Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe Interview with SaGa Series Producer Masanori Ichikawa

Romancing SaGa ReuniverSe Interview Masanori Ichikawa Featured

The SaGa series has been around for almost as long as RPGs have, but it’s seen a bit of a resurgence in the West lately with ports of both Romancing SaGa 2 and Romancing SaGa 3 making their way to modern consoles and mobile, in addition to the long awaited SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions. Along with those console titles, Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe brings many of the classic SaGa elements we love to the mobile platform. Our very own Patrick Gann is a big fan of the title, and when we were presented the opportunity to chat with Mananori Ichikawa, SaGa Series Producer and one of the lead developers on Re;univerSe, he jumped at the chance.

Patrick and Ichikawa’s conversation ranges from SaGa’s origins and the combat mechanics all the way to detailed conversations about the SaGa universe timeline. We hope you enjoy!

RPGFan: Many mobile RPGs based on existing franchises start from a new or separate world/realm to bring together all the other titles. Re;univerSe, on the other hand, functions as a direct sequel to Romancing SaGa 3, while still offering the ability to summon characters from the franchise. How did the team come to this decision?

Ichikawa: There are all the individual titles, and then there’s this title. They all complement each other.

The SaGa series has always been full of mysteries, and one of the things that fans have enjoyed the most is discussing them with each other, including the text that Mr. Kawazu incorporated into the story.

The story of Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe is set 300 years after Romancing SaGa 3, but the events that transpire are centered around a new main character, so even those who haven’t played Romancing SaGa 3 will have no problem jumping right in.

The characters in the series are summoned through Towers. These so-called Visions are akin to those individuals’ memories, so it isn’t like the actual individuals themselves are being brought in. (The events of Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe don’t have an impact on these characters’ original stories.)

The SaGa series is a title that has recently experienced a revival in Japan as well, and we’ve named this game Re;univerSe, as in a reunification of the SaGa world, because it connects all of the SaGa worlds together.

Within this title lies our hopes for the SaGa series to thrive once again.

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RPGFan: Despite the “Romancing SaGa” title, the character roster extends well beyond the Romancing SaGa trilogy, including titles as recent as SaGa Scarlet Grace. What challenges did you face in trying to maintain a unified feeling to the game while adding from so many other titles?

Ichikawa: All of the character dialogue and flavor text have been written by Mr. Kawazu, who created the original Romancing SaGa.

He’s also been working on all aspects, like story supervision and development. Mr. Kawazu has incorporated some twists in the flavor text to include new facets of the original characters and ideas from other stories. Even the development staff find ourselves surprised by this.

I think there have been very few instances where a title’s original creator has been this involved in a spinoff mobile title.

RPGFan: (related) while the Romancing SaGa trilogy, and even the first SaGa Frontier, have sprites that translate well into the graphics engine of Re;univerSe, significant rework must have been required for SF2, Unlimited SaGa, and SaGa Scarlet Grace, What was it like to “demake” these higher-resolution characters into 2D animated sprites?

Ichikawa: All the characters’ graphics have been modified to match those of Romancing SaGa 3, which released during the later days of the Super Famicom.

It may be a bit hard to tell, but this also means we’ve modified all the pixel art for the characters from the first Romancing SaGa and Romancing SaGa 2 as well, which were in the form of pixel art to begin with. This is a truly intricate task.

The humanoid characters are relatively easier to translate into pixel art form, but when we’re turning monsters or massive boss characters into playable characters, the limitation in number of pixels makes things extremely difficult.

For example, this would include characters like the Seven Heroes, the boss characters from Romancing SaGa 2, who now join as allies. The cost (in terms of production hours) to create characters like these is several times higher than simple humanoid characters.

That being said, pixel art has experienced a resurgence in Japan, and many people gather for events focusing just on that, so it’s something we aim to do very well in Re;univerSe.

RPGFan: (related) the original Game Boy SaGa trilogy (known as the “Final Fantasy Legend” series in North America) appears not to be represented in Re;univerSe. What was the reasoning for this, and is there a possibility that characters from this series (such as the guest characters from SaGa 2) could be added in the future?

Ichikawa: We haven’t been able to make various events happen due to the effects of COVID-19. However, this year marks SaGa’s 30th anniversary, and the SaGa titles on Game Boy are the series’ origin, so they’re very important titles for me, too.

Of course, I think they’ll be added some day. (In Japan, a character called Mr. S from Final Fantasy Legend II was just added the other day.)

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RPGFan: Based on the Japanese iteration thus far, it would seem that in all limited-time events, the exclusive characters tend to be additional versions or “Styles” of existing characters, and there has not been any crossover content with other franchises. Many mobile RPGs attempt to do crossovers with other franchises (ex: Kingdom Hearts characters in Final Fantasy Record Keeper). As developers, do you hope to keep Re;univerSe “pure” from crossover content, or is this something you would like to pursue?

Ichikawa: We’re not really thinking very much about doing crossovers. I think what we need to focus on first is to introduce the lesser-known characters from the SaGa titles to everyone.

However, moving forward, there may be a possibility of a crossover happening if we encounter a character that would be meaningful to do one with. Although, even in that case, I don’t think we would do something where a popular SQUARE ENIX character appears just because.

RPGFan: There is a strong plot-based element to Re;univerSe, with a cast of original characters and a story that is internally consistent with the 300-year Morastrum and the 4 Sinistrals introduced in Romancing SaGa 3. Among all the original characters, both playable heroes and the villains, who were your favorite to create and why?

Ichikawa: Polka and Liz are characters that I really like. This time, unlike the other entries in the series, the title doesn’t use the free scenario system. However, a new story will unfold every month, so keep an eye out for those.

RPGFan: Re;univerSe’s battle system functions in a way that is very faithful to the RS trilogy: five characters in battle, formation options, “Grasp” to learn new skills/spells, even LP. In making this intentional choice to keep the combat true to form, did your team ever feel limited or constrained? If not, what do you feel you were able to do to bring your own element of originality to the combat mechanics of this game?

Ichikawa: We’ve taken quite a lot of inspiration from Romancing SaGa 3. That said, we also put in a lot of serious thought about how to incorporate the fun that’s characteristic of a SaGa battle — specifically, how challenging they are and their strategic elements — into a mobile game. I think that in many mobile games, there are a lot of elements that can be too simplistic, or in the case of competitive games, too difficult.

The casual ease with which a mobile game can be played while watching a movie or video, and the strategic element of thinking hard and getting stronger through strategy — both of these elements need to be present in the game, in addition to the fun that’s characteristic of a SaGa game.

Mobile games, with those two contradictory but coexisting elements, now become a part of SaGa. I encourage you to challenge yourself to try beating it. It’s difficult but fun.

RPGFan: Recently, North American SaGa fans were introduced to Romancing SaGa 3, and among those players, the lobster tribe and the playable character “Boston” were a hit! In creating the new lobster character “Valdor,” fans already want to know — why is he purple?

Ichikawa: Boston is popular in Japan, too, but I feel like he’s more popular overseas than he is here. It’s quite curious.

I think those who have played Romancing SaGa 3 with Boston in their party all the way through to the end can attest to this, but despite having little dialogue, he’s an exceptionally cool character.

Why is he red while Valdor, his descendent 300 years into the future, is purple? There may come a time in the story when this is revealed.

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RPGFan: Does your team have an established timeline for the remainder of 2020 to help the international version of Re;univerSe “catch up” to the currently-accessible content in the Japanese version? How do you balance that, when the game has been running actively in Japan for over a year?

Ichikawa: In Japan, we went through quite a lot of trial and error in one year of operation. Even with all that, there are still a number of areas where I wish we had done things differently. “Giving out healer characters in advance” is one of those things. I expect it will be difficult to replicate the exact same content update speed as in the Japanese version, but our current thinking is that we’ll be able to implement updates at the pace of about 1.2 times the pace of the JP version, including areas we felt needed improvement in the JP version and modified partway through and speeding up the overall event updates schedule.

RPGFan: Foregoing everything we’ve asked, what is the one most important thing about this project that you want fans to know, to recognize, to experience for themselves?

Ichikawa: I often read RPGFan’s articles about SaGa. Especially the article about SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions. That one made me genuinely happy. The reason is because I thought this is a title where the opinions about it are very split, so it made me genuinely happy to see that the article was conveying the fun of the title to the fans, just like in Japan. And I was given the opportunity to be the producer of this title, too. This is a great honor.

I think that among readers of RPGFan, there might be some who are thinking that a Japanese mobile RPG leaves something to be desired when compared to a console title, or that it’ll require spending a lot of money.

A major difference between this game and other mobile games out there is that you can truly enjoy the game without spending money on the gacha element. You can keep up with the latest story developments and enjoy all the content. In fact, there was even a player in Japan who, as a form of self-imposed “restricted play,” decided to play without pulling for any of the free gachas or by using jewels that we gave out for free. I’m not sure what he’s up to these days, but I know that he was playing that way for over six months at least.

My hope is for many more people around the world to play the SaGa series. So, I would love for even those who don’t normally play mobile games to try pre-registering, because I’m determined not to let you down. RPGFan, thank you for all the love you always give to Japanese RPGs.

We’d like to thank Masanori Ichikawa, the SaGa development team, and Square Enix for the opportunity to chat about Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe. It’s currently available for pre-registration on iOS and Android in the West, with a release planned for this summer.

Patrick Gann

Patrick Gann

Therapist by day and gamer by night, Patrick has been offering semi-coherent ramblings about game music to RPGFan since its beginnings. From symphonic arrangements to rock bands to old-school synth OSTs, Patrick keeps the VGM pumping in his home, to the amusement and/or annoyance of his large family of humans and guinea pigs.