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Interview: Record of Grancrest War Creator Ryo Mizuno and producer Yurika Tsukita

by Rebecca Silverman,

Ryo Mizuno's career has been pretty spectacular – both a novelist and a game designer, Mizuno made his mark after creating a legend with the blockbuster fantasy novel series Record of Lodoss War back in 1988 (which was then adapted into the classic OVA series), along with the popular Sword World RPG system. He followed that up with more fantasy classics like Rune Soldier Louie, but his latest is Record of Grancrest War, another massive fantasy light novel and RPG experience that was adapted into an anime series earlier this year, and it turns out that's not all – BANDAI NAMCO and producer Yurika Tuskita are launching Record of Grancrest War: Quartet Conflict, a brand-new mobile experience with a major presence on the show floor at this year's Anime NYC convention. We had the chance to ask Mr. Mizuno some questions about his long and legendary career, accompanied by Ms. Tsukita.

Author and Game Designer Ryo Mizuno:

Can you explain the effect Role-Playing Games have had on you? Did you begin playing them before or after you started writing? Do you see them as a template for storytelling in prose?

I played RPGs before I became a professional. Actually, me playing RPGs was the reason why I was able to write that introduction and make my debut in this industry.

My fantasies are basically set in game-style worlds, so in that sense I define them as "game fantasies."

What do you see as the essential differences between a tabletop RPG and a digital one? Do you think something is lost when the transition is made, or are the two comparable?

Tabletop RPGs and so-called digital role-playing games differed more in the past, and that was with their degree of freedom. In the beginning, computer RPGs were generally made up of repetitive scenarios and battles programmed by designers or companies, and pre-determined adventures took place in limited areas of the map. When online RPGs came out, we saw a rise in the degree of freedom, coming closer to that of tabletop games.

Also, players gained the ability to communicate with each other. The company providing the game service provides the game master role. The actual gameplay, however, was left to the players themselves. Even so, I think a great trait of computer games is that you can still unravel detailed old-school, painstakingly written scenarios, and I think there are still games that feature those. I think they have come closer to tabletop RPGs in some respects, but have diverged in some ways, which is good. It's fun to gather friends around to play a tabletop RPG for hours on end, and of course, it's also fun to meet people at a convention for the first time and have a session, but I think the fun that players have when they get together and converse is the greatest appeal of tabletop RPGs, and that's something you can't enjoy with online sessions.

Most of your works are fantasy rather than science fiction or some other genre. What draws you to fantasy in particular, and why more Western-style fantasy?

For the record, I've done science fiction stories too. *laughs* In particular, I did Galaxy Angel and Starship Operators. I also feel that Record of Grancrest War's setting is pretty science fiction-y in its own right. I don't know if people are really seeking out fantasy stories or if they're just what happened to sell, so I couldn't tell you why it is that most of my best-known projects overseas are fantasy. Speaking personally, I love both fantasy and science fiction. I even think that, at least in terms of taking place in fictional worlds, they have a lot in common. Of course, fantasy has its own unique worldview, as does science fiction, and there are definite differences in how each genre handles its worldbuilding and the general rules that govern them, but as fictional worlds, I really like them both.

Regarding what personally draws me to fantasy worlds, there are a number of Western fantasy works that really captured my imagination back in the day. These worlds full of monsters and swords and magic really spoke to me, and some of the first RPGs I really played were games like D&D and Wizardry. After being exposed to such things so much over time, they naturally came to influence me as a creator and I eventually became comfortable operating within those sorts of worlds. Personally, I started to really feel at home with fantasy back when I was in college.

Are there any fantasy authors who you feel are influences on you? Who are they? What is it about their writing that speaks to you?

Michael Moorcock, Patricia McKillip, and J.R.R. Tolkien, among others. I've read a number of Western books, such as "Tales from Earthsea." They all have their good parts and they've all influenced me in different ways. For games, like I've mentioned before, I've also been inspired by D&D, RuneQuest, and, naturally, computer games like Wizardry.

Record of Lodoss War, Legend of Crystania, and Rune Soldier Louie are all set in the same world, but are fairly different stories. Were you trying to show different aspects of that one world, like the lighter-hearted side in the Louie stories?

The world may be the same, but the location, the characters, even the tone are all different. I wrote "Record of Lodoss War" and "Rune Soldier" with such light tones in part because that was the popular style of fantasy at the time. You could also say that they turned out that way because the characters were so well suited to those kinds of stories.

You wrote Record of Grancrest War as both an RPG and a novel series. What differentiates one process from the other? Do you go about the world-building in the same way, or are there certain things you consider differently between the two formats?

I do think the output is different for different mediums. I try to handle both in a way appropriate for each medium and those differences are certainly on my mind when I'm thinking about the setting and story. "Record of Grancrest War" was originally made with the sensibilities of a game in mind, so I don't think there's any discrepancy between the game and the novel. In terms of themes and narrative essence, I feel that the two are basically the same.

Do you have a preference between writing for games and writing novels?

I hate both. *laughs* When you write for a living, there are parts that are hard and you just have to put up with them. Of course, there are also fun parts as well, like when I come up with a good idea, or think of a good line, or even when I'm in the zone and the words just flow. If I hit a roadblock, I'll escape into a game. Then once I start getting fed up with how mechanical the game is, I'll go back to writing. It's hard to focus on only one if I don't have both options available. I have a number of projects ongoing simultaneously. Of course, I have to buckle down and focus if I have a deadline bearing down, but in general, when that's not the case, I'll usually have two or more projects happening at once and switch between them to keep things from getting stale.

Many of your novels have been adapted into anime and manga series. Is there one format which you think better captures what you're trying to do with the novels?

There are a lot of people involved with any format, so no matter what, there will be parts of the adaptation I have to let other people handle as they see fit. It's always been my position to be as involved as possible in the aspects I can be involved with, but of course, that differs with every project. For "Record of Grancrest War," as the scenario supervisor, I was lucky enough to be deeply involved with the story. In the past, I've also been involved with game design (such as AI routines), or come up with much of a game's data. The long and short of it is that my approach changes for each project.

The original Record of Lodoss War novels have only recently been translated into English, the only official translation of one of your novel series to date. Are you excited? What do you hope English-speaking fans who have only previously experienced the series as anime and manga series get from the original works?

My impression is that light novels are usually centered around anime and comic translations. I'm very grateful that "Record of Lodoss War" was translated so well. I'm aware that a translation can't help but differ from the original work in some ways, but I do hope that Western fans reading it for the first time will be able to enjoy the deeper aspects of the story.

What class of character are you drawn to in a fantasy game? Why?

I like elves, certainly, but personally, dwarves are my favorite. They're often depicted differently across different works, but I found myself really drawn to the dwarves from the Hobbit movies. They're conscientious, fun-loving, stubborn, and love treasure to a fault, all of which are things you typically associate with dwarves. But they're also really cool and fun all-around and I just really enjoyed watching them.

How much input have you had on the Grancrest War mobile game? What was most important to you, when it came to the game adaptation?

I let that team handle that one entirely, so all I can say is that I enjoyed the finished product. *laughs* Having said that, I did convey some requests I had to them after I'd played it.

Do you play a lot of RPGs? In your opinion, what makes a great one?

I haven't had much time to play since I became a professional, but back when I was in school I used to play all the time. I'm a big fan of detailed battle systems. I remember RuneQuest and Simulation Production's DragonQuest in particular, though I also prefer D&D and Advanced D&D.

Producer Yurika Tsukita:

Were you fans of Mizuno-san's novels before working on this game?

Record of Lodoss War was announced before I was even born, so while I knew of it, I'd never had a chance before to actually get to know it. When it came time to adapt Record of Grancrest War into a game, I finally had the chance to learn what makes Mr. Mizuno's work so good and I definitely wanted to make sure the game was something that fans of both Grancrest and Lodoss could enjoy.

In your opinion, how important was it to capture the spirit of Mizuno-san's novels in this game? What steps did you take to try and make the game feel like Grancrest War?

I feel like the highly detailed characters are really the heart of this work. They all think and act in their own ways, just like real people, and they express themselves accordingly. So for the game, we're focused on highlighting each character's individuality and also paying special attention to their skills. We're also working on scenarios that delve deeper into the characters, which I hope players will enjoy as an opportunity to better get to know and like them.

What was most challenging about adapting Mizuno-san's story to a mobile RPG?

Probably the fact that there are just so many characters. *laughs* Like I said earlier, we're very focused on bringing out what makes each character special, so while the character creation definitely takes a lot of time and work, we're not skimping on it since it's crucial to the game. And since we can make characters who only showed up in the anime briefly playable, I think that "Record of Grancrest War" fans will really be able to immerse themselves in this world.

Our thanks to Ryo Mizuno, Yurika Tsukita and BANDAI NAMCO for this opportunity. You can find a whole universe of Record of Grancrest War: Quartet Conflict opportunities at the Bandai Namco Entertainment booth at Anime NYC this weekend.

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