Interview with Maruto Fumiaki and Nakamura Takeshi – Part 2

Setsuna and Kazusa: a human drama sustained by a three-part format

4Gamer:

I’d like to ask you a little more about the structure of the game. It covers seven years, which is a pretty long time, and Coda is the very last chapter, but the existence of Coda was kept hidden at the time of the game’s launch on PC. What was the intention behind that?

Maruto:

What that comes down to is that the very end, Coda, was what I really wanted to depict. The Coda, which closes the book on all of the destinies begun in IC and used as a backdrop, is the very essence of White Album for me.

4Gamer:

Just as I was thinking the story had closed with CC, the opening for Coda started, with all of the characters as adults appearing one by one on the screen. It was a pretty enormous shock for me, personally.

Maruto:

Ah, well, I’m glad to hear you say that. That was precisely what I was aiming for, which is why CC has the volume that it does. In other words, CC came about as a sort of contrast to this. In fact, that was exactly the progression that led to the thee-part format.

4Gamer:

I see. So CC was a sort of temporary final chapter, in order to conceal Coda, the true final chapter.

Maruto:

In fact, at first, the name of the final chapter was White Album Chapter, rather than Coda.

4Gamer:

Really? Why did you change it?

Maruto:

Shimokawa-san [Naoya Shimokawa, President and CEO of Aquaplus] told me, “I’m sorry! If we use that, the players will probably shorten it to ‘WC,’ so that won’t work!” (laughs) I thought about a lot of other potential names as well, like “The End of White Album.”

4Gamer:

Yeah, I can see how that would be a concern… So, what about IC?

Maruto:

I set up IC as an independent chapter because I wondered whether players might be tired of my usual methods. I often employ a lot of flashbacks within the story…

4Gamer:

The use of flashbacks as an important method of foreshadowing does seem to be a signature impression of Maruto works.

Maruto:

Right. But I didn’t want to get rid of the flashback scenes themselves. So, the parts encompassed by flashbacks were brought back to the start, just as they were—and that’s how IC came to be. Also, for this work, the ones who make use of the flashbacks as foreshadowing are the main heroines, so I didn’t think there was any need to hold back where that was concerned.

4Gamer:

And that’s how the story of this game, following its cast of characters through all the twists and turns of seven years, was born?

Maruto:

Yes. I often get people asking me, “Were you not planning on selling it in multiple parts to begin with?” But, now you know—that wasn’t the case at all. (laughs)

 

*For the PC release, the IC section was launched on its own first, and CC (including Coda) was released one year later (with a full set released on the same day). The new release for the PlayStation 3 excludes the adult content, while adding extra scenarios.

 

4Gamer:

So, building on that framework, I’d like to ask you about the two main heroines of this game. The previous game, 1, had Yuki Morikawa and Rina Ogata, two idols, as its main heroines, making it a so-called “double heroine” title.

In this game, you have Setsuna Ogiso and Kazusa Touma—so, two heroines, taking up that position… Wait, should I be saying “Kazusa Touma and Setsuna Ogiso” here?

Maruto:

“Setsuna and Kazusa” is fine. (laughs) Since, within the game, Setsuna likes Yuki, while Kazusa is more like the Rina Ogata side.

4Gamer:

Even if it is a “double heroine” game technically, I feel like Yuki was really the main heroine of the first game. Meanwhile, for this game, you have Kazusa in the middle of the packaging illustration, which made me wonder if it was the opposite here.

Maruto:

To sum it up simply, Nakamura-san and the director were on Team Kazusa, while Shimokawa-san and I were on Team Setsuna. That’s why Kazusa is emphasized on the packaging, while Setsuna is central to the story and the music. But, to me, the two of them are of equal status as main heroines.

4Gamer:

That… comes as a bit of a surprise to me. Well, maybe that’s just because I’m personally on the Setsuna side. (laughs) Then, the fact that there are two different futures presented at the end of the game—Setsuna or Kazusa—does that mean that there isn’t really a “correct” choice?

Maruto:

My intention was that there wouldn’t be. I depicted it so that in the case of both endings, Haruki did everything he could do, and did it to completion. Of course, there are truncated endings within the routes, so I’m excluding those in this discussion.

4Gamer:

So, about those two main heroines, Setsuna and Kazusa—starting with Setsuna, I found her actions in CC pretty interesting. When it looks like Haruki is going to get involved with a heroine other than her, she always shows up at the end to assist the heroine of the given scenario. But, in the end, she can’t be satisfied with that, and she cries secretly to herself, and so on. I was wondering… why is that?

Maruto:

From the planning stage, I was talking with Shimokawa-san about giving a proper depiction of Setsuna in the event that Haruki wound up with another heroine. The subtitle for this PS3 release, “The Other Side of Happiness,” actually encompasses that intention.

4Gamer:

In CC, you have each of Setsuna’s rivals showing up one after another, so Setsuna’s reactions are varied as well.

Maruto:

The deal there is that, in my mind, there’s a certain order. You could simply call it the order in which the scenarios were written, but with the progression from Chiaki to Koharu to Mari-san, Setsuna gets driven further and further into a corner, you see?

4Gamer:

Yes, I see that.

Maruto:

In the first case, with Chiaki [Chiaki Izumi], it’s like, “Yes, I will let you go,” with a rather noble sort of separation. But for the next one, Koharu [Koharu Sugiura], she gives the appearance of helping her out, while sobbing behind the scenes. And finally, with Mari-san [Mari Kazaoka], she gets shamefully clingy. She grows weaker and weaker successively.

4Gamer:

So that’s why, when it comes to her route, she’s so unable to keep herself in check. Seeing Setsuna in the end, with her character broken down, being swept around by her own emotions, left a very strong impression.

Maruto:

Right. Even while I was writing, through the route of each sub-heroine, I was keeping watch on Setsuna out of the corner of my eye as she kept losing strength, and I felt my own motivation toward Setsuna building up. It finally erupted in Setsuna’s route, which reached all the way to Coda.

4Gamer:

So, just when the player is thinking, “Oh, thank goodness, Setsuna finally got her reward…”

Maruto:

Yep, time for Coda! (laughs) For me as the writer, the opening part of Coda is just so enjoyable. I love to see a woman getting jerked around like that.

4Gamer:

Ah, you’ve really got a bit of a cruel streak. (laughs) By the way, including IC and Coda, what order did you write everything in?

Maruto:

Going in chronological order, after IC, I wrote the shared routes in CC, then Chiaki, Koharu, and Mari-san, then Setsuna, and finally Coda. For Coda, I wrote the infidelity ending, then Setsuna, then Kazusa.

4Gamer:

I see, so Kazusa was the last one. Then, talking of Kazusa, after announcing their separation in IC, she spends a lot of CC basically absent. You could say that she manages to get alone without suffering too much for love, but then, when she finally faces off against Setsuna in Coda, she undergoes hardships that seem like they’re meant to balance her account, in a sense.

Maruto:

I didn’t really have a clear intention of making Kazusa suffer the same level of hardship as Setsuna. I simply needed to create a situation in Coda where Kazusa had no one and nothing she could turn to.

4Gamer:

Meaning, the situation with her mother?

Maruto:

Kazusa’s mother is the strongest presence in her life. She ties her down in a lot of ways, but on the other hand, she shoulders all of her burdens. If you don’t remove that all-powerful mother from her, Kazusa will never grow as a person. I mean, when you’re living as an adult, it’s not all that rare for accidents or illnesses in the family to crop up, so in one sense, I suppose it was inevitable.

4Gamer:

Nakamura-san, as the character designer, what are your impressions of Setsuna and Kazusa? Particularly in the case of this game, which depicted a story set over the course of seven years, I imagine it might have been a bit of an undertaking from the design standpoint, too.

Takeshi Nakamura:

Kazusa was the difficult one. Obviously, she’s an important character—that goes without saying—but with the progression from IC to CC to Coda, she’s the one who undergoes the biggest changes on an emotional level, which makes her a very complicated character. The biggest challenge was capturing that, while also preserving her unchanging “essence.”

Maruto:

Nakamura-san, you insisted on keeping her hair the same way, I remember. “Cutting her long black hair is out of the question!” (laughs)

Nakamura:

Well, she’s a main heroine, so her hairstyle is a very important factor. I couldn’t possibly just change it around. So I didn’t want to follow the simplistic “cutting your hair after a failure in love” template. Well, I’ll admit some of my personal tastes may have found their way in, too. (laughs)

Maruto:

I remember you asking me, “Is she going to cut it?” with a look on your face like the world was ending. (laughs) I told you it was fine if she didn’t. I never really planned on having her cut it in the first place.

4Gamer:

What about Setsuna?

Nakamura:

For Setsuna, I have a strong attachment to the scene of her singing the song on the rooftop. It’s not necessarily what you’d call a key visual, but once I had finished that picture, all of the images for the other scenes really bloomed, too.

4Gamer:

Yes, that was a very impressive scene.

Nakamura:

I’m sure there are players out there who have realized this, but when it comes to event scenes, I feel like there are more and more images that emphasize mood and atmosphere over the prettiness of the characters.

4Gamer:

Talking about atmosphere, I’m thinking about one of Kazusa’s scenes—the scene in CC where the two of them just barely miss each other. The use of two images really added a lot of power to it.

Maruto:

That staging was my direction. The scene is entitled “Your Name,” and it borrows from the drama of the same name. With the way they keep passing each other by, you want to yell, “Behind you! Look behind you!” Right?

4Gamer:

For sure. (laughs) But it seems like that scene was created in such a way as to make the player think, “Are they finally going to reunite here?” That sort of choice is set up deliberately, and yet there’s no way of choosing it.

Maruto:

They probably thought something like, “I’ve got it! In order to meet up with Kazusa here, I have to clear the routes with everybody else and then do it over again!” (laughs) Unfortunately, there is no such flag.

4Gamer:

On the other hand, perhaps thanks to that(?), the reunion scene with Kazusa at the start of Coda was all the more dramatic. Obviously the direction was excellent, but the illustrations themselves were beautiful. I especially felt a certain attachment to the depiction of the torn stockings.

Nakamura:

That was Maruto-san’s own personal attachment, too. (laughs)

Maruto:

I do have a bit of an unusual fixation with stockings. (laughs) It’s fine if they’re ripped, but they can’t be taken off completely!

Nakamura:

This is about a different scene, but the directions for the stocking image were so detailed that there wound up being a lot of retakes.

Maruto:

That’s right. I really wanted a picture that showed the soles of the feet, the toes, and so on. I was satisfied with the result, but… ultimately, the trimming of the screen wound up cutting off the bottom. I saw it and I went, “Gaaah!” (laughs)

4Gamer:

That’s… a real tragedy. (laughs)

Maruto:

After I was so fastidious about it… Well, making your fixations bear fruit as a work through the repetition of that kind of thing is the setting for production, so that’s just how it happens sometimes.

4Gamer:

So, for you, Maruto-san, did the work that tied it all together—the story of White Album shown in Coda—draw the curtain in the way that followed your initial conception?

Maruto:

In terms of a conclusion, I think I can say that it went along with my vision. Kazusa’s route did have some weak points in its craftsmanship when I was first planning it out, so that course changed a little bit.

4Gamer:

In what way?

Maruto:

getting into an accident, for example. I thought it might seem calculated, but it was necessary. There were all sorts of directorial decisions like that to be made.

4Gamer:

The accident scene was pretty shocking, too. Like, “Is Setsuna really prepared to go this far to get Haruki’s attention…?” It certainly would get his attention, but it seems like the tradeoff would be too great.

Maruto:

Oh, no, no! That scene really was just a simple accident. (laughs) She absolutely didn’t jump into it on purpose.

4Gamer:

Ah, I’m glad to hear that. I was really worried. (laughs)


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