Developer Profile: The Many Worlds of Tetsuya Takahashi
[This article was written by one of our closest friends, the dearly departed, Derek Jasper. He was an editor at Nintendo Enthusiast who was tragically taken by throat cancer at a young age.]
JRPGs are having a rough time these days. Not long ago, franchises like Final Fantasy were so prominent that they helped turn the tides of console wars. Now if you were to scour the forums around various websites, you’ll see hordes of people who are just dripping with jaded cynicism. They haven’t been lighting up the American charts either. WRPGs like Skyrim have taken over the Role-Playing shaped hole in the hearts of gamers it would seem. So what happened? Why did this beloved genre of mine fall from the graces of so many? May it yet be salvaged?
Yes. It absolutely can and will be. These things happen after all. It’s hardly the first time we’ve seen such an ebb and flow in genre popularity. Just look at the wonderful resurgence of fighters this last gen. Hell, 2D platformers, anyone? I mean, who saw that one coming? All we need is a visionary game to restore the faith. And I, my friends, I have witnessed this vision.
It is Xenoblade and it is truly a thing to behold. It represents both the culmination of everything that made JRPGs special in the past and what will keep them relevant in the future. To prove my pontification, I shall take us on a little journey through the history of the games lead designer Tetsuya Takahashi.
His career started strong. He, very early on, landed a gig with RPG giant Squaresoft during what was arguably the height of its time in the industry. He was hired on as the lead graphic designer for Final Fantasy IV-VI. IV and VI, of course, being called II and III outside of Japan. He also extended these same talents to other integral properties like Secret of Mana, Front Mission, and even the legendary Chrono Trigger. Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger are important study pieces for his developing career as they featured some of the most seamless field designs (A.K.A worlds) seen at the time.
Then came the 3D revolution. Early on during the development of Final Fantasy VII, Takahashi left the team to form his own and take 3D game development in a different direction. One that matched his specialties in graphic design a little more closely. While the 3D in Final Fantasy was to be used primarily for presentational aspects, he wanted to make the world itself in 3D, allowing the player to have more freedom with movement and the camera.
The result of this came out as cult-classic (and one of my most cherished games) Xenogears. The game featured a very gripping narrative full of twists and turns that ruminated upon the concepts of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology. It also even featured two different types of battle systems as you could fight both on foot and in giant mechanized robots called “gears”. Despite all this, it was perhaps the immersive game world that was really separating it from the pack at the time.
Xenogears had performed well for Squaresoft, but they still turned him down for the making of a sequel. This surely must have played an important role as he left the company and helped formed his own studio called Monolith Soft of which he would end up becoming the acting president. He began work with them under the umbrella of Namco and directed his second game Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht.
Here he took a surprising shift in design philosophy. He wanted to leave behind the explorative elements in favor of the cinematic approach. This meant cutting out a world map and trading it for extensive cutscenes. This was becoming quite a trend among RPGs of the era, and Xenosaga was seen as one of the flagship examples of this with some scenes that lasted over 30 minutes!
After the first Xenosaga, he decided to take a backseat role in game production for some time, leaving its sequels in the hands of his staff. Baten Kaitos was also made by his team during this time. Its prequel, Baten Kaitos 2, was published by Nintendo in a very surprising move. It would turn out to be a pattern followed up as Namco sold most of its stock in Monolith Soft to Nintendo. This new and unexpected relationship could further blossom now. Fans, rejoice!
Takahashi first began a warm-up session in preparation of his grand visions for the Wii. That warm-up was nothing less than the exceptional Soma Bringer, on the DS, a game that unfortunately was another tragedy of Nintendo’s localization policies. Although Nintendo never released the stellar action-RPG outside of Japan, fans worked hard at creating an English translation patch. But the drama resulting from Nintendo’s localization policies was about to get a lot louder…
At the beginning of the Wii’s lifecycle, Takahashi had a vision for a new world that would become what we know now as Xenoblade Chronicles. If you have heard of this game it was likely in relation to Operation Rainfall’s efforts to localize it (as well as The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower). The Internet phenomenon has good reason to celebrate following its recent American release announcement. This game was worth fighting for.
Taking place on the corpses of two giant Gods, Xenoblade offers one of the most interesting and massive worlds you’ll ever see in a videogame. You will spend hours upon hours and visits upon visits before you fully explore any one of the sweepingly gorgeous body parts/landscapes. It is a crowning achievement that has been built up to for some time now. Hopefully you all play it when it drops in April 2012.
Then after that? Well… We’ll see what Mr. Takahashi has in store for us with the mysterious powers of the Wii U. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be one hell of a new world to discover.
For Another Excellent Article about Takahashi please read Miserable Pile of Secrets: The Essentials #43.