Q1: First off, could you give us a quick explanation on what you do?
A1: I was in charge of all aspects related to writing, not just the scenario, but also the monster intros, NPC dialogue, songs, and flavor text, both as a writer and as a supervisor.
For Sunbreak, I also created several short stories for Twitter.
Q2: Can you tell us about the themes and direction for the stories in Rise and Sunbreak? Are there any common elements between the two?
A2: The theme of Rise was “succession.”
It was about all of the people standing up to the calamity facing Kamura Village, the Rampage, starting with Elder Fugen’s generation, who nearly saw the village destroyed, and continuing in the current generation with the protagonist, the Fierce Flame, with the next generation being covered by villagers, like Yomogi and Iori.
Live with fiery strength, and pass on your spirit to the next generation. Those who have been handed the torch will in turn burn bright like a flame and live to pass their spirit and way of life on to the next generation. This is the kind of mentality that lies at the heart of the strength and union in Kamura Village. This theme is also condensed in the ending theme, called “Beacon of Peace.”
The theme of succession is also present in the bond between Wind Serpent Ibushi and Thunder Serpent Narwa, who are trying to take over the world by creating their offspring. Everything they did also served the purpose of producing offspring and having their bloodline prosper. This is what ended up creating the Rampage as a result.
You can’t really say that either side is evil, and if you look at it from another perspective it becomes quite a complicated topic, but I believe that Monster Hunter is all about the competition to survive between humans and monsters, so it’s a discussion you cannot really avoid.
The theme for Sunbreak on the other hand, and this is mentioned in the game a few times, is “the place you belong, i.e., home.”
Having saved Kamura, the protagonist sets out to Elgado Outpost, being sent off by their “family” in Kamura. Fiorayne and everyone in Elgado are fighting for their lives in order to protect their home, the Kingdom or “the place they belong,” from the Anomaly. The protagonist joins them and together they work to overcome their problems, and over the course of the story, Elgado becomes a “second home” to the protagonist.
That’s the kind of story I set out to tell.
Similar to the theme in Rise, the theme of “home” also applies to the monsters’ point of view.
The Qurio are the cause of the Anomaly in the Kingdom, posing a threat to people and monsters alike. However, from the point of view of the Qurio, they must have worried about where their home was, where they belonged, and when they would be able to return there. And so they kept roaming around in constant anxiety, like a child looking for their mother. Their lives are a major part of the theme as well.
And then there’s the notorious “Primordial Malzeno.” This is the monster that ties up Sunbreak’s story of “where one belongs.” It descended from the skies to dispel the Qurio, which it regarded as invaders of its territory. Being confronted with this monster, Fiorayne, as one of the protectors of the Kingdom, determines that the Qurio are the biggest threat to her home, the place where she belongs (the Kingdom).
Q3: Was there anything you were very conscious of, considering that this is a new title in the Monster Hunter series?
A3: I wouldn’t say it was something I was “conscious” of, but one thing I really wanted to try out was giving each character a name. In past titles in the series, other characters were always called by their job title (even if they may have had names in the character settings documents).
But since Rise features a story about a village taking on this big calamity called “the Rampage,” I realized that it would make sense for everyone to support each other, like family. With that in mind, I figured I couldn’t just call everyone by their job alone, so I talked to the director, and we decided to give them a role and a name.
At the same time, the protagonist, who used to be “someone from outside” in the older games, was turned into someone who was actually born in the village that is under attack. The reason for this is the same as why we gave all the characters names: they’re family, they support each other, and they fight as one to repel the calamity that is threatening their home.
One thing I was conscious of, and this isn’t because this is a new game in the series, was to paint an image of “light and darkness” in as far as I could get away with it. As part of the protagonist’s road to overcoming the calamity and becoming a hero, they also have to become “the one who failed,” “the one who couldn’t vanquish the threat,” or “the one who failed to protect everyone” and this story is about that, as well.
Of course, if the protagonist dies it’s all over, so in the end they always overcome all obstacles, save the people, and are lauded as a hero, but in order for that “light” to exist, there must’ve been “darkness” at some point, as well. I felt that if I could nail that part, I could add some depth to the story of Monster Hunter…the story of the desperate struggle to survive. That’s how I see it at least. (Of course, if I’d made it too realistic, it would’ve destroyed the world view of Monster Hunter that we’ve cultivated for so long, so I tried to restrain myself only to what I could get away with, as I mentioned before.)
In the case of Rise, Kamura was almost destroyed 50 years ago by Magnamalo, but it wasn’t Magnamalo alone, it was also due in large part to Elder Fugen and his fellow fighters failing in their duty to protect the village. We also have the background story of High Rank Hunter Ayame, and the tragedy that befell Yomogi and Kagero’s hometown. In Sunbreak, Fiorayne cannot let go of the idea that the noblest thing a knight can do is to sacrifice their life, and Admiral Galleus saw his own hometown destroyed, as well. These are all examples of “darkness” that exists on the path to light or “the path to becoming a hero.” I think I managed to add some depth to the story by how we could depict these events.
Another new feature in this game is the way monster intro scenes were handled. In Rise, we used traditional Japanese instruments and poetry, whereas Sunbreak had Fiorayne narrate the intros, which is completely different from the intros in previous games in the series. We started by creating the direction for each intro based on the concept of the monster, and I had to come up with the text after the video was already done, trying to match the length with the concepts, and mixing in wordplay as well. It was tough, but also very rewarding. The first intro we did was the one for Aknosom, and once that was finished, I started to get a sense, not just of the monster intros themselves, but of what kind of world I needed to construct. It was really a very big step forward.
And then there’s the fact that the protagonist talks. I remember people being very surprised when the hunter spoke in the first trailer. There are 20 default voices, and more than 20 extra ones. I remember how hard it was to come up with enough variations of lines for all of them. On the other hand, I also got the opportunity to show sides of the NPCs at Kamura and Elgado that you normally can’t really express in story cutscenes, so I had a lot of fun writing those lines. Especially Master Utsushi, Bahari, and Jae. They were a lot of fun to write for, so I really let myself go, within the confines of the characters, of course. For Master Utsushi, I even wrote a couple of stupidly long lines just for the heck of it, but they actually ended up getting used!
And lastly, the songs. Songs are a major element in Rise. The in-game songs that use Monster Hunter language were originally written in Japanese, and they were made to fit the situation and setting they were used in. They give you a deeper glimpse into the world of this game, so if you know Japanese, it might be worth listening to the soundtrack and seeing if you can figure the lyrics out.
Thinking back, this is the first time I’ve written songs for a game since Mega Man Star Force 3, a Nintendo DS game featuring a scene where an idol sings a song at a concert. Back then, we couldn’t use actual vocals because of memory constraints, so I had to have the text move along in accordance with the music, but this time, I was able to have the lyrics I wrote sung by renowned artists, which was a deeply moving experience.
Q4: At what point in development is the story decided?
A4: It depends on the game. In regards to Rise and Sunbreak, well, Rise had a Japanese aesthetic and a Yokai motif, whereas Sunbreak had a Western aesthetic and a “western monster” motif, so I basically get this large framework of reference to work in from each game’s director, and then I start working on the basic flow of the story, while discussing the details with them.
Next, the game designers decide which monsters are going to appear in the game and what kind of elements make up the core experience, like for instance Palamutes, the Rampage, Followers, the Qurio, etc. This is where I start building the framework of the story, i.e., the outline and the plot. From here on, I start hammering out the details, and deciding on settings for each character and such.
Once the quest list starts to be built, and I know the order in which the monsters are going to appear, as well as which monsters are going to be used for Urgent Quests, I start making the progress chart for the story. This goes a step further than the plot, so I have to start coming up with the flow of story beats like “This thing happens here, and then this character appears to help the player out” or “This thing happens here, and the hunter has to escape from the flagship monster” in accordance with the quest list.
Once the progress chart has been determined up to a point, I start writing the scenario.
This is one of the most complicated steps in the process, but the game’s scenario is based on the contents of the game itself, so my personal opinion is that you should be flexible and adjust the scenario to the game as you see fit. Especially in the case of Monster Hunter, since it is a series about hunting after all, including elements to get the player excited to start hunting is one of the most important aspects of the story. Of course, sometimes I ask the team to change some elements of the game in order to accommodate the story, but this is a relatively rare occurrence.
Q5: Rise and Sunbreak both contain monsters that also appeared in past games in the series, but does the content of the story change depending on which monsters are in the game?
A5: Like I said when I explained the process in the answer to Q4, it’s very common for the story to be determined based on which monster are in the game.
For instance, there’s a part in Sunbreak where Fiorayne is out of commission, and you can’t use her as a Follower anymore. The fact that she is absent during this part of the game and that she recovers afterwards thanks to a medicine that Tadori prepares for her were already determined, but the details of how that medicine was made had yet to been decided.
But in the game, the quest list says that an Espinas will appear after Fiorayne is injured, so I figured “the hunter will need to gather Espinas materials to create the medicine for Fiorayne,” or “Espinas has a very potent venom, so maybe we can use it as an antidote for whatever took Fiorayne out,” fight fire with fire, so to speak.
Q6: In the April update this year (Ver. 15 .0), Kamura Village was faced with yet another major threat, but were the appearance of Amatsu, and the story behind Yomogi and Kagero’s hometown already decided when you started working on Rise?
A6: This is kind of complicated, but when we were hammering out the settings for the characters in Rise, Yomogi was initially just a cheerful girl running a tea shop, but we decided that we wanted “something more.” So it was decided that she wasn’t actually born in Kamura, so that raised the question: “Where was she born then?”
That’s when we decided that there once was a city within the same cultural area as Kamura Village, but that it had already been destroyed, and that Yomogi was a princess from there. At the same time, we had Kagero, whose past was wrapped in mystery, and initially that was the extent of his story, but we decided to change him into a retainer of the royal family who rescued Yomogi and brought her all the way to Kamura.
However, at this point, it had not been decided yet whether their story would actually be told in the game, or that the elder dragon that destroyed their city was going to be Amatsu. But if we just made it into a sort of “sub-setting” and left it at that without delving further into it, it could lead to discrepancies in the dialogue when you talk to them in the village and you have them hint at what happened in their pasts.
It’s important to create proper details for these kinds of sub-plots. This helps you to prevent contradictions, and to round out your characters better, giving them maximum appeal. This is how we ended up making Yomogi and Kagero’s background into a very detailed story.
One of the reasons we were ultimately able to bring their story to a close in Sunbreak was thanks to the many fans who had been playing Rise and Sunbreak so passionately, and who really pushed for a resolution to this sub-plot. We’re very grateful to everyone for being so invested!
Q7: Do you have a final message for the fans?
A7: I hope you enjoyed the story in Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak! The biggest motivation to cross the finish line was, without a doubt, the fact that all of our fans showed their love and appreciation for the characters and the story on social media. The reason I wrote those short stories on Twitter is also because I wanted the fans to get even more out of the story, and to thank you for motivating me. I really cannot thank you enough!
The sun has set on the story of the Fierce Flame, but there’s no end to the path a hunter walks. I hope that you will continue to visit Kamura Village and Elgado Outpost until the curtains open on a brand new story!
Closing Comment from Shibata:
Thank you, Yamashita-san! Like you said, Rise and Sunbreak both had very enjoyable stories! One of the new challenges in Rise was to give every NPC a name (see Q3), and I remember, as someone who also worked on Rise, how much of a surprise this was for me. I had a lot of fun playing the game and trying to figure out the connection between each character’s name and function, and what the origins of each name could be. I’m sure many people have fallen in love with these colorful characters just as much as I have.
This concludes the series of interviews that we started doing more than two years ago, before Rise was released. We set out to write a series of articles revealing the thoughts of the many people involved in development, and even some behind-the-scenes looks at the production process, in order to get everyone to appreciate all of the aspects of game development, so we hope you enjoyed it! Even if you enjoyed only one article, or only one particular answer, it will have been worth it!
We hope you keep supporting Monster Hunter Rise, Sunbreak, and the Monster Hunter series in general in the future, as well!