According to Shinichi Tatsuke, producer on Square Enix's mobile role-playing game Guardian Cross, his new zombie-themed spin-off Deadman's Cross is the first step in the company's endeavors to broaden its mobile audience on a global scale.
Tatsuke told Polygon the company's goal is to "provide an unmatched level of graphical quality and an engaging depth of story that only Square Enix can" on mobile, with Tatsuke's latest title designed specifically with Western audiences in mind.
"We believe that Deadman's Cross is merely the first step in the right direction," he said.
Deadman's Cross sets players in the zombie apocalypse in the United States circle 2030. Gameplay alters between 3D first-person shooter segments and card-based battles utilizing in-game cards to deal damage. The game also includes RPG elements, with players taking on jobs from NPCs throughout the zombie-riddled world.
Tatsuke said production on the mobile title began in earnest in early 2013, hot on the heels of global success brought by Guardian Cross. After working on Guardian Cross, Tatsuke realized the game's mechanics could be easily adapted into another aesthetic, and with the West in mind settled on framing it in the zombie apocalypse.
"Zombies are traditionally far more iconic in Western pop culture."
"Since we were able to create such an original [card] system with Guardian Cross, we wanted to try to evolve it further with the help of a completely different game environment," he said. "At the time, I had been playing Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare and it occurred to me that a zombie theme may just be the perfect match.
"In a zombie-plagued world, the hunt system [in which players hunt down opponents and take their powers] would fit flawlessly," he added. "Combined with the notion that zombies are traditionally far more iconic in Western pop culture, I felt that it would be a good challenge to the status quo of the usual Square Enix themes."
When gamers think of Square Enix, typically RPGs like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts and Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu in Japan) come to mind. These more fantasy-based games tend to be more popular among a Japanese audience for short-term gaming; hence the development team for Deadman's Cross knew they had to swap genres for a Western-tailored game. In the six months developers spent building the game world, Tatsuke gorged on Western zombie media to find an aesthetic that would work.
"We always had the West in mind since the very beginning."
"On this project, we always had the West in mind since the very beginning," Tatsuke explained. "To this end, the world we created for Deadman's Cross is more or less the polar opposite of the fantasy-themed world used in Guardian Cross or other Square Enix titles.
"During this time, I played just about every zombie game, and watched every zombie-based drama from the West I could find, in order to get a real feel for zombie entertainment," he added. "After that, I worked painstakingly close with our scenario writer, who is Japanese, as well as our translator, who is American, in order to mold the scenario to a point where it can be equally enjoyed in both markets."
The mobile sector itself, Tatsuke pointed out, is also very different in Japan and the West. Mobile is booming on both sides of the world, but in Japan people spend more time commuting to work or school, providing opportunities for quick gameplay sessions. The Western mobile audience is viewed very differently by Japanese developers, who see gamers focusing more on home gaming experiences than traveling with handhelds. Tatsuke's team has chosen to focus this "high-end experience" on mobile, since the format is still popular everywhere "with quite little exception." This is not the case with home consoles, he said, which is why the team is playing it safe and sticking to a format more universally accepted.
"In Japan, players are primarily engaged in mobile gaming while riding the train to and from school or work," Tatsuke explained. "Because of this, games like Puzzle and Dragons that are very skilled at helping people kill time are exceptionally popular here. Compared to this, we tend to imagine mobile gamers in the West usually playing in a Wi-Fi environment, sitting down and really getting into the game. To this right, we feel that they expect more of a high-end experience even when playing mobile titles."
"Certain games are better suited for a global audience."
Some of Square Enix's ever-growing mobile lineup never make it West. Just this past year, the company has announced several Japan-only mobile releases, including Guns n' Souls led by Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies scenario writer Yukinori Kitajima and Rise of Mana, a free-to-play successor to the popular Secret of Mana franchise. Meanwhile, Victorian-era vampire-hunting action RPG Bloodmasque was released in the U.S. last summer. While Tatsuke said he can only speak for his own games, he did suggest that all games within the company are considered on a case-by-case basis.
"I can't really speak for other teams, but do think every project is unique and certain games are better suited for a global audience," he said. "With mobile and digital games, the barrier for players is really language as opposed to region. I think if there is a potential market for a game in a specific language, then we would look at localizing the game for those players."
Tatsuke believes the RPGs will continue to be a widely-used mobile format, and will only grow in popularity as the mobile sector evolves. As developers come up with new mechanics and gameplay tricks to make shorter gameplay sessions more appealing over a long-term engagement, we may see more of them coming West.
"There have been a lot of clever changes to RPGs to tailor them to the mobile space," he said. "Features such as auto-save, for example, allow the gamer to play whenever they want, without having to worry about the classic conundrum of getting to a save point before they have to do something in real life. I believe these kinds of quality of life changes are what contribute to the mobile RPGs' continued popularity."