Interview with Atelier Ayesha director Yoshito Okamura

Here is our full interview with Yoshito Okamura, game director behind the recently released Japanese role-playing game Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk.

1. What was the decision behind not including the Japanese audio?

We thought that Japanese audio was a feature enjoyed primarily by just the Japanese fans, so it honestly took us by surprise seeing and hearing the huge reaction and passionate requests from the overseas fans.

While we can’t go into any detail about upcoming titles at the moment, we have heard the voices of our fans and will seriously consider re-introducing this feature in the future.

We will take a careful look into what our fans expect to see from our games and come up with ways to shrink the gap between us and them, especially now that we have the overseas TECMO KOEI offices to help us get connected.

2. At a glance, combat looks like the typical turn-based battle system. What makes battles in Atelier unique from other role-playing games?

One of the key features is when users invest in what we call in-game "costs" (time, ingredients). They will have items that they can use and equip which can be customised in a various ways. The base items may be the same but depending on the user’s customisation they can become as different as a pebble and a diamond, so players are encouraged to collect ingredients from around the world and think of all the various ways they can use them to create and improve items. There’s nothing more satisfying in this game than being able to create an item exactly as you imagined.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that by using synthesised items, players can overcome large skill differences and defeat powerful enemies. For example, the typical battle system in RPGs is set up so that levels are increased through a hack & slash cycle, all the while collecting money to obtain equipment – a steady progression. In Atelier battles, the winning advantage is not in the character’s level but how items are customised, so players can really feel their growth in-game through item customisation.

Additionally, although this is a turn-based battle system, if certain commands are entered during a battle, users have the ability to change their actions (make an extra action or avoid enemy attacks), which makes this different than other turn-based battle system. Turn-based battles usually operate under the unwritten rule that nothing can change from the moment between selecting a player action and the resulting enemy action. I think that overturning this rule increases the strategic elements of the current battle system.

3. The art style is visually impressive, how long did it take the visual style to form, were there any different incarnations?

In the previous Arland Atelier series (Rorona, Totori, Meruru), there was a focus on bright colours so we thought that a big shift in visual style would be important for Atelier Ayesha. In particular, our goal was to show what the end of the world would look like according to the way we, as Japanese people, envision it. For example, overseas games largely portray the end of the world as a wasteland, and in a similar way I feel that the FPS and JRPG genres tend to be portrayed in a certain fixed way.

In this game, despite the world meeting its end we show the remaining citizens helping out one another, coming together to live their lives – it is the total opposite of the wasteland scenario, as citizens quietly await the inevitable end of the world, and we used this world image to determine the visual direction. As a result, the fields and dungeons are largely based around the themes of ancient ruins and abandoned spaces, which is a drastic change from the mainly realistic visual approach used in the previous Atelier series.

As a side note, when coming up with ideas while sitting at a desk in a small country like Japan, I start yearning to go overseas and travel to different countries. (If I have time to dream of such things, I probably should be thinking of new game ideas instead!)

And, yes, we release one Atelier title each year, so due to this we only have about 9 months to go from the initial idea to final product. Our development policy is to work fast and efficiently, creating a high quality game in the least amount of time.

4. What other RPG developers do you take inspiration from, and where do you see the genre going in the future?

I think this requires an answer from both the team and me personally.
For me, I love Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout series and 2K Games’ (Irrational Games) BioShock and play them often. I am more inspired by the game world, overall feel and atmosphere rather than the game elements. For example, the world in Atelier Ayesha is one that is nearing the end, and although the direction is completely different, I cannot deny that there is some influence from Fallout.

For the team, naturally we reference and set our goals towards Japanese companies. One company we feel is particularly outstanding is ATLUS (Index). They’ve shown through the expansion of their Persona series that JRPGs can be accepted overseas. This is the target which we should aim for.

I feel that the RPG genre is already split in two between those that seek more reality, and those that seek the traditional systematic game play. The Atelier series will probably continue to expand in the latter tradition, but personally I have a small dream to present a more precise RPG that has role playing elements other than battles and criminal acts, and also differs from the future direction of RPGs that the Elder Scroll series presents.

5. If there is anything you’d like to say about Atelier, that we haven’t asked about already, please feel free.

Hello to all the fans overseas! Atelier Ayesha was developed to renew the image of Atelier series. We are definitely looking forward to expand the series further, so we hope you play this game.

Our next step will be to develop a title, which through the aspects of artwork and sound will expand beyond Japan.

From the JRPG director who loves overseas games.