Interview: The Staff of Fate/Grand Order

by Gabriella Ekens,

Fate/Grand Order is one of the most popular – and profitable – mobile games in Japan. Based on Type-Moon's bestselling Fate franchise, this smartphone RPG puts you in the role of a master who must travel back in time to win seven historical grail wars. Since it was recently released in English and advertised heavily at this year's Anime Expo, we took the opportunity to interview some of the folks behind this growing phenomenon. Aniplex president Atsuhiro Iwakami, Creative Director of Delightworks Yōsuke Shiokawa, and Saber's voice actress Ayako Kawasumi discuss the process of developing the game and their expectations for the Fate franchise abroad.

ANN: So why make Fate into a mobile game?

Iwakami: It started off with Aniplex working with Type-Moon to bring Fate to anime form with Fate/Zero and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. And not just the Fate series. In 2007, we did The Garden of Sinners movies. After we were done with Fate/Zero, we were talking with Takeshi Takeuchi of Type-Moon about a new way to develop Fate, and a smartphone game was one of the ideas that we came up with. So Type-Moon started working on Fate/Grand Order as one of the official numbered titles in the Fate series.

Can you give us some more information on Delightworks, the company that developed Fate/Grand Order?

Shiokawa: Fate/Grand Order would be the first title with our name attached, but we've been in existence since before then, our titles just haven't been put out to the North American market. We are also working on the Fate/Grand Order VR game.

I've read that F/GO tops the charts in Japan. While planning for it, did you expect it to be that much of a hit?

Iwakami: I believe that its current success does exceed our initial expectations. Our first priority was to make a game that would appease existing Fate fans and make them happy, but we now see that Fate/Grand Order also functions as a gateway to let new people into the Fate universe. So it has been a very good title for us.

What prompted the decision to bring FGO over to English-speaking countries?

Iwakami: Fate/Grand Order's Japanese team always wanted to put out an English release, but the primary motive came last year at Anime Expo 2016, when we saw so many Americans cosplaying Fate/Grand Order characters. So we realized that we needed to hurry up and get going on the English release. We targeted Anime Expo 2017 for our release date, and I'm sure that was a lot of work for Delightworks, but they persevered and we made it on time.

To your knowledge, has the Fate series overall become more popular in English-speaking countries in recent years?

Iwakami: That's something that I'd like to ask you, actually. I'm wondering if Fate is still supported by core fans of Japanese anime and video games in the west, and if the smartphone game can serve as a gateway to help players get to know the Fate characters and the Fate universe? I'd be very happy to know about that.

Oh, absolutely. I'd say that Fate has been a pillar of otaku culture in the United States since it came out in the mid-2000s. It became a lot more mainstream following the Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works anime, and it's only become more prominent since Fate/Grand Order came out. I saw a lot of English-speakers playing it in Japanese, and I even played it in Japanese for a little while before I could play it in English. I'd say that Fate has only become more prominent as titles became accessible in English. The biggest hindrance to its popularity over here has been accessibility. The original visual novel is still unavailable in English. As more comes out, it only gets more popular, so it's great that we got Fate/Grand Order. I do see a serious hunger for more Fate among anime fans.

Iwakami: Do you like Fate yourself?

Oh, yes. I've played a bunch of the games and enjoy the anime.

So what are your expectations of Fate/Grand Order's performance in English?

Iwakami: To be honest, it's not really the sales from the game that matter so much as the expansion of the Fate fanbase. That's what we really want to see.

Shiokawa: For Fate/Grand Order, there are plenty of fans in Japan who would love to spend plenty of money to win the characters that they want, but the game itself is clearable without spending any money. So it's something that you can still enjoy for free.

Fate/Grand Order has a very elaborate story. Was the story written to accommodate the planned gameplay, or vice versa, with the gameplay designed around the scenario?

Iwakami: Fate/Grand Order itself was released as a mobile title, but that platform wasn't what we had in mind when we were developing it. We wanted to have a great general game experience as our first priority.

Shiokawa: At the core of this experience would be the story and the characters written by Kinoko Nasu at Type-Moon, so the game was designed around what had been written.

So who comes up with the concepts behind new servants? Is it all Nasu? How do you find artists, and how much freedom do they have in coming up with ideas and visuals for a servant?

Shiokawa: The main concepts come from the writers at Type-Moon. Other characters such as the evens-specific ones can be pitched at production meetings, which we often have. As for the visual designs, those are the responsibility of Mr. Takeuchi at Type-Moon.

Ms. Kawasumi has a long history with the character of Saber. Do you have any thoughts on what makes Saber so iconic for the Fate franchise? After all, she's so beloved that they've created half a dozen different versions of her.

Kawasumi: You're right, even before Fate/Grand Order, there were at least three or four different versions of Saber, starting with Saber in Fate/stay night, and then in subsequent games there were other versions such as Saber Lily. I think that all the writers at Type-Moon starting with Mr. Nasu have their own ideas about how to characterize Saber, and all of these multiple versions contribute to the expanded idea of her character.

How do you personally approach voicing all these different versions of Saber? Do you voice each of them in a different way?

Kawasumi: I think that my grand premise is that there is one Saber, which always refers back to Saber from Fate/stay night. You can add different elements to that, such as the Saber who discovers the joy of good food, or the Alter Saber who discovers junk food, but they all go back to the original Arturia Pendragon.

As someone who's been with the franchise since the beginning, are you surprised by how popular Fate has gotten?

Kawasumi: I feel that way exactly. I knew that the original Fate/stay night had always been loved as a visual novel. I think that I have been lucky in that Fate has always been loved by fans, because there has been a constant stream of Fate titles that they can access. And I think that it's been a good self-feeding loop, where accessibility increases popularity, and popularity guarantees that there will be more titles available to fans.

Are there any challenges unique to voicing a mobile game?

Kawasumi: Saber might just be one character, but within the context of gameplay – meaning summoning – she can appear as different versions of herself, and these might be performed slightly differently. So Lily sounds cuter, for example. Some of the individual characteristics of each version of Saber are also more exaggerated in performing for Fate/Grand Order.

How do you think that people in the United States will react to the Revolutionary War level? There are some colorful reimaginings of historical figures in it.

Shiokawa: Are you referring to Chapter 5?

I believe so. “E Pluribus Unum?”

Shiokawa: Well, the intent is not to rewrite history, but to come up with something within the realm of fiction. In the Japanese version, warlords such as Oda Nobunaga or Okita Souji are re-sexed as female and players are enjoying that. So I think that Americans might enjoy this too.

My favorite is your version of Thomas Edison. Can you tell us a little bit about the translation process? What does it take to translate a game with so much text? How long did it take?

Iwakami: The game itself is developed by Delightworks, but the translation is handled by Aniplex of America. Aniplex has had experience localizing anime and other visual works, but when it comes to video games, there is so much text that it's been taxing on the staff. However, they persevered.

Shiokawa: I know that there is some room for improvement in the translation, but since this is a mobile game, it can be an ongoing endeavor.

So you're planning to improve the translation over time?

Iwakami: Yes.

For our final question, how will you handle events and releases that have already occurred in Japan? Will you copy the Japanese schedule or create modified events for English-speakers?

Shiokawa: The basic idea is that we want English-speaking fans to have the same experience that Japanese fans had, so the order of events would try to follow the Japanese versions. Following this, we won't be able to do things in the exact same order, so the schedule may be modified.

Do you have a timetable for when upcoming chapters or servants may be released?

Shiokawa: Please look forward to future information.

Thanks to Anime Expo and Aniplex for this opportunity.

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