The latest issue of Famitsu has an extensive interview with Fukuhara Tetsuya (director, Granblue Fantasy) and Kimura Yuito (producer, Granblue Fantasy) in its 6th anniversary special. They talk about a range of topics from Granblue Versus‘ reception to future projects and what’s coming up in year 7. Let’s dig in!
Update 4/4/2020: Famitsu posted an extended version of this interview online – new additions are marked in this salmon color to make it easier to skim.
Why Granblue Fantasy has become so beloved
Famitsu: Granblue has made it to its 6th anniversary. On February 6th, Granblue Fantasy Versus hit shelves, and after that, Relink is on the horizon. How do you feel about the game’s expansion and its current state?
KMR: When we first launched this game, we never imagined it would get this big. At the beginning, we were just one of Mobage’s many browser games, so we focused on basic things like making the game fun, innovative, and expressive. We wanted to be the best game on the Mobage platform. After that, we released an app version, then came a TV anime, console games… these six years have seen some explosive growth for the world of Granblue Fantasy.
Famitsu: What was the point that made you realize that GBF had grown beyond your wildest imaginations?
KMR: There have been too many to count. TV commercials for the app’s release, our collab with The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, free draw campaigns with Gachapin and Mukku…
FKHR: To take recent examples, 2018’s Granblue Fantasy Fest and the 5th anniversary event “000” were huge hits.
(New!) KMR: Originally, GBF had a lot of male players, but from years 3 to 5, the “What Makes the Sky blue?” story event series brought in a lot of female players.
Famitsu: Your marketing efforts to expand awareness of GBF have been pretty innovative. The commercials and the crossovers created a lot of buzz, and felt like they made a strong impression on people.
KMR: At first we went for big-scale promotions, but we didn’t feel like bigger was better for those. The promotion is important, yes, but for collabs and events, it’s important to consider how much fun the users have. We focused on doing things right by the users, and I like to think that that’s what led to them being so popular with the players.
Famitsu: You mentioned a few points where you really felt the growth of the game, does that mean you’re still getting new players? With a game that’s 6 years old, we have to wonder about the attrition rate, too.
KMR: We’re still getting new players these days. And with new functions inside the game that provide strategy tips and guidance, we’ve added a lot of ways to help new players, so a lot of those new players actually stick to the game. As for the attrition rate, it feels like people who’ve played the game for a long time tend to stick with it. A lot of them come back for collabs and events, too.
Famitsu: Attracting new users for this long is amazing. Where do you think your efforts were most rewarded for new player retention?
KMR: Everywhere, I think. GBF gives its all on all fronts: story, characters, gameplay, we work hard on everything. Every player’s tastes are different, and I think our players find some aspect of the game that resonates with them and keep playing because of that.
Famitsu: So you’re going all out on everything. What are you thinking of working on to keep new players coming in and playing?
KMR: In order to keep a game running, change is a constant need, but after 6 years, GBF has built an image as a certain type of game. If we change that too much, then the fans will be stressed out. So we have to make changes without stressing out the players. It will be a big challenge to strike the balance what GBF needs to become with what GBF needs to stay the same.
FKHR: I think the same way as Kimura does. Every service-style game can end up in this situation, where making changes that you think are for the best will change the game into something else entirely, and drive away players. With us being in our 6th year, people may also think “I won’t be able to catch up if I start this late…” So we have to think about how to approach those kinds of players as well.
The Secrets Behind Belial
Famitsu: You’ve created a lot of popular characters over these six years. And out of those, the two characters who appeared on Famitsu’s 2/6 cover, Belial and Beelzebub, got a huge reaction.
KMR: That makes me very happy.
Famitsu: When you make new characters, do you think about what features would make characters popular or well-received first?
FKHR: Yes. When it comes down to it, we want every character we make to be popular. No exceptions. Some end up getting a much larger reception than others, though.
Famitsu: Which character surprised you the most with their popularity?
KMR: Definitely Belial.
FKHR: Yeah. At first, KMR was worried, saying “Are we sure we want to release this kind of character for the 4th anniversary? Will it be ok?” (pained laugh)
KMR: I remember that (pained laugh). I remember worrying a lot about his release.
Famitsu: He’s definitely one of the strongest personalities in the big cast of Granblue Fantasy (laughs)
FKHR: Belial plays a vital role and has his own reasons for being the way he is, and we predicted that his dirty mind and foul mouth would make people dislike him. However, while we wanted that to be a reason for him to be hated as a villain, once we let him loose it turned out to be the reason people loved him. That wasn’t expected.
KMR: We’re glad that the fans took to him, though.
FKHR: Belial’s lines had to be checked against the broadcast code, and the really wild lines had to be rewritten a bunch of times (pained laugh)
Famitsu: We can only imagine the pain you went through (laughs)
FKHR: As for Beelzebub, who graced that cover along with Belial, I think that character works really well as a link between GBF and GBVS.
Famitsu: What does that mean?
FKHR: From the beginning, Beelzebub was designed as an original character and meant to be the last boss of GBVS. But we couldn’t just have him show up and tell everyone “I’m the strongest”, and have the players accept that over these other characters who’ve had a lot of stories built up around them over the years. So we had him appear in GBF before GBVS, and that was a more natural way for him to draw attention and interest.
KMR: That kind of planning isn’t limited to GBVS either. We’re always working on things far in advance and setting these plans in motion. GBVS had a lot of planning behind its development, and it connected to GBF well, which helped us make Beelzebub a popular charcter.
Famitsu: So when a new character needs to be created, does the whole team come up with the concept and design?
FKHR: Most of the character designs and concepts come from me. Sometimes, the illustrators and writers come up with ideas, too. An artist will say that they drew up an illustration for a character, or a writer will say that they would like to try writing a backstory character like this. Lately, there have been more cases where I come up with a general direction, and the team of writers hashes it out.
The title of the 6th anniversary event
Famitsu: This year’s anniversary event was “Seeds of Redemption.” Could you tell us what was behind the decision to do a one-shot event story after the 3-year saga of “What Makes the Sky Blue”?
FKHR: After “What Makes the Sky Blue”, we didn’t think it would be good to do another set of events that would require their own continuity and trilogy pacing over 2 or 3 years, and we felt that this was a great opportunity to do a one-shot event.
Famitsu: The name of the event, “Seeds of Redemption” (Kokuu, Shinshin in Japanese) left us with a lot of questions – what does it mean?
FKHR: The title of “000” had a lot of meanings built into it, and this one also has a lot of meaning as well. If you only see the story we presented on the surface, it might be hard to understand, but the kokuu represents hollowness and also the sky (虚空, kokuu = empty space), while it also represents the nurturing rains of late April (穀雨, kokuu = April 20th through May 5th, literally the “grain rain” and known as Guyu in Asian calendars).
As for the shinshin, it contains “quiet” (静かな様子, shizuka na yousu), “intimacy” (親, which can be pronounced shin and also means “parents”), “faith/devotion/trust” (信, shin), “heart” (心, which can also be pronounced shin), “the new” (新 – also pronounced shin), it had a lot of different meanings that can all be considered shin. We used all of those meanings, and that formed the event.
Famitsu: That’s a lot of meaning. The event had Seox as the main character, but the other Eternals played a part too.
FKHR: When we were writing about Seox, we believed that we needed to write a lot about the circumstances around him, as well as the Eternals. We wanted to depict what happens when a problem comes up and all of them assume their individual roles. We wanted to know what goes through each of their minds.
This event’s scale was smaller than “What Makes the Sky Blue”, because we thought that doing a large-scale event with the Eternals would end up being pretty bland and unimaginative. So we made it about a lot of smaller relationships, and individual dramas.
Famitsu: While we’re thinking about it – how do you decide what characters will appear in a story event?
KMR: Sometimes we build a story event around our wish to write certain kinds of stories, and sometimes build it around our wish to dig deep into the stories of certain characters.
FKHR: That’s true. The hard part is properly pacing all the characters we pick. In the general scheme of GBF, we try to insert a more comical event after 3 serious events.
And when it comes to running multiple serious events in a row, we try not to group similar stories together. For example, at the end of January 2020 we had “Spaghetti Syndrome” and February 2020 was “Seeds of Redemption”. Both were serious and dramatic rather than comedic, but the former was heavy on science fiction elements and had a big impact on the game, while the latter was a smaller stage and heavier on the personal drama. That kept them distinct from each other.
As for the story itself, we start with what theme we want first, and after that the characters who fit it come naturally. The popular and standard “Society” and “Dragon Knights” are a different case, but when it comes down to it, we pick the story first, rather than pick the characters first.
Famitsu: Will we see more events featuring rare characters in the future?
FKHR: Of course. Last year’s “No Rain, No Rainbow” was received very well. However, we can’t do the same kind of story event multiple times a year, so we’re looking at the best way to approach the next one. A lot of people expressed how happy they were, so we want to do something for them.
Famitsu: “Seeds of Redemption” and other events have had mini-games included in them. We started getting more minigames starting in summer last year – how did these come about?
FKHR: I believe that story events are the stars of social games. We have one at the end of every month, with new story, new characters, and more. They create a lot of buzz, and are an entry point for a lot of players. They’re very popular.
These story events are also very newbie-friendly. Because of that, they haven’t changed very much over the years like “Rise of the Beasts” and “Unite and Fight” have.
We value players’ enjoyment of these story events, so we really don’t want to keep doing the exact same thing every month and getting bored. We made the mini-games to provide a little bit of spice to them.
Famitsu: We call them mini-games, but you seem to put a lot of effort into them. How long does it take to develop one of these?
KMR: About a month, isn’t it?
FKHR: If you count the planning and prep time, it takes about 3 months. It’s tough on our planners because they have a bunch of different projects they’re in charge of, but we treat these mini-games with all the seriousness of a regular game.
KMR: Since GBF is a browser game, we have a lot more restrictions than other games do. There are a lot of action-based mini-games in general, but as a browser game we have a problem making those happen.
The theme of year 7: “expansion in all directions”
Famitsu: Each year, we ask you what you’re focusing on for the coming year – what’s in store after the 6th anniversary?
KMR: We want to expand the game in all directions. We have a new Eternals uncap, we have the update to Arcarum, the theme of this 6th anniversary is new content in all areas.
FKHR: That includes the Battle System Version 2, as well. After 6 years, it was high time to make big and little changes to the combat system. As for new content, we have a lot of players in the mid range or slightly higher than that, so we’re planning for a lot more content aimed at that segment of the game.
KMR: All of our guides and handbooks are meant for new players, but the way that GBF is designed right now, our new players are able to advance quickly to the mid-range content.
FKHR: We want to make this a game that is easy for new players to enjoy, by making certain things easier or by toning down certain difficult things.
Going deep on the 6th anniversary announcements
Famitsu: Let’s start going deeper into the game of GBF. On the March 7th live stream, you unveiled a new level of uncap for the Eternals. A lot of fans were surprised by the announcement – what led to the decision to implement this?
FKHR: At some point, the process of recruiting and uncapping the Eternals, as well as the attachment the players have to these characters, made the Eternals the faces of GBF.
We started by thinking about how to differentiate them more from the ten Evokers, and we wanted to have the Eternals more places to shine, and that’s how we decided on adding another uncap for them. When you uncap them another time, they will be able to reach level 150. We’re looking into the best way to improve their abilities on the way to that goal.
I think just reaching level 150 will have a big impact, but the intent of this so-called “6 star uncap” is to make the Eternals “the strongest crew in the skies” and secure that title for them. We’ll follow up with more information, so we hope you are excited to hear more.
Famitsu: So for now, this next level of uncap will be just for the Eternals. So will it take a very long time to gather the materials for them…?
FKHR: When the Eternals were first released, people said “This will take a year! I’ll never do it!” but now, if you’re dedicated to the task, you can recruit one in a few days. At the very least, maybe people will think “this is tough” when seeing the materials…
KMR: There’s still some fun to be had in GBF (laughs)
Famitsu: In the livestream, you announced Lumberjack and Cavalier. Could you tell us the concept behind these classes?
FKHR: Lumberjack and Cavalier were meant to expand the ways you can play with certain weapon types.
With the number of classes we have in the game, there are certain “easy to use weapon types” and “weapon types that are harder to use”. For a while, the Katana weapon type was considered cursed, but with Kengo and Chrysaor, there are a lot more opportunities to use them. So, we wanted to give players more opportunities to use axes, harps, spears, and guns as main hand weapons, and built the classes around them.
Axe and Harp meant Lumberjack to us, and Gun and Spear meant a mounted soldier, so we had Minaba [Hideo] design them. After these, well, the only real class that uses melee weapons is Luchador, so we plan to give players more options by adding new jobs that use them.
Luchador is definitely strong, but we hope that the new classes can give melee weapons some new ways to shine in the main hand.
Famitsu: That should be a fun effort for fans. These new jobs had an entirely new way of acquiring them, too.
FKHR: We want the majority of our players to be able to play these classes, so we balanced them in such a way that it wasn’t very hard to earn them.
Famitsu: Why did you release Lumberjack and Cavalry as Tier IV classes, with no Class III for them?
FKHR: Up to now, we’ve had players go through Tier II and Tier III, but this late in the game, adding more Tier I or Tier II classes would be treated by most players as just stepping stones.
You could see this when we released Chrysaor as a Tier 4. We treated Gladiator as pretty much a Tier 3.5 class (even though it’s treated in-game as a Tier 3), but we felt that the Chrysaor process was pretty well received, so we expanded on that with Lumberjack and Cavalier.
Famitsu: We see. Up next, we’d like to ask a question about the SD illustrations. Around the 5th anniversary, the art for the Fighter class was updated. Could you tell us about why that happened, and there are plans to update any other art like that?
FKHR: Fighter is a special job. Gran and Djeeta as fighters appear in the anime, on the merchandise, and many other places outside of the game. In many ways, the Fighter art represents GBF itself.
However, the art for Fighter was 5 years old, so it really felt outdated when compared to more current class art. For new fans who started because of the anime or other sources, we thought they would feel weird looking at it, so during the 5th anniversary we updated the Fighter look.
So, unless we have a reason as special as we did for Fighter, we won’t update other class art like it.
Famitsu: In “Seeds of Redemption”, there was new story art for the Eternals, will there be more of that in the future?
FKHR: Yes, we still plan on new illustrations for characters. A lot of the character art has them in very acrobatic poses, which isn’t suitable for conversations and similar scenes. When we have time, we make new art with more natural poses for dialogue scenes.
Famitsu: In GBF, you put a lot of effort into the SD character animations. Do the designers have a lot of input into how each character moves?
FKHR: The sprite storyboarding is done by the art team, but we get a lot of suggestions from them, too. The illustrator often has input and ideas too, so when that happens we all work on it together.
For about the first year, I was in charge of all of the SD animation storyboarding, but with so much more work on my plate, my final SD storyboarding project was the Eternals. (laughs)
Famitsu: (laughs). Speaking of SD sprites, GBVS DLC includes a GBF Narmaya skin as a bonus for purchasing the character, which was new for GBF. It’s amazingly made – the skin replicates Narmaya’s moveset in GBVS.
FKHR: GBVS has a lot of animations original to it that we could only do in a fighting game. But if a player starts in GBVS and moves to GBF, and the character doesn’t look and move at all the same, then we thought that might look weird to them.
So, in order to keep things from being too different, we decided to add skins that would change their animations. If the DLC bonus was a skin, then it wouldn’t be related at all to character strangth in GBF, and would make fans happy too.
KMR: However, it was pretty tough to implement in-game GBF bonuses that came with GBVS.
FKHR: That’s true. Sony Interactive Entertainment was really cooperative, so we somehow managed to make it work. We feel like this team-up is the first time it’s ever happened in the game industry.
Famitsu: So it took SIE to make the DLC work. Next, we have questions about game content. We feel like Proving Grounds has been pretty well-refined after all these iterations, but will it keep being adjusted in the future?
FKHR: We’ll make small adjustments to it, but we don’t plan on big changes. We’ll add new features or quality of life changes to it gradually.
Famitsu: Will you be holding Proving Grounds more often?
FKHR: Right now, we run it around once every 3 months, and even if we change that pattern occasionally, we don’t plan on changing the pace of it.
Making multiple parties is a pretty big burden on our players, so to keep them from getting exhausted, we run them with a decent time between events.
We’ve been told many times over the years that people want to make more parties, but we thought that unless we helped them out by automating the party selection system people would find it annoying. So we made it possible for your second party to be made automatically, and players didn’t have to think about it too hard before building multiple parties.
As we’ve run more of the events, the players have gotten more used to it, and instead of making parties automatically, they’ve started talking more about wanting to make their own parties, and in fact we’ve heard more and more that the auto party system is getting in the way of playing the game. So we’ll keep improving that system, and hopefully we’ll be able to use it in future content that uses multiple party compositions.
Famitsu: GBF players seem to be pretty hardcore. For those players, will you be putting a lot of effort into making Proving Grounds stronger, or adding new content?
KMR: I think the image of GBF players being hardcore comes from the game being over 6 years old. I feel like over a long time playing, more and more people decide “being hardcore is fun”.
FKHR: Until the first half of last year, there weren’t many opportunities to challenge yourself with the content. It was just Unite and Fight. So for players who enjoy pushing their limits, we wanted to have more content, and added things like Event Proud difficulties and the Pride of the Ascendant series.
KMR: There are also players who don’t like challenging themselves that hard, so we hope that this is about the right balance.
Famitsu: We have questions about balance too. Famitsu’s main GBF writer told us to ask you about updates to Arcarum (pained laughs). Right now, it takes a very long time.
FKHR: We think that taking a lot of time or a little time is based on the role of that content. If we make more content that feels like Arcarum, or takes as long as Arcarum does, then we will reduce the amount of time that it takes to play Arcarum.
KMR: This is just my personal opinion, but I think that your opinion of Arcarum depends a lot on your blood type.
Famitsu: Your blood type?
KMR: Arcarum is suited for Type A players who are good at grinding away, but the more laid-back Type B players don’t like it. I’m a Type B myself, so I am not very good at keeping up on Arcarum every day (pained laugh)
KMR: I can keep doing it when I concentrate, but if I’m not in the mood for it I just can’t. So I can’t chip away at my Arcarum Passports every day.
FKHR: I’m Type O myself, so I’ve been playing at a constant pace this whole time. I have never wasted an Arcarum Passport.
KMR: No way.
FKHR: I’m serious (laughs). I’ve made it almost to 30 before, but when I reach that point I use up 3-6 of them.
Famitsu: We don’t know if it’s related to blood type, but people sure have different reactions to it.
KMR: This issue isn’t related to a game being good or bad, it’s related to the player’s personality, which makes it tough. We spent a lot of time debating over if 1 passport a day was the right number, or if it was better to start with 1 passport or 2 passports. To players who keep grinding away, it may be better to give out more, but it stresses players like me out.
Famitsu: So players like that think “if I don’t use all of these, it’s such a waste”
KMR: And if they keep going to waste, then a lot of people will start hating it. So that’s why we decided on just one per day.
Famitsu: With that said, on the March 10th update, you raised the limit on passports from 30 to 90, which makes it harder to waste passports. Although it makes it easier to overload on them (laughs). As for Arcarum itself, you also announced Replicard Sandbox, a new content type.
FKHR: We’re working hard to make sure that Replicard Sandbox is ready by this summer. When we’re closer to release, we’ll have new info to release, so we hope you’ll be patient.
KMR: We can’t say anything specific, but it should make it faster to recruit Evokers. A good number of people might have all 10 by the end of the year.
Famitsu: We’re looking forward to more announcements. Now, while we have a chance, we’d like to follow up on a question we asked in our 5th anniversary interview, when Fukuhara said that he’d like to be able to raise a cat in the game as part of a My Room function…
FKHR: That was just an example, it wasn’t a plan in the making (pained laugh). At the time, “The Many Lives of Cats” was showing us just how much people love cats, so that’s probably why I answered that at the time.
Famitsu: Is that so (laughs). In the “Make Up & Go” event, you could customize the foundry, so we thought that might mean the My Room was coming.
FKHR: The foundry customization in that event was pretty popular.
To tell you the truth, Cygames has other games with My Room functions, so a lot of people ask us “Why don’t you have that in GBF“? We wanted to meet the fans’ requests, so we have had a lot of meetings and debates about it, but the conclusion we reached was that a My Room would not have much use in GBF.
What we mean is, if we implemented a My Room feature in GBF, we would have to give it an in-game effect, like this room ornament gives X% attack up when it’s in your room. But then people would feel forced to use them, so we didn’t think that was right.
The other option was to make it a cosmetic feature only, and we understand that many players would like that. But we don’t think that it would be a majority of GBF players, and if we did it that way, then we wouldn’t be able to support the constant addition of more furniture and decorations. We were worried that if we did it that way, they would be very disappointed.
KMR: We do want to make the Grandcypher itself into some kind of content, but we’re still thinking of a good way to make it work. Maybe it’d be best for it to be part of the Skycompass app.
As for the room part itself, at Granblue Fantasy Fest we’ve recreated several rooms on the Grandcypher and will continue to make more, so we hope that people enjoy those.
Famitsu: There are definitely a lot of fans who want to see more of the Grandcypher.
KMR: There are a lot of very unique people in the crew, and it seems like they would do a lot to personalize their spaces on the ship. Ladiva has a bar, Cagliostro has an alchemy lab, and so on.
Famitsu: As more and more people join the crew, we wonder what it’s like inside the Grandcypher. How do all these people fit? (laughs)
KMR: The Grandcypher was built by a primal beast, Noa. Maybe space is warped inside, and it’s bigger than it looks (laughs).
In all seriousness, we’ve already seen how big the Grandcypher is from the anime and GBVS, so it’s not bigger than that.
FKHR: I think it might be best for us to avoid going into that (laughs)
Collabs meant to make the fans happy
Famitsu: The effort that goes into GBF‘s collab events is amazing. We can feel your love for the original work in every one.
FKHR: When another work is gracious enough to let us cross over with them, we study every inch of that series. GBF is an original series, so we tend to feel our way around to figure out what will make people happy, but these other series have longtime fans, so we spend time analyzing what makes them happy until we have a decent understanding of it. Of course, we have fans on our own staff, who help us with what we have to understand and what we have to do.
By focusing on what the fans are looking for, seeing what will make them happy, and working hard to make it happen, the fans feel the love for the original work.
Famitsu: So you take the entire work to heart, and that’s what lets you entertain the fans with little in-jokes and stories. When you pick these collabs, is it Cygames going out and asking for permission?
KMR: Hmm. There are many cases where we go out and ask the rights holder for permission, but recently, there have been a few cases where someone on the other team is a fan of GBF and that’s what makes the collab happen.
Famitsu: That’s the blessing of being the rights holder. You’d think that a lot of places would come to GBF and its many fans and say “hey, would you like to run a collab with us?”
KMR: Honestly, we don’t get that many (pained laugh).
Famitsu: Wait, really?
KMR: It’s not like our door is closed to requests. But even though we borrow a lot of other people’s IP, we don’t actually lend it out very much.
Famitsu: When you go out and ask, how do you choose what work you want to do a collab event with?
KMR: We choose a few based on big developments or releases that are coming up, but the most important thing is what comes to mind when we ask “What would be really fun in GBF?” We choose based on what will make the fans happy.
New fans from the console games
Famitsu: We’d like to ask about GBVS and Relink. Let’s start with GBVS – what do you think of the reception for GBVS?
KMR: The reception for the game was even better than we imagined. So many parts of the game are being praised, and while we were worried that people would get bored of the game much sooner, we’re relieved to see that players are enjoying playing online matches. We were also glad to see that there were a good number of people who became interested in GBF via GBVS.
Famitsu: That’s amazing, to get more mobile game players from a fighting game.
KMR: It seems like there are a lot of very stoic fighting game fans who just have to know everything about where their characters come from.
Famitsu: Oh, is that so? (laughs). So by taking control of the character, they have to understand the original story and background.
KMR: Apparently. We’re very impressed by the studious and dedicated nature of fighting game fans.
Famitsu: Out of the people who bought GBVS, how many of them do you think are fighting game fans and how many are GBF fans?
KMR: It feels like it’s about half and half. A lot of fighting game fans bought the game, and while we’re still just getting started on the overseas releases, I think that the Japanese release was a success.
Famitsu: While the release date for Relink is still not yet public, what can you tell us about your progress and the reactions you’ve gotten up to this point?
KMR: Since we announced it, it’s been going along very quietly. Unfortunately, we can’t really talk much about it, but we’ve gotten to the point where people can pick it up, play it, and find it fun. If we keep up development at this pace, I think we’ll be able to deliver a game that makes everyone happy.
Famitsu: You probably can’t give us any specifics, but do you have a target date for Relink release that you’re aiming for?
KMR: We have a release window that we’re aiming for.
FKHR: We’re developing the game with the thought “We’re really gonna release it by then” constantly in our minds.
KMR: When that release window is looking like more of a reality, that’s when I think we want to announce it.
Famitsu: We’ll look forward to that. This next question isn’t limited to Relink – with the PlayStation 5, Stadia, and other console platforms releasing in the coming year, how will you respond to the expansion of the marketplace?
KMR: While on the one hand we want to be multiplatform so more people can play the game, on the other hand we believe that releasing as early as we can is more important. We don’t know if we’ll be ready for new platform compatibility, but we can always port a game later. Because of that, we think it’s more important to get the game into people’s hands as soon as we can.
Famitsu: By the way, other than GBVS and Relink, are there any other GBF games being looked into behind closed doors…?
KMR: There are a lot of games we’d like to make, so if we can…
FKHR: I have a bunch of ideas floating around in my head, but even though GBVS is already out, we have a lot of updates and DLC we still have to work on for quite a while, and with Relink on our plate too, we want to focus on the two of those first.
KMR: Relink is definitely not an easy game to make. We can only make so many games at once, but I would like to make a more casual GBF game as well.
Mixed media and live events!
Famitsu: GBF has manga, novels, anime, and other mixed media releases, along with live events that you work very hard on. How has the response been for those, and what can we expect in the future?
KMR: Let’s start with our mixed media strategy. While working on so many titles, we found out that it takes a lot of time to prep those. In order to make the end product as high quality as possible, we have to be very deliberate and systematic about how we work on it, that’s my honest opinion on that. We’ve done very traditional stories so far, but our players are looking for new experiences too, so we’d like to widen our range and challenge ourselves with more kinds of stories.
Famitsu: Speaking of challenging yourselves, last year’s Season 2 anime felt like a bigger undertaking than season 1. Each island had a much longer story arc than the islands in the first season.
KMR: We wanted Season 2 to unfold differently than Season 1. The islands of season 2 had stories that we could really dig deep into, so we decided to spend more time developing them. We were able to include elements that didn’t fit into the original main story, and the fans seem to have taken to that positively. However, we ended up taking a little too much time, and the pace felt slower as a result. After this, we want to try writing some stories that are more exciting and faster paced, maybe even slapstick.
FKHR: By the way, the Djeeta episode that airs on March 27th goes at a pretty breakneck pace, so I hope everyone has fun (laughs)
Famitsu: Is that so? We can’t wait to see it.
FKHR: Since Gran is featured in so much of our media as a traditional young male protagonist, we’re always looking for more opportunities to show off Djeeta.
(NEW!) So when we look for things for Djeeta to do, we look at what we can’t do with Traditional RPG Protagonist Gran, so that we can separate them a bit. People say “Djeeta is just stronger than Gran”, but that’s not what we’re aiming for with her. When she appears in media outside of the game, we don’t want them to be exactly the same because that would be boring. So instead of making her another Traditional RPG Protagonist, we add a little bit of comedy, or more game in-jokes, so that’s probably where people see that. But officially, we don’t think of the two characters as being that different strength-wise.
That said, it’s true that we don’t have that many places where Djeeta can shine. We have a lot of Djeeta lovers on our team, and when I showed them the GBVS version of Djeeta, one of them told me “That gave me 5 more years of motivation” (laughs)
KMR: We held an orchestral concert in the past, but we’d like to do more musical events like that. All of GBF‘s music is wonderful. As for what you mentioned, I would like to make a movie. I’d like to make a different kind of anime. I’ve never been to a live reading, so I have no idea what that would end up looking like. I should go to one some day.
Famitsu: Live readings are pretty popular, and we think the fans would enjoy it. If that live reading could go deep on some secrets of the story, then the fans would be happy too.
KMR: In our case, if we want to make stories about what’s going on outside of the main story, then we want to make it very visual. If we make something like that, then the scale could escalate a lot.
FKHR: And we have 6 years of story behind GBF now, so if we made something that only the audience of the live reading would be privy to, and didn’t put that info in the game itself, people would be very jealous. It’s a problem of scale, I think.
Famitsu: So you don’t want to make something that only a few people will have access to, you want every player to be able to experience it.
KMR: That’s right. GBF has a lot of ongoing content, so we have to be careful with that.
Famitsu: Next, let’s talk about the live events.
KMR: With almost all entertainment being on the Internet these days, there are a lot of people whose friends are mostly online as well. For people like that, it’s important to give them a place to gather and interact with each other. GBF‘s live events started as simple fan service, but they’re also places where our players can meet each other. And, of course, it’s important for us as the developers to interact with our players there. We have events in 4 cities outside of Tokyo (Fukuoka, Sendai, Osaka, and Nagoya), and there are so many fans who enjoy themselves at those events. We have fans who are more interested in these events than they are in the game itself.
Famitsu: What does that mean?
KMR: This wasn’t something we imagined when we started, but as we’ve continued holding these events, we’ve found that there are fans who started playing GBF so they could go to the event with their friends. Usually, you go to an event for a game that you already like, but they did it in the other order. We want to keep holding these events for those fans, too.
Famitsu: GBF‘s events are huge and impressive, so we understand people becoming captivated by them.
KMR: Every year, we challenge ourselves by trying new things in these events. We’ve done character concerts, used projection mapping, and focused on things that you can only experience in person.
Famitsu: When it comes down to it, do you want to surprise and excite your fans?
KMR: That’s part of it, but the most important thing is to let people experience the world of GBF. Smartphones have small screens, so we want these events to feel like the world of GBF has come out of your screen. That’s our biggest motivation.
Famitsu: Do the two of you serve as the final judges of the real GBF events?
KMR: We do some of the judging, but we have dedicated staff who work on these events. We watch over them, of course, and if there’s something we want to do then we let them know.
Famitsu: Have you finished planning out all of the live events this year?
KMR: We’ve pretty much finalized the events for this year.
Famitsu: We will definitely have to watch GBF closely this year. What are you most excited about going into year 7?
KMR: I spent 2 years away from this game, so it really doesn’t feel like 6 years have passed to me. (laughs) Compared to other series, we’re still a young upstart, so there are a lot of things that we haven’t done yet, or haven’t had the chance to do yet. For year 7, we want to keep on trying new things.
(NEW!) Also, the number 6 means one important thing – this is the halfway point of the Divine Generals. At first we thought “It sure is a distant dream to want to go for 12 years”, but thanks to all of our fans we’ve reached the halfway point. It looks like we’ll be able to do this for another 6 years, so now we have it as a normal goal to make those remaining 6 characters and do them justice.
(NEW!) FKHR: But every year, the design of those Divine Generals gets harder and harder (pained laugh). The newest character, Vikala, was a huge undertaking.
(NEW!) KMR: But as a result of all of that hard work, Vikala was an extremely good character. I was amazed that we had that in us.
(NEW!) FKHR: She was drawn by the blood, sweat, and tears of our art team. Vikala had around 400 rough design sketches. The other Divine Generals had around 200…
Famitsu: 400?! It’s amazing that you managed to make a decision at all.
(NEW!) FKHR: It was… really tough. There are plenty of games out there that have been running for 6 years, but I think that within Japan there aren’t that many of GBF‘s scope. This is all thanks to the continued support of our fans. Other than GBF itself, we have a lot of GBVS updates and Relink‘s release to look forward to. We’ll keep doing the jobs in front of us one at a time, and continue to deliver good products to you.