Famitsu 03/18/2021 interview: the Scenario Writing team

The 7th anniversary of Granblue Fantasy issue of Famitsu interviewed a previously unnamed and unsung portion of the GBF team – the story writers. Three members of the event writing team sat down with Famitsu‘s interviewers, and talked about their time writing for years worth of events and episodes. The online version of the interview went into much more depth than the print version, so let’s dig in!

(translated by vibratingsheep from the 3/18 interview available online on famitsu.com. All errors are the translator’s unless noted otherwise)

GBF 7th anniversary interview – the writers shed light on the tale of the skies!

Samples of each writer’s work, from Platinum Sky to Ranger Sign Bravo

As of March 10th, the hit RPG Granblue Fantasy celebrated the 7th anniversary of its live service. To commemorate the occasion, we gathered 3 of GBF‘s writers, who had their hands in “What Makes the Sky Blue”, the “Home Sweet Moon” and Society series, and more.

From what they focused on while writing the stories to the finer points of GBF‘s story and what lies ahead, we had a long conversation with them that we will relate to you in long interview form.

The team:

Yamada (referred to in the interview as Yamada)
Lead writer for:
L.E.T.S. H.A.N.G.
Detective Barawa and the Unfortunate Fortune
A Peace of the Pie
What Makes the Sky Blue
Ranger Sign Bravo!
What Makes the Sky Blue II: Paradise Lost
Handsome Gorilla
What Makes the Sky Blue III: 000
The Maydays
and more

Ube Sayori (referred to in the interview as Ube)
Lead writer for:
Blade of the Young Champion
Footprints on Sacred Ground
Shadowverse Duelist of Eternity
Love Live! Sunshine!! Aqours Sky-High!
Right Behind You
Love Live! Door to the Skies
Spaghetti Syndrome
The Doss! End of the Line Farewell Tour
Robomi: Generations
Robomi Z
Robomi: Epic Clash – Super Robo Gigantes vs. Arbitrator Zooey
Home Sweet Moon (parts 1-3)

Kamijo (referred to in the interview as Kamijo)
Lead writer for:
Platinum Sky
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu: Fate Horizon
A Thousand Reasons
The Many Lives of Cats
Primal Resonance
Platinum Sky II
Sturm and Drang: A Mercenary’s Life
Good Night Till It Be Morrow
Home Sweet Moon (part 4 and more)

Crafting stories for GBF

Famitsu: How are the stories for GBF events made?

Ube: Generally, the outline and the cast of characters are picked by Fukuhara (creative director Fukuhara Tetsuya). We writers take that from him, flesh it out, discuss it back and forth, and once we get the official green light, we start writing out the full script. Once we’re really down to business, we write the lines and provide notes on inflection and nuance, we sketch out what backgrounds to use, which special effects for each scene, and all the other small details.

Famitsu: When you’re writing the story for a game, is there anything different that you have to do?

Yamada: Writing for a game is very different from writing for other media because once you have the plot, you get involved with a lot of staff on other teams. Once you have the plot outlined, the designers, the planners, and other teams are also set in motion, so you write it so that no matter who’s looking at it, they understand the theme and the vision.

Kamijo: While writing, we have to envision how it will look in the game with special effects, and how the characters will be portrayed by the voice actors. We have to check its implementation in the game engine to see if it’s even better than we imagined, or if it didn’t quite hit the mark.

Famitsu: What are the challenges unique to writing for a smartphone-based game compared to a console game?

Yamada: I think this applies to both kinds of games – in the game industry, you often hear the saying “If a player isn’t having fun in the first 3 minutes, they’ll stop playing.” This applies to the story, so when you’re a smartphone game, you have to imagine that a person will be playing while they’re eating or while they’re commuting, and there’ll be a lot of times when they’re interrupted and if they’re not already engaged, they might not come back. So when we write the opening, we have to create immersion quickly, and make the player think “I want to know what happens next” or “I want to know more about this character” as quickly as possible.

Kamijo: In many ways, writing the story for a smartphone game is like writing a serialized novel. You can’t guarantee that the events you write now and the actions of the characters will be kept exactly the same in future stories. No matter how detailed you write the backstory and descriptions, you can’t control how they will change in the future, so you write with that in mind.

Famitsu: Because you’re working as a team, and the story marches on, so even if you think of new stories it seems hard to fit it in.

Kamijo: If you make the setup too convoluted, then you run the risk of new players or returning players not being able to get into the story. So no matter what part of the story you start at, you need to be able to make it easy to understand – that’s the big challenge of phone games.

Ube: It’s really hard to judge how much of the setting you expose at once. We tend to leave a lot of bread crumbs for the players to give them a taste for more.

Famitsu: Have you left a breadcrumb that another writer picked up and expanded on?

Yamada: Sometimes if a detail generates a lot of buzz in the fanbase, or if it strikes a chord with Fukuhara, then it can bloom into something more. We sow story seeds with these hopes in mind, and leave little hooks as we write.

Famitsu: Has there ever been a story that diverged greatly from its original outline?

Ube: While we’re developing an event, there are times when we get told “You can widen the scale!” For example after Auld Lanxiety when Zooey fought Joya, we thought “Hey, we can go to space in future events” (laughs). In recent years, the scale seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

Famitsu: GBF has a very flexible setting. It has floating islands that defy explanation, and then it has an Otherworld and outer space. Each year it seems like the world expands a bit more.

Ube: I feel like the most exciting part of playing a game is when you don’t know how far the map goes. You feel like you don’t have to worry about hitting the edge of the world, and you think “I can go anywhere!” I want to preserve that feeling of excitement as we go on.

The Society’s climactic 7th year

Famitsu: Tell us about the theme of the latest installment of the popular Society event series.

Ube: The event focuses a lot on Cassius and Isaac.

Starting with Spaghetti Syndrome, we were really interested in seeing the changes in the moon people who had lived for a long time in the sky realm. That lead to the idea of cultures changing over time, and that was a major theme.

Kamijo: It wasn’t just Cassius and Isaac, we wanted to show how much the Society characters had changed and grown over 5 and 6 years of stories. I think that’s fun to see.

There are parts that deal with their relationship with their seal weapons, parts about unleashing the seal weapons and figuring out how to defeat the enemy. We tried to show how the characters had grown and changed emotionally while also writing an RPG story that led to a final climactic battle. Because they had grown and changed, they were able to draw out every last bit of their potential and strength, and that growth was a major theme of the story.

Ube: In many ways, it feels like the story shows just how much time has passed. Each character’s relationship with each other and themselves has changed, and the production level of the whole event was off the charts. The dialogue and battle scenes have advanced a lot, and in that way, the event showed off how much GBF has evolved and grown over these years.

Kamijo: I’ve written all of the stories starring Eustace up to this point. I’ve grown very attached to him, so I was so happy to write Home Sweet Moon, a story where he really gets to shine.

Famitsu: Did you know that the story was going to be on this epic scale from the beginning?

Ube: I started writing in the first year, and we couldn’t begin to imagine this stuff while we were writing. As GBF has gone on, it feels like Fukuhara’s ideas and stories have gotten bigger and bigger.

At the start of the process when we decide what’s going to happen, when we start to outline and sketch out the plot, we often realize “You know, I think the real meat of this story is somewhere else.” That’s one of the joys of writing these stories.

Famitsu: GBF has many other long-running event storylines. Could you tell us about the direction of these, or any thoughts you have on them?

Ube: Once a story gets a sequel and becomes a series, we want to be very conscientious when writing about the growth of the characters so that the players grow to love them even more. We take care to make these episodes that really dig into what makes a character appealing.

Kamijo: Even when we’re writing a one-shot story event, we often think “We’d love to write a follow-up to this one, or even just see what happens”. So we don’t go too far, and leave a few hooks and seeds for further stories… and we write with the thought that those seeds might take root. For my part, I tend to write with a target audience in mind – “I’d like these people to enjoy this story.” There’s no such thing as a story that 100 people out of 100 will enjoy, so I think “I want this kind of player to have fun” and write like that. The Society stories, Good Night Till It Be Morrow, and others were written for the fans who love those characters.

Famitsu: The Society events have been growing in popularity for years. Was the joy of their popularity accompanied by any extra pressure?

Kamijo: I think it was the opposite, it meant we could do more. The end of the year event is a bigger deal than the others, from the art to the animations and other parts of the production. When we suggest “Hey, I think it would be hype to have this happen” we get it approved a lot for those events. The fun outweighs the pressure, since a lot of our ideas become reality. Platinum Sky was especially fun – we kept thinking “It’s so fun to do all of this.”

Famitsu: Platinum Sky had a lot of new art for the character dialogue, along with a whole lot more.

Kamijo: There is a sense that we have to make a story that matches the spectacle, yes, but it’s so much fun that we don’t feel any pressure.

Famitsu: Going to the moon, destroying seal weapons, Cassius’ many trials and crises, there were a lot of serious and dramatic scenes in the event. Was that Fukuhara-san’s idea?

Ube: Yes, Fukuhara’s ideas were the foundation of that. When we were working on Spaghetti Syndrome, we were told “The next anniversary event will focus on the moon.” So we took that idea, prepared a surprise ending for Spaghetti Syndrome, and I thought I was going to hand the baton off to another writer, but it turned out that I was in charge of the follow-up story too (laughs).

Secrets of the What Makes the Sky Blue trilogy

Famitsu: The What Makes the Sky Blue trilogy was received very well by the players and proved to be extremely popular overall. Did you imagine that it would reach that scale when you started?

Yamada: When we started, we had no idea it would go on that long. The main concept of the first part was a world-spanning story that would involve a large cast. We basically thought of the Primarchs as an extra bit of unique GBF back story. Then while we were discussing it with Fukuhara, we threw two sudden pitches at him: “Let’s focus on the bond and the rift between Sandalphon and Lucifer” and “You think it would work if Lyria got involved in it?”

Famitsu: The new Primarchs and the Fallen Angels became very popular – was there anything that you focused on when creating them, or any issues you had while making them?

Yamada: We wanted to draw a distinction between our mortal characters and the unique perspective of the inhuman Primarchs. The Primarchs as a group have a different perspective on the world of GBF than anyone else does, so we showed their way of thinking, their moral code, and their society to show how different they are. However, if we made their actions too alien, and made their words and actions too incompprehensible, then the players wouldn’t be able to relate to them. It was very tough striking a balance between making them unique and making them human enough to understand.

Famitsu: The series spanned 3 years – was there any single aspect of it that stood out to you?

Yamada: I’m very attached to the core of the series, which was the relationship between Lucifer and Sandalphon. I’ve always wanted to write about a relationship that includes many forms of love – romance, friendship, familial love… I don’t feel like I’m good at it yet, but Sandalphon and Lucifer were able to express it in the series, and that is very important to me.

Famitsu: We can’t ignore Belial either. How did he come about?

Yamada: He wasn’t part of the original plan, but because Beelzebub was meant to be defeated in Granblue Fantasy Versus, we needed another character to be a boss in GBF. Belial came to me in a sudden burst of inspiration. To be honest with you, when I was writing Paradise Lost, I had a serious case of writer’s block. I couldn’t come up with anything, I was caught in a vicious cycle of banging my head against nothing and staring at the deadline as it came closer and closer. And then, suddenly, Belial came to me, and after that the story followed so smoothly that I was dumbfounded. I barely managed to get the proposal in on time, but it seemed to click with Fukuhara, so he approved it.

Ube: This is my first time hearing the story of how Belial was born, but that’s so Belial to show up out of nowhere and shake everything up (laughs).

What does the writing team value the most in order to make a good story?

Famitsu: Is there anything that you have to work harder on for an anniversary event? Any extra challenges?

Yamada: For a normal story event, we often focus most of our efforts on one aspect – the characters, or the back story, something specific. But for an anniversary event, the player numbers are higher and so that means that the number of eyes on the event is higher too. So we focus on polishing everything as much as we can. We want to make as many people happy as possible, from people who are there for the characters to the ones who are reading for the story.

Kamijo: For this most recent anniversary event, we had so many lines to work on in a limited amount of time that Ube and I split the writing duties, which led to the many challenges that come with group projects.

Ube was in charge of the first half, and I was in charge of the second half, so we had to work on it while keeping each other up to date on everything. No matter how closely you work together, though, when you’re both working at the same time, divergences will crop up. It was really tough to keep fine tuning the text while parts of the plot and outline changed. I would keep pressing Ube with “Please share everything you’ve written so far!” (laughs)

From the player’s point of view, though, none of that behind the scenes stuff matters. Whether writing alone or with multiple writers, all that matters in the end is making a story that people enjoy, so we worked hard on that goal together.

Ube: I kept wondering “Is this interesting? What can I do to make it better?” like I always do. The part of the process that was unique to an anniversary event was the request from Fukuhara to “incorporate more new elements, like special battles”. From the special effects and sound production to the buildup to each battle, we kept that in mind and incorporated it into the story.

Famitsu: It feels like anniversary events in general tend toward the dramatic, is that something you do on purpose?

Kamijo: We don’t plan to give every anniversary event a serious tone, but because of the large scale and heavy content of them, they tend in that direction. Putting the cast in these situations naturally leads to more serious treatment. If we forced cheerful and peppy scenes into these stories, they would seem forced and interrupt the story flow.

Famitsu: Is there any rule that you’ve made sure that you never break in these story events?

Ube: We try not to shock for shock’s sake, and write in a more traditional fashion. We also make sure not to put in any unnatural or forced dialogue just for the sake of advancing the story.

For example, when characters are facing off against their enemies and feeling a lot of anger, everyone yelling “I’m angry!” “I’m angry too!” feels incredibly unnatural. Some characters express their anger verbally, yes, but other characters have cooler heads and can take full stock of the situation. So we make sure to write each character in a way that shows their personality, from choice of words to their responses to situations.

Kamijo: We have to have the courage not to explain everything. If you explain absolutely everything, the story slows to a crawl, and that spoils a lot of the fun. So we have to cut the explanations down to the absolute minimum exposition necessary, and shave off the rest. If there is a detail in the setting or back story that we feel we absolutely have to show, then we try to show just a trace of it.

Yamada: This is a little more about my own frame of mind, but my goal every time is “To make something that the players will remember.” And no matter the story, what players remember is “the exciting stuff,” or “what I can’t get from anywhere else”.

The painstaking process of collab events: keeping the fan’s perspective in mind

Famitsu: One of the best parts of GBF‘s stories is the way the antagonist’s perspective is represented almost as clearly as the protagonist’s. What do you focus on to separate the heroes from the villains?

Ube: I guess you can call this a touch of “realism”, but I like to write how one person’s actions and intentions lead them to conflict with the main characters. I don’t mean to claim “Everyone who’s done something bad has been forced into it and must be pitied,” but if we set out their motivations clearly, then the players will understand how this enemy became “someone who must be defeated” and leads to the climactic conflict.

Famitsu: That definitely makes you feel the “I have to stop you!” more than someone showing up out of nowhere and being the villain.

Yamada: Ube and I think similarly: No one just “does bad things because they’re the bad guy.” That character has their own thoughts and beliefs, and because their values differ from the main characters’, that leads to conflict. We write like that pretty often.

Famitsu: This leads into the topic of how GBF has so many collab events with anime and other games that are received very well. Does the collab story writing process differ at all from the usual process?

Ube: Yes, because fans of the original work will come to play GBF. When that happens, we want to show them that the staff of GBF loves the work just as much as they do! So we dig deep down into the original work. We work hard to work in a lot of the themes and the styles of the source, and show a lot of respect for the source material.

Kamijo: If we can’t capture the best parts of the source material, then people may give up on us. So when I’m writing a collab event, I pay a lot of attention to that. A lot of the collab events I’ve written are for works that I like myself, so I have to be really careful not to put too much of what I want just to satisfy myself. I write it so that fans of the original work who came in for the collab will come to love GBF.

Famitsu: Is the storywriting process for a collab event different from a regular event?

Kamijo: When we’re writing a normal event, we focus on growth and change in its characters. As an example, we won’t write just about a single person’s growth – we will write about how two people who started off at odds with each other will come to understand each other enough to trust each other completely.

But for a collab event, we’re borrowing the characters from another work, so for the most part we have to return them the way we found them. That changes a lot of how we write the collab events.

Tales of the writers’ favorite side stories

Famitsu: One of the great things about GBF is the sheer volume of great stories in the Side Story section, not just the What Makes the Sky Blue series. What memories and stories do you have about your favorite Side Stories?

Ube: My favorites are Robomi, A Peace of the Pie, and Platinum Sky. Those three events were able to show off their characters in new and different ways, from production to performance. I think those events were turning points in how GBF stories are made, so if you haven’t experienced them yet, please play them

Yamada: Robomi was definitely a turning point in GBF. “We can have robots in the sky realm?” (laughs)

Ube: After that, I would say Ranger Sign Bravo! I think that story had one of the best responses from the player base we’ve ever had, and represents GBF well.

Kamijo: Ranger Sign Bravo! held important themes like the relationship between primal beasts and mortals, and if you’ve read Ranger Sign Bravo! then it really helps you enjoy the main story of GBF more. You can understand a lot of the world of GBF by playing it, so I do want everyone to play it.

For my part, I recommend Scattering Magic. Zehek has resurfaced recently and been playing a bigger part, so if you want to know more about him, I hope you play this event in Side Stories. Aside from Zehek, there are a lot of great characters in this story who haven’t made appearances in a while, too.

Yamada: I agree with Ube, my favorite is Platinum Sky. I think the Nightcypher is especially cool. I love it so much, I wrote it into What Makes the Sky Blue.

Meanwhile, this one isn’t a Side Story yet, but Handsome Gorilla really sticks out to me. Just the announcement of the title went more viral than anything we’d ever done before, and I think nothing we do will ever match that again (laughs)

All three: (Laughs)

Famitsu: A lot of the male fans do seem to love the Nightcypher. Are there any characters that you’d love to pair with each other to see how they’d interact?

Ube: Characters who haven’t met, but are very much alike… I’d like to see Zaja and Vaseraga talk to each other. I’d also like to see what happens when Feather and Nicholas meet, since they’re hot-blooded characters with no inside voice and I just have to see what would happen next.

Famtsu: Are there any characters that you wrote about once already, but if you matched them up again, they would interact differently now?

Kamijo: Personally, I love Seox out of the Eternals, and I want to know what things are like for him now. I think he underwent a lot of changes in his 5* uncap. He’s mostly interacted a lot with the other Eternals, with the captain, and with Nehan, but I would like to see him talk to a lot of the other members of the cast.

For that reason, I’m really curious about what would happen if you put Aoidos and Seox next to each other. I’d like to see a story that zooms in on how much a character’s relationships have changed over time.

After that, I think of the Evokers. They haven’t really interacted with anyone else, so I’m interested in seeing what would happen if they showed up in a story event.

Looking ahead to the 8th year of GBF and beyond

Famitsu: As of the 7th year of GBF, the cast has grown and many of them have very well-explored back stories. Keeping all of those stories and backgrounds straight must be tough. How do all of the writers keep each other up on the details?

Ube: Each character has a profile written for them, from the details we show to public to parts that we keep internally. All info on that character is gathered up in a sheet. The writer for a story will check the sheet on each character who will appear in that story, but we still ask the original writer for a character a lot of questions about them too.

Famitsu: Fukuhara-san has said that story events are the “shining jewel” of GBF before. As the writing team, is there a particular story you want to show the players?

Kamijo: While most stories come from Fukuhara’s concepts and come down to us, recently we’ve had the ability to propose more of the stories and more and more of them have been approved. Sturm and Drang: A Mercenary’s Life was my proposal – I wanted to see more of Sturm and Drang in action, and when I went in and begged them to let me write it, I got the green light. I have a whole lot more ideas ready, and I hope that you’ll be able to read them and play through them some day.

Yamada: It feels like we as a team have matured a lot over the last seven years. Kamijo mentioned this, but we’ve been getting more of our proposals approved, and I’m really excited to offer an even greater variety of stories to the players. Now that we’re able to propose our own ideas, that will lead to new approaches and we’re really excited for future developments.

Famitsu: You’ve talked about him a lot, so we’re kind of curious – from your perspective, what kind of person is Fukuhara-san?

Ube: He has an unusually high number of ideas floating around in his head. I wonder, how do you get to the point where you have that many?

Yamada: He’s definitely the picture of an idea man. As a creator, he really likes seeing the clash of two different styles. I would never have thought of putting robots in GBF, and when he had me write A Peace of the Pie, the first order he gave me was “Throw cute little Lily into the middle of a tribal war!”

Famitsu: That’s certainly a… strong… order

Yamada: I think most people would have put Lily in a fluffy and cute little story that would have warmed the hearts of fans. But putting her in a war situation created a lot of tension, and that requires a lot of courage and willingness to take risks. It also makes for a really interesting concept, and I think it’s amazing that he keeps coming up with these.

Kamijo: He has a very gentle demeanor and a calming presence, but all these crazy ideas keep coming out of him. That gap is fun to work with. He always explains himself with “These events and this ending would be a lot more interesting” and takes your own thoughts into consideration, so it’s always fun to work with him.

Famitsu: Now that GBF is in its 8th year, could you leave a message for this magazine’s readers and the loyal skyfarers out there?

Yamada: This is a little simple, but we’re going to keep writing stories to keep you engaged, so please, keep coming to the world of GBF with us.

Kamijo: I understand that even GBF fans don’t vibe with every story, and maybe there are some events where you think “this isn’t very interesting.” But the story team is working together to refine a lot of ideas that we think you’ll have fun with, so if you play, then you’ll find something that resonates with you. When I play GBF I am definitely a grinder too, but if you have some spare time, I hope you enjoy the stories we’ve written.

Ube: I wrote a thank-you letter before I got here, so I’ll read from it now.

“To all the skyfarers out there:

Thank you for playing GBF. I hope you keep enjoying your journey through the skies with all of your skyfaring crew. We will keep writing the tales of the sky realm to make you feel closer to all of your crew. It’s an honor to be able to deliver this message to all of you, and while this interview brought three of us to the table, I hope that some day, you’ll be able to hear from the rest of the story team.”