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NISA Europe Interviews Toshihiro Kondo (Part 1/2)

Posted on September 08, 2017 by NISA EUROPE

Question 1
Prinny(A):
From all the series that you’ve worked on what’s been the game, you’ve had the most fun to work on?



Toshihiro Kondo:
From the position of president, technically I shouldn't answer. But if I have to choose one it would have to be the one I worked on at the very beginning all the way to the very end, which was “Trails in the Sky”.

So you may know that I entered Falcom because I was a big fan of “The Legend of the Heroes” games, and the first work I did within the company when I came to work on games was for “The Legend of Heroes”



Question 2
Prinny(A):
Do you have any special attachments for either of the “Trails” or “Ys” series? If so why?


Toshihiro Kondo:
Again this goes back to “Trails in the Sky” but definitely Estelle the main character from Trails 1 and 2.


Prinny(B):
Ahhh she’s really cool!


Toshihiro Kondo:
For 20 years I’ve worked with her, as it were.


Prinny(A):
Even as a fan?



Toshihiro Kondo:
Oh no I created her, so that’s why she’s very special to me.



Prinny(B):
She’s probably one of the best video game heroines!


Toshihiro Kondo:
Thank you!

On the other hand to bring it back to Ys, recently I’ve been working with the Ys series more closely, so Adol is never far from my thoughts, so right now it’s Adol.



Prinny(A):
Why Adol? Is there a particular reason?



Toshihiro Kondo:
Adol obviously doesn’t speak, but everyone who plays Ys has some kind of image of Adol within themselves, and one of the fun challenges of working with Adol, is keeping Adol consistent with what came before, while still respecting that ability of that character to be what he is for the people playing the game. And so when working with Adol you have to be careful about that but at the same time, he’s a very interesting character to work with because, in a way, he’s a character that has been created with the fans. As the fans have their own image of who Adol is and what Adol wants to be.

In a way, Adol is like a historical figure who has come into the public domain, for example in Japan you have characters like Sakamoto Ryoma who was a samurai but he carried a gun.



Prinny(A):
Alright!



Toshihiro Kondo:
The Shinsengumi which is when Japan moved from the Edo Period into the Meiji Period, right?

You’ve got these guys, and everybody in Japan loves them, and within them there is a guy called Okita Sōji, and the popular image of him is that he was this really good looking guy, but in actuality, in history, he’s wasn’t a very good looking guy at all, and so there is this gap…



Prinny(A):
Of how people perceive them?


Toshihiro Kondo:
Yeah! How they look at these historical characters and what they kind of build them up to be compared with the reality of what they actually were. Adol is similar to that in Adol’s long history, and maybe who Adol is, is perhaps different from the way people perceive him and have built him up within their game. And that’s a cool thing.



Prinny(A):
That’s for sure.



Prinny(B):
Adol’s adventures are written from journals, will you ever release a full journal with all of his adventures, eventually?



Toshihiro Kondo:
Well, there is more than 100…


*We all laugh*



Toshihiro Kondo:
The setting of Ys is that there are more than 100 journals that Adol left so we’d really have to get to work if we wanted to do that.



Alan:
But that said, our Limited Edition contains an art book which is actually Adol’s journal, so it’s the same as the Japanese version, but it is what Adol wrote. So if you look at it, it looks as if it’s handwritten, to keep it true to the character. Also, DON’T read the journal before you play the game because that will completely spoil the game for you, as it contains the whole story!



Prinny(A):
Okay, we’ll make sure to let everyone know!


Toshihiro Kondo:
Speaking of the journals, in Japan we got a few authors together and we asked them each to write a part of his journal, and some of them also wrote some of Adol’s last days. So it wasn’t actually anything official, but it’s something we have.



Prinny(A):
That’s pretty incredible.


Prinny(B):
It’s almost like a multiverse.


Toshihiro Kondo:
So in the manual for Ys 1, it says that Adol went to the north and he became lost, he went missing and wasn’t heard from again, and so the guy who wrote Gunparade actually wrote that story when we had all the authors.





Prinny(B):
That’s pretty incredible!



Toshihiro Kondo:
So this fits into what I was talking about earlier with all the historical figures, everyone has their own perception, or their own wish for how something turned out or their own desire, and so in the same way the guy who wrote Gunparade wrote this is how it happened; this is when Adol went to the north, this is what happened to him and that’s his story.



Ys is different between the creators and the players, the players give feedback to it and it’s kind of a dialogue between the people making and the people playing, but there is definitely a big difference between how the players play as Adol, and as they experience the game through Adol and how the people are creating it are creating him.



So when we create the games we really try not to make things very definite in many cases.



Prinny(A):
So you don’t lock yourselves in.


Toshihiro Kondo:
On the other hand, in Trails, it is completely written out. There is nothing left out to “Oh what do you think?” Instead; this is what happened.





Prinny(A):
So there isn’t a lot of room to fluctuate from the written path, whereas in Ys it’s the complete opposite.


Toshihiro Kondo:
Exactly!


Prinny(A):
Is there any reason for doing things this way? Do you want to be experimental with one and not on the other; is it something else entirely?


Toshihiro Kondo:
One reason that we do this for Ys is so that the next generation of developers can take over too if we write like “this happens, this happens and this happens” that doesn’t leave a lot of room or creative growth for them to do anything else.

Ys existed before I joined the company, so I’ll take my turn with it as it were and then the people that we’re training, they will come through so that when I leave they have an opportunity to take the series in their own direction. The only thing that is consistent is Adol, but the idea that he travels within an area loosely based on Europe.



Prinny(A):
What about Trails why is that so structured?


Toshihiro Kondo:
This is because the Trails fans are different, they want that really rigid structure and they want hard facts.





Prinny(A):
Oh, I see.

Toshihiro Kondo:
So everything kind of has to be written in that way, so for example; there is a character in the series, I’ll leave names out as it’s a bit of a spoiler, but the existence of this character has been a mystery for about 10 years, and when we start building this the fans talk amongst themselves they wonder “What’s going on?”, “What’s the history of this?”, “What’s happening?” and so drawing that out and creating this expectation, while we all know it’s building to something, it’s what the fans are looking for

So Ys is very free, as the fans like it really open-ended, as they can sort of make their own story, whereas the Trails fans really want the structure because they really love the detail, as that’s what makes Trails what it is, it’s all the details that satisfy those players too.





Prinny(B):
Me and my brother, we play lots of Trails and we’re always coming up with different theories, so it makes a lot of sense.





Toshihiro Kondo:
So one thing about Ys is that gameplay informs the story itself, because either doing something with the gameplay or the gameplay features, that allows us to do things with the story, a good example is for Ys VIII, you’ve got the duel protagonists system with Dana and Adol and you’ve got the uninhabited island, and because these were things they thought of from a gameplay perspective first, that allowed us to create the story.




Question 3:
Prinny(A):
For the fans who don’t know; what was the first Ys or Trails game that you worked on?



Toshihiro Kondo:
So for the Trails side of things, it was Trails in the Sky, that’s a project I’ve worked on from literally nothing, from scratch, I built it from scratch.

And for the Ys series, it was called Ys Eternal, which was a remake of Ys 1. It was a PC game and worked on it in the capacity of working on the debug for it.




Question 4:
Prinny(A):
From working on your first games to now working on Ys VIII, how has the planning process and the work process changed, what have you learned from then to now?



Toshihiro Kondo:
Working at Falcom has given an opportunity to learn tons of different things, but one thing, to put it in a phrase, would be to “make it properly”. So obviously a phrase like “make it properly” is pretty vague.

So what this means to me, and as an example what the founder of the company told me at the beginning was “your work needs to be something that you’re proud of at the end of the day”. And actually there are lots of people who do work who probably can’t say that they are proud of what they’ve done, and so for me this; “make something properly” is a reflection of that. It is to create something that I can, at the end of the day when it’s finished, be very proud of what I’ve created and worked on.

And so to go deeper into what does it mean that you are proud of? Well, I feel that that change is depending on the game that I’m working on or that the genre that the games in. So, for example, talking about Ys, it’s this idea that again, unlike the Trails series which is very story focused, Ys is very gameplay focused.


Specifically what people look for in Ys is that really fast-paced action combat, and so to be able to deliver and create a game where the player is able to clear the game but again it feels really good when you play it and the action is really solid, that’s the answer for me.





Prinny(A):
We were actually discussing this last week and Prinny (B) was saying the exact same thing, that the game focuses on combat and there is something so satisfying when you play the game and it’s really fun and you may have progressed through the game and not even noticed how many hours have gone by.





Toshihiro Kondo:
To talk about Trails series for example, when we first started working on The Legend of Heroes games, there was kind of a trend within the industry overall that graphics were getting better and better. We said to ourselves we really can’t compete on this front, so what is something we can do? Well, we can make a really engaging and enthralling story for people to get into. So this is what we focused on for Trails.

When you focus on graphics you need a lot of people, right? That’s a big investment for a company, however, to make a good story all you need is one person really.



*We all laugh*



Toshihiro Kondo:
So that’s the conclusion we came to.

So to bring it back to what I was saying, even though you only have one person you still have to do it right, and then getting that user feedback tells us that we’ve made something properly, we made this game properly.

One thing that is characteristic of Falcom fans is that they often tell us that “Falcom hasn’t made a bad game”, and so fans being able to say something so wonderful to us as a company, again is a reflection of them, at the very least, understanding that Falcom makes games properly. So for me, that goes back to what the founder said to me.





Prinny(A):
It’s kind of like the ultimate feedback loop.


Toshihiro Kondo:
Yes! We make the games properly, the fans recognize that and they reward us by saying like “wow you guys never make a bad game”. I feel that this philosophy is so ingrained in the company, that if we were to make a game that we didn’t believe in, fans would know instantly as it wouldn’t resonate with them either.



Prinny(B):
And that’s so true because your games have a certain charm, and you know that it’s been made by you.



Toshihiro Kondo:
Exactly, and that’s what Falcom is, “make it properly”.



Prinny(A):
It’s a really good philosophy to work by in any way of life.





Toshihiro Kondo:
Thank you very much.



Question 5
Prinny(A):
As you are working on powerful hardware are you finding it more difficult to make open world games now that everything requires more detail?


Toshihiro Kondo:
Yeah! Definitely! It’s getting more difficult.



*Everyone laughs*


Toshihiro Kondo:
We just finished up Trails of Cold Steel III, very very recently, and that is something that we discovered first hand with that game. For a while in the industry there was this big push towards graphics, “It has to look graphically amazing”, “Got to look graphically impressive”. During this time period, Falcom still focused more on the gameplay and on the games themselves rather than chasing after graphics and things like that. So it’s gotten to the point where we just can’t do that because our existing fans would consistently purchase our games, but this doesn’t expand to new fans.


So I feel that the big thing that we need to focus on going forward is how to balance that appropriately, the pursuit of higher definition graphics, better graphics more details and still keeping solid gameplay. It’s super difficult to get this balance right, who knows if Japan is really doing it well or not right now but it’s important to look to the West as well as we develop things too, to help us figure out what that balance is.





Question 6
Prinny(A):
Ys Memories of Celceta seems to have had a lot of influence on the new Ys VIII game, such as the utilising the map and party system, what has been improved on these systems for Ys VIII?



Toshihiro Kondo:
This kind of goes back to what we spoke about earlier, but the whole thing about Ys is the systems, in a way you can say that the systems are the story. So you might remember from Celceta, Adol lost his memories and a big part of the plot was what you were doing in the game, which was recovering Adol’s lost memories.


So the user reaction to Celceta, what people really enjoyed the most was the mapping system in it, so we said “well, since the mapping system was so highly regarded in Celceta, we should find a way to use that again in Ys VIII. The logical extension of that would be that it has to be a place that Adol doesn’t know about, so let’s do an uninhabited island. So this is how the setting of Ys VIII came to be of this uninhabited island.



Prinny(A):
So the mapping system has played a big impact on the setting of the game.



Toshihiro Kondo:

Yes!



The second part of that was the combat and the party system, so looking at this, it’s always been really well regarded, but from a narrative point of view you can’t really do everything you wanted to do, so this idea we thought that we can’t really show everything that we want to show with just Adol… but Adol is the main character, right? So we had to come up with a solution and we thought that we could have another main character, but how were we going to make it so it’s Adol? Well, what if she came in Adol’s dreams… then it’s all linked back to Adol.



The thing about Ys is that it’s kinda like what you said earlier Taku, as long as you have that really satisfying combat, if that’s the core of the game, this it’s going to be a Ys game right. You have this core gameplay, then you have the new elements that you put into Ys to make a new Ys each time, and so the repetition of doing that each time creates a new game and the cool thing is that it’s radically different than the previous ones while still keeping true to the past games, so that is essentially how we came up with Ys games.



Question 7
Prinny(A):
So I wanted to talk about jumping in the game, as Ys VII was the first Ys game to include jumping, there was also another huge Japanese Action ARP that introduced jumping into its series for the first time The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, what do you think will be the next big thing to introduced into Japanese games design?



Toshihiro Kondo:
I can’t really speak about what others might do in the industry, but up-until-now at least for the last few games Ys has been very flat moving, but with jumping that allowed us to explore a completely new axis of direction and movement, which was really interesting from a development and gameplay standpoint, so what we are thinking of right now is how can we take that to the next level, so how can we use the air; does that mean we’ll have air dash or does that mean he’ll have a hook shot? We don’t know but that’s precisely what we’re talking about right now to figure out how to evolve Ys and get the next thing.



Prinny(A):
Yeah, that’s where I was leading to, Zelda has been around for many many years and now they’ve only just introduced jumping into their games, Ys, of course, did this in VIII and now what is the next big thing. So it’s nice to see that maybe they are already thinking about it.



Toshihiro Kondo:
Yeah, that’s the cool thing about Ys, because as we are thinking about these things we come up with cool ideas, and then it’s like we really want to do this, how can we relate the story into that, and that creates something totally new and interesting. Again this goes back to what I said earlier. This is why we don't lay things out in stone beforehand for the future.


Prinny(A):
As you said before so it’s always open.


Toshihiro Kondo:
Exactly.

 

End of Part 1/2

Translation by:  Alan Costa

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