Our fourth interview partner is Vanillaware president Jouji Kamitani. Founded only five years ago, the Osaka-based company has received critical acclaim for developing Odin Sphere for Atlus, and Grim Grimoire for Nippon Ichi Software. Mr. Kamitani himself started his career in the game industry at Capcom, before joining Shin Megami Tensei makers Atlus. There, he served as character designer and director of 1997's action RPG Princess Crown. After their successful duo of debut titles, Kamitani and his team at Vanillaware are already working on a third game, tentatively titled Oboro Muramasa Youtouden. While the platform this time around is not PlayStation 2 but Wii, the game will still feature Vanillaware's trademark 2D visuals. Sadly, Mr. Kamitani was unable to answer any questions regarding the action RPG, which is set to be published by Marvelous Interactive next year. Nonetheless, he covered a wide range of interesting topics in the interview below, ranging from game design to the possibility of a sequel to Grim Grimoire.
Q: Mr. Kamitani, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: Following an invitation by a friend I joined a subcontracting company as a part time worker in charge of game development, during my senior high school years. That was the impetus.
That was already more than 20 years ago. I remember that my first job was to wrap scan (laughs; it was a job that involved creating dots by copying the original picture on wrapping film with magic [ink] and pasting it on the screen). I was given the opportunity to gain various experiences, such as creating dots on the Famicom or programming on the MSX.
After graduating from university, I wanted to try and see the biggest development project, hence I chose the road of working in the industry by joining Capcom, which was very popular back then thanks to Street Fighter II. I worked as a planner [while with Capcom].
Q: Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire have received critical acclaim in Japan and the US. What do you think is the reason behind this acclaim?
A: In spite of the technological progress in the golden age of 3D, the evolution of 2D game graphics is stagnating. These two titles [Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire] are about aiming to be at the forefront of this evolution. Regardless of whether I could reach the pier of evolution, I was given the chance to take [the creation of these] titles into my own hands. I think, there is a portion [of gamers], where this challenge has been appreciated.
Q: The games developed by Vanillaware surely have a particular style to them. How did the concept of light-hearted stories and characters as well as beautiful anime-like designs come into being?
A: Thank you for the praise.
Because the time during which I smoldered beneath the surface of the industry was long, I saved up on various visions of direction and expression I wanted to take [in the future]. I feel among those [visions] some have finally came into the light of day. Because I want to announce [more] in the future, if there is a chance, please keep your fingers crossed.
Q: Since the days of the original PlayStation, RPGs with 3D graphics have appeared in large numbers. One can get the impression that, at the same time, 2D games have become quite rare. What is the reason behind Vanillaware's decision to use beautiful 2D graphics in their games, despite the aforementioned trend?
A: After the development of Princess Crown, I have always dreamt of creating a game in which I will apply this know-how. Ten years passed by and thanks to Atlus my wish came true. What I created, perhaps out of self-indulgence, was Odin Sphere.
However, I sincerely apologize for the [game's] poor execution, which was due to [us using] an excessive amount of energy.
Q: Are you looking into developing sequels to Odin Sphere and Grim Grim Grimoire or a new Princess Crown game?
A: The stories of Odin Sphere and Princess Crown are complete. Hence, I'm not thinking about a straight-forward sequel. As for Grim Grimoire, because it ended up becoming a construction with a strong sense for a sequel, I felt like we can make a sequel with an online versus mode, if the reaction [to the game] is big [enough].
That's because there are some riddles left in the story and in a versus setup the opponent could use the same summon units [as the player]. However, unfortunately at this point we aren't planning the development of a sequel.
I have several ideas for other projects which I would like to create. Hence, it would be great if I could express these ideas as new titles in the future.
Q: Vanillaware is currently working on Oboro Muramasa Youtouden for Wii, but do you have any interest in developing games for other next-generation platforms or handhelds?
A: If we go with 2D techniques similar to those we used in Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire, we won't specifically select a platform. I think that we can develop for any platform that fits the needs of our client and users. The handheld platforms look interesting, too.
Q: Mr. Kamitani, what is your impression of the capabilities of the next-generation consoles as a designer? Utilizing these capabilities, what kind of world could you create?
A: When the resolution becomes high, you have to paint over heavily in a precise and steady way. That's tough for me personally (laughs).
Because there are problems with the execution and expressions that I gave up on because of time [constraints] in Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire, I can have my revenge on those problems, if the specs go up.
Q: What works have had an effect on your own work?
A: Be it in the past or in present, I continue to be influenced by many titles and artists. Narrowing them down is difficult, but if I was to mention a game [in whose development] I have participated myself, it would be Capcom's D&D Tower of Doom (AC).
Q: How do you think the industry and the RPG genre will evolve from here on out?
A: With the presentation of Odin Sphere, the world felt very close (the maniac stories about Princess Cown that were discussed abroad were a shock).
I'm wondering whether the fact that even small companies like ours will be directly announcing titles–aimed not only at Japan,but the entire world–doesn't mean [the game industry] will become a normal industry?
As far as RPGs are concerned, I forsee that, regardless of the [development] company's size, more and more titles with the sort of refined taste that is going to create buzz will appear. Without losing [to the competition] I want to give my best, [too].
Q: What are you expectations for 2008?
A: I wish that the domestic next generation console war is settled and we enter a period of stability. Under current conditions, companies can't predict sales figures. As a subcontractor, we have to deal with the fact that we are given low development cost estimates to avoid risk.
Q: Mr. Kamitani, what games are you playing yourself?
A: Recently I'm once again playing the GameBoy version of Card Hero from the beginning while commuting. It's a hot game with an excellent beginning.
RPGFan would like to thank Jouji Kamitani for his cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.