The following is a translation of an interview that appears in Dengeki Playstation Magazine (Vol.596 8/12/2015) and on their website, with some of the development team behind the Hyperdimension Neptunia series.
Neptunia Team Profile
Executive Producer: Norihisa Kochiwa
Producer: Naoko Mizuno
Director: Shingo Onodera
Character Designer: Tsunako
Character Designer: Minamitsu
Congratulations on Neptunia’s 5th anniversary! Is there anything you think you’d like to look back on?
Naoko: I’ve just now realized that so much time has passed. We’ve released 10 games in 5 years which is 2 games a year, that’s quite the pace (laughs). Thank you to everyone for sticking with us!
Norihisa: On a technical level I like to think that Compile Heart has grown up along with the Neptunia series. Not just from an art or game system standpoint but it’s had quite a big effect on other Compile Heart games as well. Just looking at screenshots of the original Hypderdimension Neptunia gets me all nostalgic and I can really see how we’ve progressed since then, I get pretty emotional. I think that’s one way you could put it.
Tell us about how the Neptunia series got started.
Tsunako: The project officially became “Neptunia” towards the end of 2009, right after Trinity Universe finished development.
Norihisa: Before that, up until fall of 2009 we conceptualized a new RPG using Tsunako’s character designs but were running into complications. We were thinking that if the collaboration with another company we were diong went well then we could continue in that direction but in the end it didn’t so Neptunia was born out of that. Had that collaboration been realized then Neptunia would have never been born.
Naoko: Then with that going on we started to solidify the concept for Neptunia towards the end of 2009 and had Tsunako modify existing character designs to better fit it.
Tsunako: Basically deciding on each character’s color scheme then changing them to better fit within the world’s setting and story.
Shingo: For example, Noire used to be colored red and Blanc was blue but we changed them to their respective black and white as they are now. I’m sure hardcore fans already know this but the game was originally supposed to be about 3 princess sisters and a main character. I came in right around when that project was halted and turned into Neptunia.
Tsunako: Had it not been for that collaboration that’s probably what we would’ve ended up with. In fact the dragon-looking processor unit was a leftover from that game’s original setting.
Minamitsu: I had no idea all that went on, I didn’t join them team until Victory so all this is new to me.
Minamitsu, what kind of titles did you work on before Neptunia?
Minamitsu: Around the same time as Victory I was working on a side-project otome game but really Victory was my first. I got a real baptism in game development at that time (laughs).
Tsunako: Minamitsu has been such a huge help since she joined the team!
Do you have any memories from when you were developing the original Hyperdimension Neptunia?
Norihisa: While working on the game I had this constant unease I just couldn’t seem to shake but once seeing Purple Heart’s design I said to myself, “This is it! This is how it should be!” and became really confident. I think the reason why the series has has lasted so long and is loved so much is due to the characters.
Shingo: I remember when we finished the scenario I thought the 3 goddesses were lacking something in their personalities that would make each of them stand out so we made Noire a cosplayer, Blanc an avid reader, and Vert a hardcore online gamer.
Nowadays everybody knows Noire as the lonely character with no friends but in the original it really was Blanc, wasn’t it. I didn’t think something as simple as Noire saying to herself that she didn’t have any friends to form a band with would forever paint her as the “friendless character.” (laughs)
You’ve released 10 Neptunia titles, which one do you think was the turning point for the series?
Tsunako: Personally I think it was Victory. I think that was when we took the parts of mk2 that were a bit weak and were able to improve them to the point where it became the base to expand the series. Victory was also where I feel we took the sisters from mk2 and really solidified their relationships with their sisters in the series. Well, I guess I can also see the anime as being being a turning point for the series as a whole as well.
Naoko: The anime really had a big effect on the series. We didn’t realize while it was still in production but when we finally saw it being broadcast on air we all got really excited.
Tsunako: Seeing my works animated like that was a really strange feeling but the animators did a great job so as a designer I feel like I was able to learn from them as well.
How about you, Shingo?
Shingo: I would say the first turning point is mk2. We replaced many components of the game, even the engine, plus we redid the battle system and dungeons from scratch. I think that was a real turning point for the gameplay sections.
The second would have to be the anime and Re;Birth series. Being able to observe and learn how people from a different industry handled things like direction, script-writing, building tension, plus visualizing characters and their personalities helped me to see what was lacking in the original Neptunia. That experience is how the Re;Birth series came about.
Norihisa: I think mk2 really left a big impression on me too. Not only due to all the gameplay elements we changed but also it was after that we started to do collaborations with various creators and businesses. Collaborating with others on the Neptunia series was just the start, but we eventually were able to work with others for other titles as well. For that reason I think that was a big merit of mk2.
Minamitsu: I came in during Victory so it’s pretty awe-inspiring to talk about the series’ turning point. Working on Victory presented me with a lot of new challenges so it was pretty chaotic. I was able to go all out from the get-go so working on the bug creatures, child characters and processor parts left a really big impression on me.
Naoko: As for me I think there were several turning points in the Neptunia series. While I’m still learning, working on the original Hyperdimension Neptunia taught me how to make charming characters. During mk2 I tried to do too much which was too hard on the staff. I think it was because of those experiences put together that are tied into where I am now. Also having the chance to collaborate with others on the Neptunia series was a very important experience for me.
Has working together for the past 5 years strengthened the team’s sense of unity?
Norihisa: I think so. Particularly when we start working on a new title, all of the principal staff gather almost every morning for meetings.
Each Neptunia title is packed full of various references, is that a collaborative effort done by the entire staff?
Norihisa: When we start working on new title we put out an idea box so that everyone can submit their ideas or game references.
Shingo: By the way, the original theme for mk2 was “the birth of goddesses’ sisters” and for Victory it was “a return to origin.” With Victory-II such concepts as “Golden Third,” Steamax,” and “Affimojas” were all from ideas and references submitted by staff.
Norihisa: Some interesting references submitted to the idea box even came from people of various positions you wouldn’t even expect and then somehow found their way into the development (laughs). The dogoo was one such reference.
Shingo: That was one I quietly discussed with the 3D modelling staff and had them make for me. Then afterwards Baku Mikage, artist for the official “Hello New World” manga, drew something similar in the manga, I think he did it out of sympathy (laughs).
How long has the idea box been around?
Norihisa: Since mk2. It doesn’t matter what position you hold, anyone can submit an idea or desire for a new title. It doesn’t matter if it’s something we can do or not, we take a wide variety of ideas even for concrete game elements.
Shingo: Of course we can’t grant everyone’s wish but we do select ideas from what is submitted.
So there must also be rejected ideas.
Tsunako: Thinking of something more recently I would say our original idea of “Little Miss Fortune” (as in ‘misfortune’) as the last boss for Victory-II.
Shingo: Yeah yeah! We had finished the rough design and she was a really cute character contrary to what her name implied. We had settled on her being a character that wanted to make lots of friends but always kept her distance out of fear due to her predisposition to misfortune. But the business side improved as development advanced so we had to say goodbye to our Little Miss Fortune (laughs).
But it’s not just references from games, anime and manga but also current day events as well.
Norihisa: Basically Shingo likes to pack in a lot of references so we all have to stop it from escalating too much.
Shingo: As for those references, I’m making decisions about putting them in even at the very last possible second.
The maker characters are a big feature of the Neptunia series but is that something initiated by Compile Heart?
Norihisa: Yes, myself and Naoko came together to ask the companies. In the beginning we asked companies with which we already had strong relations and thankfully now we’ve been able to collaborate with many others.
Shingo: Personally I think the maker character we negotiated the hardest on was Victory’s Tekken-chan. Not even her character traits, I’m happy we were able to try something new by making a character based on a specific game rather than a company. Million Arthur-chan and God Eater-chan appearing in Victory-II was possible thanks to the precedent set by Tekken-chan.
Things have just begun for our Nep-Nep!
Next I wanted to inquire about the titles currently in development but first, how are the DLC characters for Victory-II coming along?
Naoko: We’re working diligently on them. Million Arthur-chan should be out sometime in Summer, and I aim to have God Eater-chan and Nitroplus-chan ready in the Fall.
Norihisa: While they are DLC characters we strive to make them of the same quality one would expect of a mainline character so I hope you like them.
Shingo: Making these characters as if they popped out of the game they’re based off of is a key factor so of course we obsess over not just their appearance but their weapon and skills too.
Uzume, Plutia and Peashy are set to appear in Extreme Dimension Tag Blanc, are there any highlights to these characters in the game?
Norihisa: Uzume will use her megaphone and martial arts as she did in Victory-II. The sound waves from the megaphone will have a wide area of effect, and I think comparatively she’ll be an easy to use up-close fighter. Plutia will her plushie around as she did in Victory with it changing depending on the skill she uses. When she transforms into Iris Heart she’ll be able to use her snake-like sword’s reach to attack from further back.
Both Neptune and Noire use swords but it seems like each will have their own playstyle.
Norihisa: I want you to pay special attention to that, no matter which character you choose you’ll be able to enjoy a variety of different playstyles. And as for Peashy, she steps small but hits big. When using Yellow Heart, you’ll really have a lot of fun and see quite an exciting battle unfold.
You recently announced Tamsoft-chan as a new character but what will she be like?
Norihisa: She joins in when she hears that Blanc and Neptune are making a zombie movie. We designed her to reflect Tamsoft’s corporate culture and the fact they’re located in Asakusa, Tokyo so her design will express a love of festivals. In battle she carries a large sword on her back and two smaller swords so her attacks will be more technical in nature.
And our very own Dengekiko will be in as well!
Norihisa: She’ll be working for the newspaper in Extreme Blanc and of course sparks will be flying between her and Famitsu-chan (laughs). This time around it’s a school setting so everyone will be younger and more passionate so the rivalry between the two will be even stronger than it was in Neptunia U.
Moving on to Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls, I feel like characters from both camps will be playing a strong role.
Norihisa: There will be five characters in all, the 4 Sega Hard Girls (Saturn, Dreamcast, Megadrive, and Game Gear) plus Neptune. This time we not only have to please Neptunia fans but also Sega and Sega console fans as well so there’s quite a bit of pressure.
In the story it was revealed that Neptune is turned into a motorcycle…how did this happen?
Norihisa: It happens in the opening chapter of Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls. To explain it roughly, IF-chan travels to the past when Saturn and Neptune are at war with each other when history changes suddenly. Saturn and Neptune are just barely able to save IF and Segami but when they return to the present, IF finds that her motorcycle has been somehow possessed by Neptune. So IF sets out to find what caused history to change and how to return Neptune back to her original self.
Tell us about the dungeon exploration, it looks like you’ve added more exploration elements allowing for more options.
Norihisa: When we teamed up with Felistella previously we both had the idea of being able to do more in the dungeons besides walk and jump around so we’ve added features like ropes, crawling and climbing walls.
How’s development on Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls coming along?
Norihisa: The scenario is mostly been solidified and we’re steadily progressing towards completion. We plan to release it after Extreme Blanc but don’t want to keep you waiting for too long!
What wishes for the series do you have that you would like to see come to fruition?
Naoko: I want to make a game with pixel graphics and a retro style soundtrack just like you see during the ending!
Minamitsu: A lot of people on the team want to do a Neptunia game with pixel graphics. Personally I’d like to see some more variety in Nep and the gang’s outfits.
Tsunako: I want to make 4 Goddesses Online. Otherwise, I’ve always wished to make a strategy game like Nobunaga’s Ambition or Civilization since I started working here and have been petitioning Idea Factory vigorously. I really want to bring back fantasy style strategy games.
Shingo: I want a 2nd season for the Neptunia anime! I’d really like to see Victory-II’s Uzume, Umio and other new characters being animated.
Norihisa: I’d like to make use of Sony’s Morpheus VR headset and try making something involving Neptune. I’m sure there’s a lot you could try with it.
Finally, any words for the fans?
Tsunako: I started on Hyperdimension Neptunia during my second year at Compile Heart and have continued working in earnest with Neptune since. Thank you to everyone for your support and next I aim to be here for the 10th anniversary.
Manamitsu: As long as the Neptunia series continues I’ll continue to work with all my ability. Thank you everyone.
Shingo: Extreme Blanc will be the first multiplayer game in the series and Neptunia vs Sega Hard Girls represents a crossover between fictional and real consoles. Both are taking a new approach to the series so we hope you are looking forward to them. Neptune will never die.
Naoko: It’s thanks to all of those who have supported us that we are here to celebrate the 5th anniversary. We hope you enjoy the two titles we recently announced plus future ones as well!
Norihisa: With each new title new connections are born, we grow and learn new things and our fans love for the characters continues to grow. Looking back I think it’s been a good 5 years. And in the future any time there’s drama in the game industry, Neptune will be there to save it.