Following last week's interview with Level 5 president Akihiro Hino, we today present you an interview with a key member of the talented team that brought us Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Originally founded as an independent developing studio, named Sacnoth, the company first created Koudelka for PlayStation One. After its acquisition by Aruze, the team produced the sleeper hit of 2001, Shadow Hearts. Since then the company's name has been changed to Nautilus, but the quality of their products has remained on the same high level, as demonstrated by last year's Shadow Hearts: Covenant. While the Nautilus program director would not confirm any specifics regarding future titles, the studio's newest project, a director's cut of Shadow Hearts: Covenant is only weeks away from its release in Japan.
Q: We have many questions for you, but first, could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: During my previous job, a co-worker introduced me to an acquaintance working in the game industry. That was the impetus. I have always wanted to develop games since I was eleven, but it was hard to get into [the industry] and I gave up. Unexpectedly, I entered the game industry on my last chance, since the person I got introduced to was accepting applications.
Q: Shadow Hearts II (editor's note: Shadow Hearts: Covenant in the US) was released in the United States in September 2004. Among our readers there are many Shadow Hearts II fans, and for a lot of them, Shadow Hearts II seems to be their favorite RPG title released in 2004. Shadow Hearts has become a critically acclaimed series worldwide. What do you think are the reasons behind this acclaim?
A: I believe our games are renowned because of their stories, which are linked until the end, while recently hardware has become more powerful, and visuals have become a priority. Of course, we are also creating our games with an enthusiasm for visuals and sound, which is not easily defeated by other games. In Japan, Shadow Hearts is renowned for the characteristic of being a "Love and Laugh RPG," but I was worried whether we were able to communicate these nuances to players in other countries as well. That the series is similarly acclaimed abroad makes me very happy.
Q: How many copies of Shadow Hearts II have been sold in Japan and the United States?
A: Not including the budget series re-releases, a total of 120,000 copies have been shipped in Japan. In the United States we have recorded sales of almost the same level. We will try our best, so that even more people can enjoy our games.
Q: Recently Japanese companies like Nippon Ichi Software and D3 Publisher have established American subsidiaries in order to sell their own games in North America. Is Aruze (editor's note: Aruze is Nautilus parent company) considering strengthening its operations abroad?
A: We want to strengthen our sales operations abroad, however we have not yet decided on a concrete plan.
Q: Let me ask you about the projects currently in development at Nautilus. Are you already planning the release of a new Shadow Hearts installment? If that is the case, will it appear on PlayStation 2 like the first two games? Have you already set a release date?
A: Currently, I can't say anything, but because there are so many fans supporting the series, I hope we can announce good news in the future.
Q: Is Nautilus currently comtemplating the release of a RPG title that is not part of the Shadow Hearts series?
A: At the current stage, I can't answer the question whether we are developing or not developing such a game. However, when we agreed on the timeframe and concept, we wanted to create a game, which will be loved in many countries around the globe, similar to the acclaim we have received through Shadow Hearts.
Q: (Sony Computer Entertainment's) PlayStation Portable and (Nintendo's) DS were released last year, and the next generation of consoles is scheduled to be revealed in May. Is Nautilus planning or developing any games for these platforms?
A: The time when I can talk about that in specific terms has not arrived either. However when Shadow Hearts fans in various countries will start complaining, we will probably quickly develop a game [for these platforms] (laughs).
Q: When looking at the game industry right now, one can observe a trend towards the continued spread of MMORPGs. What are your thoughts on this issue? Also, how do you think, will the industry, and in particular the RPG genre, evolve from here on?
A: I believe MMORPG is a genre which will continue to evolve. However, unfortunately, many MMORPG require a lot of time to play. If there are games like Monster Hunter (Capcom), which can also be played offline, the genre's base will grow. However, I believe the danger of manipulated data is a problem here.
Furthermore, speaking from a development perspective, the initial investment in server and network equipment is a burden. In the future, we will probably see a time when the survival of a company will be influenced by, whether it can afford to enter the MMORPG market.
As far as the game industry is concerned, the next generation of hardware will soon be announced, development costs will rise, and consolidation between various game makers will occur. However, I believe those developments will be restricted to cases where companies are exclusively persuing (higher-quality) visuals. Obviously, when we talk about important aspects of a game, it is the story in a RPG and a game system, that does not become tiresome.
Despite not being major titles, games which are steadily, developed smaller projects conversely catch the fans' attention easily. For instance Shadow Hearts (laughs).
As far as the future of the RPG genre is concerned, there probably will be a bipolarization between epic titles, which will take dozens of hour to complete, and shorter titles, which can be completed within ten hours. I believe, among those two, there will be a larger quantity of shorter games. There is anxiety about a sharp rise in development costs and development cycles are getting longer.
Q:What games are you playing yourself?
A: I'm playing Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI. However, the fact that I only have very little time to play the game, makes me worry (laughs).
RPGFan would like to thank Nautilus and Aruze's Consumer Game Division for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.