IGN Interview with Yojira Ogawa

Interview Data:

  • Interview Date: 20th February 2004
  • Interview Topics: PSO III, NiGHTS
  • Interview Source: IGN external.png

IGN: Why was now the right time to release a new Phantasy Star Online game? Why did you feel you needed to move away from the hack n' slash formula?
Yojira Ogawa, Director of Sonic Team: We wanted to do more than simply add more enemies/items/maps to the existing gameplay, and we wanted to retain our position of being a pioneer of console-based online titles. Our goal was to present a new way to express the PSO world.

IGN: Is there any particular reason why you decided to make this a card battle game? Granted that you wanted to do something different with the series, was there a certain appeal to card battle opposed to other formats?
Ogawa-san: We believed it would be hard for users to get into Episode III (except those who currently enjoy Episode I&II) if it merely offered more of the same. I'd like new users to be introduced to the PSO world with this new genre. Also, we wanted to present a game that required thought and strategy, not just quick reflexes. We wanted to expand the number of ways you could have fun in the PSO world.

The competitive aspects of PSO Episode III can be enjoyed whether you're winning or losing, and when you feel tired, you can play Episode I&II to find items. As a gamer, I thought that's how I'd like to play in the PSO world.

IGN: We know that C.A.R.D. Revolution has done well in Japan, but how do you think it will be received in the United States since card games aren't as popular here — especially since Episode III will be contending against the entrenched Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering?
Ogawa-san: Yu-Gi-Oh! and MTG are also good games, but if you have no friend around to play these games together with, you cannot enjoy them as intended. To tell the truth, I thought that was a problem with these games in Japan too. With Episode III, even when you don't have nearby friends to play together with, you will have many opponents waiting for you — from strong players to those who just want to enjoy the game— if you get online. There have not been many trading card games where you can be connected to other players all over the world. PSO Episode III is fully equipped with a chat function, 450 types of Cards are available, events are held in the Lobby and if you get tired, you can also play an action RPG with the same friends. I'm confident that a card game of this kind will not be released anytime soon.

IGN: Is there any particular reason why Phantasy Star Online Episode III is currently only appearing on GameCube? Is it because you like the hardware or do you think GameCube has the largest PSO fan base? Are there any plans to port it to the Xbox, PC, or PS2?
Ogawa-san: We have not announced plans to bring the PS series to other platforms, but I can't tell what will happen in the future. Certainly it is easy to create a title for GameCube, but Xbox also has the same level of hardware performance and has made it easy to create content for, too. Perhaps we should port Episode I&II to PS2 if we ever decide to do so. Not that we are planning that!

IGN: This episode focuses a lot more on the story. Was the inclusion to help make the single player mode more substantial than previous episodes?
Ogawa-san: Exactly. We wanted to present Ragol and relate gamers to this world using a different standpoint than we have before. I regard Episode I & II to be good in its own right, particularly when it comes to gameplay, but I wanted to create something with more focus on the story. When the player character dies in Episode I&II, the screen turns to red and the player revives in the hospital. We gave Episode III a heavier tone and story, in contrast to EP I& II, which has a lighter tone. I think preference will differ from person to person, and there are pros and cons cited by the Japanese users. We'd like people in North America to follow suit, to play Episode III and talk about its pros and cons online with their friends.

IGN: While most of the visual style is the same as previous episodes, the story bits are presented like manga. Why did you decide to take this route instead of using FMV sequences?
Ogawa-san: Events could be presented well by using the polygon characters, but it was difficult to offer scenes with feelings (like having tears fall from a character's eyes). Therefore, we opted for illustrations this time. But development was more difficult than expected because each panel was painstakingly illustrated.

IGN: A lot of U.S. gamers are excited for PSO Episode III solely because of the increased focus on story — something that fans of Phantasy Star have missed in the online titles. With the large fan base and clamor for a more detailed story, does Sonic Team have any plans to make a true sequel to Phantasy Star? If so, when might we expect to see one?
Ogawa-san: PSO Episode III was designed in a way so that if you want to concentrate on a card game and not examine the story, it would be no problem to advance in the game quickly. I recommend that you play the game slowly if you like the PSO world, and if you just like trading card games, you can go ahead and enjoy it quickly, skipping the movies.

A new sequel of Phantasy Star…, well, there is no specific plan for now, but I wonder what it could be? I would love to know myself.

IGN: At the Tokyo Game Show there were PSO cards on display. Were these purely for the novelty of displaying them or were you at some point considering launching a physical card game based off of PSO Episode III? Did you ever consider using the e-Reader as a way to deliver new cards to players?
Ogawa-san: Those actual cards were included in the package for the Japanese-version. Originally, this game was planned for linked gameplay, where we would create actual trading cards, which could be played in the arcade, on the home-use consoles, and by themselves. We gave these dreams a bit of true form by producing those novelty pack-in cards. We of course thought we would adopt e-Reader, but as the release of the e-Reader fell on the terminal phase of Episode III development, we abandoned the idea.

IGN: Why do you continue to support GameCube online when no one else does? How do you think PSO Episode III will perform online in the United States compared to Japan since the broadband adapter isn't widely available here?
There are users who purchased the broadband adapter just for Episode I&II, so it would become a waste if we don't release at least one more sequel in order for them to take advantage of it. (smiling) It is truly sad that broadband adapter is not more readily available. Although we created the game so that it can also be enjoyed in the offline mode, I believe players will feel a bit of culture shock to see the amount of online events and the number of human opponents they can challenge online if they jump onto the network. I want players to get their hands on a broadband adapter anyway they can and go onto the net. I am optimistic that Episode III will sell well because Episode I & II still continues to sell in the US and I continue to receive information that additional broadband adapter units will become available in the US.

IGN: Do you feel anything was lost in the online mode with the transition to card battle? Do you think that gamers will experience the same level of camaraderie in Episode III as they did in Episodes I & II? Is there any reason why you didn't include missions in the online mode?
Ogawa-san: I don't feel that anything in particular is lost. It is sufficient that those who want to play an action RPG can play PSO Episode I&II, and those who want to play a trading card game can play PSO Episode III, and those who love the PSO series can play both. Camaraderie is still there, but it's a bit different - I suppose there will be more rivalry - because there is now a win-or-lose element. But competition just adds to the fun. Also, missions for the online mode will be released on proper occasions. If we receive requests, in course of time, missions should be distributed one after another. Please look forward to them!

Additionally, we will be holding online world tournaments and various events.

IGN: Now that there is a fully fleshed out single player mode and the online mode is focused solely around competition, do you find that gamers will be content to play offline? Do you feel that the card battle tournaments have been compelling enough to get gamers to play online? Are you seeing similar usage numbers in Episode III compared to I & II?
Ogawa-san: I believe that players will get the most out of the game by playing online. In the online mode, there are tournaments that are automatically distributed, and now users themselves hold tournaments in Japan and get excited. Also, we are organizing official tournaments regularly. The other day, at an exhibition match, we had battles among magazine writers and the Sonic Team development staff members within view of 240 users (this is the maximum number of viewers in the View Battle mode). I have no idea if the number of users of Episode III will ultimately grow up to be the same as Episode I&II's, but I certainly hope so.

IGN: Phantasy Star Online has been famous for security issues and users finding ways to cheat. How secure is PSO III? Have you found any instances of players trying to increase their stats or multiply rare cards? Have you implemented any measures to counteract those that would want to cheat?
Ogawa-san: I believe PSO III is more secure than PSOI&II. Nobody has been duplicating cards, and even if somebody cheated by gathering together all the cards in the game unfairly, they'd have to know how to use them all properly. Therefore, even though some players may cheat, damage given to the game would be smaller, compared with Episode I&II. Again, the important point is whether the player can make full use of those cards.

IGN: Why did you decide to make this the last game in the Ragol 2/ Phantasy Star Online saga? If this is the last episode, why did you decide now was the time to change the gameplay mechanics instead of saving the card battle for its own saga? Do you plan to continue making Phantasy Star Online games?
Ogawa-san: From the viewpoint of the PSO world, I don't regard it necessary for an episode to be an action RPG in order to tell a story. The fact that the third title is out of the pattern can be thought of as the tradition of the original Phantasy Star series. (Ha, ha.)

A sequel to PSO…, we have no plan so far and I don't know about the future.

IGN: What is Sonic Team's next project? Is a Nights sequel in the works?
Very good question that is becoming common among game enthusiasts. We are advancing on various projects now, but unfortunately, I am in no position to talk about them, so please try and ask Naka-san, the president. (smiling)

IGN: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer or questions.
Ogawa-san: Thank you for taking time to write an article on this game. We hope you continue to support Episode III and the PSO world in the future.


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