Famitsu interview with Fukuhara Tetsuya – February 20, 2020 edition

Weekly Famitsu magazine sat down with Fukuhara Tetsuya (“FKHR”, director of Granblue Fantasy and Granblue Fantasy Versus) as part of their cover feature on Granblue Fantasy Versus, and we’ve translated his interview here!

Famitsu: Let’s start with this – how do you feel now that the game’s finally out?

FKHR: It’s been a year and 2 months since we announced this game at Granblue Fantasy Fes 2018, but this game has been in development for 3 years. The day has finally come for everyone to play this game. The first feeling is relief, but we have updates and DLC to think about next, so we’re still going to be busy.

Famitsu: What did you concentrate the most on in this game?

FKHR: We think that fighting games are the game that bring out the greatest parts of a character. You control their every move, there’s a lot of chatter and dialogue, and there are all of these unique animations you can see, too. Granblue Fantasy has a lot of very popular characters thanks to its fans, and we put all of our effort into letting these characters express themselves. The backgrounds also let you take one look at them and think “This is Granblue.” We put a lot into making those look like paintings, too.

Famitsu: We think the fans will really see that in the graphics. The simplicity of the game system – that must have been another appeal to Granblue fans.

FKHR: That’s definitely true. We have a lot of RPG fans in Granblue, and since we’re a smartphone game at heart, our controls are extremely simple. So for GBVS we wanted to make sure it didn’t have complicated controls. The entire fighting game genre has started making their games more and more complicated. Each fighting game tries to make a beginner-friendly mode, but from the point of view of a mobile game developer, we thought it was still a high barrier. So that’s why we came up with the one-button special move, the “Ability” (Skill) button.

Tired of failing your Dragon Punch motion? Try Forward+Skill!

Famitsu: Ah, okay. It makes sense – no matter how new you are at fighting games, you can press the Ability button and get a special move to come out.

FKHR: We think that a lot of newcomers to fighting games have a hard time getting moves to come out – that stops them before they even get to the losing. They think “this is too hard, I quit.” So we thought of putting all the special moves on one button. Some modes separate Technical Mode inputs and Beginner Mode inputs, but we didn’t want to have the problem where playing as Beginner Mode against Technical Mode put you at a disadvantage. So we made it so that the easy input doesn’t affect the damage of the move, just the cooldown time, so that the disadvantage would be as minimal as possible.

Plus, we didn’t make it a mode switch, we made it so that both input methods were valid at all times. Even advanced players can make use of the Ability button in certain situations. That’s the beauty of that button, it’s meant for new players, but still has enough depth and technique for advanced players to use.

Famitsu: We were surprised by the Guard button, too.

FKHR: When we talked to people who had never played fighting games before, they had no idea how to block – holding back to block was an alien concept to them. We would explain it to them, and they would ask “but why does holding backward mean that you guard attacks?” and after that, we knew the guard button was a necessity. And we knew that if we forced people to use a guard button, we would alienate people, so we made it so both a guard button and the traditional back-to-block worked. To be honest, I don’t use the guard button myself.

“Who needs to block?” -the official English description of HPA

Famitsu: Were these options suggested by Arc System Works?

FKHR: We had a lot of suggestions for each other. For example, when you hit a standing enemy with a low attack, that “!” mark that appears, that means it’s a low attack. We wanted to make it easy to understand that you’d made a good decision, and a lot of those little animations were Arc System Works’ ideas. Arc System Works has always wanted to make a beginner-friendly game, and they’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge on how to make that happen over the years. Oh – and Lowain was basically a labor of Arc System Works’ love (laughs)

Famitsu: People ask a lot about Yggdrasil.

FKHR: We had to model Elsam, and Tomoi, and Katapillar, and Yggdrasil… (rueful laughs) The design document had “You can play as Yggdrasil” written in it, but after we talked a lot about it, the message from Arc System Works was “The programmers hate it, but we wanna do it so we’re doing it”, so we… kind of… had to? (laughs). Lowain turned into one of those characters whose animations are so unique and fun that just looking at him makes you laugh. 

Waheyyyyyy! Remember to dodge everything from this girl!

Famitsu: What can you tell us about making and recording RPG Mode?

FKHR: Well, it started because this game is meant to be good for Granblue Fantasy fans. And to Granblue fans, I think the greatest feature is being able to take control of your favorite character. We want them to have fun with that, but dropping them into a fighting game and forcing them into battle against the CPU or against another person would be a frustrating experience – they wouldn’t be able to see their character in action, and they’d quit.  We also have a lot of players who enjoy the story of GBF, and we wanted a way to accommodate people who wanted to play cooperatively. We made the action RPG segment so that all of those people could play, too.

Famitsu: We didn’t expect that the game would have a weapon grid like GBF does.

FKHR: That was Arc System Works’ suggestion. This is a little awkward to say as the director of GBF, but we were wondering if console game players would think that the grid was so weird that it was off-putting. We didn’t necessarily want to put players down that road again, but as we mulled it over, we realized that it would be a familiar system to GBF fans, and it would be easy for players to use without really forcing people to learn it. GBVS is an action game at heart, and you can consider this system to be a little boost, rather than the core of the game. That’s why we asked Arc System Works not to make the game’s balance too strict.

Famitsu: Which means what?

FKHR: For example, we didn’t want to make any RPG Mode stages so hard that you have to get strong drops high weapon skills to clear it. If we made the equipment too important, then it would take away from the joy of the action stages. I think we ended up with the right balance for it. The RPG mode can be cleared without leveling up or collecting any of the weapons. But people who aren’t very good at action games can raise their weapon levels and beat RPG mode with higher stats. So the weapon grid in GBVS ends up being a nice assist for people who aren’t good at action, or for newer players. 

With all that said, the Hard Mode that unlocks after you beat RPG Mode once will be pretty hard to beat if you don’t level up your weapons, so if people want to be really challenged, they should aim for that.

Famitsu: Any other advice for players who aren’t very good at action games?

FKHR: Make sure to use the support actions. I especially recommend equipping the heals. When you get into the second half of the game, the enemies have really powerful attacks, and you start taking a lot more damage. It’s really important to bring some heals along.

Famitsu: In addition to all these single player modes, this game will be part of the Rage esports series. What are you hyped for on the esports end of GBVS?

FKHR: I want this game to be enjoyed on the level of games like Blazblue and Guilty Gear. It’s a dream of mine for it to be announced as a main title at the largest fighting game event in the world, Evo.

Congratulations, FKHR, it’s a main title!

Famitsu: Will more modes be added to the game?

FKHR: It will take some time, but we do plan on adding more game modes in the future. However, before that we plan on having things like limited time ranking battle events, where people who reach the highest ranks within a certain period will earn a special title. There will be some in-game events like that.

Famitsu: Cool! Will there be new costumes added to the game too?

FKHR: That’s very difficult. GBVS models have a lot of flashy pieces like the hair and the capes that we use to make the animations dramatic. They don’t use the physics engine at all, they’re all hand-animated and modeled. If the costume changes, then those animations will all have to be redone, so it takes just as much time to make one costume as it takes to make one character. If it takes that much effort to make a costume, I’d rather add a character who hasn’t joined the GBVS roster yet. Or, at the very least, it would have to be a variation of the character like Blazblue’s Tsubaki and Izayoi, who play very differently from each other.

The fifth slot will be female – who could it be?

Famitsu: Speaking of new characters, you have a Character Pass coming, and one of those characters still hasn’t been revealed. Do you have any hints to give us about the identity of that fifth character?

FKHR: We announced the characters in male-female-male-female order, with Chaos Bringer, Narmaya, Soriz, and Djeeta. But the last character breaks that pattern – the character is female.

Famitsu: A female character! There are a lot of those! (laughs). Okay, so going back to previous interviews – we seem to remember that you said that you wanted an arcade release for this game…

FKHR: We’re actually working on an arcade version right now. We don’t know when it is going to come out, or even if it will come out at all, so we’ll let you know as soon as we make a decision on that.

The arcade dream – will it come true?

Famitsu: We’ll keep waiting for more news! Any last messages to try and sell people on the game?

FKHR: Granblue Fantasy Versus has much more than just versus battles. It’s really enjoyable as a single player action game, and there’s a lot of room to grow in RPG Mode. I would love it if every GBF fan played it. Meanwhile, for people who haven’t experienced GBF, I really hope that you enjoy the fighting while learning about the world of Granblue Fantasy.