« | Main | »


By Heath | February 23, 2008 at 7:20 am

So I wrote a big preview thing about Tales of Vesperia that got wiped out. Awesome.? Anyway, it’s coming to North America for Xbox 360.

So screw it, below lies the text of an interview, conducted by Play Magazine with Namco Bandai, transcribed by Phantasium at GameFAQs. Yeah, I just don’t even care.

play: Thanks for sitting down with us today. Can you first tell us about your role in the Tales series so far?
Yoshito Higuchi: I wasn’t an original member of the Tales team. I began in planning on the original Soulcalibur for arcade and Dreamcast, and eventually joined Tales after a number of other projects. My first was Tales of Symphonia on GameCube, followed by the overseas versions, and a PlayStation 2 port which was only released in Japan. Most recently I directed Tales of the Abyss, and now I’m directing Tales of Vesperia.

Is Vesperia being developed by the same team as Symphonia and Abyss?
YH: Mostly, yes. We originally called ourselves “Team Symphonia”-you could say 90% of us are working on Vesperia today, myself and the scenario writer included. All of the core staff remain the same.

Unusually for a Tales, this game hasn’t even been officially announced in Japan yet. We don’t have much information at all-can you introduce the project for us?
YH: Well, we’ve set our target age range for Vesperia a little higher than previous games. Tales is usually aimed at middle and high school students-teenagers. With this game being on HD hardware, we want to cater to the high school/university student age range and higher. Tales games are usually stories about the main character’s growth, but you could say our main character for Vesperia, Yuri, already has a fully formed personality. His narrative purpose is really to spur growth in the friends he meets along his journey. This is one of the two key through lines of our story.

And the other?
YH: This will take some explaining, but Yuri is a very empathetic person. He cares deeply about his friends and family, though he doesn’t have any blood relatives of his own. As an example, let’s say he’s faced with two problems: On one hand there’s someone in a lot of trouble-let’s say this person is starving and penniless. At the same time some faction or other may be trying to perpetrate much larger crimes. Yuri is the kind of person who would judge the larger crime to be out of his reach, and he’d try to save the starving person first. In contrast to that, we have another character, Flynn, who Yuri grew up with. Like Yuri, he has a strong sense of justice and wants to better the world, but he wants to do it from within the establishment. Flynn’s looking at the bigger picture, trying to use politics to better his country. The conflict and contrast between Yuri and Flynn is our other main through line.

Would you say they’re like rivals?
YH: in a way, yes. It’s not as if they’re necessarily at odds with one another, though over the course of the game their differences in ideology will cause them to clash. By the way, in the short teaser trailer you can see on the net, Yuri is the character with long black hair, and Flynn the one in white armor.

I watched the teaser so many times (laughs). The visuals made it obvious this game would be HD, but I have to admit I was very surprised to discover just minutes ago that Vesperia is for Xbox 360.
YH: Oh? Why is that? (laughs)

I wondered if you were aiming directly at the Western markets.
YH: No, it’s not like that at all-we’re not that bigheaded yet (laughs). Like always, I think that our Japanese fans understand Tales the best. But does that mean Tales can’t succeed in the West? Of course not-Symphonia proved that there are plenty of Western gamers who appreciate the very Japanese sense Tales has. Our goal is to make this game for everyone who appreciates that sort of aesthetic, so, no we’re not aiming directly at the Western market.

We love the 360, but it hasn’t been doing very well in Japan.
YH: I suppose you want to ask, “why 360?” (laughs) We had actually begun research into HD hardware while still working on Abyss. When Abyss was finished, it was very well-received, and we had to decide where we were going next. There were many possibilities-at the time, we could certainly have done another game on PS2. But we felt there was a need to go HD. Logic would dictate we’d have to do it eventually, so why not now? That left two choices. When we started this project, the 360 had the more complete development environment.

Was that the only reason?
YH: Well, even thought the West isn’t our main target, I knew we had to cater to our overseas fans as well, so that’s another reason. But this doesn’t mean we’re not going to work on PS3 or other hardware-just that Tales is coming to the 360 first.

Can you see Vesperia getting ported to PS3 some time in the future, like Eternal Sonata?
Yes, I won’t deny the possibility. But we’re not thinking about it yet-there are so many other things to concentrate on first.

I was also surprised because Namco Bandai stated just last year that the Nintendo DS would be the lead platform for Tales going forward.
Uh oh, the hard question (laughs).

Is that still the case?
Well, I don’t want to play word games here (laughs). I think what they meant was that the DS would be the lead platform for Tales in 2007. The industry is going through such dizzying change lately, and you do have to change with the times. A statement like that reflects on the entire Tales brand, so I can’t really say too much about it (laughs). For me, personally, I don’t think the people that actually make the games should decide whether or not their title is in the main Tales series. In the case of Vesperia, I’d like to leave that decision up to the fans. If they see these images and think it’s a spin off, then it certainly is. But if they think of it as the main series…

I think most people will consider Vesperia to be in the main series (laughs).
I think so too. Of course, I also think Tales is the kind of series that needs an installment on every platform-it’s our duty to the fans. I think it would be very difficult to try and consolidate Tales onto one platform. Even so, when that announcement was made, last July, it goes without saying the DS was the best-selling hardware. I do believe it was the right decision for 2007.

I’m just relieved that Tales isn’t actually abandoning consoles.
That’s a good reaction (laughs). You know, when that announcement was made, Vesperia had been in development longer than all the other Tales games that were slated to be released. I mean, we’d been working on it since even before Abyss. It was a little difficult standing silently by the sidelines while a “lead platform” for the series was being announced (laughs). But our fans are sharp…I think they probably knew, “this can’t be”.

I know, at least, that the DS announcement didn’t make American Tales fans very happy.
But Dragon Quest IX is going to be on DS, right? I think that was the right choice, I really do.

From a financial perspective, I’d agree.
Yes, that too, but everything about DQIX…isn’t it so perfectly Japanese?

You could certainly say that.
That’s why I think it was right. But Tales has been 3-D since Symphonia, so… how should I put it. In my personal opinion, when speaking of the “right” evolution for a series…if high-spec hardware with beautiful graphics capabilities comes out, then you have to make beautiful, high-spec games for it-while still ensuring they have a good deal of content. That’s one “right path evolution can take. In the case of other hardware like Wii or DS, shouldn’t you try something completely different from what’s come before? Something suited to the hardware? That’s what I believe.

You said earlier that Symphonia proved the West could be accepting of Tales. Why do you think that particular game did so well overseas, and why do you think Abyss was a sales disappointment?
I think the biggest factor was probably the state of the market at the time. Also, Symphonia was only available on GameCube, and the system had a huge share of the younger gamer market. In Europe, Nintendo published the game themselves, and marketed it extremely effectively to that age range. In the case of Abyss, I often hear that Hapanese RPGs are hard to sell on PS2-when the Western gamer thinks “RPG” and “PS2” they naturally think “Final Fantasy”. So, if they hear about a Tales, they may expect a game like FF, but the visuals tell them it’s something completely different. I think we always knew Abyss would be a little tough to sell overseas. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was a worse game thatn Symphonia, or that it wouldn’t resonate with Western audiences. I think it was mainly a problem with perception.

Of course, we loved Abyss-we gave it a 9, and it was well-received by many other publications as well.
Yes, we were very happy with the actual review scores…they actually served to make us realize we had made a mistake (laughs). Or perhaps I should say we were biased. Abyss was a very dark story, wasn’t it? Really heavy, especially the middle section. I hope I don’t sound rude, but we used to have a bias-we thought stories like that would fly in Japan, and maybe France, but wouldn’t be accepted very well elsewhere. The Abyss reviews let us completely cast that bias aside. We realized we didn’t have to be so concerned about the tone for overseas markets. It’s funny, because that original bias actually served us well in Vesperia-one of our executives in charge of sales in America read the story and told me, “This is great! Yuri’s awesome! He’s like Jack Bauer!”. I didn’t really understand at first, but… (laughs)

Does Yuri not get a lot of sleep? (laughs)
It’s sort of like what I said before…laws don’t mean much to Yuri. If he thinks he has to help someone, he doesn’t feel any constraints in terms of the expectations of society. There’s no “way things are done” for him. When our executive explained to me that this trait was cool in a Jack Bauer-ish way, I completely understood what he meant (laughs).

Yuri sounds like the polar opposite of Luke from Abyss.
He is. You could definitely say that-he doesn’t do a lot of growing up during the story, for one thing. But he does gain experience. Do you remember the giant floating ring over the city from the teaser trailer? It’s a barrier-in Vesperia, the world’s energy balance is breaking down, and there are more and more monsters being born. These barriers, projected from artifacts called “blastia”, protect the cities from monster attacks. In the world of Vesperia, most people will never set foot outside the town they were born in.

The outside world is a complete unknown?
Not entirely-a select few venture outside to do research, and there are military posts. Yuri himself was once a knight, so he has been outside briefly, but most people from his city have probably never even seen the sea. In contrast, Flynn regularly journeys outside to fight monsters and has seen a great many things there. Yuri becomes a little envious of that, and he decides to leave his city and see the world. In his case, it’s really a story of gaining experience. But how about you see for yourself? (Ed.note-Mr. Higuchi hands play an Xbox 360 controller.) I’m afraid the intro anime isn’t done yet, but…

Tales are always famous for their beautiful anime intros. Is Production I.G. handling this one again?
Yes, but not just the intro-during the game, too. Vesperia will have the most anime FMV of any Tales yet, in full 720p HD.

Are you shooting for one DVD?
Yes, it will all fit (laughs). But I think it will probably be dual layer.

This game looks absolutely spectacular in motion.
Thank you. We’ve worked very hard to keep it “Tales-y”.

It really looks like a living anime. The way the colors in the far distance bleed together, but the geometry remains sharp, like a hand-painted background-it’s so much more appealing than games that try to impart a sense of distance with a simple rack-focus or tilt-shift type of blur effect.
I agree, if you try to be realistic with focus effects it’s just going to end up looking like Eternal Sonata. We were very conscious of not making it look like that game. I think Eternal Sonata is a very high-quality product, but it’s not Tales, is it? For an anime look you have to keep a certain flatness.

Ah, the battles are 60 frames?
I’m glad somebody noticed (laughs). You’d be surprised how many people, even developers, can’t really tell the difference. Yes, our field graphics are 30 frames, battles 60 in Vesperia.

The battle system itself seems very Abyss. Is it still the FR-LMBS, “Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System?”
It’s an extension of that, called EFR-LMBS, “Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System”. Are system names very important in the West? (laughs) You might be surprised, but most Japanese don’t really pay them much mind.

I was always under the impression that they were really big in Japan (laughs). How exactly has it been “Evolved”?
Oh, so many ways (laughs). For instance, you know how a lot of MMORPGS have enemy links? We’ve incorporated that into Vesperia. If you get into an encounter where other enemies on the map can see each other, two or three groups of them might link together. In that case you might find yourself fighting seven or eight enemies at once.

In the new Tales of Innocence on DS, you can actually attack enemies on the field before you enter battle to gain an advantage. Will there be anything like that in Vesperia?
You can’t actually attack them, but you do get the traditional Tales series Sorceror’s Ring and can affect enemies on the map with it. Also, you can now stock up to four Over Limit gauges. You can use one per character, or even use all four with one character…it’s up to you. I can’t say too much about it yet, but depending on your Over Limit level some interesting stuff can happen (laughs). Your regular attacks might get faster, or you might be able to uses Artes in rapid succession. You can create some pretty crazy combos with it.

Will dungeons be mostly puzzle-based, like Symphonia, or will it be more of a mix like Abyss?
In Symphonia almost every single dungeon was full of puzzles and gimmicks, but we think we achieved a nice balance in Abyss. You might have one straightforward dungeon, then a puzzle dungeon, back to straightforward again…Vesperia also has that kind of balance.

Speaking of the contrasts between those two games, Symphonia’s affection system was greatly simplified in Abyss. What will it be like in Vesperia?
I’d say it’s more like Abyss. I’d like to do another really deep relationship system like Symphonia’s some day, but it’s an incredible amount of work. This time we wanted to concentrate entirely on making one pure, solid RPG, so there are no story branches based on affection. You have no idea how difficult those branches were to build in Symphonia (laughs). But people really seemed to like them. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World on Wii will have that kind of system.
Tsutomu Gouda: Dawn of the New World will have a complex affection system, but there aren’t any story branches (laughs).

So no multiple endings for Vesperia?
: No, only one true ending.

How about minigames? Everyone loved Dragon Buster in Abyss (laughs).
I think we’ll have something on par with previous games. I can’t say yet if it will be as involved as Dragon Buster. We have a plan for one, but time is starting to get very short, so we may or may not be able to implement it. On the 360 you have Live!, right? There are going to be a number online rankings, and we’re hoping one of those will be a ranking for the minigame.

Are you planning on any other Live! features?
Definitely, but I’m not exactly sure what, yet (laughs). I can tell you that as a matter of policy we won’t have anything you can only get through buying online. For example, we may have some items that are very hard to get in the game available as DLC, for people who would rather spend money instead of time on them.

So nothing like the DLC dungeons we see in games like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey?
It’s technically feasible-everything in the game is designed to be expandable. But I don’t think we’ll do it. I personally feel that it would be wrong for Tales’s identity.

That’s a very refreshing stance to hear on DLC.
We at Team Symphonia were the first to add the “recap” system to the Tales series. Our decision not to have DLC-only features came from the same spirit-as you become an adult, you can’t really play games every day, can you? Some people might only be able to play on the weekends-two or three hours per week. At that rate, you begin to forget the story…so that’s why we implemented the recaps. Our stance with the DLC in Vesperia is the same: It’s for gamers without a lot of free time. With that said, the ultimate achievement in Vesperia can’t be bought with money. You have to do it yourself, and I think that’s the way it should be.

How much total content can we expect, compared to past Tales games?
I think it’s very comparable to Abyss. That’s rather a lot, and I think it’s just the right amount (laughs). When we decided to build a next-gen game with the same amount of content as Abyss-I suppose it’s really current-gen now, but it was definitely next-gen when we started-we had no idea how much work it would be (laughs). For example, the average map was now taking twice as long to build. What should we do? Alter the game design by reducing the total number of maps by half, and having the player visit each one twice? That’s not something we could do. We were putting all our efforts into making a next-gen game… if we had to come up with a new design it would never get finished (laughs). With that being the case, we increased the size of the project, got a bit more time, and committed to make it just as big as our last game. I think it’s a more effective use of our experience, and I think our fans would prefer it that way. In that sense Vesperia truly is the high-def, next-generation Tales.

TG: We’re confident Tales fans will be totally satisfied with both the quality and the content. There really aren’t that many games lately that have both, are there? One or the other always seems to be compromised.

Can you go into a bit more detail about how much more time-consuming it is to produce assets for hi-def than it is standard-def? A lot of people don’t really know the difference.
Well, on some games it’s not that different. Take for example something like Ace Combat or Tekken-those games use actual photographs as textures. But on Vesperia, every single texture is hand-painted. Simply increasing the textures by a factor of two means there are quadruple the pixels. Like I said, it was taking double the time to finish a simgle map, but we were eventually able to streamline it down to about 120% of the time it took on Abyss or Symphonia. So, yes, asset creation was difficult. Another issue is the fact that you have no limits. HD machines have so much power…on our world map, for instance, we could have taken the camera down behind the player’s back and displayed the entire horizon. But that camera angle wouldn’t be Tales, right? Ensuring we didn’t use all this power for the wrong things was a challenge. We could have gone with naturally-proportioned characters and full motion capture, but it would cost an enormous amount of money (laughs). Striking a balance between what was possible on the HD system, and a final product that would be recognizable immediately as “next-gen Tales” was very difficult.

Was there anything about the lack of limits that was freeing?
Hmm. Well, this is going to be a little self-deprecating, but… (Ed. note-Higuchi picks up the 360 controller and begins to play.) You see where I am on screen now? (Ed. note-Higuchi moves a few screens ahead on the map.) If I’d moved that far in Abyss, it would already be loading. On next-gen, we can always be streaming data. We still have fades and transitions, but that doesn’t mean it’s loading-we’re merely using them to inform the player he’s travelled a significant distance. That was the most freeing thing for me, especially since a lot of people weren’t happy with Abyss’s loading times. Actually, when we started the project, and were trying to figure out how to parition map data, the programmers told me we could technically do the entire game seamless (laughs). I decided against it, though-I didn’t want to break the town-interior-battle map structure. Even so, we’ve kept screen transitions as minimal as possible, especially inside towns. This really made a huge difference for us. The RAM you have on next-gen is just in a completely different league (laughs). Another wonderful thing-although this is strictly about XBox 360-is the fact that you can connect to the net so easily. Hardcore Tales fans are fond of getting the most out of the series, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun comparing Achievements and leaderboards online.

Can you put a percentage on how complete the game is?
I’d say were about 60% of the way towards releasing it as a product.

Can you tell us what the meaning of the title, “Tales of Vesperia”, is yet?
It comes from “Vesper”, an ancient Latin name for the Evening Star-what we know to be the planet Venus today. It’s an allegory for Yuri. He wants to be like a bright star shining in the darkness-hence, Vesper, which was “Tales-ified” into “Vesperia”. The word “Vesperia” also appears as a story element. When people get to play the game I think they’ll understand why we chose this title.

One thing I love about Tales in Japan is that the games aren’t just vanilla “RPGs”, each one has its own rather eccentric genre name. I see that Vesperia is “‘Seigi’ wo Tsuranukitoosu RPG”-literally, “The RPG of Persistence in One’s Will for ‘Justice'”. How are the genre names decided? Do they come before, or after the plot?
Some come before, but in the case of Vesperia, when the story was finished we asked ourselves, “how do you sum this up in one sentence”? The original theme of the game is the concept of persistence in one’s beliefs. We tried that-“The RPG of Persistence in Beliefs”, but it just didn’t have enough impact. Considering that this Tales is aimed at mostly males, we tried something intentionally immature-“The RPG of Persistence in One’s Will for Justice”. But even this wasn’t enough, it didn’t have a real Tales-y hook. Since everyone has their own concept of what “justice” is, we added the quotation marks. “The RPG of Persistence in One’s Will for ‘Justice'” worked.

I guess that’s the kind of thing that works much better in a compact language like Japanese. Speaking of such things, I wanted to ask about a couple of aspects that have long troubled Western Tales fans. In Japan, all the optional “Skits” are fully voiced, and the intro always has a vocal theme song. Can we ever expect these aspects to be localized?
I think you can (laughs).
TG: I think the skits will have English voice. And the theme song, too.
YH: You might say our vocalist is someone with worldwide appeal (laughs).
TG: You’ll be pretty surprised when you find out who it is (laughs).

That’s excellent news! Western Tales fans are going to be very, very happy about that. So the recording artist performing the theme song will be the same worldwide?
Yes, the same person.

As a Tales fan, I’m very excited about Vesperia-but also curious as to why Namco Bandai is choosing to reveal it in the Western press simultaneously with Japan. This has never happened before. Does it mean a worldwide simultaneous release?
RPGs are really gigantic, aren’t they? When it comes to Europe a game has to be localized into five languages. For North America, however…nothing is officially decided yet, but don’t expect a very long wait after the Japanese release. We’re working on English and Japanese versions simultaneously.
TG: Just by virtue of the game being on Xbox 360, it doesn’t make much sense to leave a large gap between releases.
YH: We’re the only Tales team making worldwide games. On both Symphonia and Abyss we knew there would be Western versions from day one, but until now those versions were always done after the Japanese one was complete. With next-gen, however, we decided it would be best to develop Japanese and overseas versions concurrently.

This must be the first Tales that began localization so quickly.
It’s the first. Definitely the first. Our level of confidence about the English version of Vesperia is pretty high (laughs).
TG: It’s also going to be the Tales series’s tenth anniversary in America this year, starting from Tales of Destiny on PSone. We’re putting a lot of effort into it.

Do you think this might be the first Tales that sells better overseas than in Japan?
Actually, the sales of Eternal Sonata in Japan gave us a certain level of confidence that Vesperia will do well here. And, of course, a platform with ten million units doesn’t mean you’re going to sell ten million copies of your game. Also, it’s probably safe to say that all 550,000 Xbox 360 owners in Japan are hardcore gamers.

That’s probably true (laughs).
If you look at how many games there are that can sell more than 500,000 copies in Japan…no matter what the platform, there aren’t many at all. Theoretically we could sell 550,000 copies of Vesperia. That would be fairly difficult, of course (laughs).
TG: In the past, we’ve always thought about hardware penetration-if a system had so-and-so number of users, we could expect so-and-so number of sales. But I think that market wisdom might not apply anymore.
YH: In terms of level of use and attach rate, the 360 is extremely high, and I think there’s a definite chance there.
TG: As of now the best-selling 360 game in Japan is Blue Dragon, and as the producer for Vesperia I’d like to get close to that number.
YH: If we actually sold more than Blue Dragon, I think it would be pretty historic.

With a long-running, trusted series like Tales, I’m sure it’s possible.
There are probably a lot of Tales fans that would still like to play the series on PS2. How do we get those users interested in next-gen hardware? I think Vesperia absolutely must be a product that can do that.
TG: We’re working on Vesperia with the idea that it will be the game that takes the entire Tales brand into its next phase and states, “this is what Tales will be like from now on”.

I’m sure it will be! Our time is nearly up, but there’s one more thing I must ask. Lloyd from Symphonia recently made a guest appearance in Soulcalibur Legends. Mr. Higuchi, you worked on that series yourself…do you think we might see Yuri in Soulcalibur IV?
Wouldn’t that be nice! (laughs) Well, I don’t know about IV specifically, but…in the case of Legends, that’s a group that sort of split off from the main Soulcalibur team, and I’ve been very close with them since the very first game. I went to Kosuke Fujishima, our Tales character designer, and asked if they could use Lloyd in their game almost as a lark (laughs). I can’t promise anything about IV, but it’s true we’ve been able to do a lot of interesting things since becoming Namco Bandai. If you want to see Yuri in Soulcalibur IV, send us lots of e-mails about it! Send a hundred per day! (laughs)

(All laugh)
I guess that would constitute spam (laughs).

Mr. Higuchi, Mr. Gouda, thank you for a wonderful interview. If you have a message for your American Tales fans…
We’ve always been serious about Tales, but in the case of Tales of Vesperia our “seriousness factor” is many times higher than it’s ever been (laughs). Of course, the series is still made with a very Japanese sensibility, but we know there are a lot of American gamers that share the same tastes, and we’ve incorporated a lot of feedback from the American side into this game. I think this will be a somewhat different Tales, but you can be assured it’s still the Tales you love. We’ll be coming out in America very shortly after the Japanese version, so please look forward to it!

Topics: Uncategorized