Radiant Historia – 2011 Developer Interview

Radiant Historia – 2011 Developer Interview

Originally appearing in the Radiant Historia: World Guidance book, this lengthy interview with three key members of the development team looks at the conception, design, and story inspiration behind the oft-overlooked DS rpg. This interview was commissioned by Lorenzo Hulzebos as part of a Retronauts episode about Radiant Historia he participated in; be sure to check it out too!

Mitsuru Hirata – Director
Hiroshi Konishi – Character Design

Satoshi Takayashiki – Original Designer (World/Story)

—When did the planning for Radiant Historia begin?

Takayashiki: In 2005, myself, Konishi-san, and another programmer began talking about wanting to make some kind of game together. That was the beginning of our basic idea, to do a fantasy RPG, which would be connected to some extent with Radiata Stories. From there we started making a prototype test version. We didn’t work on it intensely or anything, it was something we all did in our spare time, while handling our other work. The battle system and the overworld were both created there in that first prototype. We also wrote an overarching planning document, and decided on the world of Radiant Historia, as well as part of the story. We presented all that to Hirata-san in the fall of 2007.

—Had you worked with Atlus at all before this?

Takayashiki: I was introduced by a friend and had a chance to speak with them, and I got the impression that we’d be able to work well together. It put a lot of wind in our sails, especially when I approached others about it—we might get to work with Atlus!

Hirata: When he first showed me the plans, the visuals and the world were already very well defined, and that was big. Those are some of the most difficult hurdles one faces when making an RPG so to have him bring that to me completed at the very beginning, that made me think “this could really work!” In fact there were other challenges we faced, to be sure, but the overall direction of the visuals and the world of your game—that’s one of those things where 10 people can have 10 different interpretations, and it’s by no means an easy process. It takes a lot of time and costs a lot too. So his presenting all that to me up-front, it had a big impact on the project getting picked up.

—Based on what you’ve just said, I think aspiring game developers out there will probably be thinking “Ah hah! All I have to do is bring the visuals and world to my pitch and it’s sure to get green-lit!”

Everyone: (laughs)

Hirata: It’s really true though, that if you bring those materials in, it makes everything so much easier. Of course we pay attention to the quality too.

—How did Shimomura get involved as composer?

Hirata: In the beginning, when I first received the plans from Takayashiki-san, there was no mention of who would handle the music.

Takayashiki: That’s right, nothing concrete had been decided on.

Hirata: For the moment we said we’ll handle the music in-house ourselves. We didn’t have any professional connections with Shimomura so she wasn’t initially on our radar. But then one of our staff members suggested, “Hey, what about Yoko Shimomura?” Of course asking is one thing, but cold calling a big name like her… I was sure she’d never accept. On the other hand, when it came to fantasy worlds, and stirring, emotional melodies, she was a perfect match, so I thought this project would be right up her alley. Anyway, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to try, we tentatively sent her our proposal… and to everyone’s great surprise, several days later she contacted us to say she’d do it. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

—Shimomura posted an interview on her webpage where she talked about how this e-mail from you showed up in her inbox completely out of the blue.

Hirata: Yeah, it really was like that though. I didn’t think she’d accept such a sudden proposal—but if she did accept, we wanted her for sure. With both the world and visual aesthetic already completed, it was relatively easy for us to make pitches.

—Shimomura also said that the melodies for Radiant Historia came quite readily to her. At the same time, she also mentioned that she took a long time and made you guys wait… what was the actual work process like?

Hirata: The first thing we did was have her write a few different songs to get the overall direction pinned down. I believe the battle theme was one of those. The quality of those first songs was quite high, and it all looked good to me. From there we just left it all up to her. I don’t remember us asking for any retakes either. As for the timeliness, well, Shimomura is being too modest.

—She also said the songs were too large, for the memory.

Hirata: Well… yeah, that’s true. (laughs)

—How far over were they?

Hirata: You see, the thing is that for the entire game, including the visuals, we had to apply a lot of compression as we went just to make it all fit. Even then we were always running low on memory. So midway through we realized we were in real trouble, and we asked management if we could expand the cart size. They approved and we went from 512MB to 1GB. With that increase we were able to bring back several songs that we’d had to cut for space concerns. In the end we were able to fit everything.

Yuko Shimomura's epic-scale OST for Radiant Historia.

—I wanted to ask about the First Pressing Limited Edition, which included the lush Piano Arrangement soundtrack.

Hirata: We were the ones who requested a limited edition first pressing. We worked out the details of what it should contain with Shimomura. It’s normal to include soundtracks in such limited editions, but we thought it would be more interesting to include songs you could only hear there, so we went with that piano arrangement idea.

—The art style for Radiant Historia is a big change from Radiata Stories.

Konishi: Radiant Historia has an ensemble cast and a harsher world, so I thought that outlining the characters with black lines would be a more interesting direction. This was something I was conscious of from my very first rough drafts.

—What is your process like for designing the characters?

Konishi: Nowadays I do everything on the computer.

—Does that include everything, from rough drafts to the finished product?

Konishi: Yeah, everything. From start to finish, I exclusively work on my PC.

—Do you use any references when you’re designing?

Konishi: For this project, no not particularly. They let me have a lot of freedom.

—In addition to the character designs you were also responsible for the main visuals. What was your image for these?

Konishi: For Eruca, I saw her as the archetypal “heroine”, and so she has a very helpless, vulnerable feeling to her. She was one of the characters I drew in the very beginning, and I may have clung to that early vision I had too much. As for other things, I wanted to use a lot of black overall, and I wanted Stocke to be a magenta-ish red color.

Konishi's early concept art for Eruca, featuring long hair. The silhouette image on the right reminds me of Michel Ocelot's animation masterpiece Princes et Princesses.

—There’s a concept art version of Eruca with long hair, too.

Takayashiki: The heroines from our previous games all had long hair, so maybe Konishi felt it would be good to change it up this time.

Konishi: I wanted them to have an event scene where she cut her hair, and I drew a number of different versions. Along the way I realized short hair might look good too, and so I lopped it all off.

Hirata: When it comes to the characters, one thing we get asked a lot about is what’s the fluttering bit of fabric around Aht’s waist…

Konishi: It’s… a fluttering bit of fabric.

Everyone: (laughs)

Hirata: I see. So if it’s not underwear… does that mean she’s naked under there?

Everyone: (laughs)

Takayashiki: The truth finally comes out……

—How did you come up with the battle system for Radiant Historia?

Takayashiki: From the start we wanted a side-view battle system, with animated character attacks and movements. We approached it from that visual standpoint, you see. The scenario was very special so we talked about needing something unique for the battles too.

—I think it came out quite distinctive.

Takayashiki: In the beginning we had the enemies aligned vertically only, then one day someone suggested trying horizontal as well… it was kind of casual like that, just brainstorming and brainstorming until we got to the result you see today. In the end it shaped up into something rather nice! Basically our team laid the initial groundwork, and then Atlus did a great job of fine-tuning and adjusting everything, I think it came out really well.

—Hirata, what did you think when you first saw this battle system?

Hirata: The basic concept of pushing and pulling the enemies around as you attacked them was very interesting. This looks like fun! I thought. But when I actually tried it… it wasn’t. (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Hirata: The biggest problem was that the battles took too long. And the turn order was completely decided by the characters’ stats. If you can’t feel a sense of agency or strategy with your choices, then it’s not going to be a very enjoyable system no matter what you do.

An early mock-up of the battle screen.

—What ideas did you come up with then, to make it more enjoyable?

Hirata: In the first version they showed us the turn order was decided very simply by each character’s speed stat and their equipment. It felt like everything was left to chance, in a certain sense. I knew we had to do something about it, so in addition to a very thorough tuning-up and balancing, I also felt it needed a system where the player could strategically change the turn order. So we added the Change, Turn Break, and Burst Skills, and the Trans-Turn ability which allows you to transform into any ally—all things to let the player fully manipulate the order of actions. Adjusting all that took quite some time.

—What were some of the points you paid attention to when balancing the battle system?

Hirata: Let’s see. I didn’t want players to have to fuss over managing their MP, and to that end we created a robust item system. It’s much more fun when you can use your skills whenever you want, right?

—The auto-battle option is kind of weak.

Hirata: That’s because we only wanted players to use it on enemies that were far below their level. If you make the regular battles too easy it reduces them to an empty formality, a chore. We only want players to use auto-battle for those enemies which have already become a pushover for your party anyway. That was our intent when we implemented it.

—Radiant Historia features multiple “bad endings.”1 There are some surprisingly scary ones in there too. What was your intention in creating this system?

Hirata: Let’s see. Well, our thinking was that, if you include scenes that are purely extraneous to the main narrative, then—precisely because they’re extraneous--players won’t mind if those scenes are negative, weird, or otherwise leave a bad aftertaste in your mouth. Of course, you can’t overdo it. For instance, we never explicitly say “Stocke has died.” If we did that the player would probably lose their motivation, right? Instead we chose the subtle and suggestive route, with a fade-to-black.

—When you achieve one of the bad endings, you’re taken to Lippti and Teo. Did you know what the players nicknamed that…?

Hirata: Ah, yeah. The hanseikai.2

—I think it really fits.

Everyone: (laughs)

Hirata: We didn’t have any special name for those scenes during the development. The idea behind it was to give a little hint for players who had stumbled upon this mistaken timeline. It’s funny, but in the games we’ve made, we’ve had a lot of players make up euphemistic nicknames like that for our Game Overs. I guess in that sense Radiant Historia ended up being a rather Atlus-y game after all…!

The post-mortem "hanseikai" scene with Lippti and Teo.

—Please tell us more about the magical sword Historica… when it was made, and what it was made for.

Hirata: The magic sword was first designed as something to enhance the gameplay. I thought it would be more motivating for players if they had a weapon meant to be used in the final battle. But it had to fit into the setting and story. And one tried-and-true method is to have a MacGuffin that neutralizes the enemy’s power. So the sword also fills that role.

—Are you referring to the White and Black chronicles?

Hirata: That’s right. The Black and White chronicles could store the power of mana. Hugo did not understand the Historica’s true power, and he thought it was merely a device to store huge amounts of mana. He thought he could use that power in a superficial way, as a means to his own ends, and as a result he ended up getting swallowed up by it and going crazy.

—Hugo’s weapon Divine Judgment, which causes desertification, was that also created by using the Historica’s mana?

Hirata: Yeah. We don’t say it outright but it’s suggested that it was Fennel’s doing.

—The story explains that the Historica was formerly in the possession of Samra of the Satyros, but how did he come to have it?

Hirata: I think it’s more like, rather than a single person owning it, the sword was entrusted to the Satyros because of their purer, closer connection the power of mana. You might wonder why it didn’t go to the Gutrals, who were superior in martial prowess… that’s because they fight with their own fists. Also, the Gutrals don’t have the power to mend the Historica if ever any trouble occurs with it. That can probably be done at Celestia, but the Gutrals cannot. So it was entrusted to the Satyros.

—Aside from the Divine Judgment, Fennel also created the thaumachines. Were there any other weapons he created?

Hirata: Almost all of the devices you see in Alistel that are powered by thaumatech were created by Fennel.

—Is Fennel also the one who advanced the research and development of thaumatech, then?

Hirata: Yes. Although the history is sparse on this point, I think Fennel’s abilities played a central part in the development of Alistel’s technological capabilities, which allowed them to rival Granorg in power. However, he was a scientist and thus had no interest in either politics nor power, which meant he was easily manipulated by Hugo.

The striking cover for the "Radiant Historia: World Guidance" book that this interview originally appeared in.

—Next I’d like to ask about Noah. He never appears in the main story, but what kind of person was he?

Takayashiki: It’s written at the end of the scenario that he was a man.

Hirata: Well, it seems obvious he was a man.

Takayashiki: Yeah but I thought having Noah be a woman would have been cool too. From the beginning we knew he would be someone who wasn’t present in the timeline in which the game takes place, but it’s also said that Viola served under him, so he was a real person. He has very deep ties to Granorg, and he served an important role under the former King when rebellion broke out. That’s all that’s written in the backstory we wrote though. From the episode with Viola it’s implied that he was a great leader and uniter of people.

—In the world of Radiant Historia, is there anything we would call a “religion”, outside of what we see with Noah?

Takayashiki: The religious sense of the people in this world is very similar to that of the Japanese. The notion of a world inhabited by a multitude gods and goddesses has long been a part of the Beastkind’s lives. And as for the humans, they’re more inclined to idolize an individual like Noah and worship that way.

—The Beastkind do seem to revere a great variety of things.

Takayashiki: They also have the idea that everything contains mana. You could say they worship mana, in fact.

—There’s a scene where Aht senses the presence of Lippti and Teo. Is that because they have a spirit-like existence, and Aht is a shaman?

Takayashiki: Lippti and Teo are not dead, if that’s what you’re asking. I think she was able to sense them because they’re similar to the Beastkind.

Hirata: Also, the realm of Historia itself lies in a kind of limbo-state that is neither here nor there. But in one sense it’s always nearby, and that is why Aht could sense Lippti and Teo’s lifeforce. Aht is a special child among the Celestians, and she possesses a great power.

Early concept art for locations and races.

—Do Lippti and Teo have actual flesh and blood bodies then?

Hirata: Yeah, they do. They don’t die, nor do they age. Their existence is sealed within Historia.

—Regarding the Sand Plague… it’s caused by the power of the Black Chronicle, and isn’t a real illness, right?

Hirata: There’s been several strains of the Sand Plague, actually. For example, there’s stories of a mysterious disease from the distant past, and in the following years rare cases were reported. However, in the events of this game, most of the cases of Sand Plague are the doing of Hugo. Another source would be Heiss and his use of the Black Chronicle. Heiss used mana to re-animate a dead bodies and make them do his bidding.

—And when the mana ran out, those bodies would crumble to sand.

Hirata: That’s right.

—Switching gears, please tell us about your favorite characters and scenes.

Takayashiki: My favorite character is Hugo. And it’s an obvious pick but I also like Gafka and Rosch.

—They all have really gruff expressions. (laughs)

Takayashiki: My favorite scene would be where Stocke is fleeing from Alistel with Rosch.

Konishi: I’m afraid my favorite is one of the bad endings… it’s the one where Marco’s old mercenary friend Mimel is revealed to be a spy, and when you hand her over to the government, it cuts to a future scene where Marco is fighting Stocke…

Everyone: (laughs)

Konishi: Something about that one strikes a chord. (laughs)

—It’s evil Marco.

Konishi: My favorite character is Eruca. She was the most challenging for me to design.

Hirata: I like the scene where Viola stands in your way, as an enemy. Each of you have taken a side and now there is no choice left but to fight, and I find it moving. It’s not what Viola personally wants either, but she has to fulfill her duty as a knight. And when Stocke fights her, the dialogue is kind of cliché and all but I got chills. So she’s my favorite character. My favorite bad ending, by the way, would be the one with Eruca and Raynie.

—The bad endings are great because anything can happen.

Hirata: Yes, like Aht exploding…

—Now that had some impact. (laughs)

Hirata: When I first saw it, I was like… what the hell guys, you made her explode?! But then I justified it in my mind, since it’s an expression of the purity of her desire to help Stocke.

—To wrap things up, if you could each offer a final word for all the fans of Radiant Historia out there.

Hirata: I think the people who have bought this book have probably cleared the game once by now. I imagine in that first playthrough, they probably saw the game through Stocke’s eyes, but our concept for Radiant Historia was that players would experience it as an ensemble cast game, so next on your next playthrough try seeing everything from a different characters’ perspective. If you put yourself in the mind of the other characters and pay attention to what they could be thinking and feeling during these scenes, I think you’ll get a whole new perspective on the story.

—Are there certain scenes in particular you’re thinking of here?

Hirata: Yeah. For example, the scenes where Eruca doesn’t want to reveal her true motives. Now that you’ve played through the game once you can probably guess what she’s really thinking in those scenes, which should be interesting. When Pierre double-crosses you, maybe that was Eruca’s doing all along? Let your imagination run wild. Also, if you’re able to see the true ending, I think you’ll realize that there really are no true “bad guys” in this story. Definitely check that out.

Konishi: I hope players notice all the in-battle sprites. This was an area I poured a great deal of effort into, and they’re all very nicely animated. And for your second and third playthroughs, be sure to try using different characters.

Takayashiki: Personally… I want it to sell more!

Everyone: (laughs)

Takayashiki: In this day and age I think word-of-mouth is extremely important. No matter how much money one spends on advertising, you see, there’s people who still won’t hear about it without that word-of-mouth promotion.

Hirata: Yes, please recommend Radiant Historia to all your friends. (laughs)

Takayashiki: Please do! (laughs) We have a lot of pride in it, so I want players to still be enjoying it even after the 3DS comes out!

—Thank you for your time today.

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  1. These are called "parallel endings" in the Japanese, by the way.

  2. “post-mortem meeting”, which has a somewhat negative connotation of remorse / apology.

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