The 2019/9/12 issue of Famitsu includes an interview with director Taura Takahisa, supervisor Kamiya Hideki, and producer Nishimura Eiji regarding Platinum Games’ latest release, Astral Chain for the Nintendo Switch.
The interviewer comments on the variety of gameplay, such as the bike, investigation and exploration sequences. Taura says this is “Kamiya-ism” at work, but Kamiya denies this, saying that it ought to be called “Sanma no Meitantei-ism” (a Namco mystery text adventure for the NES which also included a Galaxian-like minigame called Galaxigani) or “Konami Wai Wai World-ism”. Kamiya says that the exploration portions are particularly important in Astral Chain due to the player being given more freedom to move around areas, making the game design different from previous Platinum titles.
The game also including RPG elements is brought up, and Taura says he wanted to include them due to him personally liking games with stronger RPG influences. While Astral Chain is split up into chapters with results displayed like Bayonetta and you can make progress quickly, there are also elements that let the player take detours, and parts with no battles like the exploration and investigation sequences. He says that these matched with the setting of the player character being a police officer.
Kamiya says that Taura started off too ambitious: With games like Bayonetta, the developers can control how the game is played, but in cases like Astral Chain where the game can be played in multiple ways, they have to come up with methods to let players of all types enjoy the game. This makes game design extremely difficult, and is something Kamiya has always actively tried to avoid. He thus thought that balancing Astral Chain would be a tough job, but the base game was good enough that he did not have to make any additions, and he only needed to give Taura instructions on some portions and help shape things up. He says that Astral Chain is thus 90% a Taura game.
Taura interjects, saying that the remaining 10% which Kamiya worked on was extremely important, and Nishimura agrees, saying that Kamiya came in on a critical period in development. Kamiya says that as they were spending a lot of time on a high-end title, undoing things would result in huge losses, and it was hard to have an environment that allowed for trial and error. He thus took it on himself to provide advice when the development team was unsure what to do. Additionally, they were also already at a point where they had tested many things, and there were cases where he suggested that they should try something only to learn that they had already tried it. He says that there were also elements that they had discarded after trial and error that he felt were too good, and he gave input on how they should use them. He says that he could do all of this because he experienced similar things on all of his own projects.
Taura says that there were few things that they could use as reference points for controlling two characters at the same time. While the final game has semi-automatic controls for the Legion, the player was initially going to control the Legion completely manually. This made controls very difficult, so they tried out things like advance inputs and rhythm game style controls, but none worked out.
Kamiya says that he too sometimes gets lost along the way when working on his projects, and he recovers by looking at the first trailer they put out for the game and recall what he wanted to make. With Ōkami, he once got so lost that the game turned into a simulation game focused on turning hexes green. This made him wonder if this was really what he wanted to make, and rewatched an early trailer which had Amaterasu running through an open field, and this pure concept made him realise what he really wanted to make. He thinks that they Astral Chain team may have had problems because they did not have an early trailer to look at to re-confirm what the original concept was, and says that people like him who joined later on could probably take a more rational look at it due to how the dynamic battle system from the very beginning left a strong impression on them.
The interview returns to discussing the dual action system. Taura says that the amount of effort they put into controlling two characters at the same time was equal to that of working on four to five full conventional action games, and they tried everything until he was satisfied. He says he is particularly pleased with the chain connecting the two characters: The chain initially started off as a purely aesthetic choice, and applying it to gameplay came after. Kamiya says that how Taura did not start off by trying to make the dual action system simple was very typical of him, and though people around him kept suggesting that he simplify the controls, he stuck with it to the end, which Kamiya thinks shows that Taura is a good director. Taura did not simply listen to all of Kamiya’s suggestions, and protected parts that he felt should absolutely not be changed, and that resulted in Astral Chain’s unique identity.
Next, the interviewer brings up the game’s “unchained mode” which automates battle sequences. Taura says that this was a result of dicussions with Nintendo ending with them deciding that they wanted to have more people play the game. Kamiya notes that Bayonetta had a similar feature, and says that the people who use automatic modes are do not want to “play the game easily”, but want to “easily have a taste of playing the game like an expert”. By first making a battle system for expert players, they can then make a mode to automate it so that amateur players can have the same experience as experts. He says that this is something that cannot be done if you start off making a game that can be played easily.
Another thing that Taura fixated on during development was having only one attack button for the player. He says that the game is complex enough with the player controlling two characters at the same time, so he wanted to keep the buttons presses simple, so that players can both easily perform attacks via button mashing and also perform different moves depending on the situation or command inputs.
Taura was also particular about the camera feature. He says being able to take photographs with both the character and the Legion is something that only a game that lets you control two characters like Astral Chain can do. Taura does not usually use the photo mode function in games which have them, but he fell in love with the version in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which registers photographs you take into an encyclopedia, which he found to be refreshing, and directly led to the camera function in Astral Chain. Nishimura says that he had actually suggested that they remove the camera when the schedule was getting tight, and Taura’s answer was “absolutely not”.
The game has a lot of content if the player wishes to do everything, and Taura says that there the post-game also has a large volume. He says that simply clearing the story should be satisfying, but the post-game content is particularly challenging and should leave action fans particularly satisfied. He says that to him, the post-game is where the gameplay actually starts, as that is when the player has access to all five Legions, an array of skills unlocked, and has collecting ability codes. Playing the game at that state is what he actually wanted to achieve, and he hopes that players will give it a try.
Finally, the interviewer asks for each of the interviewees to say something about the game.
Kamiya goes first and says that he thinks the most important thing for a director is to have a vision and the will to do whatever it takes to protect that vision, and that Taura can be counted on for that. Another thing that made him feel that Taura has become a good director was seeing him get angry, which also surprised him. Kamiya says that people who hear about Astral Chain might be worried that the controls might be too difficult or that the setting might not be their thing, and would like to reassure them that it will absolutely be a new experience, and they should jump in.
Nishimura says that development was wrought with trouble, and that Taura became more of a director every time they overcame an obstacle, and has really grown. Astral Chain had a problematic development filled with twists and turns, but the dual action system at its core which Taura came up with and protected to the end remained unchanged. It is thus a game with a strong backbone, and he hopes that many people will play it.
Taura says that the game may both look and play strangely, but that he thinks that there are not just people who will like that but also those who find that it draws their attention. While the game might turn out to be strange even when someone gets their hands on it, he says that he is confident that the experience that they get from it is one that can be found nowhere else, and that there are things in the game that make it more fun as the player progresses, meaning that a player’s impressions might change as they play the game. He hopes that anyone who has interested in the game will try it out.
Astral Chain was released for the Nintendo Switch worldwide on 30th August 2019.