Chase: Cold Case Investigation Division (Distant Memories) is a Nintendo 3DS game that began distribution by Arc System Works on 11 May 2016. It is a hardboiled adventure game brought to us by a collaboration between Arc System Works and former Cing members, including Taisuke Kanasaki (ILCAAPPS), who have worked on several fantastic adventure games such as Another Code: Two Memories. Here we bring you an interview with key members of the development team, Mr. Kanasaki and Mr. Shoji (Arc System Works) and the scenario writer, Mayu Sakura.
Arc System Works
Tetsuro Shoji (left)
As the director, he handles progression management and quality checks, as well as promotions as a whole. Referred to as "Shoji" in the text.
Taisuke Kanasaki (centre)
In charge of game and character design. Referred to as "Kanasaki" in the text.
Mayu Sakura (right)
In charge of the game's background and scenario. Referred to as "Sakura" in the text.
―I've played Wish Room: Angel's Memory (※1, known as Hotel Dusk: Room 215 overseas; denoted as "215" below), which you [Mr. Kanasaki] have previously worked on, and as soon as I saw the illustrations for this game I wondered if they had been done by the same person (laughs).
※1: A mystery-styled adventure game for the Nintendo DS, released in 2007 by Nintendo. Its developer, Cing, was known as a company which created high-quality adventure games. Many of the company's staff who worked on the game, including Mr. Kanasaki, worked on it also.
Kanasaki: Thank you. They might look similarly to how they looked back then (laughs).
―Let us begin. Could you tell us how the project for this game got started?
Kanasaki: The president of Arc System Works, Mr. Kidooka, started it by asking me, "Do you have any good ideas?" (laughs).
―You've been acquainted with Mr. Kidooka for a while now, yes?
Kanasaki: We've known each other for a long time. I presented a few plans after he reached out to me, but none of them really went anywhere. That's when he suggested, "How about putting it out as a download-only title and forgetting about a physical version?"
―Arc System Works seem like they've been putting their effort into adventure games through the Saburo Jinguji (※2) series, so I'd thought that was how the project got started.
※2: An adventure game series (known as Jake Hunter overseas) starring detective Saburo Jinguji. It is known as a pioneer of adventure games set in a hardboiled-style world. The first game in the series was released in 1987 on the Famicom Disk System. The series is currently published by Arc System Works.
Shoji: It was established as something totally independent of the Saburo Jinguji series. They just happened have the fact that they're both adult-oriented hardboiled adventure games in common (laughs).
―Speaking of adventure games, I think that the scenario is an important element. Could you tell us the reason why you asked Ms. Sakura to write the scenario?
Kanasaki: We had worked together previously on another title, plus she can write scenarios across a very wide range of genres. I asked her once the proposal had begun to solidify.
―So you asked her because you trusted in her skill. When I actually played the game, it left a deep impression on me how much each character's own visuals and charms came across. How do you go about creating a character for an adventure game?
Kanasaki: At the very beginning, we begin by creating a background for the world as a whole before the characters. I asked myself, "What kind of game and world should we have?" to which the answer was, "Maybe it would be interesting to have an adventure game where the story takes place in the interrogation room?" and then settled on an overall framework. In that case, then, obviously the main character would be a detective, and - while this is cliche in stories about detectives - I wanted it to be structured like a "buddy story" (※3). There would be a man and a woman, and either of them could be the boss... That's where we begin creating the characters from. We then fleshed out their backgrounds bit by bit, until the man became the protagonist and the woman became the assistant.
※3: The term for a type of drama where the leading roles are a pair who have clashing personalities and appearances.
―Is this around the time when you decide upon their names, too?
Kanasaki: Yes. I think up names with Ms. Sakura, and ultimately have them checked by Mr. Shoji. Once we decide on a name, we also get an idea of what their face looks like.
―Names are a really important factor when deciding the character visuals.
Kanasaki: The names have changed again and again from the initial data.
Sakura: I put forward a number of candidates, but "Shonosuke Nanase" was a really fitting name for the protagonist right from the start.
Kanasaki: Right. Shonosuke is an old-fashioned name, but I think it's a good and manly one.
―When you're thinking of candidates for their names, do you ever look at character backgrounds or other data and instinctively have a lightbulb go off?
Kanasaki: I actually drew the rough sketch for Shonosuke first. At the time I was watching a TV drama called Mozu and thought that Hidetoshi Nishijima, the actor who played the lead role, was really cool, so I wanted to base his visuals on him.
―What kind of impression did you get when you saw the finished design for Shonosuke?
Shoji: I thought he was refined and really cool-looking. By the way, Amekura's initial design had her with long hair, but because of the development situation we settled on her current design.
―I felt as though quite a lot of effort had been put into the characters' animations for the game.
Kanasaki: For this game, we used an animation creation tool called Live2D (※4). The game's visuals appear 3D, but they're all 2D.
※4: An image creation tool which allows the user to create smooth, three-dimensional animations using 2D graphics, released by Live2D Co. There are many benefits to using it in a game which places importance on its characters.
Shoji: At a glance, their gestures and expressions look 3D. This is a big characteristic of the game's visuals.
―How did it feel to see the characters you had drawn moving so fluidly?
Kanasaki: It felt strange during the developmental stages, but adjusting it bit by bit gave us natural-looking movements like it has now. This was actually the first time I had used Live2D, so it was a process of trial and error. On top of having to draw everything chopped up into little parts, I also had to make sure that they would form a completed image when they were all put back together, so it was hard work.
―Was there any part of Live2D you paid particular attention to?
Shoji: The sense of presence. You could put this another way by calling it atmosphere or tension. We were looking for expressions and movements that matched their lines, and I think it turned out well. I also decided upon camera angles and composition by discussing it with Mr. Kanasaki and using cool scenes from foreign TV shows and films as reference.
Kanasaki: Traditional adventure games use a front-facing bust illustration of the characters with a text box underneath, so I wanted to change that. I ended up drawing the storyboards for every scene in the game. I would draw them based on the scenario I'd received from Ms. Sakura, then try to figure out how to portray the scene. However, I of course couldn't use a different animation for each scene, so I created animation patterns that could be used in a variety of ways, then from out of those made animations to fit the scene.
―A big characteristic of the game is the way the story progresses inside the interrogation room. Did you decide on this set-up based on its relationship with the scenario?
Kanasaki: At the beginning, I had an idea that everything would take place within the confines of the interrogation room. I requested the scenario with this as a prerequisite, so I think it would have been fairly difficult (laughs).
―How did you feel about having to create a scenario within the given limitations?
Sakura: The maps and character movements were limited, so I was mindful of how to express the story's dynamism within that.
―How did you decide upon the tricks and events of the case that are the core of any mystery?
Sakura: The protagonists are assigned to the cold case investigation division, a department which follows cases that were previously closed and reinvestigate them. This game deals with a case which was for a time closed as having been an accident, so first of all I began thinking, "Why did people think that it was an accident?" and, "If it was a murder an not an accident, on what grounds would you think that it had been a murder?" and devising hints that would make it look like an accident initially, but tell you that it wasn't.
―It seems like a really hard job to show that kind of information in an adventure game.
Sakura: You don't know the whole story of the case at first, so in the introduction I began with the hypothesis that it was a murder, then gradually beginning to reveal the outlines through investigating things like what it would mean if it were a murder and what could possibly have happened. The mysteries are unravelled in the interrogation room rather than at the scene, so I gave the suspects a slightly mysterious air to make you wonder if they might actually be hiding something.
―One suspicious person shows up after another (laughs).
Shoji: There are three witnesses in the game, but since there are so few people it's more like the unfolding of what really happened at the crime scene rather than you looking for the perpetrator. We put the seeds of doubt into each character to trouble you.
―The first person you question is a really flashy and incredibly suspicious (laughs).
Kanasaki: I wanted him to look like the kind of character who really seemed like you'd find him in a place like Ikebukuro (laughs).
Sakura: Whenever I write male characters, they always end up being comical. Mr. Kanasaki impressed upon me that this was a hardboiled game, however, so I suppressed my usual self as I wrote it.
―Roughly how long does it take to play through?
Shoji: About two or three hours. There isn't a lot of content compared to the Saburo Jinguji series, but it's condensed enough that you can properly enjoy the story even in a short amount of time.
―Did you envision this kind of length from the start?
Shoji: To a degree we had decided from the beginning that the game would be three or four hours long, and everything came together within that. The game is download-only, but it's aimed at adults, so I'd like people to play through it quickly in a short period and think, "Ah, that was satisfying."
Kanasaki: If this were back in the days when I was working on Another Code I might have been asked, "Why is it so short?" but these days I think the trend has reversed and we're actually moving away from things that take a long time to beat.
―Even during such a short story, I felt like each character's personality came through strongly in their dialogue. Perhaps their relationship might have changed if the original version of Amekura had been used.
Sakura: There are times when I'll change the way I write based on the visuals changing. This Amekura exists because of this illustration.
Kanasaki: The current Amekura is treated like a bit of an idiot, I think.
Sakura: Nanase talks badly about her, like, "Why can't you even understand this?" but I'm the kind of person who gets treated the same way, to I wrote the scenario whilst being made fun of by Nanase along with Amekura. Because of this I wrote the scenario asking Nanase, "What does that mean?" myself, which I think lent persuasiveness to the story. If it had been the initial Amekura, it probably would have turned out too cool.
―Are there any characters aside from Amekura who changed from their original design?
Kanasaki: The change to Amekura was the biggest. The other characters haven't changed much from what I drew initially...? Oh, Koga is totally different. During the proposal stages, rather than being a flashy young guy he was a mysterious old man (laughs).
―What did you particularly struggle with during development?
Kanasaki: It was Live2D, which I mentioned earlier. There's just so much work to do, and I couldn't believe how much I had to draw (laughs). I did look over the game as a whole alongside Mr. Shoji, but the majority of my time during development was probably spent on Live2D.
―But I think that as a result, you ended up with completed visuals that have a real sense of presence.
Shoji: In order to make the best of the visuals, we made sure to tone down very game-like parts such as sudden actions or puzzles so as not to compromise on the atmosphere. We were mindful of setting it up so that you would enter the story naturally.
―Which seems like it would make the unfolding of the scenario and production even more important.
Sakura: I think writers talk a lot about characters moving of their own accord, but this was a work where I really got that feeling. There were lots of times during the process of solving the case where I myself would think, "Ah, I see, so that's how it is," in understanding of Nanase's lines. Nanase really got around a lot when I was writing the scenario. Whenever he goes on a rampage, Amekura will always jump in. The dialogue came together quite naturally.
―The characters acting on their own is amazing.
Sakura: When the characters' backgrounds are solid, I can imagine the kind of thing they might say. Even if I don't purposely think of a line for them to say, they'll go ahead and speak inside my head.
―It really does seem to be important in terms of writing the scenario to have the background solidified first.
Sakura: Yes. I think having the background solidly put together is the most important thing.
―There are visuals all over the place using playing cards as a theme. What is the reason for this?
Sakura: It's based on a friend of mine who's always playing with cards. Whenever they're thinking, they'll shuffle the cards. It looked really unique, so I wanted to use it in a scenario I wrote one day. I thought that it would be a habit that would suit Nanase perfectly, so I used it. Once I gave the cards to Nanase the image gradually ballooned, and they were even used in a hint within the scenario. It made me realise that my friend who has them all the time is a bit weird (laughs).
―A short story was made available via the official site ahead of distribution.
Shoji: It's a short story written by Ms. Sakura and with illustrations by Mr. Kanasaki. It's sort of like a prequel to the main game, showing what happens around the time Amekura joins the department. I think you'll enjoy the main game more if you read it before playing.
―Finally, then, could you give us a message for the fans who are looking forward to the game?
Shoji: Alongside Mr. Kanasaki and Ms. Sakura, we were able to create a fresh new hardboiled adventure game. Having a good old-fashioned hardboiled adventure that adults would enjoy presented in as a simple, download-only title seems like something that would exist, but until now had not. In I hope that it can be enjoyed by lots of adult players in the future. As I mentioned earlier, we have adopted a composition and direction similar to that of foreign TV shows and films. I hope you enjoy it the way you would enjoy watching a film.
Kanasaki: I think that joining up with Arc System Works allowed me to make something from a slightly different viewpoint than other games I've created in the past. In addition to this, I hope people enjoy it. Thank you.
Sakura: This was the first time I had been involved in writing a serious scenario, so at first I was lost. My wish is for the characters to be loved. Each character besides Nanase has their own habits, but I tried to make them seem realistic, like they might actually exist. Out of the characters in the game the protagonist, Nanase, is my favourite. I hope you enjoy the game, become a fan of Nanase, and end up becoming a fan of the other characters as well. Also, I hope people have fun choosing the other options that appear during the game, even though you know that they're wrong, to see what Nanase says when you don't choose the right answer. Oh, but don't forget to save (laughs).