Breath of Fire III – 1997 Developer Interviews

Breath of Fire III – 1997 Developer Interviews

These two Breath of Fire III interviews originally appeared in The PlayStation magazine just prior to the games release in September 1997. Although five members of the team are listed, the majority of the interview is centered around director Makoto Ikehara, who had been involved as a planner since the first game, and would go on the direct the next two sequels as well. Topics covered include the transition to the PlayStation, new mechanics, and how the Breath of Fire series fits into the larger context of RPG game design.

Yoshinori Takenaka – Producer
Hironobu Takeshita – Producer
Makoto Ikehara – Director
Tatsuya Yoshikawa – Art Direction
Tatsuya Kitabayashi – Programmer

—How did the Breath of Fire III development get started?

Ikehara: Our developments always sort of start the same way, with just a title. Then we just make whatever we want, and force it to all fit together after the fact. Seeing as we were changing platforms to the PlayStation, we even talked about calling it simply “Breath of Fire” and leaving off the “III”. But we thought it would be nice to sort of bring to a conclusion the work we’ve done up to now.

Kitabayashi: After finishing II, we all wanted to carry that momentum forward and start working on III right away.

Ikehara: Yeah, spirits were high then.

—Were there things you felt you’d been unable to accomplish in II, that you wanted to do in III?

Ikehara: Yeah. That’s true with every development, the whole “we’ll do it next time!” thing.

—What’s been the most dramatic change in moving to the PlayStation?

Ikehara: First and foremost, not having to worry about memory. For the previous games we had to really be careful about the amount of space the dialogue took up, for example. Being able to add real voice acting is another benefit of the PlayStation—admittedly not something we initially planned (more of a positive side effect of having the extra memory), but nonetheless something that was unthinkable on the Super Famicom.

You know how the Breath of Fire games feature a mute protagonist, right? I mean the “Dragon Quest” style hero who doesn’t talk. The challenge with using that kind of protagonist is that because he can’t talk, without a good “hook” in the beginning of the game to draw players in, it’s much harder to explain the world and story. I was worried we walked into that trap again this time, unwittingly.

—It’s sort of an “anti-Final Fantasy” position to take. (laughs)

Ikehara: (laughs) But sometimes it sucks when your favorite manga gets turned into an anime, right? And the voices of the characters feel all wrong.

Makoto Ikehara (director)

Takenaka: That’s Ryo-san’s voice, for me. (laughs) I had an image in my head when I read the manga and it turned out totally different from the anime.

Ikehara: You can get used to any voice given enough time, but that initial “ugh, this is wrong!” feeling was something we wanted to avoid, so we didn’t want our protagonist to speak. And I guess that’s the default for video games anyway. That’s how I saw it, but ultimately it felt a little bland that way so we let them talk in the end. (laughs)

—So you caved. (laughs)

Ikehara: Well, it’s funny though, with a protagonist who speaks, they’ll sometimes say things that you yourself would never think to say? Like “cool” one-liners and stuff. If someone said those things to me in real life I’d cringe. By the same token I was hesitant to make Ryu speak in Breath of Fire.

Takenaka: It breaks the illusion that you’re the hero.

Ikehara: For those reasons, we went for a mostly silent protagonist with Ryu, the type who allows you to be sucked into the game more readily.

Yoshikawa: Just in terms of recent games, if you look at something like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, they’re totally different. Final Fantasy feels more like watching a movie, where you play the hero, but at the same time, the hero is their own separate character, and that character speaks his own lines. But in Breath of Fire, it’s sort of like, we want the player himself to do the thinking.

Nonetheless, now that the hardware and expressive possibilities have improved, there’s situations where it feels really weird to have the character not speaking any lines. Like, “how can he be doing this and saying nothing?!” (laughs)

Kitabayashi: Yeah, scenes where he’s shown doing something questionable without saying anything.

Yoshikawa: It’s funny, you’d expect it to be the opposite, but in some ways not talking makes him look like a huge sociopath. It’s something for us to think about in the future.

—My impression after playing Breath of Fire III is that it’s a very orthodox RPG. Was that something you deliberately intended?

Ikehara: It’s more that we don’t have the ability to make something strange or bizarre. (laughs)

Camping was one of the many new systems added for Breath of Fire’s debut on the PlayStation. Given the increasing length and complexity of RPGs in the 32-bit era, it both allowed for greater party interaction while also keeping players informed of the next story objective.

—There’s a lot of really addictive mini-games in BoF III, like fishing. I noticed you left a lot of things like that in the game for players to mess around with. That’s why, for me, my overall impression of the game is that of a Makunouchi Bentou, stuffed full of small delectable things for you to choose at your own liking.

Ikehara: I think that’s a staple of RPGs. If you don’t have stuff like that, things for the players to do outside of the main quest, or when they get stuck or lost, it makes for a dull experience, you know? Just reading dialogue and going from story point to story point, that’s not really that fun.

—Yeah, when you put it that way, at times I did find myself not following the story. It was like, all of a sudden I’d look at the clock and realize I’d just been fishing for over an hour. (laughs)

Ikehara: That’s why we added Camping. Even if you’ve spent hours fishing, you can camp, talk with your party, and remember what you’re supposed to do next.

—I sometimes get the feeling that the story itself wasn’t a big focus for you.

Ikehara: There’s a lot of truth in that. I used to say things like “RPGs don’t need stories!” and “Just as long as the battles are fun, we’re good.” (laughs) In reality, you can pretty much write out a game’s entire story on a single piece of paper, right? But it takes dozens of hours to play through it. And most of that time is spent in battles, or searching for items.

—Where does the fun lie in Breath of Fire, for each of you?

Ikehara: I had fun at the wrap party. (laughs)

Takeshita: The fishing. (laughs) It’s all about the fishing.

Kitabayashi: It’s all of it, for me. Just all the different things you can do in the game.

Ikehara: Seriously though, making the game is the funnest part for me.

Kitabayashi: Same here. Well, what I’m allowed to make at least. (laughs)

Yoshikawa: Usually after the development is over, I want my memory wiped. (laughs) So yeah, I guess I don’t know. (laughs)

Kitabayashi: When you’re in the middle of it, you completely lose sight of what’s interesting and what’s not. Is this really fun…? You lose all objectivity.

Ikehara: When you have that initial flash of inspiration, though, it’s always like “this is gonna be so awesome!” (laughs) Well, whether it’ll be fun or not, who can ultimately say, but I usually feel certain that there’s something unique to it. A “taste” that no other game has.

Takeshita: Right, something like dried squid—where the more you chew on it, the more the flavor comes out. A game with personality, if you will. The truth is, our developers all possess a somewhat stodgy, old-fashioned sensibility, so we’ve never been ones to try and pander to players. Even with the fishing, it wasn’t “hey everyone, we’ve made this the best Breath of Fire fishing ever so check it out!” —we just made it the way we wanted to, to please ourselves.

As Kitabayashi mentions below, the designers faced a massive task in creating all the incredibly detailed sprites.

Yoshikawa: That attitude, of not wanting to do what others are doing, has been our mindset for a very long time. Let others make whatever they want, and we’ll do what we think is fun, you know.

—If we compare it to your bento example earlier, it’s like here’s a bunch of different foods we’ve prepared for you—now eat whichever ones you want.

Ikehara: I think the secret behind why our games get good reviews is that we let the developers cook the egg however they want.

Takenaka: Yeah, and when we receive feedback postcards that say things like how polished the game feels, that’s the highest compliment for us. I think it has a lot to do with Capcom, with…

Ikehara: With the culture here, yeah. The way we create the story, even—it’s not something we refine and rework obsessively. We first sketch out a fairly rough outline, then if we can connect some interesting dialogue from the town NPCS up with that larger story idea, then we feel like we’re getting somewhere. If we over-work the story too much in the beginning it actually ends up constraining our creativity. We might not make a certain cool map because it conflicts, for example. So as a writer, I don’t try to dictate exactly what they should do—it’s more important that the overall game is fun. In fact, sometimes I’ll be the one to change things around to accommodate them.

Since I joined Capcom I’ve only worked on the Breath of Fire series, and I’m sure that if I had more experience I would probably say this is a comparatively laid-back, easy team to work with, but I don’t have any other point of reference.

—Do you ever think you’d like to make a non-RPG?

Ikehara: I’ve got various ideas, but working on Breath of Fire is more…

—…fun? (laughs)

Yoshikawa: You know, we could probably do a good action game if we put our minds to it. Or a fishing game, come to think of it. (laughs)

Kitabayashi: That’s the nice thing about RPGs though.

Ikehara: Yeah, you can put anything in them. (laughs)

Five key members of the Breath of Fire III team. Top (L-R): Hironobu Takeshita, Yoshinori Takenaka, Makoto Ikehara. Bottom (L-R): Tatsuya Yoshikawa, Tatsuya Kitabayashi. The caption also states there were about 30 people in total on the BoF III development.
Breath of Fire III – 1997 Developer Interview

originally featured in The PlayStation magazine

Yoshinori Takenaka – Producer
Makoto Ikehara – Director
Tatsuya Kitabayashi – Programmer

—It’s been quite awhile since Breath of Fire II came out. Did you already have the idea for BoF III at the end of that development?

Takenaka: Ever since we worked on the first game, we were already thinking about making it into a franchise series, so yes.

—Is BoFIII a continuation of the same story and world from the first two games, then?

Ikehara: Yeah there’s some connections to the previous games, suggestions, you could say… But because we’re working on a new hardware platform with the PlayStation, and also because we figured it would be a tough sell if you needed to play the first two games to play this one, we’ve tried to find a middle ground by carrying over things that will bring a smile to the faces of veteran players, but also challenging ourselves with new things. One of our goals, however, was that Breath of Fire III would be a conclusion to the world and style we’ve been building in the last two games.

—One of the “new challenges” I see in BoF III is the way battles are handled, and how you enter fights directly from the field map. Was this new system as difficult to design as I’m thinking…?

Kitabayashi: The biggest challenge there was probably the CD read times. On top of the programming and data that comprises the field map, we have to load the battle and effects programming, which in turn caused us problems related to the amount of memory available.

Ikehara: At the start of the development, it took 4 or 5 seconds to read all that data. That could have screwed up everything, but thanks to our efforts, we were able to shrink that down to a level players wouldn’t be bothered by.

—Are there any particular things that you’re excited for long-time fans of the series to experiences?

Ikehara: I think the mood and the humor, especially, is something we’ve carried over from the previous games. Funny enemy names like “hustle jijii” (Hustle Gramps). I think old fans will be pleased with what we’ve done there.

The “Hustle Jijii”, localized as Codger or Hustle Elder. DQXI used the same name for an old wizard enemy.

—One thing I noticed is that, along with the comical side you just mentioned, there’s also a more serious dimension to be found in this game. Ikehara, would you say that your image of Breath of Fire trends more towards the light-hearted?

Ikehara: I don’t think of myself as having a preference for one over the other, no. If I had to describe it, I’d say I aim to create something where you can’t clearly distinguish or separate the light-hearted from the serious.

—Fishing seems to have become one of the staples of the Breath of Fire series, but is that something you officially recognize as a team?

Ikehara: Fishing is definitely a big part of what players think of when they think of Breath of Fire. We see those comments in their feedback postcards all the time, “I can’t wait for the fishing!”

—Is there anything in particular about the fishing this time, that you’d like to draw players’ attention to?

Ikehara: We solicited the public for the names of the fish this time, so I’m looking forward to sharing those.

—I bet there were a lot of unique entries?

Ikehara: Yeah, one of the magazines printed something like “Jokes and puns OK!” (despite the fact that we never said that ourselves, but whatever). Thanks to that we got a bunch of joke submissions that really didn’t have a name or anything, just jokes and puns. (laughs) “バイオやばいよ” (Baio Yabai yo), “ふとんがふっとんだ” (futon ga futtonda),1 I remember seeing them and thinking, what are we supposed to do with these…?! (laughs)

Kitabayashi: Some of the item names people sent were funny too. “Shouryuu-Ken”, “Hadou-ken”, stuff like that.2

—Were there ones that were really funny, but you couldn’t use in the game?

Ikehara: One of Kitabayashi’s favorites was “Hiroshima Ja-ken”. (laughs) He’s from the Hiroshima area, and he seemed to have an unusual attachment to that one.3

While “fishing” is now a common RPG minigame, Breath of Fire was one of the first to popularize it in JRPGs, to the point that it became a defining feature of the series in the eyes of many Japanese fans.

—Outside of these player submissions, were there any other “fan requests” you tried to fulfill?

Ikehara: We made the walking speed faster. (laughs) That was something people had complained about ever since the first game. This time, we’ve finally sped everyone up!

Kitabayashi: Though as a result, it also makes the maps feel a little smaller, unfortunately.

Takenaka: We compensated for that a little by making it so if you walk too fast, it raises the enemy encounter rate—just a little.

Kitabayashi: What? I didn’t know that.

Ikehara: Takenaka has been known to do stuff like that from time to time… adding secret things that only he and the dev in charge are aware of. (laughs)

—Tell us about the new Dragon Gene system. Why did you add it?

Ikehara: Well, we removed the old fusion system, so we needed to come up with something to take its place.

—Are there challenges involved in designing a brand new system like that?

Kitabayashi: Well, for this game, our character designers had a particularly large burden to bear, especially in the beginning of the development. However, towards the end, when all the characters were completed and had been coded in, those devs had some free time on their hands. They used that time to flesh out the Dragon Gene system, adding original magic effects for each dragon, lots of little details like that. Thanks to them, each dragon has a great deal of personality, but yeah, it was a lot of work.

—What do you think the “theme” is for Breath of Fire III?

Ikehara: I’d be hard-pressed to point to something in particular, but if I had to, maybe “independence”. The idea of “thinking for yourself” was something I had in mind throughout the development. I’m tired, for example, of RPGs where the game leads the player by the nose, and everything is spelled out for them. Of course, I guess we sort of do that with the Camping system too.

—To close, please tell us what parts of the game you most want the players to enjoy.

Takenaka: I think this game will be most fun if you take your time with it. On the other hand, if you try to race through everything, it might even come off as boring. I hope everyone gives it multiple playthroughs.

Ikehara: Personally, I’m hoping players will enjoy all the variety in the battle system.

Kitabayashi: Yeah, there’s a lot of meat there for players to dig into. You might, for example, use Examine on an enemy and learn their skill, and from that single skill, the entire way you approach the battles can suddenly change. It’s possible players will even find strategies that we didn’t foresee ourselves!

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  1. These are just puns/wordplay, and basically untranslatable.

  2. These Street Fighter puns rely on the fact that “ken” means both fist and sword in Japanese, depending on the character.

  3. This pun comes from the Hiroshima dialect, where “jake” is a common inflection–but jaken can also be read as “evil sword.”

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