Falcom Interview -- Toshihiro Kondo Talks Ys VIII, Western Market, Nintendo Switch and Much More
DualShockers interviews Nihon Falcom's President Toshihiro Kondo to understand more about the company's approach to game development and the upcoming release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
If you’re a fan of JRPGs then you probably already know of Nihon Falcom. The developer is known for their lengthy games full of stories, characters, and lore. Focusing mainly on the action JRPG and turn-based JRPG genres, Falcom has has made a name for themselves around the world as a great video game developer.
NIS America recently announced that it will publish Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana in the west for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. In order to get to know more about the developer and what their plans are for the future, DualShockers sat down with Nihon Falcom’s President Toshihiro Kondo for an in-depth interview about the Japanese developer.
Azario Lopez: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was first launched on PlayStation Vita in Japan, and later brought to PlayStation 4. Why did you decide to first launch on the handheld?
Toshihiro Kondo: At the time, pretty much all the games we were making were for the PlayStation Vita like The Trails in the Sky series. It follows that most of our fans at the time had PlayStation Vita, so that is why it was our first choice. We decided to bring the game to PS4 because traditionally, Ys is something that you play on a much larger screen and not on a handheld. We knew from the beginning that fans wanted to play the games on a TV, in order to meet the fan’s expectations we decided to bring it to PS4. We also heard that people were setting up PlayStation Vita TVs just so they could play the game on their TV.
AL: How does Falcom go about creating fun and entertaining action RPG throughout a relatively long story?
TK: So the basic concept of Ys action in particular is fighting a bunch of mobs and no matter when you’re fighting them we have to make sure that it’s fun. Within that, when you make that core element of even just fighting the mobs a fun thing, it makes it so much more fun when you do reach a boss and you’re able to move on with that story. That feedback is what drives that enjoyment from the very beginning of the game to the very end.
For example: Think about bubble wrap… You want to pop the little air pockets. This is something that you keep doing, and you can’t bring yourself to stop. That’s kind of what we are going for with Ys: A game that you can’t stop playing. We discuss this a lot in the office.
AL: Does this help with an action game becoming “repetitive”, when playing the game for an extended period of time?
TK: Obviously one part of it is always going to be repetitive, but we put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that what you can do as you play expands, offering more things to enjoy. A specific example would be increasing the abilities of the playable characters, as well as allowing them a broader range of movement within maps, like being able to go to different places. With Ys VIII, you’ve got a village that you can build. During development we spent a lot of time thinking about these elements and how to make them “fun” throughout the entirety of the game. Once you’ve got this base, you then put the story on top of it, and figure out where you want important points to come in, as well as climaxes, and then you finish the game.
AL: With each release in Ys series, how do you improve on the mechanics of the previous title?
TK: The first thing that we think about when we create an Ys game is, ‘Where is Adol going to go this time?” Within Ys, the stages of where he goes have become very important. What that means is that, you’ve got these stages and settings, so how can this setting influence the gameplay? What new things can we do gameplay-wise since we now have this new setting? These are things we think about very early on in the game’s development.
For example: With Ys: Memories of Celceta, you’ve got the forest, and with Ys VIII, you’ve got the Isle of Siren, and because you’ve got these different locations you’re able to do different things, and that allows us to build out the rest of the game.
AL: Many western fans are wondering about the change of publisher, was there a reason in particular that Falcom went with NIS America for localization and publishing?
TK: Specifically for this title, NISA came to Falcom with a really enthusiastic proposal. Their enthusiasm showed greatly in that proposal, and they offered things that were new and special that I had never took into consideration before, in terms of how they wanted to publish the game. It was because of that enthusiasm, and my desire to try something new, that I decided to leave it to NISA.
“It was because of that enthusiasm, and my desire to try something new, that I decided to leave it to NISA.”
AL: How does Falcom work with publishing partners during localization?
TK: When we license the game out, we trust that the publisher will do what is appropriate for the game in the region that they are in. That said, we make ourselves available to the publishers in case that have questions about anything in regards to localization and what’s in the game.
NIS America Senior Associate Producer Alan Costa: Falcom has made themselves extremely available to us during localization. We’ve always been sure to reach out to them and ask them when we don’t understand something in the script or want to see how it has been done in the past.
AL: What is your personal favorite thing about the Ys series?
TK: One thing I really appreciate is that within the Ys series overall, the story doesn’t necessarily come first and neither does the gameplay. Instead, they are very well unified and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed about the series. I think that, as a game, that is such a beautiful thing to have: A good integration of story and systems. Even from Ys one during development, I could tell that the person writing the scenario didn’t have a larger role or a bigger say, same with the people taking care of the system side of things. This was because it was monitored very closely to make sure that these things were well integrated and kept both as important parts. That hands on approach and attention to detail has really paid off well for Ys.
AL: Is there a difference between what western fans love about Falcom games and what Japanese fans love?
TK: Originally, I thought it was going to be really different. Especially with Ys, I thought what the Japanese fans enjoyed what the foreign fans thought about the game were going to be very different. However, in actuality I’ve come to see that a lot of the times the very same scenes or parts of the game that fans in Japan enjoyed were the same as what fans abroad enjoyed.
AL: Falcom games are known for having tons of text throughout a long story. Do the writers at Falcom know that this means hell for localization teams?
TK: I can completely understand that. Originally, when I was pitching the Trails series to people, they’d take a look at the text and the volume would make them say, ‘No’. That being said, if we were to kind of tailor the writing thinking about the west we would lose what makes our games special. So it’s something that we keep in mind, but I’d just like to say now to localizers, “Sorry that there’s so much text”.
AL: Recently, The Trails in the Sky series has received a releases on the PlayStation Vita in Japan, is there a chance these might come west?
TK: As you mentioned, those titles are only on the Vita and we kind of know what’s going on with the Vita right now. So now it turns into who can get those done and ported in time. That being said, obviously my dream and my desire is for everyone to play these games, so I’m constantly thinking of a way to make that a possibility. As you know, some of our older titles have been coming to Steam, so perhaps in the future that might be one option for us to pursue.
“As you know, some of our older titles have been coming to Steam, so perhaps in the future that might be one option for us to pursue.”
AL: Now that The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III has been revealed, can you provide an update on the game’s development?
TK: As you know, the Trails of Cold Steel series is moving from PlayStation 3 to PlayStation 4, and that’s turning out to be a very difficult task. One big change for Falcom is that up until now, when it comes to graphics, movies, sound, and the packaging, we’ve been able to do that all in-house with a team of 50 people. However, now that we’ve switched to PS4, we have found that we have to leave some of the tasks to outside companies to take care of.
AL: Was there criticism from fans about The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III being announced as a PlayStation 4 exclusive?
TK: Some people did kind of complain because the series had originally been on a different platform, but what we really want to do is make sure that we are reaching the largest amount of fans as possible. The truth of the matter is, most fans have moved on to the PlayStation 4. That said, when the game comes out, we are going to look at reactions and continue to make decisions based on that.
Another thing to consider is that our games are popular abroad, and especially in those areas fans have really moved on to PlayStation 4. So that also weighed in on our decision.
AL: So would you like to see The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III in the west?
TK: Absolutely, even compared to a few years ago, in terms of revenue, the foreign market has become incredibly large, way more than I would have ever expecte. So it only stems from reason that going forward I believe our titles will release in the west.
AL: What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch?
TK: The Nintendo Switch is completely a “Nintendo machine”, and that’s a really cool thing.
AL: Would you like to see Falcom titles on Switch?
TK: Yes, if the opportunity presents itself I would definitely like to get Falcom games on the Switch.
“If the opportunity presents itself I would definitely like to get Falcom games on the Switch.”
AL: In terms of Falcom’s plans for the future, do you want to create new IPs or build upon existing series?
TK: Honestly, both. I know there are a lot of fans out there who look forward to the continuation of series that we’ve done. So, we want to make sure those fans are taken care of. At the same time, we also want to do what we did with Tokyo Xanadu and make new things too, and challenging ourselves. The positive thing about trying something new is perhaps that some of the things that you’ve learned when creating a new game, you’re able to feed back into other games. It creates a positive cycle of progress, so going forward I want to make sure that we do both.
AL: Why do you feel there is such a large fanbase surrounding the Ys series?
TK: There isn’t one thing that I can point to and say, ‘that’s the reason”, but I can bring up two things that should be considered. One would be Adol, a compelling and interesting main character. Also, the action is simple. I’m using simple in a positive meaning, the game is easy to pick up and play. I feel these contribute to the popularity of the series.
AL: Will gamers who don’t know anything about the Ys series will be able to jump into Ys VIII and have a good time?
TK: When you reach number 8 in a title it naturally feels like people will say, ‘Wait, do I need to play the others?” That’s kind of what happened to the Trails series. We’ve specifically made sure that with Ys we don’t do that. In other words, yes, even if you haven’t played the previous titles, you can jump in with Ys VIII and be perfectly fine.
Within Ys, you’ve got to come up with new characters every single time, which is actually a lot of work and a hard thing to do. However, the payoff from what we’ve seen, especially with Ys VIII, is a steady amount of existing Ys fans and a lot of new fans too. The effort that it takes to come up with new characters and new situations have paid off and, it’s stronger than ever.
AL: Many Falcom games have been released in some capacity during 2017. As Japanese developers, what’s it like to accomplish this?
TK: Ys Origins was the first game that we had come out on Steam, and the reaction to that was much better than we were expecting. So the fact that these games are now coming out on PC or Steam, and we can bring new life to them, is something we are really really happy about.
Actually, back when Falcom was predominantly a PC game developer, we were always kind of jealous of the console market. We knew we were making great games, but we were kind of stuck on PC because that’s where all the hardcore fans were. We still thought it would be cool if the people who play consoles could play them.
In the same way, there’s this elusive foreign market that we’ve always wanted to enjoy our games. It’s finally coming to fruition, and people are able to play some of our older games. That alone is a really wonderful feeling for us.
“We stand behind every single one of our games and we’re proud about releasing them.”
AL: That’s interesting because western fans are picking up a game made in 2009 and finding enjoyment in it, even in 2017.
TK: We stand behind every single one of our games and we’re proud about releasing them. It may not be the best in terms of resolution, and it might be kind of old at this point, but we believe in the fundamental parts of the game, and we believe that they are still fun. The fact that this has been proved with these older titles coming out, and people are enjoying them, is something that we are incredibly proud of and really happy about.
AL: Is there a standard set by Falcom to make their titles feel almost timeless for gamers?
TK: I can’t point to one thing in particular, but the founder, Masayuki Kato, told me that movies came into their own as a creative form well before games did. He wanted to create products that wouldn’t lose to movies, or at least make them as good as movies. One of the interesting things about movies is that great movies – no matter how old they are – are still considered great movies. Perhaps that thought and idea is what influences us when we are making a game: a great game, like a great movie, is always going to be great no matter what.
Most of the people who enter the company are fans of the company. What I just told you is not something that is talked about or taught to new employees. It’s just that this love of what we do and the games that we make is shared by everyone who works at the company. That probably has a lot to do with how the product turns out as well.
AL: Falcom fans and our readers will kill me if I don’t ask whether there are plans to localize Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki in the west.
TK: That’s something that I really really want to do, and it’s something that I’ll have to work with our partners, or find a partner to make it happen.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to western fans of Falcom titles?
TK: We are a company that has always focused on the Japanese market. We have always made games for Japan and for Japanese users. Recently, Falcom games have become popular in North America, Europe, and Asia, and that’s something that we never expected, but it makes us very happy. To the fans I’d like to say that we want to continues making games that only Falcom can make, and deliver these to fans all over the world.