PAX West 2016 - A Chat With Suda51Pretty cool, huh?09.23.16 - 10:21 PM
Suda51 needs little introduction. Heralded by many as gaming's punk response to auteur theory, he quickly established himself as one Japan's most prolific creators after a string of instant cult classics like the oft-lauded Killer7
and the No More Heroes
duology. Now, on the eve of his 20th year at Grasshopper Manufacture, he has begun preparing his more obscure works for western release, beginning with 1999's neo-noir crime thriller The Silver Case
. I sat down with Suda-san at PAX West to discuss (through his interpreter and localizer on the project, James Mountain) the process of remastering of his directorial debut as well as the harrowing circumstances behind the original's inception.
RPGFan: It's great to finally meet you, Suda-san. So, it's been a long time coming for The Silver Case. I think it has been 17 years since it was released for PS1 as a Japan-exclusive? What compelled you revisit the game in 2016?
Suda51: I think it was about 9 years ago when I started to seriously consider porting the game and make it more widely available. We almost did a DS port actually, but then I realized there was no interesting way to use that system's dual screens and therefore it would have ended up being virtually the same game as before — maybe with some touch controls. I also wasn't pleased with how the localization was shaping up among other things, so it was decided that we would put the port on the back shelf until another opportunity presented itself. It wasn't until last year when Active Gaming Media, who owns Playism, approached me about a remastered PC version of The Silver Case, which I was all for right from the get-go. A lot of western players had been clamoring to play my directorial debut for a long time and of course I wanted them to have means of playing it in their native tongue, so yeah, about a year ago was when all the pieces really started falling in place.
RPGFan: I feel like 2016 is the right time for The Silver Case to debut overseas, whereas five, ten years ago it would have been a much harder sell. Why do you think it has taken so long for the genre to take off in the west?
Suda51: Ace Attorney and Danganronpa have really helped the genre along in recent years, haven't they? I don't know if I have a good answer for this, but I think the right games came over at the right time. From what I can tell, it seems like westerners came to the conclusion that, "hey, these aren't quite like our adventure games, but they're pretty good for different reasons!" Now I see games like VA-11 HALL-A and Read-Only Memories coming out, which are both made by non-Japanese designers and, for me, that just goes to show how popular visual novels are in the west now, which I think is awesome. I'd actually like to see the genre get even bigger, and I think it can as long as the content is available. That's why it feels like 2016 is the perfect time to bring back The Silver Case because now there's a crowd of western players that can support it.
RPGFan: I'm glad you mentioned Ace Attorney because I think that was a series that took off here because A) the concept itself was so brazenly outlandish, and B) the localization went extra lengths to capture the flavor of Takumi-san's original script, which wasn't necessarily a common industry practice even just a decade ago. And especially not for text-heavy translations like a visual novel. How has it been for you working with the localization team on achieving a desired tone for this project? I'd imagine there must have been some challenges here and there.
Suda51: There have indeed been a number of challenges, most of which involve the story. As for the storyline, it's about the return of a legendary serial killer named Kamui Uehara who committed a number of murders and strange criminal acts a few years prior to the game's events. That's the background, but in the foreground is this story about a group of detectives, called the Heinous Crimes Unit, trying to find out where the killer is. How'd he come back all of a sudden? And why now? And then there's a third storyline handled by Masashi Ooka about a reporter named Morishima who is also investigating these murders and trying to answer some of those same questions. As you can tell, there's overlapping narrative elements that must be told from different perspectives depending on the POV with lots of swapping back and forth and then the timeline is also switching from past and present and the way the story is constructed lends itself to — well, I'll just say it's all very complicated.
RPGFan: Sounds like it!
Suda51: I was very lucky when I made this game because I had total creative control over the story, so I was allowed to make it as complex as I deemed fit, but now that we're localizing it for the west, all those complexities need to be re-examined from a story standpoint, on a technical level, and of course culturally speaking as well. So, yes, it's been very challenging, actually. I know exactly how this experience should play out in each of those regards, but it's always a struggle to get a team of people operating under the same unified mindset. Even small things like conveying who is this character talking to? Or what's the given context of what that character is saying? All that can be difficult for a localization team to grasp, especially in this game where seemingly incidental moments become integral plot points or even huge revelations later on. I would say making sure a localizer can pick up on the story's idiosyncrasies well enough to craft inconsequential sounding dialogue that actually has major story implications was probably the biggest hurdle during this project's localization.
Simply put, getting the localization to where it needed to be in terms of how I envisioned it — from the characters, to interwoven storylines, down to the tone — all that was one big messy ball of difficulty.
RPGFan: You mentioned you had a lot of free reign over this project, so I'm wondering what sort of influences or inspirations were you drawing upon when conceptualizing the game all those years ago?
Suda51: I remember being big into Jean-Luc Godard at the time — you know, the French new wave director? There was this movie of his that I think was called "New Wave" or something like that (editor's note: Suda51 is referring to Godard's 1990 film Nouvelle Vague starring Alain Delon and Domiziana Giordano), but what was particularly novel about that film was there was about four layers to it: there's this conversation happening between two characters, there's a monologue going on, there's all this text on the screen that's popping up, and then there's subtitles as well. All this information is simultaneously coming out of the screen and to focus on one thing is really to focus on all of these things at once. The effect is quite interesting since all these disparate elements — both audible and visual — become connected in their ability to convey a larger meaning. So, my thinking at the time was, "wow, I'd like to make a game like this," and, to my knowledge, no other games prior to or even since then have attempted such an effect in that way, so I thought that players might enjoy experiencing something that's very unique and original.
I think you'll notice the similarities right away when playing The Silver Case. There's often dialogue occupying various parts of the screen, maybe while two characters are conversing, or maybe one character is thinking about what the other character is saying in real-time and so words will be popping up here and there to simulate their thoughts. In a sense, this multi-layered effect that's happening from moment-to-moment mirrors the concurrent storylines that are taking place on a larger scale throughout the game. Not only was that hard to localize, it took me ages to determine how best to execute that in a video game with any level of success, but, in the end, I'm very pleased with how the game turned out and I think it was a very worthwhile experiment.
RPGFan: While we're still on the topic of film, I was wondering if you consider yourself a fan of Seijun Suzuki. When I see The Silver Case or your other games such as Flower, Sun, and Rain, I get a sharp sense that they were tonally and stylistically informed by his crime films, like Tokyo Drifter in particular. You two seem cut from a very similar cloth, so I'm thinking it can't just be coincidence.
Suda51: Wow! You're digging deep with that name! It's funny because I don't hear that comparison come up very often, but someone just the other day made that observation as well. That's why I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I haven't seen many of his films!
RPGFan: You're kidding me!
Suda51: It's the truth! What little I have seen, though, I very, very much enjoyed. I'm forgetting the title of this one I saw a while ago… Give me a moment, it'll come to me.
RPGFan: It's not Branded to Kill, is it?
Suda51: No, but that was the name of the movie that person brought up the other day, so I should probably get around to watching that.
Here, I pulled up the movie on my phone — what's the name in English?
RPGFan: Zigeunerweisen? That's looks German to my eyes, but — oh wait, I see, I guess that actually is the English name too? Huh.
The Wikipedia page says that the word is German for "Gypsy Airs." Interesting.
Suda51: Yeah, I really liked that one, but other than that I am not terribly familiar with his films. When that person brought up the comparison, it dawned on me that perhaps my work has been subconsciously inspired by Suzuki-senpai because there certainly seems to be some similarities.
RPGFan: Well, and I know Quentin Tarantino has cited Suzuki as a big influence.
Suda51: Is that so? I suppose that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
While I'm not particularly well versed in his films, I am very aware of Suzuki's contributions to Japanese cinema. He sought to break from the mold and deconstruct what a movie is, and, in the same way, I too am inspired to do just that but with video games. I want to be remembered as someone who dared to innovate the medium by challenging the very conventions that ground it. That's very much the reputation Suzuki-senpai has in Japan nowadays and why he has become so respected as a filmmaker even overseas.
As I sit here, I can't help but realize how special it is to hear people compare my work to his films. To be mentioned in the same breath as an auteur like Suzuki-senpai is such a great honor in itself.
RPGFan: I, for one, think you've done a lot of great work over the years that speaks to your innovating spirit. Stuff that goes beyond just Killer7, No More Heroes, and those type of titles. You were involved in that surprisingly excellent Evangelion rhythm game, there's Fatal Frame IV for Wii, and you had a major hand in the Snatcher radio drama, too. Your portfolio is actually pretty diverse when you really start to look at it, but I know here in the west your name has become synonymous with a certain style of action game — one that's very over-the-top and off-the-wall. The Silver Case is very much the opposite of that, so do you think that by introducing westerners to this other side of you that it will dispel this growing perception that you only make kooky action games?
Suda51: Oh good! You played Sound Impact then?
RPGFan: I did, and it has no reason being as good as it is. Who do I have to thank?
Suda51: Well, I was only the producer on that game, but it was a fun property to work with. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
But back to the question: yes, I am known for designing these big, flashy action games, but when I was making The Silver Case, I was just a 30 year-old guy named Goichi Suda. There was no Suda51. I was just some nobody struggling for their passion — giving it his all because, for the first time, I could claim a project as my own. It was very different back then and returning to The Silver Case after all this time reminded me what it was like to be unbridled by one's reputation. It reminded me of the energy that goes into making your first game.
This is true of all my projects, but the one thing I always focus on most is the story and The Silver Case was the first time where I got to call all the shots, so I spent a lot of time and effort writing a compelling story that would stick with players. So, to answer your question, I hope fans of my later works as well as new users can play The Silver Case and recognize that it is the story that makes this a Suda51 original. This where Killer7, No More Heroes, and the story of Grasshopper Manufacture starts — it all begins right here with The Silver Case .
RPGFan: So would you ever consider making another visual novel and, if so, what sort of subjects would you like—
Suda51: Yes! Yes, yes, yes, I would love to make another visual novel.
I'm sorry, what was the second part of the question? I was just so excited to say yes.
RPGFan: No worries. What sort of subjects would you like to explore if you were to make another visual novel?
Suda51: Oh, I see. Yeah, okay, give me just a moment to think about that because I want to give you a proper answer.
RPGFan: Please, take all the time you need.
Suda51: Okay, now I think I got something.
So, I'd really like to explore a suspenseful crime mystery because the concept of crime fascinates me immensely. Like, for example, what is crime? Is it caused by people, or society, or one's environment — where does it come from, you know? You might be thinking, "well, you already did that with The Silver Case ," but I think I've only scratched the surface, and now that I'm 47 as opposed to 30, I believe I would have an entirely new perspective on it all. I will say that The Silver Case does attempt to answer some of those aforementioned questions, but they are far from definitive answers. It was more Ooka-san and I taking a long look at modern society and responding to what we were seeing on a daily basis — the crimes, all the wars occurring around the world, the homicides. It was a taxing process, though. I found a lot of sadness and disturbing information in my research, things that would eventually become the basis for The Silver Case , but I also had to treat these elements very carefully.
You see, I didn't want to glorify these as edgy or gritty crimes, and I wasn't trying to rectify them either, but I wanted to make sure these crimes were acknowledged in some capacity because I believe any tragic event that makes people uncomfortable has this way of being quickly swept under the rug, and that bothers me. We have to be able to accept that there are inherent flaws with our society or risk being consumed by the very traumas we choose to ignore — we need to be able to talk about these things, you know? That's why I'm still so interested in the topic of crime. Why does it happen? Can it be stopped? Are we supposed to leave it alone? Are people really meant to suffer? There are so many questions racing through my mind even now and I would love to tackle them in another game that focuses on the nature of crime.
I suppose my interest in this topic originated while I was still working at Human Entertainment on a game called Moonlight Syndrome. I don't know how familiar you are with the Sakakibara murders from the 90s, but basically a number of children were gruesomely killed by this older boy, which was a huge, huge deal in Japan and was all over the news for months because that sort of thing never happens. And then, in the aftermath of the case, all sorts of limitations were put on the Japanese entertainment industry — video games included — to dial back objectionable content. We couldn't use certain expressions or themes or we couldn't talk about certain subjects all because of this one horrible incident. And while I completely understand the sentiment, it really restricted creators like myself, especially because we wanted to respond to what had happened, but we could no longer fully express ourselves.
RPGFan: Do these limitations still exist in Japan today?
Suda51: Yes, many of them still do, so you have to find indirect ways of talking about those banned topics, which is something I did in The Silver Case with the serial killer Kamui Uehara. I wanted to explore how someone could commit such horrible crimes? What sort of life was he born into? Why would he want to do these things? What made him this way? But I remember vividly at the time all this pressure coming from the government to avoid anything remotely related to those Sakakibara murders. I'm not sure whether they were afraid that the subject matter would be disrespectful to the victims or that it would offend audiences or that maybe this content would inspire people to commit more acts of violence — I don't really know, but it was frustrating for me since I had so much to say. Though, I do think it's interesting how these government-imposed limitations might affect crime itself or even possible criminals. That's also an angle I'd like to explore in a visual novel if I ever have another chance to make one.
RPGFan: Yeah, and I feel like with major incidents like the one you just described, you can't just suppress the people's attitude or feelings towards trauma because that's a type of trauma in itself — we have to be able to have a conversation about these incidents so we can advance passed them and move on with our lives. And, to me, it sounds like The Silver Case is tackling that in its own special way.
Suda51: I'd actually like to thank you for asking these questions and sharing that insight. You've opened my eyes to thoughts and feelings that I haven't experienced in almost two decades. I'd forgotten what it was like back then; it's amazing how much has changed. I feel much more attuned to that younger part of myself now, so again, thank you. I'm very glad we got to talk today.
RPGFan: Thank you! It's been an absolute pleasure, Suda-san.
Suda51: I hope you'll enjoy The Silver Case when it comes out. Oh, and please check out my other project Let It Die. It's a different beast, but I think my fans will appreciate it, too.
We at RPGFan would like to extend our thanks Suda51 and his interpreter James Mountain for answering our questions. To learn more about The Silver Case, please visit the game's website.