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Blending Realism and Fantasy – Insight Into SMT IV’s Character Design

by Kimberley Wallace on Jun 28, 2013 at 10:30 AM

With the Shin Megami Tensei IV release date (July 16) inching closer, any insight into the game can only make the wait easier. As such, we sat down with SMT IV lead character designer Masayuki Doi to discover his approach to designing characters for the unique SMT universe and how he was selected to create for the acclaimed series.

The Artistic Vision

We often become attached to the characters that grace our video screens. But before we even get to know them, a character designer gives them an identity. We come to define these characters by their hairstyles, eyes, facial mannerisms, and clothes. As an artist, Doi has to make all these choices, and none of them come without careful consideration.

To capture the characters' distinct samurai style in the medieval-inspired Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, Doi was challenged with retaining the Japanese elements of the culture, but also making the characters fit into their environment. He said he kept both the European and Japanese influences in mind and his goal was to come up with something creative when combining the two styles. To help meet his vision, he watched many Japanese samurai movies and films set in Europe. He was even inspired by Star Wars and said the characters' stances with swords are throwbacks to the lightsaber. He mused that the characters' samurai mission reminded him of the Jedi Order.

SMT IV takes you not only to the classic Mikado, but also futuristic Tokyo. Doi strove to make sure each inhabitant of these two distinct worlds had their own style and stood out to help further cement the different points in the story. He decided to make characters more distinguishable between locations by going the "fancy route" to establish the ambiance of Mikado. He even looked at pictures of the time periods and locations to get the contrast just right. Depending where you are, peasants, yakuza, and fashionably-dressed denizens roam the world. As Doi speaks, his passion for being meticulous about crafting characters and paying attention to the world is evident.

How He Got The Gig: All About Doi

Doi got his start in fashion design, but his favorite hobby was playing video games. Soon after being inspired by various artists, he decided to make the switch from designing clothes to games. He started out in environmental design at Atlus, but then moved on to designing characters when he worked on Trauma Center: New Blood.

SMT IV isn't Doi's first bout with an SMT game; he designed environments for SMT: Nocturne. However, his work on the Trauma Center series landed him the SMT IV gig. He discussed how he worked hard for realism designing characters in the medical field and that prepared him for crafting characters for SMT IV, especially when considering different time periods and personal styles.

Doi's approach to creating characters is also very concise. He said he rarely draws and completely changes his vision, instead he puts a lot of time into crafting a very strong concept and then he tweaks it along the way. He said the hardest aspect to get down is proportions. A more minimalistic approach to designing is his forte. He doesn't like making too many additions in his creative process. Instead, he subtracts more attributes.

Being Passed The SMT Torch

Previously, Kazuma Kaneko designed characters for the majority of SMT games. Doi was inspired by Kaneko's worked, but tried not to imitate it. He felt if he tried to mimic it, he wouldn't create anything unique or fresh for the series. Doi felt it wasn't a "good way to go for SMT IV," and so he intentionally tried to avoid going through the older games' character designs.

Doi ended our talk by saying that SMT IV is his one of his favorite projects. However, he also doesn't want to forget how Trauma Center catapulted him to the position he's in, along with all the wisdom that series provided him. In even brief time with SMT IV, Doi's touch is evident, but still fits the SMT universe. If you pay close enough attention, subtle changes to characters' facial expressions, particularly in the eyes, are noteworthy. Soon enough, you can experience Doi's work and see where the SMT IV journey takes you.