We were recently fortunate enough to sit down with the producer of Square Enix’s upcoming PSP actioner Lord of Arcana, Takamasa Shiba, at the firm’s PSP Showcase in Tokyo.
The game – which is completely different to card-based predecessor, Lord of Vermillion – is much like Capcom’s Japanese super-smash, Monster Hunter; Shiba-san looked as though he’d been getting a good Monster Hunter grilling from the assembled press on the day.
Shiba talked about about the rivalry with Monster Hunter, the game’s lack of online co-op, Zombie Dragons, what he wants from the PSP2 and the rise of portable gaming.
Lord of Arcana launches in Europe on February 4 and the US on January 25. It released in Japan last October.
VG247: Was the reason for a PSP release to rival the popular Monster Hunter series?
Takamasa Shiba: It’s not because of Monster Hunter specifically, but the PSP market is so huge because of Monster Hunter. We wanted to make a multi-action game which is popular on the PSP, so this is why we decided to go with this format.
We noticed there’s no online co-op, and instead just ad-hoc. What was the reasoning behind this?
There are actually a couple of reasons, but the main reason was because we wanted people to come together face to face and enjoy the game, rather than go on the internet and play with someone they didn’t know. We really wanted to keep that atmosphere, and felt it was very important for the players to experience the game together.
Also, if you think in terms of the technical restrictions of an online mode, we’d have to give up a lot of what we wanted to put into the game system-wise to focus on the online stuff. You can, however, hook the PSP up to your PS3 and play via a network. A lot of people are already doing it this way.
It’s hard to stop comparing Lord of Arcana to Monster Hunter. What is so special about Lord of Arcana that we can’t already experience in Monster Hunter?
The main thing with the game is that this game is developed by Square Enix [laughs]. We kind of focused on giving it a more Square Enix feeling. If you play a lot of our games then you’ll know that RPGs are kind of our style. Experience, levels, magic and summons are all essential to a Square Enix experience. We believe we have brought that magic to Lord of Arcana.
Lord of Arcana is being touted as a more accessible entry into the hack n’ slash genre. Has there been a conscious effort to be more accessible?
Yes. It’s very accessible for new players who have never played these kinds of games before. The tutorial in the game is very, very good, allowing the player to learn naturally. If you find it quite difficult to kill some of the big bosses and stuff, then you can go into multiplayer mode and have friends help you. The multiplayer is a really important part of the experience.
Earlier, four of us got our arses handed back to us by Bahumut. What kind of features does the game offer to make the multiplayer experience more interesting?
That is a really difficult monster [Laughs]. One thing you can do is offer your HP to another player, so you can help each other out. Of course, you can kill Bahumut a little easier with summons and such, but you’ll earn those as you progress through the game.
Customisation is really important in these types of games, especially from a multiplayer point of view. Does it vary enough for players to feel unique, or will we all be sat in same outfits at the end of the game?
A lot of the hardcore gamers will focus on the parameters the outfit offers. We want to concentrate on a visual style for players to look cool or sexy. Of course there are some clothes that offer the best stuff but there is more variety for players to play around with.
The game will be sporting DLC. What kind of content should we be expecting?
We are still discussing the content at the moment. It is coming so please look forward to it [laughs].
What inspired you to use a variety of artists rather than one concentrated artist?
Most of the artwork is from the arcade version of the game Lord of Vermilion. It’s a really big machine in the arcade with a digital board that you put your cards on and play against each other. Tons of artists provide art for the cards, so when it came to Lord of Arcana we wanted to follow the same suit. We wanted to match the game style with the artists.
Where there any fun or crazy highlights during Lord of Arcana’s development?
There is a monster called Dragon Zombie [laughs]. He’s the first kind of monster we created. We decided to play with each other against him. All our characters were obviously defenceless and had no decent equipment so we were instantly killed by this very strong monster; maybe too strong.
Have you altered the Dragon Zombies difficulty?
[Laughs] He is a very strong boss but can appear in easier sections of the game to surprise players. You don’t need to kill him but you can give it a good try. Of course, later on in the game when you have got better equipment and skill you can go back and kill him.
Why is it that these games are so notoriously hardcore?
This is because we want people to play multiplayer mode rather than just single-player mode. If it was easier, people would breeze through single-player mode and not want to partake in the multiplayer functions. This is why we made it quite hardcore.
Are you not worried that will put off players who can’t get others to join in via ad-hoc mode?
Of course I’m worried about it. It’s a totally different market with Japanese and European players. Ad-hoc was well received over in Japan. If we make something a little different for the European audience then it wouldn’t have been Lord of Arcana. We could have made it really easy and let players run through it, but then people might not give the multiplayer a chance. Lord of Arcana is a multiplayer-focused game, and we want people to experience it like that.
Seeing that PSP is so popular in Japan, do you feel that home consoles in Japan will continue fall behind the rise in portable gaming?
Obviously, the PSP market in Europe is currently still very small, but I think the portable market can only grow. Lifestyles have changed a lot and people tend to go out and play a handheld rather than stay inside and play in front of the TV for hours and hours. Especially in Europe and America, a lot of people enjoy games on iPhones.
Are you excited about developing for the PSP2? Anything in particular you are looking for?
There are a lot of things I’m excited for the PSP2, but I’m more interested in hardware specifics rather than a unique feature. Hardware is always coming out, so the software needs to be pushing the hardware as well. So, if they put something in that’s very unique then it is hard to create games for it. As a creator, I’m looking forward to mainly hardware improvements.