Dungeon Encounters Interview – A Unique Adventure for JRPG Fans

Square Enix has not been shy about supporting their development team and producing games across various budgets. Dungeon Encounters is one such title crafted from the minds of director of Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XII, Hiroyuki Ito, and producer of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Hiroaki Kato.

The game is simplistic in design but features deep RPG systems that provide hours of dungeons crawling enjoyment. To share the concepts and ideas with more gamers, we were able to sit down with Hiroyuki Ito and Hiroaki Kato to talk about the game.

Dungeon Encounters is available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC-via Steam.

Spencer Legacy: You have both worked on some especially prolific games throughout your careers. What makes Dungeon Encounters stand out from your past work?

(Hiroyuki Ito, Director): The starting point for the project differed, so I believe it naturally stood out from other works without having to actively differentiate one from another.

(Hiroaki Kato, Producer): The FINAL FANTASY series has an element in which gameplay is moved forward in order to enjoy the story or the world and its lore. DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS doesn’t have a set story that’s followed; how a player proceeds in order to survive is entirely up to them, and the game is designed so that players can enjoy the game system itself. It takes an approach that’s different from the FINAL FANTASY series, and accordingly, it constructs a new world.

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SL: When did you first come up with the concept for Dungeon Encounters?

HI: There are several moments that come to mind, but one of those may be when I was staring at a three-dimensional map of Tokyo’s subway system.

Among various cities around the world, the Tokyo metro system has the fourth largest number of subway lines. It comprises of 13 lines with 286 stations. The system is intricately intertwined, but the route on each line has their own unique characteristics, and all lines can be conquered by making connections from one line to another.

At first glance, the structure of the dungeons found within DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS also appears complex, intricate, and irregular, but we envisioned this becoming a fun game by giving each floor their own characteristics, where players would proceed upon thinking the strategy to tackle each floor (essentially, figuring out how to make the appropriate connections speaking in terms of our analogy).

SL: Why did you choose the ATB system for combat in Dungeon Encounters?

HI: I thought it would provide a different kind of ATB gameplay experience by showing the ATB gauges and parameters of enemies.

HK: Adding onto Ito-san’s comment about providing a “different kind of ATB gameplay experience”, players will need to consider the attack method and order in which they will defeat enemies after checking the enemies’ ATB gauges, defense parameters, as well as composition first during battle encounters. In other words, “button mashing to force your way through a battle”—essentially what tends to happen in command-based RPGs to date—will not cut it in this game. There will always be a sense of tension that accompanies every battle as players figure out how best to engage in battle to ensure their party doesn’t get wiped out.

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SL: What are some of the challenges you faced while developing Dungeon Encounters?

HI: We constantly face challenges when developing a game. That being said, I personally manage data utilizing spreadsheets, so there were times where I couldn’t keep track of the latest version.

HK: Ito-san inputs his battle calculation formulas in Excel. He organizes the overall balance from game start to completion in his mind while looking at the table in Excel, and the data gets reflected in the ROM being developed. This gets balanced through fine adjustments made while actually playing through the game. The data volume found in DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS, from components such as characters to battles, equates to that of mainline FINAL FANTASY titles that Ito-san has worked on thus far, and he single-handedly controls all this data. Managing all this data alone is a herculean task, and I truly felt this ultimate craftmanship can only be accomplished by Ito-san as I watched him develop this game beside me.

SL: Dungeon Encounters has a unique minimalist style. What was the reasoning behind this design choice?

HI: I decided to incorporate elements that were necessary, at a minimum, in order to create an RPG skeleton (a structural framework). If we were to use this as a basis to develop another game, I believe we could focus on changing the game world/lore or changing the graphics. As long as the skeleton is solid, flushing that out is all that needs to be done, so by no means are we cutting any corners.

HK: This time, we were sure about this game becoming a “gameplay experience that’s never quite existed, where the process of thinking is what is fun”, where the simplicity of the design is what makes it easier to see the situation, and players can use information in the game as hints while going through trial and error to figure out how to progress. The foundation of a game system in which thinking is fun was completed in this title, so we are also considering providing more gameplay experiences that flesh out the story and visuals, implementing new ideas while preserving the existing appeal.

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SL: What part of Dungeon Encounters are you especially proud of?

HI: There aren’t any elements that are particularly innovative, but I’m hoping to provide an experience that’s different from the trends seen in recent games.

HK: In terms of the balance between field exploration and battles, we’ve kept things simple, but we took time to carefully and thoughtfully craft this experience. Therefore, we’ve been able to achieve an exquisite balance that allows you to steadily proceed/progress, regardless of the situation you end up finding yourself in, as long as you play while thinking about ways in which you can complete the game.

SL: What is something that might surprise players about Dungeon Encounters?

HI: It’s designed so that “the first battle could even be the final boss battle”.

HK: The design allows players to enjoy RTA as well, and the quickest completion time could even be under an hour.

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SL: What’s one thing that you would like players to know about Dungeon Encounters?

HI: I’d like for you to try a setup in the Configuration menu that suits your gameplay style. There’s a lot you can do, like adjusting the volume and color, making Cursor Memory and movement method selections, among other things!

For those who might say “you’ll pass through the fork in the road when you increase the movement speed!”… Using either the stick or the d-pad while pressing down on the X button will allow you to auto-advance, and you’ll come to a stop when the road branches or before an enemy; by doing so, you won’t find yourself in a situation where you end up advancing too far.

In case you missed it, check out our review of the game.

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Spencer Legacy

Based in the arctic tundra known as Toronto, Spencer is a rotten weeb who likes RPGs, fighting games, and Jump manga.