trapped in revamp hell
- Nov 1, 2009
The World Ends With You -The Animation- English dub begins streaming today on Funimation! To commemorate this occasion, let's take a walk down memory lane with these interviews and creator comments from the TWEWY official complete guidebook! Read up on the development of the 2007 cult classic, early proposals and prototypes, concepts behind your favorite characters, and more!
Interview #1: Tatsuya Kando (Director) x Tomohiro Hasegawa (Co-Director) x Takeshi Arakawa (Planning Director)
-How was The World Ends With You created?-
-Please tell us how development of The World Ends With You began.
Tatsuya Kando (henceforth, Kando): Development began about two and a half years ago. Nintendo told us that they were going to release a new portable game console, so we started planning to make new software for it. We began by researching the hardware itself. To tell you the truth, I was a bit confused when I first saw the Nintendo DS (laughs). It took a completely new approach that was different from conventional game consoles. But at the same time, I felt that it had potential.
Tomohiro Hasegawa (henceforth, Hasegawa): Soon after, I had the chance to try it out at a show organized by Nintendo. When I experienced how the two screens and stylus worked, I thought, "This is interesting".
Takeshi Arakawa (henceforth, Arakawa): Everyone came up with loads of ideas to make the most of their functions.
-I see. So you didn't go into the project with everything already everything figured out.
Hasegawa: We did not. Around that time, we reached out to Jupiter (the company in charge of development for The World Ends With You) and put together a mockup for research purposes. Since we had all worked on Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories together, the mockup was based on a card game. We used cards and the stylus in combination with cross button controls. It was similar to a rhythm action game in execution.
Kando: After that, I started thinking about utilizing the full functionality of the Nintendo DS, and spent about six months deciding how to incorporate it into the game. At first I thought, "surely we could just do this on the Game Boy Advance", but when we submitted the proposal, we decided to do something that had never been done before.
Arakawa: We also wanted to do something that Square Enix itself would never do. The company has an extraordinarily strong image of fantasy games. I thought no other team would ever do a street-style game (laughs).
ーAfter that, did you start to get a general idea of what you were aiming for?
Arakawa: Well, first we needed to gather all the written ideas, such as the worldview and story. We started by figuring out a general theme. Once that was settled, we decided on a solid situation.
(T/N: "Solid situation" refers to a setting in which people are placed in extreme situations under limited circumstances.)
Hasegawa: In other words, the story begins with the protagonist being thrown into a certain situation and having no idea of what to do, and the story progresses as mystery after mystery arises.
ーHad you already decided on the general structure of 3 games, each taking place over the course of 7 days?
Arakawa: We originally planned on doing 3 sets of 10 episodes, with the final one serving as the resolution. We'd unravel the mystery one episode at a time before solving it all at the end.
Kando: It felt like we were following a TV drama, where you'd introduce a mystery and reach the conclusion in one cour, then resolve it in a two-hour special (laughs). Once we decided on this critical flow, we decided we wanted to create a new [gameplay] system as well. After consulting with Nomura, we came up with the idea of having battles on both the top and bottom screens at the same time.
ーOriginally, this was a game where teams would clash over territory.ー
ーWere the characters who fight on the upper and lower screens intended to be the main character and his partners from the beginning?
Kando: The very first project was a bit different from your so-called Action RPG.
Hasegawa: Arakawa's original proposal focused on team battles. It was a system in which teams with different ways of thinking fought and competed over territories in the city. That's why Neku and Shiki were initially established as leaders of different teams.
Kando: Back then, the game wasn't set solely in Shibuya, but rather the whole of Japan. You'd go back and forth between the real world and the underworld; if you fought in the underworld and won, you could take the entire terrain from your opponent. That's how you'd expand your territory.
Arakawa: Each territory would act as a "part" for you to collect. As you collect more and more parts, you would be able create your own city exactly as you like. For example, if you collect all the Tokyo Towers, you could create an entire city of only Tokyo Towers (laughs). It had elements akin to a simulation game set in modern times.
Kando: The land had its own abilities as well (laughs).
Hasegawa: We had a bunch of different ideas floating around. That's why it took such a long time (laughs).
Arakawa: Eventually, Nomura joined us, and we had a long talk over the project. We made a number of prototypes and, while playing them, discussed what we should and shouldn't do. It proceeded like this day after day for hours on end.
ーWhat were the prototypes like at that time?
Arakawa: One prototype featured a system that prompted players to constantly jump back and forth from operating the top screen to the bottom screen.
Hasegawa: And in order to perform a move, you had to first touch a certain part [of the screen], followed by an enemy target. However, when we tried it, we found that it required too much effort, so we gradually transitioned over to direct input. We made a few versions with radically different bases.
Arakawa: The L and R buttons were initially treated as dedicated buttons for psychokinesis. However, we thought it would be better if you could activate whatever you wanted, so we settled on the current form.
Hasegawa: In the beginning, psychokinesis was featured more prominently. For example, in a boss battle, you would first remove the enemy's armor with psychokinesis, then use another psych to shoot and damage it... something like that. But we thought it was kind of a hassle, having to go through all those steps just to fight, so rather than doing that, we thought it feel better to just go all out and slash away (laughs).
Arakawa: There was another prototype in which the number of actions for the main character and his partner were fixed, so if one of them took too many actions, the other would be disabled. But it felt so good to just whip around with the stylus so everyone just played on the bottom screen. Eventually, they found themselves unable to act and left with no choice but to use the top screen (laughs). It felt a bit forced.
Hasegawa: We had a talk about how it'd be nice if we could play more intuitively.
Kando: We tried to get rid of everything that players would find stressful, and incorporate more things that would create a positive experience.
Hasegawa: The idea was to create a system that would encourage people to do things, rather than force them.
Kando: So we did a complete 180 and changed everything. In March 2006, we were finally able to decide on a system properly. At the time, the four of us, including Nomura, and the Jupiter staff had a big meeting. We raised the concept: to "play freely". Since then, we've been moving closer and closer towards the final product, before finally culminating in the system we have now.
Arakawa: After that, we added subslots and a Light Puck rally system to follow, whilst retaining the concept of "playing freely". With that done, we started to think about the pin growth system and communication, and worked on it in time for the Tokyo Game Show later that year.
Kando: That's why we were able to safely release it in 2007 (laughs).
ーThe many mysteries hidden within the ending of TWEWYー
ーCan you explain in detail what happened from the final battle between Neku and Kitaniji to the ending?
Kando: Basically, it was all just one big game between Joshua and Kitaniji. And at the end, when the time limit was almost up, Kitaniji lost to Neku and waited. He wanted so badly to keep Shibuya alive, so he captured Joshua, the Composer, and tried to eke out a win.
Arakawa: That was a miscalculation on Joshua's part. He was surprised for a moment when he was about to be captured, but he soon realized that it was [Kitaniji's] last attempt to defeat Neku. So for a moment, Joshua grinned. [Kitaniji] had already lost to Neku once and was dying, so Joshua thought, "This is all he can do" (laughs).
Kando: So you fight with Neku and his partners, with the key to the battle being the white pin you received from Hanekoma. The sync rate between them increases to the max, and the ultimate special move is activated.
ーKando: After that, Neku and Joshua play a game of their own, right?
Arakawa: Yes, and Joshua won. At that time, he said, "If I win, I'll decide [what happens to Shibuya]."
Kando: Joshua won, but he decided to keep Shibuya alive. So Neku came back to life and returned to Shibuya. He was under the impression that the city would be erased because he lost. Since he was able to return to the real world, he realized, "oh, Joshua tricked me." That's why the words that came out of his mouth were, "WHAT THE HELL!?"
Arakawa: At first glance, it looks just like the opening, but it's actually different. In the opening, passersby ignore Neku as he walks about, but in the ending, everyone surrounds him. In other words, everyone is aware of Neku. So Neku realized that Joshua had deceived him.
ーLooking back on the two and half years of developmentー
ーPlease give us a few words regarding your impressions of the development process.
Kando: While the Nintendo DS hardware seemed like a challenge from Nintendo, I think we were able to answer them properly. I feel like we've successfully established Stylus Action Battle as a genre.
These past two and a half years have been very busy and felt like such a long period of time, but it was really quite short. I think we've done everything we possibly can.
Hasegawa: The scale of my involvement in this title was completely different than that of my past works, and I really enjoyed the time spent working on it. I'm satisfied that we were able to accomplish everything we set out to do, and create something that no one else had ever done before. That's why I hope everyone will pick up the game and play it.
Arakawa: I was given a lot of freedom working on this project, and I had a great time making it. I hope players will enjoy it just as much as we did.
Interview #2: Tetsuya Nomura (Creative Producer & Main Character Designer)
ーHow did The World Ends With You come to be?ー
It's been a few years since we created a new IP with Kingdom Hearts, and I felt it was time we made another. Around that time, I also received an invitation from Nintendo to try out the Nintendo DS prior to its release.
At first, some people thought I should make a new KH game in the vein of Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories, so I was left fretting about it alone for a while. However, as I was faced with the strange hardware that is the Nintendo DS, I couldn't help but feel the urge to create a new IP with unrestricted freedom, so I began planning a solid situation game that would serve as the basis for The World Ends With You. Initially, I was thinking about a game set in present day that would be a combination of an Action RPG and a simulation game, but at that time I was simultaneously directing several other titles, so it became difficult for me to participate as the director for this one. That's why I decided to leave the project in the hands of someone else.
Kando and I have been working together for over 10 years, and as the leader of the Animation Section, he's been responsible for organizing the largest number of staff in that section. I thought, if I were to entrust him with a new IP, I'd want to challenge him due to his lack of experience directing, and so I asked, "How would you like to be the director?" With strong advisors in Hasegawa and Arakawa, I gave them three ideas from my existing plans: "modern", "solid situation", and "a system that can only be achieved on DS", and the development of TWEWY began in earnest.
After that, we had many all-night planning sessions, building up ideas and tearing them down. We'd break down stereotypes by coming up with new ideas one after another, such as "simultaneous battles on two screens" and "eliminate encounters, active battles instead of passive ones". Perhaps it was by creating the game in this spirit that the title turned out to be quite sharp by the time we finished (laughs).
Some time later, we decided on the official title "The World Ends With You", which had been left undecided for a long time during development. The 2 main deciding points were "the thematic nature of the story set in the modern world" and "the gap with the innovative [gameplay] system".
ーWhat will Tetsuya Nomura do after The World Ends With You?ー
We still have plans and concepts for other series and new titles, including those that have already been announced. I've honestly lost track of them all as of late (laughs).
I have several titles wrapping up this year, so I'm thinking about writing my next proposal soon. After working on TWEWY, I've been thinking of other approaches for the Nintendo DS. In fact, I've already given the TWEWY team a new subject that is the complete opposite of TWEWY. If I had to tell you one thing, it's that the theme is "travel".
A sequel to TWEWY is not out of the question. The team members have already been talking about ideas for a sequel, and I've also had people come to me and ask if I'd let them make one. The love of the staff is all that's needed to produce a good title, so in that respect, they have the all-clear (laughs). Now, if we can reach our worldwide sales target, I'll think about it realistically.
Character Comments by Nomura
Neku: From the initial conceptual stage, I had assumed that the character would be rendered in pixel art, so I added headphones and gave him bright orange hair to make it easier to spot him in a crowd. The sound of "Neku" - which I'd often used as a pseudonym in my proposals - along with remnants of our original idea of fighting by manipulating sounds, led me to the current name.
Shiki: She was drawn as the leader of Neku's rival team in the initial concepts. In the test version, she used darts as weapons on the top screen, but I decided against the idea since it'd be dangerous if children were to imitate her. I was still at loose ends when the time came to draw the key visual, so I just gave her a plushie and proposed it as a weapon as is.
Joshua: I drew him by request for a "rich young man from a wealthy family", giving him weaker visuals in order to obscure his true identity. His name was decided before his nickname, but in this case, the nickname is actually his real name. As for his weapon, the only thing I could picture him with was a cellphone (laughs).
Beat: I was asked for a Shibuya-based sportsman so I made him a skateboarder. The motif on his knit cap actually came from a misunderstanding; I saw it on a staff member's seat from a distance and thought it looked cool, so I approached it and discovered it was a skull ski mask (laughs). For the purposes of the story, I've hidden a zodiac sign in his name as well.
Rhyme: In the plotting stage, this character was supposed to be a gender-neutral boy who is close friends with Beat, but when I showed the design to the staff, they all thought he was a girl. When I revealed that it was actually a boy, everyone was disappointed (laughs). I changed the gender after considering the ratio among the main characters, and the scenario was revised drastically.
Hanekoma: In the initial planning stages, I envisioned a sloppy, dirty look. It was the image of an adult who couldn't leave Shibuya, in a sense. Now that he's a cafe owner, he's cleaned himself up somewhat, but there are still traces of his early days. His true identity is hidden in his name.
Yashiro: I drew her after Neku and Shiki but before we finished establishing the Reapers, so the direction is different compared to that of her colleagues. She's got an outfit you wouldn't normally find in Shibuya, but it gives off such a catchy impression so I left it in the initial design. She's not a high-ranking Reaper so she doesn't transform, but I've added a zodiac sign to her name as well.
Kariya: He was designed to pair with Yashiro. I enjoyed drawing him because I'm good at this type of character, and it shows when he holds his candy with two fingers. His design really set the direction for the Reapers. Like Yashiro, his name contains a zodiac sign, and personally, I really wanted him to transform.
Minamimoto: I drew his whole body according to my own preferences. His character wasn't always so extreme, but because I was so fond of him, I changed the manuscript that was prepared for the voice recording and included lines like "SINE! COSINE! TANGENT!", completely ad-libed on the spot (laughs). His end is different from the other Reapers. What does this mean?
Higashizawa: This was the first request I received for a Reaper that transforms, and it had already been decided that he'd have dreadlocks. I was pretty worried, with his dreads and giant form in modern fashion, but I'm quite pleased with the results. The light in one eye is a sign that he hasn't been made an officer yet and doesn't have full control over his transformation.
Konishi: I gave her maid-like fashion based on the request for a secretary-esque character. I wasn't sure about the glasses for a long time and kept drawing them faintly until it came time to make the final decision. I think I made the right call (laughs). She's the only one whose design didn't incorporate a zodiac sign, so I used a color scheme to evoke a tiger.
Kitaniji: Very early on, I declared, "This is the last boss!" and tore down the image of the gorgeous last boss that everyone had envisioned in their minds, only to make him even more good-looking than he was before (laughs). I had the staff adjust his post-transformation setup to match his style, having been dressed in snake leather from head to toe. It was such a major change that it wound up involving all the other Reapers.