It's very interesting that you allow characters to die forever, as long as they're not main characters. How did you make that decision?
RN: That was one of the first things that we decided that we would incorporate, and it was incorporated into the very first build -- which was just a simulation-like tactical RPG as well.
And we wanted it very realistic in that sense -- that if you lose a person in the war, that person is not going to come back. We also wanted the player to feel that they need to go and rescue their platoon members if they were in danger, and feel the loss of their members if they happen to lose one of them to the enemy.
It's very interesting because there is so much back story for these characters -- and also story moving forward. There is a lot of work put into the scenarios of each side character, like the girl who gets rejected by one of the main characters and then becomes an S&M queen. (laughter) I'm sorry that that's the example I took for my question. (laughter) There is a lot of thought put into it; who is doing the scenario design and how much time did all of that take?
RN: The main writer for the scenario and all the characters is the director Tanaka, and then we also have a team that works with him.
We really wanted to get that sense of urgency and also the realism of when someone in your team is hurt and lying there, do you want to go and help them or do you want to go on with your mission? Do you want to help them and risk your own life? Or do you just want to leave him there and go on?
In order for the player to feel that sense of urgency and identify with the gameplay we felt that it was necessary for each character to have their own unique personalities -- their own unique features, and that's why every one of our characters has a different setting, different personality, different strengths and weaknesses, as well as a very different visual design.
It was quite successful, at least anecdotally, because I have a friend who played through quite a lot of it, and there was a character that wouldn't listen to his commands sometimes and who was starting to annoy him more and more, so when he got killed, my friend just let him go and didn't care anymore. (laughter) But on the other hand there was a character who was really good at headshots and he used him all the time. His friend would watch him play and when that character got killed she cried. (laughter)
RN: That's exactly the type of emotional identification that we wanted it to be. I'm happy!
How did you go about creating these characters? Obviously in order to appeal to as many people as possible there have to be archetypes, so that they can be general enough to identify with, but also have enough specific personality traits, and elements, so that someone can latch on to this character versus that character. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about that and balancing that?
RN: For the main characters we spent a lot of time locking down the personalities. Just because it impacts the game story itself. For the sub-characters, these are all regular citizens that are brought into the army because of the war, so basically they can be anyone around you.
We're pretty adventurous in bringing different types of people through the sub-characters. Some of the characters therefore may be out of place for the tone of the story, but we wanted a lot of variety.
You have these individual characters, yet leveling up is the opposite of a traditional tactics RPG. In traditional games, each character levels up, and that's where part of their personality comes from, whereas in this game, unit types level up. So you give them more personal identity but also they have less functional identity, because they level up together.
RN: That's actually an area we had a lot of discussion on. Because we have about 50 sub characters -- and including the primary characters it all adds up to maybe 60 characters -- if we did it the way other RPGs would do, like you said, with level-ups per character, then players are going to have their favorite characters and not use any of the other characters, and we didn't want that.
We wanted the players to always be able to choose different varieties of characters for each of their missions. You can choose about ten characters per mission. And then in order for us to do that we thought it would be better and easier for the player to choose other characters if all the units leveled up at the same time.
This explains how the actual system itself is very harsh in Valkyria Chronicles, in the sense that if your character dies they're gone forever for that game. Each mission, it doesn't matter how many characters die or how many characters you kill on the enemy's side. It's only whether you win or lose the battle with the number of turns you take.
And all the characters, no matter how much effort you put into using one character or the other, the units with the same dimensions level up at the same time. So in terms of the system itself, it's very harsh. It doesn't take into consideration each of the character's personalities or weaknesses and strengths at all.
So that's another way for the team to present the player with this situation of which characters you choose. And in this situation, do you kill off all your characters because you still have so many more left to use, and dispose of?
Yeah, it's very interesting to make character choice based on personality instead of ability, to me.
RN: We wanted it to be emotional.