The developers of the NieR series discuss the latest games in the series, NieR Re[in]carnation and NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… in the 3/4 2021 issue of Weekly Famitsu, touching on aspects of development of previous games such as NieR: Automata as well.
Participating in the Re[in]carnation part of the interview were producer Saito Yosuke, creative director Yoko Taro, director Matsukawa Daichi, Matsuo Yuki and Ohara Takashi from the writing team, and creative producer Takagi Masafumi.
Also see: Nier: Automata – Global Game Business Summit Presentation (TGS2018)
Smartphone game NieR Re[in]carnation, which was launched in Japan on 18th February 2021, is discussed first.
NieR Re[in]carnation had a closed beta test in summer 2020, and Matsukawa says that they responded to the feedback and made many improvements, with particular attention to the performance of the game, doing their best to make sure that the game runs well on low-spec smartphones.
Yoko talks about how development on Re[in]carnation started. He says that it began with him talking to Matsukawa about pre-existing ideas about what smartphone games should be like, and how, if they did the exact opposite of all of those, they might end up with a game that leaves an impression. He thinks that while this might have resulted in something that looks refreshing, it probably will not sell at all.
Saitou chimes in on how he has the impression smartphone games tend to cut down on excess, making it so that players have to press buttons less, emphasizing efficiency. Re[in]carnation is nothing like that, and so he has no idea how it will be received: He is looking forward to, but also afraid of finding out what players think of it. He also jokes that due to his position, he hopes that players will spend a lot on the gacha.
The interviewer says that the way the game is portrayed, with the Cage world and weapon stories done with graphics in the style of children’s picture books, and asks if these aspects of game design were decided on from the beginning.
Matsukawa says that as it was to be a smartphone game, they proposed to Yoko that they would like to have many characters from NieR Replicant and NieR: Automata appear. But they did not want to have the typical depiction of illustrations of characters talking to each other, and decided on the direction of having a “readers theater” style. He says that they especially put effort into the picture book parts, and hopes that many people see them. Saito adds that the picture book parts were originally far simpler, but they were improved upon more and more due to Yoko disapproving of how they were before.
It is also pointed out that fully voiced smartphone games are rare. Matsukawa adds that the picture book parts are narrated by the voice actor of the protagonists of the stories.
The battles are discussed next. Matsukawa says that they aimed to have it feel like watching NieR: Automata playing in auto mode. He personally finds action game controls on smartphones to be difficult, and decided that it should have turn-based combat from the beginning.
Yoko says that he originally thought that people who played Automata would want to be able to control characters directly, and was thus surprised when there were almost no complaints about the combat in the beta test feedback. He was also surprised that the dev team at Applibot were also surprised at this.
Saito says that when working on Automata, reflecting on feedback to Replicant led them to aim to make it so that players would not give up due to the difficulty of boss fights. He thinks that a significant number of players cleared Automata on easy mode, and says that they similarly aimed to have Re[in]carnation’s difficulty at a level where anyone can clear it.
It is brought up how shooting segments are also in Re[in]carnation, at which point Yoko interjects, saying that he hopes that they will write his following words in bold text: It was Matsukawa, and not Yoko who added shooting elements. He says that he only learned of the shooting segments in the beta test. Matsukawa sent him things on all the other elements to check, but the shooting elements alone were shown to him all of a sudden during the beta test, blindsiding him completely. He also says that he found them to be difficult. Matsukawa says that he wanted to surprise Yoko and Saito.
Yoko asks if the shooting is easier in the release version, and Saito says that it is, and that high ranks also yield greater rewards, and hopes that players will give it a try.
The interviewer points out how much content there is in Re[in]carnation, and Matsukawa says that like Automata, they designed the game to be one that a single player can enjoy for a long time. He says that it is particularly important for smartphone games to always have things for the player to do, as players leave the game when there is nothing left to do. That being said, the level design is done so that there is no need to maximize everything to progress, though some upgrades might be recommended.
Yoko says that the NieR series writing team, which started recruiting new people several years ago, had previously only helped out, and Re[in]carnation is the first time that the they are fully involved with the development of a game. Matsuo is in charge of the team as the lead scenario writer, also fulfilling the roles of planner and regular writer. Matsuo says that it was Yoko’s decision to have the writing team supervise music and art as well, so that they can have a grasp of the bigger picture of the game while writing the story.
Ohara was surprised by the role of the writing team in music and art, as he entered the company thinking he would be helping with writing. He adds that the writing team is comprised of members with all sorts of backgrounds, and they all have their own proposals which make use of their individuality.
Yoko says that in addition to writing, Ohara also comes up with ideas for music tracks. Yoko then looks at the ideas, and the ones he approves are passed on to composer Okabe Kei’ichi to be made. This different approach has resulted in Re[in]carnation’s soundtrack having a different feel compared to previous NieR games, and he hopes that players will enjoy the different flavor it begets.
The interviewer asks if Ohara has experience with music, and he says that he aimed to become a singer-songwriter when he was in high school. He listened to all sorts of music back then, which helps him out now.
Ohara talks about his proposals for music next. He says that he has the impression that NieR is constantly striving for new things, and his ideas come from looking through music that he likes for what might blend well with Okabe’s style. The nostalgic feel to Re[in]carnation resulted in fairy tale-like music, and he also aimed for ambient music to help with players’ immersion with the beautiful worlds in the Cage and picture books.
Yoko says that compared to Automata, Re[in]carnation’s soundtrack has less “pressure” to it. As players will listen to the same BGM for long periods of time in smartphone games, he thought that rather than have “strong” music, it would be better to have a soundtrack comprised of “smooth” music, and Ohara’s track selections were based on this. Ohara says that while many people play smartphone games with the sound off, and says that he hopes that players will listen and see how the writing team’s ideas blended with Okabe’s style of music.
Part 2 of this article is available here:
NieR Series Developer Interview (Part 2/3 – Re[in]carnation)
Nier: Automata – Global Game Business Summit Presentation (TGS2018)