Interview: Hiroaki Yura on Project Phoenix
posted on 08.24.13 at 09:00 AM EDT by (@Rednal29)
Creative Intelligence Arts' Kickstarter-funded JRPG.

We’re always on the lookout for new and interesting things in the world of video games, and one thing that recently caught our eye was the fiery ascent of Project Phoenix, a Kickstarter-funded Japanese RPG from Creative Intelligence Arts. Raising nearly $600,000 in funding in just half a month, Project Phoenix has brought together a list of seasoned creators from around the world. We sat down with Hiroaki Yura, director on the project, to find out more about it.

— Before we begin, could you briefly introduce the setting, characters, and gameplay of Project Phoenix for those who aren’t yet familiar with it?

Yura: Sure! Project Phoenix is a Japanese RPG that blends in [real-time strategy] elements into its battle system, taking the best that Eastern and Western game development has to offer. The game takes place on a world called Azuregard, which is a high-fantasy realm and is home to various human kingdoms as well as elves, dwarves, orcs, and other races which include those not native to the Western high fantasy.

When players experience the game, they will do so through the eyes of Marcus Stern, a Templar who encounters Ruffles, an angel who has amnesia, and doesn’t quite know who she is or why she was sent to Azuregard. Later on, the two meet Sylrianah, an elven princess, and Zarum the Lost, a Battlemage, and together, with other characters not yet announced, they’ll seek to put a stop to a conflict that threatens to engulf the land.

— Project Phoenix isn’t being developed in a typical fashion. Even discounting the crowd funding, you’ve pulled together a lot of talented people from all over the world to work on this project, and nobody’s getting paid the normal way. How did you manage to get so many people to take up a project like this?

Yura: Well, it certainly helps that many of the people working on Project Phoenix are personal friends of mine or are friends of friends who are enthusiastic and came highly recommended as people who are passionate about games and can get things done! For example, I’ve worked with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu for the first time 10 years ago and when we started this project, his name was the first that came to mind because of how well his music fits the story we’re trying to tell.

In terms of motivating our talented staff, you can definitely call this a passion project. They’re looking to constantly prove themselves, especially in a game genre they really love and adore, and are putting their reputations on the line as they venture outside of their comfort zone to do something truly great. Opportunities like this don’t come very often, and after seeing how well our Kickstarter campaign is doing, the staff and I have even more pressure to ensure that what we ultimately deliver really is truly great!

— On the same subject, what about the language barrier? It’s one thing to have a degree of competency for business purposes, but it can be difficult to explain some ideas (especially creative ones) across language gaps unless the speaker and/or listener are particularly capable. What’s your plan for dealing with these sorts of issues?

Yura: I believe that this language issue is one that I can deal with because I have lived and worked in both Australia and Japan and can communicate seamlessly in both languages. As the Director, my job requires me to communicate with all of the staff and making sure everyone understands each other. So if the Japanese staff presents me with information relevant to our English-speaking staff or vice-versa, then I’ll make sure that the staffer’s point comes across and that the listener understands so that we’re all on the same page.

We also have several bilingual artists and creators and of course, that only helps the whole process.

— On your website, you mentioned that the exploration phase of the game will include a variety of culturally distinct locations. Video games often break immersion slightly when characters from wildly different areas all share the exact same powers and abilities (especially if they’re the same class), so are you planning on doing anything for playable characters to make them feel like they’re unique units?

Yura: Different classes are usually recruited from different places and they definitely will not share the same powers and abilities… well besides basic abilities like movement or mounting! It’s as you said, we definitely want each area to carry its own cultural flavor.

As far as unique characters go, we don’t need to do anything extra to make them feel that they are unique, simply because they are. Each class will have it’s own special abilities.

Of course, we are still in the pre-production phase of our development, so we may decide to go wild on some things like tiered classes (upgradable classes) etc., but for now, we’d like to keep our game simple and fun!

— It’s also been mentioned that players will be able to advance through the game primarily at their own pace, without the need for excessive grinding. However, many players who go for strategy RPGs do so because they enjoy a challenge – are you including anything like various difficulty levels as a way of ensuring that people can play at a comfortable level?

Yura: Yes, currently there are three difficulty levels and an unlockable New Game+ type difficulty mode. We haven’t named them or figured out minute details in that regard, but you can sure bet that the difficulties will allow us to cater to casual players all the way to the hardcore gamers!

— Your estimated release of the game is Q1 2015, though most people familiar with crowd funding projects know that schedules can slip a bit… especially if you’re very over-funded and have promised a lot of additional content. Anyway, how often do you see yourselves sending updates to backers about the status of the game, and will you be including things like concept art or music samples when you do so?

Yura: We will send many updates, as often as we can so that people will know what’s going on and are confident that they can trust us. Not only will we share art and music concepts, our devs will be happy to talk to the public and show bits of gameplay so everyone can be excited about how the game is coming along. The only thing we can’t disclose is the story, as we’d hate to spoil things.

The game is set to be released mid-2015 and if we feel that we are not ready to release, then we will definitely notify everyone as soon as we know. If we feel the game is not ready, it’s better to consult with everyone and let them know that we intend to extend our own deadline. The key really is about being honest and making sure that we release as good a game as possible.
That been said, when we make an official announcement publicly on a specific release date, you can expect us to keep that promise.

— As of this writing, about half of your backers have gone for the basic download of the game (with or without early beta access), while the others are at various levels of bonus goodies. Was this about the distribution you expected, or have you been surprised at some of the things that backers have gone for?

Yura: Well, we were definitely surprised at how quickly the Artisan and Composer levels sold out! Even in this age of digital distribution, physical goods like a physical copy of the game, soundtrack, and art book are things that people still love and cherish. And we had no idea that the demand for a bound physical copy of the musical score would be so high, but we hope that our backers will get a lot of mileage out of that item and that we’ll see some YouTube performance of Uematsu’s compositions for the game!

— One of the biggest concerns of the community has been the personalities of the characters – specifically, there’s a bit of worry that the protagonists of Project Phoenix will be either too childlike or too dark and brooding. What sort of personalities do you really envision the characters of the game having, and how do you plan to show this throughout the game?

Yura: I have the utmost confidence in Yoko Enoki, our scenario writer, and our team of editors in being able to deliver a story that will strike the right balance that we seek for Project Phoenix. That being said, I personally don’t believe that “normal” characters would really stand out in an exceptional and extraordinary story.

— A lot of technical details can change over the course of a development cycle, so we won’t hold you to anything, but can you give us a rough idea of the system specifications that you think computers will need to be able to play Project Phoenix?

Yura: Our belief is that anyone with a decent low-end PC should be able to play the game. So we will implement performance scaling for the game so that most people should be able to play it. It’d really suck if you buy the game and can’t play it.

— Can you tell us anything about who you’d be working with to publish the game to PlayStation 4?

Yura: While we have plans, that’s something that would be announced sometime in September.

— Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to the gaming community as a whole about Project Phoenix?

Yura: Thank you for reading this interview, being a gamer myself, I always longed to play many awesome games as possible. Now that I am standing on the other side, I hope I can really satisfy and perhaps exceed everyone’s expectations.

Please feel free to speak with us, voice opinions and ask questions!

Thanks again.

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  • Awnye

    Can’t wait to see more of this game… :)

    • Rednal

      Well, if you back on Kickstarter with as little as $1, you’ll get e-mail notifications about updates, which will almost certainly get you lots of art and music… not a bad choice if you’re unsure about pre-ordering the entire thing. XD

  • Coloso90909

    “While we have plans, that’s something that would be announced sometime in September.”

    In the Sony conference maybe?¿ Day 9?¿ or TGS?¿

    • Rednal

      Um… COULD be, if everything’s being settled and they’re fairly confident. ^^ I don’t think it’s best to assume anything, though.

  • Ultrapieguy

    Do want.

  • Zefhar

    A game for which the first team member in the director’s mind is Nobuo Uematsu… definetively my game!

  • bloodiOS

    Oh my, something awesome happened while I was still asleep.

  • Raiu

    It has been a long time to see people from Australia to develop something this big since LA Noire…

    September? I’ll bet on Sony Asia press conference..

  • Michael Garling

    I contacted these guys to ask if they were looking for any help in the writing department, as I’d love to be involved (plus I’m in Australia) – was expecting a flat ‘no’, and that’d be absolutely fine.

    Instead they didn’t even bother getting back to me, which was a bit of a bummer…

    Anyway, still wishing them all the best, hopefully the final prduct’s as kickass as their initial concepts.

    • Rednal

      Sometimes responses can take a few days – they already have a (very well-known) writer on the team, though, so unless you’re especially professional and experienced, it is probably best to avoid expecting too much on that end…

      • Michael Garling

        Oh yeah, I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything, I just meant I’d love to be involved in the final polish. As far as I’m aware, Enoki doesn’t actually speak English, so translator(s) will then be needed, and we all know how odd some of the dialogue in English releases of JRPGs has been in the past.

  • Zackasaur

    I’d have loved to back the Kickstarter, but I’ll be waiting for that PlayStation 4 info. Best of luck to the studio! c:

    • Zefhar

      Same here…

  • klkAlexar

    I want to play this on the ps vita, but I’ve heard that the current pledges don’t include a ps vita/ps4 even if those versions are confirmed.

    • DesmaX

      They don’t.

      They say it’s something about the publisher for the console versions

  • DreamDrop♥

    Does anyone get the feeling that this is going to be terrible? Or is it just me?

    Note: I don’t have anything to warrant my suspicions, but I just get that feeling that this is going to be a bad game.

    • KingKellogg The Waffle Haggler

      I do, I fear it wont live upto anything.

    • Rednal

      Considering the number of professionals involved, and the fact that this is a passion project rather than a company one (so there’s a lot of personal interest and emotional stake), I… doubt it’s going to be a bad game.

      • DreamDrop♥

        It’s just a feeling.

        • Zero

          Gotta be more positive. =)

          • DreamDrop♥

            Cynicism costs less. I’m not backing it (full disclosure, I’ve only ever backed two kickstarters: The Planetscape sequel and the Dreamfall sequel), but I do hope it will be good. And I’ll keep my eye on it. That being said, I’m rather use to people pointing out who’s worked on something when they aren’t confident in the quality of their offering. And I really thing the KS bubble has to burst at some point. Something big is going to flop and it’s going to do a ton of damage to crowdfunding in general. I’m hoping this isn’t it.

            • Rednal

              Oh, I dunno. Past work is often a good indicator of the quality future work, and the fact that we’re dealing with professionals also helps. I’ve already heard some of the music (a major focus of the game), and I know -that’s- good. The screenshots also look fairly nice, which is helpful because I wasn’t going to back from the names alone. I care about how fun a game is over how famous its creators are.

              Mind you, I’m not assuming this is going to be the greatest game ever made or anything. However, I think it has at least a decent shot of being a fun and worthwhile experience, and I personally love playing JRPGs, even when they’re flawed (a fairly common occurrence). So for myself, I’ve decided to take the personal gamble and go from there. ^^

            • BigDix

              Terrible might be a longshot, although certainly a possibility. However I do highly doubt it’ll be much more than mediocre, for exactly the reason you mentioned.

              “Look at what we’re doing, LOOK AT WHO’S INVOLVED! THIS-A PERSON AND THATTA PERSON AAANNNNDDD….” That shit’s some dodgy business. I’d actually say it’s less about confidence, and more about a type of unconscious deception — it’s just the way things roll these days. Like when the promotion for an anime tie-in is 5:1 animated cinematics produced for the game to actual gameplay. Uh-uh man… I actually have less respect for each and every person involved for involving themselves with this sorta thing. If it’s a good game, the merits will speak for themselves. I’d be a lot less skeptical if they just cut the shameful play at hyping up sheep with collaboration-culture bullshit.

              • DreamDrop♥

                I know it’s only tangentially related, but the exact same thing happened with the K anime last year. It was all this seiyu and this seiyu and this staff and it was a incomprehensible mess in the end. Great production values, boring everything else.

                • BigDix

                  Man, it’s totally related. The same contagion has spread all throughout Japanese media, video games included. Those two little ubiquitous letters…”CV”. Ugh. Everywhere. Always. Among all the first tidbits disseminated, apparently the most crucial need-to-know information. It’s not that the given seiyuu is going to do a bad job or anything like that — it just ain’t got anything to do with anything. That doesn’t tell me anything whatsoever about how worthwhile your game/anime is going to be, although I know they’ve come to rely on the convenience of being able to telegraph hype to rabid otaku with vain, hollow shit like seiyuu names. Parading out the seiyuu list, fucking merchandise, pointless tie-ins, and Kickstarter too… All this ridiculous exhibition generally indicates the exact opposite of something that’s being allowed to happen and grow organically. Few of these projects ever even stand a chance, they’re shit from the word go.

                  In any case, those comments were a welcome sight. Before that, the fact this game had seen nary a critical word levied against it… Damn. That’s just sad honestly.

                  • Rednal

                    Japanese culture is not Western culture. For them, the voice is often an important consideration, since (as mentioned by the people working on Project Phoenix) the Japanese tend to have a focus on characters more than the gameplay. To the detriment of the games themselves? Possibly. At the same time, however, noting the voice actors takes up only a small bit of room and generally isn’t very intrusive.

                    Also, the VA industry in Japan is EXTREMELY competitive, and having their names be known and recognized as appearing in works is kind of important for their continued livelihood within the industry. o.O You’re kind of asking them to reduce their chances of continuing to make a living.

                    The first step is usually to get people’s interest, showing off art and characters. Then they do more details, sometimes as little as a few days later, to help people decide. I’m not sure it’s very helpful to complain about marketing techniques when they’re probably doing what’s most effective for their region in order to make a profit…

                    • BigDix

                      This isn’t a Japanese vs. Western thing. It’s OTAKU culture, not some differential in an inborn values-set. The importance of quality voice-over is no lesser outside of Japan. The anime and games industry in that country, however, has attached a mania to it. I’ve watched many terrible anime that were not in the least saved by the competence of their voice-overs.

                      So you have to ask yourself, “Why does this terrible anime, with terrible characters, make a big deal about who it is that happens to lend their voice to that terrible character? And why do we need image songs for terrible characters? And why do we need voice dramas for terrible characters? And why do we need seiyuu dancing around, doing skits, or putting on big productions to provide inane ‘insight’ into terrible anime and characters?” Because it’s come to be part and parcel of the commercial paradigms which perpetuate the existence of the medium. Who CARES about compelling narrative!? All you need is something that can on some level be called a “premise”, and then we’ll just merchandise the fuck out of it! That’s what has become of so much anime and even the Japanese game market… In the case of the CV litter, it’s not a question of how much space that line takes up. It’s the clear manifestation of that pathetic attempt to create moe symbiosis with otaku. By virtue of its existence, it is intrusive enough.

                      How competitive the seiyuu industry is neither here nor there…or at least it shouldn’t be. Are you suggesting it is the otaku who cast shows? Or isn’t it the production itself that casts them? In which case, what you’re saying is name recognition is the paramount consideration. “We cast so-and-so because of their name and the size of their following.” Hmm… No one would likely admit such a thing, and neither is it something anyone would like to believe. Ain’t that far-fetched, sadly. All told, either competitiveness isn’t a factor in this context (I’m pretty sure the seiyuu and their agencies keep track of what they appear in, with directors also aware of that), or, it IS, because seiyuu are cast not by auditioning and thoughtfully considering the suitability of their voice and capacity to perform the role, but for their name recognition, which is a problem in and of itself. Hey, when producers and seiyuu approach their work that way… They’re entitled to make a living certainly. I just don’t have to like the shit which results from them making their living.

                      Profit =/= Good anime/video game/…ANYTHING, really. While they do not have to be mutually exclusive, the pursuits of making things profitable and making a worthwhile and compelling work ARE. Not all anime and games that fire off “CV” in their promotion are automatically terrible; if something is looking good otherwise, then you just don’t pay it much mind. The transgression simply lies in the dictation of this standard, and those works which have little else to rely on. Subjugation of integrity, organicity, holism and creativity by marketability and profitability, is not something I’m going to condone or go out of my way to filter my impulses to “complain” about.

                    • Rednal

                      Well, yeah, there’s merchandising. LOTS of anime is merchandising, as it happens – pretty much anything based off of a Light Novel or a manga series, for example, is little more than an ongoing ad for the series. They don’t need to tell complete stories or make artistic masterpieces if they can accomplish the goal of selling more book volumes, figurines, posters, or whatever else is currently on the schedule. Just getting people interested enough to buy the source material and get the complete (and usually extended) story works as a goal all on its own.

                      Which is kind of awkward for those of us who are overseas and usually can’t actually understand said source material even if we do buy it…

        • Zefhar

          I personally believe it will be fun and memorable.

          Fun, because of the “back to basics” promise. A good game shouldn’t be too complex or anything, simply nice and engaging.

          Memorable, because of the music. Even a so-so game gets the player’s attention when the background music fits with the story; it helps when it gets stuck in your mind hours after you’ve turned it off. And I don’t have any doubts about Uematsu’s work for a “passion project”.

          • DreamDrop♥

            Oh no doubt the music will be phenom. But fine music does not a good game make. But we’ll see.

  • Zero

    I’m already a happy backer. Still working on reading all the interview. Thanks for taking the time to do this @gematsu-2983e3047c0c730d3b7c022584717f3f:disqus !

    • Rednal

      Heh, no problem! ^^ Interviews are usually pretty fun anyway, and I backed it myself, so I was actually quite glad to do this.

  • Budgiecat

    The game should look EXACTLY like that picture right there right down to the last pixel. cel shaded graphic novel canvas style graphics. Meaning, it should be for PS4.
    And it should rock.

  • sherimae1324

    excuse me but this game game is coming to vita too :(
    and also ios/android devices the devloper says it so….

  • miyamoto

    its time to get involved people. PlayStation, PC, iOS, and Android gamers this is our chance to make history.

    I strongly believe in the power of Eastern and Western collaborations. Let me give you great examples: The Transformers, Thundercats, Macross(Robotech), G.I. Joe, Uncharted series, The Last of Us, Gran Turismo, etc. etc.

    Guys its time we show the world how game players and game makers unite and create greatness!

    • Warboss Aohd

      Right! Gatha da Waaagh Skull!

  • PrinceHeir

    i can’t wait for more of this!!!

  • Warboss Aohd

    i believe in da use of both Western and Japanese Development in a JRPG so much i actually backed dis game.