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Though there's little chance of it becoming a major mainstream hit, Sega's Valkyria Chronicles for PlayStation 3 has generated a very positive critical reception, and for all of the right reasons. By blending real time and turn-based strategy with direct character control, the game forges ahead in a genre better known for its staid adherence to formula.
The game's visual aesthetic is also extremely noticeable -- a blend of the realism war games are best known for with the anime panache Japanese strategy games are steeped in.
Add in the game's unique, sketchbook presentation, and you've got a fertile field to bring its characters to life -- and up the emotional impact of their struggles, and, sometimes their eventual deaths.
Recently, Gamasutra had the chance to speak to two of the creators behind this game, producer Ryutaro Nonaka and director Shuntaro Tanaka. Here, we present a discussion that gets to the heart of what these Sega veterans (Sakura Taisen, Skies of Arcadia) were trying to do, discussing gameplay evolution, the lessons of war, and Pixar's influence.
A lot of people right now feel that this game reminds them of the old, real Sega -- from the old days. You've probably heard this before. And I feel like the art direction's part of it. Was it a purposeful gear shift to get it to be this nostalgic feeling or is that not what you're aiming for? The old feeling, not necessarily that it's an old style of game, but the feeling that people could have. When they think: "Ah, that's a Sega game!" That that kind of feeling is revived in this.
Ryutaro Nonaka: We didn't go out to revive the old Sega or make something that would bring back the old Sega games. But we very much challenged ourselves.
We believe that we challenged ourselves a lot to bring this game to life, and that may be a revitalization of what the old Sega was -- because the old Sega had always challenged itself on bringing new things out to the market. And that's exactly what we're doing with this game.
How did you come to work with the character designer Raita? He was previously from the doujin comics scene; how did you decide to work with him?
RN: This game has a very strong military feel and sense to it. But it's not just realistic; it has a lot of fantasy aspects to it as well. We were looking for someone who understood the realism of the military feel but also understood how to incorporate fantasy into it. That's the type of designer that we were looking for.
I read through his comics and was amazed at how he can incorporate lies to create a very realistic world. For example, you're seeing tires instead of caterpillars on the tanks. Obviously that wasn't so back then, but he can make up those types of lies and make it seem very real. We wanted his talents of creating something that's unreal and making it realistic, making that become real. So we went and persuaded him to join us.
From a developer's standpoint, how different was it to design this semi-active / semi-tactical battle system, versus a traditional tactics system, like in Sakura Taisen, for instance?
RN: Basically, making any type of game is the same process, so that wouldn't change. But at the start of the project we did have to make some important decisions. For example, one of the first earlier discussions that we had was: with this game our main weapons is guns, as opposed to in other games it may be swords and magic. It's a very different type of game in that sense, so we started our discussion there.
Because of those differences we had to redo the whole logic of the gameplay itself. For example, people who are familiar with RPGs know that if you're going to cast a magic spell you can do it from the rear of the party. If you're going to go fight someone with a sword you need to go up front.
But if it's a military weapon like a gun, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go in there? And what are you supposed to do when you have a bazooka? You can't just replace the magic with the gun, or the sword with the bazooka. So we had to reconsider the entire logic of the gameplay itself. That was the part that we spent most of our discussion on: how to logically reconstruct the gameplay.