Iwata Asks: Samurai Warriors: Chronicle
Koinuma: Yes. Even before the Famicom system came out, I was playing Donkey Kong4 and Mario Bros.5 games at the video arcade.
Iwata: I see. So that’s when you became interested in playing video games. When did you start thinking about making them?
Koinuma: Yes. The only job hunting I did was to apply to about three video game companies. In 1994, I got into Koei, or what’s now Tecmo Koei Games.
Iwata: Koei hadn’t released the Warriors series yet. Koinuma: No.
Iwata: What was the first work you did after joining Koei?
Koinuma: My first work was adapting a computer RPG for the Super Famicom system.
Iwata: Working as a programmer can be fun because you have to keep up with new devices and, also, you get to make the games themselves. What have you found to be fun in your work to date?
Koinuma: For about ten years now, I’ve been walking the fields of programming, participating even in new hardware development and writing lots of programs. I’ve done my work largely out of a desire to do new things with new hardware.
Iwata: The arrival of new hardware alone is exciting.
Koinuma: Yeah. So fun I could hardly contain myself. I got excited just reading the manual for new hardware. To others, I must have looked weird. (laughs) I mean, I’m sitting there grinning as I read the manual!
Iwata: I know what you mean! (laughs) You start grinning just by thinking about what you can do with certain hardware.
Koinuma: I doubt the ordinary person out there can understand, but it’s exciting just to think, “Ooh! It’s got this!” and I can’t help grinning. (laughs)
Iwata: Yeah, that would look suspicious. (laughs)
Koinuma: Yeah! (laughs)
Iwata: What work were you involved with after the Super Famicom port?
Koinuma: I worked as a programmer on 3D fighting games like Dynasty Warriors before Dynasty Warriors 2. Then they suggested I try directing, and I made Dynasty Warriors 3: Xtreme Legends.
Iwata: What led up to them asking you to become a director?
Koinuma: Ever since I was a programmer, I had often chipped in my opinions on game content.
Iwata: You had played video games ever since you were a child, so you couldn’t suppress your views on the contents, as well. (laughs)
Koinuma: Yeah. (laughs) I’d been visiting video arcades since the second grade, and I can remember clearly how I couldn’t buy a Super Famicom system in November when it came out because it was sold out, so I kept going to the shop until I could finally get one the following March. In any case, I had played video games the whole time, so I couldn’t help speaking up. I guess that’s also just my personality. (laughs)
Iwata: (laughs) You naturally express yourself orally, whether smiling while reading technical manuals or saying what you think would be fun in games you were working on.
Koinuma: Yeah. I was really cheeky sometimes, saying things like, “If you release it like that, it won’t sell.”
Iwata: If you say it like that, you could get on the other developers’ bad side! (laughs)
Koinuma: Yeah. When I was new, I got into a big argument with my manager. Ever since my first year, there were things that I wouldn’t relent on with regard to game content. I think they chose me to be director because they had been watching that attitude.
Iwata: You became director and made Dynasty Warriors 3: Xtreme Legends. Dynasty Warriors 2 was the root for the Warriors theme of hacking away at opponents who swarm around you. Koinuma: Yes.
Iwata: I think that was a discovery in gameplay. Were you involved in the birth of that?
Koinuma: I wasn’t involved in its conception, but from what I’ve heard, the first Dynasty Warriors began as a one-on-one fighting game, but since the hardware performance had become more advanced, the people involved thought if you were going to play as a warrior from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it would be better to be able to wreak havoc against armies of enemies, be able to run around the battle field on horseback, and being able to do a great deed that would influence the outcome of battle.
Iwata: So the roots of the Warriors series was a one-on-one fighting game, and it eventually led to the Warriors series so the players are able to do heroic and amazing things.
Iwata: Samurai Warriors exists because Dynasty Warriors 2 existed, but you didn’t just switch in new characters.
Koinuma: No. If we had made the same thing, just switching the theme, it wouldn’t have been that interesting. So for Samurai Warriors, we thought about focusing on each character and establishing their personalities. In Dynasty Warriors 2, you fight on a wide-open field, but castles are more representative of the Sengoku (Warring States) period, so in Samurai Warriors, we decided to feature castles and the characters surrounding them in order to create a difference.
Iwata: How exactly do you establish the personalities of the characters?
Koinuma: When we make a Samurai Warriors game, we determine a broad course—what story from what time period we want to portray—and then research the anecdotes surrounding the various historical personages.
Iwata: You thoroughly research the historical accounts.
Koinuma: Right. When we decide on certain warlords to feature and build up a story, weak points always appear. We complement that with some fiction to further establish the characters, but the basis is always historical.
Iwata: You don’t change history for your own convenience. Koinuma: No, we never do that. We only arrange it so it becomes more interesting as a game.
Iwata: Now what was your first impression when you saw the Nintendo 3DS system?
Koinuma: I was shocked the first time I saw it. There were about 100 people in the room, and I was the first one to see the Nintendo 3DS system brought by Nintendo, but I was so surprised that I couldn’t help but shout out “Whoa!”
Iwata: It just burst out. (laughs)
Koinuma: Yeah. And I’m not the type to do that when I’m surprised.
Iwata: You’ve seen a lot of new hardware and got used to so many things that not just anything will surprise you.
Koinuma: Yeah. What I saw at that time was the game Animal Crossing (tentative title). I was shocked, and I thought, “So that…looks like this…”
Iwata: Did the staff members from Nintendo just show you the system and say, “Take a look at this,” without telling you that it was glasses-free 3D?
Koinuma: Yes. They didn’t even explain that it was Animal Crossing (tentative title).
Iwata: I see…so that’s how they presented it! (laughs)
Koinuma: I was absolutely floored. (laughs)
Iwata: When you first tried out the new hardware, how did you think you would develop the Warriors series for the Nintendo 3DS system?
Koinuma: The Warriors series goes back ten years, and Samurai Warriors for seven. As the series has built up, it’s gotten harder to add new elements.
Iwata: That has a tendency to happen when ten years have passed since the first product in a series.
Koinuma: Yeah. But with the Nintendo 3DS system, the visuals are 3D—with a sense of depth—so of course I wanted to make full use of that.
Iwata: Showing stunning graphics in 3D was a given.
Koinuma: Yes. And something that’s completely new for the series—although some might say it’s so obvious—is that there are two screens.
Iwata: This is actually the first time for a Warriors game to use two screens, one of which is a touch screen.
Koinuma: Yes. I thought I would construct new game mechanics around that. I adopted a system whereby you can swap in a number of warlords, up to four at a time. You fight on the upper screen, while on the lower screen you issue commands and observe the overall situation. You can instantly switch among the four warlords in their respective places.
Iwata: The Warriors games have always been busy, but now there’s more to do all at once.
Koinuma: Yes. It’s pretty frantic this time. But in a good way. The Warriors games have always involved long travel time. They’re fun when you’re fighting on the battlefield, but there’s little play on your way to the next place.
Iwata: You mean that you travel, fight like crazy, travel, fight like crazy, over and over again, and the travel times drag on a bit?
Koinuma: Yeah. This time, battlefields show up as you’re traveling, and when that happens, you can swap in other warlords. That way you can always enjoy that feeling of one against many.
Iwata: It maintains that feeling, so gameplay feels more tightly concentrated. Koinuma: Right. Until now in the Warriors series, the lengthy travel time was a challenge, a wall we never quite overcame, but this time I think we did it.
Iwata: So Koinuma-san, the subtitle this time is Chronicles. Why is that?
Koinuma: The first thing we decided this time was to unravel the thread of history of the Sengoku period. An awful lot happened from the beginning of the Sengoku period to the beginning of the Edo period, so we decided to follow that long history. The game is made so that if you clear it, you can study the overall history of the Sengoku period and what happened on which battlefields.
Koinuma: Yeah. The game has quite a lot of volume. We decided to trace that long history, so this time we decided to have a single fictional player-character who experiences battlefields at various time periods.
Iwata: Is this the first time that such a character has appeared in the Warriors series?
Koinuma: Yes. This is the first time we’ve made a fictional character the main character.
Iwata: Until now, it’s been common sense that handheld games that uses semiconductor memory (ROMs) as the game storage media don’t hold as much as games compared with home consoles.
Koinuma: But this time, Nintendo said we can use even a two-gigabyte ROM. They said that with so much memory capability we could make something comparable to a home console game, so we didn’t hold back! Iwata: Did you use those two gigabytes to your heart’s content? (laughs)
Koinuma: Yeah. We might have gone overboard. (laughs)
Iwata: You could say that you were able to do as much as you did because you had such a large capacity like a two-gigabyte ROM.
Koinuma: That’s right. Iwata: But it was pretty hard preparing a two-gigabyte ROM in time for release of the Nintendo 3DS system. But the Licensing department that works with outside companies strongly requested it hearing feedback from those companies. Some at Nintendo were saying, “Do you even need all this storage space?” and “How are you going to fill it all with data?”
Koinuma: Nah, it was easy! Oh, well, maybe I shouldn’t say that… (laughs) Actually, there are a lot of voices and cutscenes in this game.
Iwata: That’s right, it’s full voice this time.
Koinuma: Yes. When Warriors games came out for another handheld, we had to cut back on voice to save space, but there was no need for that this time, so it’s the first time we could include voice on almost all of the game.
Iwata: That’s the advantage of making software with a semiconductor memory. Unlike with optical disks, you can ignore seek time, so you can call forth the voice immediately wherever the data for it is on the ROM.
Koinuma: Right. So this time, as with home consoles, we could make it so all sorts of characters are talking all the time, even during battle.
Iwata: Does it make you happy that they can talk?
Koinuma: Yeah. (laughs) We re-recorded all the voices this time. If we reused previous recordings, there are lots of fans who like the voice actors, and they would notice right away.
Iwata: Fans of the voice actors would point out how the sound was the same as last time?
Koinuma: Yeah. As the series builds up, an increasing number of different tastes emerge, with some players simply liking the action, others the history, others particular characters, and so on.
Iwata: While Samurai Warriors is a single series, it possesses various entrances for the players’ varying tastes.
Koinuma: Yes. Since some fans like the voice actors and we had so much capacity this time, I thought they would like it if we went full voice, but partway through development, I thought, “Uh-oh, I’m doing too much.” (laughs)
Iwata: (laughs) And there isn’t anyone there to step on the brakes to stop you.
Koinuma: Yeah! (laughs) But when I tried to put in all sorts of stuff toward the end of development, everyone said, “That’s the limit!”
Koinuma: Of course, they stopped me when something just wouldn’t fit, and at the end I applied the brakes myself! (laughs)
Iwata: Lastly, I’d like to hear any final comments you may have. First, could you tell fans of previous Warriors games what kind of game Samurai Warriors Chronicles is and what they should pay attention to?
Koinuma: Sure. As mentioned earlier, we portray a long story based on history and you get to participate as your own player-character and interact with the warlords, which is a big point, so I hope fans who have played the previous Warriors games all this time will pay attention to that.
And even though it’s a handheld game, all the lines are in full voice, and we redid all the scenarios. What’s more, you can swap warlords by using the touchscreen, so I definitely want players to experience this new Warriors game. And actually, making a two-screen Samurai Warriors was an idea I’d been turning over since long before development for the Nintendo 3DS system.
Iwata: Oh, I see. You didn’t force yourself to adapt it to two screens for the Nintendo 3DS system, but it was an idea you had already had.
Koinuma: Yes. I keep something like a notebook of ideas. I try to write down new ideas as soon as I think of them, and it was an idea I wrote down a long time ago as something I wanted to do sometime. I thought two screens, one a touch screen, was good for always generating that sense of one against many.
Iwata: And you realized that the time had finally come to use that idea you’d had all this time.
Koinuma: Yes. I wanted players to always experience that feeling of one against many, but if that’s all there was, the game wouldn’t move forward, so I wove in the story, and the result was a good balance, I think. I want players to feel exhilarated as they play the game.
Iwata: I’d like to ask one final question before we finish up. I think people who haven’t played the Warriors series or who aren’t very quick with their hands don’t know that they too can play this game. What do you think about that?
Koinuma: The games in the Samurai Warriors series can be played by pure button-mashing. We check to make sure you can beat them just by punching a single button. Even people who don’t play action games at all can enjoy playing them as long as they keep pressing buttons, so I hope even people who aren’t very good at action games won’t hesitate to play it.
Iwata: It’s actually okay for players who think they aren’t very good at action games—like people who find anything after World 3 in Super Mario Bros. to be a little hard.
Koinuma: Yeah. You won’t fall in pits! (laughs) In part for that reason, just under 40% of Samurai Warriors players are female.
Iwata: That many women play it? Why is that?
Koinuma: When we portray the warlords, we don’t distinguish between one who is on the side of justice and one who is villainous. Rather, we make it so they’re all heroes. We portray positively even someone who has been portrayed negatively in history. Whichever character you choose, you can finish the game with a good feeling.
Iwata: I see. So even if someone did something wrong in history as written by the winners, that person had his own sense of justice and his own motivation and beliefs. When you portray events from that point of view, a new appeal arises.
Koinuma: Yeah. I think players sympathize with that, so women also pick it up.
Iwata: The warlords in the Warriors series possess a certain glamour, more so than in TV dramas about the Sengoku period, which must have attracted many women as well.
Koinuma: I don’t know if that’s why, but they send in all kinds of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
Iwata: Huh? Addressed to the warlords in Samurai Warriors?
Koinuma: Yeah. (laughs) Iwata: Who eats those chocolates?
Koinuma: The staff. It’s not like the warlords can! (laughs)
Iwata: (laughs) I suppose not! I had fun talking with you today. Thank you.