Just last week I was able to sit down with Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Producer Kazumasa Habu during this year’s New York Comic Con and chat a bit about the upcoming JRPG hitting the West next year.
Allisa: One of the things I love most about the Digimon franchise is its deep and complex mythology. Maybe you could tell me a bit about the process and challenges behind incorporating such a huge backstory into Cyber Sleuth, especially the Digimon Knights?
Kazumasa Habu: So of course the story is deep and complex, and of course Digimon started with animation, toys and other merchandising and people connected with the games and animation. The important factor here is how can we take and use the core elements found in Digimon and appeal to the core fans, as well as for the casual fans because they may not know the story but they know the key facts. That’s one of the challenges, to combine these factors into one package.
Three important concepts to this deep and complex mythology is adventure, raising your Digimon and battle. These are the three main pillars that must be present in every Digimon game. Then we have to find out how to we can mix those in together and integrate them along with a new experience for users and give them a satisfying game.
We are targeting core and casual fans so we tried to make the mechanics simpler so people not familiar with Digimon would still be accessible and easily proceed through the key points of the story and get more attached to the digital world and the game.
Of course, drawing from the one of the three pillars adventure, there’s always have a connection and link between the Digital World and Human World and also a great relationship between the Digimon and human that’s a key factor in the adventure aspect. So what’s common sense in Digital World and common sense in the Human World are different but the two [human and Digimon] work together to achieve Digimon evolution and [work together] during exciting battles. Those elements must be present so those playing will feel like this is an authentic Digimon game.
A: Were you surprised by the amount of interest in Cyber Sleuth from the Western market?
H: It was kind of surprising reading about all the fans, especially in the US, and the passionate fans. I think the petition had about 65,000 signatures, you know “please localize the game here” (laughs). This many people who have this kind of passion for Digimon and are demanding this game in the Western market. That’s what made us realize we could localize Cyber Sleuth for the Western market. There was also a sense of honor about it too.
Also, the last localized game was the second title in the Story series and a decade later this game will be localized for US. So, since it’s more like a new experience rather than a sequel, it would be much easier for people to get into as it’s more comfortable.
A: How well enough would the game have to do to ensure that future Digimon titles similar to this one would make it to North America?
H: It’s difficult to say in terms in terms of numbers, of course. We believe there are a lot of fans in the Western market, actually we believe it’s the second biggest market for Digimon. So if we get as much support here, figures included, as in Japan then it will be a high possibility that we bring more games to the West in the future.
A: What ultimately made you and Bandai Namco decide to bring over this game? Was that decision related to the premiere of the first Digimon Adventure Tri movie later this year?
H: Actually while when we were in development the movie was not planned yet. It wasn’t until we also finished development when plans for movie started so there wasn’t a planned relationship. In order to bring this game to the Western market, it was great timing actually because when these people were kids they watched the anime, and then they grew up and find out they want to try out the Digimon games again, and then the petition came out and then the movie was announced so it created this great momentum for Digimon and was a great time for it to come to the West through localization.
For recent Digimon games (including games only released in Japan) we are trying to target to older fans who were fans of Digimon as kids and it was highly evaluated in Japan because they felt we still cared for them, that audience, and wanted to still make games for us. I believe some Digimon Adventure Tri movie staff thought it was important to take care of those higher age of people audience — older teens and adults — maybe there was some factors of that with Digimon Adventure Tri.
A: Since the PS4 version was announced for the North American release, was it planned from the start, or just added when the decision to localize in North America was made?
H: Relating to PS4 version, we had decided on it when we decided to create the localized version. As such it was not planned from the beginning.
So one of the reasons for this is because of the differential gaming market in Japan and the West. Of course in Japan they prefer the PS Vita, compared to the US and West where there are more sales for PS4 rather than for the handheld. Maybe in the future, with more sales from the localized [version], we can consider a PS4 version for Japan.
A: What differences in graphics and other aspects of the game can we expect between the PS4 version and the PS Vita version?
H: Graphically-wise of course improvements to graphics and textures were made, as well as to the user interface as there’s a difference between PS Vita and PS4 versions. In terms of gameplay — and these are differences in button layout between the Japanese and Western versions.
So players in Japan — since the game released in Japan for a full year now — complained about issues with gameplay balance during battles and bosses so in the Western version we revamped these issues and refined them. Also if players complete this game once you can bring your levels over to a new game. That’s what we did for the localized version.
A: Will the production team and Bandai Namco ever consider releasing Cyber Sleuth for PC or any other consoles?
H: Regarding Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth we are not considering any other console other than PS Vita and PS4. But for future titles when the market grows in Japan we might consider releasing for other systems.
(Interviewer’s Note: We had time for one more extra question so naturally I had to ask him this one.)A: What’s your favorite Digimon and why? (Laughs)
H: Devimon and Lady Devimon. These two characters are designed by Kenji Watanabe, who was the Digimon character designer, and his designs are influenced by American comics and artist such as Todd Macfarlane and those two characters had more of an influence from that. I believe Digimon should be cool and look nice and given a more exciting appearance for the younger-aged fans.
So there you have it, straight from the Producer’s mouth. Hopefully you learned some new and interesting facts about Cyber Sleuth, as well as on the Digimon franchise as a whole. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, developed and published by Bandai Namco, will be releasing February 2nd, 2016 for PS Vita and PS4.
Next up is a NYCC 2015 interview with Sword Art Online: Lost Song producer Yosuke Futami, coming soon.