Originally posted on 22 July 2017
Source: Shadow of Memories Navigation File, page 80-86

Shadow of Memories: Junko Kawano Interview

The hidden theme is "living as a person"

I think it's shocking that the game begins with the death of its protagonist, Eike. How did you come up with this system?

Kawano: Death is so shocking, but there are a lot of games that treat it so trivially, with you just dying again and again. I took an interest in what it would be like if you were to treat it a bit more seriously, and wondered if it would be possible to make a game with it as the main theme. I did take great care, however, not to make it too dark and cruel. I also wanted to use the element of time travel, and to do a good job of blending the two, and started from there.

I see. The theme is death. What led you to put in time travel?

Kawano: I thought it would be really interesting as a theme - or rather, I personally really like it. There also weren't many games that made use of time travel, so wanting to try it out led to this.

I think it would be easy for parallel worlds or contradictions to occur with the use of time travel, though.

Kawano: I struggled with that more than I initially thought I would. First of all, I created a broad plot and tried not to stray too far from it. Using this as the base, I then decided which rules to use for the game separately, and made it that way. Even still, you do get plenty of contradictions (laughs). In the end I just snuffed them out, saying this is an exception, so I don't think there's anything left that would be a bother.

They must be hard to stamp out.

Kawano: Yeah. That, and if you stick too tightly to the rules you end up not being able to do situations you'd want to do because it'd be against the rules. There were quite a few pretty tasty scenes in the big finale at the end that were dropped entirely.

Travelling through time and changing your own fate feels sort of rebellious in a way, too.

Kawano: It does feel a bit like is it really okay to be doing this? You're changing not just your own destiny, but other people's without even realising it, and I wanted people to struggle a bit with the idea of whether or not it's really okay. I'd like for people to think it over once they've finished the game.

The theme at its depth - I suppose you could call it philosophical - is about how to live as a person, isn't it?

Kawano: It has death at its forefront, but the real theme is is it really okay to live like this? If we pushed it too much to the front it'd become a serious-seeming game, so we had it as the background or hidden theme.

Whether to believe that destiny is conferred upon you from the heavens, or whether you make your own path... there is a depth to it.

Kawano: The themes at the time when development on the game started up were time travel and overcoming your destiny. As things progressed, though, I realised that the conquering of one's own destiny is a very heavy theme. I felt like you would be dealt a punishment equivalent to the amount you had tampered with your fate; things like someone important to you vanishing, or bad things happening to people, and also whether it's a good thing for this person to have come to the present day. My honest wish is for all kinds of people to feel these things.

Mephistopheles and the Homunculus

Is Goethe's play Faust the motif?

Kawano: I read it to pass the time while I was at university. I had plenty of time on my hands (laughs). It was performed in Japan long ago as well, and it's not hugely approachable, but when you try reading it it's pretty interesting.

But in Faust, it's the demon Mephistopheles who guides the protagonist, Faust, so the Homunculus is a bit part?

Kawano: I really love the role of Mephistopheles in guiding Faust in Faust. This game needed a major supporting character like Mephistopheles, too, so although the Homunculus doesn't appear much, this fragility was another of the themes I wanted to deal with. I wondered if there was anything good we could come up with for that, and Homunculus was designed to be a character who sort of combines the two.

I see, so you managed to combine the things that suited them well. Were you interested in alchemy itself, then?

Kawano: No. I don't really believe in it (laughs).

Had you had the basis for the idea for a long time?

Kawano: It wasn't entirely in the form of Shadow of Memories. I just happened to want to try mixing Faust into something using death as a theme the next time I tried proposing an original game. It was sort of like pulling out an idea I'd had hibernating for a while.

How did you go about deciding on the background for the world, then?

Kawano: I went to Germany. The time period doesn't quite match, but I heard that there was a festival in Rothenburg where the townspeople dress up in native dress from around the 1600s and re-enact what it was like back then, and asked to be allowed to go and see it. The town had its old buildings left, so I used those as reference for the townscape, too. I went around about ten other cities and gathered things from them to make it with as well. I went there once for work, but later went back with the people from my team as tourists. The food was good, and I would say things like, "We need more of these photos..." as well (laughs).

Speaking of tasty things, there's a scene in the game of eating at a bar.

Kawano: A female member of staff who came to Germany with us made that. There's a lot of effort put into the food. Just like with the cake that shows up around the opening - there's an unusual amount of effort put into it (laughs).

How did you decide on the townscape?

Kawano: Town squares, churches, town halls, bakeries and butchers are key parts of European towns, so we decided to make those the main features.

You can hear something like a hymn inside the church, but there not being anything else made me feel like huh?

Kawano: There's nothing in there. You can pick up an energy unit, but that's all (laughs). It's a landmark, or indispensable element of the town, so we did think about doing something with it, but nothing we could come up with matched with the game system, so in the end they were all dropped. I hope you enjoy the interior.

Was there a basis for using a time period spanning roughly 400 years, from the middle ages to the present day?

Kawano: It's based on Faust. When I was first coming up with the story, there was a time when I thought about using rebirth instead of time travel, and was thinking about a cycle where you're reborn at a year about ten times the one you died at... So if you died at 40, ten times that would make it 400 years, which was how we first made it. In the end, I chose to have it in an era close to that of Faust.

The rampaging Oleg

Was there anything you focused on regarding the production of the cutscenes?

Kawano: We started off making it for the PS1, but made a console switch midway through. We couldn't keep using the same methods we had been using up until that point, so we decided to focus on things that would show off the PS2. We changed the effects quite a lot then, so it may look sort of film-like, but we drew out storyboards to use when making it. There are some things I wish we'd worked a bit harder on, though.

Do you have any regrets?

Kawano: This came from slimming the game down, but I do wish maybe we'd used more artistic camera angles and added a few more characters. One more thing I would've liked was to build the town's world more fully.

Roughly how long are all of the cutscenes put together?

Kawano: Over three hours. Time passes in the game as cutscenes are playing, of course. I think we could've made it feel a bit more as if it's playing in real time if you could move the camera for yourself, though.

It's nerve-racking to think about the fact that time is passing as the cutscene plays.

Kawano: That was my intention (laughs). I also hope people don't just sit there and watch, but actually wonder how much time will be left once the cutscene is over. We used a system that tries to constantly give you a feeling of tension, so I wanted that to show in the cutscenes, too.

It's not all tension, though - there are some romantic elements to it, too.

Kawano: I thought we had to put at least a little of that in, as well. Some people said we might've put in a bit too much, though... We were trying to make it suspenseful, but the scenario gradually, bit by bit, turned into more of a comedy.

Huh? Comedy?

Kawano: Hmm... Comedy might be a bit extreme, but someone like Oleg just runs wild, so trying to restrain that took all of my effort.

There certainly are sub-characters who stand out - people like Oleg, the owner of the café and the chubby person eating spaghetti.

Kawano: The scenario for them was so easy to write, so it was easy for them to run wild... I'd tell myself no, no, suspense, suspense as I wrote. They were actually even more out of control (laughs).

Which character are you the most attached to?

Kawano: It has to be the out-of-control Oleg.

I love his no, really catchphrase. I wanted Oleg to succeed as a producer.

Kawano: You want him to succeed, but also to see his failures. There are two options where he succeeds and two where he fails, and I hope people want to see them all. Oleg's voice actor really liked him, too, which I was glad about.

He's a character for whom it's in the little things. Was he based on someone?

Kawano: No, he wasn't. None of the characters were based on anyone in particular; they're all original.

Even though the people around him are portrayed as being full of emotion, the protagonist comes across as a bit emotionless at times.

Kawano: That was done intentionally. It would be bad for him to show too much emotion... No matter how strong-willed, he's still a character being controlled by the player at the end of the day, so we decided to have him emotionless to allow them to empathise.

It often feels like the female characters stand out while the male characters are talked down to.

Kawano: They're strong. I regret not making them all that cute. No matter how much I wrote, they just didn't seem to become cute. When I saw the finished thing I heard things like that's a stout-hearted woman... I felt the same way (laughs).

Which of the heroines is your favourite, then?

Kawano: Between Margarete and Dana, I prefer Dana. There are people on the team who adore Miriam, though.

Miriam makes you want to do something for her.

Kawano: Yeah. Wanting to give Sibylla a cat, too, and things like that (laughs).

I think having all sorts of things like that is one of the things that makes it fun.

Kawano: It was really tricky making them so that they didn't conflict with the main plot. Things like a person appearing dead but actually being able to be saved was something I wanted to put in.

Eckart the wise man

Mr. Eckart is a character who makes quite the impression.

Kawano: Up until near the end I made him slowly more and more of a not-so-great guy, and then ultimately turned him into a good person. If you think about Eckart's history, though, I think there's room to sympathise with him.

Even when he comes leaping along when he has a child in his youth, he already looks sort of like a wise old man... The hair, especially.

Kawano: He actually has a lot more of that, too. At first, even in that scene he only had a little bit... I felt bad for him, so I asked for him to be given more hair - about 20% more (laughs).

Taking away even 20% would be quite a lot (laughs).

Kawano: Hahaha. It's not that different from when he ages. Nothing we could do about it, though... We thought we should give him a bit more hair, so we did.

It even comes up in conversation with Margarete.

Kawano: Yeah. I was a bit nervous about that when we made it, wondering if maybe it was a little too far.

Eckart owns cats. Do you like cats, too?

Kawano: Of course. I was in charge of doing the cat voices for the game. I went into the booth and they recorded me.

It's quite vivid, almost like a real cat.

Kawano: Meowww.

Oh, that's great!

Kawano: It was recorded in America. The person giving directions was doing it in English, so I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I just went ahead and meowed my head off. I went meow meow meow meow, glancing over and signalling is it okay? Is it okay? Is it okay? with my eyes and meowing all the while (laughs).

Do you own a cat yourself?

Kawano: No, I live in a place that doesn't allow cats. There is a stray cat I've befriended that I meet every morning, so I took a video of it and gave it to the team to use as a reference. I even specified things like its markings. I wanted to add about four different options for Eike taking the cat out of his coat as well, like having just the cat peeking from the neck part of the coat or having it come out of the chest, but people got mad at me and said things like, "Let's not do something unique like that," and, "Please don't increase my workload with something like that..." (laughs).

A lot of effort went into it. How about dogs?

Kawano: For the dogs, I simply asked, "Ahh, just use a dog."

There's quite a difference. There's a black shaggy dog in Faust as well, so did you intentionally make the dogs in the game black?

Kawano: I chose a black shaggy dog because I wanted people to feel creeped out, even just a bit. People made comments like why a black dog? and let's not have dogs, but I thought it had to be a black dog and wouldn't budge.

There is something ominous-feeling about them.

Kawano: We ended up with a timid protagonist who's afraid of dogs, so I decided to add it onto his background that he isn't good with them later on (laughs).

Please see all of the paths

Was the idea always to have multiple endings?

Kawano: That came around the time when we decided to make the game in an adventure style, and didn't want it to be linear. The very first thing I came up with was having it be a standard adventure game where you would just sort of have different endings that all digressed, but in the end turned out to all be tied to the main plot. It's made so that you can't solve every mystery without seeing them all.

They're all shocking endings - or at least, they came as a surprise. Finally, please give your message for the players.

Kawano: Please see all of the paths. If you manage to beat it once it'll end with some sort of resolution, but there definitely is something missing... I think you'll feel that something is off even though it's over, and we've done our best to prepare answers to that, so I hope people try to find them.

So you mean that anything that doesn't make sense can be solved by playing the game.

Kawano: Yes. From your second playthrough onwards, you can skip any cutscenes that are the exact same by pressing X.

Your completion percentage is displayed at the end. What tips would you give to help people reach 100%?

Kawano: It's difficult to hit 100%, but there's a bonus if you do. It's only a very small thing, though... You also have to listen to all of the advice that Homunculus gives you when you die. The way you die by the rope in Chapter 7 is key, also.

So you have to experience a lot of deaths. Thinking about it, Eike is killed in a lot of different ways.

Kawano: The player gets quite used to dying, too. Near the end in particular, it starts to get kind of like, "How will I die this time?"

Were there any other ways of dying?

Kawano: We had drowning (laughs). This was of course one of the candidates when we were thinking up all kinds of variations, but where he could actually drown became an issue, and so we did have the idea of putting a sewer beneath the town, but it was too much and so we cut it. From the start, though, we didn't want to do anything too cruel. It's sort of like even if you get hit by a car, you die cleanly. Some people think that there wasn't enough blood, but I like it this way.

There isn't much blood at all.

Kawano: Having blood gushing everywhere would turn it into something else entirely, and having that be prominent would turn it into a different game, so we avoided that.

Thank you for your time.