For our final interview of 2007, we got to talk to Marvelous Interactive president Yasuhiro Wada. When Wada and his team published the first Bokujou Monogatari (Harvest Moon) for the Super Famicom 11 years ago, they never imagined that 19 more games would follow within the following decade. To this date, Harvest Moon remains Marvelous' flagship series, but the company has also been responsible for creating a huge number of original titles over the last couple of years. Combining RPG elements with the traditional Harvest Moon formula led to the birth of the Shin Bokujou Monogatari series, which includes Innocent Life for PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2 as well as the two Rune Factory titles for DS. With Valhalla Knights, the company created an original action-RPG for PlayStation Portable. Meanwhile, DS owners got treated to the strategy RPG Luminous Arc. Currently, sequels to both games are in development at Marvelous Interactive. Simultanesouly, the company is readying new additions to the Harvest Moon series and an original RPG for Wii, titled Ousama Monogatari. Given this wealth of IPs, it is easy to understand why Mr. Wada covered a lot of ground in our interview. Furthermore, our questions regarding Ousama Monogatari and Valhalla Knights 2 were answered by these titles' respective producers, Yoshirou Kimura and Yoshihisa Oobuchi.
Q: Mr. Wada, we have many questions for you, but first could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: In 1990, I entered what was the predecessor of the current company, Pack-in Video. From the start I loved videogames, and when it came to creating content and sending it to the entire world, I thought, the [form of entertainment with] the biggest potential were videogames.
Q: Let me first ask you a question about the newest entries in the Harvest Moon series. What is the current development status of the DS-based Harvest Moon Kirakira Taiyou to Nakamatachi and Harvest Moon Online, which was announced in 2005?
A: As far as Kirakira Taiyou is concerned, it is pretty much complete. Currently we are doing debugging and [fine] tuning for the commerical release. As for Bokujou Online, we initially planned it as an MMO, but we concluded that a large-scale title would not only eat up the player's time, but also would be difficult to establish as a business. After we drastically revised the plan last year, the game is now earnestly in development. I think, we will be able to make some sort of announcement during the next fiscal year.
Q: Compared to the prequel (Harvest Moon Kimi to Sodatsu Shima), how is Harvest Moon Kirakira to Nakamatachi different?
A: The theme of Kimi Shima was "growing." We wanted to make a game where the game's world changes dynamically as the number of people and buildings grows.
We heard some negative comments, like "with only that [in place] the game's beginning felt lonely and difficult." The theme of the current game is "liveliness and fun." It goes without saying, that it does inherit the entertainment [factor] of the series, which we have accumulated thus far. However, we have focused our attention on [making sure], that in particular beginners can enjoy [the game]. As the number of islands will increase, not only characters, but also many animals, corobockle, etc. will appear. Also, this process has become extremely easily understandable. WiFi play is [another] point that has been enhanced. One can now also trade and exchange items, and not just [have] rankings and voice chat.
Q: When looking at the game industry right now, one can observe a trend towards the continued spread of MMORPGs. However, among the online games developed by major Japanese game companies thus far only Square Enix's Final Fantasy XI has become a major hit. How do you cope with this harsh market situation, while the development of Harvest Moon Online progresses?
A: I already answered this question above, but large-scale MMORPGs do eat up a good chunk of players' time. If they are playing one game, many players don't feel like playing another one. Furthermore, if the service continues for a long period of time, this creates an exclusive condition which makes it difficult for new players to participate [in the game]. Due to these issues, I thought, the development of online games probably won't continue for long. I think that we have to create games that can be played more easily, where people who haven't played online games so far will come together. By doing so, we will be able to create a market as a business as well.
Q: Since 1996's first installment, 20 installments have been released. What are your impressions of the series' development?
A: When I was young, I did not have a positive image of any series. I thought, 'if one doesn't create something new, the users will lose interest, and the videogame business won't develop.' However, as a realistic issue, if you don't develop a series, you won't be able to [take on] new challenges. Thanks to the success of Harvest Moon, we were able to create new games. Today, I'm very grateful to the fans who have supported us for a long period of time; going forward, I want to provide more and more interesting [content] and continue developing the series for a long time.
Q: Harvest Moon games are already available for various game platforms, including DS, PlayStation Portable and Wii. Are you planning or developing new installments for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well?
A: We are not doing actual development, but of course we are looking into it. I think [a new Harvest Moon game on these platforms] won't become a realistic game making use of the high specs, but rather a game with a concept close to Harvest Moon Online, which makes use of the network capabilities.
Q: The Harvest Moon series has received critical acclaim worldwide. What do you think are the reasons behind this acclaim?
A: I'm very grateful about the acclaim we are receiving, despite the fact that, particularly on the technological side of things, there are still a lot of things we can't do yet. My humble opinion is that there is no other game like it. We will work hard to raise our technological level and further expand our ideas so we can receive higher acclaim.
Q: Innocent Life - Shin Bokujou Monogatari for PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2, Rune Factory - Shin Bokujou Monogatari for DS and the upcoming Rune Factory 2 are all titles that incorporate traditional RPG elements. Please tell us about the reception of the Shin Bokujou Monogatari series and your impressions of that series.
A: The theme of Innocent Life was "future." On the technological side, I think we managed to make you feel the scope of the world through the beautiful graphics using the PlayStation Portable's capabilities. The theme of Rune Factory is "fantasy and battle." To include fighting, which should never exist in Harvest Moon, meant breaking a taboo. At the same time, it also was a new challenge. I think we managed to create an entirely different [form of] entertainment. Using the respective strengths of Arte Piazza and Neverland, who developed the games for us, allowed us to succeed there, I think.
Q: Valhalla Knights 2's genre will be action RPG just like the prequel, but what are the unique features of the new game?
A (Oobuchi): We are adding further depth to the customization features, which were popular in the prequel as well. This doesn't stop at the addition of races or classes, but it will be possible to customize [everything] up to the face and hairstyle to the player's liking. Furthermore, Miwa Shouda, who is the scenario writer of Final Fantasy XII, is writing the scenario of Valhalla Knights 2 for us.
Q: Valhalla Knights 2 is set to offer a two-player mode via an ad-hoc connection, which also existed in the prequel, but are you looking into offering downloadable content after the game's release?
A (Oobuchi): At this point in time, we are not planning any downloadable content.
Q: Ousama Monogatari, which is currently in development for Wii, looks like an RPG with strong strategy elements, but can you give us some details regarding the system of growing the king's countries and the battle system? Will the battle system be very action-oriented?
A (Kimura): That's a question pressing my confidence, which is troubling to me (laughs). Honestly, I can't answer it at this point. However, the one thing I can say right now is that we are definitely not making a strategy game that is unplayable unless you keep staring at stats all the time. If I'm pushed to say, then I want to focus on action-oriented controls. I want to create a game that is easy to control. To explain the relation between strategy and battles in one word, it's the "king's distressful decision." The people who have to spend their daily lives possessing various ways of life: to bring in those people to fight, that's the leader's distressful decision. I believe it would be great if we managed to express these things in the game.
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 Marvelous Interactive considering a strengthening of its operations abroad, too?
A: Of course. We have already set up MMV USA in North America. At present stage it is not functioning as a publisher, but it will begin its activities in the near future.
Q: How do you think the industry and the RPG genre will evolve from here on?
A: In the RPG genre, the continuity of classical systems pioneered in Wizardry or Ultima still remains on a small-scale [level]. I think, in the future [the genre] will move more in the direction of real-time strategy. I'm wondering, whether instead of the concept of fighting and level ups, things such as accumulating skills and increasing the number of abilities won't become pillars of the game routine? Furthermore, because in an RPG the story, setting and characters are important features, I think the number of games emphasizing the demonstration of these features, while they become less game-like, will increase.
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 signficantly, but what is your take? Also, what are your impressions of PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii?
A: The number of people involved in development differs significantly. Because the management that goes along with this also becomes more difficult, it also takes time. One mistake affects the high production costs, hence it is natural that development costs will go up. However, if we talk about the creation of large-scale games making complete use of [the platforms'] specs, I don't think all games have to become like that. Just like with movies, there is the healthy status where there are major Hollywood productions as well small, independent works. In that sense, I'm wondering whether the entire [next-gen business] still isn't in an immature state?
As for my impressions of the various kits of hardware, it will still take time for the PlayStation 3 to spread and for us to make a PlayStation 3-like game.
My impression of the Xbox 360 is that in some way it is a hardware suitable for making the most traditional type of game. As for the Wii, I think it is important to create games which are not enslaved to the controller. Obviously the fact that, thanks to the WiiMote, a new style of playing was created is great; but I don't think all creators need to look into it. It is said that the Wii's specs are low, but I personally believe there are still a lot of things we can do with the Wii.
Q: Mr. Wada, what games are you playing yourself?
A: It isn't recent, but the game that I have perhaps played for the longest time is Diablo. Because the interface was made very easily, playing the game for a long period of time wasn't tough and it was fun to collect unique items. Also, I have played the original Age of Empires for two years. Among action games, I had played Virtua Fighter for about five years in the arcade (laughs). Recently, Zelda: Twilight Princess is the game I have played most. I have completed the game after playing it for more than 100 hours. Right now, I'm playing Mario Galaxy. It's too ordinary, but because Mario and Zelda are bibles of game design, I'm completing all games in those series.
RPGFan would like to thank Louis Lamarre and Yasuhiro Wada for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.