Valkyrie Profile 2 – 2006 Developer Interview
Taken from the Valkyrie Profile 2 Ultimania guidebook, this interview offers a wealth of insight into the making of the second game in tri-Ace’s cult Norse-themed action-RPG series, direct from several of its lead developers. Of particular focus is the sequel’s shift to full 3D graphics and all the opportunities and challenges that ensued from cinematics to animation to environment design.
Yoshinori Yamagishi – Producer
Hajime Kojima – Asst. Producer
Takayuki Suguro – Director
Eiko Sawamura – Art Director
Yuichiro Kitao – Programmer
Masayasu Nishida – Planner
Kazuki Hayashitani – Event Director
—Considering the passionate support that the first Valkyrie Profile has engendered in fans, what kind of pressure have you felt in developing this sequel?
Suguro: Not that much, actually. The previous game was critically acclaimed, though, so it was challenging in the sense that we didn’t want to create something disappointing. It was a tight schedule we had to adhere to as well. But now that everything is wrapped up, all those struggles are fading into good memories, if that makes sense. (laughs)
—Tell us about the pre-planning stage of the development, when you were creating the story and basic blueprint for everything.
Suguro: Neither the story nor the basic planning were completed early on—we began the development anyway, but we had to leave lot of things undecided at that point.
—It’s always a battle against time, isn’t it.
Suguro: Yes. And we suffered. (laughs) And VP2 isn’t a stand-alone sequel, there’s various connections and references to the first game. Figuring out how to avoid inconsistencies in the canon and world was very important: it doesn’t have much impact on whether the game itself is interesting, of course, but making sure there were no massive plot holes and everything matched up was quite the challenge.
Kojima: The fans are quite attached to the world and characters of the first game, so we tried hard to treat it with care. In particular, because the game is now 3D, it was challenging to make sure players would feel the 3D characters and world matched up with the 2D versions.
Hayashitani: I’d say more than pressure, it was the fact that the story was left unfinished when we started… and later it underwent two or three revisions, which really annoyed me.
Hayashitani: Are we really doing this? What, we changed that now?! Oh, it’d be better this way… it was like that, just fussing and changing things down to the very last minute.
—What were some of the challenges you faced in writing the story for Valkyrie Profile 2?
Yamagishi: First off would just be the consistency issues, as Suguro mentioned. Then there was the challenge of creating a story which would deepen the appreciation of the world for people who played the first game, while simultaneously being easy enough for newcomers to understand. We ended up with something where there’s still a few parts I think new players will find confusing, but finding that balance was very difficult for us.
—Compared to the first game, instead of focusing on the various Einherjar’s stories, there’s more emphasis now on the main story. I’m guessing that was done in an attempt to differentiate this game from VP1?
Suguro: That’s correct. Going for a more orthodox, linear style was something we decided on at the initial planning stage. Something different from the “omnibus” format of the previous game.
—Did you want to talk about the past, then?
Suguro: In VP1, there’s a lot happening in the background while you play, and we wanted to tell that story—something that would supplement the first game, but also allow us to tell an entirely different story. In that sense, no—we didn’t specifically set out to talk about “the past”. Setting it in the past really had more to do with our decision to tell the story from Silmeria’s perspective.
—The Kingdom of Dipan, from the first game, also features heavily in VP2. Does this mean you already had an idea for the story of VP2 when you were writing VP1…?
Yamagishi: We did not. When we made the first game, we hadn’t thought as far as a sequel. At that time we were just trying to make sure the story for VP1 made sense and could stand on its own. When we started talking about VP2, we discussed the idea of making Silmeria the protagonist, as she was the most mysterious, unexplored character in the first game. Once Silmeria was decided, then Dipan followed, and then the setting in the past—that was the basic flow of our ideas.
—You’ve talked before about the theme of VP1 being “heart” or “death”, but what would be the theme for VP2?
Yamagishi: If the theme of the last game was “death”, this one would be “life”. Many people pointed out that Valkyrie Profile was the first video game to have the protagonist just suddenly die like that. (laughs)
—VP2 takes place several hundred years before the first game. What were some of the things you paid particular attention to in terms of the architechture and overall atmosphere?
Sawamura: In VP1, Ragnarok was closing in, so the atmosphere was rather dark and apocalyptic in tone—if you looked up to the sky, everything was cloudy and foreboding, that kind of feel. This time it’s not Ragnarok, but rather the flourishing of the human world that takes center stage. We still wanted to maintain that Valkyrie Profile-ish, mythical atmosphere, however.
—Tell us about how you created the heroes Silmeria and Rufus. What concept did you have for them?
Hayashitani: We knew from the start of the planning that Alicia would be a princess, and that she’d start out weak-willed, but gradually, overtime, she’d grow and mature. For Rufus, his character took shape later as the story came into focus for us.
Suguro: That’s right. With Rufus, we referred to the concept art his designer had drawn and the events of the first half of the story to steadily build up his character. He wasn’t someone we had a clear image of early on.
—What kind of character was Rufus in your earliest design plans?
Suguro: He was more of a comic hero, I’d say. There was a slightly rebellious side to him too.
Sawamura: We changed the design of his face many times. I liked a lot of the alternative takes, but ultimately we settled on the illustration you see in the game.
—Alicia may be weak in some ways, but in battle you see her swinging that sword of hers… did she receive training somewhere?
Kojima: Yeah, in the game. (laughs)
Kitao: That’s why when she messes up one of her special moves, she says “But it worked in practice…!” (laughs)
Suguro: I remember talking about that in our early discussions actually, the idea that Alicia had been training in some hidden place.
—I mean, how does she know such powerful attacks…
Suguro: I guess Silmeria taught them to her, right? (laughs)
—When talking about Rufus, the one thing everyone wants to know more about is the elf woman Roussalier. It seems like she’s Rufus’ Mother…?
Suguro: That’s something we left up to the player’s interpretation. It’s clear she’s no normal elf though, the way she treats Rufus with unconditional kindness. (laughs)
—How long does Rufus live for?
Suguro: Not as long as an elf. Somewhere around 1000 years I’d say.
Yamagishi: You wouldn’t think that from his personality. (laughs)
—Hrist, Lenneth, and Silmeria’s helmets all have different feathers and designs. Was there a meaning in that?
Suguro: No, Kou Yoshinari drew those designs. It wasn’t anything intentional on the part of the developers.
Sawamura: We designed the 2D characters based off Yoshinari’s illustrations.
—I wanted to ask about Silmeria. Previously, Odin had tried to capture Brahms and use his soul as a replacement for the Dragon Orb, but it’s said that Silmeria helped him. Why would she help the Lord of the Undead…?
Suguro: It’s more that she didn’t approve of Odin’s actions in general, and helping Brahms was one consequence of that.
—I see. And why was Dylan used to hide Brahms?
Suguro: Having been helped by Silmeria in the past, Brahms hid inside her in a form similar to an Einherjar. He had been hiding there to heal his wounds, but in order to hide his existence from the gods, he fused his soul with Dylan. The reason Odin’s Sovereign Rite did not work completely on Silmeria, and the reason Dylan’s soul did not deteriorate, both are owed to Brahm’s existence.
—I thought Dylan was not aware of Brahm’s existence within him, correct?
Yamagishi: In the same way that Alicia is aware of Silmeria being inside her, Dylan is aware of Brahms.
Suguro: Unlike Silmeria, Brahms hid his existence, but Dylan releases him when Silmeria is in danger.
—The history that the gods tell us is that Brahms took Silmeria as a hostage in order to obtain a ceasefire in the war with Odin?
Hayashitani: That’s what they call propaganda. The gods manipulate and control the narrative to frame Brahms’ side as the “bad guys”. History is written by the winners, as they say. (laughs)
—By the way, how is Alicia able to materialize the Einherjar?
Hayashitani: That’s Silmeria’s influence, of course.
Yamagishi: Her ability to materialize, and shoot photons, are both kind of long-lost magics, similar to the way the Three Mages used the Sovereign Rite.
—After the final battle with Lezard, what happens to the three Valkyries and Alicia’s soul?
Suguro: That was something we wanted to leave up the player’s imaginations. The ending movie after the credits should give you some ideas…
—You wanted players to think about who that girl was.
Suguro: Yeah. I don’t want to say anything too definitive about that.
—What about the boy in the ending?1
Suguro: That too, sorry. (laughs)
—If you watch the ending enough times, I think you’ll figure it out. The glasses and the hairstyle are hints too.
Suguro: In the first cut of that movie, you couldn’t tell at all. It was too vague so I was like, “At least make him face the camera!” (laughs) I asked them to be suggestive and subtle about it, but unfortunately it was a bit TOO subtle maybe. (laughs)
—Let’s talk about the new gameplay systems in VP2. First, tell us how the idea of swapping places with crystallized enemies came up.
Suguro: Well, we knew we wanted to have some kind of gameplay action involving crystallized enemies. The planning staff submitted a bunch of different ideas, and we built it up from there. It was a lot of trial and error, figuring out those platforming actions. Possibly the hardest part of the development, actually.
—The different sealstone combinations really make for some nice puzzles.
Yamagishi: The idea for the sealstones was something we had in the very beginning of the development, but it took quite some time before it took the shape you see today. Valkyrie Profile games must have that sidescrolling action, we felt. There were a lot of new ideas but these were the ones we finally settled on.
—The battles feel more strategic this time around, too.
Suguro: A big theme was having the “movement” command on the battlefield. When you add the whole monster parts system to that, it makes for some nice strategic battles. We thought it was a lot of fun.
Nishida: Since the battles take place in 3D now, the whole monster part system was another thing we decided on early, too. However, while the idea may have come early, the actual execution was something we had to figure out as we went.
Suguro: Carrying over the atmosphere from the first game, of your attacks, was another early theme for us.
—How did you come up with the monster part system, by the way?
Nishida: Partly it was just us thinking it would feel cool if you could slice off parts of monsters while fighting. Implemented in isolation, however, that system might have harmed the strategic aspect of the movement and positioning, so we made it such that you needed to attack from the right angle, thus intertwining it and heightening the strategy of the movement.
—Now that Valkyrie Profile is in 3D, you have new complexities to deal with like terrain and elevation. Was it challenging to design?
Kitao: Oh god, more than you know! In the beginning there were two levels, and there was a whole system with rules for attacking from above or below.
Nishida: We also had it so the gales from Fire Storm spread out more, too.
Kitao: Yeah, Fire Storm would hit the ceiling and damage the enemies on the upper level. I mean, these were all just conceptual ideas from our early planning, but yeah, we had initially planned some crazy stuff.
—What were some of the hardest things to make for the battle system? Or things you were particularly conscious of while designing it.
Kitao: Basically there were a lot of problems surrounding the movement. A neverending stream really. (laughs) You could just hide behind two obstacles and attack enemies, for instance.
Nishida: As planners, we kind of just came up with whatever we wanted, which vexed Kitao to no end. (laughs) It’s always like that though, in game devlopment. The planners come up with a metric ton of ideas, but it’s the programmers who have to suffer in actually implementing them. A lot of our conversations went like, “Wow, this would be an awesome idea… how can we pitch it to the programmers?”
Kitao: That stuff would get passed off to me, but I had a resigned attitude about it… “What can you do.”
Nishida: I do seem to recall some screams of agony coming from your desk, though. (laughs)
—Did you ever try just ignoring them?
Kitao: Sure. But they’d just bring it back up another time.
—I’d like to talk about Einherjars next.
Suguro: Originally we hadn’t planned to include the Einherjar in this game, since we wanted to focus on the main storyline more. However, after we wrote the story, we realized that since your party members leave from time to time, we probably need some kind of system to compensate for that. There’s no story events for the Einherjar this time around, so I suspect players won’t feel very attached to them. It’s more of a strategic decision of whether to release them or not, so yeah, they’re basically treated like items.
Yamagishi: They’re a bit like the artifacts in VP1. You can just collect the Einherjar relics if you want, or you can release them, it’s up to you. The standard of course is to release them all, but it’s totally fine if you don’t.
—Unlike Lenneth in VP1, the Valkyrie in this game is a good person who brings the Einherjar back to life!
Yamagishi: I think you see that contrast between Silmeria and Odin most in her actions, yes. If the Einherjar were real, she’d have to gather and save them all.
Hayashitani: I agree. Compared with Lenneth who sends the souls of the departed Einherjar to Odin, Silmeria does the complete opposite. That was something we were very aware of in designing that system.
—What were you trying to achieve with the new rune and skill systems?
Suguro: As with other systems in VP2, it was a lot of trial and error, combining different good ideas until we settled on today’s system.
Yamagishi: The runes and skills are very complicated this time, aren’t they.
Nishida: “Make it simpler, simpler, simpler!” That was something we said until we were blue in the face.
Suguro: Like the Einherjars, our original intention with the sealstones was that they were something you didn’t need to use to beat the game, but using them would give you a bit of advantage if you wanted it.
—There’s also the whole “valued customer” status with shops, and how that ties into item creation system.
Suguro: We wanted to instill some affection for the shops in players, so one idea was, if you patronize shops enough you can purchase special items, and that was the genesis of that system. Our first idea was for a point card system, like something you’d get from Yodobashi or one of those big electronics retailers.
Suguro: I seem to remember we actually called it the “point system” in the beginning. “What happens when you get enough points?” —that was where it all started from.
Yamagishi: Wasn’t it far more strict in the beginning too? You couldn’t buy anything right away. You had to buy something really expensive from the shops first.
Nishida: We lowered the rate a lot.
Yamagishi: You also didn’t know what items you’d be able to buy when you sold something.
Suguro: It was more of a hidden secret at first. You didn’t know how many things you had to sell, or whether a given shop had anything secret in the first place.
—Now there’s shopkeep’s memos telling you and everything. It sounds like this system underwent a lot of trial-and-error revisions too.
Yamagishi: Yeah, even some of the developers here were complaining about it, “I don’t know what the %&!$ is going on!!” (laughs)
Suguro: When we playtested it we realized it was too hard to figure out, so we changed it—we’d spent a lot of time on it so we didn’t want to let it go to waste.
Kojima: VP1 also had the whole transmutation system, but this time you have to buy items normally.
Yamagishi: Yeah, before you made items in dungeons, but then it really sucked if you died while still in the dungeon.
Suguro: In the previous game Lenneth was a god with many different powers. This game you’re a human, so we figured that wouldn’t work, and restricted item creation to shops.
—With its varied use of 3D, VP2 marks a major evolution in graphics and cinematics for the series. Can you tell us what the biggest challenge was there?
Sawamura: The physics engine. It was, in a sense, something that we touted as a key theme for this development, but fine-tuning everything ended up taking a huge amount of time. For example, if you look at Rufus’ hair… sometimes if you made a small movement it would get completely obscured by his clothing or body, or it would distort into some weird shape. We were wrestling with those inconsistencies to the very end. The maps also feature lots of natural elements like grass and trees which sway in the wind, and that took forever to get right.
—There’s a ton of detail in all the individual monster parts you can break off, too. I imagine having to think about all those one-by-one was another major challenge?
Kitao: The monster parts also use the same in-game physics, but they were comparatively easier because they disappear quickly. There actually were problems with them, like the parts would sometimes spin around in the wrong direction, but because it’s all happening so fast in mid-air the player usually couldn’t tell. Plus we smothered them in effects. (laughs)
—There’s a nice level of detail in the monsters. Like when you destroy every part of a crab’s outer shell, its inner body is properly depicted.
Nishida: The maximum number of parts a monster could have is 12, but sometimes, that wouldn’t be enough. Like for the Kraken, who has 10 tentacles. (laughs)
Sawamura: The staff did sometimes complain that 12 was too low, but that’s the max we could do thanks to certain limits we had to observe. In the beginning, we wanted you to be able to break monsters up into even smaller pieces. I wanted players to be able to fillet the fish-type monsters, for instance. (laughs)
Sawamura: Someone also suggested being able to chop Dragon’s tails into different pieces, stuff like that. That would have been cool, but there were a lot of problems with the idea and we ended up being unable to implement it.
—The movies in VP2 have very beautiful lighting.
Hayashitani: Yes. The physics and the lighting were definitely the two things we worked the most on. Something players have probably noticed about the lighting is that it’s not really “natural” lighting. For both map and event scenes, rather than using a direct lighting source like the sun, we created somewhat artificial light sources. In outdoor scenes as well, we crafted light sources and lighting angles that weren’t exactly natural.
That wasn’t the most difficult part for us though. The graphic designers and the game designers, you see, had diametrically opposing ideas about how things should look. We on the movie team were stuck in the middle a lot… “What am I supposed to do…?!”
Suguro: In terms of lighting, in the beginning of the development, the shading was rather subtle and looked too uniform. This prompted art director Sawamura to say that the backgrounds looked bad, but apparently there was nothing more that could be done about that because of hardware limitations. As it turned out, however, that wasn’t quite true: the lighting was very powerful and we hadn’t exhausted that avenue yet, so we spent the last three months of the development re-working everything. However, changing the backgrounds sometimes resulted in polygon clipping for the characters, and adjusting all that caused a big tug-of-war with the designers.
Hayashitani: There was a period during the development when we were using very stereotypical, cliche lighting, but it didn’t create the unique atmosphere that we felt befitted the Valkyrie Profile series. I mean, you had these deep, solemn backgrounds, and the characters are standing there all glossy and illuminated. It looked weird, so we re-worked it… that was very hard.
Suguro: In general the idea was to make sure the characters looked good, so we used a technique involving reflectors to light them. Unfortunately, this causes the overall background to look like it’s glowing, and destroys the shading and shadows. So over the character designers objections, we ended up revising the lighting to minimize that effect.
Hayashitani: When you think of Valkyrie Profile, you imagine lots of darkness and atmosphere, I think. That has to be there. Even if you’re standing directly under a light source, there should be a sense of darkness somewhere in the scene. That’s the kind of lighting we strove for. I just hope the work we put into that comes through for players.
—The city streets are beautifully depicted too. Was there any specific cities that you modeled them after…?
Sawamura: I think we had certain real-life imagery in the back of our minds, but there wasn’t a specific city we tried to evoke, no.
—The optional dungeon Seraphic Gate really surprised me this time.
Suguro: For the Seraphic Gate, rather than having normal events, we thought it would be more fun to include parody-style scenes. After the first “joke event” got a good reception, we just went all-in. The dog thing, for instance… at first it was just the Dog Odin and Dog Freya, but then it was like… “we’ve come this far, we might as well make them all dogs!” I guess we got carried away because it turned into this whole thing with a story and everything. (laughs)
—The event scenes, for me, seemed to be where we got a true glimpse into the hearts of the developers. I guess this team likes their women thicc…
Suguro: I actually wanted to make them a little slimmer.
Sawamura: If you make the characters too thin, they don’t look very good on-screen, but actually, they were even plumper in the beginning of the development. The illustrations that were handed to us were more voluptuous, and we faithfully modeled those in 3D, but after looking at them for so long we all just got used to it this way. (laughs)
Suguro: When they were more thicc, I remember someone came over to my desk while I was playing and said, “Aren’t those legs kind of fat?” (laughs) We were already used to it, but people complained so much about it, we realized at this rate, if the game gets released this way the characters’ thighs are all people will talk about, so we made them a little slimmer. Even then, people still remark on them. (laughs)
Hayashitani: The scene people always say “thicc!” to is the one at Audoula Temple where Alicia is dipping her bare legs into the water.
—Did you model her bare legs explicitly for that scene, then?
Hayashitani: Actually, that scene didn’t appear in the original story. We decided to add it on our own. When I saw the map I thought, “oh, this would be a nice place to wash your feet”, and so I asked someone to make it. (laughs)
Sawamura: We re-did that model of Alicia three times!
—What are some of your favorite scenes, by the way?
Sawamura: In terms of the main storyline, I want players to watch the epilogue closely. A number of things are brought together there.
Hayashitani: I like the scene where Alicia and Silmeria are talking with Leone on a moonlit night. At 5 minutes it’s a bit long, but check out the intimate, soulful lighting and camerawork.
Suguro: I like the part in the ending with the three male characters. It has a nice melancholy feel.
—Yamagishi, how about you?
Yamagishi: Sorry, it’s the scene with Alicia splashing her legs in the water.
Kojima: Nothing else can compare. (laughs)
Kitao: I think that post-credits scene is very nice.
Nishida: I’m not sure I have a particular favorite. The scene with the dogs is memorable to me, but since I spent most of my time staring at Excel spreadsheets throughout the development, when I see a character I’m more inclined to think about their stats than the scenes they were in.
Kojima: Well, my true heart also lies with that scene of Alicia splashing water, but the runner-up would be the opening. I simply think Alicia looks stunning in that robe. (laughs) She looks so cute walking around in that robe in the beginning there. I would have loved to be able to play the game with that outfit.
—Who are your favorite characters?
Kojima: Freya. Or rather, her butt.
Yamagishi: Your whole party was nothing but characters with nice asses.
Kojima: That goes without saying. (laughs) I like Lenneth too. I like that they were able to make her feel the same way she did in the previous game. And no matter how hard Lezard pursues her, she always has choice words for him.
Nishida: If we’re including the characters from the Seraphic Gate, then my favorite is Dirna.
Kitao: I like Lenneth, no surprise there. This isn’t related to VP2 per se, but I like her humanity, and the idea that even a god could fall in love. I like how at first glance she doesn’t seem that way, but at her core there’s something very human about her.
Yamagishi: I like the Valkyrie (when Silmeria, Lenneth, and Hrist are fused at the end). I love her striking golden eyes, and I think of all the characters in VP2, she has the most presence. That look of ultimate strength on her face after she’s fused, it’s so badass.
Suguro: Of the main characters, I like Rufus. He’s got a slightly rebellious side but I think he has the most personality. I also think the voice actor’s performance and voice really fit the character. However… if we’re talking about who stole my heart… that would have to be Dog Lezard. (laughs)
Hayashitani: Like Suguro, it’s Rufus for me too. When I first read the script on its own, I thought of him as simply one of those typical cool, rebellious “older brother” types. But he’s actually not like that. When he’s cornered or in a pinch he kind of panics and pops off, and he’s easily excitable when things are going even a little bit well. I realized he’s the type of character who only understands things in the moment, and then feels regret or sadness after-the-fact. I thought that was very cute, and I’d like to put Rufus more center-stage next time.
—He’s a very human character.
Hayashitani: The most human, I think. In exchange, it’s almost as if we neglected the other characters, and if that’s the case I’m sorry. Other than Rufus, in terms of the camerwork we of course tried to shoot Alicia as beautifully as possible, so I have a lot of attachment to her too. Being the heroine we wanted to make her as charming and appealing as possible. I knew if we messed up there, even a little, she’d come off as clumsy and silly. (laughs) I also love how beautiful the fusion Valkyrie is. I really wanted to make sure that the camera in those scenes were flattering to her, so she’s another one I like. I wanted the most beautiful angles, the most flattering views of her face.
Sawamura: I like all the dogs. Even though they’re just us having fun as designers, messing around, they make me happy when I see them, you know? (laughs)
—Finally, do you have any favorite Einherjars?
Yamagishi: Not really. I always put the same ones in my party anyway. (laughs)
Sawamura: I guess I’ll say… Fraudir.
Kitao: The girl with the nice ass?
Kitao: But there are ones with even more going on there.
Sawamura: Yeah, but she’s the one we did the infamous “butt retakes” on. They just didn’t look that good at first, so I had them to re-do it. (laughs)
Nishida: The animator put his heart into that work too. This character’s butt will bewitch you, he said. (laughs)
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This character only appears in the final movie if you satisfy certain conditions.↩