April 20th marks the 15th anniversary of Path of Radiance!
In celebration, I translated an interview I came across from the Nintendo Online Magazine No. 82 (May 2005) that did not seem to be translated elsewhere as far as I saw…
It contains some fun tidbits for fans of Tellius and FE in general, so I encourage you all to read and share.
- Tohru Narihiro (Producer- Intelligent Systems) Top Left
- Masayuki Horikawa (Director – Intelligent Systems) Top Middle
- Taeko Kaneda (Game Design – Intelligent Systems) Top Right
- Masahiro Higuchi (Graphic Chief – Intelligent Systems) Bottom Left
- Minoru Noda (Map Director – Intelligent Systems) Bottom Middle
- Kentaro Nishimura (Supervisor – Nintendo) Bottom Right
Intelligent Systems Co. Ltd is the developer responsible for the famed Fire Emblem series. We have lined up the development staff, including one that many are already familiar with, Mr. Narihiro. The wonderful work comprised of mixing love for the series, challenging the unknown, the spirit of improvement, and cherishing both old and new fans. The contents are robust and varied, so please read to the end!
Keeping an “Emblem-esque” feel while in 3D
NOM: First of all, let’s talk about Mr. Narihiro who has been heavily involved in the series.
Narihiro: I officially joined the staff during Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, but I was always in the background supporting them from before that, sort of like an “unsung hero”. This still hasn’t changed. Personal computers were not as widespread back then, but despite that, I wanted to introduce an interesting game for home use, and became involved with the series. Among enthusiasts of Simulation games at that time, there was a strong image of the games being hard to play. There were a lot of moving components in those games. So, if we were to try to bring all these components to the Famicom, there would be no way we could do it without restrictions to the data. For that reason, we would have to simplify the data and components as much as possible. We wanted to simplify these components but keep it fun to play, and thus with reduced data was the intuitive system born. I think this is the reason the series has persisted to this day.
NOM: So the purpose was to make it simple but fun, but what does that mean, exactly?
Narihiro: When it comes to Simulation, it is actually difficult to think that there are too many visible components. Each component alone is simple, but variation increases based on the combination of these components. By combining a multitude of simple components, it means that each person can play in their own way. For example, individuals who say, “I want to fight using only female units” or, “I only want to use bows!” can play according to their own desires. (laughs)
NOM: You also used to work on Famicom Wars as well, right?
Narihiro: It was the stepping stone that put unit growth and RPG-esque elements in Fire Emblem (from now on, referred to as just “Emblem”). Famicom Wars and Emblem have different types of players, so I think they have different ways of playing too. Famicom Wars is closer to using playing pieces such as in shogi or chess. Emblem is a work that emphasizes importance in character personality, growth, and [empathetic] connection. So, the aim is different. We heard wishes of players of Famicom Wars that say, “Could characters be added to some of these units?” We give a little bit of a taste of this feedback in the GBA version: Advance Wars.
NOM: By the way, when did Ms. Kaneda join the Emblem series?
Kaneda: From Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Before that I was working as an assistant. I participated as part of the main staff in the GBA titles The Binding Blade and The Blazing Blade, as well as in this game, Path of Radiance.
NOM: It seems like this game underwent some major changes due to its platform being the GameCube.
Narihiro: I had experience in general 3D technical skills, but this was the first time I really worked with 3D models of people, and it has been quite the learning experience. I had been doing basic experiments on it for about 3 years. Things like what would have to be done to make a 2D (battle) into 3D. The walls and stairs became three-dimensional objects, and I had to think of how tricks we did up until now could be best adapted as well. The most frightening thing of all was the thought of fans rejecting the 3D characters!
NOM: It is impossible for an arrow to actually pass through a wall after all. It is an aspect unique to a game that has a flat map.
Noda: We spoke of things like making arrows get stuck in the wall, or only able to pass through after a wall breaks. To adhere to those requests would mean needing to make weapons that could break walls, but… to go that far would be, well…
Keeping true to characters being abundant in variation
NOM: Ike is the main character, but is pretty unique. Up until now there have been many who were refined princes or nobles of some well-to-do lineage, but he is just a mercenary boy.
Kaneda: This is certainly the first time the protagonist is just a commoner. The most prominent position to be in is often the “Prince of a Fallen Kingdom.” As such, these settings will inevitably become similar to each other. In The Blazing Blade, we did a new trial by having 3 different types of protagonists. Then we saw just how popular the rough Hector became post-release (laughs). That’s why we figured it would be okay to use a character with a different nature as the main character. Since the series was returning to a [stationary] console, the GameCube, for the first time in a long time, we thought to take it in a direction that was not bound by preconceived ideas. So, when I asked the staff for their opinions on what they wanted, many of them said “We want a protagonist that men can empathize with.” With that, the character of Ike was born.
Horikawa: One who doesn’t talk very much, has a bit of a wild sense to him, and using words like “ore”* instead of “boku.”* It made him more masculine, and from this he was made a mercenary. Though, this time’s Jagan** was made into a beautiful big sister-type at the strong request of the male staff (laughs).
(*Translator’s note: ore is basically a much rougher way for male to refer to himself in Japanese compared to the relatively soft boku).
(**Editor’s note: Throughout the series, there is a strong character that helps guide the protagonist in the early stages. In the first game, there was an older man known as Jagan with this role, and so future characters that fill this role are called “Jagan” regardless of their actual name).
NOM: Ah, here we thought the “promise” for having a Jagan was out of the picture, but there was some behind the scenes decisions, huh? (laughs).
Horikawa: There were a lot of passionate opinions flying around, such as “We should have an older sister as a retainer rather than an old man”, or “What is the best age [for her] to be?” (laughs). By the way, a personal request from Higuchi was that “the hair should have thick braids.”
Higuchi: The unit may look indistinguishable at a glance. There are a lot of them with long hair. So, that’s the reason for changing it up… well that and I really like peculiar hairstyles (laughs).
Kaneda: Variation must be added when it comes to the appearance of more than 50 characters each time. It is of course a very difficult task when it comes to designing units to be distinguishable from others. Since we want the people who play the game to have at least one character they like, it would be wrong not to listen to and incorporate the preferences of a variety of people. From the earliest days of the series, we have asked the male staff’s preferences on female characters, and female staff’s preferences on male characters. (laughs)
NOM: It does sound like it takes a considerable amount of effort, as variation has to be in both personality and appearance.
Kaneda: The charm of the characters that appear in Fire Emblem is that each and every one of them is “alive.” Not just the appearances or personalities, but their class, individual parameters, and dialogue… it all comes together to create individuality. So, we take special care to try to make the “the unit fit the character.” Also, this time is special due to going from 2D to 3D, with motion capture incorporated into the movement during battle and movie scenes. Swinging a sword even once may look too realistic to fit the usual “Emblem” image of things, but at the same time doing anything too superhuman like would look equally contrived… the staff racked their brains over fine tuning the right balance to settle on. I think it has improved compared to the start, but I wanted to do something about the animation when HP falls to 0 and the unit collapses.
NOM: Oh that motion of pure dejection, huh? How realistic indeed.
Kaneda: It is pretty eerie, isn’t it? (bitter laugh). It used to be more realistic at first, so it’s become considerably softer… it was probably tougher than other movement animations in terms of its conditions. When the attacks are showy, but the painful parts more reserved, then battles become more exhilarating.
Narihiro: The value of parameters such as weight or armor reflects in the battle movements. If you come to like a character’s face graphic, then we’d also want you to want to see how that character goes about battling too.
Kaneda: By the way, the concept of “constitution” which appeared on characters in The Binding Blade and The Blazing Blade includes armor and equipment. However, since this wasn’t clearly stated anywhere, there were mistaken thoughts on some of the more delicate female characters in illustrations, such as “Is she actually a gigantic woman?” (laughs). Partly for this reason, “Radiance” separately displays constitution (before factoring armor) and weight. One’s mental image is important.
The pains of making 3D maps
Higuchi: Even though Noda and two others were mostly in charge of the graphics, I wondered whether it would be better to continue with 2D or go to 3D. Even though we had done 2D for a long time, we decided now would be the easiest time to understand how to make things 3D. A unit’s face would look strange when expanded to the size of an icon, and it’d be difficult to comprehend the unit from that, so we settled on what we have now. Throughout the process, whenever I thought I did a good job and showed the rest of the staff saying “How’s this?” they’d just utterly bash it. (laughs).
NOM: They’d bash it? (laughs).
Higuchi: Yes, bash it!
Narihiro: There’s more to it than that… (laughs).
Noda: Anyway, it was no good making things too realistic. I didn’t know whether or not we would lose the iconic characters [as a result], so asserted that making things too realistic would not make any units stand out, so it was painstaking.
Nishimura: It was surprising to see the big changes in the battle scenes from when it was exhibited at Nintendo World Touch! DS compared to when it was in debug. From that point my wish was that they could continue at a good tempo. This time we are improving upon parts to help the player play more comfortably. Those who were disappointed at the event venue will be surprised at the difference. I would like players to pick it up again.
NOM: When playing now, the maps now seem well organized and easy to understand.
Noda: We paid special attention to the balance of graphics down to every last tree. At first they were really tall, but then we realized units around it couldn’t be seen. There were plans to make them semi-transparent, but due to various circumstances we settled on what we have now.
NOM: It would be troublesome to be unable to see units.
Noda: Wouldn’t that just be unforgiveable? There should never be a situation that may cause a loss of motivation in continuing, such as having something happen in a place that you cannot see. So with great pains we went with things like making two-floored houses into one-floored ones, or the sails on the ship maps semi-transparent.
Narihiro: Noda is a person who has always made such beautiful maps. But, I had to bear the burden of looking at them and rejecting them, saying, “It’s a beautiful mappp~~~ but we can’t use ittttt~~~.” (laughs).
Noda: I want the atmosphere and flow of the map to be enjoyed. That’s because there are a lot of maps with weather to set the mood, with things like snow blowing or rain falling.
Nishimura: We also changed the size of the maps themselves, among other changes we made as priority for ease of playability.
Narihiro: We did not want to compromise on playability. We want people to feel good when they play. We hate it if the player feels inconvenienced. It is a game where a lot of tension is already building, so we absolutely cannot compromise on that. We think it’s a game where one can play it with fairly natural feelings.
NOM: Please tell us about the new units known as the “Laguz.”
Kaneda: In the initial design, they were very much what one would call a “beast man.”* I thought that [the concept] did not look too bad, and that new players may be interested in such a thing… but, because it did not really fit the settings/feel of the series up until now, I wondered if it’d be problematic. I wondered if there would be less resistance to having a race that shift forms in battle, much like Manaketes, who have been in previous entries of the series up until now. It would not be too interesting if we were to just simply make them a “Beast” version of a Manakete, so for this title we discussed opinions on how this unit would behave, and settled on the special characteristics they have now. Also, when viewing the story setting, a big difference between them and the Manaketes is that the “Human” form they [the Laguz] take on are their default forms. Even though they evolved separately, Beorc and Laguz are very similar to each other. It may become easier to understand if you think of it like the people of the real world, where the only differences between the races are cultural.
(*TN: The word 獣人 can mean therianthrope, furry, etc. Literally, it’s “beast person.” But is used for “a fusion of human and animal”)
Using the new “Base” Feature
NOM: This time, the “Base” feature is greater. The shops and such are now included here, but why were they separated [from the map]?
Horikawa: In short, it took shape when the non-battle elements were expelled from the map itself. We wanted to separate these completely. We wanted people to enjoy battles purely as battles. As a trial, this may not be a perfect 100/100, but we wouldn’t know until we tried it. Personally, I prefer these elements not being on the map itself. It would probably be more enjoyable to experience the pure Simulation elements.
NOM: The fun support conversations also take place at Base.
Horikawa: That’s because, more often than not, the contents of the conversation did not require a battlefield as a location. There was also the possibility of unintentionally triggering a support conversation. And, even without any conversation [on the field itself], you could just place two units next to each other and enjoy imagining a dialogue between them. (laughs)
Kaneda: “Support” is a conversation between just two characters, and “Info” is a conversation scene with the main character Ike as the primary subject. You would notice this from just a glance alone (laughs). It makes it easier to empathize with the main character, I think.
NOM: This time the “Arena” is gone. Now there is a new feature, “Bonus Experience”?
Horikawa: We were aware that the Arena was a highly valued feature, but felt that maybe people were a little too drawn to it. Even though it was a place where players could strengthen their units, many would go beyond the levels we’d want them to be at on those stages. We wondered what to do about all the time [that players] spent there, too.
Kaneda: We did not just want someone to clear the game [only] due to putting lots of time into making a strong unit, as it is not just geared toward those who enjoy RPGs. We want people to skillfully maneuver their limited pool of units. It is easier on a handheld device, but with people going through the pains of spending time sitting in front of a TV for us, we would want them to get a true taste of an “Emblem-flavored” Simulation game.
Horikawa: Since you receive info on battle strategy among other things, we want players to of course use these as reference. There are different types of players who wanted to enjoy RPG and SLG [elements], so we were very mindful about that. By the way, the general rule is that ☆１ is information the character is unaware of, ☆2 is strategy info, and ☆3 is acquiring a new item or new ally.
NOM: How about the Bonus EXP? It seems like an unprecedented system to me. That, and equipping various inherited skills.
Nishimura: There’s usually a unit that is hard to raise, isn’t there? A unit that wields a staff is necessary but hard to raise. So, they become hard to use as a result. To better balance that, we introduced Bonus EXP.
Horikawa: We think skills are effective in bringing out a character’s individuality, but also nostalgic for long-time players.
Horikawa: Oh, also if you try to raise a unit with only Bonus EXP, their weapon level does not increase. In that case, please use the Forge to create a strong weapon with a low weapon level.
NOM: Is there anything else that has changed?
Horikawa: The enemy units this time should be considerably smarter. We revived a number of thought-routines that were substantially reduced in in the GBA version. So, the enemy now performs actions such as healing themselves as they please, and will be reasonably more difficult.
Kaneda: Due to the nature of the GBA as a handheld device, [the game] was adjusted so things could be handled with a simple brute force strategy. We did our best to remove things like mounted units moving again after attack, or factors that strongly relied on random elements such as skills. As those components now return in the GameCube version, caution is needed as carelessness will be punished even on Normal Mode.
With beautiful cutscenes, a deeper taste of the “Emblem” world
NOM: The tutorials have become even easier to understand with each entry, huh?
Nishimura: We devised a way to have “Yes/No” options before entering the tutorial, the ability to skip them, or to view them again. Also, for things not included in tutorials, a notification will appear in the bottom left of the screen to make you aware of the new element that appeared. For me, personally, it looks like a news bulletin making a recommendation. (laughs). No matter what, characters will be telling you various things that should help overcome some obstacles and proceed steadily.
NOM: There are three different modes, what are the reasons for this?
Kaneda: One of the requests from Nintendo was “Enable 80% of the players to clear it normally”… so from that we divided the modes. After all, there is a divide between those who want a challenge and those who are experiencing a new game. While it takes time to create 3 modes, we think a lot more players will be happy with it.
NOM: What is the theme of the game this time?
Kaneda: In retrospect, I get a strong impression of it being about love between parents and children. There are various forms of family relationships, and various forms of affection. When you look at the recent news, there are many saddening cases [related to this]. I think the basis of human relations are familial ones… and when faced with life and death in a war, the rawest and most unfiltered emotions are the ones that come to the forefront.
NOM: With that, please give us some final words.
Noda: This time the enemies are more realistic and scary. I want you all to enjoy this new reality in 3D.
Horikawa: While it has become 3D, it is still definitely Fire Emblem, so please enjoy it.
Higuchi: The game is feels good even though it has made a new move to 3D. Since we were particular about it being made with 60 frames, please enjoy its operability.
Kaneda: It is a demonstration of the effort put forth of all the staff members. It would bring me great joy if you like it even just a little bit.
Nishimura: This time the soundtrack is orchestrated, and it has become a truly wonderful product. I am confident that this is a work to be enjoyed. Please play through Normal Mode first, and experience the very moving ending.
Narihiro: The folks at Digital Frontier put great effort into the [animated] movie [scenes]. Implementing such scenes was a great challenge in itself in regards to ensuring whether or not the contents fit the “Emblem” feel in how it was made. The incredible gathering of materials such as scenes, maps, illustrations, etc. was thanks largely in part to a chance meeting with those at Digital Frontier. From the [animated] scenes, we hope you enjoy the drama of “Emblem” more than ever before!
NOM: Thank you very much!
That’s that! I hope you learned something new. Most notable to me were the small tidbits about the Laguz (such as the human form being their default), and the note of the constitution stat. What about you?
While I am confident in accuracy, I feel my translation ability has slipped when it comes to interviews, hence some of the very awkward readings. If any information seems off, inconsistent, or completely wrong/inaccurate, I have provided the original source for your cross-reference.
Internal use of Jagan as an archetype is of note.