Interview with Atlus' art director Soejima Shigenori (who worked on the Persona games) from Dengeki's complete guide for the game Stella Deus published on december 25th 2004. I couldn't find an english publication of this book, so I assume this interview hasn't been available for english speaking fans.
Stella Deus sports a wide cast of attractive characters. We got their creator and art director Mr. Soejima Shigenori to talk to us about the game's charm and tell us stories from behind the scenes!
―― To begin, Soejima-san, how did you get involved with the development of Stella Deus?
Soejima: Since I'm part of development division 1, development division 2's director Yamamoto-san - who I worked with on ports of Megami Tensei games (and more) in the past - approached me with the wish to introduce him with an artist for a tactical RPG he wanted to work on. However I ended up wanting to do that work myself, so in the end it all started with me asking him for the position.
―― As art director who supervises all the works' visuals, were there any problems or new discoveries for you?
Soejima: While this was my first time holding the role as general art director, creating a perspective of the world involved little trouble because I had experience working as background artist for Megami Tensei games and others. However up until now I only had to manage parts of the whole visual spectrum, and now that I had a role similar to Kaneko Kazuma who worked on Megami Tensei that also involved art direction and character design, I found a double standard with myself that put me in conflict. For background design I had a certain vision, and another for character design, yet had to find a common ground for it all to come together.
The Contrast of Blue and White
―― Well then, was there anything you paid attention to when working on the world design?
Soejima: When beginning I was told the game would feel like the world was ending. If you express that in a straight way the result turns out gloomy and depressive. Because the game tells an epic of a protagonist saving the world I didn't think that was the right way. In spite of the negative theme I went for a "blue sky" and "white wall" - a pure image. From the beginning I thought of positive feelings. The game incorporates a dry image with its barren world, so you can think of it as a white wall you can paint on, and despite of the world ending you can look up to the blue sky and march forward.
If you think of the term "fantasy" it invokes memories of a sepia tone. Maybe I wanted to distance myself from that.
―― I see, so you had a clear impact on the world view.
Soejima: It's probably because the design came first and helped to construct the world.
Like a landmark, the goddess statue used in illustrations of this book, the game cover and so on, was drawn as a reference before the setting was worked out.
I drew the illustrations in the early phase, then showed them to Mizuno-san, Sakimoto-san and Iwata-san who worked on the music compositions, as well as others who then expended the image for me.
The Birth of the Characters
―― How did you decide on the designs for the main characters?
Soejima: Spero's design concept was mostly decided when I worked on the world. Because he is a pure boy I went with the white base tone.
As for Linea, thinking of fantasy heroines invokes ideas of soft and casual attires, so I purposefuly put her in a tight fitting costume. That gives a rebellious feel, doesn't it? However that way no matter what it made her sexy, and a heroine shouldn't be sexy so I drew a skirt on top of her costume. Other characters are based on her design to make for a uniform world setting. Adara's arm was originally intended to be joke - "That's a rockt punch!" I thought, but in reality that's not how it turned out (laughs). I asked Mizuno-san about his thoughts on alchemists, so she was based on the concept of crude mechanics over organic parts.
The designs for Adara, Grey and others were quickly completed because I based them on the groundwork laid with Linea.
―― By the way Viser's right eye color differs from that of his left eye, is there a specific purpose behind that decision?
Soejima: Viser's right eye is glowing golden not because of what they call "odd eye" (heterochromia), but because it's an artificial eye.
It's like Adara's arm is a product of alchemy. The setting is that alchemists have parts of their body replaced with machines.
They say in his sprite art Viser puts on a mask, but actually it's a pair of goggles hanging around his neck you can see around the breast of his illustrations. That's where his laser beams come from (laughs).
Think that the alchemists in Stella Deus hold various body complexes and that they're using alchemy to compensate.
―― Ooooh! You're revealing a secret of the setting here!
Soejima: There's more.
On the left side of Prier's face there's a black line sticking out beneath the eye that's hidden behind hair. That's a tattoo of scripture from the Aeque church. Her eye is like a secret monster (laughs).
The leader of the church Lumen and other believers have these scripture tattoos too. It's a sign that their faith drives them to self harm.
―― Woah, we're discovering new truths one after another.
Soejima: To to tell truth in the early concept Linea had a brother. His design was that of a ninja with his whole body clad in helmet and armor, but he ended up dying. He even had the important role of a dark hero opposing Spero.
―― The staff circle for this project was very wonderful, wasn't it?
Soejima: When I first heard who I'd be working with I felt honored too.
Especially working with Mizuno-san - although this is revealing my age now - who I've been a fan of since middle school. Record of Lodoss War introduced me to fantasy when I was a young artist. It had a big impact on my image of fantasy. Table Top RPGs were really popular at the time, weren't they.
―― Kamikaze Douga who were in charge of the movie sequences did a god job on expressing the touch of your visuals, did they not?
Soejima: My painting style is not exactly stiff, so I wanted something casual with a sense of security. In the movies a shading process is applied that draws out the softness of my art. That's a result we came to working with Kamikaze Douga.
At the early planning stage I saw Matsumoto Oohiro-san's Number Five and thought they could do a good job, so I came to them with an offer to work on the project.
To explain the world to them I showed them rough sketches at the time. One of those was of a character wearing full-body armor who looked a bit like a mecha. The people at Kamikaze Douga really liked that one, and even agreed to taking the job. To think the part that got them on boat ended up getting scrapped, I feel like we deceived them (laughs).
―― And then it's fun too seeing all the diverse motions of the sprites in battle scenes.
Soejima: I really worked out the details of the sprite art and animations with developer Pinegrow.
A back and forth of "That's ok!" and "No good~" was a daily theme. Because I wanted them to expand on the world I didn't give them any explicit instructions that would narrow down the character images they had in mind, but if they strayed too far from a character's personality I would tell them it was no good. In the end they amplified the character images and I'm grateful for their good work.
―― Speaking of the amplification of character images, the cast of voice actors was also really wonderful.
Soejima: The voices for the main cast Spero and Linea, Adara and Grey and so on fit my image perfectly.
With Tia I wasn't sure about whoe well a Nekomimi character would fit into the world, so there was some trial and error. When Momoi Haruko-san put her voice onto the character I thought "We finally got it right!".
Who expanded a character in a direction I did not expect was Jade's actor Wakamoto Norio-san. The character was originally less peculiar, but the unique acting of his voice gave a real edge to his shadyness.
―― Now what did you think of the work Sakimoto-san and Iwata-san did on the BGM?
Soejima: In the case of Stella Deus we had seveal songs finished in the early stage of development. So I worked by listening to these and putting them into images.
By the time development was finished and I was drawing the illustration for Dengeki-san the title theme by Argarei was done too, I listened to that while drawing the illustration.
Music is really important. When the soundtrack is not ready at all I often listen to something else and let that help me expand the imagery. For me these would become the theme songs and in my head. I had a hard time distancing myself from them (bitter smile).
Not limited to my music, I'd use the sprites and tracks created by other staff, after showing them my initial drawings, to expand further on my work. It felt much like playing catchball.
―― You could say the Staff and Voice cast fought battles in an ideal form.
Soejima: I think that's because the conscience to work on something new that didn not exist, a rebellious spirit, was present in all of us.
―― This is a bit off topic, but are there any particular artists and artworks that influenced your art style?
Soejima: Who or what had the most influence on me... yeah, that would be Kaneko-san.
Although I did not spend much time copying his art, I guess I was influenced in a sense. After all he raised me as an artist. Maybe brainwashed me (laughs).
On a more fundamental level Fujiko Fujio had a lot of influence on my art. I guess you could say those taught me my policy that art should have a sense of security and an idyllic feel to it.
The Expanding World
―― Did working in the game industry lead you to any new discoveries?
Soejima: The recent flow of the industry is showing to be moving away from video games and extending into other fields. The portion of users only interested in games is getting smaller, they are also expanding their interests into other spheres. Dealing with that the industry is reaching into many directions together with them. Before I would think of "designing for games", whereas now I try not to think too much of the game part when designing. If you are too aware of the game aspect you can't expand from it.
This also counts for Stella Deus - it now feels like you can work together with all sorts of people who aren't specialized in video game development.
―― It's not really every day you can work with such a wonderful staff lineup, isn't it.
Soejima: Now this project was of course planned and developed to be a tactical RPG, but director Yamamoto and I discussed that it should work as an action game, an anime or a novel as well. The plan was to build a brand we can nurture for a long time. I think the drama CD currently for sale should be the first step towards that expansion.
If the goal was to build just one game, we probably could have done that with staff from our company only. The trigger to look for staff elsewhere starting with Mizuno-san was the desire to create a product that would continue to receive love for a long time.
―― Now to conclude this interview please give a message to the fans reading this book.
Soejima: First I'm glad if you enjoy playing Stella Deus.
Now then I'm also interested in your responses and checking the web, seeing all your fanarts. I get excited thinking you can enjoy the world of Stella Deus beyond just the game.