Planning for Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko began in 2011, the year when we were making Shinku no Chou.
This doesn't mean that we were coming up with the ultimate settings for Nuregarasu no Miko from the start - there were lots of scrapped games and scenarios during that time, and, as I repeatedly broke them down, they ended up converging into the current settings and scenario.
It is a mix of four stories: there was the Wii U game "Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko" in which Hisoka Kurosawa searched for a spirited away girl throughout paranormal spots across the country; a Wii U game called "Zero: The Jet Black Bride" in which Ren Hojo had to choose a partner with whom to enter into yuukon at a stunning waterside location; a 3DS game called "Zero: The Box of Yomi" in which Yuuri Kurosawa, a fledgling actress, goes back and forth between an antiques shop and cafe owned by Miku and Miu Hinasaki whilst becoming caught up in an oddity occurring at a shoot location; and the PS3 game "Zero: Black Scar, Black Cocoon", in which former detective Ren Kirishima, having memories of killing a girl, rescues women with black wounds on their bodies from a village that is on the verge of being submerged, and as he does so he realises that they are like the girl he killed and becoming objects of terror for him.
Ultimately a mountain was used as the setting, with spiriting aways, suicides, yuukon and shrine maidens contained in the story, and as a result of squeezing in all of the things I wanted to do in accordance with the schedule and budget it has the most storylines in the series, aside from which I became too attached to the charm of yuukon and Shiragiku, Rui and Ren, and ended up weakening the areas of spiriting aways and suicides, for which I am sorry.
The world settings are explained in the in-game memo, but I would like to add a few addendums to those here.
When I went to E3, being held in Los Angeles, America in about 2008, the second I stepped onto the tarmac I intuitively knew, I don't think I will meet any ghosts here.
I didn't know the reason why at the time, but when I got off the plane at the airport after returning to Japan, and being enshrouded in Japan's unique humid air, I thought: perhaps the reason why I hadn't felt as though any ghosts would appear in LA was because the weather was so dry, and there was no moisture in the air?
Still on the west coast of America, in San Fransisco, I felt as though a ghost might appear. San Fransisco is a port town, so there was plenty of humidity.
I have once been touched on the cheek by a ghost. It felt light, like a condensed cloud floating through the sky. Since then, I've thought that moisture is required in order for ghosts to appear, and decided that when we made the next Zero game the theme would be water. This was because I was convinced that such a worldview would be fitting for the final Zero.
I say "final", but that doesn't mean for sure that this is the last one.
Each time I work on this series, I think about ending it there. These days, the opportunity to make a horror game comes rarely, so I never know if I will be able to make another game, but also creating the game is mentally tough, and sometimes my only request is that we make this game the last one. I gradually descend to a deep point mentally, going to a place from which I don't know if I can come back.
As I go into this region where mentally I shouldn't, though my mind is clear, my life force drops, and if I don't focus on it I lose the ability to breathe. When I get into this state, a kind of side effect occurs: my mind clears, my intuition becomes strangely sharp, and by getting closer to death there are things I start seeing.
On top of being more able to sense the sounds that present ghosts make, I begin to hear not only ghosts but also the sounds of the presence that people have. (Occasionally, I can hear the sounds of trees and stones to a certain degree of size.) When my senses become even sharper, I can not only hear the sounds of people, but I can also hear what they're thinking.
This sounds, at first glance, amazing, like a person with abilities that might appear in a manga, but it actually isn't that big of a deal. The things people normally think about are like Twitter diluted 1000 times; a loose flow of thoughts that don't form words, that you wouldn't particularly care to know. When they go to say something and try to put it into words, the second they do so their thoughts take a clear form, so it's an ability that you can't use until a moment before you hear them speak, but if you use it for amusement you will quickly use up your life force, and there was a time when I freaked myself out by really losing the ability to breathe within two weeks. Perhaps this was an area which I shouldn't have moved upon.
An experience: as I sat on the train, amusedly reading the mind of the person sitting opposite, a voice suddenly called to me saying, "Hey, you."
Though I hadn't been conscious of it up until then, there was a short, white-haired and neatly dressed old person wearing a beige polo shirt sitting beside me. I wondered if they had realised that I was mind-reading - but surely not...?
The old person was smiling from ear to ear, so I thought that maybe I had met them before and returned a vague smile, to which came the unconceivable whisper: "You... You're good. You're good."
"Why don'tcha you join our order? There are lots of younguns like you."
I was definitely entranced by the idea that there were others, but, surprised by the sudden words, I incomprehensibly replied, "No, I'm still in training," and got off the train as if I were running away.
I had thought that I was the only one who could hear these sounds, but perhaps I was wrong after all.
This tale has gone into quite a fantastical area, but the image of those with abilities or people like shrine maidens I had was of people who undergo harsh training, mentally with one leg thrust into the region of death, able to control that careful balance.
As a result of wondering whether I could somehow put these experiences into a game or its worldview, into Nuregarasu no Miko we put a vision system where by straining your ears you can hear presences of the past, being wet with rain sharpening your senses and changing the BGM, and the Mitori system where you can see the final emotions of a ghost when you touch them.
Up until now I had been aiming for a game that lets you experience being someone with a sixth sense, but this time I wanted to tread a little deeper.
One of the key things in this game is the motif of being called to by a huge sunset. I have seen this sunset myself, just once.
I believe it was when I was a third year elementary student. When I arrived home I went up to the second floor to greet my mother, and saw a huge setting sun outside the window. Fields should have been stretching out on the other side of the window, but they weren't there.
Everything was silent. I didn't move, staring intently at the sunset. I felt a vibration that tremored in the pit of my stomach.
I don't know how long I watched that sunset for. I get the feeling I was crying as I looked at it. As soon as some of my consciousness returned I turned on my heel and, singing nonsense, ran to the nearby supermarket, at which point the sound came back. (The song was Circus' "American Feeling". Remembering it really takes me back.)
When I returned to this side, I was glad that I was alone. If someone I knew had been with me, I would have felt bad for leaving them behind... I thought as I stood there. That was my intuition.
From this experience, even in the game when people are summoned by death they see the setting sun, and there is a vision in which a large number of people hold hands in pairs beneath the Magatsuhi.
This is more of a strange experience than a paranormal one, so maybe it's not right for a horror game, but when I chose the mountain as the setting for the game I wondered if I could reproduce that sunset.
If you happen to end up trapped beneath a Magatsuhi in real life, I recommend you sing a fun or invigorating song.
Since I've touched upon the Magatsuhi, I'd like to write about the Black Lake as well.
As we were making Akai Chou, and I was thinking about a hell gate called the Hellish Abyss, I had a strange tanka poem by Taeko Kuzuhara in my head the entire time. It speaks of Kurodao (the Black Pass), a place that exists somewhere not in this world. It definitely exists, but does not appear on any maps of Japan. The phrasing is strange.
The tanka may appear fantastical, but having seen the edge of this world they seem to me to be words with a reality to them, and left a strong impression on me. Kurodao gives off the image as being a place in the mountains steeped in fog, but my intuition tells me that it is a place at the edge of this world, a place like a border with an oppressive black air, and resembles a black swamp.
The reason I used the Kurosawa name in Akai Chou was because I had the image of them protecting a black swamp-like border. In Akai Chou, the hell gate is not by the water's edge. In a single night's dream that became the basis for that story, the Hellish Abyss was a dark hole. (I suppose that the hole is also an analogy for the cliff Mayu fell down as a child.)
Next, we put the hell gate in Shisei no Koe by the water. However, since there had been no opening in the settings in which to add in black water, in this game I put the Magatsuhi and Black Lake together as a pair and made them the hell gate. I think I was finally able to express the place at the edge of this world that I had thought of as the gate to hell. Perhaps some of you have noticed, but the appearance of the Black Lake is based upon Hashigui-iwa in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.