we should approach development. I’m glad we ended up keeping the flexibility of making it a browser game.
KMR: The fact that GBF is a browser game has become one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal.
Famitsu: How so?
KMR: It’s extremely easy to update it. GBF is a very complicated game, and it’s easy for bugs to pop up in various places. If there are any problems, we need to be able to fix them as quickly as possible. Browser games are perfect for making large numbers of small changes like that. Thanks to that, GBF has one of the highest update rates of any app in Japan. If we were a native app, the number of updates we push out would have hurt the game a great deal.
FKHR: As a browser game, we can have somewhat unprecedented amounts of content, too. GBF is fully voiced.
KMR: That’s true. I think that GBF has the most data of any game in Japan. With all of these voices that we have in the game, if we were a native app we would have dozens of gigs of sound files.
Famitsu: So that’s what you meant about the strengths of a browser game. During all this time spent working on the game, what has given you the most trouble?
KMR: I can’t think of anything. I’m the type who forgets all the bad stuff immediately.
FKHR: While KMR was off of the team, there was a period where it seemed like no matter what we did, bugs would keep popping up. The development team came together and swore that this time we’d be bug-free, but each new bug felt like an unending chain of losses for us. None of us gave up or complained, but we were working so hard and so carefully, I thought “why do we keep having so much trouble?”
KMR: From my outside perspective, that was a period when the game vastly expanded in scope, and it was time to rebuild the foundations of the game. The more you want to expand outward and upward, the more that the cracks in the foundation are revealed. It’s important to fix those cracks, but figuring out the timing on it is very difficult. Thanks to Fukuhara’s work during that time period, the base of the game has become much more stable, and we experience fewer and fewer bugs when we add new content.
Famitsu: On the other side of the coin, what has been the best part of working on this game?
KMR: The best part is when I hear the reactions from the players as they experience the game. That’s what makes working on games so much fun.
FKHR: Just like Kimura, I enjoy hearing feedback from players even on the smallest updates we make. When that happens, the team in charge of that update feels so rewarded.
Famitsu: Aside from the fan support, what do you think has contributed the most to GBF’s longevity?
KMR: I think it’s simply hard work. I think every developer at every company in the game industry works hard, but I’m willing to toot our own horn and say that the quality and amount of work we put into this game goes far above and beyond the norm. All of that hard work and effort contributes to the overall game and doesn’t seem that big individually, but after 4 years, 5 years of live service, it’s become one of our defining features. As one example, the team draws new art for every possible character in GBF on Valentine’s Day and sends those out to the fans as thank-yous for their gifts. No other game team I know of does that, not even the other game teams at Cygames.
FKHR: On the game side of things, I think the 2D side view battles have been a big factor. It’s hard to make that style of gameplay obsolete, since it has a simple and universal appeal. No one has ever told us that our battle system is outdated. The improvement in our animation and art, and our successful expansions of game content, have been big factors as well.
The 5th anniversary and vertical expansion
Famitsu: What’s the overall concept behind the 5th anniversary content updates?
KMR: For the 4th anniversary, we expanded the game horizontally, so for the 5th, we want to go vertically. That means we want deeper content that rewards time invested, rather than just more content that’s done quickly. Although our drive to do that ended up expanding the game horizontally anyway. (laughs)
Famitsu: (laughs) Does that mean your planned content grew beyond your original specs?
KMR: Yes. We did the same thing for the 4th anniversary, too (rueful laugh). We did so much that the players didn’t know what to do first. So with that mistake in mind, we tried to spread out the content updates for the 5th anniversary by dividing it up into steady updates that last through summer. We ended up with as much content for this anniversary as we did for last anniversary.
FKHR: We ended up with a lot more than we originally planned.
Famitsu: Why did you plan to expand the game vertically rather than horizontally?
FKHR: We paced what people call endgame content very deliberately over the last 5 years. Until year 4, we focused on content that new and intermediate players could enjoy, but with so many new users in the 5th year, and the strength level of players being so high, we decided to add more content for advanced players.
Famitsu: What new content did you put the most work into?
KMR: The most work was put into the Arcarum Evokers, playable on March 10th. That seemed like a pretty tough job for the team.
FKHR: We had to come up with 10 different sets of abilities, stories, and animations. Their stories took the longest time, since each one is the equivalent of a full story event. The animations and the stories took about a year and a half to complete.
Famitsu: That’s amazing!
KMR: These Evokers were very touchy characters to deal with, and honestly, I don’t know how well they’ll be received (rueful laugh).
Famitsu: What kind of characters are they?
KMR: The 10 Evokers were designed as characters who shine in the back line. As sages [賢者, kenja is the original Japanese name of the Evokers], we had this image of them being support characters who provided help rather than standing on the front line and fighting.
FKHR: They’re designed for both very short and very long fights, which makes them a complicated design too.
KMR: But I think that no matter what, if you get an Evoker, you’ll be stronger than you are now. We’ve made it so that they’re good as your character in the 5th or 6th slot.
Famitsu: What about other content that took a long time?
FKHR: We put a lot of time and effort into “What Makes the Sky Blue Part 3: 00Ø”. Our story events normally run for 6 chapters, but 00Ø was 9 chapters long and had more than three times the usual amount of new art. [At the time of the interview] it hasn’t started yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the players react to it.
KMR: We have some dark storylines in our events sometimes. Part 1 was not very dark, but Part 2 went to some dark places. I wondered where Part 3 would go.
FKHR: When things get really serious, they tend to get a little darker. Since we touch on so many different genres in our stories every year, we get one or two like that per year. It’s really hard to write serious stories well, but I think it’s important that we do so to keep the variety up.
KMR: GBF has a lot of comedy events too, so the serious events and the funny events accentuate each other well. I believe it’s a good thing to keep our repertoire wide.
Famitsu: Sara’s event “Teardrop in the Sand” hit really hard…
FKHR: To be honest with you, when our focus was on Sara’s circumstances, people focused on that stuff a lot more than we expected. We especially didn’t think that our players would talk so much about the villagers. But when I went back and read that event, I thought to myself “the people on this island are all awful.”
Famitsu: You hit the gas pedal too hard, eh. Going back to the 5th anniversary event, we were surprised when you added a new Tier III class.
KMR: In order to make the new Tier IV class Chrysaor, we felt like we had to implement a new Tier III class to go with it, Gladiator. If we hadn’t done that, it would have been difficult for new players to understand. So that’s why we made Gladiator to go with it.
Famitsu: So from now on, whenever you add a new Class IV, a Class III will come with it?
KMR: I think so. Unrelated to that, we make EXII classes when we want to make a new class but don’t want to make new lower rank classes.
FKHR: On top of what he said, Class IV and EXII are considered the top line of classes, so our goal with adding a Class III is adding more options for intermediate players. While Gladiator is considered Class III mechanically, it’s strong enough that we consider it to be kind of a Class 3.5. Because of that, it has more difficult requirements than normal.
Famitsu: The dual wield style of Gladiator and Chrysaor is really impressive.
FKHR: We’ve wanted to allow dual wielding for a long time. It was difficult to figure out how to make it work in our game system, but we finally managed it in year 5.
Famitsu: It must feel like a dream come true. What other classes were difficult to implement?
FKHR: At first, our engineering team was against Gunslinger. “We can’t equip bullets into each gun!” (pained laugh)
KMR: Mechanic seemed difficult as well. You worked so hard to implement it, and now all players use it to do is gain full meter… that ability to charge CA meter is too strong.
Famitsu: Are there any plans to rebalance the game?
KMR: Not at the moment. We may change our minds, though. The speed between concept and implementation is one of GBF’s strengths. Even the most sudden ideas we have only take about 1 month before they go live.
Famitsu: That’s fast. So, it seems like GBF has been working hard on new content for new and intermediate players in the last few months.
KMR: That’s true. We recently implemented Proving Grounds, a mode designed for intermediate and advanced players. The feedback from players was very positive, so we’ll continue making adjustments and keep working on it. And as a measure to make it friendlier to new players, we’ve been making adjustments that will let them jump in and still enjoy the event.
Famitsu: What kind of adjustments are you making?
KMR: If players can’t participate in events that most other players are doing, then they won’t be able to join the conversation and won’t have fun. We’re making it so that people who join the game can have an easier time getting to the level where they can play the most popular content.
Granblue leaps onto consoles and more!
Famitsu: We’d like to finish this interview by asking you about upcoming developments for the game, including the upcoming console versions. We’ll start by asking about the main story of GBF – what’s in store?
FKHR: In the story, we’ll be heading to a new skydom soon. We’ve been making a lot of big moves in story since last fall, and we don’t plan on letting up the pace any time soon.
Famitsu: You hit the coda of the big anniversary story events recently. What will be waiting for us in next year’s anniversary event?
FKHR: The “What Makes the Sky Blue” event trilogy kept getting bigger and bigger in scale each time. Next year will be a new event, and the scale will come back down from “00Ø”. However, it will still be worthy of being an anniversary event.
Famitsu: Will it be another ongoing story?
FKHR: I think it will be a one-shot story this time. I think the players would hate it if they had to wait another three years for the story (rueful laugh).
Famitsu: True (laughs). What kind of features or events would you like to add to the current game?
KMR: After we’re done with the content and updates we announced for the 5th anniversary, I want more guidance and tutorials in the game. We want more assistance for new players, that teaches them and says “this would be good to do next.”
FKHR: Aside from that, we’ve talked about being able to adopt cats, as kind of a My Room.
KMR: I would like players to be able to raise pets. A My Room function in GBF has to fit both the setting and the mechanics of the game, but I want to have a Pet’s Room, at least. Along with cats, I’d want to give the option of owning dogs, birds, hamsters, and more.
Famitsu: That’s a pretty big dream. Please tell us about the state of Granblue Fantasy Versus and Granblue Fantasy Relink development.
KMR: We’re making GBVS to be the kind of game that people who are not used to fighting games can enjoy. We want to let players try it out before it comes out, so look forward to that one. Relink is mainly being developed by Osaka Cygames. They’ve inherited what we made in cooperation with Platinum Games, and they’re not going to make any big changes from what they started with.
FKHR: The Relink handover slowed development down a bit, but right now, we have the same number of staff at Osaka Cygames as when we were working with Platinum, and we’ve caught up to that development speed. The team is going to grow from here, and with those new members, the development will pick up pace too.
KMR: It already feels like a fun game, so we hope you’re looking forward to it.
FKHR: From here, I’d like GBF to keep running and being uniquely fun at least until we’ve released all 12 Divine Generals (zodiac characters).
KMR: I don’t want to be like one of those manga that has to introduce all of them at once because we’re about get cut short. We’ll keep working hard so that we can keep going.