These two interviews for Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle, respectively, cover the history of the developments and the reason for changes between both games. Today, with the “SRPG” being a well-established genre of its own, it’s easy to overlook how many innovations the Ogre Saga games pioneered, in both a gameplay and narrative sense.

In an interview with 4gamer from 2011 (that I will likely translate in the future for its additional Tactics Ogre content), the older Matsuno expressed a note of embarrassment about his youthful enthusiasm / impertinence during this time, which I think one can sense in the ambitions he declares here.

Matsuno interview @4gamer (jp)

Tactics Ogre – 1995 Developer Interview

originally featured in Dengeki SFC magazine

Yasumi Matsuno – Director

—Tactics Ogre is finally out, and although we had to wait a long time for it, it’s a very polished game. It was definitely worth the wait.

Matsuno: It took us two and a half years to make. I’m really, really tired. (laughs) I am sorry to everyone who had to wait due to our delays.

—Ogre Battle was such a hit, it only makes sense that people’s expectations would be very high.

Matsuno: For Ogre Battle, if it sold 100,000 copies I would have been thrilled. And to that end, we developed it with a target audience of about that size: in other words, it was geared to the hardcore. When it sold 400,000 copies, I was somewhat shocked. (laughs) Now that we know we’re capable of those numbers, we’ve designed Tactics Ogre with that larger scope in mind.

—It seems like Tactics Ogre is also going to be a big hit.

Matsuno: It’s a difficult time for this particular market right now. While Ogre Battle ultimately sold 400,000, it’s difficult to predict how well we’ll do this time around. However, we did try to make Tactics Ogre for a more general audience.

—It’s very different from the previous game.

Matsuno: It’s part of the “Ogre Battle Saga”, but it’s not a sequel or a “part 2” to Ogre Battle. The world and setting are shared, but the gameplay systems are completely different.

—Why did you change the gameplay system?

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A very young Yasumi Matsuno.

Matsuno: First off, after we finished the Ogre Battle development, we determined that doing another 3D real-time simulation game for the Super Famicom was going to be difficult. There is a special chip now for the SFC that offers more possibilities, but it’s also very expensive to use. Therefore, we abandoned the idea of doing another, powered-up version of Ogre Battle, and instead decided to develop a brand new system.

Another reason was that we actually started the planning for Tactics Ogre three months before the release of Ogre Battle. To decide on a direct sequel then would have been pointless if Ogre Battle didn’t sell well, and we didn’t have any confidence that it would. Ultimately it was very popular, so we carried over just the world and setting.

Also, in Ogre Battle the units moved in real-time, which meant you couldn’t take your time and plan out a strategy. For us, this was a big point we wanted to improve on. From the beginning of the Tactics Ogre development, therefore, we never saw real-time as an option.

—Speaking of the world, it’s very finely detailed. Did you think it all up yourself?

Matsuno: Yeah. I already knew, on a plot level, that there were 8 chapters to the basic story. I brought the plans and ideas for this world with me when I joined Quest, which was in 1989… I said it could be the basis for a variety of different games. We created Ogre Battle in the summer of 1991, and up to that time I kept adding to the world while I worked on Famicom and Game Boy developments.

—The whole structure of the mythos feels very solid too. Do you know a lot about mythology?

Matsuno: No, not at all. I was studying foreign policy in college, but dropped out. (laughs) To be honest, it was only after I started making this game that I bought a book on mythology and studied up, and actually read through those reference materials.

—And yet all the mythology felt very realistic to me.

Matsuno: Is that so? (laughs)

—But the gods are featured in Tactics Ogre though, right?

Matsuno: There’s the six gods that define the elemental affinities, and you can use orbs to summon them in battle, but unlike Ogre Battle, the gods are not a part of the events of the story. This is a human drama. Ogre Battle had a lot of fantasy elements, like conversations between angels, heavenly knights, etc. Tactics Ogre doesn’t have much of that. The presence of the gods is strongly rooted in the foundation of people’s lives, but it’s really a more zoomed-in drama.

Dramatically speaking, I think Ogre Battle was very weak. On every map, all you had was some dialogue with the boss. I do think that helped stimulate the player’s imagination though. You get to create part of the world in your own mind, and personally, I actually like that more, but with Tactics Ogre we wanted to strengthen the drama and dig deeper into the human condition. That was something players had requested, too, and seems in-line with the direction games are heading anyway.

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Matsuno recently played through his first game, Ogre Battle, and tweeted some of his reactions: “This is so nostalgic. Poor Warren and Lanselot: I think most players make Warren a Lich, and Lanselot a Vampire. (laughs)”

—Speaking of drama, I understand the story changes significantly depending on which branching path you take.

Matsuno: Our initial idea was that, if we’re going to have branching paths, let’s do it in a really dramatic way, where your choices completely change your position in the story. However, the memory limitations were very strict, and our grand plans for a multi-scenario, multi-ending game got cut down to size. Ultimately those branching storylines end up re-converging again in the 4th chapter of the game. I’m really very sorry about that. (laughs) Depending on how you’ve lived up to then, there are various subevents and characters that vary past Chapter 4, but the basic plot outline stays the same. Please forgive me. (laughs) Leaving out very small differences, you should be able to experience the entire story in three playthroughs.

—There’s also a lot of decisions you can make that are unrelated to the story paths. What do those impact?

Matsuno: Mainly, they affect unit loyalty. If a unit’s loyalty gets too low, that unit will end up defecting. At first we had planned to make it much easier for units to defect, but we ended up making it so it’s actually pretty hard to get them to leave. So you can enjoy the game without having to be too focused on the particulars of a given decision. Those who want to focus on that can, of course, and if you don’t want your units to say resentful words to you when they die, you had better spend some effort raising their loyalty. (laughs)

—How many different endings are there?

Matsuno: Broadly speaking there are two different endings. There are various small differences too, but it’s basically a good end and a bad end. Unlike Ogre Battle, where the different endings were difficult to obtain, anyone can make it to these.

—Naturally, I want to see the good ending, so does the amount of people who died in battle affect the outcome of the story…?

Matsuno: It doesn’t. Though, I hope it makes players feel bad. (laughs)

—You’ve also brought back some familiar names from Ogre Battle, like Lanselot and Warren.

Matsuno: That was a given once we decided we were going to use the same world and setting, since the overarching story itself was already completed. Ogre Battle was Chapter 5. You would think, then, that the next game we’d make would be Chapter 6, but early on we knew the gameplay system we wanted to use, and it would have been difficult to fit with the story of Chapter 6. But for Chapter 7 (Tactics Ogre), it would work. Chapter 6 follows along with the ending of Ogre Battle, with those 5 heroes from the ending starting out on a new journey. Chapter 7 actually takes place at the same time, but with Lanselot and others coming to Valeria.

Also, Ogre Battle was a very challenging game. With the exception of a few, I don’t think most people completed it… the majority only made it to stage 10 or so before quitting. So most players were only familiar with a certain number of the characters like Lanselot and Canopus. If we wanted to include characters from Ogre Battle, then, we were going to have to focus on those that appeared in the first half of the game.

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Pages from the planning documents for Tactics Ogre. Matsuno created two separate planning documents: the first, at 9 pages, was designed by Matsuno as a sales pitch to the company; the second planning document was more fleshed out with input from the whole team and was 59 (!) pages. Other than the changing title, the details written all pretty much align with the finished product. Matsuno actually created such detailed planning docs for both Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre; he highly valued them as a way “to unite the development team and get everyone on the same page.”

—Nevertheless (and I don’t mean to sound rude), Tactics Ogre’s release ended up being very delayed.

Matsuno: I’m sorry for making everyone wait. (laughs) It was delayed almost a full year, yeah. The reason was the battle animation. Depending on whether the characters used a sword, spear, shield, etc, we had to animate different sprites for every individual weapon. Then there were the jump attack animations for different elevations. All those different action animations became a huge bottleneck. If we had just been able to give them up, we could have released the game so much sooner. (laughs)

—All those different actions are really cool. We’ve had “action rpgs” recently, but nothing with the level of detail as here. And in a strategy rpg, no less.

Matsuno: We don’t mind if people ignore this aspect, but of course we wanted to make a game that was visually impressive. It was a point of pride with our designers and programmers, too. Also, due to internal circumstances at Quest, we were understaffed during the development. We needed more people for the graphics. The designers ended up working straight through the weekends with no breaks. I mean, it’s easy enough for me as the planner to request certain features, but it’s a terrible burden for the programmers to realize all that.

Simulation and strategy games can all-too-easily become a boring exchange of numbers and stats, and we wanted to avoid that. We wanted to make a game, for example, where someone who stood behind you and watched over your shoulder would look and say, “wow, that looks cool.” So whatever character actions we made, be it movement or attacks, we wanted to emphasize the visuals. Luckily for us at Quest, we had staff capable enough to realize that vision.

—Tactics Ogre also features a number of different ethnic groups in the story.

Matsuno: For any game at any given time, I think you can look at the players and ask what concerns are on their mind. For example, when Ogre Battle came out, the Gulf War had just broken out, and you were hearing about it and seeing it on the news everyday. Whether you intended to or not, the circumstances of war were etched into your consciousness. In that atmosphere, I think it was only natural for a war simulator like Ogre Battle to find an audience. Or to put it another way, the people who bought it had those concerns on their mind.

For Tactics Ogre, we’ve got the problems in the former Yugoslavia and the Bosnian War all over the news. I don’t have a very clear understanding of what’s happening, but I know that there are a number of different ethnic groups fighting in Yugoslavia. The world of Tactics Ogre is extremely complex, so I think it might be rejected out-of-hand if we weren’t immersed in this kind of news right now. But because people are aware of the conflicts in Yugoslavia, people will accept a game with a story like this, I think. I could not have made a game like this in the past. If I did, I don’t think people would have paid attention. But it can be made now, given the times we’re living through. As a new entrant in the world of games development, I want Quest to continue challenging ourselves in this way.

—Finally, do you have any plans for your next game?

Matsuno: I’ve got nothing on my mind. I’ll think about that after I’ve taken a nice long rest. (laughs)

Ogre Battle – 1993 Developer Interview

with director Yasumi Matsuno, taken from the GSLA archive

I guess you could say I’m one of the 2nd or 3rd generation of game developers. If we define the first generation as those who were working before console games, then you have people like me, who grew up with those games. We’re the 2nd/3rd generation. Unlike that first generation, it wasn’t an accident of chance that got me into making games: I grew up with them and idolized them from my youth, and explicitly wanted to be someone who makes games when I grew up.

My first goal with Ogre Battle was not so much to make a commercial hit, but rather to make something that would establish brand recognition for Quest. I’ve got to make a new style of game!, I thought. That’s why I went for a simulation game. As far as genres go, simulations are one of the easier ones to develop, and even if the game didn’t have a popular audience, it would be easy to stand out and get recognized. I also felt there were many people out there who had never experienced the joys of a good simulation, so that was an opportunity. In that sense it was really the perfect choice for getting Quest’s name out there.

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During the development, as many are probably aware, we used songs from the band Queen as motifs for the story and world of Ogre Battle. It’s probably not entirely legal. But for Quest, this game was our big debut—and a bold venture in which we had resolved to not copy the prexisting style, gameplay or otherwise, of earlier RPGs. We knew we were taking a risk, but we wanted to challenge ourselves with a new kind of game, one where, for example, just leveling up wasn’t a guarantee that you’d see the “good end”.

As for why we used an isometric view for the graphics, well, partly it’s just the direction games are heading today. Also, when RPGs first came out, spells and attacks were described with text only, and you mostly had to imagine everything yourself.

Generally speaking, though, I think it’s better to show things. It’s easier to understand a story you watch on the news, versus one you read in the newspaper, right? Either way, I think games are moving in a direction where more and more emphasis is placed on the visuals. And ultimately, I think, that path leads to 3D graphics. For those reasons, and just to have a more realistic depiction of the battles, we went with an isometric view. Of course, I also have a very talented group of programmers to thank for realizing that.

I think breaking down the various conventions of pre-existing games is a good thing. But it’s not just about smashing things: the goal is to create something more solid, a more fully realized game. If that ends up clearing the way to a new genre, all the better. My ultimate goal would be to make a game that people look back on and say it set a new standard, or was the predecessor of a new style.