From Faxanadu for the NES, the Ys series, and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, Nihon Falcom has an amazingly prodigious body of work that spans over three decades. With the recent release of Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure for the PC, we had the opportunity to speak with Toshihiro Kondo, Falcom’s president, as well as Bill Swartz, Mastiff’s CEO, about Nihon Falcom history, the meaning of “Gurumin”, as well Adol’s explored (and upcoming adventures)
Tech-Gaming: Nihon Falcom has cultivated quite an adamant fanbase over the years, an apparent result of their design decisions. Could you elaborate on some of the company’s philosophies toward game creation?
Toshihiro Kondo: We do not feel like we are doing anything special. It’s really a matter of carefully thinking through the game, refusing to let anything go. For example, measuring how long it would be appropriate to spend going from one town to another, or paying attention to where the punctuation and carriage returns in text are. If there is anything at all that we feel a bit guilty about, that feels just a bit out of place, so long as we have time, we fix it. It’s not really about having a formal production pathway. It’s having a final product that we ourselves would consider a game. “Is it something we can be proud of?” That’s what matters to us.
T-G: When Galactic Wars was first released for the PC-8801 back in 1982, Falcom’s audience was limited to Japanese gamers. In the ensuing years, a tremendous amount of globalization has occurred, bringing your games to worldwide audiences. How has this trend influenced your company’s approach to design?
Kondo: We don’t have a particular region in mind when we think of game design or contents. Falcom games are played all over, North America, and also Europe and Asia. It would be pretty much impossible to focus on one particular place as we made the games. We do ask ourselves what is it that Falcom alone can do, and then do our best to have that vision accepted widely.
T-G: One characteristic of a Falcom game is a soundtrack that transcends the typical aspirations of game music; quite often you create invigorating scores that are strong enough to stand on their own. Can you elaborate on the companies approach to musical composition?
Kondo: We have only rule for the sound team, and it’s pretty simple: “You need to think of melodies that people can hear once and then sing or hum to themselves.” We may not actually be able to get all our songs to this point, but having the rule probably makes our staff very aware of what we are striving for.
T-G: With the exception of say, the Legend of Heroes series, you titles frequently shirk turn-based proceedings for real-time combat, a trend that was introduced in the Ys series. What was the rationale behind this decision?
Kondo: Originally Ys was all about knocking down enemy after enemy, a simple and refreshing game. Continuing that tradition, even these days when we make a new Ys game, we aim for a game where you could lose track of time just having Adol run around taking down bad guys. So as you’d expect, Ys lends itself well to real time play. On the other hand, in Legends of Heroes we want players to enjoy the game at their own pace while deliberately chewing on the story.
T-G: Moving to one of the latest releases here, Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure has been resurrected for stateside PC players, as the original 2004 release was only available in Japan. What prompted bringing the game back onto Steam?
Bill Swartz: Steam, and other download sites like Desura and GOG, opened the door to distributing Gurumin on PC for us. We love the game, it’s something we always wanted to do, and ubiquitous online distribution lets us offer it widely and at a very reasonable price point.
T-G: Can you explain the meaning behind the name, “Gurumin”?
Swartz: It’s a game with lots of cute characters and the title comes from the Japanese word “nuigurumi” which means stuffed animal. By pure chance, at the time there some young people who liked to wear these stuffed animal costumes and walk around outside. These people were called nuigurumin.
(Notes courtesy of Bill Swartz)
Kigurumi costumes are made with furry fabric and stuffing. They were things like tigers, bears and squirrels, made of furry fabric and stuffing and tended to be very bulky and stuffed-animal like. They were meant as a funny fashion statement.
In Japanese the suffix “-min” often indicates a tribe or group. Since nuigurumi, the word for stuffed animal, already ends in “mi” all people had to do was add the ‘n’ sound to the end of the word and you’ve) twisted the word for “stuffed animal” into a word meaning “member of the stuffed animal tribe.” So using a slightly shortened version of this new word for Gurumin is cute, clever and works on several levels.
T-G: One of the additions to the game is the inclusion of “Multi-Purpose Achievements” which offer more than a mere simulated praise, but actual dividends in the form of desktop wallpaper. What promoted the inclusion of these incentivized perks?
Swartz: It was a ‘two great tastes that taste great together’ type situation. Giving wallpapers as a reward was already in the game, so pairing that with Steam achievements just seemed like the natural thing to do.
T-G: Last night I spent few hours with Gurumin, and was taken back to place that’s almost absent from contemporary PC gaming. It’s a game that filled with unabashed effervescent cheer, which echoes the sense of wonder from a young child. While Disney does this quite well in modern film, why do you feel the approach is still somewhat uncommon in interactive entertainment?
Kondo: As you can imagine, even in Japan there’s a pretty strong tendency for people to like games in which the hero develops by defeating enemies. And Falcom titles for the most part fit this mold. But the Gurumin development team was a group of people that really wanted to do something other than a usual game. Gurumin’s art style game into being because some members of the group really wanted the game to be played by people ranging in age from child to adult. The story line we thought of later to match the art, and that’s why the atmosphere of Gurumin is different from usual Falcom games.
T-G: Are there any other of your titles you’d like to revisit and potentially offer to a new generation of fans?
Kondo: I’d love to give making Ys Origin with the Falcom of today a shot.
T-G: The trailer for Nihon Falcom’s upcoming PlayStation 4 and PS Vita Ys title showed Adol Christin in the lead role, but it wasn’t clear if a certain blue-haired, bare-handed sidekick would be in the game. Can we expect to see Dogi once more?
Kondo: We get this question a lot but it’s still secret – we haven’t even told our Japanese fans yet. (laugh)
T-G: Ys lore speaks of Adol attempting to reach the North Pole, and living to sixty-three years old. Are they any plans to show the adventures that happened later in Christin’s life?
Kondo: Every time we think about the design for Ys the idea of Adol in his later years comes up. It’s a challenge I’d like to take sometime. When we published the Ys novels in Japan, there was an author who wrote an episode about Adol just before he sets off for the North Pole.
Tech-Gaming wishes to thank Toshihiro Kondo, Nihon Falcom, Bill Swartz, Mastiff, David Bruno, and Michael Meyers Public relations for participating and for facilitating this interview.