Happy new year! To start off 2019, I’m translating the recent 4Gamer discussion between Mafia Kajita and Kinoko Nasu on FGO. The original interview can be found here. The original interview is very long (I’ve hit 8000 words already with just this half of the interview), so I’m splitting the posts into two. Part 2 can be found here. Minor spoilers for FGO ahead. Enjoy reading!
Major correction: On a previous version of this post, I had misread the name of FGO’s previous director, Akihito Shouji, as “Atsushi Kenji”. This has since been corrected, and older translations that used the wrong name will be corrected as well.
Mafia Kajita Cuts Deep Into FGO – Kinoko Nasu’s Ideal and
The Catharsis to be Found at the End.
Fate/Grand Order has reached its third year since launch. Since then, it has received the Game of the Year award from the Japan Game Awards 2018 and reached first place as the best-selling mobile game of 2018 worldwide. The game, developed by TYPE-MOON and Delight Works (DW), continues to stir conversation with each new chapter and update – a title that continues to lead the front of mobile gaming.
As proof of its popularity, the fandom becomes rife with discussion on various social media with each interview from the creators. Of course, 4Gamer has also had interviews with the main writer and supervisor, TYPE-MOON’s Kinoko Nasu, and the creative producer of the FGO Project, Yosuke Shiokawa, and had garnered much attention from those.
This time, we present to you a completely different interview between Mafia Kajita and Kinoko Nasu, offered by Mafia Kajita himself, the main MC of FGO’s official Chaldea Broadcast Station. He presents a bold and frank interview as an official MC, game writer, and player regarding the game’s development and the unwavering “ideal” brought about by Nasu’s writer spirit. We present to you the interview unabridged.
A Servant takes Half a Year of Work – The Job of the Main Writers
Mafia Kajita (henceforth Kajita): Thank you for accepting my offer to be interviewed today.
Kinoko Nasu (henceforth Nasu): No problem! In fact, I’m quite glad to be offered this chance. I’ve also been looking for an opportunity to talk as “TYPE-MOON’s Kinoko Nasu”.
Kajita: To be quite frank, when people talk about why FGO is such a hit, the appeal of the scenario is always talked about as a sidepiece in many places. So today, I’ll be asking more directly about FGO’s development situation and your personal thoughts on the game as a whole.
Nasu: Ah, I can’t let my guard down here, can I?
Kajita: Now, now, please don’t be so uptight! (laughs) Since we’re here, I want to sit down and talk frankly about this and that. But first, congratulations to FGO for getting first on the worldwide sales ranking!
Nasu: Thank you very much. It really makes me feel like “we did it!”, and I’m really happy about that.
Kajita: Oh, but that really is a huge thing, isn’t it? When you talk about the sales rankings for mobile games – this is a bit hard to express properly, but the top spot is always taken by games that are kind of different from otaku-targeted content; they’re games that cater more towards the general public. There’s a small sense of pride as an otaku for a Fate/ game that was supposed to be targeted towards a niche audience to steal that spot. It’s a pretty nice feeling.
Nasu: To tell you the truth, at the start, I was very worried about us – folks who have been marketing towards a niche audience all this time – making a mobile game, a field that’s always been targeted towards a more casual audience. If we were a frog inside a well, the frog would be fighting with a mentality that goes “I know how deep this well is. The bottom is so warm and comfy!” We thought that throwing away our strongest weapons to make a more understandable, more entertaining work would give it more value.
Kajita: From my perspective, FGO doesn’t have that much of a gap between it and the other TYPE-MOON titles. Rather than throwing away your weapons, I get the impression that you made them more accessible to a larger audience. In your opinion, what about FGO do you think was a huge success?
Nasu: Something I really liked was that, as a result of the Fate/ world’s concept of Heroic Spirits having such a strong foundation, we were able to borrow the help of many illustrators and artists in order to expand the world and setting, and people were able to accept that. Normally, having so many different art styles in a single game would ruin the immersion, but Fate/ has many heroes that lived in different eras. The setting itself provides the explanation for the variations in character design.
Kajita: That’s quite an interesting way to look at it. In the world of mobile games, it’s normal to have different artists be in charge of each character. I never thought to question that, but that was something that didn’t get past you, huh?
Nasu: I had thought that the biggest problem with mobile games is the discord that comes with having too many different character designs in a single game. Even though the players might get used to it to some degree, I can’t imagine there not being a feeling of those designs being out of place.
Kajita: So the setting itself covering for that feeling of being out of place was planned from the start?
Nasu: No, it’s a complete coincidence. I was very, very anxious about the characters looking out of place, but there ended up not being any once we actually got there. I think that the Fate/ setting really helped out there.
Other than that, Takeuchi, who’s already a character designer for Fate/, was a huge help in determining the direction of the overall character designs as the lead character designer.
Kajita: Come to think about it, the fact that so many different character designs can come together without looking out of place is proof of having a strong setting.
Alright then, from here I want to ask again about the roles and tasks you hold in FGO. Would that be alright?
Nasu: Of course. Here I want to answer one of the big questions that players hold: “What exactly does Kinoko Nasu do outside of supervision and editing?”
First of all, as one of the writers, I write the chapters assigned to me, the interludes and all the voice lines for the Servants I wrote up, and various events that I was assigned to write.
Next, my job as an editor and supervisor is to write the prologue and epilogue for each chapter, as well as the parts of each chapter that are central to the overarching plot. For example, in Part 1, I took charge of directing Roman’s, da Vinci’s, and Mash’s lines, as well as their important scenes. For Part 2, I’m writing the lines for Director Gordolf, child da Vinci, and Sion – the whole base team, basically.
Other than that, there’s also overseeing the writer’s finished scripts, editing and adjusting text as fitting. To give an example, for event scenarios I edit about 20%, for main scenarios about 30%. To go into more detail, from Lostbelt 2 onwards, I’ve only been editing about 10%, and just leave the rest to the writers’ strengths. I already shared with the writers the overall atmosphere for Part 2 by editing the Russia chapter, so I’ve decided that it would be much better to let the writers write the Lostbelt the way want to.
Finally, as director, I’m also in charge of making the overall schedule and suggesting the content of events, as well as edits and adjustments to various game data.
Kajita: That much?! That’s an unbelievable amount of work…
Nasu: It is. I think this is honestly the busiest I’ve been in my entire life. I’m handling the three different tasks of writer, supervisor, and director, though I’m still mainly a writer, so there isn’t really much of a change in that regard.
Still, adding things to scripts that have already been finished isn’t that huge of a task. As a supervisor and editor, my job is like ordering extra fried chicken and drinks for the group; it’s basically just adding a few extra things. Too many cooks trying to organize the four scenario writers’ work just spoils the broth, after all.
Kajita: Still, just looking at the total amount of work you have, it’s an insane workload. I’ve only heard rumors about this, but is it true that you also write the flavor text for Craft Essences (CE)?
Nasu: During the first year, I did do some edits there, but I started becoming so busy by Part 1.5 that I had no time to do that anymore. Other than a few bits of flavor text, I let DW handle that job.
The DW staff have also gotten used to writing for Fate/, so I get lovely pieces of writing that I can give the OK to immediately. It really makes my job easier.
Still, for the CEs that use popular Servants like Gilgamesh as a theme, or the bond CEs, those are given to the writer in charge of those Servants. We need to satisfy the gourmet tastes of old fans after all.
Kajita: Sometimes, you can find flavor text for CEs that you can just tell that it was written by someone who “gets” it. For a recent example, there’s that 3★ TEAM Phoenix CE. That one was…
Nasu: O-Oh, that one. Well that one was, well, I had a bit of time, so…
Kajita: I knew it! That one was really unfair! (laughs)
Nasu: I wrote that during the time I just finished writing the intro to the Scandinavia chapter. I felt like having a bit of fun with Gordolf and Meunière. (laughs) We were already putting in foreshadowing for future events back then, so I played around with the flavor text when I had the chance.
Kajita: Geez. I really tip my hat to you being able to sneak in small gags even though you’re already this busy.
Nasu: I write them up when my stamina and mental health let me when I do monthly checks.
Kajita: So among those checks, do you hold bond CEs and such to a higher standard?
Nasu: The bond CEs represent the Servant’s “peak period”, so to speak. I always request tell the writers this when I ask for a bond CE: “I’m only asking for 800 characters, but please put your all into this. These are the finishing touches after all.”
Bond 10 really takes a long amount of time, so I want the players to feel rewarded with the bond CE, and make them happy when they read the flavor text.
Kajita: That kind of passion is what I think makes the Fate/ Servants not just some throwaway characters, but special existences that you can love forever.
So I’d like to continue with the next question. I’ve heard that it takes about half a year to make just one Servant. Just how true is this?
Nasu: Yeah, it’s true that it takes half a year just to finish one.
Kajita: Oh? May I ask just what goes into the process of making a Servant?
Nasu: Well, first of all, it takes about one or two weeks for a writer to gather reference materials, read through all of them, and write a profile for the Servant, then it takes another month or two for the illustrators to pore through the profile and work on the character.
Once the designs are finished, the action is storyboarded, sent to DW, and it takes another four to five months to make the battle animations. The voice lines are recorded in parallel to all this, and the animations get finished. All in all, that’s about half a year.
Kajita: So, doesn’t that mean it’s a bloodbath every time there’s an event that releases multiple Servants all at once?
Nasu: It definitely does. (laughs) For example, this year’s summer event featured 7 new Servants and 3 new costumes, so an event of this scale required us to finish up all the profiles by December last year and finish requesting illustrations off the artists. The illustrations were done around January or February, then the battle animations had to be made up until August.
Kajita: Wow. Everyone says that FGO’s pace for introducing new characters is pretty slow, but hearing that makes me think that, wow, it’s actually amazing that you can pump out Servants at that pace.
Nasu: When FGO had just launched, I especially requested the main writers (Yuuichirou) Higashide and (Hikaru) Sakurai to tone down the work they’re doing from 10 to 3. If I don’t focus by that much, we wouldn’t be able to work as main writers.
We have to do checks every month, make the Servants we’re in charge of, write scenarios, perform script checks, oversee voice recordings and direct the voice acting… All of that is part of being a “main writer” of FGO. The three of us are doing this over the past three years with the mentality that we will no longer be able to do the work that we had been doing before.
Kajita: All three of you had been working in the front lines of the industry before, so I can tell just how big a thing that is. It’s a dream project that can only be realized because it’s Fate/.
Nasu: During the first year, in my head I was thinking, “we can’t do this at the pace we’re going,” but once Part 1 ended, we’ve finally found our comfort zone. Now, we and DW are working under the pace of creating four Servants a month. Though as long as certain events exist, there might be more tasks added to that…
Kajita: Speaking of which, is balancing the characters’ skills and attributes part of a main writer’s tasks as well? Since the character’s profile is directly correlated with the gameplay, I’ve been wondering just how that works. There’s a lot of hidden data as well, so I was curious on whether there’s a lot of confusion about that.
Nasu: Managing hidden data and other small details about Servants is also part of my job, but it’s the job of each writer to check the way their Servants work in the game. One of the strengths of a small team is that there’s not a lot of micromanaging needed, and we can share information with each other quickly.
For example, say, the Servants from the recent Scandinavia chapter, TYPE-MOON’s game designer Azanashi pores over the skills and Noble Phantasms (NP) made by the writer and decides the Servant’s attributes and hidden data, then those are shown to the writer in charge, then once it gets the OK, the final touches involve adjusting the finer numbers on the Servant’s attributes and skills.
Afterwards, these get sent to DW for battle testing and adjustments. The testers are important too since they find gaps and bugs with the skills that DW’s QA team missed. Everyone’s efforts gathering and piling up is what makes the miraculous balance that FGO is built on.
Kajita: Is there any episode on character balancing that left an impression?
Nasu: Definitely Circe’s NP, Metabo Piglets, and the check that determines whether a character can be turned into a pig or not. I was warned by Azanashi back then. “If we’re going to do this, we’ll have to prepare ourselves. There’s all the data that needs to be adjusted, of course, but there’s also adjusting and checking the battle animations, and there’ll be a lot of exceptional work to be done. It’s work that will haunt us forever.”
Kajita: What do you mean? I do think it’s a wonderful NP that matches her profile and backstory…
Nasu: It’s the “pig transformation” part. The fact that it messes with the battle graphics is one thing of course, but it also means that we have to put checks on whether it works or not for every single character. We also have to include a reason on why the pig transformation doesn’t work for every character, and we have to do this check for every single character that shows up, for every single event that happens in the future. It only takes about 10 minutes to check a single character, but for us to do that every time from then on…
Kajita: I see. It’s dust piling up until it became the Csejte Pyramid Himeji Castle. No wonder you got such resistance to it.
Nasu: I knew what he was saying. I knew it, but… there’s no point if Circe doesn’t turn her enemies into pigs! I just had to rebel against it with that thought in mind. I still want to punch myself from a year ago though.
Kajita: That just sounds like you’re regretting all of it!
Nasu: All these tasks just squeezed themselves in at the busiest possible time… It’s a pretty simple check process on its own, but the longer it goes on, the more time it takes up…
Kajita: Hmm, so it’s a dilemma brought about by respecting the setting’s immersion. I’d give praise to it as a fan though.
Nasu: Still, it’s something that we decided on, so Azanashi worked hard to implement it, and points out if there’s something on the “can be transformed into pigs” list that doesn’t match the previous data. On my end, I have to provide explanations like, “in this event, this character has this power so they can’t be turned into a pig.” The fact that they can just swallow all my explanations based on the character profiles makes me feel that the tech side truly understands Fate/.
Kajita: Now that I know how much work is put into designing just one Servant, it really hammers in that FGO is an extraordinary game. It speaks volumes of TYPE-MOON’s spirit that you take pains to make the game reflect the characters’ profiles and never compromising.
Nasu: I really wanted to avoid making characters that work in the story but don’t work in the game. So the best option was to manage both the plans and the execution at the same time.
Kajita: In any case, nothing gets through without your approval, right? No matter how I think about it, your workload is mind-bogglingly huge, and I really wonder if you even have time to rest in between that.
Nasu: It’s true that I’m really quite busy, but on the art department, Takeuchi and the rest of the TYPE-MOON staff are also working really hard, so it’s not like I have zero free time. It’s thanks to that free time that I can work on things other than FGO.
Kajita: Does Takeuchi also manage the art side of things?
Nasu: Yes. He does all the checks for character designs, illustrations, and world visuals. He also manages the requests for Servant designs.
Kajita: A couple of the Servants designed by Takeuchi himself were given to other illustrators for FGO, weren’t they? How was the decision to give which Servants to other illustrators made?
Nasu: Takeuchi told me that he wanted to draw all of them if he could, but that it’s not the direction that we should go for.
Kajita: I see.
Nasu: For example, Fate/stay night’s characters already have a long history around them, so they have an unfair advantage right at the very start. Having all the well-known Servants stand in the pole position is just cheating.
So Takeuchi drew all the characters that people would be upset about if he didn’t do them, and let other illustrators take care of the rest. As a result, we ended up having to pick illustrators that would satisfy the fans of the characters in question.
Takeuchi also wanted to draw Rin (Tohsaka), but he thought that Shizuki Morii would be able to draw a lovely Rin. I think it was a pretty good choice.
Kajita: What a very delicate balance. Could you tell me about the things that happen until the illustrations get ordered?
Nasu: Creating a Servant Profile, or rather creating profiles in general… First, I make an outline of the main story as a whole, then discuss with Takeuchi which Servants would be needed, and which Servants we want to show up. Afterwards, we make the list and discuss it with the writers.
For Part 1, we looked at what Servants we needed to bring out from a management perspective, drew up a list, then divided it between me, Higashide, and Sakurai. The profiles were almost exactly the same as the ones written down in the TYPE-MOON books Servant profiles.
For Part 2, we’ve started to think about which Servants to bring in based on the story itself, so almost every Servant requested by the writers was used as is.
The writer in charge of a Servant would look up historical references as needed, fit them into the Fate/ system, decide how they would be implemented into the game and story, then all that is handed over to the illustrators.
Kajita: So all the details are ironed out first before being sent to the artists.
Nasu: The writers don’t really have an eye for art, so at that point it’s basically no different from your average superpowered Servant OC. All we can do is tell the artists the concept and the kind of visuals we want from them. We let the artists’ imagination take the reins from there, and it’s from there that the Servants can finally take form.
In general, we give the OK at that point, but in the cases where the design doesn’t fit the Fate/ style or when the details are a bit different from what the writers intended, Takeuchi does all the negotiating. That’s how the process goes until the final draft is decided upon.
Kajita: Until I actually heard the process, I had this image of TYPE-MOON’s job being more of just supervising and editing. Once you get a closer look, it’s actually right at the center of all the action, and it really makes me think that, wow, this really is a Fate/ game, huh?
Nasu: The fact that we can just focus on the scenario and characters in how we can make FGO fun and interesting every month plays a huge part in that. DW does all the needed blueprints, management, production, and material gathering and are very reliable in that regard. As a result, we can pour all our time into working on all the core parts.
Hawaii, the Best Location; Comiket, the Greatest Event
Kajita: We touched on this year’s summer event earlier. You get involved with not just the main scenario, but also with the seasonal events, am I right?
Nasu: Yes. For this year’s swimsuit event, I decided ahead of time that we’re going to use Hawaii as the stage for this year with all this stuff happening, then I told everyone to please start preparing for that. Azanashi then suggested that if we do it like this, we can express a time loop in-game, then we gathered some keywords related to Comiket, and then decided on how we can structure this within the game.
Once the plans have been made, the writers were all gathered, then we got to fleshing out the details. After that, we wrote up the basic plot, then after all the checks were finished, we got to writing the scenario. Once that’s finished, it goes through my editing and supervision, then once all the fixes are made, we finally send it to the planner in DW… And that’s pretty much the process to completion.
Other than that, during the plotting stage, we calculated all the materials we need, but when the planner read through the scenario and started listing those materials, there was the occasional suggestion for more drawings and special stages.
On the writer side, whenever we start thinking “I want a special stage for this, but would that be too much…?”, it’s quite normal for someone to just go out and offer to make that stage. It really makes me happy. Thank you so much to everyone who works in the background to make this work…
Kajita: What a nice story… But doesn’t that passion also affect the scheduling…?
Nasu: It’s basically like we’re making a completely new game every month, so the creation process is always teetering on the edge! At that point we’re already 3 or 4 months before the event is scheduled to start. We had a number of extra additions to this year’s swimsuit event, so I got worried about the deadline, but they reassured me that “it’s gonna be okay, we’ll make it!” It definitely was a relief.
Kajita: Actually, why did you decide that the event take place in Hawaii in the first place?
Nasu: Ah, about that, when we finished all the work with last year’s swimsuit event (Dead Heat Summer Race), I thought to make something more summer-y, taking place in a resort or something.
Right then, I thought that I wanted it to take place in the best location, with the greatest event. For otaku, when you say “greatest event”, it’s definitely Comiket, right? And as for the best location, I just happened to think of Hawaii.
Kajita: I see. I… see?
Nasu: I just really, really wanted to do Comiket in Hawaii once in my life, before I die. When I argued my case, everyone just stared at me with “what kind of drivel is this guy spouting again?” looks on their faces.
Kajita: (gives Nasu a “what kind of drivel is this guy spouting?” look)
Nasu: I mean, I’ve never been there before! I just thought that I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, so I want to do Comiket once I’m there! …But to be honest, if Hawaii becomes the setting for the story, I had this hidden desire in my heart that Aniplex would provide the research and travel expenses!
Kajita: That’s very honest of you. (laughs) So the research trip got funded?
Nasu: Yeah, we managed to go there and gather materials. Of course, since we’re going to use Hawaii as a stage, the trip was on the premise that all the scenario writers would go. To be completely serious, we couldn’t start writing until we could experience just what makes Hawaii fun.
Kajita: That’s very true. But I’m quite surprised that your idea of Shangri-La was actually Hawaii.
Nasu: Well, we did end up with a bit of trouble once we got there. (laughs)
Kajita: Oh? Did you get attacked by a giant chicken or something?
Nasu: No, no. (laughs) The rainy season happened to arrive a month early back in February, so the whole week that we were there, it was raining all the time.
Kajita: Ah, that’s some pretty bad luck.
Nasu: I also wanted photos of the observatory on top of Mauna Kea, which was also the stage for the final battle, but when we actually got there, there was a blizzard. We did try to climb, but we were told that we can’t go any further at that point. And then in the end I caught a cold, and was stuck in the hotel from the second day on with a 38-degree fever.
Kajita: Ah, I offer you my sincere condolences.
Nasu: Still, I made a really important discovery there. Because of the volcano, the trees around the slope looked very dark and eldritch, and it was such a perfect match to the Cthulhu mythos aesthetic that we didn’t have to do any fudging at all. I thought this was a really great find, so we changed the location of the final battle to the slopes of Mauna Kea.
Kajita: Oooh! It’s a find you made because you actually went there, huh. What a wonderful game location. Still, it’s a huge shame that you had to deal with the rain and sickness when you got to the land of your dreams and couldn’t enjoy the trip.
Nasu: Not at all, even during the rainy season, we had about an hour or so of clear weather every day. The weather is absolutely wonderful during those moments, so I just said screw this fever, I’m gonna go to the beach, buy some swimshorts, then dive into the water! And, um, yeah…
Kajita: Please, oh please take better care of your own body!
Nasu: But I really did have a lot of fun back then. I think this is the first time I went location hunting and managed to translate all those experiences directly into the scenario. Despite the weather and my health being in bad condition, I got so much inspiration from Hawaii. I poured all those feelings into BB’s lines at the end of the event.
Kajita: Speaking of the Hawaii-Comiket combination, there was an anime convention in Hawaii at the time, right?
Nasu: Kawaii★Con, was it? Actually, we did happen to go to Hawaii during the first day of the con.
Kajita: Eh? You mean it was a complete coincidence?
Nasu: I found out about it during the fifth or sixth day we were there. I heard there were a lot of FGO cosplayers there, and the TYPE-MOON staff sent lots of pictures over LINE to a poor man lying in bed at a hotel due to a fever. I was really, really jealous of them.
Kajita: I really thought that the event was inspired by Kawaii★Con. Such is the power of fate, huh?
Honestly, the descriptions in the event gave off a distinct sense of realism, so to speak. I’ve already been to Hawaii before, so as someone who’s been there, there was this very that very raw feeling that drew me into the scenario. They say that the devil is in the details, so I’m sure that if you didn’t get go to Hawaii for research, the event wouldn’t have felt that complete. To add to that, FGO fans who go to Hawaii can look forward to one more thing in their trip.
Nasu: It really makes me happy to hear that. We all went to such a wonderful place, so we all made the scenario wanting to express that feeling.
Still, since we had to be in Hawaii for an entire week, we had to work like it was the year-end deadline to make things work… We had contact with Japan during our time in Hawaii, of course, but there were a lot of things that didn’t make it regardless, so I think it will be difficult for us to leave Japan for a whole week in the future.
Kajita: That’s a bit sad to hear. I really hope that you could have more time to give your inputs as much as possible. There has to be a lot of things that have to be dealt with on the fly when developing FGO, right? So in that regard, the cooperation with DW has been going quite well, hasn’t it?
Nasu: We always feel that DW values us very much every single day. If it were any other company, I’m sure all the huge requests that we made like the one during summer wouldn’t have flied. It had three times as much text (and three times the scripts!) compared to any other event, with all the art and voices that come with that, so even with a simpler calculation, you could actually make a completely new event with the budget we used.
They understood that, and yet they still told us that they could do it. I’m sure that the mentality of doing things thoroughly permeates DW, but I can also tell that they’ve gone through a lot of stress and work just to make all of our plans happen. As a creator, I’m very thankful for the kind of environment they made for us.
Kinoko Nasu’s “World End” – FGO and Retaking the Value of the Scenario
Kajita: What experiences with games built you up as the creator “Kinoko Nasu”?
Nasu: When I was just another gamer, I used to think that I wouldn’t experience anything that would give me a huge shock in the real world. But when I first played Final Fantasy IV (FFIV), I was glued to my TV playing it for three days straight.
Back then, I was filled with feelings of gratitude towards the game for giving me the greatest time with it. Things in school and my part-time job went up in flames though. (laughs) But I didn’t really care about that back then.
Kajita: That’s so cute. All gamers go through that phase at least once, eh?
Nasu: But when I reached the ending, that happiness all turned into sadness. “Now what am I going to do starting tomorrow?” I was enveloped in this feeling of emptiness. I was in a daze the whole day and just lost track of everything that was happening in my life.
Once I recovered from that daze, I reaffirmed to myself that games really do have this amazing power to them. I had already been aiming to become a writer back then, but that feeling of fulfilment turning into a sense of loss was stuck in my mind. From then on, Kinoko Nasu had fallen into the hole of the platform known as “video games”.
Kajita: I can relate to that feeling very well. It really does hurt once you finish something you get obsessed with. Then you start looking for another game to fill in that hole. (laughs) What other titles left an impression on you after FFIV?
Nasu: Glory of Hercules III was pretty huge to me. I feel that it’s the peak example of narrative tricks that can be done in RPGs. I think it might have a bigger influence on me over FFIV when it comes to the reason why I’m writing for games today.
Speaking of RPGs, Chrono Trigger was also absolutely wonderful. You start your adventure at the beginning of the world and face the world ending. This is something that a real person could absolutely never experience. I was blown away by it.
Kajita: I see. So your game experiences revolve around the catharsis that comes after finishing the story then?
Nasu: Perhaps. It’s that feeling of growth that you experience after the sadness that comes when you say goodbye to the different worlds you travel… Is that an exaggeration? In any case, I want to express that feeling as an RPG.
Kajita: I don’t think that’s an exaggeration at all. I mean, I – or rather, the same kind of people as us – feel like we learned many important things about life from video games.
Nasu: In the end, I picked novel games as my genre of choice. Novel games are great in showing scenes of the lives of people or cities, but it’s a bit hard to make the player stand before the end of the world. Of course, there are end-of-the-world sound novels out there, but they’re more of the end of “the world you and I know” and not the end of “the world itself”. The end of the world was a pretty classic RPG trope. I’d always wanted to do that, so I was really happy when I finally got to realize that with FGO.
Kajita: So the FGO you aim to create is a “video game-like video game”, like a classic RPG, am I right?
Nasu: Video games fall under a lot of genres, but many video games that focus on the story all share the idea of “letting the player experience something that they absolutely cannot experience in real life.” If I were to define a “video game-like video game,” I would base it on that idea.
Of course, FGO is founded upon that desire as well. And I hope that it became popular among the players because they picked up on that basic foundation of the game.
Kajita: And indeed, that’s an indispensible element that I look for in video games. Escapism, a desire to transform yourself… You can call it anything you like, but it’s an experience that transcends real life, and video games can give you that.
Nasu: And over the years, that experience evolved, and recently, huge titles that can be called AAA-level keep on getting released. But the basic idea of giving you a self that’s completely different from the real world remains the same, no matter how much the way it’s expressed changes.
Kajita: And the scenario is the core that makes that happen. When it comes to the mobile platform, I think the game scenario has long been neglected or ignored. But after FGO proved to be a huge success, there’s a clear feeling that the importance of the story has been rediscovered. Like scenario writers became more valuable.
Nasu: Actually, back when FGO was just starting out, I talked about retaking the value of the scenario with this game with Higashide and Sakurai.
Like you said, there’s this strong tendency in recent anime and games to value “characters” over “story.” And for us who keep ourselves fed by writing stories, we stood at a crossroads. And we still picked to value the story in spite of that. So when I hear that the value of scenario writers shot up after FGO, it feels like a way of giving back to the environment that brought us all up.
Kajita: It is definitely an achievement to be proud of. A single game completely changed the way people look at an entire profession. It’s an incredible thing.
Nasu: But to be honest, the scenario writer is actually an “obstruction” when it comes to game creation.
Kajita: What do you mean by that?
Nasu: In game creation, the director has this vision of the game they want to make, but they have a lot of other things to do, so they have to leave all the text to the writer. But the writer is, in the end, an outsider, so if there’s something that doesn’t match up to the director’s vision, the normal thing to do is to change it. If you write something that’s off, it throws off the project’s entire vision. And the writer has no idea that all of this is happening inside.
In short, it’s a profession that’s replaceable. That’s why during this past 20 years, I think that writers have a very low standing in the console game industry. Unless you have enough clout, it’s almost impossible to get your opinions through.
Kajita: I see. It’s a job where you can’t really say that you stand in equal footing with everyone else.
Nasu: Many people think that “hey, I can write a scenario too.” And that’s true – the Japanese standard for composition writing is very high even from when I was in grade school. Anyone can write a story.
Kajita: I wonder about that. It’s one thing to write a story; it’s another to make it interesting or easy to read.
Nasu: Yes, but what matters is that people think they can write. And I think that’s the reason why the writing profession is looked down upon. The core elements of a video game are the visuals and the gameplay; they’re at the forefront, so that’s where all the time and money goes. On the other hand, there’s very little money to be found in writing the text.
Higashide, Sakurai, and I are all visual novel writers, a genre where you can’t sell if your output is boring to read, so we weren’t really affected by that. But I feel like in the console game industry, it’s very rare for writers to be able to get in their inputs.
In my case, Fate/EXTRA was an exception, but that was because the director Kazuya Niino loved Fate/ and told me to tell him what I want to do. Because of that, I managed to make a game that could fit in Fate/EXTRA CCC as a future plan. It was a tough battle since we had very little budget and few staff, but I feel that it was a pretty good environment, partly because of the staff as well. It’s almost impossible to find an environment where the writer can stand at the top after all.
Kajita: That’s a very shocking thing to hear as an otaku who loves stories. But after FGO, I tried a lot of different games, but it really does feel like more importance is being put on the story.
Nasu: I’ve also been playing a number of different games. I do feel like there’s a distinct difference in the overall quality compared to two years ago. All of them are so fun… But my time…
Kajita: And I think FGO really painted over the “story is just an afterthought” mentality that permeated the mobile game industry. Even the people who argued that there’s no need to for a story before have made 180-degree turns to focus on the story.
Nasu: That’s good. I suppose they thought that if it makes them sell that much…
Kajita: Once again, I’m really surprised at the scale of FGO’s effect on the entire industry. It’s really something that, as people who have been raised by “video game-like video games” and loved the stories they tell, you can be proud and say “take that, you heathens!” I think that, in the end, no matter what the genre or the platform, what players really seek from games is the “experience” that you can only get from a high-quality story. And that FGO is the living proof of that.
Nasu: For a game that you’ve been playing for one or two years, you need a grand finale that can deliver an explosion of feelings that can overpower all the time you’ve invested in it. If chapter 1 was an 80 in terms of entertainment, then you have to get a 100 when you land the ending. The longer the road that takes you there, the bigger that ratio becomes. Unless you can deliver in your final episode a hype that’s equal to the sum total of your players’ experiences, it would be rude to the players who have stuck with you this whole time.
But to be honest, when I had Maaya Sakamoto sing Shikisai, I really did have this sure feeling that, as long as we had this song, we could win anything. (laughs)
Kajita: From then on, whenever I listen to Shikisai, I feel like I’ll always remember all my experiences with FGO.
Nasu: Back when she was composing the song, I explained to Sakamoto the story and what exactly Mash is talking about. And just like that, the song was finished. If it were a tennis rally, it’s like a perfect return to the serve we threw at her. As long as we could land the perfect serve, our victory is more or less assured.
By the way, I started writing the final episode during the first summer event. Seeing everyone enjoy all the swimsuits was a huge motivation for me, and it really fueled my pen during that time.
The Inspiration from Chrono Trigger and A Decision to Focus on Quality
Kajita: Earlier you talked about the games that influenced you as a person. Which game influenced FGO the most?
Nasu: Chrono Trigger, no doubt. Actually, when I was still building up the foundations of the game, I wanted some more mechanics where the player could intervene in battles. Not just the Command Spells and the Mystic Codes, but more of a system where your units get stronger if the protagonist was around.
Kajita: Since the player would be intervening with the story, they’d have to work harder to earn their place as the protagonist, after all.
Nasu: Regardless, once the gameplay was set in stone, I couldn’t introduce any more radical changes. I just have to make up for it with the story and character of the protagonist. With that, the central struggle of the protagonist shifted from the battle to the protagonist’s existence and their place in this conflict. The protagonist is a completely normal person who has no training or qualifications whatsoever, but since no one else can do the job, they’re forced to fill in those shoes. And I think there’s meaning in that struggle.
Kajita: I’m a bit curious – could it be that FGO originally was set to be like Chrono Trigger where you could select the era you could travel to?
Nasu: Exactly. At first, the idea was that you could select all seven eras right from the start. The foundation of humanity was incinerated, and as a result of your body being removed from space and time itself, you could observe all those eras. That was the plan, at least. But it was impossible to put all seven right at the start, so on release, we planned to have only up to five.
We reached the current system after some struggles with the scheduling. Thanks to the changes in the way the story developed, we put all the Servants who weren’t able to show up in Parts 1.5 and 2, then changed the system so that the story would be released in a certain order.
Kajita: So does that mean the battle system was completely different during the planning stage too?
Nasu: Yeah, we went back and forth with that one too. At first we went with a more classic system with super-deformed battle characters. There were a couple of changes until we decided that we wanted to see some really cool battle sprites, and settled with a more anime-ish style, plus the command battle + card system where you have to think a bit about your moves.
Kajita: What was the reason for changing the system towards that direction?
Nasu: One of the big reasons was that (Souji) Akihito said things like “I’m a gamer, but I’m not very good with fighting games. But I still want to try playing them” and “I want to see some smooth and awesome anime-style action.” In short, we wanted players to experience awesome action like a fighting game with just a press of a button.
A majority of Fate/ fans are novel game players. That means a good number of them aren’t very used to action games. So I thought that there would be a number of people who had the same thoughts as Shouji.
Kajita: Since you brought up Shouji, I’d like to ask more in that direction. I know that you’ve talked about how you managed to partner with DW before in other interviews, but how did it go from your point of view?
Nasu: Well, it all started five years ago when Aniplex approached me with an offer to make a Fate/ mobile game. To be honest, I didn’t think it would be such a huge thing back then. It was 2013 and it wasn’t the era where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket yet.
Kajita: You thought that smartphones wouldn’t catch on?
Nasu: No, I thought it was just going to be for pompous folks. (laughs) I mean, back then, flip phones functioned perfectly fine as phones, and you could just use laptops at work.
But I did feel that it had some potential as a platform. So I thought that it would be fine if we could just go ahead and fail as a test case. The company provided me with a smartphone and played Chain Chronicle and a few other RPGs as reference. And then I thought, “Huh, these smartphones sure are interesting things.”
Kajita: Smartphones have come a long way from the flip phone age at that point after all.
Nasu: So then I thought that, hey, I could make my long-desired apocalyptic Fate/ here. But if I’m doing this, I have to go all-in with the story.
Kajita: So from there, what happened until you settled on DW as the company of choice?
Nasu: We couldn’t really decide on the company at first and kept changing our minds, and then we got introduced to DW’s Shouji. Back then, Shouji had just founded the company, and we were both at a very unstable position. But on the other hand, I thought that his strength was that he had absolutely nothing holding him back. I can’t say I’m very proud of it, but I’m the type to focus on the quality instead of any deadlines. Because of that, I needed a company that wouldn’t outright reject the things I say without any discussion.
Kajita: I see. So you focused on a company where you could discuss things at an equal footing. That actually looked pretty mysterious to fans back then. It must not have been an easy decision to let a developer that basically had nothing to its name handle a huge franchise like Fate/.
Nasu: My thinking was that the partnership wouldn’t be able to function if I couldn’t make them clearly understand the way we work. TYPE-MOON prioritizes producing work that we’re satisfied with over any deadlines. If we force a huge company to work with us, they would die of neurosis before we could get anything done.
Kajita: Hmm. I guess the bigger the company gets, the harder it is to be more flexible with your decisions.
Nasu: Even though they were a completely new company, Shouji had been working in the console game industry for around a decade, so I thought that I’d be able to rely on his insights. It was enough as a starting point for us. So everything fell into place, and we decided to work from square one.
Kajita: When you said that it’s hard working with a big company, are you talking from experience?
Nasu: Yes. Obviously I have a strong position as the original creator, but that only means I can voice my opinions, not that I can get them implemented. And I’m not even involved in the creation process at all. Since we’re outsourcing the project, the schedule and plotting have to be absolute.
For example, say that this game’s goal is selling 100, 000 copies. Here’s our budget for the project. From there, we can only put out this many Servants. Once you have those things set, you can’t use any new ideas, no matter how interesting they might be.
Kajita: As a creator, it’s hard to swallow the feeling of getting a work out there without being able to implement your ideas.
Nasu: In FGO’s case, I was really scared of forming the partnership with our partner brand being the “main body” of the project. It wouldn’t have been any different from what I’ve experienced before. So I wanted to protect my stance of aiming for something unique and interesting, sharing all the pains and joys along the way. With that in mind, we could get our feet wet together with DW. I knew that it would be a hellish path in front of us, but we can at least go through it together.
Kajita: And as a result, you managed to gather a lot of knowledge, and the staff has ballooned, resulting in a game that’s much, much better off compared to where it started. Despite the rough start, I’m really awed at the speed you managed to deal with everything.
Nasu: DW and Aniplex are both very tolerant when it comes to throwing the players a bone. Remember when the required Quartz for a single roll went from 4 to 3 back in the first year anniversary? Normally, that’s something that would never even be considered.
Kajita: That was indeed something that’s unheard of. FGO was the first time I’ve seen that happen as far as I know.
Nasu: Back then, it was Takeuchi who proposed that, and DW and Aniplex said “sure, let’s go with that.” It went really well, so I think that they really do give serious consideration for the things that matter.
Kajita: They went out of the way with the decision to reduce their overall profit. It’s a decision that a company wouldn’t be able to do if they didn’t think about the direction of the franchise and the users’ feelings.
Nasu: Of course, reducing the number of Quartz needed won’t have any effect on the gameplay by itself, so we also need to provide the service to match that decision. The best way is still to make a game that can be fun even if you don’t have any Quartz or 5★ Servants.
(Continued in Part 2)