This interview is from the 2018 June 28 edition of Famitsu.
With the influence of the Tenchu series still lingering, this is the kind of game they want to make now.
From Software’s newest project SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE has finally been announced. First, how did you come to develop this project?
Miyazaki: This project started roughly when we finished development of Bloodborne’s DLC. That was about the end of 2015. At the time, we were still working on DS3, and we had a few ideas for titles to develop afterwards. From had originally worked on projects like “Ninja Blade” and “Otogi(??)”, as well as the Tenchu series from the third game on, so we thought we’d like to make a more Japanese-style game of one of those. Free of the games we had been developing up until then, to myself and many of the younger developers at the studio, this would be our first chance at making a Japanese-style game, so we looked forward to picking up some new ideas and taking a new turn with a new title.
From originally started with Japanese-style action games, didn’t it?
Miyazaki: Yes. Within the genre, we especially focused on ninja games. You might be able to tell, but the biggest influence on the early stages of this project was the Tenchu series. We initially considered publishing this under the Tenchu series, but we gave up on that idea quickly. Fundamentally, Tenchu was created by a very different set of developers with idiosyncracies that shone in the work, and if we were to develop under that name, then we feared it would come off as an imitation. So while we received many influences from Tenchu — including the grappling hook and Ninja Kill — we created our own foundation for this game.
Were you [Miyazaki] also interested in creating a Japanese-style ninja action game?
Miyazaki: Of course I was interested. I expect I’ll be able to expound on this later, but the idea of a three-dimensional map, or the combination of showiness and tension in battle, or the idea of there being a multitude of ways to conquer obstacles — I feel like all these concepts I love mesh very well with the essence of the ninja.
It’s been widely reported that From is working with Activision on this title. What kind of collaboration exists?
Miyazaki: Excluding actual game development and sales within Japan and Asia, we’ve left sales in the rest of the world to Activision. One of the most significant reasons for choosing Activision as a publisher was that they could give us adivce about the entire length of game development.
We don’t often hear of From working with that level of collaboration.
Miyazaki: That’s right. But let me say this clearly: all decisions about game development are made by us. Activision respects the game that we are making, and that we desire to make, and offers play impressions as well as advice about what we could do to improve the game. As always, we ask that all decisions after the title screen be left to us, and we’ve been successful in collaborating under this framework.
I didn’t expect that Activision would be involved in the creative aspects of the game.
Miyazaki: “Creative aspects” is quite vague, but what Activision principally focuses on is ease of play, comfort, and appropriate onboarding [tutorial-ish]. It’s embarassing to say, but we’re not particularly strong in those areas, so it helps greatly.
If I recall correctly, you [Miyazaki] will be serving as the director for this project.
Miyazaki: Yes, that’s right. We currently have a large and reliable staff, as well as many well-performing departments. The game’s level design, artwork, and general style are as you’ve seen up until now, and we mostly have the same people working on this project as worked on the Dark Souls series. Our staff often comes up with great ideas in private discussions!
In the picture of “Japanese beauty” we wanted to paint, we needed the nuance of decay.
Proof that you have a great development environment! This may be slightly off-topic, but in the trailer revealed at The Game Awards, there was an emphasis on the symbol “Shadows Die Twice”. Can you explain the meaning of that with regards to this project?
Miyazaki: The phrase “Shadows Die Twice” was originally a short catchphrase I designed for the trailer, but the publishing people really liked it and ended up making it the subtitle (lol). But there’s definitely significance behind it. “Shadows” is a metaphor for the essence of the ninja, and “Die Twice” is a reference to the idea of revival in the game’s systems as well as its philosophy. Also, it’s a bit of a blunt message to the players that they’re going to die a lot.
“Sekiro” is written in kanji as 隻狼, correct?
Miyazaki: Yes. 隻腕の狼 [one-handed wolf]. It’s the main character’s nickname or the like. A man who lost an arm, but who carries the ferocity of a wolf, that kind of feel. Since it’s a Japanese-style game, we thought about the name starting from the kanji, and ended up using the kanji 隻 which interested us on a design, meaning, and feel level. Unexpectedly, Activision, which doesn’t do much in the field of kanji culture, was interested in this decision.
I’d like to ask about some of the game contents. What era is the game set in?
Miyazaki: It’s based on the end of the Warring States period. As with our previous works, the actual setting isn’t firmly placed anywhere, but it has an image of a cold and elevated rural area. To explain why we chose the end of the Warring States period: first off, we had to make a choice between Warring States and Edo, given that the game is about ninjas. The reason we chose the Warring States period is because, first, combat in the period is thought of as more raw and dirty, which conforms more closely with my conception of ninjas. Second, with regards to conceit, Warring States is closer to the Middle Ages, which has more of a mythological feel, and Edo is closer to the modern age, with more of a living, breathing feel. Then, we chose the end of the period in order to incorporate the idea of decay. My conception of “Japanese beauty” requires it!
So you’re going to create a uniquely From Software vision of the Warring States period?
Miyazaki: That’s right. Realism is necessary, but we don’t focus on it too much. As we reimagined medieval fantasy in Dark Souls, we’re reimagining the period with our own flights of fancy.
Face and conquer difficult obstacles. I want people to experience the pleasure of achievement. The theme for that idea will be “kill wisely”.
The main character’s motives are retrieving his master, taking revenge against the man who cut off his arm, and understanding the mystery of revival.
Unlike in previous titles, you’re going with a fixed character this time.
Miyazaki: Yes. This will be my first project with a fixed main character, but I think it’s necessary to mark a fresh turn. The themes of this story are difficult without a fixed character. I think we’ll enjoy this style, though. However, to avoid any misunderstandings, let me be clear: this is not a game in which the story takes priority. There are times when the story pushes the characters, but otherwise, in most respects, storytelling is little different from our previous works.
Are you [Miyazaki] creating the plot?
Miyazaki: Yes. I came up with the foundational ideas, and worked with another staff member to refine them. While I’m looking over their work closely, I’ve left most of the actual writing to that developer. While this is the first time I’ve directed the plot but not done the writing, I think it’ll be a good and fresh perspective for this work, especially given the idiosyncracies of my writing style.
Can you tell us about the main character?
Miyazaki: I can’t reveal many spoilers right now, but… The main character is a skilled ninja. He’s a lone wolf without any particular affiliation, and is a cool-headed man who rarely shows emotion. But the prince he was bound to serve was kidnapped, his arm cut off, and he killed. After he thus lost everything, a one-armed sculptor of Buddhist imagery found him, “revived” him, and gave him a prosthetic shinobi arm. This is where the story starts. Then, the main character’s motives become retrieving his master, taking revenge against the man who cut off his arm, and understanding the mystery of revival. This story begins with the ideas of rescue and revenge.
The prince is a boy… right?
Miyazaki: Yes. He’s another key to the narrative, and as another lonely soul, he raises the question of what will happen to this lonely master-servant pair. We haven’t worked with this type of character before, so he’s one of my favorites.
Sounds like he’ll be a popular character.
Miyazaki: I really can’t say. His face is shown clearly, and while From has in the past worked on characters that use that clarity as a key character point, it’s a first for me. As such, there’s a lot of groping around… The prince and the main character are both like that, and I have a lot of memories of worrying about them. Even though exposing your face is something that should be pretty normal (lol).
With regards to the action parts, I’ve received the impression that, while it retains much of the style of your previous works, it’s more three-dimensional, and flows with a pace different from even Bloodborne.
Miyazaki: There are three major sides to the action design in this game. First, action uses the grappling hook. Being able to vertically traverse a three-dimensional map, which is unique to this game, will allows players to better enjoy the map. Furthermore, the grappling hook enables movement during combat, and widens the range of combat options. Second, the swordplay. This work has a unique perspective on swordplay, based on the Japanese style of swords furiously clashing together in mixed offense and defense, as fighter seek to wear down and debase their opponent’s posture. We have a finishing blow, the “Ninja Kill”, based on this idea. The core of the battle structure is seeking a moment of weakness in a battle on the edge of death — just like a ninja. And third is the idea of “kill wisely”. In this work, we’ve expanded greatly on fighting styles with an emphasis on allowing for creativity in approaching obstacles. We’ve prepared many means of solving these problems, with many applications across situations and enemies. You can attack head-on, or use the surroundings and your weapons to “kill wisely” in a fashion more apt to ninjas than to samurai. The grappling hook and the swordplay also reinforce this style. Dynamic vertical movement with the grappling hook, or ninja-like swordplay based on exploiting a moment’s weakness, or the vast range of ways to approach the game’s challenges all contribute to that style.
It sounds like “kill wisely” will be a critical point for this work.
Miyazaki: Yes. It’s actually one of the core themes of this work, as a means to allow many players to experience the thrill of overcoming difficult challenges. To speak plainly, if you’re not that good at action, there will be other ways to play the game. Of course, you can always attack problems head-on. The swordplay is strenuous, without any tricks — and may end up being harder than the stuff we’ve worked on up until now. In fact, the opportunities for ingenuity may end up being more interesting than straight combat (lol).
So the player can enjoy a variety of approaches.
Miyazaki: It reflects in our level design as well. Rather than simply get caught up in combat as you progress through the level, you’ll look down on enemies from high above, with a naturally-flowing space allowing you to adjust your battle plans. The flow of battle is different, and you might even say it reflects on this diversity of approaches.
Do you think it’ll be more fun to think of battle strategies?
Miyazaki: Yes. It’s tied to the fun of exploration. You’ll be able to eavesdrop on enemies’ conversations before battle and freely use that information to seek out new strategies. We think it’ll be fun.
The dynamic movement of the grappling hook will allow a fresh combat feel.
Variations in combat style will come from the combination of katana and prosthetic arm, I expect.
Miyazaki: Fundamentally, it’s the katana, prosthetic arm, and also the grappling hook. The prosthetic arm will support the swordplay, as well as allow for greater creativity. There are many variations, including shurikens, firecrackers, and a hidden axe. For example, you can use the firecrachers to surprise animals, and this will allow for a lot of ingenuity. There are also several tools which are mostly style and show. Look forward to them!
Will you be able to carry multiple tools in the prosthetic arm?
Miyazaki: You will be able to equip several tools and use them on the spot.
Is there RPG-like progression for the main character?
Miyazaki: Yes. While this is more action-adventure than RPG, we do have progression mechanisms for the main character. Details will come later!
It sounds like the grappling hook will increase the speed of action.
Miyazaki: Rather than speed, it’s more a sense of timing. With regards to combat, and of course movement, the grappling hook should provide a new and dynamic feel. It works well with large enemies, and will allow completely new boss experiences.
I expect that the grappling hook will open up large areas, and I see that the design will focus on the intersection of exploring and developing strategies. How will this be reflected concretely in gameplay? Will it be like playing around within a sandbox?
Miyazaki: Map design will be very similar to Dark Souls 1. With one exception, the three-dimensional map will be fully interconnected, allowing a high degree of freedom in game progression. The grappling hook will allow you to maneuver effectively through that environment. We think the exploration will be fun.
What kind of setups will exist with regards to the map?
Miyazaki: I can’t say much currently, but we’ll mainly be expressing Japanese-style setups in a three-dimensional map. There’s a wide range of situations, including vivid Japanese-style ones. Look forward to it!
Will there be a lot of otherworldly enemies, like the snake — which was clearly a mythological creature?
Miyazaki: That’s right. Fundamentally, most enemies will be people, like fleeing soldiers or samurai generals or bandits, but not all of them will be normal people, and there will be non-people. You’ll see a lot of weird and thick guys (lol).
Incidentally, I’ve heard there’s no online play in this title…
Miyazaki: That’s right. There are many reasons for the decision. We wanted to remove the restrictions surrounding multiplayer and focus entirely on the single-player experience in this work. Something like that. Then there’s also the fixed main character, which is most appropriate to this work and gives it a unique play feel.
We want to both establish strong challenge and make available the pleasure of overcoming it.
You mentioned “revival” with regards to the meaning of “Shadows Die Twice”. What is that system like?
Miyazaki: By consuming some resource, you will be able to come back to life on the spot where you died. As we want the tension of death that accompanies a ninja’s fighting style, you will occasionally actually die — but if you have to die and redo the level too often, the gameplay tempo becomes stilted… and so we implemented this system to attenuate that. It’s not so much the feeling of one play that we want as the sense that your achievements are recorded even if you die, even while every battle had the tension of death behind it. Revival is also an important part of the narrative, and you can even use it as a battle strategy — sneak up on enemies who thought you dead, and Ninja Kill them from behind.
Dying also becomes a matter of strategy. I’m not sure whether that’s new… or just cruel (lol).
Miyazaki: Well, it won’t happen often (lol). But it’s part of the game philosophy.
How does the number of revives work?
Miyazaki: Currently, we have a setup where you have one free revive every time you start, and then it consumes resources. However, we’re in the process of tuning it. We have to ensure that the system doesn’t remove the tension of death. The goal isn’t to make the game easier or to remove the fear of death — it’s more about maintaining that tension while also keeping the tempo steady. We may add death penalties or the like. It’s not really at a point where I can speak much about it. Maybe the revival system will allow us to make a more pointed death penalty? Who knows.
It seems like this title will incorporate many features to balance its difficulty. In your opinion, how does this game’s difficulty compare to your previous works?
Miyazaki: The idea is to make a game that is more difficult than previous entries, but that will allow you to use creativity in addition to action to overcome those challenges. On one hand, we don’t want to disappoint the players looking for a hardcore game, but we also want as many people as possible to be able to experience the pleasure of overcoming a challenge. In order to achieve both those goals, we’ve implemented many systems that we will continue to adjust. At the least, we don’t want to make that is excessively difficult or excessively simple.
I’m glad to hear it. Is development going well for that “early 2019” release date?
Miyazaki: Uhh… yes. I’m not sure if I can say that this early on, but look forward to more news about development!