Project Re Fantasy Developer Interview About Fantasy and TRPG Inspirations, Development, Studio Zero
The recent issue of Dengeki PlayStation Vol. 630 released in Japan on January 12 features a 4-page article about Project Re Fantasy: A Fool’s Journey Begins, including an interview with the Studio Zero creators behind the project.
Reasons Behind the Fantasy Genre
- Hashino states that, originally, Atlus started from a place where they got support from users because they did something different from the common fantasy themes. The “Persona” series is one such example, and it has become more popular than Hashino could have imagined. With the types of entertainment these days becoming very diverse and the change in the times, the style of the Persona series came to not be regarded as a niche one, like it once was.
- When Hashino looks at today’s trends he feels that, paradoxically, fantasy is what would be different from the norm. However, when it comes to the vague definition of doing fantasy, there are already many titles of that genre, with the danger of one lacking creativity. So, as a result of looking into the idea multiple times, they found parts where they can make use of their past experiences, applying key words like “reviewing the old and learning the new” (“Warm Innovation,” similar to the concept of “Onkochishinsho“) and “bonds.”
- When Hashino arrived to the thought “It’ll be fantasy after all,” he arrived to the theme “journey,” which he wanted to deal with a while ago. [Likely referring to one of the initial concepts for Persona 5, which was about backpacking around the world.]
- Hashino wants to explore the conflicts between different races that results from a journey, and the growth in people that it brings. This is an essence that he has drawn from “Shin Megami Tensei” and “Persona,” which he wants to apply to this fantasy. He is confident that, if he is able to finish it, he will be able to do something that builds upon what his seniors have created, allowing them to make an original work.
Inspirations for the Fantasy World
- Hashino wants to embody the sense of freedom that a fantasy world has.
- Hashino has worked on settings inspired directly from the real world thus far, but this time the basis behind the world will be the key term: “reviewing the old and learning the new.” By facing fantasy straight on, and because he does not have any experience producing fantasy works, he feels that he’ll have to seek guidance from the kinds of feelings conveyed through previous fantasy titles.
Approach Towards Development
- Hashino’s stance towards the game’s development has not shifted compared to the past, like with Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Persona 3. When he was developing Persona 3, he was not accustomed to making something where the character’s daily life was at the forefront, so he had to visit Akihabara with his staff and conduct research. This is how he decided to implement a system of “limited time,” important to the nostalgic feeling of high school in Persona 3. He also implemented scenarios based on his own admission to graduation experience in his student life. By doing this, he feels that he could create elements that were different from existing RPGs and, as a result, this satisfied the users as well. He does not know what will happen this time, but he will try to approach this fantasy project in the same way.
- Hashino’s motivation hasn’t changed from when he took on a new challenge with Persona 3, however the discussion started about what to do from scratch, since he wasn’t taking on an existing series. When it comes to the staff members assigned to challenging this whole new thing, however, they are enthusiastic about tacking this fantasy project.
- The staff like the approach of Atlus games like the “Shin Megami Tensei” series, and Hashino chose to join the company, but fantasy is the “original experience” of the RPG genre, and what he thinks inspired him to join the games industry in the first place. They were incredible as he was growing up, and he wants to challenge the feeling of exciting adventure with all the power they have nowadays to reproduce it.
Scope of the Game
- Hashino can’t go into much detail since it is at the conceptual stage, and he hopes that people can imagine from the concept art. He is not striving for what tends to be called a “AAA (Triple A) title,” but aiming it to be of 5-star interest all the same. Similar to what he has done before. For that reason, they are fleshing out various things at the “core” of the fantasy they envision.
Efforts Behind the Game’s Development
- Hashino states that in addition to the normal development work tackled with a PC, he has been engaging in TRPG (tabletop role-playing game) as the origin of fantasy games (using paper, pencils, speaking, etc.). Playing according to the rules described in conversation between people. He was the first to participate in full swing as a player, creating his own character and then learning the intricacies of how to play from there.
- A lot of the procedure in current RPGs are replaced by computers, but not all of them are the same. For example, in TRPGs there is a gamemaster (GM) that creates the games by collecting various ideas from the players and managing the progress. In consumer games, most of the GM’s role is taken over by computers however, in TRPGs, the GM is also one of the participants—and not simply a pre-programmed computer—which means that the design and the player are very close in a TRPG. Hashino felt that this difference is the most distinctive point between a video game and a TRPG.
- Hashino will not be creating a GM-like system in this game, however he will be developing it while thinking of himself as a GM, thinking about what kind of approach to take from the user’s point of view who are only able to play it.
- The game is not simply fantasy because there is a king and a princess. Hashino wants to also look at the process of establishing this genre, as well. Therein lies the key concept of “reviewing the old and learning the new.” Hashino believes revisiting origin points such as TRPG will help him reconsider the way of making games at Atlus, from the user’s point of view.
- Dengeki PlayStation asks whether the elf woman depicted in the first piece of concept art is the hero of the story, and Hashino responds by saying he cannot say anything about story details yet. However, the woman depicted in the concept art is not the image of the main character. The main characters of current games and anime are often designed to be ages where they’re “shortly before becoming an adult,” such as high school students who are easy for users to empathize with the most. Hashino is creating the image of a different type of protagonist (player).
- One of the key words behind Project Re Fantasy is “bonds.” Hashino states that, the Persona series is set in a limited time frame called high school, where he thinks that graduation, employment, etc. comes sooner or later. Once-in-a-lifetime encounters are made during this journey. So, while it will come in a totally different shape, Hashino thinks the encounters of this game are going to be somewhat familiar compared to the encounters of the Persona series.
- The concept video released for Project Re Fantasy, showing off a fantasy-like forest and a castle, was shot in France. Hashino wanted to create something that is unlike Atlus, and so video was recorded at the location itself for the PV. The monologue during the video is spoken by voice actor Yui Ishikawa, in the image of a young working girl.
Studio Zero Background
- While Hashino is thankful and happy about the recent games Atlus has made and their positive reception, he thinks about how their games mainly revolve around “Shin Megami Tensei” and “Persona,” based on the foundation of their seniors. The only completely new title they had made was Catherine—5 years ago—so the topic of creating something new had been raised within the company.
- With the context of tackling a new challenge, Hashino thought that he would like to set up a new place to work for a large number of people, using the know-how they have accumulated over the years. Hashino thought it would be important for him to remain with Atlus and, with Persona 5‘s fortunate success and the 20th anniversary miletstone of the series, he decided to talk with the company about creating a new production studio.
Reason Behind the Studio Zero Name
- Hashino states that, up until now, Atlus had two production studios. One [ATLUS Creative Department 1st Production] for the development of the “Shin Megami Tensei” series and the “Etrian Odyssey” series, with the other [P Studio] for the development of the “Persona” series. Studio Zero was formed as the third production studio, gathering a small number of people from the existing studios. By stepping into a field different from the production framework of the existing teams, the new team was formed to complement each other (as well as the other studios). Taken as an origin point, of making a new game for Atlus from “zero,” the name “Studio Zero” seemed apt.
- Hashino states that while the core members of the new studio have started various things, he wants to increase the number of the production staff a little more. The announcement at the end of last year held the meaning of wanting to show what kind of work they were making, not only for the users, but to the industry at large as well. It’s like they’re gathering followers to start a trip.
Shin Megami Tensei & Persona
Concepts According to Hashino
- For Hashino, the “Shin Megami Tensei” series is about encountering various characters with various ideas and positions in a world where conflict is constant, where you are asked “Who is right among them?” With everyone in this situation, the player has to decide how to behave, while doing what they think is right and wrong. This is parallel to the real world. The “Persona” series replaces these concepts of the outside world with the inner world, where people ask themselves who they actually are. It’s about a conflict of values within yourself.
Project Re Fantasy
- “Project Re Fantasy” is not a title name, but a project name. The meaning behind it is akin to “we will start over with fantasy.” The subtitle, “A Fool’s Journey Begins,” is also attached, representing a lone, innocent fool who travels to a new world and gains knowledge of it. Representing their firm determination to create a fantasy world is the key art of an elf girl, with an unflinching look forward.
- The theme that will be drawn from this game is “journey.” The concept of taking yourself away from the place you are used to now. Also embodying the element of “travel,” returning there after a long period of time. The “Persona” series is set in a very familiar town, and if someone liked the concept of the “Palace” locations in Persona 5 representing adventure, as a place that differs from the familiar town, they will enjoy the contrast this concept embodies. Thinking about what it really means to cherish and travel are reasons behind the theme.
- The illustration below shows the appearance of the party on a horse-drawn carriage as an indication of “solid human drama,” comparable to the bonds represented in the Persona series. Because the world of this game will be a fantasy one, there are, of course, elements that will change compared to previous titles. However, the style itself will not change at all. Because this game will be a so-called high fantasy world without machines as a rule, the horse carriage is shown as the means of transportation. Also, as shown in the picture, this game will be drawing upon conflicts among races, in addition to races other than human beings and elves.
- Looking back to the age of the good old TRPG, Hashino would like to return to the wonderful sense of adventure in a game and emphasize it in this fantasy world. Making a fantasy RPG, there was no choice but to ‘go back’, and the Red Dragon is a symbol of that, as a representation of a special, supernatural power. Illustrated by Shigenori Soejima, of the Atlus Artwork Team.
Shigenori Soejima Comments
Comments from Shigenori Soejima, who worked on the concept art for Project Re Fantasy, who is part of the Atlus Artwork Team.
- Soejima says it is his first time working on a fantasy game, although he has been drawing fantasy since he was a child.
- He was introduced to fantasy with tabletop role-playing games such as “Dungeons & Dragons.” Despite the lack of pictures, he felt the weight of the world and the characters, as though they were real. He would proceed to draw his TRPG characters and his friends’ characters.
- Soejima will not be adding subversive flourishes to his illustrations this time. A dragon will be shown as a one in fantasy, or the same with a knight. They will be drawn to establish a common point of familiarity, with people who share different ways of viewing fantasy.
- The knight shown in profile in the first concept art was made to be an elf to emphasize the fantasy feeling of the project.
- Soejima wants to focus on details such as the texture of the armor’s iron plate, the details of the sword’s black scabbard, and so on. It’s to lend a sense of reality to this unknown world of fantasy.
- Soejima keeps different things in mind depending on the title, and for Project Re Fantasy he is remembering “the feeling of a foreign country.” He is aiming for the game to have the inherent appearance of an RPG, with elements that give the tangible sense of a TRPG.
Project Re Fantasy: A Fool’s Journey Begins currently has no slated platform or release date. The name is the code name of the game, and is not final.
Editor’s Note: I would also like to point out that this was a 4-page article about Project Re Fantasy featured in Dengeki PlayStation magazine. As of now, no platform has been announced for the game, but there’s a potential implication of one here.