We sat down for an exclusive interview about upcoming mecha tactical RPG Relayer with Kadokawa Games president Yasuda Yoshimi, who also serves as producer and director for the game, and shared a ton of details about the game with us.
Relayer is a an epic sci-fi tactical RPG slated to be released for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 worldwide on 24 March 2022.
Official website: https://www.relayer.jp/
Yasuda: It began three years ago. Our team had entered planning and development for God Wars 2, but then a project for a mecha tactical RPG by another director involving an external development studio fell through, and in order to avoid having a blank space in our lineup of games, we took over the mecha tactical RPG.
However, after going through the plans and assets for the game and trying to think of how it would come together, we decided that it would be difficult to inherit the project, and spent three years rebuilding it from scratch.
Interviewer: The previous game you worked on, God Wars, had a fantasy setting with Japanese mythology themes. Meanwhile, Relayer has a mecha sci-fi setting with Greek mythology themes. Is there any reason why you chose to go with an idea that could be said to be the complete opposite of the last one?
Yasuda: Japanese and Greek mythology actually have many similarities. Mythology is born when leaders are born in groups of humans, and there is a need to increase camaraderie between people to bring order to larger groups of people, and both Japanese and Greek mythology likewise are hero stories made in order for such groups to easier absorb the groups they conquered through such camaraderie. Additionally, Greek mythology served as a guiding star to the story, which is about conflict between people who inherit the will of planetary bodies.
Interviewer: The Hate system in Relayer is reminiscent of God Wars’ Impurity system. Are there any other elements taken from or inspired by God Wars?
Yasuda: Relayer’s Hate system is further developed from God Wars’ Impurity system. For example, while there were characters whose attack or defense grew stronger with their Hate in God Wars, there were not any who would get stronger from low Hate, or characters who could raise and lower Hate. By giving characters more Hate-related skills, we made it possible to come up with a wide variety of tactics through different combinations of characters in the game.
Interviewer: Games with female protagonists are quite rare. Could you tell us why you chose to have a female protagonist in Relayer?
Yasuda: Relayer’s story starts with solving the mystery of why intelligent life like mankind was born on Earth. Earth is a 4.6 billion year old mother of intelligent life, and I decided that I would like players to look at its trail while overlaying its mysteries with the fate of a woman, Terra.
Also, Relayer actually has another story going on parallel to Terra’s. The protagonist of that other story is male, and so it might not be accurate to say that Relayer is “a game with (only) a female protagonist”.
Interviewer: Could you tell us about the battle system?
Yasuda: Of course, the player can play with a balanced team of Assault-type melee attack units, Tank-type defensive units, Snipe-type mid-range attack units, and Scout-type heal and buff units. But one of Relayer’s distinguishing features is the skills that each character can learn, and so the player can absolutely come up with strategies using, say, four Assault-types. We hope that the players will enjoy coming up with strategies using different combinations of characters.
Battle cutscenes can be set to three different speeds, and the player can also turn them off. We have also included pretty much all of the options a player would want, like the ability to turn off the grid, a way to display dangerous squares that are in range of enemy attacks, and an auto-play function.
Interviewer: Newcomers to the tactical RPG genre frequently find it to be complex or difficult, while on the other hand veterans of the genre constantly complain about games being too easy. How did Relayer balance the complexity of the systems and the difficulty?
Yasuda: I feel that there are many playstyles amongst the players, and we balanced Relayer to be able to cater to these different playstyles. Difficulty is set to be high, so that carelessly moving a character ahead will result in them being quickly defeated.
At the same time, we made it so that the player can still clear stages without leveling over the enemy, upgrading weapons, or using items and skills and the Hate system. However, the game is balanced so that in order to really enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of outwitting and defeating the enemy, the player has to learn and use the Hate system, skills, and special attacks.
Interviewer: Fans of tactical RPGs constantly complain about how recent games tend to have many stages where the player just clashes with the enemy on big open maps. What sort of stage or game design does Relayer employ?
Yasuda: Relayer gets difficult midway through the game, with the enemy becoming stronger and smarter. If the player’s level is lower than the enemy’s, even an Assault-type might go down in one attack.
I feel that the key to what makes tactical RPGs fun is the feeling of fulfillment the player gets when they use tactics to defeat strong and clever enemies, and the elation they get when they have control over the battlefield. That isn’t something that can be achieved by just making maps more complex with more obstacles.
We aimed to achieve this in our game design by making enemies stronger, so that the player will have to use the Hate system and character skills to come up with tactics that will let them seize victory.
That being said, Relayer has maps taking place not just in space, but also on the surfaces of planets and satellites and inside ruins. The variety of maps is there to have players enjoy the sci-fi setting of Relayer.
Interviewer: Could you tell us about elements in the game outside of the main story and battles?
Yasuda: We included a lot of elements revolving around raising units. For example, each mecha type can learn five different jobs strengthening their abilities and unlocking various skills and moves. The mecha can also be upgraded by swapping out armor and custom chips, and their weapons can be upgraded as well.
Interviewer: How big is the game overall? What is the total playtime?
Yasuda: The main story consists of 43 battle stages, and there are also 46 training stages that can be used for leveling up, and we estimate that it should take 50-60 hours to clear the main story. Also, the Asterism Voyage Log which is unlocked after clearing the main story has another 35 battle stages, and the total playtime when including that would be over 100 hours.
Yasuda: We put a lot of effort into the endgame and bonus content. For example, the Asterism Voyage Log has its own story independent of the main story, in which the members gathered on the starship Asterism seek to solve the mysteries of the universe. One such mystery is regarding the birth of the moon, and also reveals things about the Relayers.
Additionally, in Asterism Voyage Log the player has access to New Game Plus and Very Hard mode, and there are also things like secret skills unlocked after all other skills are learned. There are also legendary weapons, armor, and custom chips hidden around.
Interviewer: It is not uncommon for the overseas releases of Japanese games to come much later than the Japanese release. Relayer’s overseas release announcement, however, came alongside the game’s Japanese release announcement. At which point was an overseas release decided on, and is there a reason why it came so early?
Yasuda: We decided on an overseas release when we decided to develop the game. Our team’s previous game, God Wars, was well-received in North America and other parts of the world, and we hope that the many tactical RPG fans around the world will enjoy Relayer as well.
Interviewer: Speaking of overseas releases, can the voice track and text languages be set independently of each other, such as having Japanese voices with English text?
Yasuda: Yes, that is possible.
Interviewer: We heard that Relayer was developed primarily on the Playstation 5. Could you tell us why?
Yasuda: When our development team inherited the mecha tactical RPG project three years ago, the Playstation 5 had just been announced, and we had a chance to try out its high specifications, and so we began development with the goal of expressing beautiful robot battles in a game.
Interviewer: Relayer is getting released for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5, but are there any plans to release it on other consoles? Some fans seem to think that it’s an exclusive: Is this true?
Yasuda: As Relayer is being released on the PS4 and PS5, there are many assumptions that the game is a Playstation exclusive, but that is absolutely not the case. But for now, we want to work towards completing the game for the PS4 and PS5.
Interviewer: Can you tell us about the performance of the PS4 version?
Yasuda: The PS4 version has a lower resolution and frame rate than the PS5 version, but we have ensured that it maintains a high level of quality.
Interviewer: We heard that Relayer might be a trilogy. What are your plans for the future?
Yasuda: I think that we will consider our future endeavors based on the reception and sales of Relayer.
Yasuda: We have made a game which, while based on orthodox game design, includes new systems like character skills which we think will let players have a feel for the future of the genre. We hope that many tactical RPG fans will enjoy the game.