From Ys to Trails of Cold Steel: Interview with Nihon Falcom President Toshihiro Kondo
Nihon Falcom has been one of the major players in the role-playing genre since the early ’80s. With Ys and The Legend of Heroes series as well as plenty of standalone titles, Nihon Falcom continues to be a major prolific developer. ConFreaks & Geeks recently sat down with Toshihiro Kondo, the president of Nihon Falcom. We spoke with Mr. Kondo regarding Nihon Falcom’s games and development history, and we certainly appreciate his insightful answers.
Interview by Vincent Lai Assisted by William Hong and Michael Koyama Transcribed by Davies Green and Michael Koyama Translated by Alan Costa
Aside from Ys vs Sora no Kiseki, Nihon Falcom has exclusively created excellent single player experiences. What are your thoughts on creating multiplayer games or adding multiplayer features to games like Ys?
As a company and as people in the company, we really enjoy single player games. That’s why we mainly focus on them. We actually get quite a bit of Japanese fans asking if we would consider making another Sora vs Ys. It’s something that we’d definitely want to try again sometime in the future, but at the moment there’s no plans for it.
Nihon Falcom has worked with other Western publishing companies in the past. Can you tell us what makes your partnership with NIS America unique?
NIS America originally approached us with a really enthusiastic proposal. We were able to really see the enthusiasm the company had for games and for our titles, which was something we appreciated. The second big thing is that it’s not only North America; NIS America, in spite of the name, also deals with Europe as well. Particularly they offered to do French localization. So it’s the first time that our games will come out in French. Even beyond that, there are many other things NIS America approached us with to challenge the growth of our properties. So we decided to go with them.
Do you have a personal favorite Nihon Falcom title? Or one you’re most proud of?
Without a doubt, it’s The Legend of Heroes III: The Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch. That’s a title I first encountered when I was a university student and fell in love with it so much that I made a fan website for it. After playing it, I thought “Man, I would love to work with this company one day.” So obviously, I ended up working there.
Directly because of that game, due to the intricacy of the story and how good the story was, that game had a direct influence on the “Trails of” series, particularly Trails in the Sky. It’s a very, very meaningful game for me.
The Legend of Heroes series has gained a lot of popularity in the west with Trails in the Sky and Trails of Cold Steel. Have you considered bringing the earlier entries like the Gagharv trilogy or the Kiseki duology to modern consoles and PC?
It is definitely something that we would like to work on. Particularly, when it comes to the three Sora no Kiseki (Trails in the Sky) games, and then the Crossbell duology as they are known over here. Since those were only ever released really on handhelds, I would love to bring them up to modern consoles. While there’s nothing to directly report on at the moment, and also because the Kiseki series itself is actually continuing with new titles, it’s hard to make a commitment to anything. We have begun some things for certain titles. So maybe in the future please look forward to it.
Any plans on bringing the Legend of Heroes games to the Switch?
It’s definitely something to realize but one of the issues that we face is the engine the games were originally made on. It makes it a little bit difficult to import it to something else. So we’re still trying to figure out a good way to be able to get those games onto the Switch. But it is something that we would like to pursue.
Have you ever considered making sequels to one off titles like Gurumin and Popful Mail?
Those kinds of cute titles are things we haven’t done for a while now. Particularly because we’ve been so focused on the Trails series and Ys. It is something I would like to revive. There is certain members of staff who really like Popful Mail, and there’s also members of the staff who worked on Gurumin itself. I would love to be able to find the time to simply be able to revive those series. I would also like to do a sequel to Tokyo Xanadu, too. Lots of things I would love to do but so little time.
Falcom Sound Team jdk has contributed amazing music to Nihon Falcom games over the decades. When creating a theme for a game, is it a collaborative process or is the sound team given free reign?
When it comes to the Trails series, there’s a lot of communication between the development team and the music team. That’s because there are so many scenes within the game that it’s important to match the atmosphere right. So for example, if you have a happy scene, you need happy music. You have a sad scene, you need music that’s appropriate to that. Also, they give requests for how many tracks they want throughout the entire thing. So when it comes to Trails, yes, it’s a very, very collaborative process.
On the other hand, you have something like Ys which is actually a much more off the cuff you could say. By that I mean that rather than directly explain everything about the game, we might give some general instructions. Like this is a song for the heroine, this is going to be a boss battle theme, the stage of the players playing is like this, etc. So just very generalized instructions and then the team will go ahead and make it. Rather than go and write down twenty or so tracks like in Trails, with Ys it actually was “knock yourselves out and make as many tracks as you can.” Then they bring the tracks to us. Then we pick and choose the ones we want that will fit in the different areas of the game.
What are your favorite songs from the group?
There have been 4,000 tracks that have been made over the years for Falcom. It’s really hard to choose just one. But for me specifically, because Trails in the Sky is a title that’s really near and dear to my heart: the title for the main antagonist in the early part of the game, Raven. His theme is called “Gin No Isshi, Kin No Tsubasa” (“Silver Will, Golden Wings”).
Any thoughts on having jdk perform abroad?
Unfortunately there hasn’t been an opportunity for North America or for Europe, but the band plays fairly often in Asia. They’ve played in Taiwan before and two years ago, they actually did a tour of China over five cities. It’s not uncommon for them to play in Asia.
Nihon Falcom is best known for creating outstanding action games and JRPGs. Are there are any other genres you’d like to explore?
Well by and large, we like RPGs, which is why we make them. But, if we were to try something else, one that we would love to make would be in the action-adventure genre. That’s just my personal opinion.
Who’s your favorite heroine in the Ys franchise?
It’s a little bit embarrassing because I created her, but Dana from Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. The reason for that is that I set out to create a character that was memorable as many had been throughout the series. One of the great things is that old fans of the original Ys as well as people who just started universally wanted to really like this character. She was a character that really resonated with a lot of people. I was really happy that happened and I really like her a lot.
Staff within Nihon Falcom are not afraid of sharing their opinions even with me, the president. Because I’m the one writing the story, it’s not uncommon to get some pretty rough feedback. With that the staff have told me she’s a really good character.
What do you think is the biggest challenge of bringing games to the West?
As a Japanese company, we make games from a Japanese perspective primarily for Japanese people. That said, over the years as Japanese games, particularly our games, have become more and more accepted over here in the West, there are certain things that we began to think about. One for example, is the age setting of characters. It’s not uncommon to have characters in their teens in Japan, whereas over here, that doesn’t seem to be as well received.
Another thing is that some characters might seem like they would appear in like a light novel for otaku, which are obviously very popular in Japan. Whereas again over here, those types of characters, the assumption isn’t as great. Those are kind of the two things that we began to really begin to consider as we approached development. It’s not really that huge of a concern. It’s just something that we began to consider in our development process.
Which game developers do you admire?
I am a big fan of both the God of War franchise as well as Uncharted. So Santa Monica Studios and Naughty Dog. I am a little bit jealous because I feel like those are the types of games that we can make. (laughs)
What do you like to do in your free time?
I really enjoy the outdoors. I love going camping with my family as well as mountain climbing.
There are a lot of fans who would love to see Adol in Smash Bros. In a one-on-one sword fight between Adol and Link, who would win?
That is up to the player in control!
If you were to create another crossover game, which Nihon Falcom characters would you include?
So it sounds like you’re familiar with it. So you might know that Lloyd from [Trails of] Blue and Zero came out in the first one. If we make another, I mean you’d have to have Rean right? I would love to see Rean out there.
Will bumping to attack ever come back in a modern Ys game?
So there’s actually quite a few fans of the bump system in the office. There’s an item that you can equip that allows you to dash and when you dash into enemies, it will inflict damage. So it’s like the hidden bump system in Ys VIII. Actually, when we were developing Ys SEVEN as a prototype, we developed the bump system and it turned out pretty well. But we came to this realization: “why are we doing this?” (laughs)
Thinking about the new players, players who are only used to the modern game, they might be like, well “what on earth is this? Why are you bumping me?”
Special thanks to Erin Kim for arranging the interview.