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Fire Emblem: Three Houses devs on Cindered Shadows, user feedback, increased save slots, new outfits, Nintendo’s requests, creating houses and students, more

Posted on April 11, 2020 by (@NE_Brian) in News, Switch

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Part 2 – The Elaborate World Design and Characters that Give Fódlan its “Presence”

Since this is Nintendo Dream’s first interview concerning Three Houses, I’d like to ask you both to give us a brief rundown of how the game was produced and how those roles were divided internally.

Yokota: Well, the game was developed by Intelligent Systems alongside Koei Tecmo games. We’ve collaborated with plenty of companies during development before, but this is the first game we developed alongside a company that wasn’t Nintendo. Nintendo’s role hasn’t changed much from previous titles. From a bird’s eye view they essentially determined what direction the new Fire Emblem game was going to go in and whether or not the gameplay was interesting. We all worked on those aspects together. From there, Kusakihara-san set the foundation for the world and the story, as well as the main characters.

Kusakihara: First, I came up with the plot for just one of the game’s routes to set the foundation on which I’d base the rest of the in-game universe – most of the characters were just prototypes at that point. From there, Koei Tecmo expanded on a lot of the more minute details, at which point I was basically a general supervisor making sure that everything had that special Fire Emblem– ness to it. I also served as a consultant for new gameplay mechanics and made sure that we stayed on track in implementing things I wanted to realize. Intelligent Systems handled most of the artistic aspects: things like design, music, sounds, et cetera.

Yokota: Compared to previous projects, Intelligent Systems was working with a considerably smaller staff this time. As for Koei Tecmo, they were responsible for the whole of programming, writing the scenario, planning for both battles and monastery gameplay, as well as – of course – the entirety of the game’s online functions and its difficulty settings. They were also at the heart of 3D modeling, mocap, effects, the UI design, as well as the graphics displayed during event cutscenes. In addition to Koei Tecmo, we also sought out the animation studio Sanzigen for its assistance while working on the game’s movie cutscenes.

How did relations with Koei Tecmo work during the game’s production?

Kusakihara: About two or three times a month we would go on a business trip to meet with the development team in Yokohama. Aside from that we set up a private chat so we could hold one- on-one meetings. Things generally went smoothly despite the distance.

Was this your first time working as an off-site director?

Kusakihara: As a director, yes, but I’ve been on the other side of the table before. (laughs)

Yokota: I let Kusakihara-san handle communications until about midway through development. When we had a more solid idea of what the game cycle should look like, we went out to Yokohama and buckled down on consolidating some of the finer details.

What were the requests coming from Nintendo like? Does anything stick out?

Yokota: They had a lot to say about the flow of the game. Three Houses’ setting largely revolves around a “school,” so building up that sense of immersion was critical for them. Alongside Kusakihara-san and Koei Tecmo, we all worked together to set up what that system might look like in a game. School life in a fantasy world – it’s a dream, isn’t it? Over the course of the game the horrors of war would tear that dream apart, of course, but we thought: wouldn’t it be nice if players got to experience living happily at the monastery for a little bit?

All: (laugh)

And what did you have to think about those requests, Kusakihara-san?

Kusakihara: There’s a certain appeal to being able to live with a bunch of friends in close quarters like that, don’t you think? In previous entries in the series, characters would join your party as the story progressed. In Three Houses, by contrast, you start off with all of the main characters gathered in a single space, allowing the player to develop deeper emotional attachments to the members of the cast. I feel like we had an incredibly well-structured thing going.

Yokota: I was a little excited from the get-go, it all had me wondering if it was even okay to have that many characters around from the very beginning.

It might’ve, for instance, made it harder to remember everyone’s names? (laughs)

Yokota: It’s easy to remember the people that call themselves by their full name, at any rate.

All: (laugh)

Kusakihara: I think it might be better to start with the people in the class you choose, then move onto remembering everybody else.

How did you go about creating each house and its students?

Kusakihara: We started by using the rough drafts for each character as a base and expanded upon them from there. Depending on the character, some of the more prevalent details had been decided upon in advance. Take, for instance, Mercedes’ background: she bears the crest of a family that no longer exists… That kind of thing. From there, we could expand upon and flesh out other concepts like her older brother, Emile. Following that process would lead to how things ended up looking in the final product.

Let’s use the Black Eagles as an example: it’s a house filled with strong people that hold even stronger beliefs. It almost feels like certain characters belong in certain houses…

Kusakihara: Each class’ students make up a microcosm of the country that they represent. Since Faerghus is a country of knights, its students are a little more disciplined. The Adrestian Empire once flourished but over time lost some of its holdings, almost as if the sun is setting on it as a nation. At its core, it’s a bunch of nobles coming from a country in decline. (laughs) As for the Leicester Alliance… Just imagine a group of people with a few colorful individuals holding the rest back.

All: (laugh)

Kusakihara: Originally, the concept behind the Leicester Alliance was a “republic based on round-table governance where the nobles are all out to get each other, so nothing really gets accomplished.” That was the key idea we started out with, but they all ended up being good kids! (laughs) The goal was to have each class’ students embody the characteristics of the place they come from.

Yokota: In terms of character design, the hairstyle and its color were also pretty much essential. If either of those traits are too similar the characters start to blend in with each other.

Kusakihara: A player’s impression of a character is greatly influenced by what color the character’s hair is, so we consulted with Kurahana-san (Kurahana Chinatsu, the game’s main character designer) and carefully went with what we came up with in those meetings.

So, for a noble country like Faerghus, there would be a fairly large number of people with blonde or similar hair?

Kusakihara: Well, there’s also quite a large number of people with hair colors that don’t naturally occur in the real world. (laughs) Making those kinds of decisions was actually kind of difficult, particularly when we had the students from one class lined up beside the entire student body.

The Golden Deer are pretty colorful themselves, I thought. (laughs)

Kusakihara: I guess they are, as a whole. (laughs) From a design standpoint, they were a class where we did a lot of fooling around.

Yokota: For Byleth and the house leaders we had Kurahana-san whip us up some designs considerably early on in development, and she pretty much nailed them in one go. We wanted them to exude an air of aristocracy, and I think those designs expressed that pretty clearly.

Three Houses sees its story branch into four separate routes come the second half of the game; could you elaborate some on the themes you wanted to depict through each story?

Kusakihara: The theme of Edelgard’s route is literally “military rule.” Her story depicts a hard road where you have to cling to her beliefs and values, even in the face of opposition from those you once cared about. In contrast, the concept for Dimitri’s route started with the idea of “righteous government.” That being said, there’s quite the gap between that Dimitri and the fragile Dimitri from the beginning of the story due to… Unfortunate circumstances.

All: (laugh)

Kusakihara: Once he experiences that fall and all of its twists and turns, he wakes up to what that “righteousness” really means. I wanted to write a kind of paradoxical conflict between his and Edelgard’s routes. Claude started with the keywords “scheming hero;” I wanted to make somebody who would have his own machinations behind the scenes, the kind of guy you couldn’t hate despite his character. As I was writing him, I guess I ended up making him more of a “pure” good guy than I had originally intended. (laughs)

Yokota: Each route had its own concepts specific to it, but we ended up deciding on the overarching story being “split into two parts” and having it “revolve around a war.” Genealogy of the Holy War was on our minds at the time; we’re both fans of the game and wanted to see how we could fit the radiance of its nobles into a new game. We split Three Houses into two acts with Genealogy in mind. That being said, it’d be boring if the games were exactly the same, so I proposed that we split the game into different routes at the beginning of planning.

Kusakihara: By making it about nobles, I wanted to draw out the drama from the differences in perspective inherent to a story like that. With the worldview and the story’s backbone in place, I think I did a pretty good job evoking the drama from the class divide present throughout the story.

And then, of course, religion enters the fray.

Kusakihara: Right; I did my fair share of studying about religion.

So, the game’s worldview was essentially born from Kusakihara-san’s affinity for fantasy stories about war and Yokota-san’s love for the world of Genealogy.

Yokota: Yes, I feel pretty accomplished in that we were able to get from the beginning of planning to the end of development without changing the story’s focal point.

And that kind of genre is basically Koei Tecmo’s forte.

Yokota: They really did cook up something great. Even within the company itself, they were able to get together a team that really likes Fire Emblem.

Kusakihara: They were all incredibly passionate about the project – everybody gave it their all.

Yokota: The scenario team did plenty of research into tropes present throughout the series, and the planners and programmers looked at the series’ gameplay and made proposals accordingly. They would come up with questions like, “that title had this sort of feeling, but are we really going in that direction this time?” Intelligent Systems would then come back with “go with something like this,” in turn. I feel like there was a lot of great communication going on. We did butt heads on occasion, though. (laughs)

Kusakihara: We did end up squabbling a lot. (laughs)

Everyone has their own tastes!

Yokota: And then I’d say something like, “simmer down, now.” (laughs)

All: (laugh)

Kusakihara: I feel like all of the development team’s passion and investment in the project served as its foundation, and coupled with the massive amount of data poured into it, I think it really gave the game a life of its own. Even among the development team, I don’t think there’s a single person that could claim to understand everything about the game itself in a meaningful way. As I watched the game rapidly go through changes during development, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “it has a soul.”

While we’re on the topic of change, it’s pretty incredible how some of the smaller details can change depending on your supports or how you’re going through the game.

Kusakihara: Most supports in Fire Emblem don’t necessarily have an affect on the game outside of the conversations themselves. I met with the scenario team early on in development and talked with them about what we could do to change that. I felt like in general more horizontal connections were necessary. For instance: if a particular point came up in one person’s support conversation, I’d want it to have some bearing on the other characters as well. They ended up implementing that pretty well!

Yokota: Even if you were to lose a unit in Classic Mode, the conversations would still hold up! I thought, “wooooow, that must’ve been really difficult!” (laughs)

Kusakihara: They were pretty much prepared for anything.

Interviewer: The game’s dialogue can get pretty complex from time to time; why not just use loan words? For example, “cheese” is written as “kanraku” in-game.

Yokota: You can thank Kusakihara-san for that, too.

Kusakihara: When I was mulling things over with the scenario team, I touched on how I wanted to raise the age range a bit for this game. They ended up going with a “historical fiction” vibe moving forward. With that in mind, things like proper nouns and coined terms don’t really mesh with the aesthetic. For instance, having the house names written out in katakana clashed with the feeling the rest of the setting created. In the end, I feel like everything clicked together quite well.

Yokota: Memorizing the house names ended up taking a bit of time. (laughs)

Kusakihara: The members of the scenario team present at the voice recording sessions were incredibly particular about the more complicated words’ intonations.

When we interviewed Takehito Koyasu-san (Seteth’s VA) about the same thing, he also brought up the fact that he had to do a lot of intonation-related retakes. What he ended up telling us was that he doesn’t normally get that many requests regarding intonation – the instructions weren’t necessarily just limited to how he should say proper nouns.

Yokota: There really were a lot of hard-to-read and underused kanji, I can only imagine how difficult that must’ve been. The testers raised some concerns about the same thing, but I felt that being picky about small things like that would help contribute to the game’s overall atmosphere. In the end I just used my best judgment.

Kusakihara: Everyone had quite the time pronouncing “Black Eagle Strike Force” [in the original Japanese], and if they mispronounced one sound, they’d have to do a retake.

All: (laugh)

Kusakihara: Balthus’ voice actor – Subaru Kimura-san – read it perfectly from the first take, though. I later learned that he grew up in Germany, and everything clicked.

Yokota: Ohhh, that’s actually pretty interesting.

The katakana was based on how it would’ve been pronounced in his first language, after all.

Yokota: I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but since we’re talking about proper nouns I thought I’d bring up the fact that “Divine Pulse” [“Tengoku no Hakudou”] isn’t pronounced how I originally thought. I had always thought it was pronounced “Tenkoku.”

Kusakihara: Whenever you come up with an unfamiliar word, I find that it’s easier to just give it a reading that you’re already familiar with. I decided I’d have it pronounced similarly to the word for “Heaven” [“Tengoku” written with different kanji].

Yokota: And Kusakihara-san is great with little details like that; I think it’s just incredible. You wrote out an extensive history for Fódlan from the beginning just to use as reference materials for development, even if we weren’t going to use all of it in-game. You’re the kind of guy that’d write about things happening thousands of years before the era the story would even take place during – that’s incredible.

Kusakihara: There’s probably a good ten-thousand years’ worth of material there. I’m also the kind of guy who wouldn’t release said chronology, though. (laughs)

It’s like you’re telling the more inquisitive players to take all of the fragments of information found in-game and fill in the holes themselves.

Kusakihara: Right. We, on the other hand, will start to forget about all of that. I think in the end the players might end up knowing more than the both of us! (laughs)

Yokota: Well, I guess there’s really nothing we can do about that is there? (laughs)


Translation by provided by Nico Thaxton on behalf of Nintendo Everything

If you use any of this translation, please be sure to source Nintendo Everything. Do not copy its full contents.

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