RPGFan Exclusive Interview #1: Masami Watanabe
Conducted and Translated by Chris Winkler
We will kick off this year's interview series with Masami Watanabe, president of Gifu-based Flight Plan. Founded in 1989, the small, independent development studio has made its name by developing fine strategy RPGs. The company's track record includes all six installments of NEC Interchannel's (now Interchannel Holon) Black/Matrix series as well as the Banpresto-published Summon Night series. In January Flight Plan for the first time released a self-published game: The original strategy RPG Dragon Shadow Spell. Currently, Watanabe-san and Co. are working on yet another original IP, titled Poison Pink. We obviously took the opportunity to quiz Mr. Watanabe about this Banpresto-published title, the next installment of the Summon Night series and other interesting topics.

Q: Mr. Watanabe, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: My [personal] history with games [began] very early. Getting in touch with first-generation games, such as Invader or Pacman marked the beginning. The only computers at that time were the foreign-made Apple 2 and the Japanese PC-8001 and MZ80. It began with me porting arcade games to these computers and modifying them. Actually, I probably already had entered the videogame industry back then. Afterwards, I developed controller and information processing software and thought developing games is fun after all. [Hence] I entered the videogame industry as a profession.

Q: Let's hear about the reception and sales performance of Dragon Shadow Spell, which was released in Japan on January 18th.
A: The game has received high acclaim due to its visuals, e.g. Flight Plan's peculiar beautiful dot graphics, the 3D backgrounds, etc. I think, it also received strong support from users as a strategy RPG title. On the other hand, we received harsh criticism, saying the tutorial at the game's beginning was insufficient, there was a neccessity for improving the controls during free movement, and the need for improvements with regard to the way the story, in particular the various characters are connected within the scenario.
With regard to sales, [as] it was our initial entry [into the business of publishing games], we set a sales target of 60,000 copies. Eventually we achieved sales exceeding 80,000 copies. As of November 6th, there are still repeat orders coming in, even though we sell very few copies, about five to ten units per week. Hence, I think [Dragon Shadow Spell] has become a title with a long breath.

Q: Are you looking into the development of a sequel [to Dragon Shadow Spell]?
A: With regard to a sequel, we are currently in a situation where we are looking into this. However, looking at the current game market, we are facing a problem: On which hardware should we develop the game? [Hence] we aren't taking any concrete steps right now. I think, prior to the sequel we can make a premium announcement on Dragon Shadow Spell. I would be very happy, if you could look forward to it.

Q: Dragon Shadow Spell has received critical acclaimed from American gamers who have imported the game's Japanese version, but is there any chance the game will see a US release?
A: We are looking into this right now as well. Essentially, we should have developed a foreign version [of Dragon Shadow Spell] at an earlier stage. With it being game for the PlayStation 2 format, I have this sense that we missed the timing. This is also related to our development lines. We are going to open our mind about developing foreign versions [of our games], but that doesn't mean [this will happen] immediately.

Q: Dragon Shadow Spell was Flight Plan's first self-published title. I wanted to ask you about the development of your company's own brand looking ahead.
A: I can't talk about specifics here, because we haven't made any official announcement yet, but we are developing a second [self-published] title. If you would look forward to the official announcement, I would be very happy, because this project is made up by special members. Furthermore, it will be our policy to periodically announce self-branded works in the future as well.

Q: One question related to the Black/Matrix series: Since the 2004 release of Black/Matrix OO, no new installment has been released. Have you ever talked with Interchannel Holon about making a new game?
A: We only talked about the subject of a new Black Matrix game with Interchannel Holon once. We could not realize it then, because at that point, all of Flight Plan's development lines were busy. Right now, this project's future is out of sight, because after [our discussions], Interchannel Holon sold the division in charge of Black Matrix to GungHo Online Entertainment.

Q: Flight Plan has previously developed Banpresto's Summon Night series, but the other day you announced a totally original PlayStation 2-based strategy RPG, titled Poison Pink. Please tell us about the impetus of this announcement and the game's concept.
A: With Summon Night we managed to create a world not seen before with a concept of cute characters and summons. As far as Poison Pink is concerned, the impetus was the idea to create a completely different, new fantasy world. This game's concept is to catch and collect demons in a dark fantasy world. The protagonists are three characters investigating a den of demons named Besek, which has suddenly appeared. The demons are awaiting the protagonists, who have embarked on their journey to rescue a princess who has been abducted to the demon lair. When defeating the demons, who attack one after the other, it is possible to capture and turn them into party members if special conditions are met. At a place known as Demon's Mansion, it is possible to dismantle demons and turn them into weapons. After freeing the people abucted by the demons, one can also enjoy a conversation with them at a safehouse. I think that adding system of catching and collecting [demons] to the fun of the simulation will definitely make players happy.

Q: In addition to Poison Pink, you are supposedly working on a new PlayStation 2-based Summon Night game. Can you tell us a few details about this game. Is it Summon Night 5 or a gaiden like Summon Night Twin Age?
A: Because we haven't finished our official announcement, I would like you to wait for the release of information. However, I promise that we will be able to show you a new side of Summon Night. I can give you one hint: it's an action RPG. Please look forward to it.

Q: Are you already planning and developing a next-generation title?
A: Initially, we are conducting developmental research on next generation platforms. [We're asking ourselves,] using what kind of expressions in making a game appropriate for next-generation consoles is going to make the user happy? Currently we are in a state where we are going forward with researching this issue. Upon the conclusion of this developmental research, we will draw up a plan and then proceed with development.

Q: What works have influenced Flight Plan's games?
A: Before we started developing strategy RPGs, Flight Plan had ported several bishoujo games (they are called girl games). I think that the influence this experience had [on us] in creating the event scenes in Black Matrix and Summon Night has been extremely big. Also, users' response following the release of the original Black Matrix has become the foundation of the current strategy RPG-developing Flight Plan.

Q: Last but not least, Mr. Watanabe, what are your expectations for 2008?
A: I expect that the major third party publishers will be in the vanguard and release games for the next-generation platforms, [so] the market for those machines will expand massively. Small publishers like us will then develop games, which will further enlarge this expanded market. Furthermore, I strongly hope that we will reach a point where we can have frequent exchange with publishers from abroad.

RPGFan would like to thank Masami Watanabe for his cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.

Masami Watanabe - President, Flight Plan
Yuzo Koshiro - President, Ancient
Noritada Matsukawa - Producer, Konami Digital Entertainment
Jouji Kamitani - President, Vanillaware
Yasuhiro Wada - President, Marvelous Interactive