With it’s highly anticipated release less than two months away, EGM had a chance to sit down and speak with Soul Calibur V’s Director Daishi Odashima and Producer Hisaharu Tago.
EGM: Was the development of a new Soul Calibur game ever strongly in question?
Hisaharu Tago: After Soul Calibur IV finished, the project team disbanded. There was a lot of discussion internally whether to create a new Soul Calibur or not. Nothing really went forward at that point until the [Facebook and Twitter] petition came about, which really had the effect of speeding up the discussions.
The whole decision was [made] by upper management. They had a lot of things to consider, one of which was that the team members on Soul Calibur IV were some of the best we have in the company—whether it’s programmers, artists, or what have you. Keeping them on a single project limited what the company could do with new [franchises]; management wanted to use those members to work on something new. [Tekken head Katsuhiro] Harada took many members from the team to work on his game. [Laughs]
When you look at the Western market, a lot of the popular games are big action titles—God of War, to give one example—as well as huge first-person shooters. I think upper management felt that we might have to create some new [franchises] in those specific genres to do well in the West. Also, Namco Bandai is known for its fighting-game franchises—the two big ones, Tekken and Soul Calibur. Perhaps they thought we could just settle on one and free up resources for other new franchises.
EGM: Was there ever a feeling that Soul Calibur V wasn’t going to get made?
Hisaharu Tago: It’s kind of difficult to answer, but personally, I felt—at least for awhile—that we probably weren’t going to be able to make the title.
Daishi Odashima: Even [as far back] as Soul Calibur III, I’ve never been satisfied with any of the Soul Calibur games after they’ve been released. Naturally, at the start of a project, there’s always a long list of things you want to do with each one, and as you continue to develop, even more things are added to the list—and you never get to all of them. We’re focusing on what the fans think and what they expect from the next one. We want to listen to the feedback.
And one example on that kind of feedback is the “Critical Finish” system that we added for Soul Calibur IV, [where blocking depleted a fighter’s Soul Gauge and eventually left the character open to an instantaneous knockout]. Aside from whether it was good or bad, one of the main things we heard from fans was that you didn’t see it executed very often, and the chances of pulling it off were very slim.
EGM: So will you be making the Critical Finish more accessible for Soul Calibur V?
DO: Yes, I guess you could say that. It’s a difficult balance, because it kills your opponent in one blow. If it’s too easy to perform, then you won’t really see the back-and-forth, and there won’t be much meaning in using the less-powerful moves that make up the main portion of the gameplay. If it’s too easy to do, then the player beaten by the Critical Finish won’t feel like it was fair.
One thing that we’re really focusing on is the 8-way run; we want to make it more responsive. For Soul Calibur III and IV, a lot of the feedback we received from users was that it felt “heavy”; we want to make it swift and responsive.
It’s a matter of adjusting parameters. One for how quickly the character moves, and another for the homing properties of your opponent’s attacks—i.e., how fast they can track their movement. It’s a matter of those two parameters [and] finding a good balance between the two.
EGM: What are you doing differently with the story in this game?
HT: Basically, up until now, the story in the series has been at a stalemate. It was also a bit simple: You were either trying to destroy Soul Edge or defeat Nightmare, if you simplify the plot. This time, I wanted to do a bit more with the storyline, to go beyond finding and defeating Nightmare. Although the story won’t be convoluted, and we’ll keep it streamlined, each character has his or her own point of view—and there’s a parallel-world aspect to it.
EGM: How big is the Soul Calibur V team?
DO: We had 120 on Soul Calibur IV; when we started Soul Calibur V, we had 20, all of whom had worked on IV. Now we’re at 70—again, all of whom worked on IV. We’ll be increasing staff, but we’ll only bring them on when needed.
EGM: What’s made the Soul Calibur games so distinctive over the course of the franchise?
DO: It’s probably the game’s setting. Whether it’s the music, the stage selection, or the weapons the characters use, everything has a very finely detailed background. We have lots of information about these characters and weapons. I think it’s probably more complex than any other fighting game.
EGM: How would you say the Soul Calibur fighting rhythm and cadence is distinct from other fighting games?
DO: If I had to wrap it up in one element, it’d probably be the 8-way run. No other game has a system where you can move in three dimensions so freely. Also, there are particular areas where you can perform ring-outs, of course, so you always have to be aware of where your opponent is in relation to those areas and the strategy involved in leading your opponent to where you want them to be. That particular use of 3D space is pretty specific to Soul Calibur.
EGM: Perhaps a bit like boxing games, in terms of how you manage the space.
HT: Except that Soul Calibur has ring-outs. And as you saw when we played with Siegfried, a match can end in a second. The level of tension in the matches increases as a result.
EGM: Soul Calibur IV’s customization elements were obviously quite popular. How is this being expanded?
HT: One of the main characteristics [of the series] is not just the characters and the game setting that the developer creates and shows to the player, but the other way—where the player has so many options to customize and create their own character and the look of it. Those two are a really good pair, and we plan to make that even more robust.
The one thing we can say is that we feel we’ve implemented all the customization features that the player would want. With Facebook and Twitter, our team’s interactions with the fans have been taken into consideration—one result of that feedback is that you can now alter your character’s physique.
EGM: The fighting-game genre feels like it’s going back to basics, with solid core mechanics. Would you agree?
HT: While fighting games are focusing on basics more than they used to, you can’t just let the other elements slide, either. So, of course, we plan to focus on both. That being said, fighting games, in general, have tended to become a bit too complex, so we’re trying to make them more accessible in certain areas.
Because fighting games got too complex, this may explain why they lost some of their player base. It’s really important to make a game easy to understand for players who are new to the genre, but it’s also important to provide something in place for them so that, once they understand the mechanics, they delve into the deeper strategic elements. That whole flow—from beginner to hardcore player—is something that really needs to be rethought.
EGM: Which fighting games, other than Soul Calibur, have you played the most in recent years?
DO: My favorite’s probably Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike; we have a cabinet upstairs. And Street Fighter IV was really well done—certain moves would cause a lot of damage, and the balancing was quite interesting to someone who’s interested specifically in fighting games. That balance seemed to change when they introduced Super Street Fighter IV, though; the game was, of course, more balanced as a whole, but it lost some of its uniqueness, I guess? Personally, I thought it was more interesting before. I want to make sure not to anger [Street Fighter producer Yoshinori] Ono, though! [Laughs]
EGM: Is there much overlap between the Soul Calibur and Tekken teams?
DO: There’s a lot of back-and-forth, but it depends on the section. For the art design and the animators, quite a few people participate in both. With the game design, not so much, though; it’s a bit harder to come in and help on that aspect.
EGM: Is there much sharing of knowledge between the two teams?
DO: Up until now, not a whole lot, but recently, we’ve been working proactively to increase communication between both projects, rather than having to relearn from both sides.
EGM: What can you tell us about the online play?
DO: We’ll definitely have online play for Soul Calibur V. We’re putting more effort into a new idea that will foster community-building. We also hope to make the online play faster and decrease lag.
EGM: Where’s the future of the fighting genre? Where do you see things headed?
DO: I don’t feel that the genre will disappear, but I do feel like the number of developers that can competently create a fighting game has decreased over the years. At Namco Bandai, we have two big fighting franchises, so we’ll be OK.
EGM: Outside of Mortal Kombat, the genre’s always been dominated by Japanese developers. Why do you think this is?
DO: I think the main reason is that the Japanese, as a people, are more into the fine details than Westerners. Every little thing, we have to mess with it until we feel it’s perfect, and that’s important for a fighting game.
There’s also a concept in Japanese called wabi-sabi, which means “a perfect balance between too much and too little.” So, it’s not like you can just make everything over the top and it’ll be OK; some elements have to be kind of bland on purpose. [That even goes] for characters: Some can be strong, and some we want to be kind of weak, on purpose. That’s a perfect balance from the Japanese mentality.
EGM: Is there a reason why no other fighting game has attempted to incorporate weapons in recent years?
DO: I can think of two major reasons. One, when you’re making weapons-based fighting-game characters, you can’t reuse a lot of the animations like you can with a hand-to-hand fighting game. Each weapon has to have its own graphics and animations—everything has to be unique.
And two, we have to deal with the distance related to the particular weapons the characters use. The balancing of [this distance] is very difficult with a weapons-based game. If it’s just hands, you’ll have similar distances, but with weapons, they’re often drastically different.
EGM: Why’s the character Siegfried so popular outside of Japan?
DO: I think it’s because he looks like a knight, but certainly, the sword is part of his popularity. It’s so huge, right?
EGM: How have you maintained your excitement and energy for the series, having worked on it for so long?
DO: I actually still enjoy playing Soul Calibur, and that’s because I’ve implemented gameplay elements that I feel are interesting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel comfortable having other people play the game. It’s not something you think out on paper; you actually have to play against other people, play the game and really get into it—and while you’re playing, you find certain things that you found entertaining or exciting, and then you get into why you felt that and explore those areas. That leads to many of the new elements that I found exciting; that’s why I continue to play.
I want to continually play fighting games, even as I get older and older. When I cease to enjoy playing the game, that’s when I’ll cease being able to work on the creative side of it—you have to play the game and understand it in order to continually be able to add to the genre. If I ever get to the point where I can’t perform an Electric Wind Godfist in Tekken because I’m too old, that’s when I need to stop making fighting games.
EGM: Is there a lot of pressure to put out a game worthy of the Soul Calibur name, then?
HT: Of course there’s a bit of pressure there, so I feel a great responsibility to make this a success. Not just because it’s my job, but personally, because it’s something I want to see through.
DO: I don’t feel a lot of pressure to satisfy the company and upper management. I care more about satisfying the fans and whether they think the game feels like a Soul Calibur game, and whether the art direction looks and feels like a Soul Calibur game. If they agree that this is like the previous games but even better, then we’ve succeeded.
EGM: How did the March earthquake in northeastern Japan affect development—and your frame of mind—in making the game?
HT: Nothing really changed, per se, in regards to the development of the game or my way of thinking. There are people who are victims of the tsunami up north, who lost their home and are in very bad circumstances. It’s not necessarily correct to not release a product; on the contrary, we have to do our best to make the game as fun and playable as it can be. That’s my utmost responsibility.
DO: Tokyo, where we work, wasn’t damaged all that much, but the atmosphere changed. There was a period of time after the quake that we weren’t able to work very much. Not only that—we still don’t know when the power will stop. It could stop suddenly. There’s not enough power at the moment—and game development, of course, requires a lot of electricity.
And you never know when another quake might strike. Some people might want to go home as soon as they can, and then other people around them see this and think, “Maybe I should go home, too.”
We have an application on our phones now—when there’s a quake somewhere in a different location, it’ll sound an alarm and say, “A quake just occurred. You’ll feel it in Tokyo in around five seconds.” And you can hear everyone’s phone around you; the phones are all going beep beep beep. It’s kind of unsettling, still.
EGM: Finally, how many characters can we expect to see in Soul Calibur V?
DO: More than one and less than 50.