Sony recent release Demon’s Souls won the hearts of many with its unique world view and uncompromising gameplays. And they include the staff of DengekiOnline, who started a special page to show how they play the game, and its rivals Famitsu, who gave the game a 4-page feature in the latest issue of Famitsu PSP+PS3. The feature includes feedbacks from Famitsu staff who are playing and a lengthy interview with the producer Takeshi Kajii (SCEJ) and director Hidetaka Miyazaki (From Software). Read my amateurish translation of the article after the jump or if you read Japanese, the online version can be found here (this translation is based on the Taiwan version of the mag).
Famitsu begins by asking them to elaborate on the good sales of the game, which stood at 93,274 copies as at March 22nd in Japan. Miyazaki says they only wanted to make a game that lets players enjoy the satisfaction of clearing difficult stages and strategize their moves. The development team is very happy that this idea is well received. Kajii says he received plenty of feedback like “This is the game I’ve been waiting for!“. Current trend in videogames is to make them as easy as possible but it’s the other way around for Demon’s Souls, which is challenging to produce but he is thankful that the result is very positive.
Famitsu noted that there are plenty of discussions about the ridiculously high difficulty and asks what’s their thought on this. Miyazaki says the main purpose of the game is to let players have sense of achievement and shout “I did it!” after going through a tough challenge. Making it tough in order to generate talks or a challenge to hardcore gamers are never really the goal. He is surprised that many players say it’s a really hard game because he never wanted it to be so tough. Kajii says the main point of the game is not the story or the settings, something that always change depending on the players, but makes players enjoy their own achievement in the game.
Famitsu then complains there are too many enemies on the stairs of Boletaria Palace, which is the first stage of the game. Miyazaki says this level is designed to familiarize players with the basics of the game. This is also why the game is offline until you beat Phalanx. If players are allowed to ask for help from the very beginning, then there will be more considerations to make. He does feels the level is a little too long though but that’s because he doesn’t want to cut anything out. Kajii says there are plenty of highly detailed guides in the magazines for this level, which are really helpful to the players. Miyazaki adds that he try to keep unreasonable deaths in the game to the minimum and make sure that it’s not the system but their lack of skills that kill the players. This is important to make players keep trying. In order to make the controls easier, almost all the moves can be canceled by rolling.
On the enemies, Famitsu noted that almost all of them have a weak point. Miyazaki says if you think a little deeper, you can kill them easily. For example, enemies in the swamp can be lured to the land in order to kill them easier. Although they don’t really need to do so, it will be easier if players can adapt their strategies when up against different type of enemies. He then mentioned the prison guards with tentacles in Tower of Latria, which he says are tough when fighting them face to face but there is a much better way of dealing with them (I think he means stabbing).
When asked if they have any words for those who are giving up. Miyazaki says even he himself think the game is too tough sometimes but during development, they always keep in mind that even players who are not familiar with action game should be able to make it through, so he hopes players who are stuck can try more. But if they really need a tip, Miyazaki hints that “shield is a very strong armor” and if that still doesn’t helps, try to use long range attacks like bow and magics. Kajii adds that players should be patient and not get over excited too easily.
Famitsu says the world that’s covered with darkness and also the story seem to give players plenty of room for imagination. Miyazaki says this is the area that the development team is very interested in. The foggy world will generates sense of mystery and feeling of fear. During development, Miyazaki says the team pays a lot of attention to details and take extra care of thing like ecosystem among the monsters and the relationship between the different races. He hopes players can build their own world based on the cut scenes although he says it seems that he gave away too little things during the game.
Some say the game has the style of Wizardry. Miyazaki says it’s also influenced by Gamebooks he played. Kajii himself is a big fans of dark fantasy, this plus Miyazaki’s special interest makes him worried if they are taking things too far. However, he says he has plenty of trust in Miyazaki’s abilities and let the director makes his own decisions with only one condition, the game must have a female lead.
Miyazaki says there was no female character at all in the initial planning but feels it’s actually good to have one. Kajii adds that he wasn’t shown the character design of Maiden in Black (above) until really late in development, when it will be hard to go back and do changes, and his first reaction was “What? No eyes?“. Miyazaki quickly apologize and says he purposely design her to be that way. Kajii says it’s actually a good way of making players think about her past, and having eyes limit her expression a lot. It’s exactly the kind of design that a hardcore game will have and making it too obvious will make the game a little too easy.
The discussion then move on to the online portion, to which Famitsu says the fact that players don’t really need to go online and therefore creating a sense of distance is well received among players. Maybe because he is getting older, Miyazaki says he thinks there is too much communication in online games which can become a burden for some people. Just like sometimes its better to communicate with someone through text messages instead of calling them directly. As a result, phantoms and summons are used to ease players and Nico Nico’s style of messaging is used for communication.
Turning yourself into a Black Phantom to fight with other players is quite rare in games for consoles according Famitsu, who asks if there is any objection to the idea initially. Kajii says he love this system very much. Miyazaki admits that there are rooms for improvement in the system but he stresses that this is not purely for PK (player kill) but something that will makes player think they are a formidable foes themselves. The game’s difficulty is adjusted with online play in mind. He adds that if enemies always appear in different spots or traps are randomly placed after players respawn, things like Bloodstains, messages and phantoms became useless.
Spoiler Alert! Please skip to the last paragraph if you are still early in the game.
A yellow robe elder can actually summon Black Phantoms in the Tower of Latria stage and Famitsu think this is really unique. Miyazaki says this is perhaps the most difficult demon to work on but it’s important to introduce the idea of Black Phantoms to the players. Beating the monk will earn players the yellow robe, which Miyazaki designed himself, so they can wear to show off to others. If players didn’t go online, the battle will be against a single player only boss but Miyazaki still hopes players can check out the online version.
Famitsu also ask the duo about the process of bug-fixing for the game, which appears to be really tough. Compare with other projects, Kajii says bug-fixing for Demon’s Souls took more than double the amount of time. This is complicated by the fact that some of the testers are not with the team from the very beginning. During the balancing adjustment phase, many of the testers complained that the game is way too hard. The yellow robe elder’s ability to summon Black Phantom is one of the toughest part and most of the testers hope he will be taken out in the final game and Kajii says he has to act tough to avoid that. Miyazaki says another difficult scene for the testers are the final scene, where most of them got really angry with the difficulty. He says this is the most difficult game to adjust.
Finally, Famitsu asks the question we all want know “Will there be a sequel?“. Kajii says it’s too early to talk about sequel but he hopes this a “new beginning” between SCEJ and From Software. Miyazaki says the development team is very excited with the idea of sequel since the game was a learning process for them and they kind of know the direction it should go next. Although he isn’t sure if there will be a sequel, he says Demon’s Souls will be an invaluable experience for their new projects.