RPGFan Exclusive Interview: Yoshiteru Sato, Director, Idea Factory
conducted by Chris Winkler and Patrick Gann, translated by Steven Hutchins
Idea Factory's presence has long been felt in Japan as one of the leading developers of strategy RPGs and other "niche" titles, and a persistent bastion of quality two-dimensional games. It took a full decade for Idea Factory to branch out of Japan into the English-speaking markets (North America and Europe). With the help of NIS America, three Idea Factory titles have reached North America: Generation of Chaos, Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos, and Spectral Souls (all for PSP). Soon, North American gamers will get a chance to play Chaos Wars for PlayStation 2, courtesy of O3 Entertainment. Then, later this year, Atlus USA will bring the Xbox 360 title Spectral Force 3 stateside.

RPGFan recently got in touch with Co-Founder and Director of Idea Factory, Yoshiteru Sato. We presented as many questions as we could to give our readers a chance to learn more about one of Japan's most prolific game-developing/publishing studios.

Yoshiteru Sato stands by his products, literally.

Q: It has been 14 years since you founded Idea Factory together with Shingo Kuwana and Koichi Ota. Looking back, how do you feel about your company's performance?
A: When you say 14 years it seems like a long time but it feels a lot shorter. In actual fact it covers three generations of consoles since our first release (The Yaku) was for the PS1 which has since become the PS2 and now of course the PS3. I feel however that despite the hardware changes and the numerous challenges they bring to a game developer, our output has been consistent over the years in terms of producing games which reflect our founding philosophy. That is to not only make the strategy RPG's which we're known for, but to also continue to develop games outside that genre and challenge ourselves to create something original and unique. I think this is something we have always tried to do as a game company over the years and will continue to do in the future.

Q: For Chaos Wars, Idea Factory teamed up with Atlus, Aruze and RED Entertainment. Last year's Agarest Senki was a joint project of Idea Factory, your new company Compile Heart and RED Entertainment. Can you tell us about the idea/concept behind these cooperations.
A: Well, the idea behind "Chaos Wars" was simply to break down the boundaries between game companies and work together to create a game that featured a dream team of characters. We approached each company individually with the idea and due to the positive cooperation of each party the idea became a reality. So the concept of Chaos Wars I guess, and this is connected to what I touched on earlier, is that we are always committed to try new things and challenge ourselves and not just regurgitate old ideas with a fresh lick of paint. Of course, since Chaos Wars, we also went on to collaborate with RED Entertainment again with our subsidiary company Compile Heart for Record of Agarest War (Agarest Senki). RED Entertainment Corporation took on the work of developing a large part of the game scenarios and we worked together in tandem to create what has become a very successful title for us in Japan. Safe to say that these collaborations are just the start of things and people can expect to see more surprising collaborations in the near future too, which I'm really excited about.

A day at the office.

Q: Idea Factory, Nippon Ichi Software and Flight-Plan are generally considered to be Japan's leading makers of strategy RPGs. Do you see any chance to cooperate with either company in the future?
A: Yes, we'd relish the opportunity to work together sometime in the future.

Q: Previously, the only Idea Factory titles to reach North America were PSP titles from NIS America. Now, you are collaborating with O3 Entertainment (Chaos Wars, PS2) and Atlus USA (Spectral Force 3, X360) to bring more titles to across the Pacific. Have you considered opening a North American branch for Idea Factory?
A: Well as you know, up till now we've not been able to take many of our titles outside of the Japanese market so that's something we would love to change in the future. It's definitely something we are working towards but plans are still in the early stages.

Q: Are you pleased with sales performance in the US thus far? Also, what games would you like to see come to the US? We would love to see Agarest Senki come to North America!
A: First of all, I'm really happy to hear that you're looking forward to Agarest Senki and we're doing all we can to give you the chance to play it (in English). As for our sales performance in America, we're still at the early stages but it's a market into which we're hoping to make inroads. Our success in this area of course depends on the cooperation from many people, not least of all the support from gamers around the world. So, I'd like to personally thank our fans who are reading this and hope they continue to support us in the future because we really appreciate it.

The busy pedestrian-only Takeshita Street.

Q: How is the development of Shinten Makai (Generation of Chaos) VI for PlayStation 3 progressing? Can you tell us how the game will differ from previous series installments? Also, when can we expect to see a Japanese release?
A: Well, It's not at the stage where I can begin talking about it really as the staff are all currently involved in different projects for the PS3, Xbox 360 and DS respectively. We'd love to do a sixth Shiten Makai game for our fans but at the moment plans are still at the drawing board stage so I can't reveal any concrete details unfortunately.

Q: Apart from Shinten Makai VI, what other games are you working on right now?
A: Well as things stand in America and Europe we only release one or two games a year but in Japan it averages at just over 20 titles which is a huge amount for a relatively small company like ours. A lot of our most popular titles in Japan are in game genres which I guess most people outside Japan would consider "niche markets" such as anime related games, romance-themed adventure games (joseimuke) and interactive novels. We are collaborating with Tezuka productions to bring Osamu Tezuka's masterpiece manga "hi no tori" (phoenix) to the Nintendo DS, which I'm very excited about. Also on the DS we have "Spectral Force Genesis" which is due to come out in Japan in June. In the US, "Spectral force 3" for the Xbox 360 is due out in late Spring 2008 courtesy of Atlus and our puzzle game "Octomania" for the Wii should be available to buy now.

Q: Looking ahead, how is your platform strategy going to look like?
A: I think the Xbox 360 and PS3 will likely become our main focus but we will continue to develop and release games for all major platforms. When creating games for different systems we try to utilize the strengths and characteristics of each console to bring the most enjoyment to the players. This is more important to us than any over-arching platform strategy at the moment.

A small sampling of the Idea Factory catalog, showcased in this window.

Q: Thus far, ten of your PlayStation games have been made available for download through the PlayStation Archives service. What is your impression of these new download services such as PlayStation Archives?
A: I think that downloadable content has the power to really change the whole way people access and play games around the world. As far as our own endeavors in this field we are only just scratching the surface but we have more than 20 available groups of content available. Most recently, downloadable content was made available for Agarest Senki on the PlayStation Network and it's proving to be quite a big hit here in Japan.

Q: Are you considering the development of new titles exclusively available for download (be it for PlayStation Archives, WiiWare or Xbox Live)?
A: Yes, that's definitely something we are considering and we'll be trying our best to make that happen so be sure to watch out for this!

RPGFan would like to thank Yoshiteru Sato and Steven Hutchins for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.