This interview contains spoilers through the end of the game. It also contains information on Leon and Gulcasa's backstories, which are not mentioned anywhere in-game.
Like with the previous post, I don't mind if you link to this post from everywhere on the planet, since this information's meant to be shared. But credit me for the translation, and don't repost this stuff anywhere. P-PLEASE TO BE RESPECTING MY WORK :C
Ito Shinichi x Kiyudzuki Satoko x Tobe Sunaho TELL ALL!!
First, please tell us how you decided to port the game from the GBA to the PSP.
ITO: Our last project, “Riviera”, was also ported from the WSC to the GBA and then to the PSP, but we had a lot of things to thank the users for—we heard that a lot of them bought PSP systems because of the transfer. Luckily, since we already had the design tools, we decided to produce a remake so that those users could play it too. Also, the GBA’s screen really is a bit cramped, and felt too small for the world of the game. The PSP has a larger screen, so I thought that artwork like the field map and the drawings that these two made would be shown more clearly.
Did you ever consider porting the game exactly as it was in the GBA version?
ITO: That was our first plan, but since the whole idea of a portable game is to have it be fun and interesting, I wondered if that approach wasn’t a little strange.
Were there things you had to be careful of when making a work for the PSP?
ITO: The hardware and media are different, so I emphasized the reduction of loading time and improving the game’s operability. There were some things that couldn’t be achieved with the GBA’s specs and the original development circumstances, also. We also considered advice and requests from the users, so we introduced some new things like the ability to speed up battles, skipping event scenes, and sorting functions to further ease of play.
We’ve heard that the difficulty was lowered for the PSP version—will you explain more about that?
ITO: That’s true. It’s a new feature we’ve included this time, which wasn’t available in the GBA version; we adjusted the game a little—simplifying it rather than making it “easier”. This way it’s easier for newcomers to Yggdra Union to play it, and HARD mode was also included for our core users; you can enjoy both of them.
How was Ms. Kiyudzuki chosen as the character designer?
ITO: We were about to start the main development of Yggdra Union, but the visuals still hadn’t been decided. We were looking for someone who could give us a certain degree of aesthetic, so one day when I was on break thinking “Well then, what should we do?”, I went to a bookstore and happened to find a book that Ms. Kiyudzuki was in charge of. At that time I didn’t know Ms. Kiyudzuki personally, but just one look at those charming pictures and I was completely bewitched, so I got in contact with her right away.
KIYUDZUKI: At that time, I was still only a beginner doing 4koma manga, so it was right at the period my name was probably only known by the readers of that manga instead of for illustration work, I think.
That manga was GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, right?
KIYUDZUKI: Yes, that’s right. Since all the main characters in that manga are girls, when I heard from Mr. Ito, I was thinking “I wonder if he wants something really cutesy”. But it turned out to be an incredibly serious strategy RPG… (laughs)
Ms. Tobe, who was in charge of Riviera, was hired for the card illustrations, but why for them specifically?
ITO: That year, the New Year’s card Ms. Tobe drew for me had a great atmosphere to it, so I showed it around the design team and everyone thought it was perfect. So after that, I asked her, “Would it be okay if I asked for between 3 to 40 more of these?” Various kinds of images come up in Ms. Tobe’s art, and that really helps us out.
About how long did the production phase for Yggdra Union (the GBA version) last?
TOBE: I don’t remember too well, but it was probably pretty short. Still, there were a lot of requests to redo the illustrations.
KIYUDZUKI: Really, I was surprised by how many times things get redone for games. As far as manga and light novels go, the illustrations are meticulously planned, so there isn’t much editing, but games really seem to be the opposite… But it was worth it.
TOBE: Mr. Ito is particular, so sometimes we had to redo things as many as ten times. Since he oversaw every stage, when we finally looked at the end result, I thought it had become a wonderful game. It was a good stance, because I think design standards are getting a little lax these days…
KIYUDZUKI: Even in the requests for retakes, there were a lot of things pointed out for changes that we all agreed on. It was kinda painful, though. (laughs)
TOBE: You’re right about that. (laughs) Still, even though Mr. Ito was in command of the entire project, I was shocked at how much work he did by himself.
ITO: That’s because I like doing things myself more than commanding. (laughs) I work hard so that I can enjoy the games I made.
Were there any characters and illustrations that took a lot more thought than the rest?
KIYUDZUKI: Hmm… Yggdra and Milanor probably had the most thought put into them. For Yggdra, her sprites were completed before her illustrations, so in the beginning she had a much simpler look to her. But Mr. Ito said “Please do a design that’s more to your own taste” and turned his back on me, so slowly her design got more and more complicated. In Milanor’s case it was the other way around; I revised his design according to Mr. Ito’s ideas. Overall, the character got the OK quickly enough, but there sure were a lot of retakes related to the weapon… For the individual characters, I liked the designs for Cruz and the Fencers.
TOBE: I worked on Ivy Whip and Mantrap pretty extensively. Among the others, I also really liked Gravity Chaos. For the card pictures, I was told to draw more in the style of my previous works than for Yggdra Union specifically, so I imagined and drew in a more classical fantasy style.
ITO: Milanor was set up as a “king of thieves”, but I didn’t want there to be a feeling of the player being given a character that’s a bad guy. So I asked for him to be given a design with a feeling of his being a thief, but an honorable one who fights with a strong sense of conviction.
Actually, about Milanor—his weapon has a very unusual shape. Where did that idea come from?
ITO: For Milanor’s weapon, I asked for various different types of designs and concepts.
KIYUDZUKI: At first its design was a simple combination of a sword and a boomerang, but Mr. Ito thought that there should be two separate blades, and it wound up with this shape.
ITO: Since Milanor is one of the leading characters, when he’s compared to Yggdra, who carries a sword with a big impact, I wanted his weapon not to lose out.
Were there any real instructions for the design of the card illustrations?
TOBE: For the GBA version, I just went from the name of each card and its Skill, and had the freedom to do whatever illustrations I pleased, but for the PSP version there were clear designations that “this character should have that composition” and so forth, and I followed those.
The PSP version has a bath scene—is this a reference to Riviera?
KIYUDZUKI: Yes. Of course I used Riviera as a reference. But the overseas GBA version is probably more comparable to the hidden ones* Ms. Tobe drew… (laughs) I wasn’t too sure about drawing something suggestive, so I was very careful. It was also a little worrying to think “It’s hidden now, but how long were you looking at it?” There were a lot of people drawn in the scenes from Riviera, but this one only has Yggdra, so I went in fighting and gave it my all (laughs). It’s a shame it had to be censored…
*The bath scenes in the PSP version of Riviera that were censored out of the Japanese release and restored only for the American version.
We’re segueing into connections with Riviera now, but Marietta, who debuts in Yggdra Union, strongly resembles the Archangel in Riviera. Was she also designed as a reference?
KIYUDZUKI: Hmm. Well, I certainly did use Tobe-san’s Archangel as a reference…
TOBE: From the beginning, the Archangel comes from the WSC version of Riviera and Iwanaga Yoshinori’s monster designs. Like I’ve said before, I used a reference for her too…
Are the standards very different when producing illustrations for the game industry rather than the manga industry?
KIYUDZUKI: Umm, I don’t think that the visuals are all that different, but the ways of producing them are.
TOBE: For pictures used in-game, simple images with exaggerated silhouettes tend to be used. When trying to evoke this in a picture, I tend to be conscious of these things and draw to suit them.
What do you consider to be important in game design?
ITO: “Playability”. If you can make something especially original, then I think that both the people who come in knowing nothing and groping for solutions as well as game lovers who just want to have fun will be able to enjoy them.
KIYUDZUKI: I’ve been so busy working that I’ve barely given it any thought, but even if you already do illustrations or manga, it’s not the same as having orders to draw something; when an assignment is handed to you, the idea is to add a lot of your own creativity and originality. I think it’s good when you can hand something in that your partner really enjoys.
TOBE: In the process of game design, the things that you draw are going to be reduced in size, so colors, shapes, and distinctness all need to be versatile—that’s a good thing to keep in mind while working on designs.
Well, then, we’d like to hear a little about the story and setting now. First, we hear the new story character Mistel is married—what kind of person is her husband?
ITO: Mistel is a woman who’s a good thinker and really has it together, but when it comes to matters of love, the fact is that she has terrible luck with men… She’s the kind of character who’s easily tricked by sweet talk. Excellent at judging battles, but terrible at judging men… is how you’d describe the tactician Mistel. Anyway, right now the exact whereabouts of the man she planned to marry are completely unknown; maybe he’s some nameless soldier who’s forgotten Mistel completely and just spends all his time fighting all day long.
In the story, there are a lot of “older brother – younger sister” and “older sister – younger sister” kinds of relationships, but since there isn’t much information about Leon and Elena in the game, please tell us a little bit about them.
ITO: Even though Leon was a citizen of the empire, the Emperor before Gulcasa used his parents as scapegoats and killed them to escape a national crisis. Ever since then, Leon was unable to trust anyone, and his personality started to become warped. Afterward, Gulcasa killed the Emperor and deprived Leon of his ability to get revenge, but Leon felt that the two of them were similar in a lot of ways and had both had miserable lives since they were children, so he was able to accept Gulcasa as his superior. Because he didn’t want his little sister Elena to see how much he’d changed, he adopted a mask and began to hide his face around that time.
Speaking of Gulcasa, does the fact that he’s the successor of Brongaa’s blood mean that he’s technically a demon?
ITO: Yes, that’s exactly right. And not only Gulcasa, but every Emperor in ancient Bronquia was a descendant of Brongaa—that blood just became diluted as time passed. After countless hundreds of years, Gulcasa was born as the single carrier of the true bloodline, but during the previous Emperor’s reign, he was treated as a harbinger of ill fortune and made to accept vicious abuse.
Now that we’ve mentioned demons, in Riviera, the forces that faced down the threat of the demon world were the Grim Angels. Is #367, who resembles them, an experimental Grim Angel, then?
ITO: That’s how it may appear to be, but… The truth is, Hector of the Seven Magi (who first appeared in Riviera) is leading this experiment under the radar in order to take hold of the true power of Asgard. Real Grim Angels are only created by the gods, and are a special combat unit that only moves out on the orders of the gods, whereas #367 is a test subject, a fake born from Hector’s private experiment. “Test model Skadi II” isn’t a real Diviner either, but a reproduction of one made for the experiment. By the way, Nessiah is also a Grim Angel, but he’s a real one created by the gods. However, long ago, he committed a “great sin” and was exiled from Asgard… A so-called fallen angel, he holds a grudge against the gods even now. Because of that, the conclusion where Yggdra goes to war against Asgard is really a happy ending from Nessiah’s perspective, but because Nessiah has lost his power, it’s really another force… in other words, this end’s Yggdra using the Holy Sword to enforce her own ideals. Nessiah was too weak to fight on his own, so the truth is that may have been his only support.
The Gran Centurio was made by Nessiah, but is it the same kind of thing as the Diviners in Riviera?
ITO: Yes. It’s the special weapon Nessiah made in order to defeat the gods themselves.
KIYUDZUKI: I designed it myself, but it wasn’t until I actually tried playing the game that I realized Nessiah made it. (laughs) Even after all the instructions I got… Sacred lettering is drawn on the sword just like the red ribbon on Nessiah’s outfit, isn’t it? Even on Asgard’s flag, too.
ITO: Nessiah is nothing like the gods—he’s not an all-powerful existence. He had to permanently sacrifice his sight in order to make sure he would never deal with uncertain or unnecessary information even once. That’s actually Nessiah’s eye in the pommel of the Gran Centurio, and with that he can gather information even from the other side of the world.
KIYUDZUKI: Originally, the Gran Centurio was a lot simpler, but a lot of things were added, and it wound up with this shape.
ITO: Because the sword has been in the kingdom since the era of the very first king, Nessiah has survived up until now even after having been banished from Asgard. Of course, over that time the kingdom and the surrounding countries have had peaceful times, but in Yggdra’s era, Gulcasa’s rise to power caused conflicts to erupt in various places, which made it seem like fortune had finally smiled on Nessiah. From there, Nessiah chose to stay with Gulcasa so that he could smooth his own plans over. Although the Holy Sword was really just a sword that harvested hatred, outwardly it was the royal family’s ancient hereditary heirloom, so no one had reason to suspect anything at all.
Moving on to your newly announced next project “Knights in the Nightmare”, Mr. Ito, will Ms. Kiyudzuki and Ms. Tobe also be participating with it?
KIYUDZUKI: I’m doing work that’s the absolute reverse of Yggdra Union right now.
TOBE: I keep whispering “Mr. Ito is a demon, a complete devil!” to myself, but I’m doing my best to work too (laughs).
KIYUDZUKI: I get the feeling I may be relying on my credit too much here…
TOBE: It looks like I’m still on “development part 1”, too.
ITO: That’s not it at all! (laughs)
KIYUDZUKI: But with all the under-the-table work going on (laughs), I get the feeling that this is a lot more intense than Yggdra Union.
And last but not least, here’s a message for the fans of Yggdra Union.
ITO: From here on I think I want to make another new game with a unique style of play, so please cheer me on. The next project will also be a game with one or two quirks. Look forward to it!
KIYUDZUKI: If you can find even one character you love from the world of “cute appearances which conceal an opposite atmosphere filled with sepia” I worked on in Yggdra Union, I’ll be happy.
TOBE: If there were cards in the GBA that you used and strengthened, then please try using them all (laughs).
Thank you for taking time out of your work for today, everyone.
(After the final words, the end of the interview got a little lighthearted…)
Actually, I wonder what kind of person the guy who defeated Brongaa, “the hero Gill”, was? Somehow everyone happened to have pen and paper, so would you like to see the different versions of Gill that they imagined?
ITO: If you kill it, you eat it… if you’re a hero, you can’t allow meaningless slaughter!
TOBE: I have the feeling that in ancient times, heroes were pretty active, or something…
KIYUDZUKI: Mr. Ito always asks for spikes, chains, and a cursed feeling.
(From the scans I've seen of the first printing of this book, the first edition has a part underneath the pictures about how they were getting raffled off in May of that year, but my book is from the limited second printing, so that's not there.)