Serving as planner and designer of the recently released fifth installment of the long-running Breath of Fire series, Makoto Ikehara and Tatsuya Yoshikawa have been integral parts of the game’s development team. Both joined Capcom more than ten years ago in 1992.
Breath of Fire V – Dragon Quarter has sold 200,000 copies in Japan last year and was released in the US in February 2003.
Q: We had the honor to play Breath of Fire V – Dragon Quarter…
Ikehara: It’s probably difficult.
Q: Indeed, it is difficult. I was surprised the first time I saw that I couldn’t win a battle. But after I won once, I couldn’t be stopped and it quickly started to become more enjoyable. First, which aspects of Breath of Fire V were you in charge of?
Ikehara: I was in charge of the game’s direction. Furthermore, I was involved in scenario scripting and executive production among other things. I was working from the plot to the script, with the exception of the storyboard. Yoshikawa: I was in charge of the game’s general design, modeling and animation, as well as the tuning of the entire world’s appearance.
Q: Mr Yoshikawa, were you involved right from the game’s initial concept art?
Yoshikawa: Indeed. I drew all the so-called initial or material designs. I drew some illustrations, material designs and monsters.
Q: The game is a sequel to Breath of Fire, Capcom’s fantasy RPG series which has been running since 1993, but how long have you (two) been involved?
Ikehara: I entered the company as a low-level planner when the first game was in development. From then on, my Breath (of Fire) life began, *laughs* and until (Breath of Fire) V, I have done the planning. Since (Breath of Fire) III, I have also been put in charge of directing.
Q: Mr Ikehara, have you always been working on Breath (of Fire)?
Ikehara: Basically, I have always been working on Breath of Fire.
Yoshikawa: With the exception of the first installment, I have always been involved in the Breath (of Fire) series. I have always done the character designs.
Q: Breath of Fire V has been put together with a lot of care, even in the most detailed parts. How long has the game been in development?
Yoshikawa: Two and a half years. Development began around April 2000.
Q: If it was two and a half years ago, then this was before the release of the PlayStation 2, right?
Ikehara: At that time the name had been announced, but the console’s design hadn’t been officially unveiled.
Q: This time, you have created a new Breath of Fire title on the PS2. What goals did you set?
Ikehara: First and foremost, we thought, let’s change Breath of Fire. The platform changed and the visuals weren’t dot-by-dot pictures anymore, but rather 3D CG.
Q: The battle scenes have undergone a dramatic change I think. Fighting enemies while running using the analog stick is like an action game and has a great feeling to it. So to speak, there is a novelty in the fact that the game doesn’t have squares or a turn-based system.
Ikehara: As far as the battles are concerned: they were created by a titular planner and a programmer in a three-legged race. At first they literally were standard battle scenes. However, we didn’t want the movement in the field and the battle scenes to feel too different, so we re-made them once again. From that point onwards, they became these battle scenes where you can freely run around.
Q: When you enter the field in this Breath of Fire title, and even moreso in a battle, it has the perfectly tense feel of an action game to it.
Ikehara: People around us kept telling us to clearly separate the action parts and the RPG parts, etc. But on the contrary, because everyone told us to do so, we said, “No, we’re keeping it this way!” and our hesitations vanished.
Q: During the game’s first half, the D-counter is introduced. When you are fighting a battle or walking around, it slowly but surely increases, right? As I was glancing through the manual, I read that when the D-counter reaches 100%, its “Game Over”. Is that really the case?
Ikehara: Does it not decrease? You are slowly but surely heading towards death. However, when you are walking around, the natural increase of this number is not a big deal.
Q: However, it continues to increase bit by bit…
Ikehara: This is tough psychologically, isn’t it? *laughs*
Yoshikawa: You can hardly mess around in a town, right?
Ikehara: Well, it’s not like it will rise all of sudden in a town, so there is no need to worry. Proceeding is better than stopping.
Q: And then there is SOL (Scenario Overlay). Upon starting again after my first “Game Over”, I saw new scenes. That was very surprising. If you start over again several times, you can see more and more new scenes.
Yoshikawa: The team’s aim was to create a game worth playing, but there were pros and cons to the fact of having to die to be able to progress.
Q: How long does it approximately take to reach the game’s ending for the first time?
Ikehara: Quick folks can complete the game within 19 or 20 hours.
Q: And then they start over and over again. *laughs*
Ikehara: Because at first they die right away, thinking this is an ordinary RPG, they’re probably restarting many times! *laughs*
Q: There are a lot of people who don’t die in games nowadays. But in this Breath of Fire title, you’re constantly on the brink of death.
Yoshikawa: The series’ previous installment, Breath of Fire IV, was a game where you rarely got annihilated, so this was probably a reaction to that fact.
Ikehara: In older games, you did get annihilated pretty often, didn’t you? And yet that too was a good memory. After all, isn’t the essence of a game’s thrill also in the “Game Over”? That heartbeat feeling…
Q: Even in Breath of Fire, you can’t have a lot of items, you can’t afford to walk around aimlessly and you can’t save often. There are a lot of restrictions. Having to somehow survive in the midst of all this gives the game a strong “survival” feeling.
Yoshikawa: We wanted to capture the pleasure of “success through struggle” in the game.
Ikehara: I think in older games, there where times when you’d say, “I did it that way, but he did it another way.” There was that feeling of thinking and playing on your own. Like for instance, if you were saving money rather than buying the next level weapon, you could make the effort to keep saving money to buy an incredibly strong weapon, and advancing much further all at once. If you’re playing by yourself, you can exchange tips with fellow players. I thought games like these were good.
Q: Also, when saving data, the ID number is rejected and it seems impossible to copy, right? Was there a reason behind this?
Ikehara: With memory cards nowadays, you can make copies (of saves), right? So, there will be users who’ll cheat by using the copy. If they lose to an enemy, they can start again from where they saved. We wanted to bypass this.
Q: Now that’s severe!
Ikehara: But this is different from games where you get numb, where you think “If I die now, those last three hours of play might have been in vain.” The tension of playing (Breath of Fire V) is different. Oh well, when I got a “Game Over” I got angry as well. *laughs*
Translated by Chris Winkler and Eve C.