Bandai Namco has released a 15-minute developer diary for Digimon Survive featuring producers Habu Kazumasa and Tsuzuki Katsuaki, who share their vision of the evolution of Digimon games through the years and their wish to live up to the fans’ expectations.
Get the video and transcript below.
■ Behind the Digimon Games
Kazumasa Habu, Producer: So, I’m acting as a producer on this project, and I think it’s important for me to keep in mind that I’m the person on the game development side that’s closest to our fans. I’m hoping I can use the time, the budget, the conditions we have, put them together with the things our fans have been asking for, and give them the best game we possibly can.
Thoughts on Being a Producer
Habu: I actually first got started working directly with Digimon projects about 10 years ago right around the time a series called Digimon Story was being released, and my predecessors were in the middle of making the Lost Evolution installment. I was able to join in as a sub-assistant, and first started working in the world of Digimon. Then my first real opportunity to begin working with Digimon in earnest was when this led into the development of the game adaptation of Digimon Fusion, which I would be producing directly. You see, I wasn’t part of the generation that watched Digimon, grew up with Digimon, so I think it actually took me quite a while to really understand what it is about Digimon That people loved, that really drew people in. Digimon is actually a franchise that appeals across many generations. I’m hoping we can offer a game that not only kids will love, but will appeal to people of varying ages and generations that are fans of Digimon. That’s why we began this project, this Digimon World Re: Digitize project.
■ Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Habu: I think the thing that appealed to a lot of people about Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is that we made it clear we understood that “this is a Digimon game,” and I think keeping that in our minds really helped draw people in. The Digimon Story series began on Nintendo DS, but it also did incredibly well overseas and was very popular, the gameplay is very simple. We made a game with very simple mechanics, you collect, train, and battle Digimon, but made sure that each Digimon was its own distinct character in the game, making sure not to let the simplicity hinder how the Digimon were handled. I think working to improve how we represented Digimon in the game, we ended up with a game world that, although I’m sure a lot of old fans might see this as a very new style of game or game world, a sort of Digimon world that they have never seen before, but we actually worked very hard to keep in line with the traditional Digimon roots, to keep its classical elements in tact, while designing the game’s own world. So I think fans were drawn into this game because it properly and truly depicted the Digimon they know and love, creating a game world they can easily dive into. I think that’s what really sold this game to our fans.
Habu: We were developing the PS Vita and PlayStation 4 versions of Digimon World: Next Order at the same time, but given the PS Vita’s comparative capabilities, coupled with a slow start to the development process, we were worried that perhaps the quality was a bit low. Given that we were planning to spread Digimon in North America and Europe via PlayStation 4 to get Digimon in the hands of more people overseas, we took about half a year to shift over entirely to PlayStation 4, remaking the graphics and altering the game’s balance as necessary before selling Next Order overseas, in North America. That’s the story behind the PlayStation 4 version of Digimon World: Next Order.
■ Overseas Market Expansion
Habu: I know very well that there are many fans hailing from many different regions of the world that have a very strong love of the Digimon franchise. At the time when I first headed a project, there were a lot of places that htought Digimon was just for kids, which slowed down our expansion of the franchise to other areas, making it surprisingly difficult to sell Digimon overseas. Of course, I know that there were plenty of people overseas, particularly in America and Europe, that really enjoyed the Digimon Adventure anime that aired in the 1990s, and that the franchise was really popular in some places and that there really were a lot of fans of the franchise in other countries. But we still had a hard time breaking through certain barriers to entry overseas, and I think one thing that helped our efforts were the petitions and signing campaigns that overseas fans put together to tell us that they really wanted to play more games—that they wanted to play more Digimon games. Word that those petitions collected around 60,000 signatures reached retailers in countries overseas, making them think, “well, if it’s this popular, maybe we should try selling it.” Because of this, we started talking about possibly porting Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth overseas, which then drastically expanded our sales in North America and Europe, setting record sales of over 800,000 copies worldwide, proving to us that the characters in Digimon appeal to fans throughout the world.
■ Concept of Digimon Survive
Habu: At present, the Digimon Story series is acting as our core property, since we believe that it’s our best property to further expand Digimon‘s reach, but we also have another series known as Digimon World that, while strongly supported by our core fans, is rather specialized in its game mechanics, making it somewhat harder for more casual fans and customers to get into, leading us to spend some time thinking about how we can change this—how we can keep the unique gameplay style and feeling of a new game, while also creating a Digimon game that takes a unique approach, and this is what led us to develop Digimon Survive.
With Digimon Survive, rather than focusing on developing a really new and specialized playing style for the game, we took elements from older game types, like old-fashioned tactical RPGs and adventure games, to develop a fun game that brings the characters of Digimon to life on the screen. At least, that’s how we approached it. We also looked at one of the key features of the Digimon Adventure anime, where Digimon grew stronger to reflect people’s hearts, and wondered what would happen if we incorporated that element into a game. We thought it would be fun to have the drama between the characters factor into how the Digimon evolve within the game. In determining genre, we decided to create an adventure game after thinking about what sort of game experience was best to reflect what it is people liked about the Digimon anime. We thought the best way to realize this was to let players take their own actions and make their own choices in the game, and have that impact how the Digimon grow and evolve. Then we incorporated elements from tactical RPGs for the battling and training portions in order to better enhance how the game reflects Digimon‘s way of training and battling.
■ Visual Concept
Habu: In our efforts to consistently challenge ourselves to do new things with Digimon, we decided to not only pursue a 3D experience, but something distinctly Japanese—a game that hearkens back to old game types, I think, but one that uses both the characters of an adventure game along with 2D representations, a beautiful game world that doesn’t rely on the power of the hardware. We wanted to approach making the game with this kind of visual aesthetic. Many of our fans grew up watching the Digimon anime, so we believed it would be best to have the game’s visual approach that kind of look. That’s the thinking that inspired Survive.
■ The World of Digimon Survive
Habu: I’ve had the opportunity to help make many Digimon games, and during those times, I had a number of changes to speak with the director of Digimon Adventure, Hiroyuki Kakudo, and one of the most interesting things I heard from his was that Digimon, as titled, were not born because humans created computers, bt instead became visible to humans only because they created computers and digital technology. He told me that they wrote the world of Digimon with this in mind, that Digimon have been living alongside humans throughout history, and that Digimon in the past may have been manifested through magic or sorcery, or in Japan via the ancient art of onmyo, subjugating them as shikigami, or as yokai, or even as demons. This manifestation is now being accomplished digitally, and we understand them to be “Digital Monsters” in our present world, but they are actually creatures from another dimension that have always been with us. One of the concepts that we have for this game is whether or not we can bring to life and expand on this challenging fictional world that Kakudo has envisioned.
■ Game System
Katsuaki Tsuzuki, Assistant Producer: The gameplay of Digimon Survive is principally separated into two distinct parts, the first being the “drama part” that expands on the story, and the other being the “battle part” that simulates more orthodox battle gameplay. These two elements make up Survive‘s gameplay method. The drama part is also fairly orthodox in execution with gameplay proceeding in a “text adventure” format. As the player advances in this mode, they come across something we call free actions. These free actions allow the player to select where in the other world they want to go to choose what kind of characters they want to talk to and what kinds of events they want to see take place, creating a classic adventure game with many branching paths.
The battle part involves tactical battles in its gameplay, and one of the most important elements here is that the choices the player made during the drama part affects the conditions of the battle or changes its circumstances. This is a major element of the gameplay. Another key feature of the battle part is that the monsters evolve during the battles themselves. In this game’s tactical battles, as the player controls their Digimon in the fight, they can expend energy to evolve their Digimon. Keeping the Digimon in their evolved form will expend the player’s energy, but the player can exploit the enemy’s weakness or defeat enemies to restore the energy they use up. This gameplay element becomes one of the focal points of the tactical part, forcing the player to take care in how they manage their Digimon and how they monitor their own energy as they battle. This was actually a gameplay element that I personally wanted in the game. The original tactical battle play style actually did involve using the player’s energy to evolve Digimon into different forms, and then store up energy and require proper energy management by the player through collecting more energy by exploiting enemy weaknesses and defeating them, but the satisfaction a player can feel through defeating their enemies one by one through evolving their Digimon in battle was really something I personally wanted to see incorporated into the game.
■ Character Design
Habu: When developing the game’s own original world, we asked an illustrator named Uichi Ukumo, who will be working with Digimon for the first time here, to develop the character designs for Digimon Survive. We wanted the world of Survive to be a world of severe ruin, the sort of tragic place so broken that it might vanish at any given moment. As we were developing the world of the game and its visuals, we also wanted to create characters that felt a little different from those in past games—characters that felt familiar, characters that felt like people ypu might know, kind and transparent individuals that are easy to love and feel like part of your family. I believe Uichi has taken that image we had to heart, and designed Digimon characters that show a very different kind of personality from past Digimon games, using a very warm art style that helps players feel kinship with their characters.
■ Point of Focus
Tsuzuki: I believe another element in the game that people overseas will really respond to is the ability to make personal choices during the drama part, and see how the player’s partner Digimon will react. What really drew me into the anime is how the show depicted the bonds between the humans and their Digimon, the conversations they had, and how they communicated with each other, and I think that was also true for many of our fans overseas who grew up watching the Digimon anime.
■ Future Plans
Habu: Digimon actually first started out as an LCD game, and then versions of the game for home consoles were released before the anime. I really want people throughout the world, who started with the anime, to know just how wonderful the world of Digimon is. In any case, with respect to the Digimon Story series, we are currently very hard at work developing our next projects for the series. And then we have Digimon Survive, one new approach to gaming we have started. We see this game not so much as one big project, but as a challenge we have taken on, and while the game is admittedly rather old-fashioned, and many hardcore gamers have mocked the game for being old-fashioned, we think a game that boasts a sort of universality, a type of fun backed by years of enjoyment—card games, for example, haven’t changed much from the old days, but they still remain fundamentally fun to play. With this game, our strategy was to draw people in using the allure of returning to an older style of gameplay, and focused on making that as good as possible. In that sense, the game is a bit on the old-fashioned side, but I’m hoping we can create a game that people will still really enjoy.