Reikonyobanashi ~ Night of the Tales of Spirits
Dreams and reality, the tattoo and the voice, and the heart that needs cherished people. To explain all about Zero ~Shisei no Koe~, we spoke to producer Mr. Kikuchi and director Mr. Shibata. What connects "Zero", "Akai Chou" and "Shisei no Koe"?
--First of all, please explain your roles.
Keisuke Kikuchi (henceforth "Kikuchi"): It's difficult to put into words.
Makoto Shibata (henceforth "Shibata"): In the sense of taking care of of creating and expanding it. I created it, and Kikuchi expanded it.
Kikuchi: Shibata was in charge of the whole game in general, the scenario and direction, handling the details of it all. I watched over the whole thing, expanding ideas from planning and giving advice. But since Shibata and I have spent so many years working together, he of course mixes in ideas of mine he likes. So for the most part, Shibata's ideas and plans are used as they are. That way, there are several areas that were originally thought up by me myself.
--Has that style been in place since the first game in the series?
Kikuchi: The first game was something we both did together, through trial and error. It started when Shibata said, "I want to make something like this."
Shibata: For the first game, Kikuchi was project manager. So he was a little more involved in the creation of it. Overseeing all of the programming, and things like that.
--When you were making "Zero ~Shisei no Koe~", what was the image that appeared in your mind like?
Shibata: The idea came to me at the end of making "Zero ~Akai Chou~". We had the image colour from the start. Not only falling snow, but also monochrome creating a cold feeling. And then the blue tattoo violating the skin. Something more simply frightening than Zero ~Akai Chou~. A stronger kind of horror.
--Did you also already have the idea of moving between dreams and reality at that time?
Shibata: Yeah. When you wake up in reality, someone is beside you! ...We hadn't done anything like it up until now, so we created two settings. We also put in other things we haven't done before, like shower scenes... (laughs)
--And constructing a courtyard to suit the story?
Shibata: The courtyard came first. We collected ideas about what places you wouldn't want to walk around, what places were frightening, and put them into the story.
Kikuchi: For example, when we were making the Fireplace Room we tried to give off a sense of that kind of feeling, and we packed in all of the needs of the bigger picture of the design of an adventure game, like a puzzle.
--How did you go about collecting data?
Shibata: We gathered up things like photo albums of old Japanese houses and ruins. Then, we went to Tono in Iwate Prefecture in Tohoku to conduct research. "Zero ~Shisei no Koe~" has the Tohoku image. Lots of areas reflect the things we saw in Tono.
--Did you research normal private houses?
Shibata: We saw a room decorated with lots of "oshira-sama" dolls, crowded up as far as the corners of the ceiling...
--Ah, I know about that, I know!
Shibata: It seems to be a famous place. We took photos there and told the team, "I want a room like this."
Kikuchi: Well, we were gathering data about dark things which, in Shibata's case, has always been a hobby of his (laughs).
--You've always had an interest in supernatural phenomena?
Shibata: I was frightened of it when I was a kid. Actually, I saw ghosts as a child... I haven't seen them since I was in middle or high school, but I feel like I want to see them one more time, and though I watch horror films they aren't as scary as the things I imagine inside my head (laughs). Since then I've become even more interested in seeing them again.
--It's amazing that you've seen ghosts.
Shibata: Actually seeing them is really rare, though. Creating this game, the movements of the ghosts and its atmosphere were based on those experiences. For example, the ghosts' effects. The way in which the effect where they sway from side to side was made based on my parameters. Then, I also heard special sounds when I saw ghosts. Those sounds were also recreated. We recorded me mimicking them...
--When I hear this story, I feel like I understand the secret of the fear the Zero series has...
Shibata: When we were building the setting for Shisei no Koe, I wanted to model it on a certain abandoned house in my neighbourhood when I was young. Even in the afternoon it was really dark in there, and felt like something was in there... My friends and I would play a game where we would take turns going in and taking something. Torn-off memos, magazines, dolls and things like that were in there. This originated with me imagining what could be in this house. Then, one day, I saw an old lady pushing a pram, and then I wanted to put her in a game...
--And she finally appeared in the third game!
Shibata: She did (laughs). But, now that I think about it, why she was there is a mystery. She was just suddenly standing there...
--But back to the story, for what reason did you decide on having three characters?
Shibata: We wanted to have them gather information in fragments from different perspectives. We wanted the game to be set up so that the bits of information gathered while crossing between dreams and reality make the player think, "So this is what happened." For this game, having the information scattered around was one of the concepts. Letters arriving, asking Miku to research things, hearing ghosts' voices. It's all summarised in Rei's notebook. Then, the three were each given a unique action. They were designed to increase playability.
Kikuchi: The first game had a fear that appeals to the power of imagination. The second game's fear came from the power of its story and its detailed setting. It wasn't simply scary, but also included sorrow in the fantastical and story elements. In Shisei no Koe, we wanted it to have a game system that would follow the good parts of the past games while actively creating fear. But of course, we had to elevate the scariness. This was tricky, and trying to increase the fear in comparison to past games was impossible. We would've had to gradually increase the grotesque, physiologically disgusting things. We didn't want to do that. So we analysed scariness, and had variations on the fear, and combined everything into one big design we favoured.
Shibata: For the first game, I packed in everything I thought was really scary. With Akai Chou, we made something that, while scary, was something you would want to play until the end. With Shisei no Koe, we wanted to expand the gameplay, and immerse the player in terms of the game system and story.
--How did you come up with the details about the characters?
Shibata: I already had an image of Rei in my head. As well as wanting to make the protagonist mature, it would be better in terms of suiting the visuals of the "tattoo" keyword.
Kikuchi: A beautiful but mature woman. We wanted the protagonist to be a woman who is strong enough to face her destiny, and endure the pain of her lover's death.
Shibata: Initially I thought about making her around 26 years old, but since that's a bit austere for a game's protagonist she was set as being 23.
--"Tattoo" is also used for the subtitle, but in what way did you come up with it?
Kikuchi: We wanted pain to be the theme. Initially we started with the protagonist losing her lover. We wanted the pain to be visual, and convey fear.
--What does the "voice" part represent?
Shibata: That's the goal the protagonist is being called by. It refers to the calling. The voice of Reika, burdened with her sorrowful fate. She keeps seeing the image of her lover's death, indicated by her voice saying "I don't want to see any more" and "Please, close my eyes".
--I see, so her calling leads you to the other world. By the way, the presence of the protagonist of the last game, Mio, is weak - why is that?
Kikuchi: At first, Mio was the third protagonist. But their story from Akai Chou was mostly complete, the story too strong. That's when their uncle, Kei, became a protagonist.
Shibata: With regards to Akai Chou, it's all been said already. We would've had to have to have put all of those elements in there. And if we had, the scenario would've bloated to more than double the size and be consumed by Akai Chou. To that extent, since that story was so powerful, we had Mio appear in a manner than wouldn't conflict with the story of Akai Chou.
--How did you decide on the characters' outfits for this game?
Kikuchi: Shibata established the concepts, and I looked over the designs we came up with and amended them. We redid Kei over and over.
Shibata: There really were lots of alterations made to Kei. Since he's a man, we didn't have to think too deeply about the finer details. Even though we looked at Rei and Miku from all angles (laughs).
Kikuchi: At first, Rei's outfit was a skirt, but the female staff in charge of clothing design suggested that "pants are cool". In comparison, pants were overwhelmingly superior. Since Miku's is quite symmetrical, I think there's a balance. Rei's bedtime outfit also suits her nicely.
--Did you have any trouble coming up with the hidden costumes?
Kikuchi: None whatsoever (laughs). At first, Shibata sent me an email saying "How about this?" about an underwear outfit. I replied, "...I'm begging you, change that to a skirt." Then he sent me an email saying, "Is this satisfactory?" about a see-through skirt. Naturally, it was turned down (laughs).
Shibata: We also tentatively had a negligee.
Kikuchi: Wasn't it a sheer one? (Laughs) But we had crazier designs.
Shibata: I went crazy (laughs). We gradually thinned them out. Kei in a black bondage outfit, Rei as a sexy casino dealer, things like that (laughs).
--Ruri also has costumes.
Shibata: Kikuchi was strangely focused on Ruri.
Kikuchi: I wanted to put a black cat in the game. A black cat in a Japanese ghost story! I had lots of things planned for it to do. Only humans had appeared in the games so far, so I wanted to change the perspective and put in something that was always moving around.
Shibata: We originally thought about having ghosts that only the cat could see, places you could photograph only by following the cat's eyes. Then later, having a Ruri-model Camera Obscura. It would be held dangling in your arms, and when you looked through it it had a night-vision scope. And to take photos you had to press its head and it would go "Meow~" (laughs). We didn't actually do it, though.
Kikuchi: Shibata was really persistently concentrating on that. Even though we didn't put it in (laughs)
--Please tell me about the production of the fear - was there anything about the ghosts' representation you paid particular consideration to for this game?
Shibata: Generally speaking, the house in this game is completely ruled by ghosts, so we wanted to make it feel like it was dangerous to be in. The number of polygons was increased, and each ghost is represented more vividly, making them all feel somewhat like bosses. Because of this, all of the ghosts were created with a good backbone, which you'll gradually start to see.
--All of the ghosts have plenty of facial expressions.
Shibata: That's right. Things like the tattoo appearing during a shutter chance moment. When you're looking through the viewfinder, they'll make a scary face with superb timing.
Kikuchi: Also, we had the concept of the fear that perhaps arises through confronting things you don't understand. During the game, there are lots of documents, but there are also incorrect documents. The books were written with mistakes. They were put in on purpose. They were written based on historical facts, but misinterpreted, and then left behind. They were an element added with the intention of causing confusion.
Shibata: We gave ourselves the task of making it confusing, thinking it would immerse the player even deeper into the world. While playing, you reason out various things, which I think is interesting.
That concept was also put into the layout of the house.
Kikuchi: The unnatural layout of the house and things like that. Like the way the rooms are connected; we were aiming to make people think, "Ah, so these areas are connected". But for some reason, I'm gradually starting to understand this kind of house...
Shibata: We should have made more of a fake layout, but making fake things is surprisingly hard (laughs).
Kikuchi: In that sense, it's not like games these days. It doesn't show you things in great detail. Of course, though it would be nice if it was simple, I also wanted there to be things left over that you wouldn't understand just by thinking about them yourself.
Shibata: But I think that's how horror is. Amongst the three protagonists, you don't know which is the true one. So you push on with Kei's mistaken interpretation.
--Of course, when you play you feel the contradiction of how it makes you feel bad for a good reason.
Shibata: That's what we were aiming for. Not which interpretation is correct, but finding the scattered bits of information about the house and picking up all of the fragments. It was constructed in a premeditated way to make it so that it could expand without things coming to a resolution. However, in order to follow that we introduced the new "notebook system". New things you learn will be written in the notebook.
Kikuchi: Also, it breaks the story down piece by piece so that it's easy to take in. By having the notebook, you can follow along the people from before you had forgotten, and I feel as though it was put in while conscious of beginners. However, this game's Mission Mode is tricky (laughs).
Shibata: This game is difficult from the start. But once you get stronger it's easy. As a tip, play the game at leisure and strengthen your Camera Obscura. If you don't, you'll find yourself in trouble.
--Unlike the other games in the series, for this game you didn't make an ending exclusive to a second playthrough. Why is that?
Shibata: From the start, we decided that we would only make one this time. That's because we thought that if we had the best ending, we would only need one.
Kikuchi: I also thought that if the story and ending had a clear message, it would be best to have only one ending. Since so far the endings have been sad ones, we wanted to make another kind of ending, and so we created a different one for the second playthrough. Incidentally, in the series so far, the ending that plays after beating the game once has been the true ending. This time, the one that plays during the credits and shows the story afterwards in photos is the true ending.
Shibata: The ending I originally wrote was much longer. It was about 13 minutes long. Since it was too lengthy, we modified it and shrunk it to its current form, but one of the scenes we cut out when we were making modifications was put into the true ending in a photo. There were other pictures I wanted to add, like at the end a number of photos taken by Rei floating across the screen, and by their style you would understand Rei's feelings... but we didn't do it.
Kikuchi: 1 and 2 had horror-style endings in which you can't save people, but this one begins with the worst at the beginning, so the endings of 1 and 2 and the opening of Shisei no Koe are the same situation. We did it so that the start is as bad as it gets, and the end is where it becomes zero.
Shibata: I would say it's "bad opening, happy ending". In any case, I was enthusiastic about seeing the best ending.
--Amongst the staff, including the previous two games, which ending is the favourite?
Kikuchi: For me, the one that left the deepest impression was 2's first ending, the "Butterfly" ending. It's sad, but clearly represents the game's theme of an unescapable destiny. Well, it's also the most often criticised. "Why did she kill her?" and things like that.
Shibata: But if you take time to read the notes as you play, you should vaguely feel as though that is the ending you're heading for. Also, if you think about it after the impact of the ending, I think you'll see what's deep inside Mayu's heart. It's also a game in which by thinking backwards the player realises the deeper parts, which we thought about while making it.
--Is the photo in this game of a dam-like place Minakami Village?
Shibata: Yeah, it's Minakami Village. It's an image of Mio and Kei visiting it. I believed that players would understand without explaining it, so we didn't put in any special explanation. In the other photos you also see Kei introducing Mio to Rei and Miku, and see that they're all safe.
--All of the characters who appear approach their own resolution, but does Shisei no Koe complete the Zero series?
Kikuchi: It does. For now, the story is over. But since each game is its own story, there will be other episodes made in the Zero series. Well, at the present time we don't have anything really planned. Of course, if we can make something new, we'd like to do more. Maybe if Shibata has another dream (laughs).
Shibata: Before this I had another Zero dream, but even though I explained the story of the next game I think someone rejected it (laughs).
--Then, will the Zero series continue in the future?
Kikuchi: I think there's more than one way to do it. For example, it might be nice to make the best of Zero to create a completely different kind of game. We might look for something completely new, not binding the series to a genre or console. I think that's what the players would want. In the end, it's only the story of Zero until now that's complete, which doesn't mean the end of the Zero world. I think the time when we can give you a new Zero will definitely come, so please wait until then.