Interview with Toshihiro Kondo-San, President of Nihon Falcom and Director of Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana
Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to Toshihiro Kondo-San, president of Nihon Falcom and director of Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. With a translator on hand, I got to see the gameplay of Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana, whilst Kondo-san showed what type of game this installment is like and what to expect with its release on 12th of September. With the interview being more akin to a chat as opposed to pure Q&A, questions will be highlighted for those interested in the meat.
A brief foreword, the transcription here ends slightly abruptly as the conversation derails slightly and doesn’t fully transcribe as readable. For those still interested, the full interview can be found in the video above.
I hope you’re doing well Kondo-San, I just wondering how much travelling you’ve been doing for the past few days with the game coming out in a few weeks?
Yes, Kondo-san has been travelling quite a bit. The game’s actually out in Asia, so he’s gone to Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea to do stage performances, so quite a bit of travelling. Another thing too, is that Falcom titles in general is known for their music. They have an in-house band called JDK Band, who just did a three concert tour in mainland-China in July. So there’s been a lot of promotion for series and everything.
Looking at the game, it’s got the whole JRPG vibe. It looks linear for the time being, I’m sure it’ll expand as you get further into the story.
[Kondo-san] says that’s a pretty good observation about the openness, actually not many companies actually make ARPGs, Action RPGs. The ones that do, tend to make it on the shorter side, maybe max 20 hours. This game has at least 40 hours of gameplay. There’s enough volume in the game that it’s not uncommon for people to spend 80 hours playing the game. And the reason is that, the game’s setting is in an uninhabited and unexplored island. During the game’s development phase, the team took extra care to create a really vibrant island that you could explore with lots of nooks and crannies. So for JRPGs nowadays, especially, [Kondo-san] says this game has more to offer than almost any other JRPG out there.
As someone who’s known about the Ys franchise, but not had a chance to play it. Is this a title that new JRPG fans can sink their teeth into without any prior knowledge?
Ys, as a little bit of background information to the series, with a 30 year history. The whole story of the main character Adol Christin, each Ys game is supposed to be one of Adol’s journals. Each time he goes on an adventure, he left behind a journal so we as the player are picking it up and experiencing his adventure. So within that, every place that Adol goes to there’s a beginning where he meets everybody, and then there’s the events that happen, and at the end he says goodbye. So because of that, there’s not so many holdover characters where it’s “I don’t know any of the characters so I can’t really enjoy this game”. Also the game system itself doesn’t evolve in such a way, that you have to have had to play the previous ones to be able to play this one. So it’s very user friendly for new players who’ve never played it before.
Okay, just watching this I’ve noticed a few things the game does like automate some things that make it easier to access like the automated process of picking up items. Most open world games have that problem of “oh I’ll walk over there” and you constantly stopping and starting to pick up items. Judging from the combat, it looks really fluid, it’s almost reminding me of Final Fantasy 12 where the actual combat was part of exploring the open world.
When they first started 30 years ago, there was a time period where really really hard games were the order of the day and it was judged positively if it was extremely difficult. So in the midst of that, Ys came out as game, even though it had a pretty high difficulty, it was easy to pick up and to play and to learn. So ever since that beginning, the roots of the series overall are that the player can play the game without stress, without all these crazy systems, or all these difficult things you have to learn and memorise and master. So that the player can access them freely, and easily and that the system will be easy to pick up, and to get into, and to play. In the company they often talk about, especially the combat, to have the same kind of feeling to pop bubble wrap. That nice feeling of enjoyment you get that you want to keep going and to keep popping stuff. It’s strange because doing that has no meaning, and there’s really no point to it, but it’s still fun to do. And so with every Ys game, they keep that idea in mind in how to make it naturally fun. Without having to actually think about it, it’s about trimming the fat and getting rid of the things that aren’t necessary, and making that absolute enjoyable combat and gameplay system is what they really strive for.
I was just wondering, the art style is almost - for a lack of a better term - very anime in terms of its art style and the way the characters clothing is designed. What about the world itself, what’s its influence?
So actually, the original idea behind Ys was that it was the world takes place around the same time as the roman empire, and if you look at the map of the Ys map it’s very similar to the map of Europe. So nowadays, obviously most anime inspired games aren’t surprising to come out of Japan. However when Ys first came out, using this anime style was very fresh, and new, and it actually created quite a positive stir with the use of the anime style. But because, as you know it’s had this anime style to it from the beginning, it’s part of the DNA as part of the series and it’s the one thing it maintains between each installment.
I’m just looking at the Turtle monster thing and it’s reminding me of Monster Hunter a bit with its design.
[Kondo-san] says maybe the designer got some influence from Monster Hunter but he can’t say. Well specifically for Ys VIII, the setting is that you’re on an deserted island and within this deserted island there are these creatures that called Ancient Species who are modelled after dinosaurs so there’s a reason why, in the game, they’re modelled like that. Not every Ys game is like that.
I was gonna say, it’s almost reminding me of how in Final Fantasy in how every time you defeat the big bad, the game’ll go but here’s the bigger bad.
On that point, interestingly enough Ys was the first game to have huge bosses like this. It was the first game that actually did that. In addition, Ys wasn’t also the first. Another Falcom title Xanadu all had the same thing that started this tradition of huge bosses.
Just something as a company as a whole, I know you’ve released Trails of Coldsteel II, cause you’ve spoke about PC games. Does this mean you’re going to have more of a focus on PCs or is it still home console?
[Kondo-san] says originally the company started on PC, so there hasn’t really been a time where they haven’t wanted to have it on PC. The thing is, in Japan, there aren’t that many people who play games on PC. So much so, which is the same here really, that you can’t launch a packaged version of a PC game. However, in the last few 4-5 years Steam as a means of distribution has become really big so that pretty much from the beginning as Japanese developers have thought about releasing them on Steam. So there’s definitely a connection to have them on Steam and the numbers reflect that too. Looking particularly outside of Japan numbers, the number of people purchasing the game on steam is very large. So they definitely understand that there’s a market for the PC. So for quite a while, the last 4-5 years, a lot of the games they’ve released on steam were remakes or just versions of older games. But it’s gotten to the point where during the development of the games they think about a possible PC conversion and making it easy for the game to be converted over to the pc and that’s definitely thinking about the sales of the games in the west and the outcome of them.
I’ve been following the Marvellous Tumblr Blog posts [Correction: it’s the XSeed Tumblr feed, Marvellous Games doesn’t even have one] where they’ve been porting the games over and how the porting process has been streamlined from an outsider’s perspective.
One of the things that helps that out too is that even when they shifted development from PC to making games on the PlayStation platforms, they’d make it first to that it’d run on it on PC first it goes over to the PS platform and that it’s good luck that that’s how they develop games because it’s allowed them to make games that run on PCs. Probably not a lot of users are aware of this, but actually a lot of the games on they come out as packaged versions for PCs in China and there’s a pretty big market for that too. So being a PC maker from the very beginning has kind of put them in a good position overall as they’ve reemerged on the PC
Just out of curiosity, is the company as a whole interested in bringing their games over to the switch or 3DS with how popular they’ve been. Is an older series like the Legend of heroes and the Ys franchise likely to move onto the Nintendo platform?
Definitely as a developer, it’s their wish to have to have their games available to as many people as a company. However, Falcom as a company isn’t that large in terms of staff, so they have to balance that desire to develop their games for what they can develop for.
I’m just thinking now I just want crab now. This is a just a question I ask whenever I interview someone: what food would best describe you?
As a company or a person?
As a person
One thing [Kondo-san] knows, it wouldn’t be is a complex dish, [Kondo-san] would be a simple flavour. Ah. Sashimi. [Kondo-san] is the kind of person that you don’t need to put a lot of different ingredients or seasonings. However, there’s delicious sashimi on its own. Even though it’s just raw fish and that’s what the want during game development. To cut the good fish, to make it good tasty sashimi. I don’t know if that answer it properly but that’s the answer.
It’s one of the more humorous ones.
[Kondo-san] did his best to squeeze that one out. For the really fancy stuff, he’ll let the bigger developers to use those as examples.
Well what would you best describe the lead developer as a dish?
Ah well he’s the lead so he’s already described it. However, even the sub leader though shares the same philosophy as [Kondo-san] so they’d probably be very similar. It’s the core that’s especially: it’s very simple. It’s a game a where anyone can pick up and play and enjoy. However, just because new players can pick this up. Even veteran players or players that prefer a little more difficult. Quite the contrary to what’s going on, there’s a lot going and the system is very deep so there’s really is something for everyone in Ys VIII. Again looking at sashimi and sushi, all it is cut raw fish. You have to understand that there’s different levels going on there, and that’s what [Kondo-san] and Ys are like.
Well what’s the favourite you’ve released? Apart from this game obviously.
Just to go beyond with a game he didn’t even make, that the company made and caused his love for the company. Well two answers, it’s part of the Legend of Heroes series with - in English - The Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch or in Japanese the White Witch and he loved the story of the game and found it moving and that’s what caused him to join the company. And what he made, would be in the same overall arching series in the Legend of Heroes. It would be the first game he made from start to finish would be Trails in the Sky.
Out of curiosity, what other title would you want to have if you could have it?
So the PlayStation 1 era was really interesting as there were tons of different types of genres for games. During then there was a mountain climbing game that was released by Sony that [Kondo-san] is fairly sure that never came out in English. It’s very poetic: shirouki. It’s literally The White Place Where One Sits. It’s a simulation game where you pay money to have a team of climbers and you have to find a way to the top of the mountain. So that’s what he’d really like to make. There’s really no comparison to the type of game he’d want to make. Going off your earlier question, maybe making a game about running a sushi shop.
I’m just imagining a game where you have the opening of Rise of the Tomb Raider where you’re climbing up the snow mountain with the Ys aesthetic.
Personally, [Kondo-san] says rock climbing is his personal hobby and that’s where that came from.
What kind of experience have you got with rock climbing?
Japan doesn’t really have mountains that are as big as Europe. However there are mountains that over 3000 meters in Japan, so they’re fairly decent size for a mountain.
What’s your favourite or most cherished mountain climbing experience?
It’s not a mountain he’s climbed, but as a child he went to Nepal, there’s a mountain called Annapurna. When he saw that he was really moved by it, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever get the chance to climb it. There’s actually a stage in Ys VIII where you climb a really big mountain so there’s maybe some influence in there. There’s a few story elements there too, with some personal experiences in there.
[Summary as I ramble here] The game reminds me of Cold Steel when I got hands on impression with it, but the closest game I can associate Ys VIII with right now is HyperDimension Neptunia in terms of its world.
Cold Steel as a game is very story focused and a lot of the systems in the game are actually there because of the story. However in contrast, Ys its main concept is the battle system. So it’s a game, as its aim is for newcomers and veterans alike to be able to play and enjoy the game. It’s something they think of very carefully, where the action is the main focus and its combat is the main focus of the Ys game. So you’ve noticed that there are Flash Guards and Flash Moves, when you guard or dodge at the right time you will gain an advantage. Flash Guard will make you invulnerable for a short period of time whilst Flash Move will slow the enemies down so you can get bonus hits on them. That’s one of the things said that’s for the advance players. Obviously players will be able to beat the game without these techniques, but the players that are maybe a little bit better will really enjoy mastering these two systems so that they can make the most of the combat.
It looks like there’s a nice mix of player skill to stat management in this game.
[Kondo-san] says that really good players will be able to beat a boss without taking any damage. There are some players in Japan that are better than the devs themselves. [Kondo-san] says it’s great that it’s out on the PS4 in Japan, as developers they can see how the player’s play. Ys has been like that when it first launched where people would upload videos. Surprisingly there are quite a few people that can beat the last boss without taking damage. On the highest difficulty, there’s normally only one person in the team that can beat it.
That reminds me when I first time I went to Japan and playing the rhythm games where some people played on the most insane difficulties and being blown away by it.
Yeah even games like Taiko where you see kids in elementary school or middle school and they’re like amazing watching them drum.
Every time I see an arcade here it just makes me go it’s not like Japan. I’m curious, are the arcade games the company has made?
They’re focused on the PC so they never actually made arcade games. He remembers as a kid he loved the arcades and would play them very often.
The interview slightly derails here talking about an old arcade game. With the topic rolling back to how old the Ys franchise is.
[Kondo-san] doesn’t think he can beat this level, which is the last section of the demo. The Ys series is 30 years old, the action is very simple and again though, many people in Japan experience Ys VIII as their first Ys game. So please let people know that people can jump into the game so that people don’t get intimidated by the 30 years or 8 in its name.