Throughout the entirety of the mainline Bayonetta series, time has been a constant theme. From exploring flashbacks and introducing the series' iconic Witch Time mechanic in the original Bayonetta to jumping between timelines and magically restoring worn relics in Bayonetta 3, the games have always had a reverence for the passage of time and how it shapes our world. In a way then, it feels only natural that studio Platinum Games longed to take fans back to where it all began. And, after years of Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya fantasizing about what that experience might look like, it's finally here.
Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon follows the titular witch long before she was a pistol-slinging sex symbol--back when she was simply known as Cereza. Though she might have grown to become a cool, calculated, and extremely campy woman, this wasn't always the case. In fact the Cereza we see in Bayonetta Origins is anything but confident and has quite a tough time becoming the witch she longs to be. However, we all know humble beginnings make for larger-than-life stories, and that is precisely the case with both Bayonetta and the creation of her origin story.
In an exclusive interview with GameSpot, five core members of the Bayonetta Origins and Nintendo development teams--supervising direcor Hideki Kamiya, director Abebe Tinari, producer Koji Tanaka, art director Tomoko Nishii, and producer Makoto Okazaki--discussed why they decided to create Bayonetta Origins, as well as why the game is so visually distinct from titles in the mainline trilogy. The team also shared the process behind creating Bayonetta Origins (including how much of a pain the controls were to get right), their artistic inspirations, and what fans can expect next from the studio.
GameSpot: The conclusion of Bayonetta 3 seemed to mark the end of Cereza's story and the beginning of Viola's, so why revisit Cereza with this origin game?
Kamiya: I don't have any intention of ending Cereza's story. Quite the opposite, I love and treasure the character of Cereza and the world created in Bayonetta very much, and I want to continue to expand that world. I've got all kinds of ideas dreamed up in my head.
This game, Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, focuses on Cereza's past, out of a desire to more fully flesh out the character of Cereza, who will continue to be a central figure in the Bayonetta world. And so I think it can be said that this game demonstrates how one of my ideas I have been wanting to explore is not just a pipe dream, but can actually take shape. You all know that Cereza's identity in the Bayonetta series so far has been "the strongest witch," but what was her childhood like? What kind of events shaped her? I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to know, right?
Even during the development of the first three Bayonetta games, I created the story while vaguely imagining how she would've been in her childhood. I always wanted to turn that into a game someday. I kept turning the idea over in my head, and now, with the team led by director Abebe Tinari, it has finally become a reality.
This game shows us Cereza's past, but at the same time it ties into her future as well. You could even say that the story in the Bayonetta series starts here. Fans of the series will hopefully enjoy it, but I think that it also makes a great entry point for people who have never played a Bayonetta game before.
Okazaki: We actually began this project at the same time we began Bayonetta 3. Nintendo was wanting to bring excitement to the entire Bayonetta series in a different direction from Bayonetta 3. When we asked if they could depict a prequel with Cereza, Kamiya-san and his team already had plans in mind. Our companies' ideas matched well with each other, and as a result it was decided to begin the project.
In order to bring excitement to the entire Bayonetta series, when the project began, we also aimed to get both people who've never played the games and people who may not have played a Bayonetta game recently to return to the series again.
Bayonetta Origins is vastly different from the mainline Bayonetta games in its gameplay, tone, content, and art style. What inspired the creation of such a different type of Bayonetta game? Why not develop a new IP, or create a new character and merely set the story inside the same world?
Tinari: I believe that games work best when their story, aesthetics, and gameplay all work in unison to create a single, cohesive experience. At the beginning of development, when I joined the project, there were two core things in place: a plot and character outline written by Kamiya; and the theme song, which was created early on in order to convey the tone of the game's world and the emotions of Cereza at its center. From the very beginning, the core of this game has been the growth of the main character Cereza and the bond she forges with her companion, Cheshire. From there, I designed the gameplay concept and worked with Art Director Tomoko Nishii to bring the world to life in service of creating a cohesive experience around that theme.
Kamiya: Platinum Games is already working on creating our own new IP and is continuing to come up with ideas for developing a sequel to the Bayonetta series. On top of that, we're always wanting to continue to evolve the Bayonetta IP, which is an important franchise to us, into something even stronger. To that end, our vision has been to work on not just vertical connections, but horizontal expansions as well.
We feel there are endless possibilities for horizontal expansion, and that discarding static notions of what kind of game Bayonetta has to be and using free thinking to create new ways to play will definitely make it more fun for players, and for us as developers. With this in mind, I had various game designers in the company present their ideas for a gameplay concept. Tinari's pitch stood out, so I decided to entrust him with the director role on this project.
Although Bayonetta Origins feels drastically different tonally, it still has portions that share the mainline Bayonetta series' action-packed gameplay. What were all the elements from the Bayonetta trilogy you aimed to incorporate into the new game?
Tinari: There are two main aspects I would say they share: the snappy, responsive feeling of the animations, and the emphasis on free-form playfulness in combat. In the early prototyping stages, when I was working with the team to find the right balance of action versus slower-paced puzzle-solving in the game, one of the points I always stressed was that no matter how puzzle-like it got, we always needed to keep the responsive animations the main series is known for.
An example is the act of transforming Cheshire back and forth between Hug Mode and Unleashed Mode. Early in development, you had to wait for him to completely transform into his demon form before you could return to Hug Mode. However, because this is an action you perform hundreds of times, over time this short wait can become very stressful, especially if you press the button and summon him by mistake. In the finished game, you can press the button to return him mid-transformation and he will return directly to Hug Mode.
Although this may seem like a very mundane example, there are many small details of the animation that make the game feel better to play in subtle ways. I felt this was especially important for this title, since the player is controlling two characters at once. Since you need to split your focus between them, it is critical they both are intuitive to control.
While I wish I could say this was my idea, I actually got a lot of advice from a veteran animator named Takaaki Yamaguchi. He was responsible for most of Bayonetta's animations in the first three games, as well as many of the main animations in Kamiya's past games. I was thankful to get help from Yamaguchi and other Platinum Games veterans as we made this game. It really helped us ensure a consistent feel across the series.
Bayonetta Origins has a unique control scheme that works shockingly well, with the entire left Joy-Con synced up to Bayonetta's movements while the right solely controls Cheshire. What was it like mapping those controls? Did you run into complications?
Tinari: To say there were "complications" would be putting it kindly. Getting the controls down was the single most difficult aspect of designing this game.
I decided to completely divide Cereza and Cheshire's controls between the left and right Joy-Con from the very first version of the game design document--the hard part was sticking to that decision. As we made the game, there were countless times when bending the rules and assigning just a single action to one of the opposite character's buttons would have made everything fit, but I knew it had to be all or nothing, so I resisted the temptation.
In the end, we had to get creative with how we designed interactions. For example, Cereza is able to use multiple kinds of magic, but she never uses more than one kind of magic on the same object. This means that the player only needs one button to use magic, and the spell that comes out is determined by the properties of her target.
Also, you may have noticed that Cereza has exactly four different types of potion to concoct and Cheshire has exactly four different elemental forms he can change into. This allows the player to select each with a single press of the D-pad or ABXY without the need to navigate a menu. This also had the knock-on benefit of simplifying the information displayed on-screen, which is important since with two characters, every bit of information is doubled.
I am a firm believer that when designing a game, "more" is not necessarily "better." Although my rule to limit the controls for each character to a single Joy-Con (or half the Pro Controller) felt very confining during development, I am confident that the creative solutions we found to that constraint ultimately led to a much better play experience overall.
With both Bayonetta 3 and Bayonetta Origins, the team seems focused on showing a softer and more vulnerable side of Cereza--why is that?
Kamiya: Although a lot of people look at just her fighting style and fashion in the first three Bayonetta games and may imagine Cereza to be cold-blooded and emotionless (certainly this might be true for the people she fights against), she is a loving person who shows deep affection toward her family. She also doesn't forget to be kind to her friends. While she has a cynical attitude, she clearly shows anger, sadness, and other emotions, and also had scenes where she broke down or occasionally became teary-eyed.
I didn't want Cereza to merely be a symbol for "the strongest witch," or have players hold that sort of static notion. Throughout the stories in the series, we worked to depict her human-like qualities. Although this work further depicts an innocence and helplessness from lack of life experiences, I feel that this doesn't contradict how she has been up to now, and that everything will exist within the same flow.
That being said, Cereza having been a timid little girl may be an unexpected side to her. We want people to enjoy that she too was like that at some point.
I was impressed by the difficulty options in the game and the number of mechanics you can automate to make the game simpler. What inspired the decision to include them and can we expect greater accessibility options from Platinum Games in the future?
Tinari: Although I don't think the teams were using the term "accessibility" at the time, each game in the Bayonetta series has made an effort to be accessible to players of all types. The first game included an option to automatically perform complex combos using a single button. This continued with the touch controls in the Wii U and Nintendo Switch version of Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2. When I saw comments online from players who were happy to have these options, I made it one of my key goals in this project to include as many options to customize the difficulty as possible.
As designers, I think our first responsibility is to create fun, satisfying mechanics and interactions in our game. Next, we need to prepare a set of challenges that encourages players to explore that play space. However, "challenge" is subjective. Depending on the past experience and physical limitations of players, the same challenge will feel very different to different people. So, the ultimate task for us as designers is to think of ways of customizing our games to make those challenges accessible to more people, so they too can share the experience.
I would like to mention that there is no option to fully automate Cheshire. This is because controlling both characters is at the core of the game experience. When Cereza first meets Cheshire, they do not trust each other. Although they end up venturing together deeper into Avalon Forest, in the early part of the game they often bicker and get on each other's nerves. In the same way, when you first pick up the controller it will feel a bit strange controlling both characters at once; through your fingers you will feel Cereza and Cheshire's awkwardness directly.
As the story progresses, the two characters grow and learn to work together. And, as you improve, you become able to control them more skillfully. Reflecting the developments in the story, as you control them, they also start to feel like they are in sync, working together as a pair.
I can't make any promises for future titles, but since accessibility has been a focus on many of our titles since before I joined the company, I expect it will continue going forward. Personally speaking, I intend to continue making accessibility a priority in any games I work on in the future.
I loved the storybook-style narrative and painterly art found in the main world of Bayonetta Origins, as well as the darker stylings of the portions overrun by faeries. I was immediately reminded of both Alice in Wonderland and Madoka Magica while playing. What were some of your artistic influences?
Tinari: I will leave talk of the artistic influences to Art Director Nishii, but I would like to mention a specific feeling I asked the team to invoke when designing the world of Avalon Forest.
When I was in elementary school, I started doing a newspaper route to earn money to buy games. There was one part of my route where I could either take a shortcut through a forest, or go the long way around, increasing my walking time by about 15 minutes. At first, I was too scared to take the shortcut in the dark, so I would sacrifice precious time I could have spent playing games by taking the long way. However, I still remember the first night I summoned the courage to take that forest path; in the dark, each sound and flickering shadow took on new meaning.
This is one of the feelings I asked the team to capture with the darker areas of Avalon Forest. As they control Cereza, I would love for players to remember what it was like being a kid. I'm sure everyone has had an experience like mine of overcoming their fear.
Nishii: The examples you mentioned are extremely famous. Of course I've seen them, so I can't say I wasn't influenced by them, in the sense that artists are influenced by all of their previous experiences. And of course I wasn't the only one working on this, so it could be that that image came to some of the other staff's minds, you know?
Personally, I like the picture book format, and so I've been influenced by all kinds of picture books, from the ones I read as a child to the ones that caught my eye in the bookstore as an adult. But that being said, I don't think there's any one specific book I'm referencing. I do like highly stylized designs, so that might have come to the forefront. But on the other hand, what I was absolutely impacted by were the designs from the first three Bayonetta games. Of course, this game is a spin-off of the main series.
Since this is a spin-off, I personally wanted to send people back to enjoy the mainline games. I hoped the art direction in this game might widen the entrance to the Bayonetta series, acting as a way to introduce Cereza to players who may not have previously taken an interest in the series, or those who had some curiosity but didn't know it well. To that end, while I worked on the designs for Cereza, I always kept in mind that someday this young girl would become Bayonetta. I also did as much as I could to connect character and creature motifs back to the main series, designing everything with the hope that this would be a chance to get players curious about the world of Cereza and Bayonetta.
My goal for the art direction was to create designs that make people think, "I want that artwork." I'd be very glad if players can find something of value in the art.
It seems as if Bayonetta Origins is aimed at younger audiences despite other entries in the Bayonetta series being mature. What is your target audience for this new game? Do you see it as more of a complete side story, or do you hope those who played Origins will play the other games?
Tanaka: We tried to develop the game to be fun for a wide range of players, and that definitely includes younger audiences than those of other Bayonetta games. We also hope to reach players who know the Bayonetta series but never played due to a lack of action game comfort, as well as people who aren't familiar with the series at all. In Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, the core gameplay has the player battling faeries and overcoming obstacles by controlling both Cereza and Cheshire, so I think the tempo throughout the game, as well as the feel of the action controls, is completely different from the main series.
There's an in-depth tutorial that teaches players how to control the two characters, as well as detailed accessibility settings to adjust the difficulty, so players of any skill level can customize the game to suit their style. This game is certainly not one where players compete for scores or rankings, so I hope players can learn the controls at their own pace, adjust the difficulty as needed, and immerse themselves in the story of Cereza and Cheshire.
Kamiya: Plot creation started with the idea of delving into Bayonetta's past, and I built the scenario while shooting ideas back and forth with Tinari. I decided the story would be about an inexperienced witch and demon growing up, and the bond between them, and wrote that out. I think you can fully enjoy that story as it plays out over the course of the game.
Making this game also gave us the opportunity to truly enjoy creating a spin-off, and that strengthened our desire to further expand the world of Bayonetta. Personally, I'd like to take all the ideas in my head and put them into games someday. And, of course, I'd be overjoyed if spin-offs like this inspire people to play the Bayonetta games we've already released.
Can we expect more side story games in the future and if so, what are some ideas the team has?
Kamiya: Rather than just focusing on Bayonetta in numbered mainline games, I keep saying things like, "I want to make a game with Cutie J as the protagonist," or, "I want to make a game with Rodin as the protagonist," but no one has taken me seriously on that. However, perhaps after finishing this game people have started to believe me a bit? A Luka spin-off might be interesting, too. What would a game with Enzo as the protagonist be like? A game where you con people and swindle them out of their valuables?
However, the level of polish Tinari and his team achieved with this game exceeded my expectations, rekindling a desire to see more and more of young Cereza's adventure and not let it end with this entry alone. If you play this game, I'm sure you'll want to dig deeper into Cereza's past and see more of the drama that unfolds on her journey to become the strongest witch. And if we get that kind of feedback from fans, I think we might see more of young Cereza's coming-of-age story. I hope playing this game fills your imagination about Cereza's journey, and I'd appreciate hearing your words of support.
Tinari: I am always thinking of various fun mechanics I would like to develop into full games. I know that Kamiya is bursting with story ideas in the Bayonetta universe, so if there is another case where I feel one of my gameplay concepts can resonate with one of his ideas, I would love to turn it into another game.
With Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon, the main skeleton of the story and its core themes were already put in place by Kamiya before I joined the project. Since he is the creator of Bayonetta, I generally leave the story concepts to him. However, if I could try approaching it from that perspective, I would personally love to explore the story of how Cereza forged contracts with her various infernal demons. Although Cheshire was the first demon she teamed up with, his was not the usual kind of Infernal pact. We know that by the first Bayonetta she already has a host of demons under contract--I am sure there are interesting tales to tell around each of their backstories.
Okazaki: This project came out of a shared vision between Nintendo and Platinum Games. However, I think at the root of that is the love and support fans have shown for the series. As you can see from what Kamiya-san and Tinari-san have said, everyone at PlatinumGames is full of passion, ideas and ambition. As for myself, I'll be listening to what fans have to say as I work on realizing new projects.
Parts of the above interview have been omitted for brevity. Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon releases exclusively for Nintendo Switch on March 17, 2023.
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