Today's interview, the third in this year's series, is with Konami's Noritada Matsukawa. One of Japan's big three third party publishers (together with Bandai Namco and Sega Sammy), Konami is certainly more famous for its classic action franchises, such as Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania or Silent Hill or its ever-popular soccer franchise Pro Soccer Winning Eleven than it is for RPGs. That being said, Konami still managed to produce one of the most beloved RPG franchises with Suikoden. In the decade since the series' 1995 debut on the original PlayStation, five main series installments and several gaidens have been released. Following the departure of the original director in 2002, our interview partner, Noritada Matsukawa took over the reigns and became the series' senior producer. In this capacity, he has overseen the development of Suikoden IV, Rhapsodia (Suikoden Tactics in the US) and Suikoden V. Thereafter, he and his team moved on to work on the action game Oz, which was released in Japan on June 30th 2005. While we were told Konami is not working on a new Suikoden title right now, RPGFan still caught up with Matsukawa to talk about the past, present and the future of the Suikoden series as well as his own ambitions.
Q: Mr. Matsukawa, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: At the dawning of the video game [industry] I was an elementary school student. At that time, these unknown entertainment machines, which were set up at street corners together with suspicious illuminations, were awfully tempting and, in secret, I was completely fascinated by them. It was a time, when kids were forbidden to get near game consoles, a long time before home consoles came out.
Afterwards, while ostensibly working hard at my studies (laughs), day by day, hidden and secretly I continued playing various games. It was probably for that reason, but by the time I contemplated my [future] profession, I thought, if I do work, then only in this industry. Because I liked physics during my student years, I majored [in physics]. Hence, back then I thought, if I couldn't enter this industry, then I will remain at university and become a doctor.
Q: You have recently been involved in the development of Oz and Elebits. Furthermore, since the February 2006 release of Suikoden V and Suikoden 1 and 2 for PlayStation Portable, no new installment has been released. What is the reason behind this lack of new Suikoden games? Also, what do you think about the series' future development?
A: The last game that I actually created as my own project was certainly Oz. In the sense of being a new action game, I think, I could establish a previously unseen entertainment. Even today, its acclaim among Japanese users is high, and while it's only a few [copies], the game is still selling to this very day.
I have not directly participated [in the development of] Elebits, but rather indirectly through development cooperation. That being said, the development staff really worked extremely hard to create something new. I think they created an original game tailored specifically toward the Wii.
Everyday I'm exploring various ideas, [wondering] what kind of entertainment I can provide, as we, as you know, have entered a period of game platform transition after the release of Suikoden 5, and online entertainment is becoming common.
Q: If you had the chance, would you like to develop a new Suikoden game? Also, would you like to develop an RPG outside the Suikoden series?
A: Because there are various interesting things out there, I want to experience this interesting stuff provided by various people and [at the same time] also provide interesting stuff by myself. Hence, I want to tackle fascinating aspects peculiar to Suikoden, and also challenge myself to [create] new fascinations.
Q: As a series Suikoden has received critical acclaim from RPGFans. What do you think are the reasons behind this acclaim?
A: We often receive praise for the Taiga Drama-like [note by editor: a historical TV drama series very popular in Japan] scenario. Obviously, that is one of the characteristics, I think. However, I think, what is most important is the enthusiasm toward the characters (empathy). Therefore you have design, the creation of the setting and the scenario. Meeting 108 characters, fighting together, crying together, one's emotions being shaken up. This kind of experience is the reason, why the series has received acclaim.
Q: PlayStation Portable-based ports of Suikoden 1 and 2 have already been available for some time now, but is Konami thinking about making both titles or the Gensou Suiko Gaiden games available for download via the PlayStation 3's download service?
A: In regard to the download service, I'm wondering every day whether we can't provide an arrangement relating to a newer game [experience], rather than just distributing old content.
Q: Apart from the novel "Shui Hu Zhuan" written during the Chinese Ming period, what works have had an influence on the series?
A: One can't say, it is not related to works on strategy and war records, such as Annals of the Three Kingdoms. However to actually pinpoint, which work has had an influence on the series is hard to say. Before that, I think mainly about how can I vividly depict the characters. Because it is not a pure war chronicle after all (laughs).
Q: Between Suikoden 1 to 5 and the various Gaidens, which one is your favorite title, character and scenario?
A: I like all of them, but my favorites are obviously the original Suikoden and then probably Suikoden 5 and Suikoden Tactics. While the first game was still a rough diamond, it contained the very essence of the entire Suikoden series. V is a title where the first priority was [to make] the scenario deep and the human drama emotional. Suikoden Tactics was a title in which I tried to use the system as a means [to convey the] previously mentioned empathy. By raising your characters, your affection [toward them] probably came to a boil, didn't it? On the programming side of things, [characters] are merely useful units, but if one advances with the story together with them, couldn't one think they have become friends no money can buy? That was the goal [behind creating Suikoden Tactics].
Personally I like simulation type of games including RTS. Like RPGs, it's a genre that once you start, it will keep you up all night.
Q: How do you think, will the industry and the RPG genre evolve from here on?
A: That's a difficult question.
That's a difficult question. With so-called RPGs, the images, like "thinking thoroughly while playing" or "it takes time to play them" do exist, but in real life style, lengthy periods of time are hard to come by, aren't they? However, people [also] want to become deeply submerged or cry. I think, RPGs are a genre answering to such needs.
However, we should not forget that (as it is often said), when one uses things that are interactive media or a network, the communication of the virtual space, that is the game (something that has been programmed) and actual communication (something you can't program) can connect with each other. Some time ago, it was said that games were a virtual reality, but that's not the case. [Looking at it] from the way of connecting the virtual and the real, games are a medium possessing a unique realism. That's what I would like to make use of.
Q: How does development for next-generation consoles differ, when compared to the development for current-generation consoles? It is often said, that development costs are increasing significantly, but what is your take? Also, what are your impressions of PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii?
A: That's also a difficult question. The opening, that can feel interesting, has diversified. A stronger, new stimulus is required, because it is entertainment. Also, it is human nature to get used to a stimulus at some point. Thinking about this, wouldn't it be good, if theoretically the platforms were still PS2/Xbox/GameCube/GBA?
The sudden increase in development costs is indeed a reality, but because the game business is a hit business, where you can't recover [your investment], if you don't sell [games], I'm wondering, whether it isn't the same thing if I can't provide a stronger, new stimulus. When saying it [the chance of creating a hit in the game business] only slightly differs from a gambling rate, that is probably an exaggeration, but it is exactly such a thing. Because the Wii or the DS as platforms are a new impetus, they are easily understood from this perspective.
Q: What games are you playing yourself?
A: I basically play everything. Since the old days, I have also liked games from abroad, to the extent that I even subscribe to foreign magazines.
However with regard to online games, because I can guarantee that if I start I will become addicted, which will take a toll on my life, I'm exercising self-restraint. It's old-fashioned, but if we talk about games that I would like to play right now, then it would be shooting [games]. That's because I haven't been going out into the world often lately.
Q: Finally, a message to our readers, including fans of the Suikoden series, please.
A: Thanks always for the support. Also, I'm sorry for letting you wait. While I'm thinking about various interesting things, I would like to meet the expectations of the series' fans. Please be patient.
RPGFan would like to thank Noritada Matsukawa and Yukako Hamaguchi for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.