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The Last Story Iwata Asks: AQ Edition

Find out what the game's developer has to say about Wii's upcoming epic.

 

As reported earlier, The Last Story's mystery developer has at long last been revealed to be AQ Interactive. For the latest in a long running series of Iwata Asks column surrounding the game, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata sat down with director Hironobu Sakaguchi and AQ Interactive's Takuya Matsumoto to discuss AQ's work.

Matsumoto (left), Sakaguchi (center) and Iwata (right).

The last time Matsumoto worked with Sakaguchi was seven-and-a-half years ago on Xbox 360's Blue Dragon. Matsumoto, then operating under Artoon (which was absorbed into AQ earlier this year), served as director on that title.

TOFU

The two ended up working together on The Last Story following some meetings at an izakaya restaurant in Tokyo's Daikanyama area (this is where Mistwalker is located). Sakaguchi was making a design document for the game at the time. He and Matsumoto would get together at the izakaya and discuss games.

It turned out that they both had some big regrets about Blue Dragon. Looking at player reactions to the Xbox 360 title, they felt that they'd perhaps been making the same style of game too much, taking things easy.

As they met for drinks, they discussed the new style of games of the time. They received particular shock from a video of a game which they saw at a video sharing site. They were both surprised upon seeing the completely new style of game shown in the video. Sakaguchi felt a regret that as someone who's supposed to surprise players, he himself was being surprised by something another person had made.

(For the record, they did not identify the game that caused this reaction, although it does seem to be one particular game.)

With this experience in mind, Sakaguchi and Matsumoto decided to do prototype work to determine the direction to take with The Last Story. This prototyping phase lasted for about a year and consisted of demos using blocky characters that they refer to as "Tofu."

As an example of how they used the tofu characters, Matsumoto detailed how they arrived at The Last Story's battle system. They felt that they needed a new battle system for the game, and felt that if they didn't change the basic rules they'd end up repeating the same mistakes. So, they created a prototype with three blue tofus representing the heroes and three red tofus representing the enemies. They gave the enemy leader glasses.

Using these blue and red tofus, they conducted a series of trial and error tests. In the prototype, when you turned your focus on the leader enemy, you'd be given the option of instructing your allies to kill him off first. This ability to give directions to your allies became a central element in the final battle system.

Also during their drinking meetings in Daikanyama, Sakaguchi and Matsumoto decided to put effort into collision work on the fields of play. They made it so that players can explore the reaches of fields of play which consist of complex land formations -- hiding in shadows, turning horizontally when trying to fit through spaces, entering doors after pushing them open with their hands. Because they were doing proper collision with complex land formations and objects, they were able to incorporate the land formations into the game -- making players climb over walls, for instance, or hide in spaces.

This collision work actually tied into the game's scenario work, as the story and land formations are intertwined. Work on the story side of The Last Story took place in three steps. First there was Sakaguchi's general outline. This was followed by the character exchanges that took place within the dungeons. These were worked on by Matsumoto. The final step brought in the details and voice acting.

In that second step, Matsumoto would take Sakaguchi's general outlines and come up with ways to incorporate the land formations into them in the form of events.

Some of the elements Matsumoto came up with ended up contributing to the actual character settings themselves. An example is Elza's habit of kicking doors in order to open them. Party members would make fun of him over this. Sakaguchi found this to be a nice element to the character and made it part of the character setting.

Elza is just waiting to kick down some doors.

GATHERING

All this prototype work lasted for about a year. During this time, Matsumoto feels the most difficult part surrounded the game's Gathering component. This system has main character Elza gather the attention of all enemies, something that can be used when you want to give your spell casters time to cast a spell without being struck by a foe. Thematically, the Gathering system comes from the game's keyword of "Chaos and Order," or "If you bring order to the battle field that is in chaos, you will win."

Actually making the gathering concept work in the battle system and become something advantageous to the player took quite a bit of trial and error. The big area of difficulty, said Sakaguchi, was that the strength of the Gathering command would have to change depending on the enemy and the current battle conditions.

The Gathering System makes enemies turn their attention to Elza.

Regarding the Gathering skill, Sakaguchi said that you will actually be able to kill off enemies even without using it. Also, although Gathering is an ability exclusively available to main character Elza, there are allies who have similar skills. To some extent, you'll be able to make enemies drawn in to some allies.

As suggested by this varied use of Gathering, the player is free to choose how they approach the battles. Sakaguchi feels that because of the ability to make such decisions, players will end up having their own play style.

The development staff certainly had their own play styles. The big dividing factor appears to be in the use of Guard. There were two types of players on the staff: those who would guard and use Gathering to get a grasp of the battle, and those who'd just jump right in and fight. Matsumoto was of the former type. Sakaguchi joked that Matsumoto is making the game's tutorial and put in a recommendation that players use Guard.

While the Gathering system made it all the way from the game's prototype phase into the final product, some systems weren't so lucky. During the prototype phase, the game had a "replay" system. Replay was meant to be a system where the previous few seconds of battle were automatically saved to memory, allowing you to review what happened. Using this, players would be able to pick up on things they might have missed due to the chaos of battle -- seeing, for instance, which enemy dealt you damage. Unfortunately, because rewinding lead to bad battle tempo, Sakaguchi begrudgingly stopped work on it.

The replay system gave birth to something that did go into the game, though. When you input commands during battle, the action freezes and you're given a birds eye view of the action. This is a remnant of the replay program.

Some systems were added in whole after the prototype phase. The biggest example of this, said Sakaguchi, is an action that lets you climb walls. The addition of this meant that they had to redo all the early dungeons they'd created, as they were incompatible with it.

Another major example of a system that was added after the prototype phase is the auto attack. This system makes your character automatically attack when you approach enemies as long as you have the stick pointed in their direction. Matsumoto feels that with the addition of this system, players are able to get a better grasp of the battle situation.

Auto attack is actually the "Normal" setting for battle. You can go into the options menu and switch to "Manual" if you like, though. This gives you direct button controls over your attacks. Balancing both types of attack options took quite a bit of time, Sakaguchi said. They wanted to make sure that switching to manual attacks didn't make the game a breeze. Tuning for this area lasted right through the end of development.

The dialogue between Iwata, Sakaguchi and Matsumoto will continue in future Iwata Asks columns.

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