I spent the whole last week translating an interview about Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. It was featured in the July 2017 issue of Nintendo Dream (released May 20th, 2017). I had to find and buy the magazine too! This post is the entire interview in one place for your convenience (you may notice the last few days have snippets from it, separating various sections).
A big thanks to VincentASM on serenesforest.net for referring me to the fact that nobody had translated it yet (that we know of). Please link back if you use any part of the interview as I put a lot of time into it. The original Japanese transcript I (re)typed up is available by request.
I recommend reading a previous interview about this game as some things the devs said in it are referenced.
Please note the third section has spoilers. The section has a clearly marked spoiler warning from the magazine and me, so please be weary.
Lastly, this interview took countless hours of valuable free time to transcribe/translate/edit… not to mention I had to buy the magazine itself. But I’m glad to have had the opportunity to bring this all to you! If you’re feeling generous and want to help support my passion of translating, please use the button below!
Reminiscing with the Turnwheel: Developer Interview
Some time has passed since the game’s release. The developers have heard the fans’ voices for a month now to the day! We talk about plenty of things, such as trials and tribulations during development and what sort of features the developers in Intelligent Systems wanted to implement. Please take a read through it!
Featuring (from left to right on picture above):
Producer: Hitoshi Yamagami
Works for Nintendo. Series producer. In his second year after joining the company, he was the head of debugging Fire Emblem: Gaiden. He had the chance to work on this game 25 years later. His favorite character is Celica. “I bought her amiibo while reminiscing on what a different person I was back then…”
Director: Kenta Nakanishi
Works for Nintendo. He started playing the series thanks to the influence of his late father. Worked on debugging Awakening, and was sub-producer of Fates. He is mainly focused on the TCG Cipher, and is the single person in charge of coordination. His favorite character is Genny. “Despite being a Cleric, she can handle herself on the frontline!”
Director: Toshiyuki Kusakihara
Works for Intelligent Systems. He was assigned as director to the illusive Wii Fire Emblem* game that came after Radiant Dawn, and was Art Director in Awakening and Fates. He is one of the two directors of this game. His favorite male character is Clive, and female character is Palla. “I like the gentle and caring older sister types.”
*TN: That game had no title, and was canceled. However, some of its design documents were shown in the 25th Anniversary book. Read more about the game here.
Producer: Masahiro Higuchi
Works for Intelligent Systems. Works as a producer following Fire Emblem Fates. Is a full blown veteran, having been with the series since Genealogy of the Holy War.* His favorite female character(s) are all three of the Pegasus sisters. His favorite male character is Saber. “I like those scruffy types of guys.”
*TN: The fourth title in the series.
**TN: Est, Catria, and Palla.
The post-release relief
Q: The game has been very well received. How did you feel about that after release?
Higuchi: It’s not just with Echoes, but with any release that we feel a big sigh of relief. We always aim to raise the quality bar with each installment, so we felt a little rushed, begging Mr. Yamagami, “Please delay the game’s release!” even after the date had been set, as there always felt like there would be room for improvement.
Nakanishi: There was comparatively less development time than both Awakening and Fates got, so the fact we managed to do it all in time is why it was a big relief.
Kusakihara: For Awakening, we had the whole team lumped together with the mindset, “This may be the last game.” So after that, we worried if the subsequent titles would be looked at unfavorably compared to it. We were incredibly anxious due to development limitations, as well as wondering whether the newer fans of the series would be accepting of this game. So after seeing the great response the game got, well, it was a relief!
Nakanishi: This time we wanted to make something that could be enjoyed by both fans of the old Gaiden and fans of newer games like Fates and Awakening. As such, we were really happy when we saw the responses from fans after release, such as an old fan going, “This really is Gaiden” or a new fan going “These game mechanics are interesting!”
Q: With a much larger player base since Awakening and Fates, there exists a great divide in preferences between what the old fans and new fans of the series prefer. So to see them come together with this work must have been satisfying.
Nakanishi: Take for example new players of the series. Those who came with Awakening and Fates may find the appeal in FE to be building character relationships. However, that may not matter at all to an old FE fan. We felt that if we could express what an old fan found interesting to the new fans, then both types of players would give it a try. I feel we may have done it.
Q: So far you all said you had a unanimous sigh of relief. Was the response really that good?
Kusakihara: Of course, we saw some more…severe…opinions, but the supportive and happier voices make up the majority, so that’s good, I feel.
Q: What about you, Mr. Yamagami?
Yamagami: Speaking from a producer’s point of view, the art was drawn by a seasoned artist, and the game’s system itself was treated like a past game, meaning it may feel a little different for the new FE fans who take interest in it. Intelligent Systems (from now on: IS) managed to make the past three games match different player preferences, so balance [among different fans] probably isn’t an issue. While that no doubt makes for great projects…it probably isn’t the best business practice…
Yamagami: It was like an omen. That’s why I thought hard about where all the holes in the game may be. We made a few remakes before this one too, but they did not sell particularly well. So that’s why when I saw the turnout for this game, I was relieved and said, “Phew! That’s great.”
Q: More incredible senses of relief, huh?
Yamagami: Based on the results I achieved, I’m able to reprise my role for the next work too. We thought the previous entry would be the last one on the 3DS, but then early summer two years ago, there were some ramblings around the office. Things like, “There is still something left to do” and “We can make a remake in a short time!” Even though we had to start thinking about the new game for the Nintendo Switch, we had until September, so I gave the go ahead. But, in the end, development had to be delayed by half a year. There were various projects going on at the time, so this was done to give more time to oversee them before release. I was happy the decision paid off, and was once again like “Phew! That’s great.”
Higuchi: The delay came about partially due to Mr. Yamagami’s request to include both simplified and traditional Chinese characters in hopes of reaching a broader audience. Despite implementing those, we still made it with the original Gaiden’s “90s feeling” in mind, and looked forward to its release.
Yamagami: Many decisions were made, and some good things came about as a result. There are many things that did not make it in the end either. I know Mr. Kusakihara also knows the pain of making things that get cut from the final product, but we are content if we can deliver things that make fans happy, leading to that sense of “Phew! That’s great” once again.
Things that could be done thanks to it being the third game on the 3DS
Q: You mentioned, “There are still things left to do.” With all that managed to appeared in Fates, what did you feel was left out?
Yamagami: Basically, if you repeatedly make games for the same hardware, methodologies and technology progress and you are able to do things that you weren’t able to before. So, things we had to abandon for Awakening were able to make it into Fates. So, as technology advanced during Fates‘ development, there were things we wanted to implement but couldn’t fit by the time we got near the last stages of making the game. As such, it came down to “There’s still something we want to make.”
Q: What kind of things, to be more specific?
Kusakihara: Things like dungeons. You could walk around “My Castle” in Fates in full 3D, for instance, but it was very rough and difficult to implement at the time. Things like that eventually led to being able to walk around the dungeons in this game.
Nakanishi: The truth is all the fields were made to be walked around in. When you enter a battle, the camera simply zooms in on where the character is.
Q: And the characters fight right then and there?
Nakanishi: Yes, basically.
Q: I see! So the whole world was actually made in 3D!
Nakanishi: Yes. You could actually walk around that whole world in a style true to an RPG. However, if the areas were too large, it becomes troublesome, as players may hopelessly wander around in wonder. So we purposefully made dungeons rather straightforward.
Kusakihara: Other than that, we were able to make character proportions look slightly more natural this time around, thanks to the Motion Design crew. With the experience and “know-how” gained from Awakening and Fates, we attempted to make [the people] in both this game and the next one on Switch closer to realistic proportions and movements.
Q: That’s true. Alm and Mycen’s 3D models appearing in a scene together looked pretty cool.
Higuchi: Despite the staff in charge of motion all being in-house staff this time, since there were both regular battle scenes and on-map battles (cinematic battles on the map itself), it was not easy to make the scenes.
Q: So a lot of people were tasked with the scenes to speed it up, huh?
Higuchi: As the staff who joined during Awakening went on to work on Fates and then Echoes, they slowly became more aware of what works, and aimed to up the tempo of the battle scenes this time. They tried to work through them with trial and error to ensure they could be done. For example, originally, one battle consisted of three steps like attacking and evading. From there, there were things like countering, or a running attack. And it went on from there. We stressed the importance of keeping the flow going despite going in and out of battle.
Nakanishi: If they evade an attack, they may evade to the side, or evade while striking back, those are things we have not done until now, and we hope for people to see it for themselves in the battle scenes.
Higuchi: It makes the characters also appear to be more “real.” In fact, the general theme for those in charge of battles was “realism.” In contrast, characters in Fates and such seem almost superhuman in their movements, so I wanted to ground it a bit by aiming to keep characters’ feet on the ground, for instance.
Q: You said it so matter-of-factly, but isn’t this actually a huge change for the series?
Higuchi: That’s right. It’s a big thing that gradually came about after years of making the 3DS games.
Yamagami: And something I still can’t wrap my head around.
Things that were implemented for both old and new fans of the series
Why Gaiden was the remake of choice
Q: Was Gaiden already determined to be the next remake from the start?
Nakanishi: First it started as “Let’s make a remake!” Gaiden was chosen because of the things we mentioned before about it being compatible with dungeons, the fact Shadow Dragon was already remade, and because it was Gaiden‘s 25th year anniversary. It seemed the conditions were just right to make the remake.
Q: Was it IS that came forward with the plan to remake Gaiden?
Higuchi: That’s right. They said “When it comes to remakes, we want to do Gaiden!”
Yamagami: I hated Gaiden though.
Yamagami: At the time, I wasn’t one who bought and played FE for fun, but instead was in charge of debugging. So I remember it being difficult and painful. The screen being constantly swarmed by never ending Mogall made me wonder if this level of difficulty was really okay. I always remember this when Gaiden is mentioned.
Q: So did you disapprove of the proposition at first?
Yamagami: Well it brought up unpleasant memories (laughs). But I was very interested in seeing Gaiden getting a modern touch up. I personally liked Alm and Celica having two different armies to battle with. So I was actually all for the remake. Before we got started, when discussing things like development scheduling, we talked about various conditions for the remake. My main condition was that I would accept it only if they adjusted the difficulty.
Setting up Gaiden as the tale of a boy and a girl
Q: So after you got the go ahead, what did you do first?
Kusakihara: The first thing we did was research. We looked at things like which staff were involved with Gaiden at the time and still with IS, how the development environment was back then, and how the director was. We conducted interviews to use as reference. There were some derivatives of Gaiden‘s story, such as various novels and the like, so we had to think about which to base it on. We decided to ignore the derivations and dig up the core essence of the story [of the original game] by breaking it down to basic elements. Once we found that, we would expand based upon it.
Q: And so what is the “core” of Gaiden? How did you expand upon it?
Kusakihara: FE as a whole always has themes about family and bloodlines, and within that, Gaiden is a story about a boy and a girl. For instance, at the end of chapter two, Alm and Celica have a rather intense dispute. It is an instance that both boys and girls in reality can easily relate to. In the usual situation, the man has no idea what made the woman upset. So, we made all sorts of pairs that resemble Alm and Celica across Valentia, such as Mila and Doma, or Rigel and Zofia as a whole. They each come to represent masculinity and femininity in their own ways. Alm pursues a path of power while Celica walks a path of love –and aims to save Alm with it, leading to a type of self-sacrifice. The scenario is built upon this.
Bringing in the joys of tactics and strategy
Q: So the core is “a story of a boy and a girl,” with various “pairs” put throughout the game?
Kusakihara: As a way to expand upon the core story, we made it so Berkut appears as an antagonist to Alm, and that a masked knight appears before Celica. Through discussions we had on story, we figured it would be hard to build up to a memorable climax if the characters did not repeatedly appear. Berkut is depicted as a parallel to Alm and goes mad with power, showing what Alm may have become had he not been raised by Mycen and met Celica.
Nakanishi: Since Gaiden is a romantic story about Alm and Celica’s various recollections and methods in attaining peace, we figured it would resonate with the modern audiences. However, as unfortunate as it is, the original game had its story within the manual, so not many people read it, and so, did not feel it was as dramatic as we may have wanted them to. Also, we wanted people to really get a sense of character relationships this time around. As such, we wanted full voice acting to give off a sense of how the characters are “living” and allow one to become emotionally attached to them or find them memorable. At the same time, we still wanted old fans to say “This is Gaiden” by leaving in aspects of the old game’s mechanics –though not to the point where new players may be thinking things like “This is too troublesome” or “this is absurd!” as a result.
Q: You mean things like a bow’s range, or how mages use HP to attack?
Nakanishi: We feared if we changed these unique aspects of Gaiden that old fans would say “This isn’t Gaiden.” We felt that new fans would find it to be a fresh mechanic, and left it in there. However, we had to think of where to draw the line to prevent it from becoming “troublesome” to new players, which constituted as changes for the remake.
Q: So in short, since rare gear clearly wasn’t included in my game, it should be changed due to being considered troublesome?
Nakanishi: (Immediate reply) But it is in there! (Laughs)
Q: I guess I better consult today’s editorial section then! (To page 54!)*
*TN: Not included in this translation, but the page is a guide on finding rare equipment.
Nakanishi: While drawing said line, we faced a problem when it came to what to do about items. For example, the “Angel Ring” would double stat gains during level ups in the original work, and was severely overpowered. That means it also left an impression as a highly sought item among players at the time. The problem is, if we left it that way, players would be reluctant to level up without having the item in their possession, and be at a standstill until they find that item, hence limiting their gameplay experience significantly. These are the type of things we had to consider when looking at what to keep and what to change
Q: When talking about the “Angel Ring,” there have been people saying “So they changed it, as expected!”
Nakanishi: That’s right. We were happy to hear favorable responses about it.
Q: Yet, things like the Dread Fighter Loop remained?
Kusakihara: We thought that choosing the class that villagers become was one of the fundamental freedoms in Gaiden. If you think of them like ninjas who go back to being villagers, it was pretty natural. In the real world, when they had no work, a ninja would just be an ordinary villager, after all.
Q: Was this a result of the preliminary hearings as well?
Kusakihara: It is. From the start we had clear instructions regarding the Dread Fighter: “Make them like ninjas.”
The new challenges facing “Echoes” itself
Q: Mr. Kusakihara, it was proposed to have “kissy faces” at the time of Awakening and Fates’ development, which was said to be a “series breaker” by some
Kusakihara: That’s right.
Q: But was Gaiden different due to being a faithful remake?
Kusakihara: No, actually, if anything, Echoes is the one “breaking” the series now, isn’t it? After all everyone looks at the previous two games as their basis for FE now, saying “This is FE.” Echoes is the one breaking the series.
Q: Did you really just say that?!
Kusakihara: We don’t want the series to remain fixed in order to make it easier to move forward into the future. Gaiden was chosen because now was the perfect time we would be able to do it –no sooner, no later.
Q: I see. Well then, Mr. Higuchi? Did anything in Mr. Kusakihara’s proposal drive you nuts this time?
Higuchi: I don’t think there was.
Yamagami: Other than the things that caused a delay in development.
Higuchi: We talked about that already.
Q: There were no pairing or marriage mechanics proposed this time around?
Kusakihara: Regarding marriage, well if it became common it’d become boring. We thought it would be good for people to experience a marriage-less FE too.
Nakanishi: From the perspective of those who started with Awakening, this is a mechanic that is being “removed,” yes, but for others it simply is a mechanic that was featured in two consecutive games. Considering Gaiden is a story about Alm and Celica anyway, forcing in a marriage mechanic would be awfully troublesome. In some cases, it may even prevent Valentia’s unification.
Q: Wait, then why insert Faye who loves Alm then?! (Laughs)
Kusakihara: Actually, when the Scenario Writer first proposed Faye she was a bit different, but became the way she is by the final product. However, we heard that people found the character interesting.
Q: When you advance in the story, you begin to learn more about the kind of girl she is. That first support conversation with Silque made an especially powerful impact! (Laughs) It was talked about all over the net.
Kusakihara: She seems like this cute kid at first, but from that intense first support conversation, well, it left even Mr. Higuchi trembling, going like, “T-t-this girl is scary.”
Higuchi: Ah! I did say that!
Q: That’s rather troubling!
Nakanishi: In the end, I think it was good to have new characters with this sort of quip for new players, or else we may have had to deal with “This character changed!” for older characters. Also, there were no female villages before, so this was a refreshing change of pace.
Q: I see. We’ll come back to talking about those new characters later on during the story section. For now, let’s talk about a rather large new mechanic: Mila’s Turnwheel.
Kusakihara: We thought Mila’s Turnwheel would add a fun new dimension to the strategy aspect. In Fates, there was Phoenix Mode, where you could proceed without any worry. However, that meant when someone made a blunder, they would not have time to reflect on how to improve upon that mistake. Using Mila’s Turnwheel, you can adjust your tactics to find a solution for a situation through trial and error, allowing you to enjoy strategy in a way not possible before.
Nakanishi: It’s sort of like a simplified version of resetting and trying again. After all, when you lose a unit and reset, you have to do it all again from the start. But with this method, you can trace the mistake step by step.
Q: Is that the reason Phoenix Mode isn’t in this game at all?
Kusakihara: Originally, some new players would avoid playing as they did not understand all the complicated mechanics. Phoenix Mode was introduced to simplify that problem, but Mila’s Turnwheel is fundamentally the same anyway.
Q: Speaking of the Turnwheel, what was behind its design?
Kusakihara: It’s meant to resemble an Antikythera Wheel.
Q: A bit of an out of place artefact isn’t it?
Kusakihara: That’s right. It was meant to give off the impression of being like this mysterious ancient wheel from Ancient Greece that washed up on the shoreline.
What’s the story behind “Battle of Revolution”?!*
April 1st. April Fools’ Day. Suddenly, a website for “Fire Emblem: Battle of Revolution” appears out of nowhere. It was a Fire Emblem game set at the end of the Tokugawa period. Users were shocked (it was a lie). We ask for what brought this on!
*TN: “Battle of Revolution” is the way they translate it in the subtitle, but it’s more accurately “Meiji Revolution” (considering the context of being at the end of the Edo Period. Otherwise just “Revolutionary War” would work).
Yamagami: I started hearing requests from within the company like “We want to do something on April 1st for FE.” The original proposal itself was a “safe” one, so I had initially said “We can’t do this one as it is.” I suggested instead we do some sort of outrageous gag set somewhere in history. I suggested something like, Fire Emblem: The Battle of Sekigahara.*
*TN: The Battle of Sekigahara was a decisive battle in Japanese history that paved the way to the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate in the year 1600.
Q: Sekigahara?! (Laughs).
Yamagami: We had to do something like that! (Laughs). But it turned out people in the company had already thought about things like “Let’s make it follow an Edo Period theme.” We had Ozawa (Touru) , who did illustrations for past FE games, begin to draw up various artworks for us. So I had to rethink my Sekigahara suggestion, and consulted the others. “What about the [Meiji] Revolutionary War?” They liked that plan and so we went with it. So the next challenge was thinking about how we could make it seem legitimate.
Q: And so how did you go about that?
Yamagami: I began with writing a serious and somber preface with the theme of “a return to the origin” on the draft for the home page. Then I ended up writing the rest of the sentences based around that theme myself.
Q: That was all really written by you, Mr. Yamagami?
Yamagami: Yeah (Laughs). Though I wanted to write a simple piece at first, the serious tension steadily increased. I started to think about things like how the weapon triangle would work, and it was really fun. I figured if anyone read this preface, they probably wouldn’t think it was a lie.
Nakanishi: All that just for writing a lie.
Yamagami: After that the last thing I was asked for was a signature –but I lacked one. I quickly asked the graphic designers to think up a signature for me and then got to practicing writing it.
Nakanishi: We actually had to think it up for him.
Q: It was still before Echoes’ release, but people recognized Leon and others in the pic.
Yamagami: The homepage staff assigned them different kanji* for us.
*TN: Chinese characters used in Japanese.
Nakanishi: Leon in particular had it spelled out in a way that was quite fitting in the game.*
*TN: In Japanese, Leon’s name is “Leo” レオ (Reo). With kanji they wrote it as “恋男” which can be read as “reo,” but literally means “man love.”
Yamagami: The development staff was made up of only those attached to Nintendo at the time, but if we didn’t get any IS names on there then it wouldn’t look legitimate. So we got some IS staff entered there for us (Laughs). The person in charge of public relations was hesitant to get IS rolled up in Nintendo’s April Fools’ plans, but eventually came around.
Q: In other words, you had to go through great lengths to talk IS into it?
Higuchi: Yes. But we were in high spirits about it too. If we were to do it, I requested we put [the names of] actual staff in.
Kusakihara: Osawa drew up the illustrations for us. A lot of work was done for us from the shadows.
Yamagami: It was interesting since it was talked about in the news a lot more than we thought it would be.
From here on is Spoiler Territory! Mini interviews of various topics
We ask trivial questions that have been on the minds of people who played the game and go deeper into things such as how certain characters were fleshed out or how the world of this “period piece” was developed. As the title suggests, there will be spoilers ahead, so we recommend you read only after you have cleared the game!
Changes in Celica’s development
Q: It is a major change from Gaiden to know that Celica is a princess from the start.
Kusakihara: It is a major motivation and crux to the confrontation between Alm and Celica at the end of chapter two. Since her royal blood was the backbone of this, we made for her to be raised in a royal villa for ten years. At the start of chapter two, when Celica hears the funeral bells toll, she does not really show hints of caring for her father, showing that she has complicated feelings regarding her nobility. As a result, she has a strong reaction to when Alm brings up the fact that the Princess of Zofia still seems to be living.
Expanding upon the setting
Q: Gaiden was known for having little to no explanation about its various locales, but this time it seems a lot of those small things have been expanded upon.
Kusakihara: Yes. First we read a timetable of events that led to the current state of affairs between Zofia and Rigel. From there we began to add more things.
Q: What kind of things, for example?
Kusakihara: For example, it is strange that two countries have such large military forces despite making a long-term pledge to the gods not to fight. While Rigel may make some sense [in that regard], Zofia does not. So we set up a thing where a pirate state (The Pirate’s Throne) has existed to the east of Zofia for hundreds of years. Then, we made it so Zofia set up a fort to the south in order to defend against this threat. Other things we inserted were things like why places like the Duma Tower are located where they are, as explained by the world map itself.
Q: So what’s up with all the oranges?
Higuchi: (Turns toward Kusakihara) Want to answer that? (Laughs)
Kusakihara: Just because…Valentia has oranges. Not many crops grow in Zofia, but for some miraculous reason, oranges grow there.
Kusakihara: There are probably better reasons, but I think I was thinking of how to handle recovery tiles at the time.
Q: In Gaiden they were pink, right? Standing your units over them would recover HP.
Kusakihara: Yes. I ride bicycles, and so know it’s important to take in a certain amount of sugar as nourishment. So this time, we put boxes of oranges in place for recovery instead (Laughs).
Q: So oranges were perceived to have good nutrition with its amount of sugar and vitamins.
Kusakihara: And so the background designer got on board with that, and now we had villages filled with oranges too.
Kusakihara: When Alm and Celica reunite, there is a cut scene with Celica causing him to stumble. But we wanted more movement than just the stumbling, so orange boxes were put there too. Everyone asked us, “Why the heck are there oranges here of all places?!” We replied with, “Desaix has been hoarding oranges ever since he took over Zofia Castle.”
*TN: They are actually talking about “mikan” boxes, which are mandarin oranges, specifically.
Early childhood and Slayde’s rise through the ranks
Q: Why did you insert a childhood segment?
Kusakihara: Because I remember back when I was playing Gaiden and got to chapter two’s starting and saw Celica, I was completely puzzled, “Who the heck is this?” (Laughs). If you play without reading the manual, Celica seems to appear out of nowhere. Since I felt strongly about that, we decided we wanted to give a quick glimpse of the bonds Alm and Celica share. The childhood scene shows that the two share a destiny and enables one to reach chapter two without wondering, “Who the heck is this?”
Yamagami: When I first saw the opening movie, I was like, “Huh? Was there always a conversation like this?”
Nakanishi: At that time, Yamagami experienced the game as part of the debug team, and had no chance to read the manual. Kusakihara and I were unable to read it too when we played, as we lacked the manual. We can’t tell customers today, “Please read the story section of the manual” either, so felt this was the best way to present the backdrop of the setting.
Q: The overall story is pretty easy to understand. It was surprising to see Slayde.
Nakanishi: He got pretty far in life.
Kusakihara: Slayde leaves a lasting impression from the start, doesn’t he? Like when you defeat Desaix only for Slayde to give a shocking revelation while retreating “That was just a mere double of Lord Desaix!”* It was as if he would never appear again.
*TN: I lack the English script, so this is a direct translation rather than finding the equivalent line in the official English release.
Kusakihara: We wanted an impactful villain for the early game, and so Slayde played an active role in the early game for this reason. Of course, he has to play the role of Desaix’s subordinate at the same time too.
Characters that help depict life as an aristocrat
Q: Clair changed the most from Gaiden, huh?
Kusakihara: Yes. Her in-game graphic in Gaiden looks like Catria, while her illustration depicts her as a red-headed girl. We struggled over which appearance to go with, and since we wanted to better depict her nobility this time, she gained the appearance she has now. However, despite the noble blood, as her elegant brother Clive is first in line of inheritance, she was raised in a relatively more gentle way compared to him. So we established her as a good girl raised in a noble household.
Q: So her appearance was based on Clive’s?
Kusakihara: That’s right. As she is Clive’s younger sister.
Q: What kind of designs were in place to paint a better picture of noble life?
Kusakihara: It may just be my personal impression of things, but with recent fantasy settings in general, the nobility are the sort who seem to always seem to be out of touch with its citizens. But that’s a little funny, when you think of reality and how royalty like that often collapses within two generations. I don’t think tyrants can maintain their power long, as a country will push to becoming a Republic.
Kusakihara: However, I understand some works have moved forward to add deeper aspects to these nobles to make them more sympathetic and understandable to the modern consumer already. So instead, we made it so nobles drew a clear distinction between commoner and nobility in this rigid hierarchy, which gives them a very stout medieval outlook on the matter.
Nakanishi: We wanted to express this distinction through Alm’s common upbringing being in contrast to the nobles.
Q: Yet isn’t Clive still praised in Zofia?
Nakanishi: Well it’s implied, at least.
Q: I don’t think he grows very much…
Kusakihara: Clive has a lot of support thanks to being the leader of the Deliverance, and being a strong warrior who fights with his men relentlessly on the front lines. He has a lot of followers for these reasons.
Developing the other characters
Kusakihara: We tried to reasonably arrange the characters, trying to break it up as not to put all types of character on one side or the other. For instance, Forsyth is very diligent [in personality] simply due to his role as an adjutant. Since the original amount of text in Gaiden was rather minimal, characters had to be expressed through the official art and face graphics. At the same time, their dialogue had to be exaggerated.
Q: Like Leon?
Nakanishi: Leon only had about two words of dialogue in the entire original game.
Kusakihara: As such, we had to expand upon what little amount of material we had to work with. From his somewhat androgynous face graphic, we could imagine him saying “Valbar old friend!”* And so went from there.
*TN: “aniki” in Japanese, a term used for older brothers that is now more commonly used by gangs like the yakuza.
Q: That’s quite the method of expanding upon someone!
Kusakihara: Be that as it may, it would be troublesome having just one main face portrait to work with through the entire game. (Laughs)
Q: So as a result, did you stress the importance of the illustrations both in and out of the game itself?
Kusakihara: While we were considering the components to expand upon, Mr. Hidari (character designer) provided us with plenty of suggestions. The truth is about half of the characters voices’ were recorded in advance, going off of Mr. Hidari’s original graphics and illustrations that he presented to us.
About the Masked Knight
Kusakihara: Berkut appears repeatedly throughout Alm’s side of the story, while Celica has a masked knight that appears instead.
Q: Did you feel it necessary to include him as part of Celica’s story?
Kusakihara: That’s right. We could not give an existing character that new role, so decided to bring a new character instead.
Q: Why did it have to be a mask-wearing knight?
Kusakihara: There are various reasons; one being that FE has masked characters throughout the series.
Higuchi: The plan to include a certain masked character was debated in the earlier days of development.
Kusakihara: We couldn’t find a way to include them in the story. But, in a [Batman] movie called The Dark Knight Rises, there is a scene involving Batman telling another character that he wears the mask to “protect the people closest to me.” We wanted a character that would also say that sort of thing. Another reason for placing him where we did was to draw parallels to Alm’s path which had Faye. We wanted Celica to have an intriguing character like that on her path too.
Q: So, I was curious. When he removes the mask, why does he suddenly become a rather humble and silly person?
Kusakihara: The main reason for wanting a mask was to have a character with a disconnected personality. Mr. Nakanishi had a favorable response to that idea.
Nakanishi: I had said it some time ago, but I always thought it would be fun to put in a character like that.
A new character to the story that carries a burden of being “heartless” – Fernand
Kusakihara: Fernand is the man who you probably wouldn’t get along with. He is the type in a historical war drama who is callous. The type who does things as he pleases. He carries that kind of stigma.
Q: Mr. Kusakihara, you mentioned earlier that this is like “a great period piece of military history” when it came to your own opinion of this.
Kusakihara: That’s right. Though I don’t generally like sad stories myself.
Q: Yet that medieval war tale feeling is essential to having depth as a series?
Kusakihara: Yes. I want to extend our reach to where we have yet to extend it. I wonder what kinds of people we could touch.
Higuchi: Both Berkut and Fernand’s viewpoints come from their pride as aristocrats. From the commoner’s point of view that pride and personality comes off as undesirable. It is the basis of the split between the two sides which cannot understand why one on the other side may travel the paths they travel. Despite that pride however, Berkut is still a young man who greatly treasures Rinea, and she remains by his side. We wanted to place great emphasis on these relationships this time around.
Nakanishi: Not everyone is completely evil.
Kusakihara: Everyone is doing the right things from their own point of view, and end up clashing over their beliefs.
Q: So the only really evil guys are Barth and Garth huh?
Nakanishi: And people like the Duma Faithful I suppose.
Why Alm is left-handed
Q: This time we have the first left-handed character in the series?
Kusakihara: Yes, he marks the first main FE character that IS made left handed.
Q: But why?
Kusakihara: There are various reasons. One reason is that there were little variations in poses characters could have. That’s when we got a proposal from the motion team that we can make plenty of new poses and patterns if the character was simply left handed. Another reason was to make Alm better resemble a hero with the strength to overcome any enemy. Alexander the Great was said to be left handed, so we wanted an image along those lines.
Nakanishi: Alm being left-handed also helped give better contrast to Celica’s brand, so it worked out nicely.
Kusakihara: Well yes there was that benefit too.
The appearance and relation to Archanea
Q: We were really pleased to see that we could travel to Archanea in chapter six.
Nakanishi: There was a lot of talk about how “This must happen.” In the original work, the story comes to an end after Alm and Celica join forces.
Q: So you couldn’t use both armies together.
Nakanishi: That’s right. So, we wanted to make something that came after that [event]. While thinking of making a dungeon with a high level of difficulty, I consulted the others with a proposal: “Why not place it across the sea in Archanea?” Going to Archanea would invoke the same feelings that players who crossed over to the Kanto region back in Pokemon: Gold & Silver felt. That was the kind of thing we wanted.
Kusakihara: I also thought it was sad that in a game about raising characters, you don’t really get to utilize them in the end. But, when consulting Higuchi, he told me, “It’s probably better if Archanea characters don’t appear though.”
Q: “Better if Archanea don’t characters” hmm?
Higuchi: That’s right. If Marth suddenly appeared out of nowhere, well that would be wrong, I thought. While he is alive and well at that time, he would be really out of place in this game.
Kusakihara: So, we agreed having a lost ancient city appear where the Tower of Thabes was on Archanea’s map was the best way to go about doing it.
Regarding the subtitle: “Another Hero King”*
Nakanishi: First of all, while it’s a remake of Gaiden, if we attached the word “Gaiden” to it, it would be hard to tell “which” game’s “Gaiden” it is, considering there are so many that have been released since then, compared to having had just one at the time. Next, in order to express that it is a remake, we called it Echoes, like a title from the past is “echoing” in the modern time. That way, if we were to make more remakes in the future, we figured Echoes could be a good title to use for them too, with subtitles to differentiate them. Gaiden was originally about a background main character Alm, compared to the main story and hero Marth. So we thought of contrasting titles like “Another Falchion.” In the end, though, we decided to go with “Hero King” as the theme. Though it is a title definitely associated with Marth, it made for nice contrast, and hence, “Another Hero King” made sense for Alm.
*TN: This is the Japanese title. In the localization it’s called “Shadows of Valentia,” but that wouldn’t make sense for the discussion here, so I’ve maintained the Japanese title.
**TN: “Gaiden” means “side story” in Japanese. The original Gaiden being one for the first FE game, which was obvious as there were only two. But now with 14, it would be hard to tell.
The difference between Gaiden and Archanea’s calendars
Nakanishi: Gaiden’s history is written within Archanea’s. But we made a new Valentian calendar this time.
Kusakihara: Valentia is a continent founded by Duma and Mila, yet they still rule to this day with strong dominance. We thought they would probably use their own established calendar rather than Archanea’s. That’s how the Valentia calendar came to be.
Q: Does it remain consistent with Archanea’s timeline?
Nakanishi: Yes. Because this takes place in the one year between Shadow Dragon and Mystery of the Emblem. This is not an alternate timeline or anything.
Composing the main theme
Q: So Janis Crunch sings the ending theme?
Nakanishi: The truth is, I only learned about this song when it was prepared to be inserted into the game (laughs). But when I heard it, it was a really nice piece. It was put it in because the staff heard me thinking “It’d be nice if we had another ballad like Fates did.”
Q: A part of it is also used for the title screen. Tell us what the main theme behind “Heritors of Arcadia” is.
Kusakihara: Mila’s death and rebirth. It is the theme of Echoes as a whole, the Age of Gods is coming to an end by man’s own hand, and they shall be the ones to inherit the world from the gods. The lyrics express that kind of sentiment.
Higuchi: It is meant to feel like Mila singing to the humans who shall inherit Valentia from her with references to stars like orbs across the sky.
Q: Mr. Kusakihara, this marks your debut as a lyricist. How was it?
Kusakihara: Incredibly tough. But also very fun. Simply changing just one word can alter the entire image and meaning [of the song] in one’s head.
Q: Did the musical composition come first?
Kusakihara: Kanazaki (Tokeru, sound director for this game) composed the music first, and explained to me how many words can fit in the song, and I wrote based off of that.
Q: Did you show any rough drafts to Mr. Higuchi and the rest?
Kusakihara: No, I showed nobody.
Higuchi: That’s right. He only showed us at the end when he was done and said “I was able to make all these lyrics!” I had only heard the background chorus that was put in before, and had no idea there was meant to be lyrics for the ending song. I was like, “What in the world?!” (Laughs). And, at the same time Kanazaki gave us a sample singing demo too. It was pretty dubiously done.
Kusakihara: I liked Kanazki’s singing version though! Personally, I want him to sing at the next “Fire Emblem Cipher” event. (Laughs)
Regarding differences with FE Heroes
Q: For the smartphone app Fire Emblem Heroes (from now on, FEH), Faye appeared as an archer.
Nakanishi: Yes she did. FEH’s distribution was prior to Echoes‘ release, so people unfortunately assumed this was the correct class to choose for her.
Kusakihara: Whereas really, the FEH side just wanted another archer unit.
Q: Incidentally, it says that Lukas is a sharp tongued cynic?*
*TN: In English, it was translated as “Sharp Soldier.” In Japanese, it’s “ルカ: 穏やかな皮肉屋 , or “calm but sharp-tongued/sarcastic.”
Kusakihara: Regarding Lukas, at the start he says things such “washed up” about Mycen, for instance.
Q: Is that where it came from?
Kusakihara: It probably got expanded upon from there. He was originally designed to be polite but with a sarcastic side, but ended up not having many opportunities to be sarcastic in the game itself. (Laughs). I think he would say some pretty nasty things to those who act arrogant in front of him.
Q: I see! (Laughs). Is there anything else you wish to tell us about the relationship with FEH?
Higuchi: Just a small thing. The mascot character Feh comes from the spelling of “FEH,” but, Effie (Faye*)’s name did not come from “FE.” The name was chosen simply because it sounded like a name most fitting for a village girl.
*TN: Faye’s name is Efi/Effie in Japanese, which sounds like the letters “FE”
Connections with Awakening
Q: Were things like the Mila Tree and such in Awakening intended to be a connection to this game?
Kusakihara: I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was completely intended, but as we are in the future now, we can retrospectively make small connections by inserting various elements to tie up loose ends and lead to one consistent world.
Nakanishi: Awakening was designed to be the final story in the series, and so the story was based solely on the continent as seen in that game at the time.
Kusakihara: There exists a connection between Furia Harbor and Awakening’s Port Ferox, for instance.
Points worth noting about the DLC
Nakanishi: A few days ago, an item named the Pitchfork was distributed as part of Mila’s Bounty. I think that it will be quite pleasing to people. As female villagers appear in this game, anyone can be made a villager with this item, with the exception of Alm and Celica. So please enjoy yourself! Please also look forward to fully voice acted downloadable content. Even the Cipher collaboration will have full voice acting.
Q: Fully voiced for even the Cipher collaboration?!
Nakanishi:I can’t say more than that at the moment! But believe me, there is so much more I would love to tell you –but can’t.
Final messages to readers
Higuchi: We wanted to build a game that can be enjoyed by those who had played the original Gaiden as well as those who haven’t. If you pick it up and find yourself extremely invested, that would bring me the greatest joy. It’s different than Awakening and Fates, as we dug up and expanded upon an old title. I look forward to being challenged to try out more new things in the future. Please enjoy Echoes while waiting for the next release on the Switch!
Nakanishi: There are longtime fans of the series, recent fans of the series, and those who may have come from playing FE Heroes, Illusory Revelations #FE, or Fire Emblem Cipher. There are also fans that go to Cipher Festivals and other events. I’ve come to realize there are many kinds of Fire Emblem fans. I hope the main line games serve as a kind of “port” that brings all the different fans together to have fun. We hope that old fans can enjoy reliving Gaiden, and that new fans can look forward to a whole new game this time around. The overwhelmingly positive response we’ve been seeing is truly an achievement for us. For those who have yet to play it can look forward to a brand new experience, so please try it out!
Kusakihara: Development was like crossing an extremely dangerous bridge –there was a lot of stress and frustration, but it was a great relief when we made it safely in the end. I feel this game is slightly different than the past games of the series. So I’ll be happy if you can play and still say “This is very much FE!” To hear those kinds of comments makes me feel incredibly nice.
Yamagami: The original game came out 25 years ago, and only very few members of that staff had worked on this one. However, the new staff has been tenacious in making sure the game feels like ” Gaiden. Both Intelligent Systems and Nintendo strive to keep the things people like within the series. Thank you to the staff that worked on the 3DS titles as well as the people who played them. We were able to develop the things we wanted to develop, and had a lot of fun doing it. As we move forward to the Switch, the development staff will likely change around. But, I promise to pass on the most important things. For everyone who says, “If it’s FE I’ll buy it!” I would like you to tell that to the next generation, too. Thank you, as always.
Phew! This took a long time to translate. I did like all the fun trivia in here, from Desaix hoarding oranges to how Batman inspired the Masked Knight, or how the Archanea crossing is like going to Kanto in Pokemon Gold/Silver.
I hope you enjoyed this interview. Feel free to share it around, but please link back here in some form!