RPGamer Feature - Magical Starsign Interview with Brownie Brown

Magical Starsign
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB: Rating Pending
Release Date: 11.01.2006

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With Magical Starsign's release fast approaching, Nintendo wants to spread the word about their next portabe RPG. RPGamer was invited to take part of a conference calls with Brownie Brown. The conference included Character Designers Shinichi Kameoka and Shinobu Nagata, Director & Scenario Designer Nobuyuki Inoue, Art Director Koji Tsuda, Battle Designer Hiroki Matsuura, and Sound Designer Tsukasa Masuko, as well as members from multiple press outlets.

Looking at Brownie Brown's history of games, character designs are obviously very important to the style of the game. How much importance is placed on that unique character design to deliver an engaging experience to the gamer?
Kameoka: I have been working for Brownie Brown for quite some time, specifically on character design for all of our games. It is very true that Brownie Brown games have different character designs than other games. For Magical Starsign in particular, the goal was to make the main characters appear as cool as possible, while keeping the supporting characters quirky and unique not only in the way they look, but also how they are introduced in the story.

Is there a particular age range or gamer demographic that you focus on for your games and characters?
Kameoka: The games have found a lot of popularity in younger gamers in Japan. In my designs, however, I envision the main player being around 15 years old.

You mentioned the touch screen specifically. How does Magical Starsign use the touch interface? How is it different from other Brownie Brown games, or other DS titles?
Inoue: In Magical Starsign, movies will take place on both screens, as with battles. There are also instances where key moments of the game where a similar dual screen presentation is used. All of the movement on the maps and field screen can be done with touch. You can use the d-pad if you want, but it's easier to use touch. When in battles, you can touch your characters with perfect timing to pull off stronger special attacks and defense.

Magical Starsign takes a large amount of inspiration from Magical Vacation on the GBA. How much of the style, design, and gameplay was taken directly from Magical Vacation? How has it evolved?
Inoue: The stories between Magical Vacation and Magical Starsign have a very light connection. One of the main differences between the games is that Magical Vacation was a very difficult system to master. With Magical Starsign, we wanted to make a gameplay mechanic that was much simpler to get into for all gamers. Also, Magical Starsign extends into a very different world than seen in Magical Vacation.

Is the traditional 2D look a conscious decision to keep the style of the series? Would you consider moving the franchise to a 3D platform, or would it change the feel of the "Magical" series too much?
Inoue: It would certainly be very interesting to create a sequel in 3D. We don't have any plans to do so right now, however.

Where did the idea of the story for Magical Starsign come from? Was it done by one single person, or was it a collective design? Also, how did you determine what aspects of the game should be touch-enabled, and what should make use of the traditional button layout?
Inoue: I developed the original concept for the story, but once I had the idea there were a lot of different people that contributed to what the main characters could encounter in their travels. That part was a group effort. The top screen is primarily used for displaying maps and general info, so that you can have that information on hand at all times. The bottom screen is used for character controls and attacks. We felt that set-up was more intuitive.

What's the basis for the battle system in Magical Starsign? What are the most significant elements, and what elements are the most innovative?
Matsuura: The one thing that I want players to remember when they go into battle is that the movement of the planets is very important. Depending on the orbit of planets, certain characters will have the advantage, as the planets can change the amount of power your spells will attack with. For example, when the earth-affiliated planet moves into its advantageous position, that will add damage to any earth spells used by any earth-affiliated character, which adds a ton of strategy to the way you fight, and who you use. Also, using the stylus in battle is very unique, as you have the opportunity to tap your character mid-spell to amplify your attacks (if timed right), or defend stronger against enemy attacks in the same way.

Mr. Masuko, we were surprised to see that you have had a very long history in videogame musical composition. Since you work with many other areas, how would you say the Nintendo DS is as a musical device? Has this been an easy system to work with, or does it have limits to what you can do on consoles?
Masuko: I actually find it very easy to make music for the DS. Even though I do have a very long history of musical composition for many different videogames, one area that I struggle with is being able to create a lot of lower, heavier tones. Music making for the DS allows a lot of freedom, though it does take a lot of time to do.

The last big hit that American gamers would know Brownie Brown for is obviously Sword of Mana for the GBA. Was there anything specifically that the team has learned from working with the Mana series, specifically in the design and gameplay areas?
Kameoka: The team that designed the system for Sword of Mana and Magical Vacation was not involved in the development of Magical Starsign, but if I can I will answer this from the graphical standpoint, since that portion of our team is still directly involved. In the beginning, all of the different technical information was different for that project, specifically when looking at the amount of color we were limited to. Aside from that, there has been a lot of transfer of knowledge just in the general 2D style, since both Sword of Mana and Magical Starsign are done in the traditional 2D style.

We were wondering if you could go into detail about the multiplayer experience in Magical Starsign. Up to six players can play at once, correct?
Kameoka: The multiplayer features in Magical Starsign allow for up to six players on one map. The way this works is that the players will work to battle a number of different monsters and uncover treasures in any number of dungeons. If you beat a monster, a chest appears, and players must race to get to the treasure first, though the placement of these chests changes after each battle. You also have to fulfill certain conditions to make a special treasure chest appear. When that chest is discovered, the mission will end. Of course to make chests appear players will have to defeat monsters, so it works both co-operatively and in a competitive manner.

When playing multiplayer, do you need multiple carts to play against each other, or is there any single-cart mode for gamers to share?
Kameoka: You will need one cart for each character, since game data is used in online sessions.

During the multiplayer battle system, how do you determine a winner and loser in the game? How exactly does the session end?
Matsuura: The game ends when the last chest is opened, but that doesn't mean that the person who opens that final chest is the winner. Points are awarded for each enemy defeated and every treasure discovered, so at the very end the person with the greatest overall number of points is crowned the winner.

How long will a multiplayer event last? Is there a time limit?
Matsuura: You can customize the length in five minute intervals, but the amount of time that each game will take is generally determined by the size of the map. A smaller map may take only five minutes, but larger maps can take significantly longer.

Could you go a little more in-depth about how the single player adventure works, and how it incorporates the multiplayer mode as well? How long is the single player adventure, and can players use anything from the one player mode to enhance the multiplayer game or vice versa?
Matsuura: I believe players should be able to clear through the game in 20 to 30 hours. There's a lot of interplay between the single player and multiplayer modes, specifically that items and characters that you've discovered in the single player mode can be used in multiplayer. Also, any items or levels that you gain in the multiplayer mode can be transferred back to the main adventure.

Why do you feel that in the US, RPGs appeal to women almost as much as men. Why do you feel that appeal is there?
Inoue: I feel that unlike many other videogames, RPGs don't rely on a lot of quick twitch/reflex movements. It's very much like reading a book, since you're living a story, and it's more about exploration and story development. I believe that's a significant reason.

Was the artwork for Magical Starsign hand-drawn on paper, or was it done in a specific application such as Photoshop? The look of the game is very unique.
Tsuda: I do often put down ideas on paper first, but for Magical Starsign I found myself using Photoshop to do even the most roughest sketches that were used.

Do you feel that this game is well-suited for an international audience? Did you have to make any adaptations to ensure that it worked well for an American audience?
Tsuda: When localizing this game for North America there were no large changes. The game was already well-suited for the American audiences, with everything from the rich and colorful style to the science fiction story. The characters are using magic in-game, and the battles are already very inviting for an American audience. So yes, it is well-suited for North America with very little changes.

Magical Starsign seems to walk a thin line when it comes to gameplay balance. On one had, the game is very inviting with its visual style and platform, but it also sounds like there are a lot of aspects that appeal to hardcore gamers with the depth of battle and the general nature of RPG games. How did you find the balancing point, and was it difficult?
Matsuura: In Magical Starsign the balance is shifted more towards the simpler system, as we wanted to appeal to new users. The game is a bit on the easy side, but there are also a lot of aspects that appeal to long-time gamers as well. For instance, there are many optional dungeons to explore, which is definitely something that is found in more hardcore RPG games.

Does the team have any final comments to the fans of Magical Starsign and Sword of Mana franchise? The fan-base may be niche, but it's also very loyal. Do you have any message to your fans?
Kameoka: I'm very pleased to hear that Brownie Brown does have a loyal fan base in North America. Magical Starsign contains many of the ideas and themes that make Brownie Brown feel like such a unique place to develop games, so I hope gamers can take that in and enjoy our games to the fullest extent possible.

RPGamer would like to thank Brownie Brown and Nintendo of America for the chance to talk about Magical Starsign. Look for the game in stores on October 25th.

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