The following is a transcribed digital print of a roundtable interview conducted on Nintendo of Japan's official website under the Nintendo Online Magazine banner. This interview has been transcribed from its original format by Kyoto Report. This February 2009 special edition interviews Toru Narihiro and Masayuki Horikawa of Intelligent Systems. Intelligent Sytems started out as contracted programming unit and tool developer for Nintendo Company Limited, with project assignments for the famous R&D1 and EAD Division. Narihiro was one of the original programmers with work on the original Fire Emblem series. Horikawa was a graphic designer who has become one of the lead designers of the series. Both men sit down to discuss this new Fire Emblem installment.
Kyoto Report - Transcribe - Nintendo Online Magazine Special Edition: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Q: First, we would like each of you to introduce and tell us about the game.
Masayuki Horikawa: Before we start, I'd like to make some opening remarks.Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a game that originally came out for the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the NES, in 1990. The games in the series combine the tactical simulation elements with a roleplaying element where you see your characters grow and change as you progress through the story.The original title in the series is almost 20 years old now, but it has much to offer gamers of today as well. So we decided to put it on the DS so we could reinvigorate the game for new players.
Masayuki Horikawa: The story in Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is the story of Prince Marth, who loses his country to evil forces. You basically follow Marth through his adventure, taking by the countryside and gaining new allies, and eventually slaying the source of the evil and bringing light back to the kingdom.As far as what’s new for this iteration of Fire Emblem, there are four main points I’d like to highlight. The first is a tutorial system that gets the player into the meat of the game faster. The next is the Battle Forecast System which was introduced with the second Fire Emblem title. It lets you predict the outcome of any battle between two units. The third is a selectable difficulty system, which lets players of different skill levels lay the game. The fourth is a save system in the middle of combat. This means that if you fail halfway through a level, you don’t necessarily have to replay it from the very beginning.
Masayuki Horikawa: There are three points I’d like to highlight as far as online functionality for the new title. The first is what we call Wi-Fi or Wireless Battle. Using local wireless or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you can take units from your single-player campaign and use up to five of them in a battle against another human player.The second is the Rental Unit System. This lets you borrow and rent units from another player. You can take a unit another player has raised and use it in your own game.
Masayuki Horikawa: The third is the Online Shop. Here, you can log on through the Wi-Fi Conenction no matter where you are in the story and purchase items you can use in a single-player or multi-player campaign. This shop doesn’t use actual currency, it uses the game’s currency you build up during gameplay.
Q: Are there plans to remake other old entries in the Fire Emblem series? Particularly ones that haven’t been released in the US?
Masayuki Horikawa: We are currently undecided about the idea of remaking more Fire Emblem title. If Shadow Dragon is a very big hit, we’ll certainly consider that.
Q: So the Fire Emblem series has been released internationally since 2003. What differences in reception have you seen between the Japanese and American audiences?
Toru Narihiro: It’s hard to pin it down, obviously there’s a lot of differences. Where I could divide it into rough trends, the American players seem focused on building up characters and the system itself. In Europe, there are a number of countries with their own preferences, but some prefer the story portion of the game and others prefer the system itself, similar to the Americans. When you come to Japan, on the whole, I would say they’re more focused on following the story through the RPG, especially with female consumers. That’s essential to them enjoying the game.
Q: The trend in this generation is to appeal more to casual audiences. Are we going to see more player-friendly elements in Shadow Dragon, like being able to revive characters? Can we maybe trade story characters with our friends?
Masaki Tawara: Things like the Rental Unit system are concessions to helping all types of users play the game and have fun.
Masaki Tawara: Another feature I want to touch on is the Reclass feature, since in Fire Emblem if you lose a character, it’s gone for good. If you lose characters central to the party in terms of function, like a healer, the game can become very difficult. What reclass lets you do is change the job a unit performs, to a degree. You can turn a warrior into someone who can heal, for example.
Masaki Tawara: For someone who feels like that isn’t quite enough to get them back on the right track, there’s the Rental Unit System, so you can get a powered-up unit from a friend that’ll make it easier to play through the game and have a good time.//
Q: I would like to know a little bit more about the “gaiden” missions if possible.
Masayuki Horikawa: As far as the gaiden missions are concerned, this is also something we added this time around to help users ease their way through the game. They're designed to strengthen the army of users who don’t have as much technical skill as other players.//
Masayuki Horikawa: The first four missions let a player gain a particular very strong unit and items that bolster their army's strength. The final gaiden mission is to help out players when they don’t fulfill the requirements to defeat the final boss of the game immediately. You will get items there that will help you hold your own and finish the game.
Q: Many fans consider Shadow Dragon's story extremely "simple"— is this intentional? Did you consider elaborating on the original story when creating Shadow Dragon?
Masayuki Horikawa: With regard to the story, it’s fairly streamlined. There’s two points I’d like to touch on about this. The first is, I’d like to get across the point that when we first thought about the project, we thought it would be best to keep the classic story of the game as-is. There’s nothing wrong with a game being simple, and easy to understand so you can focus on the gameplay.
Masayuki Horikawa: Second, if we did decide to add a lot of different sidequests and elements to the story, we ran the risk of making it convoluted. With this one we wanted to highlight and boild own the Fire Emblem formula to its most basic and most enjoyable. That’s what we decided to keep it simple and in line with the original story.
Q: Given the chance, what other early Fire Emblem never released in America would the developers like to remake? Or would they rather work on an original Fire Emblem title?
Masaki Tawara: My preference would be to make another original title. This time, with Fire Emblem, we’re hoping to reach a lot of new users. That said, a mom who has only played Brain Age probably won’t pick it up. The challenge I would like to present to myself with Fire Emblem is to somehow make the title more acceptable to a wider audience.
Masaki Tawara: Were I to remake a title that has not been released in the US for the Fire Emblem series, I would be interested in remaking the title Seien no Keifu. In this one you get married and have children, and it's very different in comparison to other Fire Emblems. I’d like to see how I could update that system for the DS.
Toru Narihiro: Naturally, this Fire Emblem we remade is a 20-year-old game, and modern games have lost a lot of the simple charm that older games like the original had. I wanted to revisit that simple charm, so in the course of looking at the DS and what it could do, the idea popped into our heads to remake Shadow Dragon for the DS.
Toru Narihiro: Moving forward, as far as making a new title, I think to myself that we’ve made so many worlds in the Fire Emblem series, that it might be fun to take a lot of the best characters from them, the all-stars, and put them into a single title that could be new and old at the same time.
Masayuki Horikawa: I would also prefer to make a new game for the series as opposed to a remake of something not seen in America. Starting from a brand new game, you have an open palette and can bring more innovation to a series, and move it forward.
Masayuki Horikawa: Were I to remake a game from the series, it would be Fuuin no Tsurugi, which was the game that starred Roy. We saw Roy featured in Smash bros. Melee. While we have a chance now to introduce Marth to the American market, I’d like to have a chance to introduce Roy.
Q: I was wondering if the touch and stylus controls would have a significant impact on the game?
Masayuki Horikawa: I don’t expect to see the pace of the game change so much from just introducing the touchscreen controls. The original controls are solid and good to go. We thought that this time around it might be interesting to enter a new system to let you more intuitively enter commands.
Masaki Tawara: On the other hand, I’d like to stress that this game can be played either with touch or button controls. There is no point in the game where you need to combine a touch control with a button or vice versa. It’s totally up to the player.
Masayuki Horikawa: I’d like to add that as far as the dual screen functionality, this does change the pace of gameplay in a positive way, making things a little brisker. This time we have a system that lets you confirm a unit’s status or position on the upper screen. Now you don’t’ have to switch back and forth between seeing the battlefield and flipping through menus. As far as the two screens are concerned, yes, it does change the game in a very positive way.
Q: What are your favorite classic Fire Emblem units?
Masayuki Horikawa: My favorite class is the Pegasus Knight. Yes, it can be shot by archers and it has some weaknesses, but it’s a very light and maneuverable unit that can be a real workhorse on the battlefield. Also, I really like the design of it, it’s very beautiful.//
Toru Narihiro: My favorite unit is the Sniper, though there are lots I like. Snipers are very quick and agile, and very reliable when it comes to ranged attacks.