Get the full interview transcription below.
What inspired you to make a new Star Ocean game?
Kobayashi: “Star Ocean is a very unique brand in that, unlike other games where you see successive releases, all of our releases exist within the same universe. They’re set in different time periods, different planets, and on top of that, it takes place in space, so there’s a great amount of possibilites, so we thought it’d be great to further expand on the story, and we can’t just let it end with the previous installment. So we thought there was a lot of capability there.
“But to be completely honest, I really love this series, and I really wanted to work on it and come out with Star Ocean 5, so I took the opportunity to further expand this universe.”
The series has been around for a while and you’ve been involved in it for quite some tim. Which would you consider your favorite?
“As far as the series goes, the first one I was really involved in was Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, which was for Gameboy Color, which was unfortunately only released in Japan. But the first one I really was involved in was Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time, so that is technically really my personal favorite. I have a lot memories on that project. As a gamer myself, I actually played Star Ocean 2 a lot, so I have a lot of fond memories with that, too.”
Unlike Final Fantasy, the Star Ocean series is all linked together by a single timeline. Can you tell me a bit about how they’re linked together?
“For our viewers here, we have the timeline on screen. It started with Star Ocean: The Last Hope, which takes place in spacedate 10, which is a new era we created for this franchise. The games take place in order from Star Ocean 4, First Departure, Second Evolution, and then Star Ocean 5: Integrity and Faithlessness, which takes place in spacedate 537—and for each of our titles, we actually include when the game takes place on the spacedate, so our long-term fans can look and see where each game takes place in the series’ history.”
Can you tell us what the subtitle Integrity and Faithlessness hints at?
“It is a bit of a spoiler if we go into complete details, but in terms of the subtitle, the concept design we’ve had throughout the entire series, the CEO of tri-Ace, Mr. Gotanda, was very specific about using these terms. He looked through a dictionary—not a Japanese dictionary, an English dictionary—and obviously there are a lot of syllables and synonyms for these words, but he was adamant on using these terms, specifically. So our goal is, hopefully, once everybody goes out and plays the game, that they’ll get a better understanding of why we used these terms. If we can do that, then we’ve met our goal.”
Let’s say I’m playing Star Ocean 5 as my first game in the series. What are some things new players can enjoy?
“I touched on this at our press conference yesterday, and in several interviews I”ve had with media, but the battle system is definitely one of the main tenants of this franchise. It’s always been speedy, action-based battles, and we’ve tried to maintain that with this title. For those who aren’t great at action games, you can just sort of button mash and press those buttons to easily fight. But once you get accustomed to that experience, you can also get into combos and it gets very technical and strategic. So that was something we focused on. In the video that we’ve shown, you see a party of six players, and that is another thing that’s new to the game—you have your allies backing you up.”
What do you have in store for long-time fans?
“We really focused on the fan-favorite feature of replayability. That has always been a big thing for our fans. And it’s sort of standard fare for the Star Ocean franchise, but it’s something that we really wanted to focus on. So there’s going to be features that will make you want to replay the game over and over again. As far as the party members, you have, as we’ve said, six characters. But when they join your party, they’re all going to be there, so you don’t really have to do that party management sort of thing—they’re just going to join you in the battlefield. So once they join, you’re going to see them with you adventuring.
“In that trailer we just showed, you saw the party walking in a straight line. But that’s mostly because we’re still working on it—it’s still in development. But when you’re actually adventuring, you’ll see them going off on their own and walking around, so there’s going to be more interesting and fun exploration.”
There’s been many years between Star Ocean titles. What kind of new characters will we be seeing?
“Since each game takes place during a different era within the same universe, you won’t see previous characters appearing, as this takes place in spacedate 537, but for the characters, we’ve decided to work with Akiman. You might know him from Street Fighter II fame. He’s pretty popular and a lot of people like his awesome designs—very unique character designs. And for the party, we’re obviously going to have a larger party taking place in battle, so we’re trying to make it easier to see the uniqueness of each character and make it easier to control, as well.”
What kind of direction was provided to Akiman when these designs were requested?
“For tri-Ace, typically what we did was the development team would come up with the concept for characters, and we also did story-boarding and would flesh out the story. Then, once we had the 2D art created, we would create 3D CG models. The problem with that was that the CG and 2D models would have some kind of a difference in the design, because we typically outsource the actual CG work. But for this one we said, ‘we shouldn’t do that, let’s try to increase the quality more,’ so we wanted to have an external character designer, and then try and realize that as close to the original design as possible. We actually approached Akiman and said, ‘we would like you to design the characters,’ and he actually turned us down once. But he eventually agreed and we’re working internally to make it as close to the original 2D designs as possible.
“Early on, we generally just gave Akiman general ideas and concepts for characters. Things like gender, what kind of attack patterns they would use, what kind of weapons they would use, and then he would go off and do his design. And from there we’d give him feedback, saying, ‘could you make changes here? this way?’ and what not. And based on that, he’d do a lot of changes. And at first we were a little worried that the characters would be a little too different from typical Star Ocean characters, but fortunately, Akiman did a lot research for us and spent a lot of time making sure it stayed within the Star Ocean universe design. So we were very fortunate for that. So going from the 2D concept into the CG design was actually a pretty good process.”
The protagonist Fidel looks a bit cooler than previous protagonists in the series. Was this intentional?
“At first I was planning to just go about using the new trailer that we showed and not really reveal anything. But then [marketing lead] Nishio-san here was insistent on showing some characters, so we actually have some character panels to share. And we’ve received Nishio-san’s approval to show this. So it’d be great if everyone can comment on the great job Nisho-san did here to make this great reveal possible.
“This is still concept art, so if you’re here at the booth, you can probably tell that the lines are still very rough, they haven’t been fleshed out and cleaned up. We’re using this to create the CG models. And going forward you’re going to see better and better quality.
“So you were asking about Fidel’s personality, saying that he appeared cool to you. He’s not actually cool [in the traditional sense]–the reason being he’s actually 23 years old. That’s the idea for the design, whereas the previous protagonist in the Star Ocean franchises were typically younger, sort of teenage boys, who you sort of saw growing up and having their own problems. But he’s 23, so he’s a little more mature, so that might be the reason why you think he looks cool. But I can’t really go into the reasons why he’s not cool and more on his personality.
“In Star Ocean 4, the main character was Edge, and you really saw him go through his problems and thinking about the problems he was facing. But with Fidel, he’s completely different. He thinks about the situation he’s in, thinks about his problems, and comes to a resolution to keep moving forward. But he will have some challenges to overcome, and so for players, when they try out the game, it might be easier to connect with him because he is older and you are going to see him mature as an adult and coming into his own.”
Fidel’s friend Miki was also revealed. What can you tell me about her?
“For Miki here, we’ve typically always had a female character—typically a childhood friend of the main hero—and she is Fidel’s childhood friend. For this one, she’s more like a younger sister. So you’ll see that dynamic and they’re very close—in the Japanese version, she pretty much calls Fidel ‘onii-chan,’ or ‘big brother.’ In the western release, we’ll probably change that nuance a little bit, obviously for cultural reasons. But that’s sort of their dynamic, their relationship. We are using dynamic cut-scenes, and with that we’re using AI to have the characters move around the field. You’ll see her on the field, while in the party with Fidel, she’s always the closest by him, so whenever you’re moving around, you’ll see her right next to him. I think it’s cute, don’t you?”
Let’s move on to Relia…
“We were just talking about how we wanted to show off her back design because it’s very unique—it’s distinct—but we showed off the front and side design for the panel. So I have to apologize. But if you’re interested, please look at the trailer, because you can see the back of her dress and her head, and it’s very unique. She has a backpack on, and if you look carefully at the design and the design of Miki’s weapon, fans of the series may realize something. So that’s in terms of her design. As far as the story around her, I can’t say anything more.”
Can you touch upon the other characters we saw in the trailer?
“In the trailer, you saw a party of six taking part in battle. We’ve already revealed three of the main characters—Fidel, Miki, and Relia. But we’re actually going to show off two more. This is actually a world premiere for these two characters.
“We have notes with his actual name, and I’m afraid I might read it off and be very much in trouble… So for this character, he’s obviously a blonde character, and he’s a swordsman and sort of the ‘attractive, good-looking’ character. He has a very unique design on his shoulder that we want to show off, and that sort of is one of his unique and identifying traits. But if you look at the trailer, you’ll see he has a very unique fighting style, even though he’s a swordsman. It’s completely different from your typical swordsman.”
And the last character…
“Ever since the announcement, we’ve gotten a lot of comments on this character. It’s the green-haired mage. [Her outfit] is a little sexy. We showed off a screenshot of her character design earlier and ever since then, we’ve been inundated with comments and users making up their own designs and art. Akiman and myself have been very, very surprised, and we are very happy that the fans have taken to her.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t really show off too much of her in the trailer. You might have seen a little magic here and there, but in terms of her normal attacks, I hope you keep watching these and stay tuned for updates on this project as we reveal more information.
“The parts that aren’t black are actually her skin. The outfit, as you can tell, is very revealing. It’s a very unique design. I was talking with Akiman and various other staff members to make sure that was okay. And once we got the okay, we really pushed for this because we think it’s a great design. I’m glad we can incorporate it into the game.
“In the trailer, there was actually another character we had premiered. It was a female fighter, but we want to hold off on revealing more on her until a later date. So hopefully we can make that announcement soon.”
Moving along, can you tell us about the battle system, how combat works, and how it’s different from previous games?
“We touched on this earlier, but the key word on the battle system for us was ‘seamless.’ We wanted seamless transitions, seamless battles, so we’ve implemented a real-time action battle system that’s sort of been present in the previous games, but we really want to take it up a notch with the reality, the action, and the fast-paced battles. And now you see these parties of six characters, and it can be fun to even just sit back and watch someone play. In the trailer, we actually hid all the gauges, because we can’t reveal all the gauges and the new systems we’re implementing for this title just yet. We’ll make that announcement at a later date.
“In terms of the event scenes, which we touched upon earlier, we’re also doing seamless cut-scenes. We’re calling them dynamic event scenes. Part of the reason is, with traditional JRPGs, you’d have battles and story progression, then a CG movie where you’d sit back, and then go back into gameplay. So it’s sort of a semi-playable movie in a sense. We do have what we call static cut-scenes, which are the ones where you just sit back and watch. But we really wanted to implement these dynamic cut-scenes where you actually take part and have control over the characters. So for story progression, we’re trying to focus on implementing those in order to keep players immersed in the game and and enjoy the story.
“I’ve been using the word seamless here and there, and I just want to clarify so people don’t misunderstand, but Star Ocean 5 is not an open-world game. Star Ocean is a very story-driven RPG, so we really want to maintain that trade and get better at story progression and telling these interesting tales.”
What are you most excited about with the game?
“For me, I’m also a fan of the series, and for me to be able to play a new game in the Star Ocean franchise is really important, and that’s something I’m passionate about, so being able to work and create this new game is amazing. And that’s something I’m really looking forward to completing.”
Nishio (marketin): “For me, I’m a marketing staff member, so I have to wait for the development team to do their job and get us more stuff to promote. But for me personally, as a fan, I’m looking forward to playing a new evolution of the JRPG genre. So I just have to put my trust in Kobayashi-san and the development team to do their thing and get out a great game. I just really want them to do a great job.”
Kobayashi: “You [the interviewer] and Nishio are putting a lot pressure on me to do a great job and to be on time and what not. But to be truthful, everyone at tri-Ace is very passionate, and we are bringing out a new entry into this franchise after a long time, so there’s a lot passion there, a lot of people internally here at tri-Ace are very much excited to be able to work on this and deliver a great game experience.
“It’d be great if a lot of people like this game and we get a lot of positive feedback. If so, please promote the game out here in the west and hopefully we’ll have great sales and can be out here again.”