Takahashi recently sat down with Harada Katsuhiro from Namco to talk mostly about the Japanese hiring process and workplace culture. I feel most of this interview to be lacking in insight into the Xeno games, and so I want to focus on a bullet point summary rather than translate what looks like at least a 10000-word project that won’t be interesting to most people (I imagine) anyway. I will provide direct quotes and context where I deem it necessary and important enough. The translation is below.
- Harada opens by talking about his experience as a junior employee at Namco, saying when he had to stay overnight at the company (in part because the company was a better place to live than at his house, he says), his boss would bring him riceballs to eat. Contrast that to when Harada went to visit Monolith Soft, where he saw loads of takeout sushi just past the door. Takahashi explains it was a culture inherited from the old Square.
- Takahashi is asked about why his recruitment page puts map design front and center, to which he responds that one thing he has been consistent about since the beginning were maps and locations. Most of this is stuff we have heard many times before.
- When told by the interviewer that he thought Monolith Soft was a company all about the story, Takahashi responds that the importance of a proper story “goes without saying.”
- The interviewer asks how Takahashi comes up with the plot, and he says:
Takahashi: When it’s still on paper, I say “there’s a world like this, with characters like this,” and that’s all I’ve decided on. After that, I come up with a basic storyline and say “These are the kinds of things we’re doing for this script,” and that’s what I tell my staff… After that, the planners, game designers and programmers group together and head to their desks to create a game flow. If there’s a problem, we get feedback, fix the plot, tidy up the characters, and we get down to the nitty-gritty of the script once all of that game progression is set into stone.
Interviewer: And how long would you say it’s taken at that point?
Takahashi: About eight to ten months. By that point, we know what we need to make and have the proper environment to do so, and then we start making all the assets, and we’re at the 2.5~3 year mark.
Interviewer: Do you write all of the script?
Takahashi: The core parts, I end up writing. Sidequest storylines, I leave it to the staff on the frontlines and supervise, fixing when need be.
- Asked what his ideal RPG is, Takahashi says “an RPG that has a world you never want to leave.”
- Takahashi seemingly didn’t know about the Xenosaga petition until Harada told him about it.
- Half the reason why Xenosaga Episode I has so many cutscenes is that the rendering engine wasn’t finished until six months of the final deadline (Note: This isn’t exactly news, as it’s been said before on Iwata Asks, but he didn’t talk about that being half the reason why).
- After Ep I, Namco did not lend Monolith Soft a hand, says Takahashi. He says a consultant working for Namco thought it was in the best interest of Monolith Soft to be put in a tough spot to grow as a company. He says he heard it from the consultant himself.
- Takahashi describes the company during Ep I development as “a sleepless town,” working without any holidays. He explains this as the reason for the disaster that was Episode II, saying:
Takahashi: We swung too far in the opposite direction. There was an atmosphere of “working within deadlines and budgets,” so as to not be a sleepless town once more. And so, we end up with a game where, sure, we didn’t become a sleepless town again and we worked within budget. But we sacrificed a lot to do that, and when it released, the players’ reactions were… less than stellar. So we took that feedback in, and now the atmosphere is more “This isn’t the right way, we have to change this,” but we’re already working on Episode III at that point. There were many people who said, “we worked within budget, so who cares?” But we acknowledged that be that as it may, we ended up in hot water because of it. So we tried to course-correct, but we couldn’t fix all of it. I’m very sorry. But the only reason the Xenoblade series exists today is because of those three games, I think. The experience we acquired from making Xenosaga was an immense asset for us.
Harada: You don’t end up with that never-give-up philosophy without that kind of experience, I think.
… Man, I’m sure the overseas Xenosaga fans will have a field day with this article. saying there might still be hope. Hey, this is the first I’ve even heard of this.
Takahashi: It’s the first I’ve spoken about it. (laughs) But one more thing. When we were establishing Monolith Soft, we actually had one more company besides Namco that we were considering. The representative for the other company was very respectful, and Sugiura (Hirohide, CEO of Monolith Soft) and I deliberated quite a bit on which to choose. We ended up choosing Namco… I often wonder where we would be if I chose the other option.
- Asked what kind of experiences Takahashi looks for in new hires, he says “people who have gone through hell and back.”
- Takahashi says Monolith Soft has overtime based on a schedule and the go-ahead of higher-ups.
- Monolith Soft employee numbers are based on seniority, and the newest workers are in the 300s. He says the current number of people working for the company is in the 200s, and so about 100 have quit. Numbers 50 to 100 is where the most vacancies are, and Takahashi says that that corresponds to the people who joined Monolith Soft around Ep II.
- Monolith Soft has sent Nintendo 10+ business proposals for approval over the years, but the only one that has been approved recently was Xenoblade, says Takahashi.
- Citing the success of Final Fantasy XV, Harada says that he thinks that a bigger focus on better technology would get JRPGs over “the one million (sales) wall.” Takahashi was skeptical, saying that while it may work for some, he doesn’t think that approach would be feasible for Monolith Soft’s budget.
- Asked about considering doing something other than JRPGs, Takahashi says maybe, but he thinks he just makes such games because he likes them.
- Takahashi debugs more than anyone on staff; “for hundreds of hours.” He plays the finished product as well, saying he can’t release something that he himself doesn’t find enjoyable.
- Takahashi says he plays most major games, including mobile, “for about 8 hours” each.
5 thoughts on “The Tribulations of Xenosaga created Xenoblade. “Harada Breaks It Down” Vol.7, We Asked Takahashi Tetsuya About Monolith Soft [Summary]”
Thanks for this, really cool of you to help translate stuff from interviews and other Xeno source material in Japanese for some of the western fans.
My pleasure. Thanks for your appreciation.
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