[AnimeExpo] NIS America Panel: Ys VIII – From Fan to President Report

On Jul 1st, at 8:30pm pacific time, NIS America held its ‘Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, From Fan to President’ panel at AnimeExpo in Petree Hall. Speaking at the event were Toshihiro Kondo- interpreted by Alan Costa NIS America’s senior associate producer, and Travis Shrodes, NIS America’s senior product marketing manager. The event was an hour long and featured mostly Toshihiro Kondo speaking about his time as a Falcom fan and becoming president of the company.

Images are taken from the archive of Anime Expo’s stream, and from my own personal camera.

While I live tweeted the panel at the event itself, multiple tweets of 140 characters is somewhat limiting in the long run, so using both my recording an archive of the stream from AnimeExpo’s twitch channel I have compiled the events and things that were said in the panel. You can find everything below the cut.

This was not only Kondo’s first appearance at AnimeExpo, but AnimeExpo was also his first visit to the United States, as well. He even commented on this after being introduced to the stage that he’s been to many events in Hong Kong and Taiwan and it’s his first time to the US. He was excited and curious to hear about what American fans had to say.

Travis started the conversation with asking Kondo to tell the fans about himself. Many might be familiar with Nihon Falcom, but not him as much. He explained that he is currently the president of Falcom, though he still works closely with the development of their games, and that he has a very busy role currently, and that he started by running a fan site for a Falcom game.

Kondo’s first introduction to the game industry is when he first played a PC Engine Ys game during middle school, and at the time, he hadn’t heard of Falcom. However, this would change when he played “Legend of Heroes III: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch,” and this game had a large impact on him. This was also the game that would make Falcom stand out to him as a strong developer.

When he was in college, Kondo took part in a seminar on the internet and had to build a website, which he could pick the topic. When this happened, “it was very early with the internet, and there were no bad people on it, yet.” Other students made profile webpages with their real name and address on them, but Kondo had a different idea: he made a strategy site for White Witch. Since he didn’t know if Falcom would allow it, his first contact with them was when he reached out to ask if they could. Falcom told him that it was okay if he kept it within reason.

His website was hosted on the Kyoto University servers, along with the other student pages. This is one of the most renownd colleges in Japan and most of the traffic on its servers was coming to the fansite he created. As the site got bigger, fans of the Legend of Heroes series would contact each other until they finally had a party in Nagano. Kondo said that he didn’t remember the details, but that it was a big barbecue, and many big fans of Falcom and the Legend of Heroes series were there. Some of these attendees were even game developers. It was at this party that he realized that maybe a dream of his from when he was younger could come true, and that was working on video games.

This is what made Kondo decide to apply to Falcom, however he realized that there was a problem. He said he couldn’t do graphics, programming, sound, draw, or write scenarios, so he decided that he would apply for the finance department. When he was hired and ready to begin, he was told ‘you don’t have the face of someone who does finance,’ and put to work on the company’s servers and editing the website, which he did for a year.

When he was working on websites for games, Kondo said that he played a lot of them to learn more, and he would give feedback to games he felt were incomplete. Kondo’s feedback, though, was closer to a ‘normal fan on the street,’ since he was just hired by the company. Eventually, he would be asked to help out with development and the teams more as he gave more feedback to them.

Kondo’s debut in scenario writing came about when he was told to write an additional scenario for the new Windows version of White Witch. On top of it being the game he adored, he was told he only had a week to complete it. “This is a week in my life that I’ll never forget,” he said. He went to one of his colleagues to ask about how long it should take, and he was told about two weeks. He said that he even bought and furiously read a book on writing scenarios since it was the first time he’d be doing this. When he thought about his boss requesting this, he started to realize the time write and implement a scenario into a game script and discovered that this was not a normal request.

When Kondo was looking at the time limitations, he realized he needed to think carefully about what was necessary and how to ‘cut the fat,’ to leave only the most important, and the easiest point to add to a scenario is to add it at the beginning of the game. He had considered on what he could add, thought about it carefully, and wrote it and it ended up going into the start of the game. Kondo gained a level of trust from the higher ups at Falcom as he did complete this task in a week, which gave him the freedom to do what he wanted. He stated that he believed his boss gave him this task knowing he could accomplish it.

And there are many others in the company like this, according to Kondo. There are people who may have been hired into finance, but were good at illustration, or a person in another division that was good at programming. Kondo stated that a common factor in Falcom is that everyone shares a deep passion for the games they make, and when you give people the opportunity to use this passion, good things happen. And this is how Ys VIII came together.

The next question that Travis brought up to ask about the philosophies that create the structure around the office at Falcom.

One thing Kondo said is that he couldn’t remember a time when there were rules of what they couldn’t do at Falcom. He said that Kato [ed: Falcom’s founder] once told him, “whenever we make a game, it needs to be one that we can raise our heads up and be very proud of.” As such, Kondo said that he believes that this is the core of what they do- to be proud of the games they make. Sometimes things can hamper develop, such as time constraints. However, while remaining within those circumstances, Kondo said he feels that it’s very important to create a product that they can believe in.

One of Kondo’s examples for this came from when they started working on the Trails in the Sky trilogy. Since it was the first title that he and his team worked on completely, they thought carefully about what to do. They ended up putting a lot of work, energy, effort, and time into it, and before they knew it, three years had passed. Laughing, Kondo said that when he presented the game and was asked how much was done, he said, “fifty percent.” He was then told that he was spending too much time on the game and was told to release what they had, even if it wasn’t finished. That would become Trails in the Sky FC. “And as some of you may know, that game ends right as the story starts ramping up.”

However, Kondo asked the audience that while it might sound severe to be told to release it even if it’s half done, “did you think it ended on a good note?”

(Note: the audience cheered in agreement to this, to which Kondo laughed and said ‘Thank you.’)

He said that they were given a great opportunity on the project, and with opportunities like that, there are also restrictions and limitations. However, with other companies, if you worked on something for three years and only had 50% finished, it would mean the end of your career. Kondo said that it’s one of the things that makes Falcom special, and it’s a good thing that they train and push the development staff hard.

“And by the way, Trails in the Sky SC… that also took three years to make.”

According to him, the president of the company at the time liked the first game enough to let them make the second, for which he was incredibly grateful.

At this point, Travis introduced the next part of the panel: the history of the Ys series, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. He started this section by asking Kondo what does Ys mean to Falcom?

Kondo’s answer started with an explanation that the Ys series is an action RPG series that is about 20 years older than the Kiseki series. This title was made by his predecessors in the company and only had a PC [Ed: PC88] release at the time. It was a very special title to the team due to the hard work that went into it, and it’s known by just about anyone working in the game industry. Kondo went on to say that they are proud to carry on the series’ legacy.

When Kondo was hired by Falcom, it had been awhile since the release of an Ys game- the last one being Ys V. He had the opportunity to work on Ys I and II Eternal, both of which were a hit in Japan. As a result, the request to make a new game didn’t get much latitude as they were told they needed to work on Ys III Eternal, instead.

A group of employees who were hired at the same time as Kondo came together, and they talked to their boss, saying that they really wanted to make their own Ys game. Kondo said that they were finally given permission to do it, and that game would become Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. As this game was made before they had started to work on Trails in the Sky, and they were still new to the process, they asked for a lot of help from their sempais in the company who helped them. As this was right around the time that Falcom was going to go public on the Japanese stock exchange, Kondo’s team was specifically told to make sure the game came out in time for the listing. With hard work, they were able to somehow get the game out in time for the big event. As a result, their boss said, ‘maybe these guys know how to make games,’ which is how Kondo’s group was able to make Trails in the Sky.

Thanks to this situation, Ys VI holds a very important role in his career.

Ys VI, and the other games he worked on, where hits, and at the time Trails in the Sky wasn’t doing well. So Kondo’s boss asked him to make another Ys game instead. He stated that he was hired into Falcom as a big fan of the Legend of Heroes games, so of course he was putting his all into Trails in the Sky. However, he was also putting everything into the Ys games they were making, as well, thus working on both equally hard. However, this began to change when they switched from PC to console.

When Falcom switched to console, the Trails games began to sell more than the Ys games. Since Kondo felt a little strange about this- as he also loved the Ys series- he wanted to make an Ys game that would outsell the Trails games, and that’s what happened with Ys VIII. Both Ys and Kiseki are key franchises to the company, and have a bit of a ‘rivalry’ between each other. Though while they try to outsell each franchise. They’re important to the company because this rivalry allows Falcom to make both franchises better as they try to make a game in one to outsell the other.

This is when Travis showed the new trailer for Ys VIII that NIS America debuted the morning of the panel.

Travis stated that this may be the first exposure some AnimeExpo attendees had to Ys VIII, so he asked Kondo to tell about the game and to start with the game’s story.

Kondo started by explaining that the Ys series is a series of stories about Adol Christin [ed note: he originally called Adol a ‘boy,’ then corrected himself to ‘man.’ – Adol was 16 when he started, but is 20 by Ys VIII.] and his travels across the world.

“As you’re probably aware, any boat that he rides ends up sinking.” and of course, the game begins with him on a ship with his friend Dogi. The ship is attacked and it sinks with him, Dogi, and the other passengers who all wind up on an island. Upon arrival, they discover giant, dinosaur-like creatures called Ancient Species. While they continue to explore and look for more castaways, they learn about the mysteries of the island.

Exploring and finding the villagers would culminate to them being able to go home. “But if it just ended with them going home, it wouldn’t be very Ys-like would it?” laughed Kondo. So Adol begins to have strange dreams while he’s on the island, all about a young woman named Dana. Adol wonders who she is, where and when she’s from. As he has a lot of unanswered questions about her, he begins to learn more about her and realize that she might be linked to the island’s mysteries. This is when the story gets interesting and things begin to come together.

At the start of the story, Adol and the survivors start on the south part of the island and as they explore to the north, they discover something amazing that’s a big key to what’s going on there. However, Kondo said “I think I’m going to stop here, otherwise I’ll spoil the entire game for you. Please play the game for yourselves and learn what’s happening.”

Thankfully for that, Travis changed the topic to gameplay and asked Kondo what fans of the Ys series can expect, and what’s new to Ys VIII in particular.

At its heart, Kondo answered, Ys is an action RPG, and in recent titles it has had a party battle system on top of its high-speed action. He said that, while it’s difficult to explain everything about the combat system, both boss battles and normal battles are fun in their own ways. When explaining how good it feels fighting all the enemies, Kondo even compared it to the satisfying and addicting ‘good feeling’ of popping bubble wrap.

He also explained that a new part of the game is tracking down lost passengers and bringing them back to a village on the island that they build together. Each of these people bring a skill or occupation with them- such as a blacksmith, tailor or merchant- and as you find these individuals, they allow new functions to become available in the village. On top of this, monsters and Ancient Species will attack the village, so Adol and the rest of the villagers he’s saved have to fight together to defend it.

Kondo also brought up Dana as another large point of Ys VIII. She is the other protagonist, and during Adol’s dreams of her, she is controlled by the player, and has her own story. The game at this point is also different. Adol’s gameplay is based off of a group of individuals that fight with him, and the key point of it is to target and exploit weaknesses with the corresponding character. Dana, on the other hand, is solo. She has her own unique abilities to overcome enemies, and specifically in the PlayStation 4 version, she gains special attacks as she finds and rescues spirits. Kondo pointed out that her gameplay is more like what you’d find in Ys VI: the Ark of Napishtim or Ys: the Oath in Felghana.

Ys VIII not only utilizes the party system of recent games in the series, but it also calls back a bit on the older games. After Kondo stated that this makes Ys VIII two games in one, he said that it’s best to stop with there as their time is limited and he could continue speaking over it.

This is when Travis stated that they would like to use the rest of the panel’s time as a Q&A session.

Question #1: […] Ys Memories of Celceta was one of my favorite games, and finding memories was one of my favorite parts, since they showed little bits of Adol that we didn’t know before. Will we ever have something in either Ys VIII or in future Ys games that will do more character building for Adol or any of the reoccurring characters?

Kondo first thanked the individual for his comments about Celceta- it was one of the games that he made and hearing this made him happy. He continued to say that using the memory system of Celceta again would require that Adol lose his memory every time, so it may not happen again in this exact manner. However, he had to find a way to continue it because it was highly praised. You can find a bit of this feature in Ys VIII, as there is a similarity to finding the castaways and the segments of seeing the dreams of Dana.

An addition that Kondo brought up is that there were even plans of having a 3D realized version of Darm Tower in one of the memories found in Celceta.

He concluded his answer by reiterating that it wouldn’t work to have Adol lose his memory every time, but Kondo did say that he would continue to think on how to use a system similar to it and carry it on to future games.

Question #2: A few years ago, there was a cross over between Ys and the Trails series… would that ever get a North American release and would there ever be another game like it [in the future]?

[Ed note: As an aside, before he could start translating, Alan was cracking up at Kondo’s answer to this. No pressure, guys!]

First, on Ys vs Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga, Kondo said that he would also like the game to come out to the west, and that he would have to talk to NIS America about it. This is where Alan added, in jest, about them being put on the spot. Kondo, also said at that point that everyone should ask NIS America to cooperate with this.

Though on a more serious note, Kondo did say, afterwards, regarding another game like it in the future, it had a good reaction based on the fan service, and was a title that didn’t need a lot of development time. Since Falcom isn’t a huge company, it’s not possible to promise that something like it can be done in the future. However, both the Ys and Kiseki series (especially with Trails of Cold Steel) have grown a lot and more characters have become available, it’s something that they would like to consider in the future in one form or another.

Question #3: [As a] recent Falcom fan, […] so I want to thank XSEED and NISA for releasing Falcom’s games on PC. I heard that Falcom has a strict policy where they don’t show other companies their game mid-development. Have you considered relaxing this policy so that localizations can happen faster?

Kondo mumbled ‘that’s a difficult question to answer,’ to start. He did, however, confirm that Falcom does not show games in development to other companies and he did acknowledge that it does contribute to time issues regarding localizations. However, he also said that he thinks that while they wouldn’t change this for a game that’s in early development, perhaps for games that are further on in development, they can pass them on to their partners so that English speaking fans don’t have to wait too long after a game has been released in Japan.

[Editor’s Note: Question #4 had one of the best answers, so I will be quoting Alan’s translation verbatim below! Also, in the length of this answer, it wasn’t unnoticed that the second question didn’t get answered.]

Question #4: This is a two part question… What made you decide to make Adol’s best friend [Dogi] an NPC in Ys VIII after he was playable in Ys Seven? And with the release of Zwei and other games, do you plan to release Cold Steel III in English in the future?

Answer: There are several reasons for that, and one of those is that Dogi is too strong. It really feels like sometimes he’ll actually solve all the problems before Adol gets around to solving them himself. Think about it. Every time in Felghana when Adol’s about to get himself in trouble, Dogi disappears. Where does he go? And as you remember, in Ys Seven, Dogi did participate as a member of your party. Of course, Dogi is Adol’s partner and he deeply understands what Adol is thinking. So much so that before Adol has an opportunity to speak, Dogi speaks. So because of what I just mentioned about Dogi talking so much in Seven, didn’t it kind of feel like Dogi was actually the main character? I’m sure that was really great with people who love really big, muscly men, but… if it’s the same way like that every time, it’s a little difficult to put up with, right? In the future, of course, Dogi might have an opportunity to come back into the party, but we’re going to look at that from a very balanced viewpoint going forward. But please note that as Dogi does participate as an NPC, as you mentioned, he gives Adol a lot of help and his role in the story and in the game was actually very highly praised in Japan. So please look forward to it.

Question #5: One of my favorite Soundteam JDK albums was a preorder bonus for Sora no Kiseki FC. It was a CD containing unused tracks composed and arranged by Soundteam JDK musicians and it reminds me of how the upcoming Ys VIII Complete Soundtrack has three or four unused tracks. So I’m curious to know, since Falcom keeps a good track and archival of its history, including- for example- unused music, would you please consider curating and releasing all these unused musical sketches or unused tracks either as CD or through some other method?

Kondo stated that while the Vita version of Ys VIII had some unused tracks, most of them were included in the PlayStation 4 version of the game. However, there will always be tracks that don’t make it into games, and Falcom would like to find a way to release them in the future- to specifically find a place for them.

Travis announced that this would be the last question- and as luck would have it, this is where I was in line to hand the box over to Kondo. (If you want to see the box and the contents, please see this tweet.

This is where I pointed out that not all of the postcards had arrived, and I will be doing a final call (I will post the article next week!) as a last chance for people to send in their postcards. Then they will be shipped to NIS America, who will then forward them on to Kondo himself.

At the end of the panel, Travis thanked Toshihiro Kondo for his time and his answers and called for another round of applause from the fans. He thanked the attendees and the viewers on twitch, and gave a reminder that Ys VIII will be out on September 12 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and for PC via Steam.

This was the first of several panels at the convention, and Endless History will feature coverage for the autograph signing (in a general convention article) and the gameplay panel that followed up two days later.

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