The game's storyline will feature an exciting scenario, just like something you'd find in a shounen manga!
First of all, please tell us about how the Ensemble Stars! project came about.
Project manager & illustrator, K-san (hereafter Project manager K-san): Ensemble Stars! is a game with a school setting, and the theme is to produce idols. What's different about Ensemble Stars! when compared with other games whose main theme is also producing idols is, I believe, the fact that the basis of the game is the school setting, while the idols serve as the extra touch. The appeal of the game, it goes without saying, is the 32 characters, each with their own unique personality, as well as the story that unfolds about them. Same as with Ensemble Girls!, the scenario is written by Akira-san. Furthermore, with the use of the Live2D technique, the characters display very smooth movements, as if in an anime, which I think is another great feature of the game.
Main illustrator, M-san (hereafter Illustrator M-san): In terms of the scenario, there are three key aspects to the game, which are "idols," "school setting," and "youthful drama," which may seem all over the place upon one's first impression, but Akira-sensei managed to bring everything nicely together. Actually, the development of the plot could rival that of a shounen manga, i.e. the students have to work together to achieve a certain goal. Personally, I found it very exciting.
Content director, T-san (hereafter Director T-san): Since we are marketing the game as mainly geared toward a female audience, I suppose many would expect the game to feature a heavy romantic theme, but in fact, just as M-san said, this is more like a shounen manga. The boys would engage in conflicts with each other, but together, they would overcome these obstacles, and I hope the audience would enjoy this dramatic scenario.
I think there are many players who are curious about the link between Ensemble Girls! and Ensemble Stars!. Is there any connection between these two games?
Director T-san: Indeed, the two games share many characteristics in terms of the setting, but I would say that they occupy two separate worlds and not the same world. Those who have played Ensemble Girls! would probably come across some inside jokes in Ensemble Stars!. Since both scenarios are written by Akira-san, there are many similarities between the two games, such as the fact that the protagonist is a transfer student. I think finding such similarities would also be one of the aspects that those players who are familiar with Ensemble Girls! would enjoy. We are also positively discussing the possibility of collaborating with Ensemble Girls!'s development team, and we hope that players will look forward to what we're going to come up with.
Who are the favorite characters of the development staff?
Next, I would love to hear about the characters! 32 seems to be quite a sizable number, and I would like to know how each character's setting was determined.
Director T-san: We tried to come up with all kinds of interesting characters, from the most typically appealing ones to those who are quite quirky, and the overall process worked out quite smoothly. As for the more subtle aspects of their personalities, these became fleshed out more fully in Akira-san's scenario.
Was there anything that you found particularly difficult?
Director T-san: In terms of the visual, there are characters whose designs we had to redo many times, as we want all of them to appeal to the players. We have several illustrators working on this project, each with their own taste and style, so it was quite tough to arrive at a final, conclusive version of the characters.
Well then, please tell us about your own favorite characters!
Project manager K-san: I really like Makoto Yuuki-kun (voiced by Shotaro Morikubo-san) of the unit Trickstar. He has been involved in the entertainment world since he was small, and because of that, he has all sorts of worry unbeknownst to others. You can really see the complications of the idol industry through his character. He really shines in the main story, where together with his teammates in Trickstar, he strives against the difficulty they are faced with. Both his appearance and his behavior suggest a cheerful personality, but he's actually quite shy.
Director T-san: In my case, I was very involved in the process of creating the characters, and I also wanted to be as impartial as I could, so I don't have any favorite characters in particular.
Project manager K-san: Wow, so mature! (laugh)
Director T-san: Well, I would say that they are all like my children (laugh). The scenario really goes into the details of their relationships with each other, and I think that bond of friendship between the characters is what I love the most about the game.
Main animator W-san (hereafter Animator W-san): Let me see... I liked all the characters the moment I saw their illustration. But... my favorite would be Kanata Shinkai-kun (voiced by Koutaro Nishiyama-san)--that extremely quirky kid in RYUSEITAI. Indeed, he's so quirky that he's labelled as one of the "Three Oddballs" in the game. His profile also contains many indecipherable parts (laugh), but I think that mysterious side of him is also very appealing. I like thinking deeply about the characters, and with Kanata-kun, it seems like a lot of fun to imagine about how he's going to react to you.
Illustrator M-san: Can I have several favorites? I have many, and I can't decide on just one (laugh).
Yes, of course!
Illustrator M-san: Well then, my most favorite character as an idol is Trickstar's Hokuto Hidaka-kun (voiced by Yoshimasa Hosoya-san). In terms of his setting, he's a "thoroughbred" whose parents are both celebrities, and in terms of looks, he's like the cool, prince-type. But as I read further into the scenario, I realize that even though he seems to be blessed with a great environment, he actually doesn't get along well with his parents, and there are many obstacles awaiting him... Also, the members of Trickstar actually tend to do whatever they want, and Hokuto-kun would usually end up making a heroic effort to bring everything together, although he's pretty much an airhead himself (laugh). He himself truly wants to make a name for himself as an idol. When I look at how this stoic and clumsy boy tries his hardest, I can't help but want to cheer for him.
Another of my favorites is this ninja boy called Shinobu Sengoku-kun (voiced by Anjyu Nitta-san). His setting itself is already interesting, but what's even more interesting is that he completely fails as a ninja... He'd say things like: "I'm the type of ninja who can't handle height" (laugh). But that's what makes him so endearing.
T-that's very cute (laugh). There are indeed many interesting characters, but as the game's developers, which characters do you think are going to be the most popular among the players?
Illustrator M-san: Koga Oogami-kun (voiced by Yuki Ono-san) and Rei Sakuma-kun (voiced by Toshiki Masuda-san), I suppose?
Director T-san: Oogami-kun is the only arrogant character in the game. In terms of looks, he's quite attractive, but in the scenario, you can see glimpses of his cute side. Also, Rei-kun is a self-proclaimed vampire (laugh), but he's one of the older characters at the school, so he has this sort of calm demeanor about him. He's both the club president of the Light Music Club and the leader of the unit UNDEAD (to which Oogami-kun also belongs), so he's a leader type of character. Here we have Oogami-kun causing a ruckus, and Rei-kun chiding him and meting out punishment, which is what I find interesting about these two's relationship.
We briefly touched on the matter of how a character's personality is different from what you'd expect from his appearance. Are there other characters that would belong to this category?
Director T-san: There are indeed many such characters in the Ensemble series. There are characters for whom this "gap" exists from the very first stage of their creation, and there are also those whose personality evolves due to the scenario, but I think that each character does leave their own impression. But if I have to choose the one character who leaves the strongest impression, then it would be...
All: Arashi Narukami-chan (voiced by Sosuke Soma-san), right?
Animator W-san: Arashi-chan is a flamboyant guy who acts and talks like a girl, but he looks super attractive. Then again, when you look really closely at his design, you'd kind of notice that he actually looks quite feminine as well. I only joined the game's development from the second half, so I was very shocked when I came to know about him for the first time. After that, I was especially interested in him as a character, but the discrepancy between his design (attractive appearance) and Akira-san's scenario (feminine personality) made me very confused, in a good way (laugh). He's quite an interesting, expressive character.
Illustrator M-san: The way that our development team refer to him also changed with time. At first, it was "Narukami-kun," then it changed to "Arashi-kun." This isn't too bad, but then it further became "Arashi-kun-chan," and finally we arrived at "Arashi-chan" (laugh).
Animator W-san: Ohh! So he was referred to as "Arashi-kun-chan" at one point (laugh).
Director T-san: I guess he's kind of different from the type of character that one would usually picture when one talks about the gap between a character's appearance and personality, but indeed, Arashi-chan is the biggest surprise.
Illustrator M-san: There's also Chiaki Morisawa-senpai (voiced by Yuichi Jose-san), right? He was at first conceived of as a hot-blooded senpai with a passion for heroic figures, and his character was developed accordingly, but he turned out to be even more hot-blooded than we first imagined him to be. It was rather shocking that he grew into this impetuous character who would hug you the very moment he first meets you (laugh).
Animator W-san: In terms of surprises, Tori Himemiya-kun (voiced by Ayumu Murase-san) is also a good example, I think? His looks are very cute, but he wouldn't hesitate to call others "cattle~☆."
Director T-san: Indeed, he does have a foul mouth, despite his looks (laugh).
The extravagant cast of voice actors make the characters even more appealing!
The cast of voice actors for Ensemble Stars! is quite extravagant. Of the characters, who left the deepest impression after you heard his voice?
Illustrator M-san: I guess I'll have to go with Wataru Hibiki-san (voiced by Takuya Eguchi-san).
Director T-san: Ohh, I agree. Hibiki-san is another member of the "Three Oddballs" that we mentioned earlier. I still remember that Eguchi-san was completely fired up when he voiced this character.
Illustrator M-san: When I first heard his voice, I was extremely excited, thinking: "Yes, this is Hibiki-san!" Another character whom I found even more interesting after hearing his voice is Tsukasa Suou-kun (voiced by Reo Tsuchida-san). He's supposed to be a rich, well-educated boy with very good English pronunciation. For example, he'd say things like "I'm the one who has your heart all to myself right now," with the word "heart" in English.
Director T-san: I heard that Tsuchida-san is not actually that good at English, but Wataru Komada-san (who voices Akiomi Kunugi, the teacher in charge of voice instruction) is fluent in English, so Tsuchida-san received a lot of help from him, almost as if he was taking English lessons (laugh).
Animator W-san: I wasn't aware that there's such an inside story.
Director T-san: Thanks to Komada-san, we have a Tsukasa-kun fluent in English. I'm very thankful for him!
Project manager K-san: Also, Rei Sakuma-kun's character is somewhat like a senior, so I was a bit worried about how he'd turn out. But then Masuda-san gave a wonderfully graceful performance, and I was very happy about the mysterious air that Rei-kun came to have.
Director T-san: Izumi Sena-kun (voiced by Masami Ito-san) also left quite an impression on me. The setting is that he is an ex-model, and he looks quite slim, so I had this image of him with a slightly high voice. But then Ito-san's voice was more on the deep side, so my impression also changed into one of a character with more gravity.
Project manager K-san: Ritsu Sakuma-kun (voiced by Daiki Yamashita-san) feels the same way for me. I thought he'd have a kind of cute voice, but it turned out to be a lazy, cool voice. My heart really skipped a beat when I first heard it!
Illustrator M-san: I also really came to like Tetora Nagumo-kun (voiced by Yoshiki Nakajima-san) after I heard his voice. He's a passionate kouhai character who aims to become the man among men. The way that he calls the protagonist "sis" and how he sticks to her is very adorable and matches well with his voice!
Director T-san: Before the recording sessions, we'd compare the voice actors' personal images that they've built with our own images of the characters, and in Nakajima-san's case, he was exactly the person we were looking for, from his voice to his upbeat personality, like a character of the sportsman type. When, together with the voice, the character starts moving with the use of the Live2D technique, he becomes even more realistic and interesting.
Project manager K-san: Among the cast, aside from professional voice actors, we also had a fair number of actors. There were also a few for whom this is their first experience in voice acting, and we heard that it was quite a novel experience for them.
The game's main theme is producing idols! Plus the live scenes are a feast for the eyes.
The costumes of the characters are also varied, from typical idol costumes to fancy, sophisticated outfits.
Director T-san: Yes, indeed. Each of the eight units has their own characteristics and theme. We hope the players will also enjoy this aspect of the game.
Illustrator M-san: Trickstar is probably the only unit with a relatively stereotypical outfit. It's different for the rest, right?
Director T-san: We made a conscious effort to incorporate all kinds of interesting genres, such as fantasy and superhero shows. The idea is to go into the details of each unit with each event in the story.
Do you have units that you would personally recommend for the players?
Illustrator M-san: Hmm, that's a tough question. I have my favorites for each different category; for example, there are units that I like for their looks, as well as those I want to cheer for, and also those that I find adorable...
Project manager K-san: Since the role of the protagonist in the game is to develop the units as their producer, I think the players can pick the units that they most want to root for?
Director T-san: Since the players can freely choose which characters they want to develop, they can also decide on which unit they want to root for based on the character. But then that's going to turn into a discussion of the game system.
Since we're on the topic of the game system, I would also like to hear more about that. Can you talk more about the mechanics of the game?
Project manager K-san: The main objective of the game is to produce the idols. Based on what kind of "Lesson" you choose for the idols, the results of the lessons will reflect on the "Lives." The protagonist is supposed to belong to the Producer course of the school, so we place a lot of focus on this aspect of the game.
Illustrator M-san: Even in the "Lesson" and "Produce" parts of the game, there are a lot of conversations with the characters.
Director T-san: That's right. The producing aspect of the game does have a lot of sim elements. The lives are envisioned to be opportunities for the characters that you've been producing to show off their abilities, so we put a lot of work into making them a feast for the eyes.
Project manager K-san: Even though the main objective of the game is to produce the idols, there is also a collection aspect to it. There are different types of costumes for the idols, and the way it's set up is that the costumes are going to increase as you continue to develop the characters. We hope the players will also enjoy letting their favorite characters wear the costumes that they like, and have this reflect in the Live2D's and the mini characters' animation.
Animator W-san: It was really hard to configure the movements of the mini characters... To be honest, I don't want to touch Hibiki-san anymore (laugh).
Illustrator M-san: From the stage of developing the project, we talked about how dancing is understandably an indispensable part of their being idols. And so this turned out to be a game where there's a lot of dancing for the mini characters.
Animator W-san: Indeed. I was asked to make them dance, but back in my school days, I always received the bare minimum grade to pass PE, and I can't dance at all... (laugh). I was constantly clinging to T-san in tears.
Director T-san: Well, it's true that the concept of "dancing like idols" itself is rather vague... Even though we tried to use actual idols as reference, their performance is heavily influenced by their own personality and charisma, so it was quite difficult to portray that.
Animator W-san: Since they are idols, there's also the added requirement that they must face the front (i.e. the fans) at all times, so there was no way we could gloss over any part of their costumes, no matter how subtle those parts may be. We had to trouble the illustrators quite a lot, asking them to redo many parts. I also had to wait for a long time when I asked M-san to make 2wink's costumes...
Illustrator M-san: Oh, yes, those harem pants! (laugh)
Director T-san: When it comes to the mini characters, since they are deformed, there was also the dilemma where we wanted to be very thorough with their designs, but we also had to consider how we'd make them move.
The characters' movements, created from scratch with the Live2D technique, are a must-see!
We have talked a lot about all the difficulties encountered during the making of the game, but what did you find to be the biggest difficulty?
Illustrator M-san: I think it's the Live2D. We had to work very hard, from the point where we had zero knowledge of this technique.
Director T-san: The technique itself is a pretty new trial for our company, so we had to begin from learning the ropes, and then we had to think about how to make the characters move realistically but comically at the same time, so we ended up spending a lot of time groping our way around. Since we had separate drawings for the characters' illustrations and the Live2D, it was also difficult to bridge the gap between the two types of drawings.
Animator W-san: In the end, everything became very natural. For example, their profiles look really realistic.
Illustrator M-san: I don't think there are any other games oriented toward female players which place such a heavy focus on the Live2D technique.
Director T-san: The characters' expressions change according to the story and each line they speak, so you'd never get tired of watching them.
Illustrator M-san: To be honest, when we introduced the Live2D technique, there were some who voiced the opinion that it might look better to just follow the traditional method and vary the expressions of the still images. But when we look at the finished product with Live2D, everyone is surprised to find that the characters move so naturally that it's almost as if they're alive. It's very realistic--for example, when a character is angry, he'd loom over you.
Project manager K-san: That's true. I hope that even the female players who haven't played many game apps will enjoy the realistic quality of Live2D.
Finally, please share with us one last message that you have for the players who are eagerly waiting for Ensemble Stars! to launch!
Director T-san: I think that the game shares certain similarities with Ensemble Girls! in terms of the world-building and the scenario, such as the fact that the protagonist is a transfer student who becomes involved in all the troubles unfolding at the school and who ends up helping the students overcoming those troubles. For those who are familiar with Ensemble Girls!, they can enjoy Ensemble Stars! while looking for the similarities between the two games, as well as what's new about the latter. Of course, we made a conscious effort to create a cast of casual characters with casual expressions, so that even those new to the Ensemble series would have no trouble becoming immersed in the world of the game. Therefore, I hope everyone will feel free to begin the game, regardless of their past experience.
Animator W-san: I hope the players will enjoy moving the mini characters around and make them dance. I myself am greatly enjoying this game, so much that I've been playing it nonstop since I was given the pre-release sample version. I personally think that the game is very well made, so please be sure to check it out! There is a lot of enjoyment, even for free players!
Illustrator M-san: This is very important (laugh). Even though the protagonist occupies a special position as the only girl in the academy, the boy characters still view her as one of their "comrades," and they work hard together to achieve a common goal--it's a very youthful drama! I also find the sense of segregation between the boys and the girl kind of nice. Please do your best as their producer and turn them into shining stars!
Project manager K-san: Thanks to the collaboration of various people, from Akira-san who wrote the scenario to the full cast of the production staff, I was able to create a game that turns out to be exactly the way I envisioned it. Furthermore, since the game is covered by various media even before its release, I'm very happy that there is a lot of expectation from the players for the official release. The game is of very high quality, and we experimented with many new techniques, so I really hope that everyone will enjoy it. Thank you for reading.