We talk to the creative force behind one of 2015's biggest and best games.
Gamereactor had the chance to talk with senior director and chief creative officer Tetsuya Takahashi ahead of the upcoming release of Xenoblade Chronicles X on Wii U. Here's what the man from Monolith Soft. had to tell us:
Xenoblade Chronicles X is probably the most anticipated Wii U game of 2015 for many Nintendo fans. How do you feel about this level of anticipation for your new game made in the style you're known for? And how did you take advantage of the console's hardware?
I'm extremely glad that there is so much anticipation for the game, and I think this is largely thanks to the success of Xenoblade Chronicles. For Xenoblade Chronicles X, we've gone in a rather different direction, so I am very interested to see what the reaction of audiences in Europe and America will be. It's the Wii U GamePad that really sets the Wii U apart in terms of hardware, and in Xenoblade Chronicles X we make good use of it to show the game's map and the segments it's divided into - these segments help as you explore and survey the strange planet Mira. They make it easy to see at a glance what the objective of a particular segment is, and how much you've surveyed the area, by showing for example whether you've done anything in a particular segment or not. They can also be used to warp you to a segment by
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The game has been a success in Japan for several months now. Can European users expect any new features or content, or changes based on user feedback?
The core parts of the game are the same as the Japanese version, but there have been some small adjustments to character statistics, the experience points you gain, and the inventory sorting feature.
The game has already enjoyed success, but do you think there are any aspects of the game that could be further improved in the future?
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We are always interested to hear players' feedback. This is something that we are lucky to be able to do in our industry due to the large volume of fans out there who express their opinions. When developing games, we always want to create the best game possible, and there are always changes we can make or tweaks here and there. As you know, creating high-definition character models is a very complicated process, but in simple terms there are two major factors when creating good character models: creating high-quality assets, and the implementation of those assets by a team of skilled staff. If one or both of those requirements aren't fully satisfied, the ideal result cannot be realised. We are a very small studio, which is sometimes good but also sometimes restrictive in terms of manpower and resources, so we can't always achieve everything we would wish for. We certainly listen to what people say about our games: we always try to improve them and will continue to improve in the future.
Here there's a custom avatar instead of a preset character (as with Shulk in Xenoblade Chronicles). How did this change the scriptwriting and narrative processes? And how did you make sure the main character and supporting cast had lots of personality?
In RPG development, the sections that cost the most are the cut scenes and events in the main story. Since this is Monolith Soft's first high-definition open world title, we decided to focus less on these and instead shift our resources into improving the quality of the gameplay - which is most important - especially the "hack and slash" combat. This is the reason that we decided to make the player's character an avatar without a real personality. In exchange, we focused on designing lots of quests, and added a lot of supporting characters related to these. Many people in the development team were involved with these supporting characters, and I think we have been able to give them all strong, distinct personalities.
Multiplayer missions and event systems in Xenoblade Chronicles X share similarities to modern MMORPGs. How did the recent increase in MMO popularity affect Xenoblade Chronicles X's design and development? And were you inspired by other countries outside Japan?
This is the first time we've included multiplayer in a Monolith Soft game. As such, we were a little new to this and cautious, so we used a proven system in this case. In that sense, if you compare it to certain multiplayer games, you'll find there are some differences. However, I think that we've managed to implement a good system overall, considering this is our first time. I'm finding sources of inspiration all the time, but I try not to let these overly influence me. It's too easy to see various features and want to include them all in your game, but if you try to do too much, it can end up damaging the project and then it's all for nothing. We were careful while creating Xenoblade Chronicles X that we didn't try to do more than we could manage, which could then have a detrimental effect on the game.
In Xenoblade Chronicles players could grind for experience points and level up without too much difficulty. This made the game accessible to a lot of players. How is Xenoblade Chronicles X accessible to less experienced players?
In Xenoblade Chronicles X it isn't too hard to play through just the main story. However, if you want to master the hack & slash combat, then it's a bit harder as you need to decide which Arts to take into battle and how to develop your character's skills. The battles are also in real time, so you'll need to be able to react quickly. Still, we balanced the game so you can pick these skills up naturally as you go along. The more you play, the more new discoveries you'll make and new play styles you'll find.
After two big releases and the New Nintendo 3DS remake, Xenoblade has become a major Nintendo franchise. Where would you like to take the series next, and are there already plans to move it forward?
While Xenoblade Chronicles was a true story-driven JRPG, we took a rather different approach with Xenoblade Chronicles X. You could say it doesn't really feel like a typical JRPG: what really sets it apart from other JRPGs is that the game world - the planet Mira - is really vast. I've heard that some Japanese users who played Xenoblade Chronicles X said they enjoyed a more story-driven type of game. So if we have the opportunity to make another game in the series, I'd like to made another typical JRPG-style game like Xenoblade Chronicles again.
Xenoblade has had a big impact on the market in Japan, and there is also expectation building in Europe. Which game elements do you think are responsible for the global appeal of this game, and for the appeal of the Xenoblade series as a whole?
I imagine a large part of the appeal is in this being the first open-world RPG from Japan. I also think it's really meaningful that this is a middle tier title, rather than a AAA title. The Xenoblade series has always had a different genre for each game, with the previous game being fantasy, and now turning to science fiction. I hope we will be able to continue the series like this, exploring lots of different settings, rather than being confined to a specific genre.
Considering the connection between Monolith and Nintendo, how would you like that relationship to continue?
This is just my personal view, but I think that Monolith Soft should continue making the kind of games that can't be made within Nintendo. As you know, before we were Monolith Soft we worked at Square Enix, so Xenoblade Chronicles is the result of those Square Enix influences combining with influences from Nintendo. Just as human civilisation has developed through the intermingling of different peoples and cultures, I hope that Monolith Soft can continue to develop further through having various opportunities to work with Nintendo.
We enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles X when we played it, so much so that we gave it a glowing review. Head this way to find out why we think it's one of the best games of the year.