Interview by Matt S.
God Wars: Future Past is going to be one of the most important tactical JRPGs that you’ll ever play. Not because it’s going to do anything particularly innovative with the way it plays – because it’s explicitly aiming to be as traditional as the genre comes - but rather, God Wars is going to be important because it represents a respect and love for Japanese heritage and culture so deep that the game may just have genuine educational value.
It’s a game that is deeply personal to Kadokawa Games’ CEO, Yoshimi Yasuda. It’s a game that he has wanted to make for over 30 years.
“I’ve been in the gaming creation side for 12 years and in the past I’ve worked on games like Lollipop Chainsaw,” Yasuda said. “One of the comments that I heard often from western audiences is that ‘it’s interesting to see what the Japanese people see of westerners in games like that’, but then, after seeing the success of games like Fire Emblem and Disgaea all across the world, I started to see the potential to create something based on our own history.
“I’ve been researching this idea, and the cultural background in what would become God Wars, for a long time – 30 years. Now felt like the right time to actually make it.”
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The game itself wants to tell a lost history of the formation of the Japanese nation. As one of the oldest cultures in the world, Japan has stood as a nation for some 2,000 years, and as hard as it is to comprehend as an Australian (which, at 200 years since white invasion of the country means that every part of this nation’s history has been recorded), this also means that the country has long periods of hundreds of years where barely anything is known about the country now.
“When the Japanese states went to war, the winners would cut out history from the books that mentioned the losers, and pretend that the ‘other side’ never happened,” Yasuda said. “We sometimes know a little of these states from other sources, such as China, but a formalised recorded history of these periods of time simply don’t exist.
“God Wars is a fantasy game, but it’s also an interpretation of what may have happened in the six hundred or so years of lost history.”
Making A Game About What Is Lost
Yasuda was fortunate to have access to additional resources in the development of the game that many Japanese are not even aware of. Izumo - Yasuda’s own homeland – has a particularly important shrine, Izumo Taisha, and within that shrine there are scripts that he was able to study that are kept away from the general public.
From there he was able to piece together legends that, like most legends, are based on real lore. For example, a famous Japanese folk story, of Momotarō, born from a peach, tells of his fight against demons with red faces. The theory is that Momotarō represented the Yamato state through one of these periods of lost history. The red-faced demons may well have represented the Izumo people, who were skilled metal workers, and because of that their faces were ‘red.’
“Always, behind these stories, is something more,” Yasuda said. “That’s the idea that I decided to implement in making this game. The history of that area is very unique and special, which is what drew him to this story, and it’s something I’m looking to draw out of the story in turn.”
As I’ve noted in the past, the Japanese game developers do have a love of abstraction in the way they retell history. Samurai Warriors might not be historically accurate, but it is historically authentic. God Wars has a bear character called Kuma (literally ‘bear’), which isn’t exactly what you might expect from a historically accurate retelling of ancient history, but Kuma, as with all the main characters in God Wars, is based on very real and important Japanese legends, and the authenticity of those legends will also be authentic to the history that God Wars represents.
A Learning Experience
God Wars' authenticity flows through to the art style, which is deeply inspired by the aesthetics of ancient Japan. Yasuda and his team painstakingly researched the kind of colours and designs that would have been the norm back then, and the result is something that only the Japanese could create.
“In Japan we have burial mounds, called kofun, which are distinctively Japanese,” Yasuda said. “From the top they look like keyholes. There was one in Nara that we found especially impressive, and based the art design and colours on that.”
It goes without saying that God Wars is going to be an intensely story-driven experience, and you’ll have fewer characters to play with as a result. Whereas with Disgaea you’ll be creating your own characters and bringing ten or so to a battle, and whereas in Fire Emblem you’ll have so many characters to manage that, aside from the most important, characterisation will be thin, with God Wars your battle team will cap at six, and these are all named,
You will get to know each and every one of them far more deeply than in the typical tactics JRPG, and given their importance to Japanese lore, NISA (which is publishing the game in the west), is deeply hoping that the game will serve as something of an introduction for many western players.
“Our company was formed to bring Japanese culture to western people, and this side of the game is absolutely a part of why we took on this project,” the NISA representative told me.
Interestingly, the game may well serve as an educational 'top up' for the Japanese, too. Yasuda found himself somewhat surprised by the criticism the game received in its homeland when the project was announced.
“We got some feedback from Japanese people who generally believe that their Gods are peaceful and don’t get involved in bad things like war,” Yasuda said. “And certainly in the western religions there’s the general idea that their God or Gods are benevolent, but that’s not the traditional reality for Japanese Gods at all.”
Rather, Yasuda said, like the Gods of Greece or Norse mythology, Japanese Gods are beings or spirits with the same capacity to be warlike, petty, or human, as humans themselves. Yasuda now hopes that this game will fun, certainly, but hold something of interest and cultural relevance to all players, whether Japanese or western.
“We deliberately used the title “God Wars” because we wanted to show the other side to Japanese Gods,” Yasuda said. “How destructive the wrath of the Gods has been lost to history in a way, too.
God Wars will release on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita in early 2017. Both versions of the game can be expected to be the same in terms of content (and we’re being quotes with around 60 hours to just play through the main campaign, so there’s a lot of content there). The only concession that Kadokawa is making to the weaker Vita hardware is in loading times; they might be slightly longer than on PlayStation 4. But on the PS4 the game was already loading at a snap, so I wouldn’t worry about that if you prefer to play games on the go.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld