Interview: Making Super Neptunia RPG with Artisan Studios’ Mario Rizzo

It’s rare to see a game collaboration between teams in Japan and the West, but it does occasionally happen! We got to pose some questions to Mario Rizzo, co-founder and CEO of Artisan Studios, the team developing one such project: Super Neptunia RPG. Read on to learn more about what it’s like for the globetrotting team to work with Compile Heart and Idea Factory and what to expect from the release.

Michibiku: What led to Artisan Studios working with Compile Heart and Idea Factory’s Neptunia property?

Mario Rizzo, Artisan Studios: This was mostly a happy coincidence for us. At the time we formed the company, Artisan made its first visit to GDC in 2016 and it was there that we met folks from Idea Factory. That chance meeting, and their knowledge of our previous work, led to several meetings in Tokyo which culminated in us signing a co-development partnership with Compile Heart to create a new Neptunia game.

Artisan is a French developer that moved to Canada to work with a Japanese company on a game that’s releasing pretty much everywhere. What sorts of cultural challenges have you faced along the way? Do you feel that a global perspective has influenced development?

MR: Well, I suppose the biggest challenge has been developing an RPG where the first release is in Japan, working in the Japanese language with our partners at Compile Heart. When you are developing a game with thousands of lines of dialogue and hundreds of written quests, I think doing all of that in Japanese first was a challenge for the studio as we all don’t speak Japanese.

As far as the company being French and moving to Canada, I do hope that we take some positive lessons from working with multi-cultural teams when we develop our games. I’d be curious to hear what the fans think and if they felt our game was very different from what has been done in previous titles in the series.

What has Artisan Studios been able to bring to Super Neptunia RPG that hasn’t been in any of the previous games?

MR: First and foremost, the main characters have been all hand drawn by Tsunako-san and hand-animated by the team to be placed in the game. One of the founding principles of Artisan is that we “breathe life into the artwork of great creators,” which is why we work in 2D as opposed to 3D. We want to maintain the integrity of their work in the games we create.

For Super Neptunia RPG, we created a lot of new, original content. As the game is set in 2D for the first time, we created a whole new world, new characters, enemies, dungeons and of course a brand-new storyline for the game. It has been a tremendous amount of content to create a new fantasy setting for the series, so I hope the fans are excited to see what we’ve been working on.

How was Compile Heart involved in the process of making the game? What was that collaborative experience like?

MR: Compile Heart are our collaborators and co-development partners for the game. They mostly were responsible for the creation of the scenario, so main storyline and cutscenes, and also drawing the main characters in 2D. The collaborative experience was very nice, as they gave us a lot of freedom in the creation of content and quests. They were careful to help us review every piece of content going into the game to certify it was true to the Neptunia brand, which for us was very reassuring, so we could ensure that we stay true to the fans’ expectations.

Truthfully, Compile Heart has done these types of collaborations before, so just sharing that experience with us on their process for developing a Neptunia title was extremely helpful and educational for our team.

Which Neptunia franchise elements have you made sure to bring into Super Neptunia RPG? Why were these important to keep?

MR: For us, the most important elements to maintain were the playful, humorous nature of the series and the fanservice that everyone expects in a Neptunia game. I know a lot of folks were concerned that a Western studio would not be able to do this properly, so we focused a lot of time and energy on this part of the story creation and dialogue. The over-the-top or more Japanese-specific elements of the series are the crucial items we strive to maintain with every piece of content we put into Super Neptunia RPG.

Super Neptunia RPG is set in a world where 2D games are heralded and doing anything “new” must be avoided. What 2D games and works have most influenced this game, and how?

MR: That’s a great question. The team would have a lot of different answers to this question, but for me personally I would say that Dragon Quest was the most influential game I played as a child. I received it after I got my NES (in an issue of Nintendo Power) and this is what really led to my personal love of Japanese RPGs. In more recent times, I would say Vanillaware games like Odin’s Sphere and Muramasa were big visual influences. While it’s not a 2D game, I am playing a lot of Octopath Traveler between Neptunia builds on the Switch, and I’m really enjoying it.

What was done to make sure new characters like Chrom, Mai, Kukei and Surara fit in with the existing console goddesses and cast members?

MR: So as I mentioned, the creation of the game scenario was primarily handled by Mizuno-san’s team at Compile Heart in Japan, and Artisan then needed to create the art and animate these things. They were the creators of these new characters when they developed the storyline for Super Neptunia RPG. Artisan primarily developed the quests, so we used the guidelines from the scenario to ensure they fit in the rest of the characters from the Neptunia universe. We also made sure that we had all of our content for these new characters, like dialogue and quests, validated in Japanese by the design team at Compile Heart before localizing the game into other languages.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. Thanks again to Mario for taking the time to answer our queries, and to you for reading!

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