Square Enix’s Left Alive is quickly approaching is release after over a year in and out of the spotlight.
Yet, there are still many aspects of the game we don’t know much about, so Twinfinite sat down with director Toshifumi Nabeshima to learn more about how he’s bringing the Front Mission series back to life on PS4 and PC.
As a bonus, we also hear from composer Hidenori Iwasaki, who worked on Front Mission 4 and 5.
Twinfinite: Particularly because of the art style, and more importantly, the shift to third-person action with stealth elements, did the game draw any inspiration from Metal Gear Solid at all, or from other popular stealth franchises?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: Prominent stealth games, including METAL GEAR, have served as a reference, but the biggest misunderstanding we would like to avoid in introducing this game is that LEFT ALIVE is “neither a shooter nor a stealth game.” There are various methods for beating the game; shooting and stealth are simply possible methods.
In other words, the most effective method may differ by situation or even in the same situation based on techniques devised by the player. Looking at the methods our test players used to complete the game, there were countless times in which they tackled a given situation with a method or route that differed from our expectation.
I believe the real charm of LEFT ALIVE lies in finding your own method for beating the game through such trial and error.
Twinfinite: Speaking of stealth, excluding the stages in which we pilot a Wanzer, is it possible to play the whole game without being discovered?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: It is possible to get by many situations with stealth alone, depending on the player’s technique and creativity, but as mentioned above, the game is designed so that stealth is simply “one aspect of the game.”
There are several instances in the game where combat is unavoidable, and figuring out ways to secure and maintain materials (such as items) that will become important offensive means leading up to that moment is a main aspect of the game.
As such, it would behoove players to understand that stealth-like actions (avoiding combat with enemies) is one way of achieving this.
Twinfinite: What prompted the decision to move from the tactical RPG roots of Front Mission to this style of gameplay?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: As you may know, FRONT MISSION is originally a classical turn-based hex-style strategy game; if we were to rebuild the game based on that style, we could have taken, for example, an RTS-like approach.
That said, many new members, including myself, were taking part in this project so our goal was to take on the challenge of rebuilding the brand without fixating on that style.
I contemplated over this as well, but given most of the titles I have taken part in developing have been action games, I wanted to take on this challenge within the realms of my expertise.
Twinfinite: Do you feel any concern that veteran fans of Front Mission might feel a little alienated from this change in gameplay style?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: This overlaps with my answer to the previous question, but it may have been a sound decision to move in the direction of a simulation-based experience if we were only approaching existing fans.
That said, one of the goals for this title is to rebuild the brand, so we positioned this game as one that would inherit the world view of FRONT MISSION while aiming to establish a new direction.
This is also the reason we adopted a new title for this particular game.
Twinfinite: Could you provide any insight into how the Wanzer will work in Left Alive? How much freedom will players have in piloting them around the city?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: Novo Slava, the city in which the game takes place, is fully occupied by enemy forces and the game starts with the main character alone and unaided. Wanzers appear in this game as “a formidable enemy” and “a huge threat from which death is inescapable if discovered.”
That said, it is possible to seize a Wanzer depending on the circumstance, and if successful, players will become well-matched or perhaps obtain a slight upper hand against the formerly insurmountable enemy.
Furthermore, since you will be seizing an enemy Wanzer, the frame cannot be customized freely, but you can secure and use weapons by defeating other enemy Wanzers.
Twinfinite: How much of an emphasis is put on survival elements? The story pits the three main characters as having to scavenge to survive the sudden invasion, but how is this idea represented in gameplay?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: At the start of the game, the main character has limited weapons, including a handgun and several bullets, in his possession.
As you progress the game, you are able to obtain stronger weapons such as rifles and machine guns, but the amount of obtainable ammo for these weapons will be scarce.
In other words, guns serve as an effective offensive strategy, but this doesn’t mean you will be able to use it recklessly at all times. With this in mind, there are several actions players should consider taking.
“Consider which path to proceed”
The destination is clearly specified, but a given amount of freedom is available in deciding on the route to that destination, such as proceeding above ground or underground.
Players are able to distinguish areas with a higher density of enemies to a certain extent through the map. It will be important to determine the route by finding areas that appear to be less populated by enemies.
At times, the best course of action may be to retrace your steps, or difficulty may change with the decision to take one pathway over.
“Collect and create items through exploration”
Besides guns, utilizing items becomes a very important offensive strategy. The term “items” can refer to those that are ready for immediate use, like grenades, but most of the items you obtain are just useless junk upon first glance. However, putting such items together lets you create items that you’ll actually find useful.
Depending on how you put these items together allows you to create different items, and depending on how the players choose to move forward, different items can prove useful.
If you’re fighting mainly with firearms, you ought to create items to support that strategy, and if a situation calls for stealth, then items to evade the attention of enemies would be useful.
Alternatively, you can create various items that allow you to defeat enemies while minimizing risk of attack to yourself. However, getting overambitious and trying to explore everything will increase your risk of discovery, so it is important that you act while keeping that balance in mind.
“Ascertain which enemies you should defeat”
Whether it be bullets or items, methods that are effective for defeating enemies generally have limits. It wouldn’t be realistic to defeat every single enemy as you go, and there’s no need for that either.
Instead, you need to take a look at the situation you’re placed in, and decide whether to flee or to fight, or what methods you should otherwise use to defeat them.
Taking action without adequate thought or observation will most likely leave you in a pickle.
Twinfinite: Survival in enemy territory is definitely a very serious and potentially dark theme. How far did you go in describing realistically the desperation and brutality of such an environment?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: I cannot mention specifics, since they can be considered spoilers, but I believe the background turned out to be quite interesting from a scenario perspective.
As you progress through the game, you will unlock supplemental information providing additional insight into the setting through the menu in the form of archives; by gathering these archives, players will be more informed about the background that was not specified within the game, so I hope everyone aims to complete the collection.
Twinfinite: We haven’t seen much of the Garmonian army besides small hints and rank and file troops with their faces covered by masks. Has any effort been made in presenting their point of view, reasons, and the human element on their side, or does the story focus entirely on the survivors and the Garmonians are simply seen as enemy invaders?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: I am unable to mention specifics regarding this point as well in an effort to avoid spoilers, but as you progress through the game, I believe it will become clear that the ongoing war within the story is not as simple as a mere confrontation between two nations.
Twinfinite: The Front Mission series has had soundtracks produced by some of Square Enix’s most prolific composers like Masayoshi Soken and Yoko Shimomura. Could you give us any insight about Left Alive’s soundtrack?
Hidenori Iwasaki: Since LEFT ALIVE is set “during the snowy season in a region around Russia,” I wanted to compose the soundtrack in a way to create sounds reminiscent of that region and the area surrounding the Black Sea.
Additionally, as the game is set in a battlefield, where one is always at the brink of life or death, there are many tracks that portray either a sense of tension or the fragile nature of life. The recording was done with a live orchestra at the distinguished Abbey Road Studios in England.
Twinfinite: Do you have any message you’d like to convey to Front Mission fans who have followed the franchise for a long time, and to Armored Core fans, who have appreciated your personal work?
Toshifumi Nabeshima: The direction taken is not only different from ARMORED CORE, but it also diverges from traditional FRONT MISSION games, so I took on the development of this title as a huge challenge myself.
The characteristics differ between each of these titles, and I am yet unsure as to how people will receive this title, but my hope is that it will become something fans will accept as part of the FRONT MISSION family. Your support is much appreciated!
Left Alive will release in Japan on Feb. 28, 2019, for PS4 and PC, and it’ll come west on March 5 for the same platforms.