The Making of Fire Emblem: 25 Years of Development History contains some fun trivia regarding the series. You can find all the information I translated thus far in one place here.
This post is the development of the fourth title in the series, Genealogy of the Holy War. This is part of a lengthy interview with series veteran Toru Narihiro (sometimes spelled Tohru Narihiro). I have been slowly working on translating the greater interview, so this is just an excerpt from it regarding this specific section. Though it is a little out of order, I hope to start going in order after this one.
VincentASM used excerpts from this interview for his wonderful analysis of FE4 on serenesforest here. Please give it a good read!
For those who have the book, these are excerpts from page 269 & 270.
As you can imagine, the process of doing all this took a lot of time, and I am unemployed…so if you like what I did, then…
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Sudden development changes & constant fluctuations during the development of “Genealogy of the Holy War”
Q: Up until Mystery [of the Emblem], you were making FE games featuring Marth and Akaneia. But, the next title, Genealogy of the Holy War (from now on referred to as “Holy War”) featured an all new world, game system, and infrastructure. Frankly speaking, I’d say that was a pretty brave move [changing the system/setting] considering “Mystery” was the series’ biggest hit to that point.
There were two main reasons. First, there was already discussion during the production of the previous title, “Gaiden,” regarding whether or not it would even be a Fire Emblem game or not.
Q: So you mean “Gaiden” may have played differently at first?
Yeah. But in the end, we realized “It’s a lot like FE after all…” (Laughs). However, at the start [of Holy War’s production] we had set out with the “let’s make something different!” mindset. It became an FE game before we knew it though. Due to “Holy War’s” new features such as the two generation system, there were a lot of people who thought it would turn out much more different than it did. If I remember correctly, you would move people in groups of ten in that game.
Q: So rather than being like FE where you move one unit at a time, it was a game where you would be moving one unit that represented a platoon?
That’s right. You would move a group on the World Map, and if you encountered the enemy, a battle would begin. It was going to be a squad-based game. But, in the end, we went back to the “FE” style map and it became the “Holy War” we know. We experimented with several different ways to play at first. Of course, we also welcomed input from Nintendo, who said it still felt a lot like Fire Emblem, and that we should aim to change up the system even more. But, despite all the fun new discoveries we made during the development, we ultimately returned to the “FE” formula by implementing the general play style of the series. The sort we see even today.
Q: I see! You said there was another reason?
There was a lot of change in the main staff. During “Mystery,” there were a lot of heated discussions between the game designer and the staff. There was also a lot exchange of staff between “Holy War” and “Mystery.” Naturally [the change of staff] leads to the game having a slightly different disposition, such as in the visuals and battle animations.
Q: Mr. Higuchi joined as a full-fledged staff member during “Holy War’s” development as well, right?
Higuchi worked on “Mystery” as part of the debug team. He was part of the new staff [on “Holy War”] that the “FE” team had invited. We were undergoing major changes at the time, from staff changes to development location (from Kokura* Labs to Gojou Labs).
*TN-Not sure if it actually said this way. Name spellings can be vague.
Q: So the staff and development environment for “Holy War” underwent changes, huh?
That’s right. Things changed. Tsujiyoko and her sound team remained Kokura, but our entire development team moved to Gojou Labs. It was very difficult adjusting to changes in both staff and environment.
Q: Interesting. You were on site working with the new staff too, right?
Yes. I was project leader, working with the programmers that came right from “Mystery” with no break in between……. the more we talk about this, the more I remember various things on the project and how “Holy War” was definitely the most difficult game I’ve worked on to date. (Laughs)
Q: Really? Out of all the titles in the series?
Well, I mean I wasn’t giving directions during the development of Awakening and Fates as directly as I was with “Holy War,” so maybe I can’t speak for those. But out of those I was directly overseeing, “Holy War” was the most frustrating to work on. There was a huge difference between the prototype and final product.
Q: You mean the things you mentioned before?
Yes. We started off making a totally different game. But, by the final product, we must have ended up remaking it about 2 or 3 times.
Q: Implementing things like the characters and alternating generations?
It wasn’t in there at first, it was just a dream. Somehow, in the end, those made it in though.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because the FE game designer’s personal preferences had a great influence on us. At first, “Holy War” was going to be a squad based game as mentioned before. But, as development went on, the game designer highly recommended we make a game that featured romance (that was popular in those days). And so…
Q: It just fit perfectly?
It fit perfectly. (Laughs). He also loved Horse Racing…
Q: Ah, so that’s where the lineage [breeding] part comes in! Especially because “Holy War” was released in 1996, meaning that it was developed around 1994 or 1995, where Narita Brian* won a Triple Crown in horse racing, bringing in a frenzy of interest.
That’s right. Because of that, we suddenly decided during development, “Let’s add a romance and inheritance aspect to this!” (laughs). Everyone was like, “Whaaaat?!” at the announcement of sudden change. (laughs). We lost about a year of development to that.
*TN – A Japanese racehorse that lived from 1991-1998.
Q: Lost things like the squad-based gameplay?
A: Exactly. Along with a few other things. For example, we had an RPG-like element in the original design that would take place within a castle, where you would have been able to walk around and such. We had truly made that sort of castle town system in the game.
Q: Mr. Higuchi mentioned being reminded of “Holy War” when looking at the plans for “My Castle” in Fates.
Yeah, they’re a lot alike. It looked like the game designer wanted to make an RPG. And while we were fully prepared to make a game with a squad-based system, the circumstances changed to basically “Adjust this! Fine tune that! Fix that!!” And so then it all changed. (Laughs)
Q: What were you thinking when you heard of all these new changes?
Something like, “What a mess!”
Q: It sure seemed that way didn’t it?
Yes. Even looking at it today, I feel like we got by on nothing but pure luck. (Laughs)
Q: That’s rather frank of you to admit, isn’t it?
Well, it truly was luck. The game designer’s intentions were good, but he had no clear vision of the end result in mind, instead just heading us in some vaguely ideal direction… so we wondered if the end result would even be good. Implementing romance as well as children that inherit stats made life very difficult for the staff. (Laughs)
However, no matter the way you look at it, it really did broaden the game’s horizons. The game designer’s pure intention was an interesting one. When applied to the game, you would have to think about the number of match-ups between men and women, and which children would result. A lot of thinking would be involved.
A: In addition, we had to think about how FE players would raise units, and whether or not it would affect game balance. Things got really complicated when you take into account the amount of pairings that could be made. This was the most difficult part for the staff.
Q: You were personally in charge of coordination between the staff and game designer, right?
Yes, because I was the project leader.
Q: Where as the game director’s job is to move the team to apply concepts with what resources are available, right?
Oh, no no. (laughs). A director, or how I think of one anyway, is a decision maker, and one that works hard ensure that the lead (director/designer)’s ideal vision becomes a reality.
* – In charge of directing others in a project. Lead supervisor on the scene.
Q: Usually, one imagines the director as just being someone who has to make tough decisions, though…
Well, there’s that. But being the game designer/director is interesting. For example, your influence on the project is always visible in the final product. And, it is one that remains consistent no matter how much time had passed since [the project].