Mafia Kajita Cuts Deep Into FGO – Kinoko Nasu’s Ideal and
The Catharsis to be Found at the End
A Strange Game that Grows like Kowloon’s Walled City. The Dilemma between Farming and being a “Video Game-like Video Game”
Kajita: When FGO was starting out, I’m sure you had a vision of what kind of game you wanted it to be. I want your honest opinion: do you think that it’s reached your ideal?
Nasu: Back when it launched, both the gameplay and visuals were all amateurish, and we couldn’t bring out the essence of the story. We confused players about how exactly they could enjoy the game. We all had this creeping anxiety – can we really keep making this game right until the very end? I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have any doubts about the game’s quality.
Kajita: I’m sure they’re painful memories for you, but what kind of situation was it from your point of view?
Nasu: Right after the launch, we gathered all the top staff and went through everything that needed fixing, then gave them a priority. From there, we determined the core direction to be “to fix as much we can within three months” and that “if we’re not able to fix any of these, the whole project will collapse.” Thankfully, we were able to prepare the bare minimum functions by December. Like the 2x battle speed.
Kajita: Ah, that’s very nostalgic. When I first experienced the rather lax normal speed, I really started wondering about the reason behind that.
Nasu: During launch date, within an hour after installing the game, TYPE-MOON’s headquarters was basically up in flames. We halted all the projects we were working on just so we could prioritize FGO, so some of the staff yelled at me before the players could. “We stopped all those projects for this?!”
I really, really have to thank all the players who managed to suck it all up and stick with us all the way to the dango event. We were really saved by the Fate/ brand.
Kajita: The Fate/ brand, huh. If I might say as one of those players, I don’t think that’s the sole reason we stuck around. I already wrote this before in a column in TYPE-MOON Ace, but even if post-launch FGO was undoubtedly a crappy game, it had this mysterious aura around it. I had absolutely no basis for it, but I had this prediction – no, premonition – that I would see something amazing if I kept going.
Nasu: Thank you very much for that. It’s thanks to all the materials we’ve gathered over the years, or rather the main ingredient being the simple desire to make something interesting. I’m glad that there are people who managed to pick up on that. Early FGO just wasn’t able to express it properly.
Kajita: With that said, I’d like to delve into the main topic. To be honest, even though that it’s gotten much better, FGO feels like it’s still using weapons that are two or three generations outdated, forced to be retrofitted and modernized. Frankly, the gameplay is very obsolete and I feel like that can’t be hidden for much longer. How do you feel about this?
Nasu: That’s very, very true. Thanks to using an old system that we kept adding to and repairing, FGO is now this strange game that keeps growing like Kowloon’s walled city. If we want to fix that, we would have to blow up the fortress entirely and rebuild it from scratch.
But realistically, we can’t do that due to the scale of the work involved. All we can do now is to make the players say that it’s a fun game despite all that. Even if the gameplay is obsolete, as long as we can keep the core fun of the game, I believe that we can keep building on that.
Kajita: Going further, I know that you’re aiming for a “video game-like video game,” but un-“game-like” elements like farming for materials or doing events really strengthen its image of being a “mobile game,” for better or for worse. How do you grapple with this paradox?
Nasu: Since we already have the system in place, we’re unable to change the element of farming for materials. It’s also very hard to add any new elements to it… Currently, we’re looking at it as something that players keep repeating as a result of the growth of their love towards their Servants. We’re using that as a way to retroactively add value to the system.
Kajita: And your actual feelings on this?
Nasu: Well, I’d like for it to be a game where you can have fun just by controlling the characters. That’d be a huge relief for me. (laughs)
Kajita: That’s the platonic ideal of all games, isn’t it? Farming aside, I can feel the “video game-like video game” essence from the way the story and challenge quest bosses are designed. I can feel that the gimmicks are getting more and more polished each time.
Nasu: Oh, this is something I’ve always wanted to talk about. Azanashi has been doing all the adjustments for adapting the Servants from their story profiles into the game ever since the game launched until today.
Kajita: No way.
Nasu: Yes way. Azanashi has been managing Servant skills and abilities ever since we agreed upon it back ever since it was decided. The battle department of DW works hard day in and day out making fun battles for both the events and main scenarios that reflect what’s happening in the scenario.
Azanashi is the father of all the Servant stats and skills and also manages things like the CEs and Command Codes, as well as the direction for making sure that event and main scenarios are replicated in the RPG portions.
Kajita: That’s just like Caster Gilgamesh… Hopefully that doesn’t lead into death by exhaustion.
Nasu: Back during the launch, Azanashi really was holding a lot of responsibilities, so I gave them as much rest as they could get whenever possible. DW’s event team has really improved compared to back then, so Azanashi doesn’t have to carry all those tasks anymore. I have the impression that DW’s staff and service keep on growing to become the reliable team that they are now. I feel that the players can sense that growth from the main story and events in real time.
Kajita: It’s thanks to that effort that I can say that one of the appeals of FGO is being able to do trial and error in beating certain bosses for the first time with just the Servants I have.
But on the other hand, once the “right” way to beat the boss has been figured out, it all becomes a matter of routine work – a game where you mindlessly select command cards to farm. There’s a huge gap between the fun of trial and error and that routine work.
Nasu: Your criticisms are well-deserved…
Kajita: If those issues are ever resolved, I think one of FGO’s biggest weaknesses will vanish. Right now, there’s no battle skip function, and the fastest you can go is 2x battle speed. I’ve been wondering, but is there any reason why we have to keep on fighting quests that we’ve already cleared?
Nasu: I definitely agree with implementing a battle skip function. However, with the NP skip… I’m really sorry, but I still don’t plan on budging on my stance that it should never be skipped. If you ask me what lies after removing one of the biggest appeals of the game in the name of efficiency, the only answer I can give is “absolutely nothing.”
I’m well aware that people only have so much time on their hands. But I believe that there are things that we should never take shortcuts on. The only thing we can do is make Servants that would never make you think to skip their NPs.
Kajita: I’m also of the opinion that there are things that should never be cut down. If FGO’s stance is firmly against skipping NPs, then I can accept that.
However, doesn’t that stance make it harder to fiddle with portions other than the NP animations?
Nasu: Well, I really would like to introduce a battle skip function, but it’d have to be introduced in a way that fits in with FGO’s ethos.
Kajita: It’s not as if the players are lazy and are always just looking for shortcuts. I think it’s a real problem that the mobile game farming is becoming, as you said, work that will haunt you forever. It becomes more dangerous the longer you let it pile up. It’s fine as long as the players are motivated to do it, but once that thread snaps, it would affect their love for the game as well. I’ve seen many cases where that had happened. I don’t want FGO to end that way. It would be such a huge shame.
Nasu: Indeed… Even I have to ask why certain materials aren’t dropping at all during meetings. I really want to work with DW towards making the gameplay more fun while not hurting the charms of the Servants.
Kajita: We players still love FGO despite its flaws. I’m sure that, as a mobile game, it’s very difficult to strike a balance between your ideas as a creator and making the gameplay fun, but I’m sure anyone can sense your constant desire to improve the game!
Nasu: No matter how much tuning we have to do to fit in as a mobile game, we will not waver in our stance of showing the player the greatest heroes and heroines. That’s why we always put our best with every single Servant. I want our players to feel that they met their fated one, the one that they can say, “I want to lay down my life for this Servant.” I don’t know if we’re actually doing that or not, though.
Kajita: At the very least, there’s a person right in front of you on whom that is working on. I’ve played so many of these kinds of games, but I’ve lost count of so many bitter experiences where I spent so much money but stopped playing eventually.
But I’m still playing FGO three years later. And that’s because its world is built upon an exciting story, and my love for the characters still hasn’t faded after all this time. The ending to Part 1 was an especially huge reward. That was the first time I saw such an ambitious experiment succeed in a mobile game.
They’re not just characters used as props for the story – they’re comrades with whom you fight with, learn, and share your experiences with, and those experiences are carved in the players’ hearts. I would say that’s what makes FGO such a success.
Nasu: I thought that it would be great if we could make that ideal come true, but when you come out and say those things straight to my face like that… It really makes me proud to think that we’ve accomplished one of our goals.
Kajita: This isn’t a special opinion or anything. I’m sure a lot of players also share that impression too. (laughs) FGO wouldn’t have gotten this far if the players didn’t feel like that. If it were a game where the majority of players regretted the money they spent on it, FGO would have shut down a long time ago.
Nasu: Speaking of which, in one of our afterparties, an illustrator told me, “FGO is so dirty! It’s holding these characters hostage!” (laughs)
Kajita: What a great way to put it. The moment you devised it such that players would go “No… Don’t leave me…!” whenever they exit the story, it was your victory. We’ve lost!
A Promised Feeling of Loss and The Story of “What Comes After”
Nasu: I’m feeling very fulfilled as a writer when I work on FGO. There’s valuable work to be found outside of visual novels too, after all.
Kajita: I can tell just how motivated you are just by reading the story.
Nasu: Right now, I use up about half of my time on FGO. Veteran TYPE-MOON fans might say that this is shallow, and that might be the way it looks after I opened the floodgates for more people to enjoy our work.
But our essence has not changed at all, and we try to make FGO such that if you keep sticking with us, you would see at the end that we’re the same old TYPE-MOON. Please do stay with us until the end. It might feel a bit different from the old TYPE-MOON where we exposed our style at full strength right at the start, but the core parts remain the same.
Kajita: This might be a difficult topic to broach, but I’d like to hear your vision straight from the horse’s mouth. When a mobile game goes on for a long time, it eventually reaches a point where it runs out of things to update, so they renew the entire game client. What’s the plan for FGO regarding that?
Nasu: I’ve talked about this with Takeuchi before, but we don’t plan to make any client updates until the story finishes. We want to match the point where we’ve done everything we wanted to do with FGO with the point where we can say that there are no more updates that can be done with the game.
Kajita: So you want to match the end of the story with the end of the game… But I just can’t imagine FGO as a franchise coming to an end.
Nasu: Indeed. I’m not sure if there’s any precedent for it for mobile games, but we plan to completely overhaul the system and make something completely new out of it. We already have blueprints for that in place. …I’m sure this will make our partners scratch their heads again, but I’d like for things to end in a way that will make me and everyone else happy. Hopefully such a “hereafter” exists.
Kajita: Whoa. Now I have another reason to not die yet. I’m not doubting you, but is it true that FGO will end with Part 2?
Nasu: The plot we have prepared is planned to end at Part 2. That’s why we plan to do everything we want to do within Part 2. What I’m really scared of is the thought of players demanding to see a continuation.
Kajita: I can guarantee you, 100%, that they will absolutely want a continuation.
Nasu: In that case, I would have to write a “what lies after the end” for FGO, but to be honest, it’ll be difficult to write a continuation for it. It’s possible, of course.
For example, it could be like seeing the ending to Undertale and going straight to the absolute worst ending on your own volition right after…
Kajita: Don’t scare me like that! (laughs) But ending the game right as the story ends… I’m sure the players would be assaulted by a huge sense of loss when that happens.
Nasu: But hey, that’s something I want players to experience too. I want everyone to share the same sense of loss I felt after clearing FFIV!
Kajita: I think that once that happens, FGO will truly become the stuff of legends.
Nasu: I already have the consent of all the writers and developers for the plot and all the gimmicks for the final chapter, including the way it’s going to end.
Kajita: Does that include Aniplex?
Nasu: Of course. In the first place, (Atsuhiro) Iwakami told me directly, “Nasu, I know you’re not very good with mobile games, but I’ll help you out as much as I can” and convinced me to join for this project. And he even let TYPE-MOON lead the entire project.
Kajita: To shut down such a popular franchise at the peak of its popularity is an unthinkable thing to do from a businessman’s perspective. And yet you would rather choose your decision as a creator to lead the story to the best ending possible… That’s the stuff a true entertainer is made of.
Nasu: But there’s just one thing I’m upset about. That was when Part 1 of FGO ended and we were leading in to Part 1.5 – I finished playing Dangan Ronpa v3 and I just have to say, “damn you, (Kazutaka) Kodaka!” You’re ending such a popular franchise on that?!
Kajita: I know that feeling. (laughs) But that’s something that he was able to do because it was a console game. As a fan, I really wonder what I would be feeling once that moment arrives… I’m already looking forward to it.
Nasu: I aim to make a game where you can feel proud for having experienced it despite carrying this huge sense of loss in you. And then I want to deliver, in the best way possible, the “what comes after” that no one could have predicted. That’s the future Kinoko Nasu would be putting his efforts on.
The Everyday Life of Kinoko Nasu, the Gamer – The Three Works Chosen by a Rare Storyteller
Kajita: I’m going to digress for a bit. The interview’s almost over, so I’d like to have a chill conversation to wrap things up. Since you brought up recent titles like Undertale and Dangan Ronpa, I’m surprised you even managed to play those.
Nasu: I’m so busy that it’s hard to find time to play these days, but I managed to play them during the recent long holidays. I was crushed by work during the first long break, but I managed to take a breather over the second. I played Undertale back then since I heard it was a good game that you could finish over two days.
Kajita: Glad to hear that Kinoko Nasu the gamer is in good shape. It feels kind of late to ask your thoughts on it, but what did you feel about Undertale?
Nasu: It was like remembering something I’ve long forgotten… Hmm, I’m not sure how to express this. It’s this game that has both this very pure thing that I believe that all games have, and this “grizzled mindset” that knows the limits of a video game. In short, Undertale is basically Dangan Ronpa 1-3 in one package.
Kajita: Hoho? That’s an interesting way to look at it.
Nasu: Dangan Ronpa would be the first playthrough, then Super Dangan Ronpa 2 is the Pacifist Route that talks about hope, and Dangan Ronpa v3 is the genocide route where you end the world with your own hands. I had so much fun with it and was also a bit shocked, but I think that Kodaka took deeper damage than I did. (laughs)
Kajita: I’d love to hear his impressions on the game too. (laughs)
Nasu: What’s even more surprising is that the game is already over a year old. The internet already talked about everything there is to talk about it, so it felt like the party was over when I arrived. That made me really sad because I wanted to join in on the party too!
Kajita: For you to use your precious vacation to play video games… You really are a true otaku. That makes me really happy to know.
Nasu: Playing a twisted game that has a lot of love poured into it is nice for reference. I go out of my way to play those. When you play them, you gain valuable discoveries, like huh, I never thought that you could do it like that.
I don’t like playing video games while feeling guilty about it, so I would rather use up one of my long breaks to just sit down and play one all the way through. I do use about one hour a day to play video games even now, but they’re all games that I don’t have to pour so much energy into. But when I end up playing a good video game like Undertale, I’d go play it even if it means I have to go on leave. The only games I can squeeze in every day are those for relaxing.
Kajita: Oh, I definitely know that feeling. It’s really tough when you want to find time to play some huge masterpiece but you just can’t.
Nasu: But after playing Undertale, I got fired up wanting to play more good games. I bought Marvel’s Spiderman because I couldn’t resist. Although, right now I have it sealed it away, thinking day after day that I’m definitely, absolutely gonna go play it this Saturday.
Kajita: But then you wouldn’t have any time to check any movies or novels at this point, right?
Nasu: Oh, I do try to watch one movie a week. Despite being the most expensive out of all kinds of entertainment, they do take up the least amount of time. As a creator, I can’t pass up such a delicious offer.
I can read novels while on the go, but when it comes to video games, you have to sit down in front of the screen and play them… It can’t be like before when I can just play video games on the weekend. Still, back then there was about one good game every month, but now there’s one every two or three weeks. Now I won’t be able to play all the games I want to play while I live anymore!
Kajita: And you still have time to play FGO despite all that… How in the world do you find all that time?
Nasu: Oh, FGO is the only game I can play all the time under the very valid excuse of “work.” (laughs) It’s the game I play the most. Even when my work stops while I’m scarfing down apples opening 40 boxes in the lottery, I can just say that “this is work!” I can, right? I’m checking the game balance… I mean, I’m always low on mats…
Kajita: I definitely get that. If you don’t farm the box gacha, you’ll definitely regret it later!
By the way, this is a question I always ask the creators I interview. Among all the movies you’ve watched, which one is your favorite?
Nasu: Hmmmmm… I can come up with so many because they were a huge inspiration, or because I loved the story… It really depends. And just one?!
Kajita: It’s difficult, right? But I think that one movie shows what that person’s life is like, or the way they view the world, so it’s interesting to me.
Nasu: At least make it a top 3!
Kajita: …Oh, fine! This is special, okay? (laughs) What’s your top 3?
Nasu: Big Fish (2003), Revolutionary Girl Utena: Adolescence Apocalypse (1999)… The third spot is really close, but it’s either The Shawshank Redemption (1994) or Gattaca (1997). In terms of how much of an accomplishment they are, it would be The Shawshank Redemption, but here I’d have to say Gattaca.
Kajita: Alright, so Big Fish, Utena, and Gattaca. Can I ask why you picked those three?
Nasu: Gattaca puts into play the imperfections of people and boxes them into valids and invalids. The invalids band together and grasp success on their own. In the end, we find out that their success was a result of the kindness of several people, and they manage to reach their next destination built on that kindness. It’s a very inspiring film.
In Big Fish, there’s this man who makes many people happy by telling tall tales of his adventures. It’s a very sad story, but in the end, it makes you feel that he was a very happy man, that he led a very happy life. I really love that from a creator perspective.
Kajita: So Gattaca shows your side as an individual, and Big Fish for your side as a creator. I think that fits you perfectly. And to add to that, Utena occupies your side as an otaku, huh?
Nasu: Pretty much. Before I saw Big Fish, I might’ve put in Chris van Allsburg’s Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005). I thought it was just a sci-fi version of Jumanji, but I ended up really getting into it. The story was oddly well-structured, and the way they laid down the plot points was very well-done…
Kajita: Those are some wonderful choices. Your fans who haven’t seen those movies should go look for a VOD service or a video rental and watch those movies immediately.
Nasu: I’m actually surprised that you know about Gattaca.
Kajita: I write for movies too, after all. I love them as much as anime and video games. You told me that you watch movies every now and then, so is there any recent movie that struck you?
Nasu: On the entertainment side, the sequel to the aforementioned Jumanji, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a huge success for me. I really liked that the old board game premise evolved into a video game. And of course, Dwayne Johnson’s acting was extremely funny. (laughs)
Kajita: I also saw that one. That was a very fun film. Dwayne Johnson’s signature faces were the best.
Nasu: It felt like when I was watching Schwarzy (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in a comedy movie. (laughs)
Kajita: Do you use that inspiration from films while working the game too?
Nasu: Of course. For example, when I get asked, “How should the visuals look in this part?”, I would answer, “Make it like the final battle in Man of Steel.” They’re best used as a point of reference that you can share with people. Although sometimes I get sad when I’m greeted with responses like, “Oh… I don’t watch Superman movies.” (laughs)
Kajita: They should watch DC films too, not just Marvel ones!
Nasu: I know, right?!
Kinoko Nasu’s Planned Union NPs – FGO won’t Give Up on Improving!
Kajita: Alright then, this interview has gone on long enough, so could I ask you give your fans a message?
Nasu: Sure. I want to make FGO a game that I have no complaints with. For example, I want the battles to become more and more fun and interesting. I hear the voices of players wanting an NP skip function, and I know that desire is a very reasonable thing to voice out. But for a true creator, they would want to make the game so that the players would say, “Please don’t skip the NP animations!” This might be an unreachable platonic ideal, but I will continue to voice out my will as a creator to make that happen. …Like, say, Union NPs.
Kajita: Eh? …Did you just say “Union NPs?”
Nasu: That’s a suggestion that always comes up when coming up with ways to make the battles, gameplay, and the animations more interesting without compromising all of those.
Kajita: If that ever gets implemented, I would openly welcome it with both arms. What kind of system do you have in mind?
Nasu: Each NP has a sort of affinity with other NPs in their profiles. I think that the choices that the player can make would increase if they start thinking about how each NP would work with another. We’re aiming for something like synchronized attacks or union attacks in Super Robot Wars. If we could implement it ideally, the players would get to experience the amazing feeling of landing huge damage with a combined NP after some modifications. Of course, that’s on top of making sure that it goes quickly and doesn’t affect the game’s tempo.
Kajita: That’s very exciting. I definitely hope it gets implemented someday.
Nasu: There are still a lot of things we lack the ability to implement, but we will continue to work with DW for FGO to keep on growing and maturing.
Humans cannot fly on their own innate abilities. To be a creator means that either you look for an artificial way to make that possible, or you push your current capabilities to the limit. What FGO does is mostly the latter, but we haven’t given up on looking for ways to innovate!
Kajita: I look forward to the future of FGO both as a fan and as someone in charge of PR. Thank you very much for your time!
(Recorded on 26 September 2018)