“Over the wintry
forest, winds howl in rage
with no leaves to blow”
by Natsume Sōseki
Three lines and a total on 17 “on” (a sort of Japanese syllables) in a 5,7, 5 pattern: this is haiku, one of the most perfect and difficult form of poetry. In haiku there is no space for the superfluous, every single word must be flawless, just as, for a Japanese samurai, every single move must be ultimate.
Yeah, I know what you are thinking right now: “Japan and samurai, how original!” and maybe you are even right; maybe it’s just a stereotype but at least not one of the worst. After all, it is cooler to be the country of legendary warriors, than the land of “pizza margherita” (although I wouldn’t be able to survive a week without my delicious pizza).
Anyway, forgetting about pizza for a moment, and going back to samurai, my question is: have you ever tried to imagine how a real duel between samurai could be? Personally, I picture every contender trying to predict the opponent’s thoughts and, after that, few fast movements, a metallic echo and a definitive scream of death.
Maybe I’m wrong, but, when I think about playing a real strategic game, my thoughts are almost the same: every single move counts because each one can be your last one. So, in conclusion haiku, samurai and turn-based games share the same principles: imagination and essentiality.
As you know, in Japan the genre of tactical turn-based games is very popular. After all, who has never played Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre? Ok… me and someone else, but, apart from that, it’s certain that in the land of the rising sun this kind of game has always been very successful.
So when Marcello asked me to get an interview with the producer and game designer of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, Mr. Kazuhiro Igarashi, I realized that this was my best chance to learn a little bit more about the amazing Japan and its ludic culture.
What follows is the result our chat.
- The tactical RPG genre has always been very popular in your country, but in Europe and America, its commercial success is far more recent. Anyway, the trend is rather clear: all around the world, there are a lot of people who want to play strategy/tactical RPG. So, what is your opinion about the future of the genre and how, in your opinion, this new “mainstream soul” could influence its evolution?
While the tactical RPG genre is well-known in Japan, we see the strategy/tactical RPG genre games mainly as a pay-to-win model for mobile games. There’s still a market for consumer games in the tactical RPG genre, but it’s not as big as it may seem, and the number of grand conquest strategy games like Brigandine within this niche genre is even smaller. Even in Japan, this is a game genre that is rarely touched upon.
That said, because there’s still a market for this genre that we decided to develop the game in the first place, with the goal of showcasing the appeal of country conquest strategy games to more players. It would be a great honor for us if the game has contributed to expand the fan base for strategy games throughout the world and to recognize Brigandine as a unique tactical RPG a part of the genre. I believe that winning a game through calculated strategies is a lot more satisfying than taking shortcuts by paying to win. I’m also a fan of turn-based games with an immersive world view. It can be similar to reading a book! We developed Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia with the goal of presenting a game like a fantasy storybook to everyone.
- Every country right now is facing the sanitary emergency and many people are obliged to work from home. How hard was the development of Brigandine: TLOR under this point of view?
Fortunately, we were able to release the demo as well as the game on PS4 and Nintendo Switch on schedule. . In fact, we finished the main story plot before Covid-19 and spent the additional time throughout 2020 to polish the game, adjust gameplay balance, and fix various bugs. Although, close collaboration with our partner companies did become harder with an increasing number of staff having to work from home, there were a number of other difficulties that arose from the situation as well.
Nevertheless, we remained motivated. Since our game can be enjoyed over a long period of time, we were confident that people all over the world who had to stay at home could engross themselves in the game and spend some quality time taking over the world in a good way!
We’re very concerned about the people’s health across the world and are praying for everyone’s safety and health.
- For your game you were able to assemble a sort of “dream team” of creators, very talented people with a wealth of experience behind them. How did you manage to achieve this result and how hard was to work together?
This game is filled with brand new charm thanks to the help of some truly fantastic creators. I contacted each of them personally to present the game concept to them, which is how we ended up working together on the game over a long period of time!
Kenji Terada as script writer. (Past works include: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III)
I’ve been a fan of his scripts for a long time, and I’ve always dreamed of working with him one day. And as luck would have it, I happened to meet someone with a connection to him. I expressed a desire to meet with Terada, and I remember our first meeting took place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. I asked him directly if he would once again write a fantasy world for a game. Terada has written a story that not only suits the genre but is easy to get lost in. The scenarios are heartwarming and full of humor.
As you progress through the game, the world is designed to draw you further into the deep history of Runersia, the character’s hidden natures, and themes that tie in to the real world. We hope you get to experience the fantasy world within this game!
Raita Kazama on art and character design. (Past works include: Xenoblade, Xenoblade Chronicles X)
I searched for someone who could conjure up images that closely resembled the atmosphere I had in mind for the world of Runersia. Art style was my only criteria—name recognition didn’t come into the picture at all. My first choice was Kazama. I sent him an email personally, asking to meet. I shared with him details about Brigandine, the concept behind Runersia, and more. The wonderful thing about Kazama’s art is that his character interpretations and designs are all overflowing with imagination. There are over 100 knights in the game, and each has its own detailed and distinct character design. The game also doesn’t have a fixed protagonist. Any character from the six nations, whether one of the six rulers or over 100 knights, can become the player’s personal main character. That’s why I needed Kazama’s rousing and imaginative character designs. I feel very lucky to have worked with him. His creations are incredibly intricate, and every single accessory is purposeful.
Tenpei Sato in charge of music. (Past works include: Disgaea Series, Brigandine: Grand Edition)
The process was the same this time around, even though Sato also did the music for the previous work, Brigandine: Grand Edition. I sent him an email and we met in Shibuya, where I shared with him the concept behind the new Brigandine. He enthusiastically expressed his eagerness to once again make incredible fantasy music. Sato gave us 38 songs, all of which were impeccably crafted. The theme song—a song that seems to tell a story all on its own—was recorded by an actual orchestra. The songs created for each of the six nations are tailored specifically for each one. Playtime for the game is long, but you won’t get tired of the music, no matter how many times you hear it. Some of the songs have also been uploaded to our official YouTube channel, so please give them a listen!
We held discussions with several companies in our search for a development partner but Matrix Software was the only team that brought along the strategy book for the previous Brigandine game to our first meeting. Many of the staff were also fans of the series and had a deep understanding of the game mechanics. In my experience, passion and understanding are the most important things in the early stages of development, which is why it didn’t take me long to choose Matrix Software as a partner. Once development began, we tackled problems that cropped up together, while always thinking about how to make the game more interesting for the players. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
I’m sure you can imagine what a great experience it must be to make a game together with such incredible people.
Did we have disagreements and different ideals sometimes? Sure. Many times, in fact. But I think that’s only because all the creators were very individualistic and stubborn – in a good way, of course! I can’t possibly list all the examples here, since there were so many, but I just want to say that everyone worked hard to direct their individuality towards a common goal, and I’m happy to say we were able to do great work together while still respecting each other’s expertise!
4) Ok, now let’s talk about your game. Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is the sequel of Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, a game released almost 20 years ago. Why did you decide to realize a new chapter after all this time?
The first installment, Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, was released 22 years ago in 1998 by E3 STAFF, a subsidiary of Happinet. This also happened to be the year I began working at Happinet.
As an employee of the company, I was very proud of both Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena and Brigandine: Grand Edition, and hoped to one day join the development team. Unfortunately, the E3 STAFF team was disbanded before my dream became a reality. It wasn’t until over 10 years later that we were finally able to reopen the game development department. Once we had built up some experience as developers, we decided to undertake a new addition to the Brigandine franchise.
Naturally, we considered doing a remake of the first game, but rather than attempting that without any of the original creators present, we decided it made more sense for a new team to take on an all-new story to go with the new team.
We also wanted to offer a new experience where both fans who had been waiting over 20 years, as well as those who were picking up the game for the very first time, could start on equal footing.
- What were the key aspects of the first game that you decided to maintain in The Legend of Runersia and which are the new and original elements?
I think there are several reasons why the previous game gained cult classic status and was loved for such a long time. Of these, there were two important areas that we especially wanted to bring over.
1. A sandbox-like strategy game set in a fantasy world that gives the player a lot of freedom.
Players are able to aim for continental conquest using any of the six nations. The many options available to do so within each nation is a major strength as well.
Each of the six nations has its own story and strategic slant, which allows for highly diverse playing styles. There are over 100 knights, over 60 knight classes, and over 50 types of monsters. It’s up to the player to decide what troops they will form, what routes they will take, and how they will fight. There are also over 500 kinds of items, and the player can train their knights and monsters however they wish. People often say the most interesting element of Brigandine is the training.
2. Organization, battles, and addictive unit training.
The goal of the game is to conquer the continent by occupying all of its 41 bases. Most of the gameplay consists of troop battles that take place at these bases. The tactical excitement these battles provide and the series of repeated battles are a lot of fun! Leveling up knights and monsters is a smooth process that takes place as the battles progress. Whether a battle is won or lost, the player is able to continue to change the classes of their units, adjust their equipment, or reorganize them into new troops with different combinations. You’ll definitely be looking forward to the next battle after all that strategizing and troop organization! This addictive gameplay loop is one of Brigandine’s greatest appeals.
We’ve also made a number of improvements while keeping the best parts of the Brigandine series intact. For example, in sandbox-like strategy games where a high degree of freedom is important, there is usually quite a lot of information to take in immediately after starting the game. For that reason, we created a tutorial mode that’s separate from the main game this time around. I invite players who are trying Brigandine for the first time, to begin with, this tutorial mode. New features and a new play mode that will allow players to enjoy the game on an even deeper strategic level have been added as well. We hope you’ll have fun with them!
- Brigandine: TLOR seems very deep and strategical, a game that forces you to consider a lot of variables before taking even the simplest decision. Don’t you worry that the high strategic profile of your game may dissuade people to play it?
As you’ve rightly pointed out, a number of people found the initial stage of the game difficult to get past, and some stopped playing before reaching the game’s most interesting parts. There were two important things we needed to consider when addressing this problem.
First, the tutorial and tips sections had to support the players. Second, the essence of the game had to be preserved even if it meant some players might quit before getting a taste of it.
We understand we’re living in an era where players can find enjoyable content on all sorts of platforms for just about anything, including casual games that appeal to everyone. Our game is unfortunately not of a genre that naturally appeals to everyone, so we were instead determined to make it a satisfying experience for those who were interested enough to buy it.
This was also why we released a demo. More than being a promotional tool, we wanted to provide an opportunity for players to have a chance to interact with a game genre they may potentially enjoy.
- Brigandine: TLOR was released on Nintendo Switch a few months ago, so now the question is: can we expect some new contents for the PS4 version?
The PS4 version launched with the Titans and the Iron Front update with additional features and improvements in over 30 areas. This includes a Custom difficulty mode, in addition to the original three. The CPU AI has also been enhanced, and we’ve added two new monsters. Players who bought the Switch version also have access to this update patch now.
- Aside from the original chapter, which were your most significant inspirations for Brigandine: TLOR?
We were inspired to make this game because we loved the unique aspects of Brigandine (a turn-based country conquest strategy game set in a fantasy world) and wanted gamers around the world to get to know this game as well. We saw the value of making this game specifically because of the fact that this is a niche genre that can thrive from original games like Brigandine.
- Which is the feature you are most proud of?
The profound unit training elements, the flexible game system that allows room for a large variety of strategies, and the game’s balance. The game starts getting interesting after the player captures about five bases. These three features had to be finely tuned and carefully polished to achieve the best balance possible. I’m proud of what we’ve managed to achieve in this area!
- Our blog usually covers PC games, so this last question is rather mandatory: after Nintendo Switch and PS4 versions, do you think to bring your fantastic game even on PC?
We would definitely like to release it on PC! We can’t confirm anything at the moment, as there are no plans for development on that end yet, but rest assured that we’re looking long and hard into putting the game out on additional platforms so more players can enjoy it.
For now, players can choose between the Switch and PS4 versions that are out now, but please do give the demo a try if any part of the game interests you after reading this!
BONUS QUESTION: Before leaving you, just a bonus question. Which is the latest game you’ve played or still playing?
I’ve been so busy working on the game and its update recently that I haven’t really had time to play anything else, but I do intend to take a break and pick up some games after the PS4 release. I can say that Desperados III is definitely on my list to play!