App Trigger Interview: DeNA Senior Producer Hidde Tonegawa On The Making Of Blood Brothers 2


When do you start thinking about making a sequel to a popular mobile game? That’s not necessarily as easy a question to answer as you might think.

More from Mobile

Unlike console or PC game franchises, where the answer is often “every year,” or at least “as quickly as possible,” many mobile games are intended to stick around for a while if they prove popular enough. Such is the case with DeNA’s RPG Blood Brothers, which is still getting content updates and events almost two and a half years after it was first released on the iOS App Store.

So when DeNA Senior Producer Hidde Tonegawa gathered a team to start working on Blood Brothers 2,  the idea was to give players something familiar enough in terms of its characters and world that fans of the first game would want to check it out, but not so similar that it would feel like an either/or situation. As Tonegawa told App Trigger in a recent phone interview, it’s intended to be a sibling to Blood Brothers, which will continue to receive support from DeNA.

To that end, Blood Brothers 2 is set 100 years after the events of the first game, and it’s a different style of game too, one that got its genesis in another title that didn’t prove too successful.

“There was actually a title called Blood Batallion, which was conceptualized about a year after the original Blood Brothers, and the idea there was let’s take the same world, the same characters, put them in a different scenario, and let’s tackle a strategic/tactical RPG,” Tonegawa said. “It didn’t do so well, and we had some trouble with the development cycle, and then we ended up sunsetting that game very, very early.”

The idea that stuck around, though, was that a slightly different take on the Blood Brothers universe could work. And Tonegawa was convinced that if designed specifically for phones and tablets, a strategy RPG (SRPG) could succeed in drawing in gamers who wouldn’t usually give the genre a try.

“The concept here was to build an SRPG — some people call them tactics games — for mobile,” he said. “When I looked around the space in the market, I saw that we have a lot of ports from other consoles. Traditionally, with SRPGs, every game takes a very long time. You’ve got to sit down, plan out your attack; it might take 30 minutes to a few hours to play a game. I really wanted to bring that to mobile. It wasn’t really an option for the way I use mobile, and the way I know other people use mobile, to have something where the sessions are so long.”

Blood Brothers 2 succeeds in turning the SRPG experience into something that can be played in smaller chunks. Each character in the game is actually the commander of one of three types of units — melee, cavalry or ranged — each of which is strong against one other type and weak against another. In each story mission, one or more squads (five commanders to a squad) are moved around the battlefield, starting a battle when one occupies the same space as an enemy squad.

The battles themselves are quick, as the decisions to be made in each round boil down to which unit to match up against which enemy, as well as when to activate skills when they become available. It’s a simple enough system that anyone can pick it up, but with enough thought necessary that experienced strategy gamers won’t simply dismiss it outright.

There’s also a conscious effort to make sure the game’s story stays front and center at all times. Because the tale of the first Blood Brothers is still being told, it was crucial to move the narrative forward. The second game explores what happens after Galbraith has reigned over Arnashia, with some characters having lived through the century in-between and others who are new to the series. DeNA also got some outside help in this area.

“I really wanted to focus on our story, so we hired Kajiya Productions,” Tonegawa said. “They’ve worked on Final Fantasy XII, they’ve worked on Final Fantasy Tactics, and they did a really good job on the first Blood Brothers. They’re really well versed with Blood Brothers lore, 10 times more than I am actually, and they’ve done a really good job of separating the stories. We’re talking about what has happened since those 100 years, and I think we’ve found a very good balance there, and a way for us to be able to differentiate.”

On the music side, Tonegawa enlisted the aid of Basiscape, the company founded by Hitoshi Sakimoto. Even though it took several tries, the team ended up settling on a very unique art style that runs through everything from the character designs to the menus.

“I really wanted to make something where we could appeal to a wide range of audiences, and we could maybe introduce a new game type to them, but also keep it edgy, keep it original, make sure that there isn’t anything like it on the App Store from an art style perspective,” Tonegawa said. “We really wanted to go for a concept where it was a little bit more freeform. You’ll see this in the menus, where we’re not trying to go for hard edges. It’s very flat, it’s almost like that Japanese calligraphy or Chinese calligraphy. That ink style.”

While Blood Brothers 2 has already received an update that added new special episodes and PvP leaderboards, the goal is to add more story-driven content and events as time goes on. Players will also discover the soul system after what Tonegawa estimates will be a week or so of gameplay, a gameplay system that affects how the commanders can be customized, particularly for the PvP arena.

“You can take any main character in the game, and as you level them up, you have the ability for them to evolve, and also to absolve them of their “sins” in the game, extract their soul, and somebody else can inherit their soul,” Tonegawa said. “So that’s an underlying core concept for us. We really took that to heart in the menu design, you’ll see a lot of these menus and UI elements that mirror the idea of the different types of souls in the game. And that was a very cool creative process for us.”

So maybe that’s the answer to when you make a sequel to a successful mobile game: when the concept, talent and execution all come together to make it a worthwhile endeavor. For Tonegawa, all those elements were in place for Blood Brothers 2, and all that’s left is to hope gamers appreciate the way it turned out.

“For me, this project has been, really, a passion project,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun, and we’ve had a great team. We’re really going for this tactics RPG and trying to bring out all the best talent there to make this game the best it can be.”

More from App Trigger