Sword Art Online: Lost Song Producer Discusses Development Challenges, Lack of Female Avatar and More
My second interview from New York Comic Con was with Sword Art Online: Lost Song Producer Yosuke Futami, who I was able to speak with at length about the mock MMORPG’s developmental process, whether we’ll see Lost Song or future titles on any other consoles and plenty more.
Allisa: Like previous Sword Art Online games Lost Song stars protagonist Kirito as well. That said, what made you and the development team let players create and customize their own characters despite this? Would you consider this feature in future games?
Yosuke Futami: Well this is based on an MMORPG world and many people were requesting if they could play as themselves and create a game character and have fun with the same game system. So even though we have Kirito there we gave players the option to play as an avatar and join in the virtual world to save it as Kirito would.
It’s quite difficult because different games will have different settings or maybe the story might expand from Kirito to an original character. But we still like to consider this avatar feature for future titles.
A: Even though players can customize their character in Lost Song, they can only play as a male for obvious reasons. RE: Hollow Fragment allowed for players to create and play as a female character. Was there any particular reason why that feature is not in Lost Song? Would you ever plan to add that feature again in any new Sword Art Online games such as the upcoming Realization?
F: One reason is that it’s a different developer between RE: Hollow Fragment and Lost Song (laughs). [Interviewer’s Note: Infinity Moment and Hollow Fragment were developed by Aquria while Lost Song was developed by Artdink.] Even though in RE: Hollow Fragment the player is able to make a female but that’s based on Kirito’s avatar, so they are actually modifying Kirito’s avatar to make a female-like avatar. But the concept is different in Lost Song as players can make their own avatar.
There are nine different races and in order to provide a fully free customized avatar many options have to be implemented. There’s a little constraint developing games. So this time there were constraints for race and gender but in the future we will try to consider more options, such as gender or avatar type. Hopefully we can do that in the future.
We just announced Realization in Japan and many features are in development so we hope we can give that option but we can’t comment right now.
A: Lost Song is the first Sword Art Online title that was developed with the PS4 in mind. What were you able to accomplish with the PS4 that you couldn’t with previous systems such as the PS Vita?
F: Things we have implemented are 60 FPS and we have more range in gameplay since the main character can fly in the sky. Also on the graphics side we have richer textures and you can see further distances as objects far away will be clearer. The characters themselves are realized more vividly in the game.
A: As you began working on the Sword Art Online series, what challenges did you and your development team face trying to adapt the anime plotline to an open world action title? What were some of the techniques you used to make players feel like they were in a VR world without actually having the headgear?
F: There were quite a lot of challenges to integrating the anime elements into this game. Two main challenges were: this game is not made for VR — although Sony is coming out with that option in the future so maybe then but definitely not now — but since it’s based on the anime’s story we had to make people in real life feel like they are immersed like they are playing the Sword Art Online game.
The next one was to visualize and link the storyline of the “Real World” and “Game World” in Sword Art Online in gameplay since the story follows the game. In order for people to think of this as the MMO in that franchise while avoiding any awkwardness, we synced both the Real and Game World gameplay of the game and interwove those stories together.
In RE: Hollow Fragment there’s an option for first-person perspective which means that you can play the game from your own eyes. So that’s an option players can consider, as it allows the player to experience and play the game like the characters play it in Sword Art Online. I strongly believe, however, that players can immerse themselves in the gameplay and enjoy it.
And this is just a development side. I was trying to test the first-person view with Kirito flying in the sky and it made me very sick (laughs) and decided: no.
A: Would there be any future plans for a Sword Art Online title that could actually use a VR headset to simulate experiencing a virtual world?
F: Of course I always consider trying to make a similar gaming experience compared to using a Navi-gear, headgear or VR. So seven years later — 2022 — when Sword Art Online comes out [in real life] please wait then (laughs). And I’ll put all my efforts into making VR possible until 2022.
A: Is there a chance to that we could ever see a Sword Art Online game exclusively for PS4, fully using the power of the console?
F: (In English) Of course! (Laughs) [Lost Song] is made for PS Vita but in the future we would try to make [a game] for a high-end console like PS4 or maybe PC and utilize that power of the consoles to make those games more powerful and gorgeous.
A: While the Xbox One isn’t very popular in Japan, it is in the west, and other developers are releasing their Japanese games on Xbox One for the west only. Is there a chance to see this happen with Lost Song as well?
F: A couple years ago Sword Art Online was not planned for localization for the West until we found that there were a lot of passionate fans who wanted it, and we realized that we could bring over RE: Hollow Fragment and Lost Song.
For Xbox One it could be possible if we heard more voices demanding for more consoles.
A: A new character has been announced for the mobile game Sword Art Online: Code Register, Rin. Is there any chance that she’ll be included in Lost Song via additional content? or in future non mobile games?
F: (Laughs) At this moment we are not thinking about that but maybe if Rin or other characters from the mobile games become popular enough then we might consider bringing them into a console game in the future. But at this moment, not yet.
[Futami-san suddenly recalls he created Rin and states jokingly] Okay, I’ll consider it! (Laughs)
A: Are you and Bandai Namco considering a Steam release of Lost World considering that many other Bandai titles receive the same treatment?
F: For Lost Song, since is the first time we have a game coming out for PS4 in the West, we’d like to to see how well it does on PS4 first. Then, once we get lots of feedback, we’d consider putting the game on Steam and other high-end consoles.
A: Who’s your favorite character from the franchise and why?
F: First one is Sinon because she has strong parts but also weak parts. She has both elements included inside of her. And then the weak side of her stimulates that sense to protect her from others because she seems like she wants to confront everything herself but does have those fragile parts to her. That’s a really attractive quality to me.
And do you remember Alice, a character from the novel? She’s not in the animation yet. She’s an AI — not the program but one that grows up and has their own characteristics — and one of the main characters in the novels, as well as the first rival to Asuna.
Still again, she has the strong mind and concept of herself but also weak and fragile parts. Not only that, but her relationship with Kirito gives the possibility of the relationship between human and AI and how it can develop together. Because of those elements I really like that character as well.
Hopefully you’ve found this interview as enlightening as I did, especially concerning the development side of things. It’s interesting to see some of the processes that go into creating such a fascinating JRPG. Sword Art Online: Lost Song, developed by Artdink and published by Bandai Namco, will be coming out for PS4 and PS Vita on November 17th.
Check out my previous interview with Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Producer Kazumasa Habu here.