Metaphor: ReFantazio Developer Interview on Different Tribes, Art Direction

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As previously announced and with a preview released, Weekly Famitsu magazine issue #1829 features Metaphor: ReFantazio and a developer interview with director Katsura Hashino and character designer Shigenori Soejima.

Eight “Tribes” Gathered Around the Protagonist

The release date has been announced Fall 2024, and the game’s details are gradually being revealed. It seems to be an RPG with quite unique elements!

Hashino: I hope I have heightened your expectations. Nowadays, reality is often unreasonable, and there’s a tendency to say that “ideals are ultimately just wishful thinking.” Even if one upholds justice, conflicts are not easily resolved. Nevertheless, I think in modern times, we need some form of “ideal.”

Since this is something that varies with each individual’s perspective, this work also does not adhere to a simple structure of what values are right or wrong. Rather than insisting on or blindly accepting the current state of the world, I hope players will encounter various tribes and characters during their journey and that they will take home with them the emotions that arise within.

Are there elements that might resonate with one’s own beliefs?

Hashino: In the synopsis that’s been introduced, it hints at the entity that assassinated the king and prince, becoming the main character’s antagonist. However, it’s possible that one might feel that there is some truth in what the enemy is saying. I’ve always wanted to create a story where, unlike the clear-cut dynamics of “children versus adults” or “good versus evil” depicted in the Persona series, one can understand the other side’s ideology.

The protagonists also have their own sense of justice, but in a sense, it leans towards an “ideal,” while on the other hand, the thoughts of the opposing enemy seem more “realistic.” The struggle between these two, in a way, becomes a central theme.

It seems that the eight tribes are going to be deeply intertwined.

Hashino: The interracial issues are quite deep-rooted, but the protagonist, driven by a vague sense of justice, simply wants to help everyone in need. That’s why individuals who might be considered odd within their own tribe due to various circumstances are influenced by the protagonist and end up joining the journey. Eventually, a party is formed with a mix of tribes. From the perspective of the people in this world, it might appear as quite a… peculiar group.

Just reading the introductions of each tribe makes one curious about what will happen if these tribes embark on a journey together. The tribes in this work are unique to it. What intentions lie behind their creation?

Hashino: In the real world, people often have “labels” attached to their personalities, like being “conscious,” “indecisive” or “obsessed.” If Atlus is to create a fantasy RPG like no other, instead of basing it on classic beings like elves or hobbits, we wanted to imagine races that somewhat resonate with real-world labels. This meant creating races that haven’t been seen or heard of in this genre before, and I think Soejima had quite a challenge with that.

Soejima: It was especially difficult in the beginning. First, we started by designing the races based on the world and setting, and since we could differentiate them endlessly in terms of appearance, I sometimes found myself drawing something like a lizard person (laughs). However, as the scenario developed simultaneously, I began questioning whether players could emotionally connect with characters that were such eccentric sub-races. The biggest challenge was to make the designs both visually appealing as characters and easily distinguishable in terms of racial differences.

Did you design them taking into account other people’s labels, in addition to the world and setting?

Soejima: Indeed, that’s the difficulty we faced, but it would have been much harder to simply design eight trines. With no limits, there’s no clear answer, and it might have become a pursuit of just being different from traditional fantasy. I often had discussions with Hashino about the viewpoint that even the elves and dwarves depicted in “The Lord of the Rings” (a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien published in 1954) represented a microcosm of the world at the time the work was released. Designing the characteristics and inner aspects of each tribe was precisely the approach suitable for a “Metaphor” this time.

Is this also true for the design of the characters joining the party?

Soejima: Regarding the design of characters joining the party, it’s a similar process. The companions are considered outliers even within their own trine, but we were not specifically focused on this in terms of design. For example, Strohl has a noble-like emblem on his back, and in the concept art, we portrayed him with expressions suggesting high self-esteem, capturing the essence of the clemar tribe. However, when we actually meet him in the game, his words and actions reveal a different side of him compared to the others.

I see. The protagonist, who welcomes them, also seems to exude a different feeling compared to the protagonists in the Persona series.

Soejima: In the Persona series, I consciously design characters with a “hidden side” that seems to harbor something within their minds. However, for this game, I leaned more towards infusing “ideals.” I envisioned drawing a protagonist who is pure and innocent, thinking it would be nice to have such a character in this world.

How would you describe Gallica’s role?

Hashino: In terms of the journey, Gallica plays a classic role by guiding the protagonist and instilling common sense in him, who is unfamiliar with this world. Just like the protagonist’s elda tribe, fairies are considered rare beings in this world. Gallica, with a somewhat whimsical demeanor, takes care of various things for the protagonist, and her language has a modern vibe, adding to Gallica’s personality.

Soejima: Her appearance deliberately embodies the conventional fairy look. It might be a bit cliché, but if I were to create fantasy, I definitely wanted to draw fairies.

The cover illustration for this issue, drawn by Soejima-san, features the protagonist and Gallica. Gallica perched on his shoulder looks cute!

Soejima: She often rides on his shoulder in the story, so I’m glad you feel that way (laughs). Since this is a completely new title, I wanted everyone to remember the faces of the protagonist and Gallica first, so that’s why I made this composition.

Using External Artists to Further Expand the World

In this work, external artists from outside of Atlus have been enlisted for the concept design of the “Armored Tank.” Before delving into that topic, could you first explain what the Armored Tank is?

Hashino: To put it simply, it’s a massive vehicle used for purposes similar to a mobile home or trailer house. In the Persona series, specific locations served as the protagonists’ activity bases. However, in this game, as we travel to various parts of the kingdom, we need a means of transportation to move to distant locations. Inside the armored tank, there’s a strategy room, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, and even appliances like washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

So, while being a “tank,” it’s also filled with a sense of daily life (laughs). It sounds like a lot of fun.

Hashino: Although there’s a mechanism that allows you to move instantly to places you’ve visited before, I wanted to bring out the enjoyment and realism of the journey when heading to unknown destinations. We’ll provide more details in future updates, but there are various activities you can do while moving in the armored tank. How you spend the days until you reach your destination is entirely up to the player.

Additionally, while looking at the scenery from the deck during travel, you might see villages along the way, expanses of sea depending on the route and, occasionally, monsters might attack. The areas outside the cities are quite dangerous, and it’s not an environment where travelers can move on foot. The main characters have this armored tank, however it’s usually powerful figures like nobles who generally own these vehicles.

And the design concept is being handled by Ikuto Yamashita, correct?

Hashino: When we were discussing the idea of getting external artists involved to provide a fresh perspective instead of just Atlus’ in-house team, Soejima brought up Yamashita’s name.

Soejima: Yamashita has not only been active in works like Neon Genesis Evangelion but he has also drawn illustrated Dark Whisper (a marine adventure science-fiction manga set in the near future), which left a strong impression on me. I personally have a lot of respect for him, so I was delighted that he could join us this time.

What did you convey to Yamashita-san for the design of the armored tank?

Hashino: Rather than doing something like asking him “Please design this kind of vehicle,” we first explained this world’s background, what kind of energy the people use, and so on. Once Yamashita understood and felt comfortable with the concept, we concluded the discussion. Soon after that, we received the design proposal [below].

Soejima: If I had been the one designing the armored tank, I might have been conscious of creating a vehicle within the constraints of the world, considering the people’s technology and civilization levels. That would be, in a sense, limiting myself when designing. However, when Yamashita manifested it with a different approach, not constrained by such considerations, I was excited to see what kind of creation would emerge. When I actually saw the design proposal, I learned a lot from the dynamic and free-thinking approach he took.

Hashino: We were also inspired by that, and our perspective when thinking about the design of buildings, clothing, and other elements expanded even further.

How was it working with Kazuma Koda, who worked on the concept art?

Hashino: Since this is a fantasy rather than a modern drama, we thought it would be better to ask someone with a proven track record in this genre for the art design rather than creating it within Atlus. Koda-san is someone who has demonstrated exceptional talent at a young age, and we expected him to create powerful art for this work. He has worked on a considerable number of artworks, including important locations and scenes in the story.

Soejima: In the case of modern dramas, there is a certain common understanding of what the world is like, so when preparing art settings, it is often about depicting some special place. However, in the case of fantasy, you have to construct the entire world from scratch, and the scale required is quite different. Concept art that conveys power and persuasiveness when depicting the world from a detached viewpoint is needed, and Koda was just the person we sought for that.

A solid lineup indeed! Moreover, Soejima-san, it seems you have put a lot of effort in this title while still working on the Persona series. You must have designed a significant amount, including tribes, characters, and the “archetypes” that we are still looking forward to hearing more about.

Soejima: The amount of artwork, including ones that were scrapped, is no joke (laughs). In series like Persona, there’s a motivation to meet the expectations of the fans, but for a completely new IP like “Metaphor,” I have to confront the question of “What do I want to create?” Creating something you want also means not being able to externalize those reasons, so it can be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding.

When the creator seems to be enjoying themselves, it raises the anticipation for those eagerly awaiting the release.

Hashino: I hope you can look forward to it. This work is a completely new title, but it’s also a culmination of all the experience and know-how we’ve accumulated over the years, carefully crafted and polished. I hope you will join us in 2024 in celebrating the Atlus brand’s 35th anniversary as we take on this challenge of creating a new game.