Although Japan has a rich history of game development, it's relatively uncommon for Japanese-developed Windows PC games to be released in English markets. That makes the recent releases of Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (see our review) and Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim on Steam reason for celebration. Both games were developed by Nihon Falcom, with Mastiff publishing Gurumin and XSEED publishing Ys VI.
To find out more about Nihon Falcom's experience with bringing its games to Steam, we teamed up with Mastiff to interview Toshihiro Kondo, company President, and Representative Managing Director. He provides unique insights on Steam, Windows 8 and 10, Gurumin, Ys, and even Xbox One.
We also have a Gurumin guidebook signed by voice actress Tara Strong to give away to one lucky reader. Read on for details!
Hi Toshihiro-san! Before we talk about games, what are some of your interests outside of gaming?
I frequently go camping and mountain climbing with my family. I really like the outdoors.
How did you start working in the video game industry?
When the internet was just starting to get popular in Japan, I ran a Falcom fan site. Through the fan site, I met a bunch of people who were passionate about games, and little by little I started to think seriously about working in the games industry.
Glad you joined up! Do you play console games? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Of course, I love to play video games! I've managed to get through the entire Uncharted series.
Please tell us about what you do at Nihon Falcom, and what games you have worked on there.
I work as the Representative Managing Director, but I also still continue to work in development. I have some involvement with every title as a Producer. Depending on the title I may also serve as director or write the story. I also frequently work on the game system.
I'm always deeply involved with major products – the Ys series and the Legend of Heroes series. I'm currently participating in the development of our new product, Tokyo Xanadu.
How do you feel about the state of PC gaming in 2015?
Speaking for the situation right now, there are probably more users in North America than Japan playing Falcom PC games. We're especially happy with the situation on Steam.
We think there is still room for us to try a few things here [in Japan], too. [The challenge is that] people think of PC gaming in Japan as something pursued only by a small, super hardcore audience. Falcom was originally a company that only developed and sold PC games; we'd love to see a PC gaming revival in Japan.
Has Windows 8 caught on in Japan? Do you think Windows 10 will be more popular there?
I tend to think most people here have a somewhat negative opinion of Windows 8. As you can imagine, the changes to the interface and start screen just don't seem welcome.
I haven't spent enough time with Windows 10 to have an opinion on how it will do in Japan. However, Windows is certainly the OS I'm most used to, so I'm praying for its success.
Digital distribution platform Steam recently started pricing games in Yen and accepting some Japanese payment methods. Has that encouraged more Japanese gamers to use Steam? What else could Steam do to increase their Japanese appeal?
Payment methods and game pricing have become something of a topic among Japanese game users. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that suddenly Japanese users have gotten comfortable with Steam.
For users who like foreign games Steam is a great platform, but users who like Japanese games are pretty much not used to PC gaming and are unlikely to be interested. You could just say the platform needs more attractive games, but the problem is consoles have the same issue as well. However, young game players no longer have an issue playing foreign games, so things may change going forward.
With the recent releases of Gurumin and Ys VI, six of Nihon Falcom's PC games are now available to English audiences through Steam. As a whole, how well have your English Steam games sold compared to your more recent English PlayStation releases?
To be honest, we were surprised to see that many of our titles enjoyed better sales volume on Steam then PlayStation. There are some titles that did way better than when sold in Japan as packaged goods on the PlayStation; there are some titles that are worthwhile businesses based just on their North American Steam sales. Suffice it to say, we are very aware of Steam.
How closely did Nihon Falcom work with Mastiff on the Steam version of Gurumin?
For the Gurumin Steam release, all we did was provide general supervision of the gaming elements. Mastiff did all the development and promotion – they approached us and said they wanted to try the game on Steam. They've been a very good and steady partner.
Gurumin is a 3D action-RPG starring a girl named Parin who fights monsters with a drill. What makes it stand out among other games?
Probably the biggest thing is that it manages to maintain feeling like an action game, yet it also has a world and story that are very endearing and heartwarming.
Parin befriends a diverse cast of peaceful monsters who live near her village. Which of these monsters is your personal favorite?
It would have to be Poko (pictured dancing above - ed.). He was the first character we made; [we had him dance] in a demo we produced for internal use. Gurumin was the first title we ever developed in 3D, and the smoothness of the movement and camera really made [the game feel fresh].
Because it was just an internal demo, we used a staff member's voice. I remember that the reading was monotone, yet somehow managed to have a special (and good) flavor to it.
Gurumin is one of the most charming games I have played all year, and I'm glad that a new generation of players can enjoy it. Are there any other classic Nihon Falcom games that you'd like to revive someday?
It's not quite like Gurumin, but (if we were to revive another title) I'd love to try remaking Ys in full 3D.
In recent years, Nihon Falcom has primarily developed games for PC and PlayStation consoles. The Xbox One is obviously not very popular in Japan, but in other markets it closely rivals the PlayStation 4. Would you ever consider bringing some of your games to Xbox One?
We've spent a lot of time trying to decide if that's possible. For example: if it's a way to build off the popularity of the PC version [when porting to consoles] so more people can play our game then yes, I think it would be possible.
I've been a fan of the Ys series ever since receiving Ys & II as a pack-in game with the Turbo Duo (PC Engine Duo in Japan). The latest entry in the series, Ys: Memories of Celceta is exclusive to PlayStation Vita. In Japan, Memories of Celceta is compatible with the PlayStation Vita TV. Unfortunately, the English version of the game has not been updated with PlayStation TV compatibility. What factors are preventing the English versions from receiving the compatibility patch? Will it ever be released?
Thank you very much!
I also played Ys on the PC Engine when I was in high school. In fact, I recall that the US version of Celceta has all the functions of the updated Japanese version. But due to a difference in regulations between Japan and the US when we released it, we couldn't turn them all on. That's why it operates differently from the Japanese version.
Finally, are you personally working on Nihon Falcom's next game Tokyo Xanadu for PlayStation Vita? Can you tell us anything about what Tokyo Xanadu will be like?
Tokyo Xanadu has really gotten rolling recently. It is a contemporary drama set in Tokyo; the lead characters all attend the same high school. It's an Action-RPG. We plan on a very well developed story, and the scenario is being handled by staff from the Legend of Heroes team.
This is the first Falcom game that uses the present as a motif. We're looking to make a game with a really satisfying action and story set in streets modeled on modern Tokyo.
Gurumin: a Monstrous Adventure is a 3D platforming game with mild RPG elements. Be sure to check out our review (and video review above) to see whether you want to give it a try. The game is available on Windows PC via Steam and PlayStation Portable (PSP) and Vita.
The PSP/Vita version normally costs $10 like the Steam game. It just so happens to be on sale for $3.40 ($2.50 for Plus members) until Tuesday, May 5, so Sony gamers will want to grab it right away. Note that it's not PS TV compatible at present, but that might change soon.
Enter our Gurumin contest
Gurumin can be challenging in parts, especially if you want to S-rank every level. Mastiff has provided us with a lovely pocket-sized mini-guide to make things easier for one lucky reader. Even cooler, Tara Strong autographed the book for us!
Tara Strong voices several characters in Gurumin, including Cream, Mosby, and Baby Tokorin. Her voice acting credits include Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Timmy in Fairly Oddparents, Harley Quinn in the Batman: Arkham games, and many more roles.
To enter this contest, all you have to do is follow us on Twitter @WindowsCentral and then tweet out this article with #Gurumin at the end of the tweet. Hit the tweet button, add #Gurumin, send the tweet, and you're all set! The contest ends Tuesday, May 5th at midnight Central time (6am GMT). Winner will be notified via Twitter message.