Baten Kaitos Artbook Interview Translations
[Translator's note: The following interviews are taken from the artbook released in Japan for the first Baten Kaitos game. The interview with Masato Kato, Motoi Sakuraba, and the seiyuu will be posted at a later date.]
- The game was jointly developed between three companies; I imagine there were difficulties in coordinating everything?
Noguchi: Each creative group had an accomplished track record, so we were on edge at first, just waiting for there to be clashes. I was caught in between, and I was convinced I'd have to do a vanishing act (laughs). Of course, nothing like that ever actually happened; everyone was an adult. So there weren't really any difficulties. In any case, the game came together very well, so I enjoyed playing it!
- Please tell us about the direction in which you'd like to take Namco's various RPG series, including Baten Kaitos, in the future.
Noguchi: Even though they're all RPGs, the distinctive characteristics of each individual title are different, so their fanbases are different. I suppose I'd like to develop them to bring out the "local color" of each. Looking ahead to the future game market, we of course have to turn our focus to developing for next-gen systems. From a production standpoint, we'll probably be able to put together rather elaborate spectacles. On the other hand, other elements such as the story, the characters, and the game system will also need to be taken to the next level. In other words, we need to create not just visual extravagance but also content that's truly interesting and fun to play. I can't say for certain whether on not we will in the future create more content like Baten Kaitos or another title created under a similar production arrangement, but I can declare that which we cultivated in the course of this project will endure.
- What kind of game is Baten Kaitos?
Noguchi: I myself am proud to have my name as producer on such a wonderful title. I hope that a wider audience, from boys & girls to grandmas & grandpas, enjoys and is moved by this game.
- I understand that the initial plan for the game was hatched over a meal with Mr. Hatsushiba; could you tell us the details?
Sugiura: I was introduced to Mr. Hatsushiba by Namco producer [Shinichiro] Okamoto, while I was looking for a different idea for Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. So we got together for a meal in Yokohama Chinatown and talked about our jobs, and we really hit it off. It's so rare to meet someone whose strengths complement your own so well.
- Could you tell us about any aspects of the game to which you paid particular attention during production?
Sugiura: When we were assembling talent for the production team, I thought about putting together a strong lineup. As a result, I was able to find exceptional staff for every department - programming, graphics, movies, scenario, everything.
- How would you place Baten Kaitos among Monolith Soft's creations?
Sugiura: I'd like to make Baten Kaitos into a series, like the Xenosaga series. If I succeed, I'd like to make it into the anti-Xenosaga - in a good sense.
- Tell us about the aspects of the production of Baten Kaitos which posed a particular challenge.
Nomura: Communication between Director [Yasuyuki] Honne and Director [Hiroya] Hatsushiba was really spectacular, and Assistant Director [Koji] Ishitani, who was their go-between, did an incredible job for us, so there weren't any rough spots at all. The development itself went very well, and it was a passion project from beginning to end.
- Tell us about any aspects of the production on which you focused as a producer, or any interesting tales from the production.
Nomura: The content of the game was entrusted to the creators, so there were was no part on which I personally focused. As for stories...even though we were getting close to the release date, we hadn't really decided on a package design yet, and we were in a bit of a bind - that was particularly memorable for me.
- What kind of game is Baten Kaitos?
Nomura: I think it's a game where everything came together perfectly. I can't think of any other production where not only the game content, but the production period and the promotion went so smoothly. It actually went too beautifully - it made me worry (laughs).
- Tell us why you picked the title you did.
Honne: The title, Baten Kaitos, is the name of a constellation*; it means "in the belly of the whale." If you search on the internet, you'll get some hits right away, so I'd like to ask the players, if they would, to investigate the deeper significance of the title. We make it a theme in the plot, too, so I hope the players think about its connection to the story. Baten Kaitos is a brand-new RPG, so we wanted to give it a distinctive title that wasn't used anywhere else - one that we could use for a series - but there were some objections at first...
- Why were there objections?
Honne: Some thought the phrase was awkward or hard to remember - some people were honest and just bluntly said "what the heck?!" (laughs).
[*Translator note: Honne accidentally misspeaks here; Baten Kaitos is, of course, the name of a star in the constellation Cetus, not the constellation itself.]
- Tell us more about the development period - how the game design took shape, how the staff got together.
Honne: Including the brainstorming & conceptual period, it took about two years. First, we thought up the world design and went ahead with the map images. Then we worked in the scenario and the characters, and we had meeting after meeting... It felt just like I had set up a theme park, and all of us on the staff, including scenario writer [Masato] Kato and illustrator [Nakaba] Higurashi, were just relaxing and enjoying ourselves. I had always worked on maps, so I'd always wanted to try this experimental way of doing things if I got the chance to direct. Normally, in a RPG, the images are only created half a year to a year after development begins, so...
- How did Monolith Soft and Tri-Crescendo come together for this project?
Honne: Originally, we each submitted our own, separate design plans to Namco, and Namco suggested, "Why don't you work together?" - that was how it happened. We had some discussions, and as a result, it was decided that Monolith Soft would handle the scenario and the graphics.
Hatsushiba: And it was decided that we would handle the game system and sound. The idea for the battle system was from our proposed design plan, and we finally settled on the card visual as a result of that.
Honne: And based on that, Mr. Kato thought up the idea of Magnus for us!
- It seems that you really pooled your ideas to create the game, didn't you? Did you have any concerns that this method of production would be too time-consuming?
Honne: Well, you've just got to trust your partners, right? Tri-Crescendo has a great track record, and we all have know how to make RPGs, so I thought it went well.
Hatsushiba: We really came together as a team before we knew it. We knew that if we made a mistake, it would trip up our partners, so the arrangement actually made us work even harder (laughs). We were careful not to let our egos get in the way when it came to game content, and at the start, the four of us - Mr. Honne, Mr. Kato, Ms. Higurashi, and I - had a meeting every week or two weeks.
- What did you do when you had differences of opinion?
Honne: For this game, each of us directors were given our own distinct areas of responsibility, and we had absolute decision-making authority over our spheres of influence, so we didn't have any trouble. For example, Mr. Hatsushiba handled sound, so I'd just say, "I'd like to add a Middle Eastern flavor in here," and I'd leave the rest to him.
Hatsushiba: There are nothing but good tracks in this game, aren't there. Even if I do say so myself! (laughs) Mr. [Motoi] Sakuraba has a knack for creating tracks that are easy to get into. His orchestral compositions are also really good! We have a really solid, well-established vision for the world, so maybe that's why Mr. Sakuraba was also able to conjure it up so easily.
- Tell us about the game's story, its worldview, and other background information.
Honne: We had the idea from the very start that we wanted to make the story an action-adventure. The reason why we asked Mr. Kato to handle the scenario is because he not only understood how a game flows, but because he can write passionate dialogue that doesn't sound weird or embarrassing. The supporting characters all have a real humanity to them, which I like! And the kids in the game are selfish and not at all nice to you, which I love. (laughs) [Translator note: We all know that's just because they're speaking to Kalas.]
- Did you have the idea from the start of the five continents + the Ice Country, plus the kingdom of the Taintclouds?
Honne: The number of settings was decided right from the start, and we constructed the plot within those limits. There were big changes along the way, though, like how the Alfard Empire was initially this little island with nothing on it.
- What about the character designs and outfits? To what extent were they settled?
Honne: Mr. Kato and Mr. Higurashi had big ideas for the finer details. I understand that Mr. Kato had a very definite image of Melodia and Corellia.
- In contrast, are there any parts to which you directors paid particular attention?
Honne: Mira, the Borough of Illusion! I wanted to try to make something that purposefully was outside the feel of the rest of the game, so I forced it in. This is a serious story, so I had this idea of using this weird place as an escape when the story developments got too heavy. It ultimately wasn't used that way; Mr. Kato really did a good job of weaving it into the story.
- Speaking of Mira, the Tower of Druaga dungeon really stuck with me.
Honne: I wanted to have an original dungeon with pixel graphics, so I tried a few things, but I couldn't see how the dungeon wouldn't get cut. But I got Namco's permission to use The Tower of Druaga, so I was able to pull it off.
Hatsushiba: The twisting design of the pathways in Mira would be pretty difficult to pull off in 3D, even in our current 3D heyday!
Honne: We did the map in 2D, and that was our goal. We had some concerns, since 3D gives you an open field of vision, but in reality, what you can see is limited, so isn't that oppressive? By putting the maps in 2D, on the other hand, I think it increases the amount of information that's relayed, gamewise.
- The game is also full of "bonus" ideas like Quzman's family tree and the star map; were they there from the start?
Honne: For those ideas, we took submissions from our staff! If they didn't clash with our existing framework, or with the scenario or imagery, we gave our OK to all of them! I understand that since they were their own suggestions, the staff did their best to incorporate them in the game.
- I suppose it must have been a big programming issue to add in all those ideas.
Hatsushiba: It didn't really add much to the specs of the game, though. It's only natural for changes to take place during production for a game.
- On the direction end of things, the game is unusual in how it has hardly any cutscene movies.
Honne: That's because we talked with Mr. [Mikitaka] Kurasawa, from ROBOT, the company we asked to handle the movie production, and we originally planned to have just a few more movies in the game, but ultimately, he said that rather than cut corners on the movies, it'd probably be better to put all our effort into creating a high-quality opening. So, we ended up with the current arrangement. The opening movie covers many of the events of the game, so people who have experienced those events once should watch the movie again, since they'll make new discoveries: "oh, that's from this event." It'd be a waste to see it just once, so I hope players watch the movie multiple times.
- Tell us about the content of the game. The six party members - were they in place right from the start?
Honne: The number of main characters was indeed set right from the start, since it has an impact on the overall amount of work. If we increase the number of party members, there end up being fewer events that feature each character, so keeping the number of characters down helps the individual cast members stand out more easily. Keeping this in mind, we thought that six characters was exactly right. In fact, we set a limit of 40-50 characters besides the main cast when we came up with our plot! Usually, the plot comes first, so I think it was pretty tough for Mr. Kato, too.- In battle, you have a limit of three characters; was that decided at that time? Honne: Yes, it was. Two characters is too few, and with four, it ends up cutting into the processing power available for each character. There were also appearance issues to consider, so we thought three would perhaps be appropriate. Hatsushiba: At first, we had a system where the characters who didn't participate in battle didn't get experience from it, but we ultimately decided to have them gain experience. This is something I worry about every time I create an RPG, I guess. Here, there are parts of the story where you're alone, or have just Kalas & Xelha, and if they were low-level, it'd end up really difficult.
- Tell us about the battles. It's an unusual battle style, using cards, isn't it.
Hatsushiba: It's the first time we've tried something like it, at any rate, so it was frustrating how we couldn't explain it well until it came together. I mean, just because we thought using cards was appropriate doesn't mean that we wanted to make a card game; that was never our intention. We wanted to make something where if you just mashed buttons, you wouldn't get very far - something where you needed a sense of strategy, but that you could ultimately play by instinct, as if it were second nature to you.
Honne: I think it keeps the game interesting! If all you have are puzzle-type elements, you get kind of tired of it.
Hatsushiba: Since the number of cards you can draw at a time in battle is initially limited, you just pay attention to the elements, but at the same time, you begin to realize that when the Spirit Numbers are arranged in certain ways, there's a big effect. After that, you realize that elemental compatibilities can become an issue. So you have to make a snap decision - whether it'd be better to have the Spirit Numbers lined up in the right way, even if that means using a healing item on the enemy, or if using cards with elements that are effective against the enemy would cause more damage. That makes it fun, I think.
- Generally speaking, there are a number of different Magnus, aren't there? I mean, there are different types of Magnus, but the overall number of Magnus is staggering.
Honne: I heard that the designers who handled the illustrations had a rough time. They drew and drew, and there was just no end to it, they said (laughs).
- I think one of the charms of the system is that you can include so many Magnus in a deck, so even if you get new Magnus, you don't have to discard Magnus you've grown fond of.
Hatsushiba: In an RPG, there are many cases where once you see the magic graphics for a particular spell, you don't really see them again that often afterward. I think that's sad, so we prepared a number of SP combos that require the use of low-level Magnus. We don't want our players to think only about making numbers go up; we want them to make their decisions based on what would make the big picture easier.
- How did you decide upon the details of each and every card?
Hatsushiba: For the weapons, they were determined in great part by the design documents. For example, with Gibari, he's a fisherman, so he uses oars - stuff like that.
Honne: We also had a suggestion from Mr. Hatsushiba, and so for the characters, we ended up dividing the designs into physical types and magic types.
- Among the physical fighters, Kalas and Gibari can defend with their attack cards, can't they?
Hatsushiba: I suppose those two characters are very easy to use in battle, aren't they. Basically, the players can just choose the characters to whom they're most attached, but if you don't include a certain degree of difficulty, it won't be interesting as a game. Also, we decided which elements would be frequently found in each weapon class, and we made it so that each character gathers Magnus of opposing elements - like how Savyna's are Fire and Water, Lyude's are Light and Dark, etc.
- Why did you adopt a system where the maximum deck size gradually increases? I'd think it would be easier to balance the game if the deck size were set from the start.
Honne: We thought it'd be unreasonable to expect the player to assemble a deck of 60 cards at the very start, right after touching the game for the first time.
Hatsushiba: There were indeed problems with the battle system. If you don't put enough cards in your deck to meet the maximum deck size, then you'll get caught in a loop, and you'll end up putting nothing but strong Magnus in your deck.* To avoid this, we treat the empty slots as Passes. You have to fill your deck completely to get rid of the Passes. If we went right from an opening where you have very few Magnus in hand to a maximum deck size of 60, it wouldn't have worked, and would have been a failure. So we made it so that the deck size gradually increases instead.
[*Translator note: I think what Hatsushiba probably means here is that if you're forced to fill out your deck instead having the Passes to fill up empty slots (via an error message, hence the "loop"), you'll just shove the "strongest" random Magnus you have into the deck (because they're at the top of the screen, IIRC) instead of thinking big-picture strategically about your deck.]
- Maybe it was because I hadn't assembled my decks correctly, but I ran into trouble the first time I battled Giacomo, Folon, & Ayme.
Hatsushiba: People told us that that was tough, and we considered adjusting it, but they're your rivals, and some of us thought that it'd be all right if they were that tough, so we left it as is.
Honne: The difficulty of the fight changes dramatically with the composition of just one deck! [Translator note: Are we all supposed to be using the cheaty pickle strategy, Honne? Is that what you're telling us?]
Hatsushiba: When I test-played the fight myself to adjust the balance, I was careful to proceed in a proper manner, putting in the items I'd collected and leaving out those I felt I wouldn't need, because - and maybe this was due to the fact that I'd gotten so familiar with the game through playing it so much - it basically felt like even the difficult parts were easy for me even when I didn't play like that.
Honne: The items that aren't weapons are also taken into account. The Magnus you can use, and the Magnus you can sell for big money like rare photos, aren't easily obtainable.
- You can't get them just by defeating monsters, can you.
Hatsushiba: I understand there were a lot of people who had the mistaken impression that they'd get money just by defeating monsters. We also made it so that the Magnus stocked in the shops aren't that strong, so that Magnus aren't that easy to get.
- You can also receive Magnus as quest rewards, right? Didn't all this make it hard to achieve game balance?
Honne: There are parts you regret in regards to item placement in every RPG.
Hatsushiba: In a normal RPG, after you decide how strong the items are, you have them appear in order, from weakest to strongest, so there aren't many problems. In Baten Kaitos, however, there are Magnus that evolve as time elapses, and strong Magnus that you can create through SP combos, so we couldn't use that method to balance the game. So when it came to the aging Magnus and SP combos, we decided on an order where "even if this card or combo doesn't appear, it won't pose a problem," and we set the parameters that way - it was completely the opposite of the normal way of doing things. Adjusting the game balance was so tough; there were so many elements we had to consider.
Honne: Considering the lengthy play time, it was truly tough to make adjustments. Even the amount of time it took a banana to rot kept changing over the course of development.
Hatsushiba: That was decided after precise calculation. We studied about how many hours it would take for the story to progress from this point to that point, and we determined probabilities... There was also the possibility that if players waited for Magnus to evolve, they would wind up with some powerful items at the beginning of the game. If they do that, though, there's the drawback that their food will also rot - we thought that maybe we could balance the game that way, by having a time system that included that aspect. We didn't think, however, that the play time would be that long at first. We were planning for around 40 hours...
Honne: Depending on the person, it will take 70-80 hours to finish the game.
- Talk to us about each individual character.
Honne: Maybe it was because of the wings and cape, but designwise, he was the character who ended up giving the staff the most trouble. When we designed him, we thought that since he's the hero, it'd be all right for him to be garish, but we had some regrets about that. [Translator note: No regrets on the crocs?]
Hatsushiba: Systemwise, Mr. Kato gave us a surprise when he said to have Kalas's age go up mid-game. I thought to myself, I have firm design documents in my head!. If you look at the status screen, I think you can check and see that his age changes as his birthday passes. Naturally, Kalas is strong in battle and easy to use, I think. So learning that he left the party mid-game really surprised me.
Honne: We disagreed over whether her lower half should be pants or a miniskirt. We were going for a Middle Eastern look, so ultimately, we ditched the skirt.
Hatsushiba: The character who's slow but strong is a staple, isn't it. He has attack power to spare, and it's hard to mess up entering his commands, so I think he's easy to use in battle!
Honne: He's slow, and if you make healing his job, you should be able to heal right up before your turn is over, so I think he's pretty good (laughs).
Honne: It's rare to see an example of a cast member whose personality in battle is tied in an inverted way to their image as a character. He was originally conceived as a bit more of this serious & earnest but rather gutless character, but thanks to that animation where he just bashes away at the enemy, he ended up with this peculiar side to him.
Hatsushiba: She's a character whose action speed and animations are extremely quick, isn't she. From the very beginning, we planned on having a character for experts, so to speak - one who was to a degree hard to control. With Savyna, I had specified in advance the animations from one hit to another, but when they were strung together, they all ended up feeling a bit on the short side.
Honne: Mr. Kato was very particular about Mizuti, wasn't he. He asked that she have this accented way of speaking, and so - only when Mizuti's lines were being recorded - we let Mr. Kato sit in on the voice recording sessions.
- Do you have any ideas for the next installment?
Honne: That's a secret (laughs). But we might just have a few.
- Do you have any ideas on what kind of game you'd like to create?
Honne: It'd be a big draw on the hardware, but if instead of output on a CRT, if something with three-dimensional display capable of displaying spheres or curved surfaces came out, that'd probably generate some interesting ideas.
Hatsushiba: Me, I'd like to make something in the future that would require a network connection. Not something like the current network RPGs; I'd like to take advantage of it in a bit wider sense. The specific content would be a company secret (laughs).[Translator note for above and below: I don't know if by "network" Hatsushiba & Honne are referring to the internet or something more specific. (They are both consistently using the word "nettowaaku" throughout.) Drop me a line if you know.]
Honne: If I were to use the network, I'd want to try to make my own independent country on there! Of course, I understand that people are using it to link up with the real world, and you can shop on there, and people are even founding businesses that exist only on there, it seems. The population is even earning money through white-collar labor like translation.
Hatsushiba: In order for something novel like that to be created, we'll need more than just infrastructure; we'll also need many more small-scale companies to be brought into the world.
- I think that Baten Kaitos itself is a novel game. What are your thoughts on that?
Hatsushiba: I'd like again to give my thanks to Namco, who gave the OK to this idea that was kind of hard to grasp. There sure are a lot of sequels in the current RPG market, aren't there?
Honne: When you consider the image of your game and its title, you have to think about expanding into overseas markets, and, of course, you have to think about how they'll go over here... Naturally, with a brand-new title, there are a lot of hardships involved in creating a work that's not like anything else out there, but we're satisfied with the whole!
Hatsushiba: There are of course things we wanted to do that we didn't get to do, but if there's another installment, I'd like to have another go at them in the future.
- About when was it that you were convinced, "This game is good!"?
Honne: When the battles became playable, naturally! This game's pretty fun! (laughs)
- Do you have a message for Baten Kaitos fans?
Honne: That we have this level of demand from fans, that we're able to put out a design document book like this - I'm really grateful. I hope they appreciate the effort we've put into the little things.
Hatsushiba: If the fans want it, maybe we can make a sequel! We faced many challenges in creating this game, but I think we can offer new delights with a sequel.
- Tell us the reason you chose your pen name.
Higurashi: "Higurashi" was given to me by my friends in college. I couldn't think of a name that was me yet was considerably different from my real name, so I discussed the matter with them. The "Nakaba" is from how my life was still on its way, in the process of getting itself together, so I thought the reading of "Nakaba," which had the meaning of "on my way", was a cool name. [Note: "Nakaba" means "halfway there" in Japanese.]
- About when did you decide to become an illustrator?
Higurashi: According to my mother, ever since I was a little girl, she could just hand me a pencil and paper, and I would entertain myself. I guess I've always liked drawing ever since then. I also had a little brother, so we had a Famicom in the house, so I loved video games, too. I was about in high school when I realized I wanted to make it my job. After that, I joined a big company, but my parents just refer to it as "that fly-by-night startup!" (laughs). Among my parents' generation, there's still the feeling that games are toys for children, I guess. But it was my dream, and I just took a flying leap into this industry, but I don't know if it's my calling. In the future, I'll guess I'll just have to take on a variety of challenges and fumble my way along.
- Are you still studying?
Higurashi: When I joined my vocational school, I didn't know anything about computer graphics or Photoshop, and at the start, I couldn't even use a PC all that well. When I think about those days, I think I did all right for myself, but as you know, since I found employment when I was still in school, it's almost the same as if I hadn't studied at all! Right now, I still have a way to go: when I find I can't draw well, I do stuff like looking at reference books or researching what makes such an impression on me when I see a wonderful drawing.
- When you finally landed your dream character design job, what first went through your mind?
Higurashi: Before, during Xenosaga, I did the design of the townsfolk, and I so never thought that my own art would be up on the front cover... For this project, Monolith Soft spoke with me during the planning stages, and even after things checked out and it was decided that I would be hired, I never dreamed that I'd land something so big; I swore to myself, "oh, I'm so glad; I'll do my best not to drag them down." (laughs) I was convinced that nowadays, it's all about CG and spectacular movies, you see, so that made me intent on puttiing everything I had into the image illustrations. So, when I learned that my own art would be front-and-center, I didn't know what to do. When I was commissioned to create the box art, I felt faint. I thought, though, that creating promotional art was a good opportunity to put to use all that I'd studied.
- How did you envision Baten Kaitos, it being a work of fantasy?
Higurashi: The first thing I thought of was that fantasy is a world of adventure, as exemplified by the works of Miyazaki. After that, I was also familiar with the world of medieval fantasy through games and novels. Therefore, the fantasy of Baten Kaitos naturally became part of me! During Xenosaga, I was really at a loss with it being a sci-fi story. My designs are fantasy-oriented, but more than that, I think there was lots of room provided here to put my own imagination to use.
- Tell us about how your work on Baten Kaitos unfolded. Was there anything you came to realize over the course of the design work?
Higurashi: I referred to the images of the scenery, the monster designs, and then Mr. Katou's scenarios and background information. If I inserted too much of my own perspective, it seemed to cause a fuss, so I was made to expand upon the imagery presented in the production info. However, there weren't many design documents available at the initial stages, so Mr. Honne & Mr. Hatsuba, the directors, plus Mr. Katou and myself got together, and the four of us came up with some proposals. In particular, I used some things I had whipped up for Kalas and the main characters as a starting point for discussion. Mr. Katou had also prepared some images depicting how he envisioned the game, so we compared notesand settled on designs character by character.
From his name, Kalas [meaning "crow" in its raw Japanese form, Karasu], and from the wings he had in planning documents, I envisioned this fabric woven from bird feathers and used that as his costume. For his overall exterior look, I went with loose, disheveled hair, holes under his armpits, clouds of dust flying when he takes off his clothes...I wanted to try to visualize his rough, uncouth character through the art. His arms are wrapped in cloth, and beneath is the same feather weave as his pants. I then tried giving him a cape, since he was a vagabond in the planning documents, but Mr. Honne, the director, frowned on this! He said that it would be hard to represent on the screen due to how it would be fluttering, and on the overhead screens, it'd be so small that it wouldn't make an impact.
From her "Hold on, Kalas!" lines, I got the impression of her as an proactive girl rather than a ladylike, restrained one. But I was particular about her girly red shoes and stuff... Her hairstyle was always a Princess Diana-style short blonde cut right from the very first planning meetings. Long hair is striking, but I thought about how it'd look too busy together with Kalas's cape on screen. Later, there were also planning documents that had Meemai in her hood, so I thought that short hair would really be better. I think there's a difference in the image males and females present when it comes to clothes, but we imagined that if you take a girl who's going to be flying and bounding around and put her in a skirt, you're going to be able to see her underwear, so there was resistance to that idea! I tried using an "Arabian Nights" look as well, giving her pants but keeping her legs bare below the knees. The players probably thought, though, that "if she's queen of the Ice Lands, wouldn't she be cold in that outfit?" (laughs).
From the very start, he projected an image of a father figure, a big man, and a hearty, free-spirited man. As for the "man of the sea" concept, when I heard of Baten Kaitos's "clouds = sea" notion, the ideas came to me that he would be tattooed, be chasing after this legendary fish, etc. With his outfit, too, I gave him a shoulder pad so he could put an oar on his shoulder, but I really regretted that. It messed with the vertical symmetry and made it tough to deal with the face graphics for the message windows - when you want the character to face the other direction, you normally just flip the graphic, but if you do that with Gibari, his shoulder pad winds up on the wrong side.
Mr. Katou, the scenario writer, had a strong image of Lyude as this beautiful yet straightforward & serious honor student, so I visualized that just as described. I just changed his bob to swallowtails and that was it, I think. However, when I played the game during development, I found that his image had changed a little bit! When I first saw his special attack Sforzando, I was just in shock! He was kind of the laughing stock of the group, and he's gone far beyond what I had envisioned him to be, I think. The thing I struggled with him the most designwise was his weapon. I don't know much about firearms, so I wasn't as confident creating something that would be convincing to someone who did, so I tried to come up with this fanciful gun, and I hit on the idea of this sonic gun. For some reason, the Empire takes its visuals from brass instruments, so I combined this beautifully-curved piping with these old-style brass microscopes to create the design.
Like Lyude, Savyna is an Imperial soldier, but Lyude is more the bureaucrat type! Mr. Hatsuba said that "I wanted to put in a hand-to-hand fighter," so I also designed her to be the sexy character. To balance out the other characters, I gave her a kind of Asian look, black hair with slightly flat tones, pale skin that really hadn't been tanned by the sun. Her outift had the concept of that of a mercenary, so I conceived of a camouflage color as its base; I later added a vivid green in parts so that she wouldn't get lost in the background. Designwise, I gave her a rather edgy look, so I remember I was particular about daring to give her high heels.
The original concept for the character came from Mr. Katou, and I came up with an idea for her outward appearance. Originally, she brought to mind an old man-type clown-like character, but when I heard of the idea to alter her voice electronically, the concept for the current Mizuti formed fully in my mind. She's a character that's so childish, so mischievous and adorable, and I just love her. Her overall appearance didn't change from the initial design, with her mask, her skirt and pantaloons, her skinny ankles, and her great big shoes, with her twirling around in the air. I also tried putting a weathervane on her head to make it [her head] appear larger than usual. It was a decoration for the hat; the hat itself is also fastened with a cord that goes under the chin. By the way, the Equipment Magnus for the weathervane is called either Uffun or Donadona - whichever is weirder would be great! [Note: The syllables "u" and "fu" are associated with various words in Japanese associated with wind and storms. I have no explanation for "Donadona" at the moment, except a possible connection with the word "donaru," "to yell or shout"; otherwise, I'm just getting song titles.]
- The main six characters are really differentiated by their palettes.
Higurashi: I heard that the characters actually had rather small depictions on the game screen, so I planned their main colors so that you could distinguish them even from a distance. I gave Kalas boyish blues and Xelha girlish pinks. I gave Gibari yellow because he reminded me of the yellow team members in sentai shows and stuff who are the comedians. Lyude's hot-bloodedness and directness were represented with reds. For Savyna, I chose green out of the colors that hadn't yet been used elsewhere, since it's associated with camouflage. Finally, for Mizuti, I dithered for a good bit, but I ultimately took a cue from the game's title and combined stars with a gradated purple.
Illustration for the characters other than the main six began a good way into development, so Mr. Katou also had a pretty solid image of Melodia in his mind. I was ordered to give her kind of a wicked feel, so I thought I'd trying pushing the wickedness inside a young girl to the fore and externalizing it. Designwise, I made her eyebrows white so that they appeared invisible, and I made her less emotionally expressive. After that, the toughest part of her design was her skirt. In the game, it flutters in the wind, but in concept, I had envisioned it as something more rigid.
There was a note in Mr. Katou's instructions about how he "played with dolls" that really made an impression on me. His clothing and the graphics for his face all came together at once and were approved.
GIACOMO, AYME, FOLON
I arrived at Giacomo's current design after a lot of worrying. At first, I thought of him as the Emperor's right hand and put an imperial crest on his cape, but he actually has an agenda outside the Emperor's schemes and has deep ties to Kalas. I chose blue and green for the other two to balance out Giacomo's red. Afterward, I took some hints from Mr. Katou's documents to design the trio's weapons - a scythe, a whip, and guns that could be used as tonfas.
With Fee, I was ordered to make him look somehow "angelic," so I designed him to be faithful to that image. I put Georg in slightly odd clothing, since he was an Imperial researcher. It was only afterward that I learned they had a father-and-son-type relationship. For Larikush, there was initially nothing to go on but specs that he was a simple village doctor... When I learned that he had an unexpected relationship with Kalas, I was surprised.
I thought that naturally every RPG has to have a mascot character, so I designed one, even though one wasn't ordered. So I proposed Meemai: "What do you think of this type of creature?" I imagined something that felt springy to the touch when you hugged it, like a microbead cushion; its design overall was like that of a sea creature - I thought of an Alaskan fur seal or earless seal.
- Who are your favorite characters? It looks like you drew Savyna for the comic anthology.
Higurashi: It would have been impossible to fit all of the characters into 18 pages, so I decided from the start that I wanted to spotlight one character. I tried featuring a character I didn't think the other artists would be using, and so I chose to talk about Savyna's past. There's a huge gap between her stoic side and her cute side, and I like that. Basically, I like all the main characters, but I'm fond of children, and I envy Mizuti and her free spirit when I see them.
- Tell us about the actual process of creating the illustrations.
Higurashi: Once I come up with a head-to-toe design, I first draw a silhouette of the character in my sketchbook, then I tidy up the line art and scan the image. I use the Pencil tool in Photoshop to divide the image into selection ranges by body part. I then use the Bucket tool to fill in color, and I look at the overall image and make decisions on coloring.
- So do you do all your work at home?
Higurashi: Yes, I do. For a while after starting this job, I would just sit pondering things, and my hands wouldn't move; I was just paralyzed. Now, though I'm perfectly comfortable working at home.
- Besides character designs, you also drew promotional illustrations. How do the two jobs differ?
Higurashi: I haven't really studied "illustration-style" illustrations, so when I was commissioned for the package illustration, I felt lost as well as overjoyed - I was really worried over how I should approach drawing. There were, of course, blueprints and design documents for the character designs. I had also been cautioned that I was to draw things such as the designs for the brooches and Lyude's gun in a very detailed manner, since they would be represented in 3D, but when I actually did that, things like the positions and heights of eyes and noses in front and from the side felt weird to me! Meeting the deadline was my top priority, so ultimately, all I could do was just act like a pro and throw everything I had into the project so that I wouldn't be ashamed of the money I had received...but I think that conflict I felt comes out in a variety of ways in the illustrations I produced for this project.
- Speaking of feeling conflicted: from the rough sketches, it seems as if the designs changed along the way. Why was that?
Higurashi: It happened when we had the design of the main character almost completed. At first, I was drawing illustrations where the eyes were all big and round, but along the way, I was told to give them realistic eyes. The changes in the designs were made to suit creating the characters in 3D and with overseas markets in mind.
- They're rendered in the CG really well, I see.
Higurashi: With the CG, I was absolutely hands-off after I handed over the designs. I was shown video that had been prepared, but it didn't feel real to me...I was really just bowled over, and all I could think was, "wow." After the designs left my hands, everyone on the team just worked their magic to bring them to life. I don't think I'd ever felt this deep, special emotion before - these were my characters!
- Is there any sort of art you hope to draw in the future?
Higurashi: I don't have anything I particularly want to draw in the sense of characters with particular traits etc. With my work as well, if I don't have design documents at the time of the commission, I create a world in my mind, and then expand on that in my imagination to create the characters...so if I work and create that way, by feel, I find I enjoy myself.
- Do you find it difficult to draw on your own, with no boundaries?
Higurashi: If I have something I want to do, my hope is that I can do it my own way, however I want. Perhaps I still haven't left behind the mindset I had when I was working with a software development firm, but seeing the job title "illustrator" on my business card instills a not-insignificant amount of trepidation in me. I'd like to live up to the responsibilities entrusted to me while continuing to grow in my career.
- Are there any fields in which you'd like to work or jobs you'd like to do in the future?
Higurashi: One thing I've always wanted to do all my life was to draw a picture book. I love things that let me recapture my childhood innocence. There are many other things I'd love to do, but when I take on a video game job, the contract terms are in years, so it's rather difficult. Keep this between us for now!
- Tell us about your private life. How do you spend your days off?
Higurashi: I've been invited a lot of places recently, so I go on outings on my days off. If I don't have plans for my days off, I tend to end up in a sad state where spend seven days a week holed up in my home, doing nothing by working, talking to no one but my family and convenience store clerks. I was a total indoor person in my childhood, but now, I've taken an interest in sports - I'd like to try tennis or something. I've been studying hula dancing one a week for about a year and a half now, but I'm so busy with work that's it's kind of hard... I'd really like to play video games to my heart's content, too, but when I leave my work for a bit and try to pick it up again, I forget what I was doing and how I was doing it...(laughs).
- Do you absorb any knowledge that's useful for your work through the DVDs or movies you watch?...
Higurashi: With movies, I never notice when they're coming out and often end up missing them. The stuff I really want to see, I end up buying later on DVD. I like The Dark Crystal and the works of Yuriy Norshteyn. I also like DVDs of Russian and Czech animation.
- Do you have any words for Baten Kaitos fans?
Higurashi: I am incredibly blessed to have been selected as the character designer. I am truly grateful for the support all of you have given me through this game.
- Tell us the details of how the story took shape.
Kato: At the start, Monolith Soft gave me a basic concept where "the game is set on several continents floating in the sky, and the characters have wings." I was also asked to turn it into a story with a simple, easy-to-understand single main storyline - no branching scenarios or multiple endings. Later, I heard that there would be a special battle system using cards, and so I put in my own request: I said that in that case, I wanted to create a clear concept for the cards and incorporate them into an important role in the story. Based on that, I formed an idea of the characters who would appear in the game and put together a vague idea of the arc of the story, how it would develop.
- The idea of the player being a Spirit, was that present from the start?
Kato: Here, right at the start, I asked and was allowed to make the player not the protagonist but a separate entity, a spirit possessing the protagonist. So in writing the story, I don't think I really found anything particularly hard or easy. However, I did want to prepare more possible responses to the questions the characters would ask the spirit and make it so that the scenario would split based on those answers if possible. For example, in the middle of the story, there's a section where the spirit is separated from Kalas, but instead of the spirit forcibly possessing Xelha, I wanted to make it so that the spirit's level of friendship with the individual party members so far would determine whom he or she possessed. The sticking point was that the number of different scenarios and events would have gotten out of hand. (laughs)
- I'd like to ask about the concept and story for each of the main characters.
Kato: A delinquent, a sore loser, rude, irresponsible, but sensitive and lonely at heart...I was going for an extremely ordinary young man, the type you could find anywhere. First, I created the part of the story where he was seeking revenge for his adoptive parent and little brother; then, I dug down...to the part in the middle where he betrays the others, and then to the part where he had a secret of which even he was unaware. For me, given the system where the player wasn't the protagonist, his betrayal seemed inevitable - I personally couldn't see the story going any other way. I was, however, concerned about those who've played the other games in which I've been involved - that their ears might prick up once they see that development, and there was a chance they'd figure out the twist... (laughs)
Kato: The typical heroine. Kalas is such a brat and thinks only of himself, so I therefore thought that Xelha had to compensate in hard work and kindness - the way she perseveres for the sake of others. Also, I thought of her not as the honor student depicted in the illustrations, but ultimately as a flesh-and-blood, ordinary girl who has flaws. This is also connected to the overall theme, but I really wanted the story to hinge ultimately on the player and the boy meeting and parting, not on a boy-meets-girl romance, the likes of which you can find anywhere. And then this girl named Xelha walks in and gets herself involved, and so this boy-girl story ends up increasing in importance and taking over. Certainly, once you get over the climax of Kalas's betrayal and subsequent reconciliation in the middle, it's hard to stretch out the later story just with the player and Kalas. So along the way, I had another, hidden story, that of Kalas and Xelha, rise to the surface, and at the ending, you have another climax - that's the way the structure went. The idea of the ocean being inside her was also established from the very start. After all, the name "Xelha" itself means "a font of water"!
Kato: I was greatly influenced by Ms. Higurashi's design for Gibari, and my idea of him was fixed from the rough sketches produced at the very first planning meetings. He was this cool older man who was easygoing, didn't sweat the small stuff, laid-back - in some ways kind of a goof, but a free spirit. The other characters are so outsized that I eventually wanted an adult character among them - a kind of a chaperone, someone who could step back and see the big picture, and that's how Gibari came about. He kind of ends up getting swept along by the others a lot, though. The event with the fishing duel with Reblys near the end, it just came together for me like that - I really got carried away. I got worried about it, so I asked the other staff members - "Did I go overboard?" (laughs) Gibari, Reblys, and Anna, the three of them, I think they've built a good adult relationship - more than friends, not quite a love triangle. Of course, I don't think Reblys has a chance, but... On the other hand, Gibari and Ladekahn would be like:
Kato: Lyude is a serious yet naive young man from a good family - a good person, ridiculously honest, unbending - who hates himself, but feels powerless to change anything... I drew Lyude as the polar opposite of Kalas - an honor student who knows nothing of the world, who suffers in a society filled with contradictions. The type who isn't destined for a long life. (laughs) We have his siblings, who are taking the place of their father, who fell in the line of duty, and are striving to hold up the family name, and then we have Lyude, who has no choice but to defect and leave all of that behind...all of them are struggling to survive, in their own ways.
Kato: Savyna is quiet and doesn't usually let her personality show, so I had a problem with how to bring out her character in so few words. Despite her laconic ways, however, her relationships with each of her comrades were really interesting, and I really enjoyed writing each of them. Her past was that - with her humanity, a sudden twist of fate led to a switch being flipped in a way even she couldn't have foreseen - and she couldn't go back to her old life - her life switched gears, just like that...something like that. Whether Savyna herself treated it as a good thing, or took it as an unexpected catastrophe... I think she came to grips with it all right.
Kato: I had trouble keeping Mizuti serious all throughout - in the plot, it was like, "Is the party in danger? Great Mizuti to the rescue!" So she was priceless. No matter how serious the scene, there was always something silly and clownish about her; no matter how light-hearted and cheerful the scene, you could always see a glimpse of a serious side to her, you know? And I like that about her! So I enjoyed writing Mizuti. She has such great power that in Duhr, it's even said that she's one of her ancestors reborn, but there's the sense that those around her treat her as a very ordinary child, not thinking this strange at all.
Kato: Mizuti's parents Koh and Kay! They make their debut about when the plot turns brutal, in serious circumstances, but that parent-child interaction they have with Mizuti is a breath of fresh air - like it was soothing to write...
- Name one of your favorite characters.
Kato: That's tough, since I like them all. If I had to choose, I guess I'd say the Great Mizuti or Melodia.
- Tell us about some works and characters that had an influence on the game.
Kato: It’s not exactly in the game, but I think that stuff I encountered when I was a child like Magritte’s painting Le Château des Pyrénées and J. Blish’s Cities in Flight series of novels was the origin of me being fond of things like floating cities and islands today.
- What kind of game is Baten Kaitos?
Kato: In the world of video games, the player is the protagonist and considered to be a god. In this game, however, Kalas's betrayal neatly turns that on its head, and this brings the player - who was looking down on this from high, at a remove - down to the same perspective and level as the other characters. That's why players feel true anger, sadness, and attachment toward Kalas. I think that's the most distinctive aspect of this work. I still haven't really collected my thoughts regarding Baten Kaitos; maybe I need more time to pass before I can position it objectively in my body of work. Nevertheless, I think there's nothing like it in how these elements that are at a glance extremely mundane conceal hidden shocks and innovations, and I'm satisfied with it.
- If you have anything to share about your next project, we'd like to hear it.
Kato: Right now, I'm working on an original concept album together with Yasunori Mitsuda - I'm writing the story, and Mr. Mitsuda is supplying the score. The story work's already squared away; right now, I'm at the stage where I'm waiting for the compositions to be finished and working out the layout of the jacket and booklet. It's the story of the meeting and parting of a boy named Kirite and a girl named Kotonoha, but, naturally, there's more to it, and it gets to be a rather unusual story. I'm also working on another video game! I've been taking on jobs that have been scenario-only lately, but here, I'm going to be involved in the event planning and production as well as the plot, and I think might be with the project right to the very end. I think I'd also like to work on something like an adventure title for the cell phone.
- Mr. Kato, could you give us your personal thoughts on the future of RPGs?
Kato: I personally don't have a particular fixation on the genre. My desire to create games with a strong sense of narrative has so far guided my work, and I doubt that will change in the future. Therefore, it's not the future of RPGs per se that occupies my mind. I think that RPGs in their current state seem to be at a dead end, but I think that if we keep heading toward that dead end, something might emerge from the chaos and ruins. Also, players vary in their capacities for imagination and empathy, so I personally think that where to place the benchmarks for those concepts might prove to be a challenge in the future.
- Do you have a message for Baten Kaitos fans?
Kato: I hope you enjoyed playing Baten Kaitos. Let's meet up again.
Translated by R. Capowski, 10/17/2015; updated 4/30/2019. Baten Kaitos is property of Namco etc., which has not sanctioned this document.