Ryan Payton and James Mielke. “Devil Summoner. 1UP interviews artist Kazuma Kaneko”, 1UP, 12 September 2005. <http://www.1up.com/features/devil-summoner>
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of trying a Persona game on PS1, or Maken X on Dreamcast, or most recently Shin Megami Tensei (a.k.a Megaten) or Digital Devil Saga on PS2, then chances are you’re familiar with the distinctive designs of one Kazuma Kaneko, longtime character designer for Atlus, and driving force behind their latest RPG epic, Devil Summoner: Kuzunoha Raidou. But that’s not all Kaneko-san is working on, as he is also currently directing the port of the original Sega Saturn Devil Summoner for the PSP. Both of the games, which feature a detective with the ability to summon demons to his side in battle, are scheduled to come out in Japan later this year. While no announcement has been made for a possible U.S. release, that didn’t stop 1UP from sitting down with the creative force behind Atlus’ most successful games to get his thoughts on the games of his present, the games of his past, and his plans for the next-generation of video gaming.
DEVILISH TOPIC: Devil Summoner for PS2.
1UP: Why go with pre-rendered backgrounds for Devil Summoner on PS2?
KK: We decided to go with pre-rendered backgrounds based on the style of gameplay of Devil Summoner, which is very different from games like Digital Devil Saga. As a detective who uses demons and needs to investigate the surroundings, there’s a need for some very detailed backgrounds that is best realized with pre-rendered graphics. The backgrounds also allow for a more easy-to-understand gameplay system that I think many players are going to enjoy.
1UP: Can gamers expect a whole new battle system? How will encounters be handled, will it be random battles, or do you fight the enemies you see onscreen?
KK: The battle system will be random encounters. Players can of course attack enemies normally, or they can summon devils to help them out. We’re trying to do two things with the improved battle system – appeal to fans as we input gameplay elements that they like, in addition to making the battle system accessible to new players.
DEVILISH TOPIC: Devil Summoner PSP – A remake of Devil Summoner on Sega Saturn.
1UP: How is development on Devil Summoner for PSP going?
KK: Things are going smoothly, since this is a port.
1UP: Should players play the PSP game first to help maximize their appreciation of the new PS2 title?
KK: As far as the stories are concerned, I don’t think it’s an issue which order you play the games. If you consider the Star Wars saga, there are dozens of novels based on the Star Wars universe that tell a different side of the story. It’s fun to go into seeing a new movie knowing a lot more background information. I think playing the PSP Devil Summoner will offer a similar experience to those who play it before trying out the PS2 game. Again going back to Star Wars, I’m sure those who only watch the new movies will have a tough time understanding just what exactly the “Sith” is. So, if you do have interest in the game world, please play both games.
1UP: Why remake Devil Summoner on PSP?
KK: It was an idea that was brought up when we moved forward with the PS2 version of Devil Summoner. Doing a remake allows players who missed it on Sega Saturn to play it in this generation.
1UP: It will be cool to play the PSP game on the road and come home to play the new Devil Summoner on PS2. But will gamers miss out on a lot of the experience if they don’t use headphones?
KK: That won’t be a problem because the story will be presented in text boxes. But the audio elements of the game, including the music, add a lot to the game.
1UP: Has the power of the PSP hardware allowed you to add some cool effects that were not in the Saturn version?
KK: Both versions are essentially the same. However, we do have to adjust a few things in order to make them readable on a handheld screen. This PSP version isn’t like how Dragon Quest V was revamped recently for PS2. It’s more of a port than a remake I suppose. But honestly, I would have liked to have done a total revamp, but we just don’t have the time right now.
1UP: A number of PSP titles have been plagued by long loading times. Is that something you are concerned with the PSP version of Devil Summoner?
KK: We are working hard to make it a seamless experience, which has been something we’ve done successfully in the past with games like Nocturne, which has shorter loading times than many of its rivals.
DEVILISH TOPIC: Open House.
1UP: Both Digital Devil Saga and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne are excellent games, but don’t exactly have the high sales figures to go along with it. Are you satisfied with their performance abroad? Or are you a bit disappointed?
KK: Of course I want our games to sell more, but I’ve also got to consider that the culture in North America is very different. If you ask me what I think about our game sales in Japan, I like to think of Shin Megami Tensei games as rock stars or singers in punk bands whereas blockbuster games like Final Fantasy are more like the Academy Award winners. We have our own fans. Naturally, I would like to see a similar phenomenon occur with our games in the United States.
1UP: Are you developing your games now with Western audiences in mind?
KK: That’s a tough question. This might be a bit strange, but let me point to movies. I really love movies – American cinema, British cinema, and recently Thai cinema. In those movies you can see that there are cultural elements that just don’t translate to people from other parts of the world. So we must keep in mind that some elements of our games might be impossible to translate into English.
1UP: Your style is incredibly popular with fans, and stylish to boot, showing a much greater understanding of fashion than anyone else in the industry. And your own personal style is more flamboyant than the average Japanese developer. Do you have a background in fashion design?
KK: I don’t have any direct experience with fashion, but I truly love it. It’s a big part of my life as I go around looking at fashion, buying fashion, and participating in fashion. I’ve integrated my own fashion tastes into our characters, which is why many of them are so stylized.
1UP: We’re sorry we haven’t seen anything new in the Maken X series since the Dreamcast version and PS2 port. What do you think of that game in hindsight?
KK: I’m really proud of the game world we developed for Maken X. I’d like to somehow streamline the game experience, but it all depends on if Atlus decides we want to do an update in the future. But I’ll say this: If there’s time in the future, that’s something I want to do.
1UP: What direction do you see the RPG genre going in the future?
KK: Well, it’s splitting into two directions, I believe. On the one hand you have online games, which as you know are doing quite well abroad. Those games allow players to live out their own adventures, unique to them. It’s not really so much about the story as it is about them living out their desires. Then of course you have more traditional RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, which have the onus to create fiction characters that you find appealing. They’re not necessarily characters you want to be, but they at least need to be fun. As to how these two schools are influencing me, I’m still on the fence.
1UP: Western, offline role-playing games often have these elements of freedom, like Fable and the Bioware games.
KK: Right. Giving players various paths to choose is something I find interesting. I understand the problem with the traditional RPG in that, even though Final Fantasy X might have great CG movies featuring a dashing lead character, what if the player doesn’t care whether Tidus wins or loses?
1UP: Much like Square-Enix’s Tetsuya Nomura, you have done many character designs, and are synonymous with the strong image of your respective companies. And you are both also coming into your own as game directors. What has made this evolution possible for you?
KK: I think it started with the SMT series as we gave gamers something that didn’t have before with its deep world and complex themes, which is probably something other companies wouldn’t pursue. We also gave the game a unique artistic angle and virtual world. Of course then that fashion sense we talked about earlier was developed. So generally speaking, I think it was just about giving players something different that helped develop our unique style of game design.
1UP: Looking to the next-generation, what are your opinions on developing for PS3, Xbox 360 and Revolution?
KK: Developing for PS3 is the logical step for us, but it also looks like it’ll be very expensive to do. That expensive price goes for development as well as the console itself. Xbox 360 looks like it’ll be easier to develop for, so I feel an urge to try it out.
1UP: Will that depend on how well Xbox 360 does in Japan?
KK: Yes, I think so. But we also need to consider our fan base. The Megaten series has largely been on Playstation consoles.
1UP: The Game Over screen of Nocturne is regarded by many as the best Game Over screen to ever grace a video game. What was your inspiration behind it?
KK: That was inspired by stories of afterlife experiences. As you probably have heard, there are many people who have been close to death, or have been declared dead, only to wake up and claim to have experienced some kind of journey to heaven. Many claim to have seen bright lights or tunnels. That was our inspiration as the screen goes bright and the camera zones above, allowing the player to see his or her own dead body.