Nihon Falcom’s Passionate President Talks About Ys.
Last week, we at Hey Poor Player had the amazing opportunity to interview the president of Nihon Falcom, Toshihiro Kondo, in the beautiful city of San Francisco. President Kondo was here to talk to us about his upcoming western release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, which is being published by NIS America. We had the joy of trying this new game at E3 this year and it did not disappoint. The Ys series of games has always had a dedicated fanbase in the west, and many western fans are excited about this new iteration of the Ys franchise. We asked Kondo-san about Ys VIII, the legacy of the series, and many other things. Kondo-san was not shy to tell us about the game and his passion for the Ys franchise. Before we get to the interview I would like to thank NISA’s senior associate producer Alan Costa for translating our discussion.
HPP: Kondo-san, thank you very much for doing this interview with us. Our Editor-in-Chief in particular was very excited about this interview. So a new Ys title is coming out soon, what would you like to sort of tell us for those who have never played an Ys title?
Kondo: This June in Japan, Ys welcomed as a series its 30th year. And Ys is an action RPG series. Throughout these thirty years, the series has always focused on one person, that’s the hero Adol Christin – who happens to be on my shirt *laughs*, the red haired hero. And it follows him and his adventures throughout the world.
In terms of series framework, we know that Adol left many travel journals – over 100, throughout his journeys in the world. So each game is kind of like picking up one of his travel journals, reading his story, and seeing what happened that time. So there’s many adventures in this world. And in terms of the gameplay itself, it is an action RPG. It’s very simple to control but it’s very fun and easy to pick up – it’s very quick. One of the biggest points of the series has always been that the characters are very well liked. And it’s a very fun, exciting, and quick game to play.
HPP: Many people are aware of Adol. He has a fiery personality along to match his hair, and the new game is introducing a secondary protagonist, Dana. Is there anything you want to say about Dana and her role in the game? Without spoiling too much of course.
Kondo: Dana is the heroine of this game. Part of the setting of this game in particular is that everyone winds up on a deserted island through the course of the story very early on – it’s not a big spoiler, and Adol begins to see this girl Dana in his dreams. As Adol has these dreams, he doesn’t know who Dana is, what she is, what time she comes from – he doesn’t know anything about her.
Throughout the course of the story he begins to have more dreams and learn more about her, and he begins to solve and figure out what’s going on in relation to her. Up until now, the Ys series has primarily focused on Adol as the main playable character. In a series-first this time, there are sequences where the player will play as Dana and experience her parts as well. So within that, the player continues to play Adol’s parts, he plays the dream parts of Dana and gradually these two come together throughout the story. In this situation, Dana is, as mentioned earlier, the heroine. But her role in the story is such that you could call her another protagonist or one of the main characters.
HPP: As someone who’s never played an Ys title, I immediately noticed the really well done character art, and Dana really stood out to me (because Nathan loves waifus). I’m really excited to see what becomes of her when we get to play the game. Like I mentioned earlier, some colleagues and I got to try out Ys VIII at E3, and one thing my editor-in-chief noticed right off the bat is that it’s a major evolution of the franchise, bringing it into a more 3D environment. What were the challenges in bringing such a classic franchise to 3D and also modernizing it in general for this day and age?
Kondo: For 3D itself, we have experience doing 3D through the Trails series – so that in of itself wasn’t a difficult thing. However, since the Ys series is an action game, having that action in 3D was one area we had to pay special attention to. Another thing is for the first time in the 3D series we can jump. So getting the feeling of distance properly, conveying distance properly to people when jumping is something we took a lot of care and time into. Another thing was that this being in 3D and it being on a deserted island, the scale of that island turned out to be very great. So great in fact, that in the Vita version we weren’t able to put in everything we had originally planned to put into it.
HPP: So one of the more interesting features to come to our attention as of late is the ability to build a village with your respective castaways. How did that come about and how does that blend into the rest of the game and its mechanics?
Kondo: Again, the setting for this game is that Adol and his companions were on a boat. The boat capsizes and they wind up as castaways on this island. On this island there are creatures called Ancient Species, and these Ancient Species are very fierce and antagonistic to the people that have wound up on this island. So therefore in order to protect themselves they build a village which is called the Castaway Village. So throughout Adol’s adventures on the island, he comes across different people who were on the boat originally with him and he rescues them and sends them back to the village. However, at the very beginning of the game it’s only himself, the girl Laxia, and the captain of the boat. And these people who he does find all have an occupation, and these occupations allow them to perform different services for Adol. For example, it might be a blacksmith and things like that. So as Adol continues to rescue these people they’ll provide different services to him, which will allow him to go further and further in his explorations and adventure. So this system is a series-first and in Japan it was very highly reviewed and the fans really loved it. I really hope that fans over here and in Europe will really look forward to this and enjoy this entirely new element to the Ys series.
HPP: As someone who enjoys macro management elements in RPGs I am very much looking forward to having this castaway village in this game. It sounds very interesting and I like how it blends into the rest of this game. The scope of the game is larger than anything previously in the Ys franchise, and you developed it for two consoles. Was it difficult developing this game with the Vita in mind? You kind of mentioned the differences that had to be made with both of the consoles. So how does that affect the game in general, with this idea of scope in mind and these two consoles?
Kondo: Earlier I mentioned to you that we have parts of the game where the player will actually play as Dana. But due to the limitations of the card size for Vita games, we weren’t able to fully implement all of those actions sequences for Dana. So specifically this time, even though within the Vita version there are Dana gameplay elements, thanks to the PS4 there’s much more that was added. You are able to grow Dana as a character, which fits in well with the fact that she is the second protagonist in the story. Within the main game you have Adol and then Adol has a party, and in total there are six people. However, on the Dana side of things, Dana fights by herself. For the Playstation 4 version of the game, Dana actual has 3 different style changes, which adds more to her and for the gameplay in terms of things she can do. So on one hand you have the party system for Adol, and you have the solo parts with just Dana, but since she has those different styles there’s a lot going on.
One more thing is that we mentioned earlier is that you are building your castaway village. One big part of it is that you’re protecting it. So, monsters will come to you and you will have to defend your village from the monsters. However, in the PlayStation 4 version we have that of course, but also there’s parts where you can go out and go to the enemy’s home base and attack them. So in addition to the things I mentioned, usually in the game where you’re going around on the map it’s always daytime. But thanks to the PS4 we have night sequences as well – that’s something new. We were able to add more dungeons, which are things we had originally planned but were not able to put into the Vita version. Basically all of the things we were unable to do on the Vita version we were able to implement into the PlayStation 4 version, so it is very full of content. There’s so much to talk about in the PS4. But finally when it comes to Dana herself actually we’ve added more story sequences for her, so that the players can learn more about her and her story. Of course the Vita version is a complete game – there’s a beginning middle and end, and it’s a complete story. But if you want to know more, then you should definitely pick up the PlayStation 4 version.
HPP: So, a lot of fans expect some crazy boss fights in this upcoming iteration of the franchise. I got to experience one of these boss fights at E3. Without spoiling anything, do you have a particular boss fight that you’re particularly excited for? Or perhaps the most fun to design?
Kondo: It’s really hard to talk about anything without it becoming a spoiler, but I personally feel that the last boss fight is incredible. Obviously you go through an entire adventure to get to the last boss. And seeing the boss, seeing the visuals of it, understanding the stage where you’re fighting and putting all that into consideration against what you’ve experienced throughout the entire game, it really adds a lot of depth and meaning to it. We really hope that you play through the entire game and get that far so you can reach the last boss. Anymore than that I’ll start spoiling things, so I think I’ll leave it at that.
HPP: Totally understandable. The Ys franchise has been around for three decades. That is a very long legacy, especially by video game standards you rarely see a series last this long and have such a presence. What is the sort of baggage you carry moving forward with such a high legacy, and how do you keep the consistency up with a franchise that has been going on this long?
Kondo: So, obviously the Ys series existed before I became president of the company, and it was a series I always really looked at and held in very high esteem. So coming into the company and as you said becoming responsible for that, I felt a very great deal of responsibility towards that; to take care of it and make sure it’s good. At first I didn’t even know if I could touch the series and continue it, and so we took a very orthodox approach to the games we released. However, this time specifically for Ys VIII we really went all out and we added a lot of new things. That really paid off because the fans in Japan really enjoyed it, and released to very high acclaim. So going forward we want to continue to evolve the series and continue to take it to new places as well. We mentioned earlier that Adol left over a hundred different journals, and I don’t know if we’ll complete all one hundred of those journals in game form. But we’ll certainly do our best and try to do as many as we can.
HPP: As a newcomer to the franchise I am very much looking forward to this new iteration. And I have a massive amount of respect for you for taking on the legacy of such a well beloved and taking the necessary risked to improve upon it.
Kondo: Thank you.
HPP: While we are on the subject of Ys and its legacy, many other JRPG franchises have taken a very radical approach from their previous iterations and have been going for a more modern open world or action style. What do you think about those games and how do you feel like Ys sort of differs from those games?
Kondo: Within the category of JRPGs at large, you have action RPGs. I personally feel that you are seeing less of action RPGs in particular. Ys has a legacy as an action RPG, and I’d like to make is so that Ys is the representative JRPG series. And we want to continue to do that and improve upon it and take that title. Another characteristic of Ys is that even within action RPGs it’s very quick. The movement is very fast and that speed, and the speed you get while playing is incredibly important to us. Within the development team we are always talking about how we can keep that feeling of speed and improve upon it.
Going forward that is also an element that we’d like to look at and refine as we continue working on the Ys series. Another thing we’d like to look at and take care of and look at closely as we continue, is the hero of the entire series, Adol Christin. Thirty years ago when Adol made his debut, there really wasn’t much written about what kind of person he was or who he was. But over the course of the years and many games, the fans themselves have actually kind of stepped into that role and have filled in a lot backstory on their own. So we like to feel that we’re working with the fans to create Adol’s history, along with his character and personality. We want to continue that with the fans going forward. Over the course of creating many games we’ve come to notice what have fans have been saying and what they’ve said about Adol and who he is. Together we’ve really created a complete person in Adol. We really want to respect that going forward and think carefully about who Adol is as we continue to make games in the series.
Especially in Japan, it’s very common for historical characters in Japanese history to be taken up and given a life of their own. For example, Samurai and things like this. Obviously, no one living then is currently around, so no one knows what these people were like. However, through the course of novels and movies, you get a public perception of who these characters were and what they were. They become a public figure to people, much in the same way as Adol has a long history, he’s become this too. We really hope for the course of developing more games and working with Adol as a character that he also gets this legendary status. In the status of someone we’ve all thought about and created our own image in our mind, that we can have that and respect it.
HPP: Stepping away from Ys VIII for a second – when our readers found out we’d be conducting this interview, many of them were very curious to know if we’ll ever see Ys V make its way to the west. Would you rule out bringing this release to English-speaking fans in the future?
Kondo: So Ys V was a game that came out for the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom as it’s called in Japan) and it was released by Falcom only in Japan. However, looking at the records we have in the company for the planning of the game, there’s a lot that was in the planning for it but not implemented in the final game. Within these plans were really cool stuff that we’d love to put in there. So should we have the opportunity to work on Ys V again, these are the things we’d like to consider and put into the game finally. The first game the we worked on was actually Ys VI. When working on Ys VI we took a careful look back at the previous games in the series, the timeline and things like that. We made it a lot cleaner and set everything up. If we have an opportunity to go back and work on Ys V we also want to make sure it fits cleanly and nicely within the timeline we cleaned up and developed. Obviously, I can’t promise anything here and now, I don’t know what the future holds. But Ys V is certainly a game that we want to take one more chance at and create again. Should we ever have an opportunity to do that, we hope that the fans here will finally to play the game and enjoy it
HPP: I like how instead of just doing an English translated port you would like to add more things. I think that’s a fantastic approach and a fantastic way to show off this game to western fans. We have to ask – if you had to choose a favorite game in the Ys series, which one would it be and why?
Kondo: Being asked what’s my favorite is obviously a very difficult question to answer. However, I would probably have to say it’s Ys I. All the games from Ys II had a very different system, and Ys I is unique in that the system is very simple. It’s a very early RPG, but there’s something very special there. One thing that particularly sticks out in my mind when I first played it, is that once you leave the village you see a great field standing before and in the distance there’s a giant tower reaching up to the sky. Obviously this was displayed during primitive early sprite graphics. But even still, that sense of adventure, from that point you as a player you are going to embark on this grand adventure and do all these amazing things. That’s a feeling I remember clearly and vividly even to this day, and it’s a feeling that’s hard to match in anything. For those reasons that’s why Ys I is my favorite.
HPP: I’m going to wrap up this interview by saying thank you so much for allowing us the privilege of interviewing you, and thank you Alan for translating. Do you have anything you want to say to the long time fans and those now getting into Ys?
Kondo: For many years we developed games with the Japanese market in mind and we made games primarily for our Japanese fans. Throughout the last few years – without ever thinking this would be the case, we realize the JRPGs are special and that there are fans outside of Japan who like them too. These last few years we’ve had the privilege of releasing several games out in the West, and little by little we’ve been gaining more recognition and more fans. We really want to think more of these fans and take care of them. These fans in the West have become a big encouragement for us, up until now we have kind of developed games with the Japanese market in mind. Knowing now that we have fans in the West, we really want to make something that will please them as well. And we want to make sure that all our fans everywhere do as well. We really hope that people will pick up Ys VIII, and going forward we want to make games everyone can enjoy as well. Thank you very much, please look forward to the games.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana hits North America and EU in September. Thank you again Toshihiro Kondo, Alan Costa of NISA, and Robbie Agustin of NISA for making this interview possible. For info about the game as it comes closer to your stores, please check back here at Hey Poor Player!
For more on Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, be sure to check out our hands-on preview from E3 here.