Just a few weeks ago, Kadokawa Games finally unveiled Relayer, a mecha strategy simulation JRPG by the team that created God Wars.
The Tokyo-based developer has kept the project under wraps for a long time, so much so that its very nature was quite mysterious. A common misconception identified it as the console version of the mobile game Starly Girls, but it turned out to be its own new IP.
In January 2020, way before it received its official title and was still code-named “Project Stella,” I was allowed to see some early character design concepts and I immediately fell in love.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, I had a chat with Kadokawa Games president Yoshimi Yasuda, who is also directly at the helm of this project, exactly like he was for God Wars.
Giuseppe: When the game was originally announced a long time ago, it was billed as the console version of the mobile game Starly Girls. Yet, now that it has been re-revealed as Relayer, it seems to have mostly or entirely evolved into its own IP. Can you talk about that evolution?
Yoshimi Yasuda: I’d actually like to clarify that the development of the console version of the original mobile game is still an active project on its own. However, Relayer is actually a different project so this release is not related to Starly Girls. Relayer is the official name of the title which has been developed as “Project Stella”.
Giuseppe: The title “Relayer” feels quite mysterious. It’s the name of the alien enemies, but is there more to it?
Yoshimi Yasuda: The story of the game revolves around the mystery of Relayer (the title) revealing what exactly it is. Players will understand why we named the game “Relayer” by the end of the story.
Giuseppe: Three years have passed since the original announcement. Now that I’ve finally seen more of Relayer, I am not surprised anymore that it took this long. It’s also going to be released simultaneously worldwide and with English voice-overs. Is it appropriate to say that Relayer is the most ambitious game Kadokawa Games has ever created?
Yoshimi Yasuda: Relayer will be the first high-end game produced by Kadokawa Games as a development studio with its in-house staff.
We had only developed mid-tier games before, but now we have more than 30 in-house development staff enabling us to expand our development studio which was one of the most fruitful achievements made with Relayer.
I believe we have taken a step forward and made progress as a development studio with this title.
Giuseppe: With over 80 stages, it seems that there will be a lot of story content to explore, and there seems to be a variety of themes, including politics, intrigue, and the difference between humans and AI. Could you talk about what kind of storytelling we can expect?
Yoshimi Yasuda: I created stories which are unique to each and all of the characters.
By portraying the problems, conflicts, and pain that each character is facing, I was able to create a story that is not limited to relationships between humans, but also one in which allies and enemies communicate with each other and break the rules to protect those they love, or are betrayed. The crew of the supergravity starship Asterism gathers within this scenario.
Giuseppe: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game revealed with a cast of 39 characters from the get-go. It certainly feels like those beloved space operas of old like Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Was it challenging to write so many different characters and to find an artist able to draw them all?
Yoshimi Yasuda: The character designer’s name will remain anonymous by their own request, but they are a young designer who perfectly fulfilled my difficult requests from start to finish.
In this title in particular, I wanted to create character designs which would be liked by many gamers from the west, so I had them repainted so many times with advice from western designers and market research companies.
The designer was very determined in creating these character designs with a quality that would be well-received worldwide.
Giuseppe: Speaking of the game’s world, unless I’m mistaken, we’ve seen only three male Star Child and all satellites revealed so far are female. Is there a reason why affinity with the will of the stars appears to be more common among women?
Yoshimi Yasuda: There is no bias toward male or female, but there are actually four male Star Child at the beginning of the story. Pluto [the AI Star Child] is actually male. On top of that, during the story more characters may awaken as Star Child.
Taking in consideration the numbers in battle, all male Star Child have unique and useful skills, so I’d expect almost all of them to be fielded.
If you select them all as members, even in a battle with ten units, half of them could be male. In this way, I believe we achieved a good balance.
Giuseppe: Having worked on God Wars, are there any learnings from that game that you’re applying to Relayer?
Yoshimi Yasuda: With God Wars, we conducted two questionnaires among the users. The most common answers were “improve the graphics,” “depict a deep story behind the characters,” and “implement a more user-friendly UI.”
With Relayer, we have been working on these elements to fulfill our users’ requests, and we hope that they will be pleased with the improvements.
Giuseppe: Customization was a staple of God Wars. Considering that now we have both pilots and robots to customize, can we expect a similar level of customization or even more in Relayer?
Yoshimi Yasuda: Various parameters can be set on the characters’ side, and I’d like players to further develop them by collecting active and passive skills. Also, being a mecha game, you’ll be able to select weapons, armor, and custom chips with additional personalization elements associated with them. In that regard, I believe players will enjoy playing it more than God Wars.
Giuseppe: Relayer is a simulation RPG, and that’s a rare genre nowadays, especially in the west. It also features Japanese-style robots, which aren’t very common outside of Gundam games (and it’s not like we have that many Gundam games anyway). Do you see this “rarity” as an asset or a challenge?
Yoshimi Yasuda: Considering the response to God Wars and its sales in the west, we believe that simulation JRPGs are not an unpopular genre.
On the contrary, we believe that it’s a niche market with potential to generate million-sellers like Fire Emblem and Valkyria Chronicles.
In addition to that, unlike other anime games, Relayer includes high-end CG battles scenes, so I think that players will feel like playing a fresh mecha game.
Due to that, I see it as a positive factor.
Giuseppe: The game will launch on PS5 on top of PS4. Can you talk about your experience working on Sony’s new console? Are you perhaps considering additional platforms down the line?
Yoshimi Yasuda: We are currently working hard on the development of both the PS5 and PS4 versions, so we are not considering other platforms at this time. The development experience on PS5 is really exciting and a lot of fun!
Giuseppe: What are your ambitions with Relayer? Can we expect more from this IP if the game is successful? Perhaps forays in different media like anime?
Yoshimi Yasuda: Our ambition with Relayer is to expand the scope of our development capabilities as a studio by creating great games even among high-end ones
I’m currently focusing on game development, so I’m not thinking about the future right now.
Apologies for the potentially uninteresting answer, but first things first. For now, I would like all of you to simply enjoy the game.
Relayer will be released simultaneously worldwide for PS4 and PS5 in 2021. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out the original reveal, additional details, the first trailer (with English subtitles), the second promotional video, the first reveal of the rich cast of characters that will populate the game, and the second.