Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 – Nintendo Online Magazine Exclusive Interview

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We’ve infiltrated the offices of Intelligent Systems, located on the corner of an atmospheric neighborhood in Kyoto. Our aim today is to speak with one Mr. Shozo Kaga, game designer for the Fire Emblem series. Following our arrival, we partook in some of the delicious tea for which Kyoto is so well known and awaited Mr. Kaga. It was not long before he arrived–so calm and wise, carrying himself with the air of a respected university professor. We exchanged introductions, and had him speak at length about his feelings for the Fire Emblem series–its latest installment in particular, Thracia 776.

We simplified the story, and put everything we had into refining the game mechanics.

Thracia 776 is something of a supplement to Genealogy of the Holy War, which was the fourth title in the Fire Emblem series. For our plot, we took a single section of the previous game to hone in and expound upon. That said, it is still a relatively simple story, so it should be easy enough to follow even if you didn’t play Genealogy.

To tell the truth, our main focus for Genealogy was on creating a detailed story. The war simulation aspect suffered as a result, and it seems as though there were many people who found it dissatisfying compared to earlier titles. This time, we’ve done the exact opposite. We simplified the story, and put everything we had into refining the game mechanics.

As a war simulator, you’ll find it is actually much closer to the third Fire Emblem game, Mystery of the Emblem. You could say that we’ve returned to our roots. This is not the kind of game, however, that you can play with the intent of idly passing the time away. Success in this game will require the player’s absolute and undivided attention.

I don’t mean to harp on the difficulty, but it is not likely that players will be able to clear most maps on their first try. If you catch onto some key points it may be possible to figure it out in 30 minutes, but formulating the ideal strategy may take some people up to an hour.

Thracia, however, is not a puzzle game. If players are able to empathize with their units, imagining that they are there on the ground in the same situations the characters are, they will be to find the solutions they need to out of necessity. If you constantly remind yourself that it’s just a game, it becomes too easy to press forward without a care in the world, attempting to reach the end through brute force, don’t you think? I ask players to imagine that the game is reality. In real life, would there not be times that call for withdrawal, or even retreat?

By giving the players more options, they can now act more freely than ever before.

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To speak a bit about the game systems: on a base level, it is the same as Mystery of the Emblem. That is to say, the campaign has you moving from one scenario to the next. The catch is that Thracia 776 does not run a set course, but splits, and the player has been given more room to make decisions. Each map has many challenges, you see–sub-missions, if you will. The number of maps a player will see depends on how they play. This means that depending on your performance, there may be some missions you simply never encounter. We expect that while playing, people will be able to intuit whether they’re doing sub-missions or not.

Furthermore, I think players can anticipate being very surprised by their enemies’ actions. My extremely talented staff have created a thoughtful, high-quality algorithm that we believe is good enough to outsmart players. Until now, I imagine there are many people who come to understand how the computer “thinks” the more they play and have been able to make enemy units dance to their tune, but things are different this time. In Thracia 776, the computer moves in ways that make it seem real–and almost human.

The algorithm that the computer uses changes per map. In most simulation games, for example… if there was a tank unit, that tank would use the same algorithm throughout the entire game, making the same moves on every single map. In Thracia 776, two of the same unit will move in totally different ways on different maps.

We’ve also experimented with the mechanics in several ways. Things we implemented during development ended up working out quite well, expanding the scope of the game and giving us even more ideas to work with. It was actually quite distressing. For example, we had the idea of making it possible for units called Dragon Knights to pick up one ally and carry them through the skies, and decided to run with it. Because of that, even if you were caged in by mountains on all sides, it’s suddenly possible to reach places you typically should not be able to. Basically, the more freedom we offer players, the more likely it is that they will move in ways we did not anticipate. Everything within the game needs to remain consistent despite that, and the amount of work that went into making sure it did was truly harrowing. But because we did, players are able to enjoy a greater level of freedom. Oh, and victory conditions, as well. This time, each map comes with its own unique set of victory conditions. Some maps may require you to escape unharmed, while others may require you to secure a particular location. Having this match up with the story we wanted to tell was quite challenging. With Thracia 776, I feel like we have succeeded in taking the series in a novel direction, and I am confident that fans of the series will be quite satisfied with the result.

The characters’ personalities are something we leave up to the players.

The characters in Fire Emblem are the very units you command, so while you may do your utmost to stay calm and devise a good strategy, your plans end up with holes in them. As players start to empathize with the characters they become prone to making errors in judgment, which cause their strategies to fall apart. (laughs) Like when someone has a favorite character and does everything they can to keep them safe. (laughs) This is something that would never happen in a game like Famicom Wars, where your units are generic weapons like tanks.

I’m willing to bet that most people have played through previous games in the series exclusively using characters they like–or rather, characters that are strong. Am I right? (laughs) In Thracia 776, you probably won’t make it very far playing that way. Powerful characters are more difficult to use than they used to be… or rather, we’ve introduced the element of the fatigue to the game, so that characters grow tired as they fight. It therefore won’t be possible to use these stronger characters every single map, so you’re going to need to raise all of your characters equally if you want to stand a fighting chance.

Thracia 776 will feature many characters that appeared in Genealogy, which I’m sure will make many fans happy. I think that each player has their own ideas in their heads of what these characters’ personalities are like, so I’m a bit worried about how people will react if there’s a gap between how the characters behave in-game and how they believe they should act.

This time, though, we’re leaving the characters’ personalities up to the players. Whether a character is kind or has a dry personality, or if they’re strong or weak-willed. I’d like the players to decide. Not just how they perceive the characters, but I expect it to influence how they have their characters move, as well. It may almost seem as though the way your character develops is affected by the actions they take on the battlefield.

I’ll say this much, though: the protagonist is weak. It would be unwise to expect much of him. (laughs)

I want players to experience the beauty–the drama that exists in tragedy.

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To speak a bit more on the many ways the game can be played… aiming for a perfect game is fine, and so is just letting yourself be swept along on a path the game lays out for you. Play however you want to. So long as you enjoy yourself and finish the game, there is no “wrong” way to do it. However, I just want to say that a perfect game–that is, recruiting all characters, not letting a single one die, and seeing all the endings–is not my vision.

One thing I intend to express in my works is the beauty that is to be found in tragedy. Should a story have 50 characters, there is no way that every single one would survive. Drama is born when one among them becomes a sacrifice for the sake of the others, and that is something I want to treasure. There is a group of hardcore players who aim for something called a “no-reset game.” That is, not resetting and trying again should someone in your party fall in battle, but pressing on and continuing your journey while treasuring the memories of your fallen comrades.

I do not like war, but I find something romantic about situations where one has no choice but to fight.

I’m very interested in history, and I like heroic fantasies in particular. When seeking to recreate the kind of human drama that exists in those fantasies, I ended up settling on role-playing simulations as the best possible medium.

Mitsuhide Akechi is a historical figure of whom I am particularly fond. I am drawn to his humanity, and the more sensitive aspects of his character. He was too kind, too serious, and too good a human. For me, he is the embodiment of the “beauty of tragedy.” There is one character made in his image in each Fire Emblem game. Give it some thought, and see if you point any out.

While I may love history, I do not care for war. There are situations where people find they have no choice but to fight, and I find something very romantic about that. The war told of in Thracia 776 is not one of good and evil, where the villain is punished and justice prevails. I ask our players to remain aware of that, and would be overjoyed if they were able to think of this as more than just a game.

This philosophy is reflected in the game mechanics, as well. Until now, it has always been a kill or be killed world, but we’ve now given players the ability to capture enemy units. That is to say, it is possible to make enemies into your prisoners. It’s incredibly difficult to do, but the option is still there, and I hope players find some value in that.

I would love to make an easier game next time.

Development of Thracia 776 began around the beginning of last year. We didn’t actually plan to make it into as big of a title it ended up being–we had originally planned for it to be a smaller, more compact experience that would serve as a side-story to Genealogy of the Holy War. Development was also supposed to end much sooner than it did, but once we started working on it we couldn’t help but keep going…

Had we known it would come to this, it would have been much easier to make it an entirely original story. We struggled an incredible amount trying to keep the game consistent with Genealogy’s setting. We needed to make a game that would simultaneously not raise eyebrows amongst players who enjoyed the previous title, while at the same time making it a complete, singular game that could stand on its own.

Well, at the moment we do have ideas floating about for future games in the series and for games on the Nintendo 64, but next time… I would love to make an easier game next time. (laughs) For the players, as well–a lighter experience that our players could pick up and enjoy. I hope we’ll be able to make it happen someday.

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