Cygames and Granblue Fantasy: Anime Expo 2019 Interview with the Producer and Director
Cygames made a big splash at Anime Expo 2019. Granblue Fantasy has been going strong for half a decade and they're now expanding further westward with the IP through Granblue Fantasy: Relink and Granblue Fantasy: Versus
Granblue Fantasy is a mobile game available on iOS, Android, and can also be played inside an internet browser as well. It technically doesn't have an official release in the west through Apple's App Store and Google Play, but it does have an English language option that was added a couple of years later. If you're interested in checking it out, we do have tutorials on how to play the game in English here and a handy guide for beginners here.
Granblue Fantasy: Relink is a new action RPG coming to PlayStation 4. It was initially announced to be co-developed alongside Platinum Games, but that has since ended as of February and now Relink is being developed internally at Cygames with no final release date announced.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus is a fighting game coming to PlayStation 4. Cygames has partnered with Arc System Works to develop it and it's slated for release sometime this year.
I got a chance to sit down with Yuito Kimura and Tetsuya Fukuhara, the producer and director of Granblue Fantasy respectively, to chat a bit about Cygames and the status of its numerous Granblue projects in development.
RPG Site: Granblue Fantasy originally released in Japan back in 2014 and added in the English language option two years later. It’s been a little over 3 years now since it added English to the game. Since then, Cygames has been pushing its overseas presence with game projects like Shadowverse and the Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner MARS HD remaster. What led to Cygames’s decision to expand their presence overseas and why now?
Yuito Kimura: Things like having our IP being playable overseas was not a sudden new idea; it feels kind of like that was always the plan. For Granblue Fantasy, the English language option was a milestone to see how the localization team could bring over its content to overseas players. The game released after that was Shadowverse and that was the first global project for Cygames. For Shadowverse, it was officially released all over the world simultaneously.
Before that there was Rage of Bahamut, which is a card game, and that was hugely accepted in the US market as well. We’re now having some ideas, such as Princess Connect! Re:Dive, that are hugely popular in Asian regions. We are always seeking a chance to have our IP published overseas.
RPG Site: Has there been any discussions or considerations about holding a Cygames Fes event in the west?
Kimura: At this point, we don’t have plans for those kinds of massive, major events in the west. Instead, we’re holding the CyStore USA Pop-Up Tour, a small package goods selling tour in the USA. Depending on the reactions for those things, we would like to plan more for it and eventually we could have more bigger events in the west too.
Granblue Fantasy [Mobile Game]
RPG Site: Granblue Fantasy has gone through many, many events throughout the years and for some players, it may be tough to keep track of what has happened and when it happened in the game world’s timeline. Would you ever consider releasing some sort of artbook or timeline, like The Legend of Zelda’s Hyrule Historia book, that provides a chronological order of the game’s events?
Tetsuya Fukuhara: Having the chronological order for each of the events is probably not really possible due to the actual structure of the game and how much we constantly produce for it. We bring events every month and have to consider that users could start the game at any time they want. We have a vague idea that this event can happen before this event or this can happen after this, but we have no plans to officially state that this was before this and this is strictly after this.
We don’t view it as critical for the user experience, so we just want to keep that within the user’s imaginations. Although, we do want to say that events aren’t taking place on some sort of parallel world; it’s all held in one universe - but the order of things is left up to user interpretation.
RPG Site: What sorts of processes go on at Cygames in considering potential partners and IPs for undergoing collaboration events in Granblue?
Kimura: It’s not specifically or only on our ideas. It depends on if something big is going on for those specific IPs at that point along with multiple factors, such as synergy and how will it bring more users to Granblue Fantasy on top of how will it please our current players. If it satisfies all those requirements, then we’ll have a collaboration with that IP.
RPG Site: Many players, like me, who’ve only recently started playing the game missed out on a lot of cool past collaborations. Samurai Shodown is hot right now with its new game and Granblue had a collaboration with that. Same thing with Sakura Wars coming up as well. Will past collaborations like that ever get rerun again? I would love to have Haohmaru and Ryu from Street Fighter on my team…
Kimura: We do understand that depending on when players started, accessibility of the tie-in events fluctuates. We are planning to put those past tie-in events into the Side Stories section so that it’s playable for all users at any time, but we can’t really promise that everything is going to be included.
Also, one thing that could be possible is having a redux event for each of those tie-in events; it wouldn’t be exactly the same, but it’d add some sort of new twist to it. That’s something that could happen but again, this is something we can’t really promise or explain.
Granblue Fantasy: Versus [PlayStation 4 Fighting Game]
RPG Site: Cygames ran a closed beta for Granblue Fantasy: Versus several weeks ago on the PS4. What surprised both of you? And what lessons were learned as a result of the beta test?
Fukuhara: Since we only limited the closed beta to fighting online against other players, one concern we had was if beginners were going to drop out easily because we couldn’t bring up a detailed tutorial for them. We actually received much feedback that beginners really enjoyed the game and they liked learning by themselves; beginners liked trying this and trying that in their own manner, so this was very encouraging and surprising to us. Those people that weren’t used to fighting games were passionate about starting Granblue Versus and that truly motivated the whole development team.
RPG Site: Are there any enhancements or small tweaks being made to Granblue Versus you can share based on players’ feedback from the beta?
Fukuhara: Of course there are multiple things that we could tweak from the users’ feedback, but one thing that we are definitely going to change is the UI for skill cooldown. There was some feedback that it was hard to tell if the cooldown for each skill was complete or not. We are planning to give some visual updates to that. That is merely just one example of the changes we’re making.
RPG Site: What is the selection process like when it comes to deciding which characters should be playable in Granblue Versus? The Granblue Fantasy mobile game obviously has a massive roster and it must be challenging.
Fukuhara: Since this the very first fighting game that we’re creating based on the Granblue IP, we want to have the characters that best represent the IP to be playable - like Katalina. We consider all of the characters in the Granblue Versus roster to be a good mix of most popular and most represented in Granblue Fantasy. There are also some typical battle styles that have been already created in other past fighting games, so considering character types and matching those characters with those styles factor into it. We combine all of these things when selecting who should be playable in Granblue Versus.
RPG Site: When deciding on the overall roster of possible potential playable characters, was there a specific cutoff date or threshold due to its development cycle? Like for instance, no character introduced to the mobile game after November 2018 can be in Granblue Versus because of development constraints and restrictions.
Fukuhara: The straight answer would be no. We had a concrete idea of which characters we wanted to have at the very first point of development as we were also considering what was going to happen in the then-future updates of the Granblue Fantasy mobile game. That’s reflected in Granblue Versus.
Ferry’s Super Skybound Art, for instance, is the version that her Grand version uses and that was released in March of this year. Until that point, Ferry’s Super Skybound Art in the beta wasn’t released anywhere else; it was foreseen that she would be released in this timing at the mobile game and then that would be implemented into Versus as well.
Another example is Katalina. She has a summon called Ares that accompanies her. Ares’s first appearance was actually in the Granblue Versus beta and Ares wasn’t even in the original game at that point, so it’s kind of like a combination between we know how the Granblue Fantasy mobile game is going to be developed so we can adjust accordingly to any upcoming character modifications and character specifics that would be matching up to future dates.
RPG Site: I imagine you’ve both faced numerous challenges in keeping players engaged in the Granblue Fantasy mobile game over the years, but it feels like fighting games come and go more than ever these days. How does Cygames plan to retain players and have them keep coming back to Granblue Versus after it releases?
Kimura: As you mentioned, Granblue Fantasy is 5 years old now. We did a lot of things and were successful in keeping our players devoted to the game for a long time, so we just want to replicate that into the fighting game as well. We also do have experience with eSports through Shadowverse and other titles in Japan, so we want to use that knowledge too. We believe that Granblue Versus will be a game that can be played for quite a long span of time.
RPG Site: In regards to DLC, what sorts of conversations are happening in Cygames for future Granblue Versus content. Are you considering a season pass for future playable characters?
Fukuhara: Of course we will have new characters to be added but you know, DLC is not only about just new characters. We’re sort of thinking about what else could we do. We can’t really release the details at this point, but there are definitely future plans in discussion.
RPG Site: Any considerations to put guest characters into Granblue Versus like how Geese Howard from The King of Fighters made it into Tekken 7 or how Geralt from The Witcher series found himself in Soulcalibur VI?
Kimura: Since it is the very first title for Granblue Fantasy to be played on a console, we do want to concentrate on bringing as much Granblue Fantasy original characters from the roster instead of focusing on having interconnections with other titles.
RPG Site: Back around E3, XSEED Games revealed that they were in charge of publishing Granblue Versus in North America. This came as a surprise since many assumed that Arc System Works would also publish it because they’re also developing it. How did this partnership form between Cygames, Arc System Works, and XSEED Games?
Kimura: Indeed there was much consideration; there were many proposals from various companies and out of all the candidates we could think about, XSEED brought us the best promotional plans and also convinced us that they were the best choice since they had the best reach for the North American market and also the European market in publishing Granblue Versus.
Granblue Fantasy the Animation Season 2 [TV Anime]
RPG Site: It’s been about two years since the first season aired. I just recently watched it and enjoyed its relaxed nature and tone. What are some of the lessons learned in creating season 2 based on viewer feedback from the first season?
[Kimura gave a slight nod and chuckle before responding]
Kimura: There were... massive reactions from a lot of people that saw it and of course, their feedback will count in the animation, like how the characters should be appearing or how the story would be going on into the next phase - stuff like that. We are learning a lot of things from how viewers reacted. We can’t say much more at this point.
RPG Site: Granblue Fantasy the Animation Season 1 unlocked an exclusive SSR character with the Limited Edition release of its first volume. Will there be a similar purchase incentive tied to Season 2 or Granblue Versus that will unlock content in the Granblue Fantasy mobile game?
Kimura: We do have plans for those ones, but we can’t really go into specifics at this point.
RPG Site: Since I’m from an outlet that specializes in RPGs, I have to ask - what is the status on Granblue Fantasy: Relink? When can we expect to hear about it again?
Kimura: To be announced would be the shortest answer. We want everyone to trust us that development of the game itself is going really smoothly at the moment. Perhaps we could bring up more information that’ll hype up the fans that are waiting for it though.