RPGFan Exclusive Interview #7: Yoshinori Sasaki, Producer, Konami Digital Entertainment
Conducted and Translated by Chris Winkler
This week's interview features Konami Digital Entertainment's Yoshinori Sasaki. While it was Nihon Falcom that brought the Japanese gaming community Ys VI - The Ark of Napishtim, it was Mr. Sasaki and his team at Konami that has allowed American users to enjoy this highly artistic PC-based Japanese action RPG as well.
In today's interview, Mr. Sasaki was not only kind enough to share his thoughts on the remakes of Ys VI, but also the possibility of more Nihon Falcom titles being released on consoles.

Q: Mr. Sasaki, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
When I was graduating from university, I was looking at many other professions. Because I had studied economics, I thought I should become a manager and [started] looking for a place of employment. When I was doing interviews back then, I wanted to get affiliated with the sound division, which Konami had just set up, so everything was settled very quickly. During my time at university I was a band member; the reason why Konami hired me was that at that time I had created a lot of original songs. And despite the fact that at that time the game industry was exclusively about arcade games, it was a good time. However, since I liked arcade games and conducted interviews with many companies about becoming a manager, I chose Konami, which hired me, [despite] me having no experience as a developer.

Ys VI - Ark of Napishtim has been released in both Japan and North America, but what about other titles developed by Nihon Falcom? Is there a possibility, that any previous installments of Ys or the PlayStation Portable remakes of Eiyuu Densetsu (editor's note: Legend of Heroes) will be released in the US?
As far as Nihon Falcom's other titles are concerned, there are [a lot of] followers of various Falcom series among Japanese PC users. It has little to do with the games looking antiquated. It seems that tradition is more important than whether the scenario is touching, the female characters are cute, the sound is similiar, or the gameplay feels new. Because Falcom usually looks at their opinions and [based on that research] decides on content, they can probably count on their core fans to be satisfied [with their products]. However, I think one cannot deny, that for console users they might look like old style [games] during the time of the 16-bit consoles [like the] SNES. The [other] installments of the Ys series and the Eiyuu Densetsu for PlayStation Portable are not produced or sold by Konami, so I don't know, but because they have gone on sale in Japan, the possibility exists, I think. However, the sales [performance] of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim will have a major influence as well.

Q: Konami and Taito will make every installment of the Ys series available for PlayStation 2, but will there be a remake of the popular Eiyuu Densetsu VI - Sora no Kiseki?
A: I think the possibility is there. Because Nihon Falcom is devoted to creating original titles for the PC platform and they are pro-actively looking everywhere, whether there isn't a company that remakes [their games.] Their approach towards Konami has been very pro-active as well.

Q: What were the difficulties you experienced when bringing the PC-based Ys VI to PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable?
In a household, one uses a game console and a TV set but with a PC you use a high-resolution monitor, and the size of the memory is very huge. To ensure that visuals and the feeling of the [game] play stay the same, it is necessary to re-create the program structure and data to improve them. That is more difficult than standard porting. Furthermore, it goes without saying, that in order to make [the game] feel interesting to new users and those who have already bought the PC version in Japan, we had to implement many new features in the PlayStation 2 [version]. Because we are not Nihon Falcom, we have been thinking what Falcom users are thinking, and upon asking Nihon Falcom, who knows its users best, we created various things and on many occassions we screwed them up. Please think of the current PlayStation 2 version as a package of the things that were left.

Nihon Falcom is well-known for developing critically acclaimed PC-based games, but [do you think], they are considering the development of console-based titles?
A: As I have said before (in response to question 3,) I believe Nihon Falcom is devoting all of its resources to develop original titles for the PC platform. Previously, when Nihon Falcom itself brought Ys V to the Super Famicom, they probably encountered various troubles. As I have mentioned in my third answer, I think the possibility of Nihon Falcom directly developing console-based games is small. Because they are no large-scale company, becoming a development company capable of doing this and that translates to taking huge risks, and if they were to split their development capability, there would be a chance that PC games, which have to be original, would end up being bad.
The risk is smaller if they think only about PC-based [games], which are their strong point, and put all their effort into turning them into good [products] and leave console-based [software] to [companies, whose] speciality are console games.

What is the difference between PC-based titles such as Ys or Eiyuu Densetsu and console RPGs such as Suikoden of Final Fantasy?
A: As far as the interest in them as games, people's feelings differ, but I think they are all good games. The Ys series and Eiyuu Densetsu feature unique worlds due to the animation-based presentation, which has become Nihon Falcom's forte. It goes without saying, that Suikoden and Final Fantasy feature unique worlds as well, but the target [audience,] concept and way of expression differ from series to series. The Ys series keeps the continuity of its story, but its aim is to focus on turning the adventure of protagonist Adol Christin into a scenario rather than [focusing on many characters,] and to make [players] feel good when they are playing through the action [sequences]. Of course, I think it is [also popular,] because there is an added value for people liking action games since the game does not focus entirely on action [sequences].
Compared to Ys, Eiyuu Densetsu includes a play style emphasizing the scale of its story, human relationships, and changes of heart, thereby featuring an essence similar to Suikoden's. However, contrary to Suikoden, which is changing so that it won't lag behind trends on consoles for instance by featuring larger characters, Eiyuu Densetsu presents characters similiar to those [appearing] in other Nihon Falcom titles released at the same time. This is probably the biggest reason why it does not appeal to Nihon Falcom's core users. With [Ys] Napishtim we faced various challenges, such as creating CG movies. Initially, we also changed the entire music, but because of the response we received to the Japanese trial version, Nihon Falcom said that it would be better to put the original [music] back; we reluctanly put it back in.
We [originally] wanted to put in the new PlayStation 2 and the original BGM tracks of the PC [release], but because we did not meet the [deadline for the] release, we only went with the original PC [tracks].
As far as Final Fantasy is concerned, because it targets the masses, it is probably recognized as the most universal [RPG], in the sense that its presentation and the approach towards promotion are close to those of a movie. Because it sells, that might be the best game and the best company, but I think they are all good games.

When looking at the game industry right now, one can observe a trend towards the continued spread of MMORPGs. Mr. Sasaki, what are your thoughts on this issue? Also, how do you think the industry, and in particular the RPG genre, will evolve from here on?
In the game industry, being a large-scale company probably is advantageous, but it does not mean being able to develop many games is good. To point out just one example, small-sized companies that possess excellent content that other makers don't have will probably survive.
The key point for a maker of software is how to successfully make the transition towards the next generation of hardware.
RPGs are a genre that are a fictional genre just like books in a bookstore or novels, and feature the largest amount of creativity. Just like there are many different novel genres, naturally one can call RPGs the [games] with the greatest freedom of expression. However in the case of games, unlike a novel, the hurdle of cost-effectively re-creating [creative expressions] in a game is very high, because you have to transform them into graphics and sound. Because in reality, this challenging task can't fully be performed to that extent; you will be in trouble if [the game] does not sell, and on the contrary you obviously opt for a fantasy [world], because then it will probably sell. Fantasy-based [titles] have sadly become the main[stream of the genre].
Because companies are no entities operating solely on braveness, few new trends are surfacing. However if somehow new challenging titles turn out to be commerically successful, these kind of titles probably can be created [pretty] easily.

Mr. Sasaki, what games are you playing yourself?
A: Actually, I don't play a lot of other games. I have almost no time, but because of my getting easily addicted [to something,] I might not be able to do anything else. Hence that is dangerous.
Furthermore, because I'm looking at it from the perspective of a developer, I naturally can't enjoy some things. At the time when I joined the company, I was involved in sound creation, but at the time I was involed in sound production; I honestly could not enjoy music and sound any more, [consequently]. However, once I distanced myself from soundtracks, naturally I could enjoy it [again]. Afterwards, when I had become a main programer and director of games, I was analyzing games, and hence naturally could not enjoy them [any more]. It is probably a vocation in the literal sense, if a person is doing a certain work, and at the same time can also enjoy it.

Q: Finally, Mr. Sasaki, what is your message to all fans of the Ys series?
A: In the US, we have delivered Ys - The Ark of Napishtim as an installment of the long-running Ys series. Of course, due to the PC version being a big hit in Japan, the game's marvel is guaranteed. Because we have added a lot of entertaining new features for the PlayStation 2 version, there is no doubt that it is a lot of fun. Please look forward to us gradually revealing various other fun elements through game magazines, websites, and the official website. I really would like to see you buy the game and become an expert in it.

RPGFan would like to thank Yoshinori Sasaki and Dennis Lee for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.
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