NISA Europe Interviews Toshihiro Kondo on Trails of Cold Steel III - Part 2
Last time we spoke you mentioned Estelle is a character that is particularly special to you as she was one of the first you created. Is she a character still you feel the strongest connection with?
TK: I feel like I change my answer whenever somebody asks me this question.
TK: But, a character that’s become very important me to as of late is “Dana from Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA.” That game became much more than I expected and so she became a character that I ended becoming very close to, though Estelle also remains one of my favourites.
NISA Europe: So, who would win in a fight between Dana and Estelle?
TK: If we're talking from a physical strength point of view, it would definitely be Dana because she has the same strength as dinosaurs.
NISA Europe: Last time I met you told us that events in the Trails series have already been written up and mapped out, but as the series has developed have you and the team changed certain aspects of the overall?
TK: Tons of things change, whether they’re big or small. For example, once we finished “Trails in the Sky FC” and SC, there were no plans for “Trails in the Sky The 3rd.” By that time, our company had a mandate of when a Trails game should come out, so we wanted to do what we weren’t able to do the previous two games and that’s how “Trails in the Sky The 3rd” came about.
TK: When we finished the Trails in the Sky saga, we intended to move on to the Erebonia Arc, which would be the Trails of Cold Steel series. However, at the time we were developing games only for handhelds because that was our main platform as a company, so we figured that PSP wasn’t suitable to show the grand scale of the Erebonia Arc. We thought of doing the Crossbell saga for PSP to lead up to the Erebonia Arc to further showcase just how much of a threat this country is in the overall story.
TK: More recently for the Trails of Cold Steel series itself, we actually planned to only make three games, but we ended making four. In conclusion, all the changes we end up making means things end up getting bigger and bigger. On a side note, originally, we had intended to make Olivier the main character for the Erebonia Arc, however, the more we thought about it, we thought it should be someone in the military so we ended up going with that idea. It’s a funny story because Olivier’s voice actor in Japan was always asking “When are you guys going to make me the main character?”
Since you’ve had the opportunity to meet both western and Japanese fans of the Trails series, could you let us know differences and similarities you’ve noticed between the two?
TK: To talk about similarities, people on both sides really love the characters; you can see they’re really involved with them and care deeply for them. This might be my prejudice as a Japanese person, but I thought that Japanese people were maybe a bit more into the characters and that western people were more into the gameplay, but, it’s very interesting to see that that’s not the case.
TK: I can’t really pinpoint one thing I find different between the fan bases, but the one thing I can say is that I was able to visit Anime Expo in America earlier this year, and I found out that the Mishy t-shirts were the best-selling t-shirts. I’m fairly certain that would not be the case in Japan.
S-Crafts are a huge part of the Trails of Cold Steel series, and fans love these parts, as it’s very cinematic, how do you come up with these and how do you continue to come up with new and exciting ideas for future ones?
TK: Now that we have so many characters new and old that can use S-Crafts, the whole design team comes up with ideas, which they then storyboard and we choose the one we think best suits the character it's for. The funny thing is that back in “Trails in the Sky” we tried to make the S-Crafts more grounded in reality. But, it’s kind of turned into satellites shooting projectiles from space.
TK: I remember at first thinking: “Is this really okay to have in the games now?” but fans seem to really enjoy them a lot. So now it’s become a contest among the designers on who can create the flashiest and craziest S-Craft. Our philosophy is that when we create S-Crafts they don’t go beyond the bounds of the reality of the game world and be rooted within the elements of things that are plausible within the Trails world.
With The Legend of Heroes series Nihon Falcom has created a living world populated with incredibly detailed Non-Playable Characters with ever-changing dialogue. Is it hard to maintain this ethos as new hardware hits the market, which in turn leads to longer development time for games?
TK: NPC dialogue is something that is really important to us! Usually, when we ask fans what’s your favourite aspect of the Trails series, they’ll say “The NPCs feel so alive!” That actually comes from games before the Trails series. There’s a game developed by Falcom called “The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch.” That was the first game from Falcom where every time an event in the main story happened, each NPC’s dialogue would change and this is something we really wanted to preserve. Like you said development has been getting longer and longer, and it is difficult to come up with all those things. But, since this aspect is part of Nihon Falcom’s DNA it’s something we have to carry on, as we develop these games.
TK: This was even more detailed in “The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch,” depending on who was leading the party, characters would have different responses for the player. But, that’s a little out of the scope of what we can do. So, that’s how we’ve continued that legacy in the Trails series.
The setting of Erebonia takes inspiration from European countries was there any particular countries or time period that influenced that?
TK: It’s loosely based on WW1 Imperial Germany.
In an interview you did in Japan you mentioned the series is roughly on the half-way point in terms of completion, with the series is also celebrating its 15th anniversary can you say anything about what the next 15 years hold for the series.
TK: I can’t say anything far beyond what I’ve said in other interviews, but what I can say is that we’ll probably start looking at what’s happening in the Eastern part of the continent as well as various organizations like Ouroboros and The Septian Church who have appeared numerous times within the world of Trails.
Falcom is often considering as a company defined by stories. Do you now consider Falcom a world-building company too? For example, similar to how Marvel, Star Wars & Harry Potter started off as stories but eventually turned into whole universes.
TK: I can’t really say that we’re on the level of those mentioned properties, but when we started out creating this series, we were still very young and basically our experience until then had been remaking older games from Falcom’s back catalogue. We really had to look into what came before us, as well as rely on senior staff members to make the series. It’s obviously become a lot bigger and we’re happy about that, but we never imagined it would grow to what it has today.
TK: I remember when I finished giving the explanation presentation of “Trails in the Sky” a lot of the older staff members told us “Those are some pretty grand plans for something you don’t know is going sell. You might be able to make the first one and not the second one or any more.” So, they were pretty cold to us, but obviously the series has been around for fifteen years now, so I think we did something right. After that, we stopped telling people what our plans were, instead we just put our heads down and build what we wanted to show them.
Can you talk about the differences between the Trails and Ys series development teams?
TK: For the Ys series, there’s dedicated staff of five to six members, but there’s a lot cross-development between the Ys team and the Trails team. Basically, once we know we’re going to be working on a new Ys entry, a lot of the designers and programmers from the Trails team will move over to the Ys team, and likewise for a new Trails entry. But, each team has core members of five to six people assigned to the respective series and are always focused on that franchise.
TK: The teams used to be completely separate, but as the scale of the games has gotten much larger, it's hard to have completely separate staff for each and it's necessary to move people back and forth between projects. One issue we also encountered with that was when we did separate the teams completely, they would end up fighting amongst each other.
TK: So, in order to avoid that, we ended up having the staff go back and forth between the two series.
NISA Europe: So how does that process work when you’re developing new IP, for instance, something like Tokyo Xanadu?
TK: I like to let younger staff that I typically collect from the Ys and Trails development teams work on new IP. It affords them the opportunity to show off their creativity and skills. When they’re working on the other series, they work with older staff, so they don’t really have a chance to show off their creativity as much. But, by bringing them together for a new project they’re really able to create new and exciting things. I work hard to ensure that they have these kinds of opportunities