Fire Emblem: Three Houses devs on Cindered Shadows, user feedback, increased save slots, new outfits, Nintendo’s requests, creating houses and students, more
This month’s issue of Nintendo Dream has a massive Fire Emblem: Three Houses developer interview. Directors Toshiyuki Kusakihara and Genki Yokota addressed a variety of topics, including Cindered Shadows, user feedback, increasing the amount of save slots, the new outfits, the roles of Nintendo, Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo (including Nintendo’s requests), how the team went about creating the houses and students, and plenty more.
Due to the length of the interview – which is more than a dozen pages long – we’ve decided to split up the interview into two parts. We’re publishing the first half today and the second half tomorrow.
Here’s our full translation of the first half:
Part 1 – Looking Back on the World of Fódlan through the Side Story
First, we’d like to congratulate the both of you on releasing the entirety of the DLC.
Yokota & Kusakihara: Thank you very much!
Yokota: It feels like we can finally catch our breath. (laughs)
For sure, now that it’s over you can rest easy. In terms of coming up with the side story’s plot, did that happen after you had finished working on the main story? Or did you come up with the plot as you were working on the main game?
Kusakihara: We started the actual production of the side story’s content much later, but we had wanted to incorporate the idea of Garreg Mach having this underground labyrinth since the early stages of development. It ended up being cut due to the sheer amount of content, though. When planning the DLC, the side story actually came from a desire to bring back the concepts we had originally omitted. It wasn’t necessarily that we were retrofitting the information. Rather, we were expanding upon the setting and some foreshadowed elements that had been there since production of the main game. The protagonist’s mother, for instance, would fall into that category.
Yokota: As for the fourth house’s students, though, we didn’t start thinking about them until after the main game had been finished.
Interviewer: So, you didn’t start working on the side story’s characters until after you started working on the DLC, and then came the concepts that had also appeared in the main story, right?
Yokota: Right. As we were finishing up work on the main game, we were asking each other what we should do about any prospective DLC. At the time, Kusakihara-san’s stock phrase was “I have a pretty devilish idea.”
Yokota: We felt that the concept of a fourth house would spice things up, and that it’d make the side story the centerpiece of the DLC.
I had actually thought that the two stories must’ve been written around the same time because of the amount of foreshadowing throughout the main game.
Kusakihara: Nope, that isn’t case.
Yokota: The staff at Koei Tecmo, who was overseeing development, did a great job of incorporating all of those details into the story.
The side story is essentially a “parallel world,” isn’t it?
Kusakihara: It’s hard to say that that’s exactly the case. I don’t think it’s completely isolated from the main story, and I think for Yuri and the others those events did actually occur. When you meet the Ashen Wolves in the main game, they treat you as if they’re meeting you for the first time. That being said, it’s assumed that the events of Cindered Shadows have already been resolved. I think Cindered Shadows is essentially how the protagonist would’ve resolved the conflict had they been there.
How did you go about choosing which characters from the main story would appear in the side story?
Yokota: Well, we wanted the leaders of the three main houses to be present, so we started from there.
Kusakihara: We wanted the foundation of the story to be the house leaders working together, so we knew they would all be present from the beginning. After that we chose one person from each house; we also considered characters with a specific skill from a strategic point of view. From there, we narrowed it down more to the characters whose skills felt right to include. Later, we decided which characters would have some kind of relation to the characters that appear in the side story. Linhardt, in particular, can talk at length about crests, so we felt that he could play an important role in the events of the story. As for Ashe, he could relate pretty heavily to having to live somewhere like the Abyss, so we felt that because of that he could help expand the story.
It sounds like each unit’s role was a big sticking point in deciding which ones you chose. It also clearly felt like there were more maps with special stipulations than there were in the main game, it was tough! Was there anything particular you had in mind while making the maps for the side story?
Kusakihara: I thought that if the side story played exactly like the main game it’d start to get boring after a while, so to differentiate it we added some mechanics. We spoke with the development team and ended wanting to balance the maps similar to a game of shogi, like some of the older Fire Emblem games.
Yokota: Originally, we had started with the idea that your stats would carry over from the main game. We found out, though, that depending on when the player started the side story it would either be too hard or too easy; we ended up deciding on keeping the two campaigns separate. At first it was proposed that we get rid of the level-up mechanic; in the end, though, I think the gameplay had a wider range of possibilities because we allowed the player to strengthen their favorite characters.
Is it possible for characters to change their class to a degree? Is there a particular character that you’d recommend changing their class strategically for?
Yokota: I think that’s really a matter of taste. (laughs)
Kusakihara: Basically, the maps’ level design operates under the assumption that you’ll be clearing them with the default classes. When a character levels up their stats increase at random. Depending on which stats increase you could try leading a character down a certain path and seeing whether or not that works out for you.
Interviewer: In the main game, what made you decide to include support conversations between the members of the Ashen Wolves and characters that didn’t appear in the side story?
Kusakihara: From the beginning we considered a variety of ways we could incorporate the DLC characters into the main story. I thought it’d be a waste for them to just be a part of the side story. So, when you finish the side story and bring those characters over to the main game, it changes somewhat. To that end, we’d like it if players got to see those changes and enjoyed the main story through a different lens.
Yokota: I can’t help but feel sorry for people that have already played through the game four times, though! (laughs)
Kusakihara: Come on, just one more time! (laughs)
Yokota: I was honestly expecting more people to play the game once after it was out, then one or two more times after the DLC had been released. As it happened, quite a few people were playing through multiple routes; I couldn’t help but be a little sorry as I continued to work on the DLC.
Kusakihara: For me, I think games are a way to simulate a world and its story as if the player were experiencing it themselves. I’m personally the type of person that gets absolutely sucked into things like movies and games. I tried setting up a prank using how the game itself is structured: the player would go through the game once and really experience the world, then they’d talk about it with someone else and be like, “we played the same game right? Why are we talking about two different things?” I thought that it might be interesting where even if you picked the same house as somebody, your experience could differ from somebody else’s based on who you recruited. You might even say to yourself, “hey, I didn’t even see that scene!” I didn’t really think players would end up going through the game that many times. (laughs)
Yokota: Even if something that you don’t really know about comes up while talking, that may not be the end of it. Just talking about it could compel you to want to experience the thing in question firsthand.
In terms of the plot, was there anything that you were particular about because it was a side story?
Kusakihara: Take the cardinals, for instance: they’re mentioned briefly in the main story but aren’t shown at all beyond that. We wanted to write a story where the focal point was uncovering more about the church.
Yokota: Aside from that, there were some leftover crests that we didn’t use during the main story, so we used those to expand the story we were writing.
So, they weren’t necessarily reserved for the side story?
Kusakihara: I myself had originally intended to leave them as they were without bringing them into the new story. I wanted to create a sort of blank space in the game’s world by leaving out a few pieces of the puzzle – suggesting that it was bigger than the scope of the game. We ended up using them anyway. (laughs)
Yokota: It gives off the impression that not everything about the era in which the game takes place would necessarily be revealed.
Kusakihara: The story of Three Houses is only a part cut from the cloth of Fódlan’s long history; we wanted to make something similar to a Taiga drama.
Yokota: That being said, Koei Tecmo had already programmed effects for those crests should they be equipped, despite us planning not to use them.
Kusakihara: Although they initially went unused, the system had already been set up – and that ended up being used in the DLC.
Having played through the entirety of the side story, I was completely captivated by how the plot unfolded. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop… (laughs)
Yokota: Kusakihara-san was pretty conscious of that while writing it, he ended up including all sorts of twists.
Kusakihara: At first, I had written something a little longer. Since it was a side story, though, I adjusted it to be a more appropriate length – and that’s the story that’s in the game.
Yokota: At first the Ashen Wolves might seem like a bad bunch, but then after talking to them they might not seem so bad, but actually… It’s that kind of thing. As some of the story’s more significant events unfold, it’ll keep you guessing. (laughs)
I wanted to finish the whole thing in one go, there were so many questions! What’s the truth behind this one item, and what about the protagonist’s mother? Having played all the routes, there were some conversations that I couldn’t help but smile at. Did you have all of that in mind when you included those details?
Kusakihara: I’d like to think so. That being said, however, the side story is separate from the main story – it can be accessed straight away from the title screen. That separation pushed us to make the side story something that could hold on its own without actually having to complete the main game.
Yokota: We couldn’t assume that players would have gone through every route. Though, if you start the side story not having played through any of the main game you won’t really have any idea about what the Church of Seiros is like or what kind of person Rhea is. To that end, I think it might be better to play through some of the main game and then give the side story a go.
Kusakihara: The side story is more or less set right after you get the “Sword of the Creator” in the main story, so I think that around there would be the right time to jump in.
Yokota: I feel like finishing the side story around then might also make the first half of the main story more exciting! Not only that, but you could add Yuri and the others’ strength to your ranks too – it’d make me pretty happy if people played through the game like that. Since we had already played through the main game, we only had that perspective to work with when inserting the side story into the overall plot…
You’re saying that people interested in the four main characters of the side story should feel free to play the side story alongside their first playthrough, then?
Yokota: Right, I’d be happy if people played it like that!