Many thanks to both Lorianna Yui and Vladisaac for the translations of this article!
Exclusive Interview with Falcom president Kondo Toshihiro regarding the direction and history of the Kiseki series
On April 15th, Nihon Falcom’s representative and president Kondo Toshihiro, with invitation from Sony Computer Entertainment, has come to Taiwan to attend the spring Playstation news conference. He personally brought the simplified Chinese copy of the Legend of Heroes Sen no Kiseki and will discuss it and other related news.
After the conference, Toshihiro Kondo had accepted an exclusive interview with Baha GNN, where he divulged information regarding Falcom’s business, the future direction for the Kiseki series, and to address the growth of the customer-base and how it has affected Falcom’s business.
Bahamut GNN Editor will be referred to as Baha and Toshihiro Kondo will be Kondo.
Baha: Before, Falcom used to exclusively develop games for the PC. What is the reason for the decision to shift to console gaming?
Kondo: Actually, I was not the one who made that decision; the decision was made by the former president of Falcom [Shinji Yamasaki]. The reason was because the customer base for PC gaming was shrinking significantly over the years. With this change in the environment, we felt it was necessary to reach out to a wider number of gamers interested in Falcom games on accessible platforms.
Baha: Amongst all the different gaming systems, why was the Playstation [PSP/PS Vita/PS3] chosen for the development platform?
Kondo: At the time, Falcom chose to try the PSP to start. When I first held a PSP, I felt that its graphical performance was impressive for a portable console. Because Falcom’s games are very story and character driven, we felt that it was the right platform for our company. After those considerations, we chose the PSP, followed by the Playstation Vita and the PS3.
When the Legend of Heroes Sora no Kiseki FC was first released to the PSP, 20,000 copies were sold on the first week. This made us anxious, and we thought that we had made a bad decision, but word of mouth regarding the game began to attract the old fans and curious newcomers to the series. In the end, the game sold over 100,000 copies. At that point, we were certain that it was a wise decision for us to stick with the PSP for our platform.
Baha: Why did you shift to using third party publishers for the PC Chinese localizations rather than enter the Asian market directly with Sen no Kiseki? Did you feel that there were problems while working with them?
Kondo: This isn’t just in the Asian language market and while Falcom has tried using our own English development team in the past, we now rely on a third party local to North America to be in charge of publishing and selling our games for the local audience. We have also used third party publishers in Taiwan, Mainland China, and South Korea as well. Falcom has gained more insight into the customer base, their feedback, and the general market demands from those countries. These markets are not transparent enough for Falcom to fully comprehend ourselves, thus making confusing- we were reluctant to enter the markets without help.
Kondo: After we released Sen no Kiseki in Japan, we received a lot of requests for the game to be localized in the Asia circle, including enthusiastic messages from Chinese and Korean fans. Falcom started to think about whether we wanted to go into the Asian market directly. However, it turned out to be an extensive trial. When we were worried about how we would handle this problem, we were approached by SCEJA, who took the initiative to assist us with the port of Sen no Kiseki to Chinese. This was perfect timing, and we made the deal with SCEJA’s Miss Chen Yun Yun the day she visited our office. This event left a very deep impression with me.
Chen Yun Yun: I remember what happened then. (laughs) I didn’t know why I was being called to Falcom’s office, as we didn’t receive any communications from either party before this. However, upon my first visit, I found out that President Kondo was very enthusiastic about entering the Chinese market. When we made our proposal, and explained that we could provide assistance for the localization and sales data, Mr. Kondo immediately said, “Great! Let’s do this!” It was that simple.
Baha: Long-time fans in Asia are used to play Falcom games on PC. Since the decision to pair up with SCEJA, has Falcom reconsidered the possibility of making the games for the PC in Chinese?
Kondo: When I first joined the company, Falcom specialized in exclusively working on PC games. It was a tradition to only release PC games within the company. However, developing games for two platforms is a very difficult task; therefore, we’re going to focus on getting the console versions out first. In the past, both Zero no Kiseki and Ao no Kiseki were released to the PC platform by a third party publisher. I expect we would go forward with it as well, if the opportunity to do so came up.
Baha: With your plan on releasing Sen no Kiseki for Playstation consoles in China, could you share some of your future plans with local fans?
Kondo: According to what I know, there are quite a lot of Kiseki and other Falcom games fans.
According to what I know, there are a lot of fans [in China] of both Kiseki and other Falcom games. I also receive news from China and I ask my colleagues to send me feedback from the fans- that’s why I know the fans here are the real deal, so when the chance comes up, we will find solutions to bringing our games overseas. However, our collaboration with SCEJA just started, so we have to make decisions according to the situations we face. Either we follow Playstation and we enter the Chinese market together, or we will have to think of an alternative.
Baha: Sen no Kiseki is the first Falcom game to use HD 3D graphics. What have been the reactions to it from the fans? And with this in mind, how do you rate your development of it?
Kondo: Frankly speaking, we weren’t that worried about the full 3D graphics for Sen no Kiseki. On the contrary, it was the fans who were worried instead of us. (laugh) They feared that the 3D would be so much work for the team that it would be a detriment to the game’s world building. With this in mind, a lot of fans were worried about the influence of the 3D graphics on the game as the series is widely known for its huge emphasis on the setting. When the game went on sale, a lot of players found that the original traits of the Kiseki series remained and it even further reinforced the expressions of the characters. In our point of view, this evolutionary step is important. Besides the fact that we kept the aspect of the Kiseki series, we managed to also take a huge step forward in its development. The Playstation [User’s Choice] Award also represents the recognition we received from the players. What’s coming up next for us is the release of Sen no Kiseki II, and in it we will further enhance the animations of the 3D models. This will enhance the liveliness of the story more. Please look forward to it!
Kondo: As for the rating part, being a game creator, of course I can’t give myself a perfect 100 points. (laugh) While making games, we always put 120% of our effort into it. That is why we will evolve for sure, no matter what. When the process is finished, we always look back to our project and find out what things we can change or improve. This is how we evolve our games and improve them. For this reason, when I put 120% of my energy into one project, I would only give myself a score of 75 points for the result. Don’t look at this as a negative way of thinking, though. It helps us to have better expectations on our upcoming titles, because since we have a rating of 75 points, we still have 25 points left to improve.
Chen Yun Yun: Which parts of Sora no Kiseki embarrassed you?
Kondo: I’m actually not too proud of the whole product. (laugh) When we were making Sora no Kiseki, it was during the period that we were trying to transition the Legend of Heroes series into the Kiseki series. Since the Legend of Heroes series is such an important franchise for Falcom, the whole team was working on it, including a younger me which had the feeling of “I don’t want to lose against the seniors.” As a result, a lot of effort went into the game. When I look back at it, it makes me quite embarrassed as there are a lot of story points which were too obvious, and things too unyielding such as making Estelle and Joshua a pair of lovers.
Baha: There were loading problems when Sen no Kiseki came out in Japan. Some people were wondering if the improvements made on the graphics in Sen no Kiseki II will cause a similar problem. Do you have any resolution for this issue?
Kondo: When Sen no Kiseki came out on the PS Vita in Japan, many players found that the loading times were too long. Since then, we have released updates to improve the load times. The Chinese version of the game will be based on the latest version of the Japanese game. Not only does it solve the issue with load times, it also corrects other issues that are still present in the Japanese version. You can say that it’s an updated version of the Japanese release.
Baha: When Sen no Kiseki II is completed, what plans do you have for the Sen no Kiseki series itself? Will it become a trilogy?
Kondo: I can’t say anything for now, but I believe that Sen no Kiseki II‘s ending will be very shocking for fans of the Kiseki series. Please look forward to it!
Baha: Since we will have traveled through the Liberl Kingdom, Crossbell City, and the Erebonian Empire, will the next entry in the series take place in the Calvard Republic?
Kondo: Although there are currently no concrete plans to create a game in the Calvard Republic, we definitely have a clear view for its part of the story.
Baha: This year the Kiseki Series is celebrating its 10th anniversary. How much development is left for the series?
Kondo: With regards to how long it will take to finish the Kiseki series, I’m unable to give you a concrete answer. The relationship between me and my colleagues – with whom we turned the Legend of Heroes series into the Kiseki series – is very good. That’s why we will continue to tell the story of the Kiseki series until the very end. Especially with all of the foreshadowing, and there are still a lot of mysteries. As long as everything in the story isn’t told, I can’t die. (laugh) At least with Sen no Kiseki II we will clear up the Empire’s story. As for the next step, it’s something to discuss in the future.
Baha: Are there plans for a new series besides the Kiseki series?
Kondo: As we were making the games in the Kiseki series, our internal team has gained a lot of skills and experience. We really hope that we will be able to use this experience in other projects. If the chance comes up, we will be very excited to tackle a new IP.
It’s unavoidable for a game of a series to follow some sort of tradition; therefore a sequel in the same series can’t abandon those traditions. As an example, we can’t have a story that takes place in the modern world in the Kiseki series. That’s why we really want to challenge a new series other than Kiseki.
Baha: With six titles in ten years, there are new players unfamiliar with the first games in the Kiseki series. With the recent releases of Zero no Kiseki Evolution and the upcoming Ao no Kiseki Evolution on Playstation Vita, are there any plans for Chinese releases of the older entries of the series for PS3 and Vita? Perhaps you’ve also considered a comeback for the Gagharv Trilogy?
Kondo: I constantly hope that more players will be able to experience Sora no Kiseki in more accessible platforms. That’s why we are still attempting to accomplish various initiatives. Please be patient and wait for the good news. If the Chinese fans really want a Chinese version, please address your requests to SCEJA.
Kondo: About the Gagharv Trilogy, the company’s internal team – myself included – hope to have the chance to remake White Witch. However, in order to put all the original content in the current console generation, we may need about three to four years of development time. Just the number of towns alone is about four times higher than the ones in Sora no Kiseki or Sen no Kiseki. Converting the game’s graphics into 3D will be an extremely difficult task. We are still waiting for the right opportunity to arrive.
Baha: Outside of the Kiseki series, there are fans that are quite enthusiastic about the Ys and Zwei series. Are there any plans for a new entry of these series, as well as a Chinese version?
Kondo: The series you’ve mentioned are part of Falcom’s flagship series. We certainly will continue to respond to the fans’ expectations, but I’m not in a position to reveal any details. Ys is an old series we obviously can’t abandon, and we do have a current plan for the games. Everyone please be patient and wait for the good news.
Baha: At the end of last year, Falcom announced a mystery project. Do you have any new information on it that you can reveal?
Kondo: It almost slipped my tongue a few times. (laugh) At the moment, I’m not able to reveal any concrete information, but I can still tease the game a little bit. During the interview, I mentioned the name of the game. Although it is part of a very old and famous series, we will bring new innovations to it. That’s all I can say for now. (smile) You can still find clues in these two pictures.
Baha: The Playstation 4 was released in Japan recently. What are your opinions on the system’s performance in Japan? Does Falcom have any plans for the PS4?
Kondo: I think the PS4 is doing pretty well in Japan. Some of the company employees praised the console after playing with it at home. We have also received a PS4 development kit. We did some experiments with it and we’ve concluded that it’s a really good platform to develop on. When these experiences reach a more mature stage, we’ll be able to make an announcement. Please look forward to it! I personally think the PS4 is an outstanding platform and I hope there will be even more Japanese companies engaged in the growth of the market, but also the whole Asian market. For example, Falcom’s RPGs will be able to fit both the Japanese and Asian markets.
Baha: When you were a student, it was your love for The Legend of Heroes that drove you to working with Falcom. In about ten years, you started as a normal employee, became a game creator, and then you ended up as the company’s president. This evolution is quite a record. Could you share with us some thoughts on this?
Kondo: I feel like I didn’t do anything special. (laugh) I just did my best in order to accomplish my work, and this is pretty much how it went. But there was one other crucial point during the process, which is: being able to feel other’s feelings. This point applies for both making and playing games. Game creators have to be aware of the players’ feelings, as well as the feelings of their own teammates. Most of the team, there are a lot of different ideas brought by the members of the same team. In order to make a good game, it isn’t just about collecting everyone’s ideas and putting them together. Instead, there should be one project leader leading the team as a whole. This leader may have his own ideas, but he should also accept suggestions from others. Then he should find out what are the best ideas in order to bring about the best gaming experience. This is one of the important parts of the game development process.
Falcom doesn’t have one very famous game creator, like other game companies. Yet we still managed to gain a general recognition as a well-known company. One key point of Falcom is that our employees have approximately the same skill level. Although everyone has their own strong points, we are able to cooperate and communicate easily between each other. Thus, we are able to make games of higher quality than the norm, and receive people’s recognition.
Baha: During the SCEJA press conference [on the 15th of April], you also announced the date for the Falcom jdk BAND Asia Live Tour in Taipei. Can you disclose some details about the show?
Kondo: We have yet to decide the contents of the upcoming show, but I can guarantee the presence of all eight members of the Falcom jdk Band. Fans from Taiwan, please continue to support us!
Baha: To conclude, can you share some words about Sen no Kiseki, or Falcom games for players in Taiwan?
Kondo: This time we’ve decided to collaborate with SCEJA to bring our games to consoles in Chinese. I think there will be a very positive outcome from it and we will be able to have a better sense of the enthusiasm with this new market. For instance, during the Taipei Game Show in January, there were a lot of Falcom fans. The welcome was so warm that I wanted to move Falcom to Taiwan. (big laugh) Although this is just an example, but I was really able to feel the emotions conveyed by the Taiwanese fans. Furthermore, when we will make any new announcements or events, SCEJA will quickly share information with us about the response from the Taiwanese players. Thus, we will be able to further understand the Chinese market and answer to the fans’ expectations. This is a really unique opportunity. Everyone, please look forward for the Chinese versions of our games! Falcom will continue to fully support the Chinese localization of our games for Taiwanese games.
Baha: Thank you very much for your time and for accepting an interview with us.