Cubed3’s Adam Riley, Operations Director: How long did it take to develop The Last Story and were you able to achieve everything you initially wanted to?
Hironobu Sakaguchi-san, Founder of Mistwalker, Director of The Last Story (Wii): The development period was about three and half years. I believe that we were able to achieve almost everything that we initially aimed for.
Adam Riley: Can you talk about features that did not make it into the final product and if there were any large changes during the long development period?
Sakaguchi-san: We had a year-long experiment phase during which we were mainly trying out different ideas for the battle system. In the end, we dropped as many or even more ideas than we adopted to create the game we have today. One example of an idea that we dropped was the “battle rewind function.”
For example, when your mage fires a magic attack at an enemy, an icon would appear in the middle of the screen. If you flicked the Wii Remote at that moment, the battle scene would rewind back to where the mage fired the magic attack. It would rewind like the rewind function on a video player, and then play it back from a bird’s eye view. This allows you to see which mage fired what sort of magic attack on which enemy, and at the same time get a clearer view of the battle situation. However, although we experimented with it a lot, in the end we decided to not incorporate it in the system because it slowed down the pacing of the battle. However, there are still traces of this programme in the game such as the bird’s eye view when going into command mode, and one scene in the arena where they show a replay of a cheating act by a Lazulis knight.
Adam Riley: Was the plan to always release The Last Story on Wii, or were you ever tempted to make it on a high definition console?
Sakaguchi-san: It all started at the time when I was thinking about creating a “new form of RPG,” where I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Hatano at Nintendo who really supported the project. We’ve known each other for a long time, and despite the necessity of an experiment phase, as well as the many risks that come with creating something completely new, he took on the challenge and offered to work on this together. So rather than deciding on which console to release it on, “working with Nintendo” was always at the forefront of my mind.
Adam Riley: Was Nintendo actually involved at any stage of the game’s development, though?
Sakaguchi-san: Of course we created milestones, and we discussed and exchanged opinions all the time, but we were able to work on the production at our own discretion. Also, in the latter half of the project, we had Mario Club heavily play-test the game. I, myself, went to their testing area and absorbed their ideas and opinions, which in turn helped create many new ideas. I feel that their feedback was extremely important.
Adam Riley: Mistwalker has worked with tri-Crescendo, Brownie Brown, Artoon, feelplus, Racjin, and AQ Interactive. What are the advantages of working with so many different teams?
Sakaguchi-san: Many of these are development companies that have former colleagues from my Square days working for them. Therefore, in that sense, as well as working with completely new development members, I also had a strong feeling of working together and making something with my old friends. Of course, in addition to these veterans, there were many young developers in their twenties in the team, and their strong, positive energy was also an important factor.
Adam Riley: Are you pleased with the reaction to the game in Japan and Europe so far, both in terms of the critical reception and its current sales performance?
Sakaughi-san: Yes, I’m satisfied, and I believe that the critical reception to it was accurate. There are limitations to what I can do, and I experienced some tough criticism in those areas, but above all I feel that the game turned out to be true to the style of game that I make.
Adam Riley: Did you receive a lot of feedback from Japanese players, and have there been any changes made for the European version?
Sakaguchi-san: We made some minor improvements for the European version. For example, we incorporated a different camera mode that can be selected in the options. We had feedback from Japanese users saying that they got motion sickness from the camera, therefore, we decided to make it possible for individuals to adjust the camera mode to avoid feeling sick.
Adam Riley: Feedback from RPG veterans has shown most prefer the manual attacking option, but the default battle mode is set to ‘automatic attack.’ Why was this default option chosen?
Sakaguchi-san: Regarding the attacking option, we experimented with both the manual and automatic attack, but we felt that the automatic attack allowed players to concentrate on other things during battle. Rather than delving into battle haphazardly, we imagined players would achieve victory by bringing order to a battlefield full of chaos and disorder. So in that sense (in the sense of allowing players to pay attention to lots of different things happening on the battlefield), we thought it would be better to have the automatic attack as the default option.
However, we received some feedback during play-testing saying that they would like to play it manually, which is why we decided to have it as an option. We carefully planned this out so that the difficulty won’t change for either automatic or manual attacking, but I have to say that this was difficult to get spot on.
Adam Riley: Have you decided that a turn-based battle system is no longer suitable for modern RPGs?
Sakaguchi-san: I think that turn-based battle systems have their own attraction, and I think that there’s still a lot of potential to expand on. However, it is the truth that there were many users who played Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey felt that turn-based systems were becoming out-dated. Such feedback became the catalyst for creating a completely new battle system for The Last Story.
Adam Riley: Is the Wi-Fi multiplayer limited to specific regions? Also, did you ever consider co-operative play during the story mode?
Sakaguchi-san: The multiplayer mode can be enjoyed in all regions. No, I didn’t consider co-operative play during the story mode for this title.
Adam Riley: If you make ‘The Last Story 2’ would you prefer to make a direct sequel that connects to the first game’s story, or would you follow the Final Fantasy route of making a new story for each sequel?
Sakaguchi-san: I have no plans for making a sequel at the moment, so I haven’t really thought about any ideas for such a game. If I were to make a sequel, though, I think that any direction could be possible. I feel that it might also be fun for it to be a completely online game!
Adam Riley: Square Enix helped to extend the life of Dragon Quest IX by releasing many new missions for gamers to play after the game was completed. Was this something you thought about doing for The Last Story?
Sakaguchi-san: I did toy with the idea of the number of enemies in the online mode increasing as DLC, but didn’t include it in the end.