This is the second part of a 3-part interview with the man behind the PS Vita game Soul Sacrifice, Keiji Inafune.
Inafune: Well, monsters are imaginary to begin with, right? In many games, we spend a lot of time pondering over how to give life to those imaginary creatures. A lot of times, games are all about "monsters that are just monsters," but that's not what we wanted here. In Soul Sacrifice, we defined monsters first as "humans who have lost to some form of desire and turned into monsters," and then designed around this concept. For example, the harpy that appears near the start of the game is the personification of gluttony. She eats everything, even her loved ones. That's why we made her into a swelling, repulsive creature. There isn't a single monster in the game that we designed based on whether it looked cool. All of them are based upon the theme of "desire" and are all grotesque to a certain degree.
The same goes for magic. A person who's born a wizard just doesn't sound convincing, does it? When you think about the process of an ordinary person becoming a wizard, it's natural to think about things like, "He must have sacrificed something to become a wizard. If so, what kind of price did he have to pay?" That is exactly why in Soul Sacrifice players are penalized with unfavorable situations such as halving defensive powers or narrowing their field of vision when they use powerful magic. This is the "reality" of the game. You can even say it balances the game by compelling the players to accept that reality.
TOM: After playing the game myself, I can resonate very well with the points you have just mentioned. You can call those penalties "limits." In my opinion, the concept of paying a price for something occurs much more frequently in this game compared to other similar games.
Inafune: Whatever it is, up to now, most games are upbeat, stress-relieving, and frankly, geared toward somehow making the players feel good. In other words, it is not right if a game induces stress. However, if you continue in that line of thought, no matter what you do, the games that you produce wouldn't be too different from what has already been made.
Soul Sacrifice is going the exact opposite way, encouraging players to have fun engaging with their comrades while struggling through the limits.
TOM: Because of that, I noticed that the game is designed to allow players to choose from options such as "save" or "sacrifice" when an enemy has been defeated or when a comrade is on the verge of death.
Inafune: That's right. When you're in trouble, it's easy to ask for help. Most games to date allow you to save a friend by simply pressing a button. It's different in Soul Sacrifice. To save a friend in Soul Sacrifice, you have to pay a price... That is to say, you have to use your own stamina in order to save someone else. When you have to sacrifice yourself to save someone, would you still choose to help...? Such dilemmas make the game seem more real.
For those who have never experienced such hardship, they don't understand how it feels to be begging for help, and so they might not offer a helping hand. On the other hand, if you have been helped when in trouble, you would feel grateful and be more likely to help out when asked the next time. Isn't reality just the same? It's just like the game. In order to finish off a strong enemy, I think I would be willing to share half of my stamina with other players who are about the same level and share the same goals. If you are absurdly strong while other players are fairly weak, you probably wouldn't try to save anyone from their predicaments, would you? (laughs)
TOM: The interactions are indeed realistic! For our international fans, if Soul Sacrifice is the first hunting game they have played, they would probably have a different impression from the Japanese players of what such games are like. This is interesting, isn't it?
Inafune: That's right. The key point in the gameplay of Soul Sacrifice is the communication among comrades who work together. All the phenomena in-game are presented in the form of data such as numbers and parameters. It isn't realistic if numbers determine everything. What makes it more interesting than just winning or losing is the added factor of reality enhanced by things that cannot be quantified, the uncertain factors such as emotions, friendships, and such.
TOM: If that is the case, this game is not just about having fun with the game itself, but is also moving toward being a tool for enriching communication with others?
Inafune: I think it's hard to say that the game industry is moving in that direction as a whole. However, Soul Sacrifice is all about human interactions and emotions.
Actually, during the development of the game, there were situations I wish would take place in real life. Imagine this: You are being chased down by the enemy. In order to cover for your comrade, you shout, "I will stay here and think of something, just run!" Isn't this cool? This is a common scenario in movies, but probably would never happen in real life. So I thought, what if we could live that scene through a game? That is why we have the options to “save” and “sacrifice” in the game. It is so that players can play the hero and scream, "Don't worry about me! Use THAT! Take down the enemy!" What you cannot do in real life, you can in games. That's what makes games truly thrilling!
In the game, you died. But that's all right. Because of your sacrifice, your friends were able to defeat the enemy. Because you sacrificed yourself, the victory feels extra good. Through the "save" and "sacrifice" system, I hope players will be able to feel this joy together with their friends, not just within Japan, but around the world.
To be continued in Part 3.
© 2013 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.
This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.