Interview: Star Ocean Anamnesis

by Heidi Kemps,

Star Ocean was a storied RPG franchise that lay dormant for quite some time until 2016's Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Last week saw the release of the series' new mobile game incarnation, Star Ocean Anamnesis, and Square-Enix was out in full force at Anime Expo promoting the new games. We were given the opportunity to speak with two figures behind Star Ocean's reemergence as an RPG force, legendary character designer Akira Yasuda (aka AKIMAN) and producer Kai Takaaki.

ANN: How did you wind up working together on another Star Ocean game — this time on mobile?

Kai Takaaki: After Star Ocean 5, I was really impressed with the character designs and deep knowledge that Yasuda-san has about Star Ocean. That lead into him asking Yasuda-san to join Star Ocean and Anamnesis also, and kind of use those wonderful illustrations for this game as well.

Yasuda-san, you did the designs for Integrity and Faithlessness. Of those, which would you say is your favorite?

AKIMAN: Fiore. She has a distinctive design on her chest area.

Many of the mobile games that are built around popular console RPG franchises use the “summon heroes from other games” formula. What do you think about this game makes it different from other stuff on the market?

Kai: Star Ocean Anamnesis does use past characters from the console series, but their attacks, abilities, and stats have been adjusted to suit a mobile game. Also, in the original games, if the character was a fighter or an attacker, for example, in Anamnesis, that character might be slightly adjusted given a different role instead, such as a defender, to fit that character's personality.

That leads me to my next question about the combat. The Star Ocean series is very action-driven during battles. How are you approaching porting that over to mobile?

Kai: Star Ocean is definitely a very action-packed, combat-centered title. We really wanted to be able to translate that into the mobile app as well, using the touch panel controls. So, we worked with Tri-Ace, the developers of the original battle system, and they would go back and forth between mobile and console to fine-tune things. They would build and scrap, build and scrap, repeating that process until we got to that perfect balance, so that the play would be really smooth and easy on the mobile touch screen as well.

Yasuda-san, you had to go back and illustrate a bunch of characters from the previous games. How did you approach that?

AKIMAN: Yes. I did illustrate, for example, the key visual that you see when you boot the game, with Eve and Koro summoning those characters. Although I wasn't the designer for the previous titles' characters, when I was making this illustration, I wanted to make sure they all fit together in the same world. In order to do so, I made them all a little bit “cute,” a little bit not as serious, so that they all kind of fit together. I also wanted to emphasize each character's personality that I could see from the way that they looked. As I was explaining—you can see that Fate is protecting this other character, yes. Then another character might look very handsome and cool. I was looking at each of these characters and making sure that you kind of got those personality traits. Furthermore, I wanted to make sure that although they may not be looking at each other or directly interacting with each other, they still had some sort of interaction regardless—not necessarily directly.

Also, in Star Ocean Anamnesis, a lot of illustrators are involved in this project. I'm not the only illustrator, but I was able to do the key visuals.

Would you say that it's important to your approach to illustrating that even if you're doing something like this, where it's a big cast of characters and they're being summoned all at once, that it's important that it doesn't look like a bunch of key art stacked together? A lot of promotional art ends up looking like that, but this looks very organic and real.

AKIMAN: When I was asked to create this key visual with the ten different characters, in addition to Eve and Koro, I wanted to make sure that I would make the fans of the previous titles happy. I'm kind of in the same role as Evelysse [One of Anamnesis's main characters – ed] right now, in the fact that we're kind of outsiders, because everybody else was already kind of established in the previous titles. We're coming in as new—well, rather new, I should say. So I really wanted to make sure that I was doing justice to the characters.

So you're a really busy guy, but you still put out doujinshi. I was wondering what about the doujinshi world still appeals to you, at this stage in your career?

AKIMAN: No, I'm not that busy. Yes, I did do doujinshi. It's fun because it's kind of like a mass participation event, not just pure consuming. In that respect it's good. One main motivating factor was the thought that “if this illustrator can do this, maybe I can do it better.” And you can make more money, sometimes. Also, if a character had a really sad fate in their real story, by creating a new storyline in the doujinshi, I could save them from that fate.

That's perfect, that's great. Shifting back to Star Ocean Anamnesis: the game has really high-quality 3D graphics. It looks great. How much of a focus was that for you, and was that an intentional “we've got to stand out because it's a really crowded market right now?”

AKIMAN: Yes, you're right that there was a lot of thought put into that. We were working with Tri-Ace, as mentioned before, and they have the Asuka Engine, which is what they use to create those kind of graphics. That was what they used also for the console game as well. We wanted to make sure that they could translate that over to the mobile game graphics. We did use a lot of effort as well as financial resources in creating those 3D graphics and making sure that they're up to snuff for the console game too.

This is a little off topic, but I had to ask. Yasuda-san, you were involved in Turn A Gundam and Overman King Gainer. I was wondering what that was like, and if you have any stories about working with Yoshiyuki Tomino?

AKIMAN: I initially approached Tomino-san thinking that he was a god.

He did teach me many different things, especially regarding how you approach creating something. Also, kind of as a joke, “if somebody encroaches on your territory, beat them aside.”

I went freelance after several years at a game developer. So after that, Tomino-san really taught me that the most important thing is to take care of yourself financially. Although creating the best thing possible is very, very important, it's also important to take care of your own needs as well. In my mind, the words that really resonated was the phrase “hin tsureba don suru.” It means that if you're poor, if you don't have any resources, then you're not really going to be able to do anything. So that really struck a chord with me.

Okay, last question. Where do you see the Star Ocean franchise going from here? This is a big release, but I would imagine you have a lot of fans asking you “when's the next console game? When's the next big console Star Ocean?”

Kai: Well, if there were plans for a next console game, you probably would've heard about it already. It's kind of just like “well, not yet.” However, that said, in Japan, Star Ocean Anamnesis is very popular, the fans have really received it well, and it has reached six million downloads in the one and a half years that it's been out – while still growing. So I really hope that the English version will also enjoy that same popularity as well, and grow Star Ocean's popularity worldwide as well. And from there… we'll see what happens next!

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