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RPGamer Feature - The State of Atlus Interview
Atlus
Zoids Assault
Platform:
Developer: Takara Tomy
ESRB: T
Release Date: 09.09.2008


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Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone
Platform:
Developer: Sting
ESRB: T
Release Date: 09.16.2008


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 Dokapon Kingdom
Platform: /
Developer: Sting
ESRB: E10+
Release Date: 10.14.2008


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Master of the Monster Lair
Platform:
Developer: Global A Entertainment
ESRB: E10+
Release Date: 10.21.2008


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Eternal Poison
Platform:
Developer: Flight-Plan
ESRB: N/A
Release Date: 11.11.2008


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Luminous Arc 2
Platform:
Developer: Image Epoch
ESRB: N/A
Release Date: 11.18.2008


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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Platform:
Developer: Atlus
ESRB: N/A
Release Date: 12.09.2008


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Welcome to the State of Atlus interview. In this day and age, you cannot be an RPGamer and not have heard of Atlus, as they release RPGs every other day. Okay, well, maybe not every other day, but they are a very prolific North American publisher. Lucky for RPGamer, they were able to take some time out of their extreme busy schedule to talk with us about their upcoming releases for the rest of 2008 and about the company itself. Grab a drink; this might take a while.


Zoids Assault

Zoids Assault is a tactically-heavily game, will that be the biggest draw for players or does the game boast a robust storyline as well? Something with branching paths and multiple endings, perhaps?
Clayton S. Chan: (Zoids Assault, Project Lead): Well, the parts of any SRPG that are the most enjoyable are the tactics and the combat, so it's really not surprising that the same is true for Zoids Assault.

There is a pretty interesting story that goes into a lot of political and government intrigue if you're willing to get into it.

In a prior interview with RPGamer it was announced that North American RPGamers would be able to purchase unique Zoids skins via Xbox Live, how much would we expect those skins to cost and what other downloadable content has been discussed?
Clayton: Well, it's not just North American RPGamers, every North American Xbox 360 owner is able to purchase these skins. I strongly encourage them to do so.

For the Zoids Assault customers, though, preorder the game at certain select locations, and you'll get the pack of skins included as a "thank you" from us, while supplies last. If you're not quick enough to get in on the free train, then you'll be able to pick up the pack of 6 skins (3 from Japan, 3 North American exclusive) for 200 Microsoft points.

We've also included other content that isn't "downloadable" per se. Zoids Assault will give the players passwords as they reach certain milestones. In the Japanese version, these passwords gave you benefits in the mobile phone games. Well, they don't exist over here, so we figured bonuses for a Japanese mobile phone game would be kind of pointless. So, in the North American version, these passwords can be used on the Zoids Assault website to unlock additional background information.

Any chance of giveaway skins for the Atlus Faithful?
Clayton: Unfortunately, unlike the Izuna 2 promotion, we had a limited amount we could do with the assets in terms of bonus material.

Zoids Alternative (the Japanese title) only contained eight achievements, is this is same for the localized version?
Jason Ruper (Zoids Assault, Editor): We did not add or remove any achievements from the Japanese version.

The game's official website features C-Wolf, D. Bison, S. Tiger, S. Liger, and R. Horn as some of the Zoids in the game. Are there others in the game or maybe available for download?
Jason: Your team only has access to three different Zoid frames. This is entirely due to the storyline. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say you're behind enemy lines throughout much of it. Nevertheless, any repeat Zoid frames are still varied slightly from each other. For instance, one team member will pilot the "Skirmisher" model of the S-Liger, and one will pilot the "Engineer" model. These suffixes affect a Zoid's performance in battle and how it can be equipped. There are, of course, other Zoids which only the enemy can control and others which are directly a part of the storyline.

Is the S. Liger pretty much your favorite Zoid and has it been built for its skills in magic?
Clayton: Heck yeah! Gosh! Maybe when you come by you can check out all the sketches I have in my Zoids notebook.

Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone

First thing's first, Yggdra Union is rated Teen and contains partial nudity. Is the "bath scene" still intact?
Jason Ruper (Yggdra Union, Editor): We are proud to say that this scene has not been tamed or toned down at all from the GBA version.

Aram Jabbari (Manager of PR and Sales): Day one!

The original NA release of Yggdra Union was very late in the GBA's life cycle leading it to being underappreciated, even though it was critically acclaimed. What part did this play in deciding to localize the PSP version?
Bill Alexander (Director of Production): I think you hit the nail right on the head. It's a great game, and we were really disappointed that more people didn't get a chance to play the GBA version. However, we are still confident in the quality of the game, and since the PSP is picking up steam now, we hope the new and improved version will reach the much wider audience that it deserves.

Could we get some details on the new playable characters and cards that were added?
Jason: I'm not going to spoil how you access them, but there are two new playable characters. One is a housewife who wields a giant scythe. She's pretty fun. The other was actually an NPC in the GBA version: an eccentric young witch obsessed with catching an undine... Trust me, now that she's a hidden playable character, you have to go recruit her!

RPGamers come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us love to be slaughtered at every turn (read: EO fans), others of us like to be walked gently through our games, so could you give us details about the difficulty levels in this new PSP version?
Rob Stone, QA Lead: There are now two difficulty modes in the game: Normal and Hard. The original GBA game's difficulty is basically a near equivalent of the Hard difficulty in the PSP version with a few tweaks. The PSP Yggdra's Normal difficulty has been reworked even further to give the player a break. Most notably, Normal difficulty will restore the Morale of characters that didn't participate in battle. Please take note that this game's Normal difficulty isn't just some cakewalk though; there is still plenty of challenge involved.

On top of adding multiple difficulty levels, there are now a bunch of universal features that make the game much more accessible to a wider audience. The player can now go back and review any tutorial via the Main Menu once it has been activated. This option is great if you don't exactly understand some system mechanic of the game initially. There's also a suspend function which does NOT delete the suspend save after you've loaded it. A feature like this makes those longer battles, which could take hours to complete, much more tolerable for the average player because you can save in the middle of them now. Be forewarned, though; the suspend function is a double-edged sword of sorts. You only have one suspend save slot, and it is quite possible to save in a scenario where it becomes very difficult for you to complete the map, so a player still needs to use some discretion with it.

Dokapon Kingdom

It's not been too long since RPGamer was able to visit Atlus USA and get our hands on Dokapon Kingdom, but we still have a few questions about it. I would love to get a detailed description of each of the main character classes within the game. Would you be so kind?
Sam Mullen (Dokapon Kingdom, Project Lead): Well, there are 3 standard jobs, and new ones unlock as you master those jobs.
Warrior A strength-based job. Warriors have battle skills that charge their strength in battle, and will receive a random attack boost at the start of a turn.
Magician A Magic-based job that gives characters the ability to use two field magics in one turn.
Thief A speed-based class that has the handy ability to pilfer other players' possessions when they pass them in the field.

Some of the later jobs that one can unlock include:
Cleric A magic class that offers recovery skills. Characters occasionally get a free HP restore at the start of a turn.
Monk A class in which a character's stats will increase as his HP decreases.
Alchemist Characters in this class will randomly duplicate an item in their inventory at the start of their turn.
Acrobat A neat class that has a 50% chance of reviving automatically from death!

There are a few more, but I don't want to spoil all of them! You can change jobs at anytime, and as you master multiple jobs, you will receive stat bonuses when you level up that stack. So it's beneficial to master as many jobs as you can!

Mike Meeker (Dokapon Kingdom, Editor): The Acrobat doesn't revive, he was just playing dead. While you start the game with your choice of the basic three classes, the others become available as you gain enough levels as certain classes. For instance, to become a Spellsword, you need to put some effort into your Magician and Warrior jobs.

Some classes require a certain item in order to allow you to change to that class. They're subject to the same rules as other items in the game, though... It would really suck to put a lot of work into obtaining that Lost Technology just to have someone steal it two steps from the castle door, now wouldn't it? (Answer: Yes, it would.)

And, of course, there's the Darkling class, which is so powerful that only one of them can exist at a time.

What additions will the Wii version have in terms of motion control?
Sam: The Wii version will unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about it) support no additional Wii-mote motion controls. We feel that because Dokapon Kingdom wasn't designed specifically for the Wii, motion controls would have that oh-so-hated tacked-on feel, and wouldn't add anything to the game. We hope everyone will agree with the decision once they play the game.

Mike: The Wii version does allow you to use the Classic Controller and even a GameCube controller to play the game, for those of you who risk launching Wii Remotes across the room at the slightest arm movement.

Aram Jabbari, Manager of PR and Sales: Although gamers can feel free to shake and waggle as much as they'd like. It won't have any effect on the game, and likely will just earn them stares, but we're not saying you can't waggle if you really, really want to.

Multiplayer functionality is a major part of Dokapon, were your hands tied with adding online functionality due to time and cost or what?
Sam: We've heard a lot of requests for online play, and I see where people are coming from. After all, these days when someone says 'multiplayer,' everyone immediately thinks 'online.' However, we feel that an online game would be an inferior experience to actually playing with friends in the same room. A large portion of the fun of Dokapon Kingdom multiplayer comes from good-natured smack-talking, laughing, finger-pointing, etc. It's just not the same online. Dokapon Kingdom is social. If you aren't going to play it with friends in the same room, then you might as well just battle it out with the CPU.

For us lonely, friend-less RPGamers, what about the story will make us want to buy Dokapon Kingdom? Can we level up a powerful character and defeat baddies? That's what we're used to doing.
Mike: The story itself is rather simple and broken up into chapters based on the game's current goal. While your main mission is the liberation of towns, the crushing of your competitors beneath your feet, and hearing the lamentations of your fellow adventurers, the King will ask for certain tasks to be completed. The rewards for these tasks are quite lucrative, so naturally you'll want to pursue these objectives. While playing the story mode, the game ends when the last chapter is completed. The tasks are frequently off-the-wall and make you wonder just what the King thinks you're there for... My favorite is when the King has just opened a newly-discovered tomb of his ancestors hoping to find untold riches, but instead finds a royal IOU, inscribed in stone, for the construction of said tomb. Naturally, he demands that the players find the Demolition Man, bring him to the tomb, and blow up the IOU before the descendants of the tomb's builders find it and charge him a few thousand years' worth of interest.

While you're doing these crazy things, your characters are getting stronger, you're learning new skills and spells, finding new weapons, liberating towns, and, yes, slaughtering baddies (and each other) by the truckload. There isn't a single-character option; even if you're the only one playing you'll have to have at least one CPU opponent vying to win the kingdom before you do. And I pity you if you do only set it to one CPU opponent, because he will dedicate his life to making yours miserable.

Master of the Monster Lair

A talking shovel? Seriously?
Jason Ruper: Don't hate. How ELSE do you expect our hero to dig holes... a shovel that DOESN'T talk? Don't tell me you support mimes invading our video games...!

Please clear this up for people, this is a totally new game in the Dungeon Maker series instead of a "cute" port for the DS, right? Or would you rather not identify this as a Dungeon Maker title?
Bill Alexander: Yes, it is a totally new game, which is one of the reasons we renamed it. We didn't want people to mistake it for a port, which it is definitely not. We also felt the name "Dungeon Maker" could be misleading because of games like "RPG Maker" and "Fighter Maker." This is an RPG. It's fast-paced and easy to get into. The aforementioned "Maker" games require a lot of time and patience, whereas this game just about anyone can pick up and play. Lastly, the name "Dungeon Maker" seemed a bit too dark and serious for this game, which is lighthearted and funny.

Combat in Monster Lair is turn-based, not real-time, so does the main character get any guests to help him in battle?
Bill: Yes. A young woman from the village joins you in your adventure, and you can also recruit a Mimic Slime, a creature that mimic other monsters and learn their skills and abilities.

How "deep" is the quest in Master of the Monster Lair? Are we going to be digging for days?
Jason: It's a pretty decent length, actually. And you progress between floors based on when you meet certain conditions, so you decide how long you want to spend digging. If you're one of those people who doesn't care what their dungeon looks like and just wants to do the bare minimum, you may progress a little faster. However, if you're like most of us, you might spend that extra time digging giant, maze-like floor plans that would make Frank Lloyd Wright jealous.

Customization seems to be very deep in this title, what are some of the more unique rooms and skills that can be obtained?
Bill Alexander: You can add anything from a fountain to a garbage dump to your dungeon, and each type of room will attract different monsters. Of course, you have to earn enough money to purchase some of the rarer ones.

Eternal Poison

So why the title change from Poison Pink to Eternal Poison?
Bill Alexander: We strongly considered using the original name since there was already some buzz about the game on the internet, but due to copyright/trademark infringement concerns, we ultimately decided to err on the side of caution and change the name. "Eternal Poison," while perhaps not as much of an attention getter, does tie in with the storyline.

There has been concerns about the battle animation loading times, is there going to be anything done to address this issue? Either reducing them or giving the option to turn them off?
Jason Ruper (Eternal Poison, Editor): The option to turn the battle cutscenes on and off was present in the Japanese, and we will of course be keeping that feature in the North American release. It should be noted that turning them off does not affect the game's playability, as even with them off, you still see how much damage an attack deals, etc.

So we're getting five stories in one with this tactical RPG, do the five stories come together or do get to play through the game multiple times?
Jason: The five tales feature different party members and completely different storylines. At the start of the game, only three of these will be available; the other two will be unlocked as you finish the others. What is really exciting is how each character's overall story ties in with the others. And of course, characters' paths will cross and you'll find yourself interacting with characters from other tales at a number of occasions.

How large are the battle parties? Are we going to have a huge amount of playable characters?
Rob: There are slots for seven total party members in each battle. Depending on what part of the story you're at, it is possible to have up to 16 characters and 12 Majin, monsters you can capture and summon, in your party to choose from. Usually, a player will bring seven characters into a battle and then summon Majin to replace them if they die; there is no penalty - outside of being removed from the current battle - for having a character die in Eternal Poison. So while the battles aren't of epic proportions, there is definitely flexibility for the player to choose a party layout that they like.

On a scale of Summon Night: Twin Age to Etrian Odyssey, where would we find the difficulty of Eternal Poison?
Jason: The difficulty level is definitely closer to the Etrian side of the spectrum. What I really like about the combat system is you HAVE to learn what enemies are weak against what kind of attacks, and you HAVE to exploit those weaknesses. This definitely isn't "My First SRPG;" you can't just force a square peg through a round hole. And I'm sure that fans of the genre will be very pleased by that.

Luminous Arc 2

So, um... does Luminous Arc 2 feature as many busty witches as the prior game in the series did?
Mike (Editor, Luminous Arc 2): Probably more, and they all want a piece of Roland's Rune Knight action. Yeah.

Clayton (Editor, Luminous Arc 2): I don't want to comment on this personally...so I'll link to this site instead: http://en.akibablog.net/archives/2008/05/luminous2-080515.html

Let the debates begin.

Other than busty witches, how does Luminous Arc 2 tie into the original?
Mike: The game takes place in a separate world than the first game. There may be some similar terms floating around, but the story is completely different. You may see some familiar faces... Are they parallel-universe analogues, or travelers from the LA1 dimension? Who can say?

How are you handling the cases for LA2 with including a CD soundtrack? Will they be oversized DS cases or cardboard with a DS case and CD case inside?
Clayton: Our very creative Creative Designer, Jeremy Cail, and the rest of our crack creative department, are looking into options right now. I don't want to say anything specific, because of how rapidly things can change sometimes.

So this will have online battles, too. Are you going to have to get through most of the game before being able to play online or will it be available early on?
Mike: Like the first game, the player needs to play a little bit to unlock the multiplayer portion. Since you can only play using your saved file, what's the point of challenging someone to a level 1, Roland-only match?

What changes to the combat system have been made in the sequel? In the original Luminous Arc, it was easy when your characters would go back to full health upon leveling up; is it the same here?
Clayton: The difficulty has definitely been increased. I'd said in interviews prior to the release of the original game that I believed imageepoch intended the game to be a sort of "primer" to expand the SRPG fanbase. In general, if someone is only familiar with standard RPGs, they face a pretty steep learning curve when they pick up an SRPG.

So Luminous Arc offered a fantastic cast of characters, good looking artwork, voice acting, and overall high production values across the board, while easing up a bit on the difficulty. Hardcore SRPG players could still enjoy the game, but new players would finally have a game that eased them into the core concepts of the genre. All the things that made the first Luminous Arc enjoyable are still there, but Luminous Arc 2 has stepped up the difficulty so that now it's basically on par with more mainline SRPGs.

To that end, the full heal after a level up has been removed, you're only able to carry two items into battle, the AI's a little craftier, etc. Of course, there are more difficult challenges embedded in the game outside of the main story, and the previously mentioned multiplayer will allow you to pit your skills against the finest strategists and tacticians online.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Have you checked with Atlus Japan to make sure they aren't working on an expansion?
Aram: There are currently no plans or discussions regarding an expansion or enhanced release of Persona 4 in Japan or elsewhere.

Good, glad you checked. When fusing personas in Persona 4, can you view the skill description from there or do you have to go out to the status menu still?
Aram: You are now able to view skill descriptions while fusing personas. Huzzah!

And please tell me there will be an option to pause during the game's cinematic cutscenes. This was my only complaint about Persona 3, because of all the times that got interrupted while watching them. I know there weren't that many, but I cannot count the times I accidently pressed select to pause only to have it skip.
Aram: Cutscenes, however, cannot be paused in Persona 4 (yet the ability still exists to skip them).

I don't want to duplicate any of the other questions that have been asked so far about the game, but is there anything special you'd like to share about Persona 4 that you've not been asked to date?
Clayton S. Chan (Editor, Persona 4): I'd just like to add that the t-shirts we made look really cool.

Mike: I'm wearing mine right now!

Aram: There are things we've not yet been asked about, likely because folks asking just haven't known to ask. More surprises to come, oh yes... (wrings hands together, smiling wryly) ...you people like art, right?

General Atlus USA Questions

I have a couple questions about localization in general. Do you have a checklist you go through when deciding what to bring over, do you have meetings to discuss what you'd like to see brought over, or is the decision handled in a more focused, higher up manner?
Bill Alexander: We take the acquisition process very seriously, and we look at each title from a number of perspectives. We have an evaluation team made up of gamers who play the game and rate the overall quality as well as identify the pros and cons of the title. We go online and research fan interest. We also research competing titles already on the market and others scheduled for release. Our marketing department considers the marketability and target audience of a game. We consider the cost of localization (including voice recording) as well as the expected time necessary to localize something. We consider the trends in hardware sales as well as game retail price trends. Of course, our business relationship with the licensor also plays a role, as well as the royalty they are expecting. All these factors are weighed by a special committee, which includes the President of Atlus USA, and we try to come up with a sales forecast to see if the project is feasible.

And despite what fans might think, not every game made in Japan is available for licensing. But, we do our best to try and find the diamonds in the rough.

Why the move to CD soundtracks with everything? Gamers would likely pay for the complete soundtrack instead of just a sampling, so why not limited editions (other than the fact that an Atlus game is a limited edition by definition) that include that?
Aram: What, you didn't enjoy the bonus soundtrack CD that came with this interview?

As much as we all love Bulgarian disco, I would have liked a full soundtrack at least.

Now, as soon as you announce that bonus CDs with most of your upcoming games, people start about wanting artbooks, too. How does that make you feel inside?
Clayton: I understand that it's a natural response to want more, so I don't mind that response too much. As long as it doesn't turn into people just expecting more, I don't have a problem with it. There's a big difference between the two.

So it looks like Atlus is hiring for a game producer with experience in MMOs. Other than the "we have no plans at this time" reply, can you share anything about that with us? A system or anything?
Aram: I have no plans to share anything with you at this time.

I figured as much. We'll keep watching.

If you couldn't answer that, I know that I will likely blow your circuits with this question, but I have to ask. You have experience in localizing games by Banpresto, Flight Plan, Sting, and Success. Can we expect to see you localize any additional games from these developers this year and if so, about how many?
Bill Alexander: We have a good relationship with all of these companies, and we hope to bring more of their games stateside.

Well, let's end this on a fun note. This question is for any member of the Atlus team that would like to answer: What has been your favorite Atlus release during the past year and why?
Clayton: I'm unsure as to what your definition of "the past year" covers. Do you mean 2007? The past 12 months? Since I'm not sure about that, I'll say that Luminous Arc 2 is my favorite of all the games I've worked on this year, and that Dokapon Kingdom is hilarious. Those of you with a Wii/PS2 that live in a dorm or apartment setting can look forward to some violent 4-player hilarity. So buy it.

Sam: Yea, I'm slightly biased, but Dokapon Kingdom is my favorite. I've played it for days worth of game time and it just never gets old.

Jason: I think the most fun I've had this year was working on Arcana Heart. Of course, it's one of those games where people AREN'T playing it for the text... not even a little bit. But I don't care; we had a blast!

Mike: Dokapon Kingdom was a riot to work on. If the players have half as much fun playing it as we did working on it, I think you'll be more than satisfied. That said, I am really enjoying the strength of the writing in P4, and I know all of us are doing our best to give you a quality gaming experience.

Aram: Addressing games that have already been released this year, I would have to cite Persona 3 FES as my favorite. You just don't see RPGs with as much story, depth, and replayability as Persona 3, and being able to give the fans the added content (while making it an even sweeter deal for series newcomers) was a very satisfying thing. Looking ahead to what's to come, I'm incredibly excited for Dokapon Kingdom to start shattering friendships left and right, and obviously Persona 4 is going to be epic. EPIC.


RPGamer would like to thank Aram Jabbari and the rest of the Atlus team for their time in answering these questions. Hopefully, this will give gamers a good look into Atlus's current lineup for the rest of the year. RPGamer plans on taking some time out in the upcoming months to talk with the Persona 4 team when they might be a little more available. We didn't want Atlus to have to delay the game because they were spending too much time talking to us, right? In the meantime, we hope this clears up some questions and concerns about these Atlus titles.



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