In this two-part interview series, we sit down to get the real thoughts and feelings of the art team behind Princess Connect! Re: Dive (PCR). In the first half of the interview, the creative team helped illustrate the ups and downs of the production process: the fun, rewarding parts as well as the challenges.
Four members of the art team answer our burning questions in this follow-up interview. This time, we ask them about their most memorable moments working on the game, from deep and emotional event stories to the characters that wormed their way into their hearts.
They also tell us about exclusive production tales from last year’s climactic event “Decisive Battle at the Capital” and let us know what they’re most excited about in PCR’s upcoming content. Make sure to read to the end!
- Art Team LeadWao
- Wao joined a game development company as a fresh-faced university graduate, then later used that wealth of experience with console and social games to join Cygames in 2014. He oversees a vast amount of illustrations in Princess Connect! Re: Dive, from the characters to the monsters that they fight. His current job as the team leader has him working hard to supervise the team’s members while encouraging their growth.
- Art Team Monster Department LeadMasatake
- Masatake leapt right into a job at Cygames after he graduated in 2015. When he was assigned to work on Princess Connect! Re: Dive, he was tasked with leading the monster department, where the various beasts and critters of the world are designed. He supervises all the monster design work that’s included in the game.
- Art Team BG Department LeadNatsuko
- Natsuko joined Cygames after working in the anime industry on background and scenery art. Now she works on Princess Connect! Re: Dive as the leader of the game’s background art division. She oversees all the background art produced for use in the game.
- Art Team Animation Department General Animation DirectorNaoko
- Naoko came to Cygames with ten years of animation experience under her belt. Her work in Princess Connect! Re: Dive largely concists of supervising the direction of framing the game’s animated scenes, as well as general quality of those scenes. She’s also involved in character design work for the anime version of the game coming in 2020.
The key to drawing Princess Connect! characters…The unique charms of Knight-kun, the player character.
Now I’d like to ask some more frank questions! Tell us all about which event stories stuck with each of you.
Wao: I think my personal favorite was “Battle of Valentine’s”
(January, 2019). Both Eriko and Shizuru star in that one. Players know this already, but those two characters are totally infatuated with the main character and pretty overbearing in their own ways. I got to enjoy the explosive chemistry between those two weirdos for the whole event, so that’s why I like it so much. (Laughs)
Wao: Princess Connect! Re: Dive is full of characters who are cute at first glance, as well as characters who become unexpectedly cute after you watch their stories. I think there’s lots of girls who fit the latter category in this game… I’m very aware of that factor when it comes to drawing the characters. That’s why we keep in such constant contact with the scenario team.
I see, I see! (Laughs) Have there been any characters that were really tricky to pin down when drawing them?
Wao: There are the three girls in the Good Friends Club: Chieru, Yuni, and Chloe, who all showed up in the “The Coward in the Forest and the Academy Dissenter” event (August, 2019). They’re not the sort of characters you look at and think, “Oh, they’re all so cute!”—they’re the kind you get attached to by watching their stories. Chieru in particular isn’t really the kind of girl most guys would go for. (Laughs)
Natsuko: I remember she was a hot topic in development meetings! (Laughs)
Wao: She’s the type that’ll drag you along and pretends to be the life of the party. We thought she would be one of those characters not every player would like. We’d never had a character like her before, so getting her design down was a challenge. And I worried about how well she’d be received right up until the event story went live.
You can’t really predict the reaction for a character archetype that’s never been in the game before, can you?
Wao: You sure can’t. She and the other two girls in her group threw us quite a curveball. You can figure out what kind of characters they are if you watch the story, but they’re hard to read just from looking at their designs. Chloe has a laid-back teen girl vibe and is low-key at all times. At first I took her for a tsundere type with dramatic expressions, but when talked with the writers, they insisted she stay extremely lethargic. (Laughs)
Naoko: Chloe’s voice was a big surprise, too. She didn’t have a voice while we were designing her, so I couldn’t imagine what she might sound like. When they finished recording and I heard her for the first time, I was like, “Wow, this is what Chloe sounds like?”
Wao: Apparently the voice actress was basically using her regular voice… But after hearing her speak all this time, I’ve come to find her voice really appealing. I heard the reason they had Mr. Ou Jackson put in charge of the Good Friends Club scenario writing was because the team was worried about player reception too. It seems like they appreciated the deftness of the writing though, so that was a relief.
Masatake: It really was an incredible balancing act.
I see… Of course, when you’re first drawing the character design, you have no idea what the voice will sound like. Have you ever gone back to a design and tweaked it after hearing the voice in hopes of making it align better with the character’s voice?
Wao: Oh, definitely. We’re always drawing designs right up until the deadline, wondering if there’s a better way that we can express the character’s charms. The PCR cast already has over 50 characters, so it can be tough to throw a new character into the existing mix in a way that will let the new character shine. That goes for alternate versions of characters, too, like Makoto’s Summer version as I mentioned in the first interview. I’m very particular about that side of things when I draw.
Naoko: While we’re talking about characters, there’s one thing in particular I’ve noticed about myself… Which is that I tend to draw the player character—”Knight-kun,” as the players affectionately call him—with a very innocent air in the anime cutscenes!
Naoko: If I could compare him to anything, I’d say he’s like a baby… You could almost smell milk on him. (Laughs)
Even in that scene in the main story where Karyl kisses him to give him his powers back, he just has a completely blank expression… Like he has no clue what’s going on. (Laughs) I try to make him into that kind of hopeless
character… “He can’t help it, that’s just how Knight-kun is!”
Wao: Knight-kun did lose his memories, but his brand of memory loss is very different to how people tend to imagine it. He does stuff like put money in his mouth… If Kokkoro weren’t with him, I don’t think he’d even manage to feed himself. I personally think that offbeat aspect of him is why players find him funny and endearing.
Natsuko: If you see him fighting you might think, “Huh? What’s going on?”
(Laughs) I think that spaced-out look is what suits him best.
Naoko: When we first started, he had a really cool fight scene. It looked awesome, but it didn’t feel like Knight-kun at all! So we decided to tweak it.
Natsuko: He doesn’t get a lot of lines, so whenever he does speak, it’s kind of shocking. Like, “Oh! Knight-kun talked!”
Naoko: He doesn’t show up much in the gameplay sections, and he often gets cut off in the still CGs (anime-style illustrations displayed during conversation scenes). (Laughs) His appearance is mainly confined to the anime sequences, so I try to get his “Knight-kun energy” across as clearly as I can. Even in the summer events, you see him in his swim trunks only in the anime cutscenes and the still CGs.
Wao: Kokkoro chose those swim trunks for him! He’s like a child that only wears what his mom picked out.
Igniting their fun-loving spirit! Here’s a secret scoop from Shogun Travel Log: The White-Winged Samurai!
Getting back on topic, I’d like to ask you about which event stories stood out most to each of you!
Masatake: Event stories… My personal pick would probably be “Shogun Travel Log: The White-Winged Samurai” (early April, 2019). It was cheery and light-hearted from start to finish. In fact, I think it was responsible for reviving the spark of joy in the team itself. There was stuff like the minigame where you launch Kuka into the air…
This was our first time putting a minigame into an event like this, so all our initial meetings about it were met with “are you REALLY gonna do that?!”(Laughs)
Wao: Shogun Travel Log: The White-Winged Samurai started because we wanted to do an event starring the Weiß Flügel Landsol Branch guild members, and we also wanted to let Ninon take center stage. That’s the concept we started with. Since Ninon was the main character, we wanted to set it in Togoku and make sure everyone was wearing traditional Japanese costumes.
We went around each team gathering ideas, using the story the scenario team thought up as a basis. Everyone added to the “flavor” of the event that way. It ended up going in the direction of the misconception of what Japan looks like to a foreigner.
Masatake: It was like that with the main boss monster Akudaikan. When the order came for an evil Edo-era magistrate like one you might see in a comedy sketch, I had no idea what to envision. (Laughs) What we eventually ended up going with was a kind of mechanical evil magistrate. He looks comical enough, but once you start fighting him you realize how strong he is.
Natsuko: I remember reading scenarios like “when Akudaikan sees an obi sash, he just has to yank it,” and “all the girls in Oedo Town wear Western fashion because if they wear obi sashes on their kimono, someone (Akudaikan) will steal them,” and just going, “huh?!” (Laughs)
Naoko: And in the story they even use Kuka as a decoy to beat him… It was so absurd. In the anime scenes she’s always getting wrapped up, so there’s not much chance to see the Japanese-style clothes we designed for her. (Laughs) It’s a really surreal event from start to finish.
There’s a boss called Dizz that showed up in the “Hatsune’s Present Rumble” event, and for some reason in the minigame Kuka imitates its cry by yelling, “Diiiiiiiiizz!”… It’s just really weird. (Laughs)
Masatake: We got to go wild with the monsters too. We gave Akudaikan a huge sword like a beam saber to wield, and when his special move goes off in battle, we had him hurl huge torrents of gold from his coffers. I was worried about the design at first, but I’m glad we were able to make something fun in the end. I have a lot of good memories from that event.
Wao: Monsters tend to get more exciting and flavorful when you fret about them, wouldn’t you say? (Laughs)
Masatake: That’s true! There was talk about incorporating cut-in animations for them too, but the art director put a stop to it to prevent the enemies from stealing the limelight. (Laughs)
It sounds like Shogun Travel Log: The White-Winged Samurai was a blast! Are there any other memorable events you can think of?
Natsuko: I love “Tamaki and Mifuyu’s Broke Desert Island Getaway” (July, 2018). The Island Whale boss battle is really unique, and I thought all the mechanics we included were really fun. The background art team makes maps as well, but in this event the Island Whale itself is the map. Players advanced in the event by clearing quests on top of the Island Whale. That helped it feel like something we all made together while we were enjoying the story. It was fun!
Naoko: I really like “Suzuna’s Rainbow Stage” (June, 2019), story and all. The final animated scene, where Suzuna and Misaki look over their shoulders and smile, is a special favorite. It wasn’t like that at first, with them turning their heads to look back at the camera. Someone on the scenario team told us to draw their smiles like they were reunited after a long time apart, like a class reunion. Their smiles looked much brighter after redoing the expressions and movements to match! The character movements, the backgrounds, and the color palettes all dovetailed perfectly when everything was finished. It came together wonderfully.
Naoko: Oh yeah, I love the ending for this event too! The staff responsible for making each event’s ending animation changes month to month. This one was meant to evoke the same feeling as a classic karaoke music video… It’s filled with all kinds of personal quirks from the staff who worked on it, which makes it really special. Even the song title pulls at your heartstrings… “First Kiss on my Tiptoes.” (Laughs)
What better excuse do you need to pull out all the stops? Here’s how they developed the climactic “Decisive Battle at the Capital.”
Let’s shift focus to the main story. There was a special event last year called “Decisive Battle at the Capital,” that served as the climax to part one of the main storyline. It felt different when compared to the usual in-game events.
Naoko: Yes, it was different. It was a special event. Only players who had completed the main story up to chapter 15 part 6 could play it. Players had to team up to take on four bosses in raids. The four bosses were summoned by the main story’s villain, Omniscient Kaiser. The idea was, by beating the four bosses, you could fight Omniscient Kaiser herself, so it was like a direct continuation of the main story.
Natsuko: We had a ton of work to do for this event, to be honest. Especially for the anime portions where you have to focus on monsters and scenery. We thought at first that we’d be able to goof around with it, as there weren’t any new characters showing up. We thought we wouldn’t have to spend too much time doing fancy stuff.
Wao: Yeah, but then all the teams started saying, “This is the grand finale for act 1 of the story, we’ve gotta make it really fun and go out with a bang!” So everyone pushed themselves to the limit within the schedule they had.
Masatake: That’s right. Right as the part 1 climax showed up, and we had the possibility of taking a break, I found myself wanting to revisit the bosses we’d used in the game’s early parts. That’s why I decided to base some of the monsters on the boss called Living Armor.
When we started doing events, we chose to use monsters from the first version of Princess Connect! (pre Re: Dive) as bosses—like Dizz. We only started using original monsters in Princess Connect! Re: Dive after the “Dangerous Vacation: Gourmet Princesses on the Beach” (late June, 2018) event. I designed the Living Armor boss myself back when they appeared in the first version, so they’re especially close to my heart.
It felt great to give them a new lease on life here.
Masatake: I thought it’d be pretty boring if we just reused Living Armor as is, which is why we came up with the four different variations. We were planning to keep their move sets the same when we started and just change the colors and features on their sprites. They were basically going to be re-colors. Then we decided that was too dull, so each of them got their own new move and animation to go with it. Of course, that meant developing new pieces to make each of their moves work.
We ended up making four brand new sets of illustrations before we knew it, all in the name of making it more fun. (Laughs)
Natsuko: The same thing happened in the background team! The fight with Omniscient Kaiser happens when she arrives in Landsol, so our starting concepts were all of existing Landsol town backgrounds. We assumed we’d just change the color schemes and atmosphere a bit. But then we noticed that it would lack impact when you compare it to the prologue, where Twinkle Wish takes on Omniscient Kaiser and the background is full of destruction and debris. So we drew up new images where Landsol was half-destroyed, instead.
I think it helped emphasize how severe the battle with Omniscient Kaiser was!
Just like Masatake mentioned, there were four boss monsters. They needed to have backgrounds drawn up, too. Ultimately it felt like we ended up with our usual monthly workload. (Laughs)
Wao: We really needed to have all hands on deck due to the tight deadline.
Naoko: There were four anime shorts played during Decisive Battle at the Capital, and one of those—the turning point in the last battle—had over 50 cuts (short scenes used in animation). I think the whole event was closer to 100 cuts, meaning about 2,300 drawings for the key frames.
Your average 30-minute episode of an anime will have about 300 cuts and maybe 3,500 to 4,500 key frames. The work in this event story seems especially extravagant when you think of it like that. There’re enough resources for it to feel like you’re running a short anime series inside the game. (Laughs)
But with all the effort our staff put into the backdrops and monsters, we couldn’t let the animated sections fall short. The incredible hard work our partner companies provided gave us a morale boost, too!
Natsuko: We really put our heart and soul into it. I mean, it’s the final battle! What better excuse is there to work your hardest? What really matters is that the players loved it.
And now for part 2…We catch a glimpse of what’s in store for Princess Connect! Re: Dive’s next installment.
Okay, one last question: do you have anything to say to the player base about what’s in store for Princess Connect! Re: Dive?
Wao: We’re adding act 2 chapter 1 from mid-January and adding some new characters—it’ll be obvious who they are from the opening movie. The plan is to release them in the main story one by one after that. Look forward to it!
Naoko: About ten characters will show up in the opening anime.
Natsuko: I love the girl with the massive gun!
Wao: We have some more guy characters in the mix now too. A cool, hot guy, a younger boy character… lots of dudes. We promise they’ll be worth waiting for!
Naoko: We had male characters in the first act, like Rajraj and Daigo, but the anime scenes tend to mainly show the girls. I’m looking forward to drawing some dudes!
Masatake: It’s gonna be fun to see how the new characters interact with our leads. There’re some monsters thrown in the mix too, so I’m happy about that. I’m biased. (Laughs) We’re also always looking for ways to make the battles more fun, so keep your eyes peeled!
Natsuko: Act 2 unfolds in Landsol again, but there’s a lot to see that didn’t get covered in the earlier story. I hope you like the backgrounds we made.
So you’re saying we can expect even more attention to detail in act 2?
Natsuko: We can’t seem to stop ourselves. (Laughs)
Naoko: The new opening animation has over 50 cuts and is packed full of exciting scenes, and act 2 of the story has all these new characters for you to meet… We’ve got our work cut out for us!
Princess Connect! Re: Dive’s refusal to compromise on quality means we’re stuck with this consistently high level of detail. What a shame! Though the work is intense, we wish the staff the best in their pursuit of top-quality gaming, and may they never lose their playful spirit! That way the players are sure to have a blast, too!
In both parts of this two-part interview we got to chat with the art team for Princess Connect! Re: Dive.
My main takeaway from chatting with them this time is that all four staff members have a really proactive attitude about their work on the game. Their focus on going above and beyond what’s requested of them stems from the belief that striving for the highest quality will make the game even more fun and exciting. I got the impression this is what makes Princess Connect! Re: Dive’s team capable of delivering hit after hit.
We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the game’s second year anniversary. Until then, happy gaming!
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