Interview with Maruto Fumiaki and Nakamura Takeshi – Part 3

Mechanisms of love and friendship: the appeal of the supporting characters

4Gamer:

Now, I’d like to ask a bit more about the characters outside of Setsuna and Kazusa. I find Chiaki Izumi, one of the heroines in CC, a particularly unique character. Up until the normal ending, she’s shown as just a slacker university student, but in the true route, when her real nature comes to light, I feel like it must have been a shock to the players, even more than to Haruki, the one actually concerned.

Maruto:

With 2, my aim was to lay out facts and truths that you couldn’t get just from a single playthrough, in order to give a sense of unfamiliarity and weirdness, and to fan the apprehensions of the player. When it came to Chiaki, though… Well, to be honest, I think I may have gotten a little carried away. (laughs)

4Gamer:

The same kind of direction showed up in IC and Coda, too, and I thought it functioned very well. But, thinking in terms of weirdness, like you mentioned… I would definitely say Chiaki’s scenario in CC had the most. Her behavior sort of falls outside the rest of the story’s characters, almost like she’s some kind of extraterrestrial. To put it plainly, it reaches the domain of metafiction.

Nakamura:

There certainly were metafictional aspects to Chiaki’s scenario. Hers was the first scenario to arise in CC, and it caused a pretty big shock among the staff, even.

4Gamer:

It was almost a time loop structure, that summarized the whole game, or foretold how the plot would unfold in Coda. I can’t help wondering what the aim was there, including how you have to play through the normal ending once in order to reach the true ending.

Maruto:

Well, I guess it might look like Chiaki is sort of a deux ex machina. Though I wouldn’t call her all-powerful by any means.

4Gamer:

That’s it. It was like a story in which a deus ex machina had become self-aware.

Maruto:

What I really wanted was to use a device like Misaki-san [from 1]. Chiaki’s face sort of resembles hers, right? There’s a scene in which Chiaki is acting in a play, but in fact, Misaki-san was the one who wrote the script. And the substance of it was Kizuato.

4Gamer:

The content of Chiaki’s scenario did feel as though it were showing a “Leaf All-Stars” aspect. Is that what gave it its metafictional quality?

Maruto:

I was the one who said I wanted to use Kizuato, but that was all. The references to Kizuato and 1 were mostly me, while I think the connection with Routes may have come from Shimokawa-san’s own preferences.

Nakamura:

From the outset, we were wondering whether we might proceed with this sort of literary style, but now that I look back on it, it really was a pretty interesting development. In a way, I think this scenario became the foundation for CC.

Maruto:

That said, I think that if the first heroine we met had been like this, it might have caused a disturbance. Like, what happens if every heroine after this is the same way? (laughs)

Nakamura:

If the whole thing had been like that, we’d have been stuck with people thinking, “Oh, so this is all White Album is.”

Maruto:

Well, there was Yayoi-san [Yayoi Shinozuka] in the first game. I feel like hers was a pretty strange role as well. Thinking along those lines, Chiaki is a character whose appearance is like Misaki, while her actions are more like Yayoi-san.

4Gamer:

Chiaki, Koharu, and Mari-san—the heroines of CC—are positioned as antagonists for Setsuna, so to speak, but I think each of these characters left a pretty big impact on the players.

Nakamura:

That was the purpose of giving CC the volume it had. The heroines of CC may not remain as far as Coda, but we wanted to arrange things in such a way that people would see their stories as viable endings.

Maruto:

If we cut corners with their scenarios, it would have spoiled the whole thing. That was the last thing I wanted, so I put everything I had into writing them.

Nakamura:

I hadn’t drawn many ponytail-wearing characters like Koharu, so that was a lot of fun for me personally.

Maruto:

Considering your sheer volume of work, that’s kind of surprising.

Nakamura:

It’s true. Coming up with all these ingenious schemes, fastening her hair up high, showing that determined personality… I hope the players can get hooked on these kinds of traits, as well.

4Gamer:

Now in my opinion, the one who arises as the MVP of this work is Haruki’s best friend, Takeya Iizuka, but what do you have to say about him? There are plenty of games now where you have someone in the position of the protagonist’s best friend and worst friend at the same time, but he doesn’t fit into that category. I found him a very appealing character.

Maruto:

In the first game, you have Akira Nanase as the best friend character, who ruins his friendship with the main character over a girl. Takeya may be laid-back, but he would never let a friendship fall apart because of a girl. I wrote him to be different from Akira in that way.

4Gamer:

Starting in CC, Takeya worries about Haruki as though Haruki’s problems were his own, and tries to keep him on the right path. Seeing him that way struck me very keenly and vividly.

Maruto:

He might abandon the woman he had loved for ten years, but in the end, he would try to hang on to that male friendship. That scene was one of my absolute favorites.

The music and world that connect 1 and 2

4Gamer:

Shifting topics a bit, I’d like to ask about the design side of things. Nakamura-san, would you mind telling me about your impressions of the previous game, 1? That one came out right around the time that you joined Aquaplus, didn’t it?

Nakamura:

Right. So from a practical standpoint I barely touched it, but even looking at it from the sidelines, I got the feeling that it was a completely different beast from ToHeart, which was being featured at the time. I never imagined I would end up working on 2 after that…

4Gamer:

Now that you mention it, it does seem a little strange that you were put in charge of the art for 2, when Hisashi Kawata-san, the lead artist for 1, was still a member of the team.

Nakamura:

Kawata-san was actually the one who nominated me. Just to give it to you flat, at the time that plans were being drawn up for 2, his schedule was completely full, and the question arose of whether somebody else in the company might be able to do it… Or so I’ve heard. (laughs)

Maruto:

Why are you treating this like a rumor? (laughs)

Nakamura:

All the coordination was handled at the head office in Osaka, and I myself was busy with other work at the time, so I don’t know the actual particulars all that well.

4Gamer:

Wow.

Nakamura:

So it was definitely a little strange that they called on someone like me, but I wonder whether the game I’d worked on before, December When There Is No Angel, might have left an impression. I did also have someone approach me, wondering whether I might not be able to design something that fit the vibe of White Album.

4Gamer:

December When There Is No Angel was a calm sort of game, set against a winter backdrop. Personally, I have a recollection of the art matching the story very well.

Nakamura:

I’ve drawn a lot of gloomy, quiet types of characters, so they probably wanted something to fit that pattern.

4Gamer:

When you first heard the story for 2, what did you think?

Nakamura:

I thought, “I hope I’m the right one for this.” (laughs) At the time, I was working in a completely different department, drawing these brightly-colored pop fantasy illustrations every week. This called for the exact opposite in terms of design, so switching my brain over took some work.

4Gamer:

The amount of work for this game must have been pretty overwhelming compared with standard titles, too.

Nakamura:

It was. I made an estimate based on the fact that there hadn’t been that many CG images recently, but I had a hunch that when I opened the lid, the scale would be really massive. (laughs) Along the way, I consciously changed my mindset to, “I have to put my heart and soul into this.”

4Gamer:

I see. Just now, we were talking about your attachments to Setsuna and Kazusa, and to Koharu, but what about the other characters?

Nakamura:

This isn’t really about any character in particular, but the decision for this game was to limit the sorts of designs you might normally consider part-and-parcel with “gal games”—red hair, emphasis on styles with long bangs, et cetera—and go for an overall style that was more plain, so that made it easier for me to draw, personally.

Maruto:

Considering the course of the story, it was kind of inevitable that the designs would be more subdued.

Nakamura:

I feel like there’s such a thing as a White Album “nature,” which has really existed since Kawata-san was in charge of the art. I was doing my work as I read the scenarios that came up every week, but I came to my own conclusion that so-called “moe” style art wouldn’t be appropriate for this game.

Maruto:

…The artists who work with me all tend to say basically that same thing. For some reason, they exercise a certain level of self-control all on their own, and before I know it, all of the characters are taller, all the color schemes are unified in black and white… I don’t think I’ve ever actually given a direction like that. (laughs)

Nakamura:

Well, Maruto-san, that’s because you never write any characters with speech mannerisms like “~dapyon!”. If they were like that, I would gladly have given everyone pink hair!

4Gamer:

I wouldn’t mind seeing that. (laughs) But, as a result, you were able to take on this work in the way that you do best, Nakamura-san. Actually, come to think of it, in 1, Haruka Kawashima had green hair. That stuck strangely close to the “gal game” formula.

Nakamura:

Actually, I was very impressed by the calm sort of impression it produced. It all came together into an unusually… Showa-like design, or something like that.

Maruto:

The clothes may have been plain, but I think that was the best part. There was Haruka, who dressed in a down jacket and jeans, and I found Misaki-san’s refinement especially incredible when she just stuck with sweaters.

4Gamer:

You seem to have an extraordinary attachment to 1, Maruto-san. (laughs)

Maruto:

Well… I bought the first game the day it came out on PC, and played it then.

4Gamer:

Moving away from the design side a little bit, when it comes to the connection between this game and 1, music is a pretty significant component. How did the direction progress for this part?

Maruto:

The direction where the music was concerned was basically under Shimokawa-san’s baton. However, I provided the direction for the important scenes in which the key songs were played. Specifically, the placements of the songs “White Album,” “Sound of Destiny,” and “Powder Snow” were according to my wishes.

4Gamer:

Songs with vocals aside, this game made great use of the music from 1 as background music. Was that your idea as well, Maruto-san?

Maruto:

It was. I was eager to use it. It’s just that there’s a brand image attached to the music from the first game, so ultimately that decision was left up to the director. The fact that everything went along the way that I wanted it in the end was a big help.

4Gamer:

With the music from 1 playing, it really seemed to emphasize that this story was in a world that was a continuation of 1.

Maruto:

It’s sort of in the same position as ToHeart2, as a work that inherited just the world from the previous game. First Rina Ogata took the music world by storm, and then this new face, Yuki Morikawa, appeared… I wanted to write a story existing in that sort of continuity. That said, I had no intention of making those characters themselves move directly, so past that, the two of them were blurred as best I could manage.

4Gamer:

What about the new songs, then? In particular, the theme song, “Todokanai Koi,” not only serves as an emblem for the game, but also plays an important role in the entirety of the work.

Maruto:

A lot of effort went into that as well. Shimokawa-san was very particular about what he wanted, and I have memories of discussions that went on for a pretty long time. The lyrical content was a bit more vague at first, but during the process they gradually became more direct.

4Gamer:

Interesting. Now, this isn’t about the music itself, but in the classroom scene right at the outset of IC, what you hear of the voiced conversations taking place is completely different from what’s shown in the text. It was just a little thing, but it took me by surprise. I’m curious about that.

Maruto:

The original goal of that choice was to preserve Kazusa’s expression.

4Gamer:

Meaning?

Maruto:

Initially, the idea was just to hint at Kazusa’s existence itself, with random conversations among people who weren’t onscreen. Then, in the scene where she looks out of the window in the music room, she would appear to the player for the first time… That was the plan. In the end, Kazusa’s standing image wound up being put in, so that scheme fell apart.

4Gamer:

Ah, so the idea was to give the full impression of a mob character at first. Now that you put it that way, the scene in which Kazusa does make her onscreen debut felt a little… subdued, or curt, maybe.

Maruto:

The aim was to show her going from a simple classmate to someone special in an instant. But even though that didn’t pan out, we felt like we might be able to use that device somewhere else, so it was diverted to a scene from a later scenario. It’s an interesting idea, right?

4Gamer:

So that’s how the staging of Chiaki’s scenario came to play out so cleverly. (laughs) So, were you also the one who spearheaded directing choices like this, Maruto-san?

Maruto:

In terms of the game, yes. I gave instructions and requests when it came to the basic components of the scenario—the settings, sound effects, and event images. And when it came to staging matters like we were just discussing, if there was something I absolutely had to have, I filled it in.

Nakamura:

There aren’t storyboards, but there are specifications written in the scenario, like stage directions in a script. The company director looks over those, and ultimately makes judgments about what music to use and which event CGs to create. That’s how things run.


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