Summary: In this interview published on May 3, 2014 about Gyakuten Saiban 123 (Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Trilogy), Iwamoto Tatsurō tells about the work he has done on the original three Gyakuten Saiban games. While he was the secondary character designer (and all-round graphics artist) for the first game, he became the main character designer from the second game on after Suekane Kumiko left Capcom. He talks about desiging characters, about how the development went on the first games and about his favorite character and even about how he voiced Mitsurugi (Miles Edgeworth).
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The Time He Spent At Capcom Walking Side By Side With Gyakuten Saiban
Interviewer: Could you tells us what you worked on until now?
Iwamoto: I joined Capcom about one year before development started on Gyakuten Saiban (Ace Attorney GBA). I helped along with a few small projects, while I was at Capcom, but I mostly worked on Gyakuten Saiban. After I went to Clover Studio, I worked on the character animations of Ōkami (Okami), and then I became a freelance illustrator. When I was a student, I wanted to do work that had to do with history, so now I am a freelance illustrator, I do a lot of illustration work on history. I can study history as I work on designs, so I have a lot of fun. I also work on games for smartphones and do character designs for what they can otome games.
Interviewer: How did you become involved with the Gyakuten Saiban series?
Iwamoto: I always loved drawing, so I wanted to do 2D illustration work. But I was assigned to the division in Capcom that worked on Biohazard (Resident Evil), so most of the work was 3D. But I said I really wanted to do 2D work, so I think my bosses also didn’t know what to do with me (laugh). And the time, Mr. Takumi (the director of Gyakuten Saiban) had just finished one big project and rumors went that he was about to make a completely new, small-scale title on the Game Boy Advance. And because I had said I had been so selfish to say I wanted to do 2D work, they agreed and put me in the team. Looking back, I was really lucky.
Interviewer: Could you tell us what you worked on for Gyakuten Saiban?
His Favorite, Prosecutor Godot! How To Create Memorable Characters.
Interviewer: What was difficult about working for the first time as a character designer?
Iwamoto: I hadn’t gone to a technical school to learn about games, but I went to an art college. I studied graphics design, so I didn’t really know that was applied to games. But while I was inexperienced, I of course loved making designs of people or drawing things like comics, and because I had drawn that much, I did think I was good at drawing people, but I had no idea what it meant to create a “character.” So one day, I had drawn some sketched and showed it to Mr. Takumi: “It’s my idea for the protagonist. What do you think about it?”, and he snapped back: “He’s supposed to be the protagonist,” which surprised me. I don’t remember it precisely, but I think I showed him a doodle that didn’t appear like a protagonist at all. It was what made me think about designing for games, so I think it wasn’t that I had it difficult, but that I made work hard for all the other people in the team.
Interviewer: How are characters actually made?
Iwamoto: First the director would finish the plot, with all the necessary characters, or at least the approximate number of characters and their gender decided. Then he’d have very broad ideas for these characters, or character types for them, but in general, I could just go my own way. If it took a while for him to OK the design, he’d give me some advice, but usually, I’d just make a lot of rough sketches and show him whichever seemed right to me. Sometimes we’d make minor adjustments before it was accepted, but sometimes it was good in one go.
Interviewer: Who are you especially fond of?
Iwamoto: I’d say Godot, of Gyakuten Saiban 3. First, the idea was to have a masked prosecutor and we’d say: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a guy appear with a mask?” So I put a weird thing on his face (laugh). But it looked cool. But of course, a design doesn’t become good just because I added something distinctive to him. You can go crazy with a character who only appears once, but if the rival character, who appears throughout the game, is too unique, that’d just irritate you. I felt that I added just enough flavor to Godot, so I really like him. And he’s my specialty: an older guy type. A hardboiled type like Godot makes you think of booze or smoking, but there’s of course the age rating for the game, so we couldn’t go for that. That’s why he drinks coffee. If he was a smoker, I don’t think we’d have animations of that in the courtroom. It was pretty hard, there are times when a design or games becomes better because we have restrictions. I also had trouble with the sketches for Gyakuten Saiban 2’s Director Hotta (Hotti) but the director said: “Isn’t this one okay?” about the one little sketch I made I didn’t really felt convinced about. That’s when I understood sometimes effort doesn’t pay (laugh). But of course it never happens for the main characters to be perfect in one go. With Gyakuten Saiban 2 I became the main designer for the first time, and there were parts where I went in unprepared and there were points where I later looked back at and thought I should’ve done that differently. Gyakuten Saiban 3 was my second time as the main designer, so I was more at ease then and could think better about the designs.
Interviewer: Are there characters that have been rejected?
Iwamoto: I make them according to the scenario, so in general, there are no characters that have not been used at all. But, there is a scene where Karuma Gō talks about his grandchild, and Mei (Franziska von Karma) is his daughter, so we know that Mei has either an older brother or sister. I once draw a sketch of “Mei’s older brother” just for fun. Among the rough sketches of Gyakuten Saiban 3’s Godot, there is one I myself see as the brother of Mei. I once told this to the director, but he just ignored it (laugh).
Recording Voices On Cardboard – Looking Back At Development
Interviewe: Could you tell us about when the game was first released?
Iwamoto: At the time, the Game Boy Advance hadn’t even been released yet, and we didn’t have enough development resources, so the game really has a handmade feel to it. The voices of Gyakuten Saiban were also recorded in some far away corner inside the Capcom offices where nobody would come, with us standing on top of some cardboard. The person responsible for the sound effects actually recorded the character voices in the game with everybody in the team. Not just “Objection!”, but also a couple of lines that might’ve become keywords in the game, like “Guilty” and “Not Guilty.” It hadn’t been decided yet who would what character. The one responsible for sound effects and the director decided the casting. But I think it was the director who decided he himself would do Naruhodo (laugh). It’s not his talking voice, but a shouting voice, so it’s quite different from his usual voice. When I later heard Mitsurugi (Edgeworth)’s voice, I too thought: “Who is that?”. I almost thought it was somebody else’s voice. I was happy when I heard I got the role, but I didn’t really recognize the voice, so it didn’t really hit me. My parents also say it’s someone else (laugh).
Interviewer: The voices added a nice touch tot the game.
Iwamoto: The director really has a good feel for rhythm, for the rhythm of game, or when to stop music and then use the “Objection!” voice. I think he really made good use of the idea of adding voices.
Interviewer: How was it drawing the characters once again for Gyakuten Saiban 123 Naruhodō Selection (Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney Trilogy)?
Interviewer: I heard the staff members said things like: “Mitsurugi looks just too awesome!” and “Mayoi (Maya) is so cute!”.
Iwamoto: I needed to get back to the state of my young, inexperienced self, so I really paid attention to that. I really had a lot of trouble figuring out how to get back in that state. I had never drawn a cute girl like Hami-chan (Pearl) back then, so she was really difficult. And Mayoi isn’t just cute, she’s has the energy to pull Naruhodo along, and “cuteness” only comes in later. But when this was first released, I was bad at everything except for older guys, so I hope the users will notice I’m not the same as back then (laugh).
Interviewer: What do you think about Gyakuten Saiban 123 Naruhodō Selection, now it has higher resolution and even includes stereoscopic 3D?
Iwamoto: It’s over ten years old, so I have to admit I’m a bit embarrassed to see my own inexperience left just like that. But it isn’t just one game, but three games, so I hope people will notice my growth throughout the games. And the resolution is higher now, so I hope users will play it on the 3DS LL (3DS XL), with a bigger screen. But yeah, it’s a bit embarrassing. Perhaps I can look back and think: “That was a good time” after twenty years (laugh).
Interviewer: By the way, the Gyakuten Saiban series has been made into a theater play and a film and more. Have you seen any of that?
Iwamoto: All of them really recreate the games in detail. It was a small-scale game, and we didn’t even feature at the Tokyo Game Show. Looking back at that, I really can’t stay calm when I realize it’s become a play and a film and more. They really understand the characters, so they have become really good works. I’d be happy if they would go even further with these developments, and I see it as a reward for when we worked hard on the games.
Interviewer: What is Gyakuten Saiban to you?
Interviewer: One final message for the fans, if you please.
Iwamoto: It has all three games in one, so I think it’s very accessible for people who have never played it before. And to the fans who have played the games before, but will buy this again, and I hope you can see how I and the other staff members have worked hard and grown throughout the games. It’s a game that isn’t just the same visually all over, so I hope that people who love the games, but also people who don’t know precisely what Gyakuten Saiban is, will play the game.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.