During E3, we got the opportunity to sit down with Square Enix's Koichiro Sakamoto, who just recently served as the producer on the company's Front Mission DS, due for release in the US this October 23rd. Mr. Sakamoto very graciously discussed the game, his love of the Front Mission series, and answered the questions we had on it.
Firstly, Mr. Sakamoto was asked if there were any difficulties in porting the game to the DS. On the contrary, he said, it wasn't difficult at all. He stated that he felt that the dual screen setup of the system could provide much more information to the players, which would make for a much smoother gameplay experience. There was additional discussion on the system's capabilities. When asked if the team considered adding multiplayer via the WiFi Connection, he responded that they would have liked to, but the truth is that it would have been too difficult to properly rebalance the game, which simply offers so many customization options through equipping different Wanzer (mech) parts. Sakamoto didn't want the game's original balance to be forcibly adapted for the sake of wireless. The producer was also jokingly asked about using the microphone; his response was laughing that this thought never occured to him, but that it's an interesting idea.
I noted that the DS is often perceived as appealing mainly to younger children, and if Mr. Sakamoto had any concerns about putting a darker, war-themed story on it. He replied that they had no concerns. In Japan, Sakamoto noted that the age range of users for the DS is going up because many players that grew out of gaming are getting back into it thanks to the system's popularity. Even in North America, he believes the demographics of the system are aging so the mentality that games are just for children is decreasing. Despite this, however, Mr. Sakamoto, when asked about censorship, did concede that some scenes were a bit too grotesque in the original and they have been toned down a bit.
When we asked about additional content in the DS version of Front Mission, Mr. Sakamoto explained the various incarnations the game has appeared in. The original SNES version only had a single storyline focusing on the OCU (the Oceanic Community Union, which includes Australia, Japan, southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands). In the PlayStation remake, there was also a different story focusing on the side of the UCS (the North American and South American united countries). The DS game includes both of those stories, plus five additional missions which can be played at any time after chapter 3. It also includes a guest character from Front Mission 5.
When asked what made Square Enix decide to take a chance on bringing Front Mission to the US again (the fifth game in the series was notably skipped), the response was that there was one member of the team that was very passionate about the game, and wanted to give players in the United States the chance to experience. He felt that Front Mission 3 and 4 proved that there is a userbase, and since the DS is currently very popular, the thinking went, "Why not give it a try?" On a similar note, we told Mr. Sakamoto that a fan translation had been done some years ago for Front Mission 1, and asked how he felt about such efforts. The producer replied that he actually found them very encouraging -- it's something the developers should be doing, but because they're not, the fans are doing it instead. He stated that he'd like to be able to give something back to the fans, and would like to thank personally each of the fans that worked on the translation.
Sakamoto was asked if he enjoyed the experience of working on the DS hardware, and if he had plans for any additional Front Mission titles on it in the future. He stated that they definitely had a lot of fun working with the machine, and view it as very compatible with SRPGs. If there are future opportunities, he'd like to do more -- and he said that the team would be interested in porting to the DS subsequent Front Mission games, after the first, but that's getting into matters of budget. In short, there are no concrete plans right now, but certainly an interest. When asked if the producer has his next project lined up, he said that he is working on several things right now, but nothing new that can be announced at this time.
A question was posed about Mr. Sakamoto's thoughts on the advantages of real-time strategy versus turn-based. In his view, one advantage of turn-based is that the player can put a lot more thought into strategizing and planning out moves, whereas in real-time, the time constraints prohibit the player from doing certain things he'd like to do. But despite that, he believes there is a lot that's attractive about real-time games, and in Japan, there are people who are interested in bringing real-time elements into Front Mission. He wants to know what direction the fans want, and ideally, he'd like to take the excitement of real-time and combine it with the deep thinking of turn-based to create something balanced. We also asked if there are any other SRPG series that he plays, and if they do things he'd like to try in Front Mission. He replied that he greatly enjoys Super Robot Taisen, another robot-combat game, and that it has various elements he's inspired by. Fire Emblem is another source of inspiration. But he stressed that the team would never just take anything from those and bring them directly into Front Mission; rather, they'd take inspiration from those ideas and seek to adapt them to the series.
When asked what he views as the essence or theme of Front Mission, Mr. Sakamoto stated that what ties the series together is the story of the warring countries, and within that is the perspective and emotional battles of the individual soldiers. All of the Front Mission games have good stories, in his opinion, but in Front Mission 1 in particular it is easier to relate to the characters. Even though the game takes place in an alternate reality setting, themes like losing a loved one are central to all of us, so we can understand the characters. This is, he explained, a goal of the development team when creating these games. They seek to create many types of more realistic characters instead of cardboard characters; this way, any player can relate to someone in the story.
Finally, on a lighter note, Mr. Sakamoto was asked if there are any games he's playing right now that he's enjoying. He said he's having a lot of fun with Monster Hunter 2 Portable for the PSP. We also asked him if he's looking forward to anything in particular. He said he had been looking forward to Zelda for a long while, but it came out and he played it a lot. Now he's excited about the just announced Mario Kart Wii and he'd like to try Wii Fit.