An Interview With Akihiko Yoshida, Yuji Okada, and Satoshi Matsura from the ‘Battle Champs’ Team

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Recently, I was invited to come and visit the headquarters of BlazeGames, the developer behind the new game Battle Champs (Free). Along with a few other members of the media, I was given a brief tour of their offices located in Shibuya, Tokyo, and got to see a short presentation about Battle Champs. The highlight of the trip was a chance to ask some questions about the game to a few of the team members. Producer Yuji Okada, art director Akihiko Yoshida, and assistant art director Satoshi Matsura all took some time out of their busy schedules to tell me about the new game. As the interview ended up being quite lengthy, I’m breaking it up into two different articles. Check in tomorrow for the second part.

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TouchArcade (TA): To start, could you introduce yourselves to any of our readers who might not be familiar with you? What games have you worked on, what is your role on Battle Champs, and so on?

Yuji Okada (YO): My name is Yuji Okada, I’m the producer and also the CEO of BlazeGames. I worked as a director, previously, of social browser games in Japan. I worked on various titles, I think the most well-known is Sangoku Kingdom. Before that, I worked at a game development company working on console games and arcade games as a development manager.

Do we need to introduce Mr. Yoshida? (laughs)

TA: Not to me, but maybe there are some people who don’t know him? (laughs)

Akihiko Yoshida (AY): My name is Akihiko Yoshida and I’m the art director for this game. I’m also an executive at CyDesignation. I worked on Little Noah, which is the Japanese name for Battle Champs, but before that, I worked for a different company on such titles as Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy 12 and 14, and Bravely Default. On those titles, I worked primarily in character design and also as the art director.

Satoshi Matsura (SM): My name is Satoshi Matsura and I’m an art director at BlazeGames. For Battle Champs specifically, I’m in a support role, or somewhat of an assistant for Mr. Yoshida. As for previous games, I worked on Legend of Mana and also did monster design for Bravely Default. I mainly work on monster design and character design.

TA: The monsters in Bravely Default were very cool.

SM: (in English) Thank you! (Everyone laughs)

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TA: Can you tell us a little bit about Battle Champs? What kind of game is it? What’s it about?

(Mr. Okada pulls out a tablet to demonstrate the game)

YO: Battle Champs, to put it simply, is a competitive real-time strategy game. The players have space on top of an airship that’s flying through the sky. They build various buildings on top of that and work on strengthening the defense of each of these buildings. Other players will come in and attack these buildings, and the players can go out to other people’s airships and attack them. Basically, it’s very similar to Clash of Clans, but I want to show you some of the points that are different.

(Loads up a Giant Battle on the tablet)

So this is the game’s Giant Battle feature. It has a 3D giant, and all of your little characters can do damage to it. In this Giant Battle, other players can come in and fight with you cooperatively. They can use various magic spells that help all of the other players. At first there were three types of different Giants, but as we’ve continued developing the game after the Japanese release, there are now more than ten types.

The other thing that I want to show you is that we have a very well fleshed-out story.

(Loads up the story mode)

At the very beginning, players can of course go and battle other players. But another thing they can do is they can go and participate in these story elements that are much like quests. Clearing them will earn various rewards. By clearing all of these quests, you will receive a lot of Champs. There are a lot of different Champs you can get that each have their own characteristics and abilities. Using each of those Champs to the utmost advantage is a major part of Battle Champs.

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TA: Battle Champs seems to have some elements in common with games like Clash of Clans, Game of War, and so on. You showed me the story and the Giant Battles. Are there any other things that Battle Champs offers somebody who is maybe a heavy Clash of Clans player and already heavily invested in that game? What does this have that they should be excited about?

YO: As I mentioned, there are the story elements and the Giant Battles. In addition to that, I think the the PVP aspect is, just like Clash of Clans, very strategy-heavy. There are a lot of elements there that users can work on. One thing that I think is very different from Clash of Clans is that we have a very large number of Champs. These Champs are all very unique and different, so there are a lot of different tactics you can use to go in and destroy the other players’ bases. The strategies can vary considerably and there’s a lot to consider in terms of combinations of Champs. So, I think that’s something that would be very appealing for a core Clash of Clans player.

TA: Mr. Yoshida, you’ve worked on many famous games including Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Bravely Default, bringing a unique touch to each of them. What was your approach for Battle Champs? Can you describe the process behind the design of the main character? She’s quite unusual, but also cute.

AY: When I first came in contact with Battle Champs, there was already a prototype for it that had been made independently by other designers and programmers. At the time, the world felt very different. There was much more of a fantasy element and different kinds of roles being played in the game. I’ve been doing fantasy for so long. (laughs)

So, I kind of wanted to do something that was not really fantasy. I wanted to try something new. When we started working on the game’s world, I got very involved in the planning stages and was able to add a lot of my own ideas. Previously, I hadn’t really had many opportunities to help design the world view in games. I frequently worked with Mr. Yasumi Matsuno (director of Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Final Fantasy 12) and he had very strong ideas about the world designs in his games. It wasn’t necessarily very easy for me to come in and give lots of my own ideas. (laughs)

In this case, for this game, at the very beginning, the producer, Mr. Okada wasn’t heavily involved, so I was able to add my own ideas and change things. We also had a long time to make the prototype, so there was a while to play around with different ideas. I took a number of different approaches, changing various parameters, trying different things. For example, what to do with the characters specifically to make them feel more real. We also wanted to have a lot of characters on top of the deck of the airship, so adjusting them to make them look right for the view we had of the airship was a challenge, as well. I had also just come from working on Bravely Default, so I thought that it made sense to carry forward that cute design sense for this game, making the characters really small so that they work well on-screen together.

As for Nia, the lead character, at first she was just an avatar, not the main hero. She would just come out in battle and use magic, like a hero in Clash of Clans. Just a cute character you could send into battle, you know? But what I realized was that if we made her the main character for his game and fleshed out her story, we would be able to show something that is really great about Japanese games, something that you don’t necessarily see in games like Clash of Clans. So from my side, I said that I wanted to make Nia the main character, and that request was approved.

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TA: Mr. Yoshida, if I can ask one brief off-topic question for the fans? Of all of the characters you’ve helped bring to life over the years, which is your personal favorite and why?

AY: I get asked that all the time. (laughs) In terms of the pictures and the pure visual quality of the characters, the ones that I’ve done most recently are usually my favorites, so that would be Nia from Battle Champs. But if I include everything about the games, including the story and so on, I like Vagrant Story‘s Ashley Riot. Or maybe I prefer the rival from that game, Sidney.

I guess I’m a fan of the dark side! (laughs) But I also like this! (gesturing towards Battle Champs) So you could say I like a balance between the dark and the light. If I’m working on one for a while, I want to do the other. If I do a lot of dark designs, I want to jump over to cute ones next.

TA: I know Mr. Sakimoto (the music composer of Battle Champs, previously worked on Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 12, and numerous other games) isn’t here right now, but can anyone say how he came to join the project?

YO: Well, we asked him. (laughs) I suppose it’s possible he took the job because he had worked before with Mr. Yoshida. He does a really broad variety of work. Since this was one of Mr. Yoshida’s first chances to really shape a game world, we thought that if anyone was going to do the music for it, it’s got to be Mr. Sakimoto. He truly is the top of the list. So we made adjustments to work within his schedule and, fortunately, he was able to join the project.

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TA: I noticed that the Japanese version of Battle Champs (Little Noah) had a collaboration event with the mobile Bravely Default spin-off that was not released overseas. Any chance of something like that happening for Westernn players? Or perhaps another cross-over?

YO: I personally would love to do a collaboration of that sort overseas once the game has fully launched. It will just depend on how the timing works out. For Bravely Default specifically, we’d also have to talk to Square Enix and get their approval. I’m definitely interested in doing that. The servers and events are all the same worldwide, so any future collaborations will happen at the same time for everyone.

Thanks to Mr. Okada, Mr. Yoshida, and Mr. Matsura for their time. I’d also like to thank DeNA for facilitating the interview as well as providing live interpretation. Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two of our interview, where we discuss the game’s localization, its multiplayer features, and how its free-to-play nature affects the game’s balance, among other topics. Thanks for reading!

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