Ubi Soft Entertainment recently conducted an interview with Takeshi Miyaji and Katsunori Saito. Arisa Furugen, Japanese project coordinator, was on hand to translate, as well as John Chowanec, US brand manager.
Q: Can you please start by introducing yourselves?
Miyaji: My name is Takeshi Miyaji from Game Arts in Tokyo. Pleased to meet you all.
Saito: My name is Katsunori Saito from Game Arts and I did the direction of Grandia II. I am very excited to be here for this opportunity to talk to you all.
Q: What were your roles/responsibilities for the production of Grandia II?
Miyaji: I am the producer for Grandia II.
Saito: I acted as the supervisor for the 200-person Grandia II development team. We broke our large team into smaller teams and it was my responsibility to oversee the heads of the smaller teams to assist them in elaborating on the game's scenarios.
Q: Can you give us an overview or information on the background story of Grandia II?
Saito: There was a god named Granas, the God of Light, and there was a God of Darkness, Valmar. About 10,000 years ago during the Battle of Good and Evil, Granas defeated Valmar in an extraordinary, yet taxing, battle. As a result of the gods' battle, a giant scar was left on the planet. The scar further scattered the planet's inhabitants, spreading them all over the world. That is the basic background story of Grandia II.
Saito: Due to the battle, Valmar was supposed to be killed, but the people of the land started to sense the revival of Valmar, and Granas was supposed to be alive to combat the evil. So people started to sense that Granas might be asleep - due to his tiring battle with Valmar. The people saw a lot of strange occurrences in the world to give them the impression that things were going terribly wrong. This is where Grandia II begins.
Saito: The main character's name is Ryudo. There are two heroines: Elena and Millenia. Elena is a songstress for the Church of Granas, and Ryudo's job is to act as a bodyguard for Elena on her journey to the Sealing ceremony. During the ceremony, things went terribly wrong and Ryudo jumps in to save Elena. The story picks up from here.
Q: Can you tell us how long the game has been in development?
Miyaji: Two and a half years.
Q: What was your biggest challenge during the development of the game?
Miyaji: One of the technical challenges I had to face was our attempt to combine real-time action with an MPEG movie, so that they would run at the same time. So, it's kind of hard to combine the prerendered movie and the real-time CG because the camera position can shift and be very hard to match up. Another challenge we faced was our combination of real-time and prerendered movies; there were difficulties in color matching between the two layers of movement. From a technical point of view, these were our biggest challenges. Once we overcame these challenges, it became one of the most wonderful points of the game. I'm very happy with the result.
Saito: I treat every challenge like it's the biggest. But if I had to pick two, the first was the challenge of keeping people motivated during the entire project. Even if one or two members of a 200-person team are not as highly motivated as the others, it will show in the final product. That was definitely a big challenge to keep people motivated and excited during the production schedule. Another major challenge was that we all tried to put as much love and emotion into the characters. By the end, among the team we all had our favorite characters. Certain people loved Elena more than any of the other characters, and others loved Millenia. Due to this, conflict arose when people were writing dialogue for the characters. We would get upset when others tried to tread on the characters we loved so much, so it became a constant struggle for us as we all looked out for our favorite characters. Who wants their favorite character to look bad? "No you can't put that into Elena's dialogue, it will make her look bad!" While this was a fun challenge for us, it was a challenge nonetheless.
Q: Can you give us a few examples of the new features of Grandia II compared to Grandia I?
Miyaji: The story is more adult this time, more mature. I wanted to make a more cinematic game that the player can cry over...or laugh over. I wanted to make the story reflect this. We also paid a lot of attention to make the graphics as dynamic as possible. And also, we wanted to make the characters and the world setting more lively and real in Grandia II. One of the ways we did this was to use dynamic lighting. One of the examples from the game is when Ryudo and Elena are sitting around a bonfire; it lights up their faces and the objects around the fire.
Saito: Just to supplement Mr. Miyaji's comments about lighting effects, it was very important to us that we achieve a feeling of multiple worlds within one world. Textures look more moist or dry depending on where you are, etc. We achieved this with more than just texture density; we also paid a lot of attention to the game's camera work to help create a real-world setting that users can relate to.
Q: Can you describe the combat system in place for Grandia II - is that a real-time system or a turn-based system?
Miyaji: I think that the Grandia II battle system is unique - possibly the only one of its kind in the entire world. It combines two good points of the turn-based system with the real-time system. The Grandia II system combines both of these systems. You have time to determine your action, but once you have decided, you are committed to it, and combat happens in quasi real-time. If the monster you decided to attack reaches its turn first, it can decide on its action and then execute it, causing you to chase the monster across the battle map.
Miyaji: One of the motivations to why we adapted the battle system was that we wanted to show more emotion and feeling in the battles. In this battle system, users can sense how furious Millenia might be, etc.
Q: Can you explain the advantages of using the Sega Dreamcast?
Miyaji: The reason why I brought this title to the Dreamcast was because the DC offers everything I needed to do Grandia II, and Sega provided great support to us. This is why we chose the Dreamcast.
Q: What do you think the RPG genre will look like four to five years from now?
Miyaji: Basically I think there are three keywords: network, multiplayer, story. Four to five years down the road, those three aspects will play a giant role in RPGs. Additionally, any game that retains fun elements is the type of game people will always support, no matter how far the technology stretches.
Q: What, if anything else, can you tell us about Grandia II?
Saito: One of the keywords of this title is "song." Singing plays a very important role in this game. In the first scene where Ryudo meets Elena, Elena is singing. I think singing continually plays an important role in the game. It adds a lot of fantastic aspects to the game. All the sound and music people listened to the songs in every language. English songs are too common, so we decided to use Portuguese, and we adapted a lot of Portuguese songs for Grandia II. We went to a Portuguese church in Tokyo and wrote down lyrics that we adapted for Grandia II. Please look forward to the songs in Grandia II.
Q: Is Grandia II going to be coming to other platforms or is it going to remain on the Dreamcast?
Miyaji: Actually we both have differing opinions on this. We're going to go back to Tokyo to decide by rock, paper, scissors.
Q: Will Grandia II have an online component at all?
Miyaji: Not at this time.
Q: What was the inspiration for the game - the characters? Were they inspired by movies or other games?
Saito: From a technical point of view, not just Grandia II, but the Grandia series overall, what we were inspired by was a lot of stage performances - Kabuki, Noh, musicals - where the audience can sit far behind yet they can still feel the emotions onstage. We really wanted to achieve this in Grandia II. We want the player to feel the emotions of the characters from very far away. That's the basic inspiration, for Grandia II especially, because I wanted to make it more cinematic and dynamic than Grandia I. I was inspired greatly by the late Akira Kurosawa and his film, Seven Samurai. Like Seven Samurai, Grandia II has one core story, but apart from the central story's spine, there are many little stories that occur as players play the game. From a scenario-making point of view, this multiple-story-within-a-story method very much inspired me. On top of that, we added a lot of elements to the camera work, colors, and graphics to make the game more integral overall.
Q: The original Grandia had a very strong sense of adventure. What sort of feelings are you trying to evoke from Grandia II?
Saito: It will be basically the same, in terms of adventure and optimism, as I feel the character has to be positive thinking all the time. In the end no matter how crude, cruel, or cold the main character might seem in the beginning, users will see a big, warm heart in the end. Ryudo is a good example. However, you will see a different type of Justin (from Grandia I) in Ryudo.
John: To supplement Mr. Saito's comments, there is ultimately, like in Grandia I, a very strong sense of character development in Grandia II. Miyaji and Saito pay attention to even the most minute of details. For example, all the different characters have different eating habits. Ryudo chomps away at his food. Roan, on the other hand, is very refined when he eats. Mareg basically plows through his food. It's that kind of attention to detail they sought to achieve.
Saito: If you like Grandia I, Grandia II is something you will be happy with. I am very confident about this.
Q: How many discs will Grandia II ship on and what is the replay value like?
Saito: One disc. In regard to replay value, Famitsu commented that the battle system is really great in terms of customizability. Maybe the second time you play Grandia II, you can take a different approach and change the way you develop your characters.. And also, it gives you a chance to enjoy the story again.
Q: How long, roughly is the game?
Miyaji: It depends on the individuals, but maybe 40 to 60 hours?
Q: How is the localization being handled?
Miyaji: I totally trust the US localization team to do a great job.
Saito: One of the characteristics of Grandia is the large amount of text, which is accepted in the Japanese market. It helps communicate that the world is a cohesive world. The main scenario writer of the Japanese scenarios can double-check the English text, if need be.
John: As a status update, four translators completed the conversion from Japanese to English, and we currently have six writers reviewing and editing the text at Ubi Soft, San Francisco. We have already arranged the voice-over audio direction, courtesy of voice director Kris Zimmerman, who worked on Metal Gear Solid. We're very confident that this title is in the best hands it could be.
Q: Is the scenario writer in Grandia II different from the one in Grandia I?
Miyaji: Yes, the scenario writer for Grandia II is different from the scenario writer of Grandia I.
Q: How about the soundtrack composer?
Miyaji: Mr. Iwadare is returning to do the Grandia II soundtrack.
Q: How closely related is the Grandia II story to the first Grandia?
Miyaji: No relation at all. The Grandia series' common theme is people participation. The final message of the Grandia series is that humanity is good - that's the common theme between the two Grandias, but in terms of the world and the settings, it is totally different.
Q: Will the dungeons and experience system be handled the same as in Grandia I?
Saito: Just as you may have seen in Grandia I, there are touches and play elements in the dungeons. The environments will be interactive like in the first Grandia. In terms of the experience points, the system is basically the same. The format is a little different. For example, after you finish a battle, you can store up points so that you can choose which spell or magic you want to learn first. The order of learning the skills and spells will be optional for the player. The main system remains the same.
Q: Grandia II was being developed in Japan before the Dreamcast hardware was finished. Do they know things about the Dreamcast now that would allow them to do more in Grandia III? And when Grandia III is in development, is it going to remain on the Dreamcast, or will it be going to the PlayStation 2 like Silpheed and Gungriffon Blaze?
Miyaji: It's hard to say, but whenever we make a Grandia, we want to release it for the best possible platform. Due to the fact that we just finished the Japanese Grandia II, we have no current plans for Grandia III. In regard to what we may have learned about the hardware, the Dreamcast is one of my favorite consoles. I wish I could do more projects for the Dreamcast, but we are currently busy with localization of Grandia II.
Q: In regard to the voice director from Metal Gear Solid working on Grandia II, what about the voice talent?
John: We cannot talk about the voice actors at this point.
Q: Why is the Dreamcast his favorite platform? Which system is harder to develop for, the DC or the PS2?
Miyaji: That's a very difficult question. Each platform has its own genre strengths. That's how I view platforms. Some of them are more suitable for some types of games. I think the Dreamcast is a great console in terms of availability and price. The PS2 is a good console in terms of performance.
Q: Games like Grandia II are the kind of games that will sell the DC in Japan, and DC sales are not terribly good in Japan. Does this make it difficult to develop for the DC as the sales of the hardware are not doing so well?
Miyaji: My ultimate goal is to bring great games to the market. If people who play Grandia II are happy with it, then I've accomplished my goal.
Q: Are there any changes to the US version of Grandia, aside from the voice actors?
John: We are trying to keep it as faithful to the Japanese version as we can.
Q: Game Arts has often said that Grandia II is more adult than the first. Can we have an example of how the game is going to have a more adult tone?
Saito: Commonly when evil is expressed, the easiest way to do this is to present the devil. This is an object that children can identify evil with. There is some evilness in Grandia II that only adults can understand - inhumane cruelty, or emotional cruelty, which might not be as evident to children, will be evident to adults. Furthermore, Ryudo, for example, his job is to slaughter monsters and a variety of other tasks that the world populace may not want to do. Ryudo, however, carries himself professionally, even in the midst of gibes and fear-filled people. The emotions of Grandia II are much more geared to adults.