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CEDEC 09: Namco's  Tales  Studio Aims For Many Audiences
CEDEC 09: Namco's Tales Studio Aims For Many Audiences
September 3, 2009 | By Yoshi Sato

September 3, 2009 | By Yoshi Sato
More: Console/PC

At the CESA Developers Conference in Yokohama, Bandai Namco Games producer Yoshito Higuchi and Namco Tales Studio director Kenji Anabuki talked about the development of the Tales series and how it improves upon itself as an established brand.

"The series has a large group of [different] audiences and each have their preferences in regards to characters or battle systems," Higuchi said. "Among these, one of the important elements is the scenario." Basically characters are created for a specific target audience and each are also given specific roles in the story, such as the comic relief, or the smart one who explains items and battle systems and so on. The team also makes sure that none of them wander out-of-character.

However, there have been previous cases where the character played out differently between the story segments and battle section of the game. Anabuki cited an example with one of the female characters from Tales of Destiny II (not to be confused with the U.S. title of the same name) named Leara. "You meet her initially and she seems like a very soft and frail girl, but when she joins your party, she sounds more like a very active girl, "Anabuki said. "Learning from our mistakes, in later titles, when a character changes their mood or emotions as the story progresses, we would record voices for the battle section with the same mood or emotion. In the case of Tales of the Abyss, the main character Luke starts out as this rough young guy, and later his character would develop into a more mature one. As the story progressed, we made sure that this would also be reflected in the battle section."

As for the battle system, Anabuki said, "We were always conscious about having the players feel that the game is easy to control, but at the same time have depth. We are also quite particular about keeping the game at 60 frames per second, like some action games, and we've even made some sacrifices in other aspects like reducing the polygon count for the character models to 1500-2500 polygons in the case of Tales of the Abyss."

Although the series incorporates 2D or 3D battle systems depending on the title, Anabuki says that "if the battle system was liked by the audience, we would incorporate it in the next title. One example would be the 3D free-run system in Tales of the Abyss, which can be seen in later titles such as Tales of Vesperia. Another would be Tales of Destiny's chain capacity system, which can be seen in Tales of Hearts and the upcoming title Tales of Graces as well."

He added that the team is also aware of the weakness in their battle system and each title would include its own system such as fatal strike in Vesperia or chain capacity in Destiny to compensate for it. Higuchi also said, "Boss battles would be another case and we are still seeking a solution to this problem. Even though we've created a script for the boss, you would have four characters ganging up on the boss. So we still have many other things to look into and improve upon."

Higuchi also commented that the "most difficult thing is that the series has been around for many years and depending on the title, the audience may be attracted to certain titles more than others -- some may prefer 2D over 3D battle systems or vice versa, then of course, we also have those who really like the series as a whole. Trying to capture as many audiences as possible is what we believe the Tales series to be."

Anabuki added, "Being aware of the aspects that make the audience like the game is important. In the Tales series, we think that the characters and battles are those aspects. As developers and publishers work together and believe in creating a better product, I think that this also leads to enhancing the quality of the title as well."

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Christian Nutt
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There's actually a lot of good insight in this article, but I think that it's probably hard for people who aren't interested in the series or JRPGs more generally to wrap their heads around that -- at least in my experience, lots of Western devs (and more recently generally Western gamers) fit in that camp. I mean, it's just natural; if you're not interested in something you'll never really understand it or care about it.

Anyway, some bullet points:

- Large JRPG casts with characters that appeal to various different people in the audience. I think this is the one that's easiest to understand, because this is used all of the time in Hollywood, and also in Western RPGs (how many times do BioWare's side characters get talked up?) JRPG character parties tend to cover a *wide* range of characters (ages/genders/personalities.) Still, it's worth noting, considering that a lot of games focus on just promoting their protagonist, who may be as off-putting to one audience as s/he is appealing to another.

- Consistency between character in story/gameplay. I never really thought about this before, but it's actually a good concept. Characters that are capable of doing the kinds of things you expect them to do based on their personalities.

- Fan response. The Tales series is the #3 RPG series in Japan right now (Behind DQ and FF) because it's so fan responsive. Tales Studio really cater to their fanbase's tastes, in a variety of ways, so each game has elements that appeal to different people's interests. And they develop a lot different games in the series which might appeal more or less to different segments of the fanbase. It's an interesting concept. And they've tried to cater to the US audiences too, while staying true to their Japanese fans in the same game (Tales of Vesperia's lead character Yuri is the series' best yet.) That's kind of admirable; often people get fixated, I think, on catering to one subset of their fans (the vocal ones.)