GameStart 2017 played host to the legendary producer and director duo of Yosuke Saito and Yoko Taro. Both men had worked on the critically acclaimed NieR Automata game which has sold over 2 million copies since its launch earlier this year. We got a chance to sit down with them to ask them some questions about their game.
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Given that the game’s theme is rather dark, is there a hidden message that you want to convey to the players?
Yoko Taro: I haven’t given much thought to the message, but I want the players to figure it out themselves, and use their imagination. It may be a very dark message, but it is all up to how the players perceive it. So, the message that is conveyed may vary from player to player.
NieR Automata was very unique and was created with a specific audience in mind. However, Automata surpassed expectations and has sold very well overseas. After such a success, will you create a game that is geared towards a more mainstream audience?
Yoko Taro: First of all, I would need to consider the budget given to me for such a project. But I think the key to creating such a popular game was to create a world that I thought others would enjoy but one that I myself would like to see or be in.
The world of NieR is dark and twisted. But at the same time, it’s full of hope and emotion. What was your inspiration when creating this world?
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Yoko Taro: Seeing or not seeing hope in the story is up to the player. As a director, its my job to provide players with the information players need to come to the conclusion themselves. In real life as in video games there are good things and bad things, so I did not set out for players to readily come to a certain conclusion, all I did was provide players with the backdrop, and the opportunities for the players to come to a certain conclusion themselves. So if the players decide that this ended up being a very hopeful story, it makes me very happy that it fits that.
Your games often feature outcasts, are you particularly drawn to archetypes that do not appear in other games?
Yoko Taro: Honestly, I do not understand outcasts myself. As someone who is a fan of pop culture and TV entertainment, there are many things I do not understand about them. But I gather the opinions of friends who belong to these minority groups, and get some inspiration from the struggle that they face. Everybody is a little bit strange, so I take of the uniqueness and strangeness of all these individuals.
Yosuke Saito: I’m actually rather interested to see if Yoko-san be interested in working on a Final Fantasy title, featuring the similar strangeness.
Yoko Taro: I’m hoping for a big budget if I do work on it.
One of the best things about NieR Automata is that the game often plays practical jokes on the player. It’s something we see quite often in Yoko-san’s games. Is this a design philosophy, where the game would in a sense ‘play the player’.
Yosuke Saito: Yoko-san is a very familiar with an esoteric character from Japan called Amano Jack, who enjoys playing practical jokes. Yoko-san also likes to play practical jokes as well, so it comes out in his games as well, similar to the character of Amano Jack.
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Oh? Is Yoko-san like that in real life as well? How is it working with him?
Yosuke Saito: He’s crazy! He’s a very funny person you will never get bored of.
Yoko Taro: Like Saito-san, I like to withdraw into my own space to work on projects. While I do not particularly enjoy doing interviews, I would still like to try my best to answer questions from the press.
How was it like working with Platinum Games, and how did the process start?
Yosuke Saito: It came with the desire to work with Platinum Games to begin with. Following the completion of Drakengard 3, Yoko-san was freed up to work on a new project. Similarly, Platinum Games was also available. So it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time, and I’m sure fans know that Yoko-san is someone who would gladly work with anyone so long as they give him money. That was how the partnership started and came to fruition.
Did the choice of release platforms affect the game’s design?
Yosuke Saito: Actually there was no special arrangements made for either platform (PS4 and PC), but since most of the development process is done on the PC anyway, we ran with it. Actually we had planned to release the game only for PC. However, following input from the publishers the decision was made for the game to be released on the PlayStation 4 as well. The game was created on Platinum game’s engine, which was geared towards the PC. So ultimately the platform choice had no bearing on the way the game was designed.
Why were Yui Ishikawa, and Natsuki Hanae chosen to be the voices behind 2B and 9S? What about their voices made them so special?
Yoko Taro: Ishikawa-san was chosen from a pool of seiyuus. Upon hearing her voice, we found that she was a perfect fit for 2B. There are many seiyuus who possess an very cute voice that fits well with anime. However Ishikawa-san’s calm and stoic voice was very soothing and it was a quality that many other seiyuus did not possess. This was why she was chosen.
Yosuke Saito: Actually the decision on 9S’s casting was only made at the very end of the selection process. There were many male seiyuus presented to Yoko-san. 9S was a very unique character. In the sense that he was not an adult, but at the same time he was not a child, so we had to find someone who fit perfectly in this niche area. One of the main requirements, was the ability to portray his emotions while screaming. I am a fan of Tokyo Ghoul series, but Yoko-san had never seen it before. So I asked him to watch the anime and listen to Kaneki Ken. When Kaneki Ken is calm his voice felt a little different. But when he changed into his ghoul mode, and started screaming, Yoko-san said that he was perfect. That’s how Natsuki Hanae landed the role of 9S.
Yoko Taro: He was actually the last person to be confirmed for the cast. The main problem with hiring a male voice actor is that the seiyuu’s natural voice would be very low and that they would not be able to portray a young male role. However, if a female seiyuu voices a male role, it would be too feminine. So Natsuki Hanae-san had struck the perfect balance for the role of 9S.
Of all the female characters you have created in your games. Which of them is your favorite?
Yosuke Saito: Devol and Popol.
Yoko Taro: Vier from the original NieR game. She’s a young lady who stays in the masked city who doesnt speak. I had originally thought of making her a main character, but in the story she was killed off. So I was quite saddened by it.
Before the release of NieR Automata, the game had already built up a fan-base in part due to the popularity of 2B. What were the considerations taken when coming up with the design of the character?
Yoko Taro: The black theme is similar to what one would wear at a funeral. The blindfolds symbolize the fact that the characters are blind to the truth. However, the operators have a veil covering their mouths, this symbolizes that the operators are prevented from speaking the truth. As for the characters who wear mufflers, they symbolize being unable to hear the truth. It’s a little strange, but these were the concepts behind the designs of the various characters. Personally, I don’t understand how a character who’s eyes have been covered has become so popular. Perhaps modeling her after Akihiko Yoshida-san’s initial design had made the character more appealing. Actually, having a blindfold might have nothing to do with a character’s popularity.
Yosuke Saito: I feel bad for the cosplayers who have to wear a blindfold because they can’t see where they’re going.
Finally, the game has already sold more than 2 million copies is there a chance for a sequel?
Yoko Taro: Back to the matter at hand, if someone gives us the money we’ll do it.
Yosuke Saito: Well we’ve been talking about how if we’re given the money, we’ll do it. But now what would happen if the entire world gives us the money? We could do a lot more. We’ll do whatever the person pays us the most wants us to do. But there’s always the risk of Yoko-san receiving a truckload of money, taking a small portion of it to make a crappy game, and running away with the rest.