There was a Takahashi Q&A in the latest edition of Famitsu, in the run-up to the release of Xenoblade: Definitive Edition. I was originally not going to translate this because I thought I had no means of reading it, but I guess things have changed since the last time I was in Japan. Thanks, internet, and here is the Q&A:
Q1: When did this (XBDE) project conceptualize?
Takahashi: The project itself started around the end of 2017 if I recall. At the time, we were developing Torna, The Golden Country, and so we were multitasking. We presented the outline of the new project we are working on within Division 1 in conjunction with the outline for DE around May of 2018, and we should have started after we formally finished Torna, in August. It wasn’t for that long, but you could say we were simultaneously working on 3 projects at once. For Division 1, we organized staff that works on the new game, DE, and those who work on both.
Q2: How should we interpret the word “Definitive?”
Takahashi: We asked for Nintendo’s help to come up with the title. The content of the game is largely the same while having some upgrades in certain areas, so rather than implying that there was a lot of additional content in the game, like “deluxe edition,” we went with “definitive edition,” because we respect the original material.
Q3: When it was decided on to remaster the game, what was the first thing that came to your mind (to touch up on)?
Takahashi: As far as the content of the game itself goes, I thought it was satisfactory even by today’s standard, so I focused on making it easier to play, more clearly understandable to play, and look fancy.
In regards to this first part, making it easier to play, we made it so if you’re stuck on a boss, whether it be by losing over and over or taking a lot of time on it, a popup comes up that gives relevant tips for the boss at hand. When you go back to the game, you also get your party gauge up full, too.
To the second part, making it more clear and understandable, we worked on UI. We relooked all the things that display and how they transition to make it very easy to understand what was going on and what needed to be done.
As far as making things look fancy, this is all about improving character graphics, something I thought was regrettable from the original. Because of the limitations of the hardware we were working with, the resource tradeoff meant that the characters got the short end of the stick. In DE, even though we do have the limitations of deadlines and budget, we went as far as we could within those limitations and upgrade them.
In general, this was a direction the producer, Yamada Shigekazu, and the director, Inaba Michihiko, opted to take. They set a very clear line in the sand about what should and shouldn’t be changed and didn’t bring their own agenda into it. I recall them being very careful about deciding on specifics like that.
Q4: The original was on the Wii in standard definition. For this remaster, were the assets all redone in HD?
Takahashi: This is stating the obvious, but we have a budget and a deadline, so we can’t remake everything from scratch. So, we decided where to draw the line on what to redo and what not to. Specifically, weapons and gear, enemies, and map models, we just upconverted and added shading textures. For the faces and hands of playable characters and important characters, new gear in DE and the Monado, and the facial animations for cutscenes and scripted events, we worked from scratch.
We decided on this as such, but by the time we knew it, individual staff members were adding stuff in that felt was needed, and so some mob enemies and map models have been reworked a little too. They’re not as big as the things we newly created, but it would be nice for people to spot those differences.
Q5: In addition to HD graphics, you’ve also made changes to the UI. Tell us the basis for these changes and some examples.
Takahashi: In addition to trying to make the UI easier to understand, we also wanted to make a UI that made it easier to see and play all the content that we had to offer. To do this, we put in some new features that would allow players to experience the huge amount of content we have to offer without players giving up in the process or not noticing that there’s more. Specifically, we added a “navi route” that shows you how to get to quest destinations, and to enjoy the combat to it’s fullest potential, we added the “chance arts” icon for when certain conditions have been met for a battle art. We added a filter for armor so that you can choose what you like, as well as a favorite button for your favorites. We added all of these features with the goal of making a remaster that communicates all of the cool things the game has in store for you.
Q6: Some of the music tracks in this game have been rerecorded. Why was this done, and what went into the decision-making process to determine which ones get rerecorded?
Takahashi: As I said before, we had many constraints on us because it was a remaster. This was the same for music, and we couldn’t rerecord everything with an orchestra. So we decided on priorities, like high priority field and battle music, and live recorded with an orchestra for those; we had to think about time and budget even for the ones we did record. For tracks we couldn’t live record, like other field and battle music, we did some arrangements and used new soundfonts to improve the quality.
In addition, we relaxed the compression rate a little from Xenoblade 2 to try and make the sound a little better. For event music, if we did a remix and the tempo or length of the track changed, we would have a gigantic new workload of re-editing the entire cutscene, so it’s as-is. However, for Engage the Enemy, because most of the song is used without editing, and it’s a very popular track, so we did a new live recording for that one.
Q7: In regards to the main game, it’s probably the case that the Wii version was largely ported to make this, but tell us if anything besides the graphics, UI, or music have been changed.
Takahashi: We thought it was important not to change the story or combat, but we did add features. Casual mode and autosave, stocking up on quest and landmark EXP, leveling down options for experts, time attack and theatre mode, and fashion gear are all new features we added.
Q8: Tell us how Future Connected came about, and what kind of concepts you started with.
Takahashi: Because people were saying “poor Melia…” I’m half joking. We wanted to clearly appeal to existing customers, plus make something that connects to the “future” of Xenoblade. In addition to those two and a half reasons, we just so happened to have the Bionis shoulder map that was near-done from the original and a good place for the new story to take place.
Q9: Did you work on Future Connected?
Takahashi: After people involved talked about what direction the plot was going to take, our very own event leader Ōta Mamoru finished it up. For quest related plot (Ponspectors), as always our very own Iwamoto Masataku and his quests team worked on that.
Q10: How much content does Future Connected have?
Takahashi: About ten to twelve hours from my own experience. For those playing their first time it might take a bit longer. Including all the side content, it’ll probably take give or take twenty hours. If we had taken the stance of making it DLC, we could have sized up the game a bit, but we didn’t think it was appropriate to ask for that much money for a remaster, and if we spend too much time and effort on Future Connected it could have a big impact on our new title, so we tried to strike a good balance.
Q11: There are probably some players out there who have already played the original and just want to play Future Connected. What kind of level is needed to progress the game?
Takahashi: You can play Future Connected without playing the main game at all. However, it is an epilogue, so I would encourage you to play the main game first if you haven’t.
Q12: Coincidentally, this game will be releasing around the ten year anniversary of the original Xenoblade. Ten years have now passed; how do you feel about the game now, looking back on this moment?
Takahashi: As I said previously, I feel that Xenoblade still lives up to standard, even comparing it to modern games in 2020. How did we make such a game ten years ago? I think it was because of our determination and motivation, that we could not fail again. I am absolutely certain that that is why we were able to make something that stood the test of time even ten years into the future. From a business point of view, it’s not great for ourselves to have that kind of failure for our employees, but it can be an enormous power in terms of development. When critical success and earnings become stable, or a brand forms, this is obvious, but you start making things from the high ground. Although this does lead to a sense of pride and an increase in confidence, there’s a danger that it can lead to conceit or a success story with a bad ending.
The power to stand up in the face of adversity, the power to not fear change, and change for the better, I feel comes from failure. Xenoblade is what makes me realize those failures, and ten years, today I am once again grateful for being able to meet it.
Q13: Please send a message to the Xenoblade fans of old as well as those who are going to get their first experience soon.
Takahashi: Xenoblade is a title that changed the course of Monolith Soft and became the building blocks for our growth. We made this game with the determination, passion, and love that was poured into the original game by its staff, resonating with the staff we have today. At the same time, it suggests the silhouette and shape of what our future projects will take in the future*1. I hope veteran fans get a feel for this transition, and I hope new fans can get a taste of the future that resulted from our history.
*1 I think he’s trying to say here that like how XBDE used the passion of XB1 in a new form and title, future XB titles will borrow the passion of older Monolith Soft games. In other words, maybe more Xenosaga influence? Or just talking about the blade games? Who knows.