Inside Ys

Nihon Falcom gives a rare interview about its long-running RPG series.

One of Japan's oldest video game developers and sadly lesser known in the west than the Final Fantasy Corporation, Nihon Falcom is a company credited as the architect of the JRPG. Founded by computer buff Masayuki Kato, Falcom cut its teeth on NEC's PC-88 in 1982 and stayed loyal to the PC gaming scene for nearly 25 years.

Famed for beautiful games and various innovations within the RPG genre, long-running series like Dragon Slayer, Falcom's former flagship, and Brandish, a dungeon crawler, have benefited from the company's typical affection for small details, sparkling visuals, and the audio wonders of the JDK Sound Team: an in-house unit responsible for several decades of magical soundtracks.

Today under control of president Toshihiro Kondo - a fan who landed a server technician role in 1998 after a chance meeting with Falcom's founder - the company has recently initiated a profitable love affair with Sony's handheld consoles. Falcom's current flagship title, Ys (a game that made its debut way back in 1987) has been given a deserved spotlight in the west thanks to XSEED's PSP localisations. An action RPG of lordly calibre and beneficiary of several inspired remakes, it's a series you can read all about in Eurogamer's recent in-depth article.

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Inside Nihon Falcom - a shot from 1987.

Having now migrated to the PS Vita with Ys: Memories of Celceta, due to be released in Europe this February, I spoke briefly with Falcom's spokesperson about Ys, ideas, and what's on the horizon for the little company that could.

Can you tell us about the origins of the 'bump system' in Ys I & II? (A combat mechanic that requires the player to ram enemies about the screen.

Falcom: The bump system has been used in other titles of ours, such as Dragon Slayer and XANADU, so it's not particularly unique to just Ys. Our goal was to create an exciting interface with intuitive controls, as well as adopt the idea of "gentleness," one of Ys's core concepts, into the game. We implemented the bump system in Ys because it matches the fast-paced, dramatic story, and the system - which may be hard at first - can definitely be mastered with a bit of thought.

It's increasingly rare to find prominent action RPGs in today's gaming market, despite being such an immediate and enjoyable genre. Why do you think this is?

Falcom: The users' environment and preferences are constantly changing. There's been an increasing interest in casual games that can be played in short bursts, which seems like one possible reason. On the other hand, however, there are still users out there who prefer to sit down and spend time playing a game. We believe the key to making compelling games doesn't change no matter what the trend is, so Falcom will continue to create games that we can be proud of without compromising.

Were you surprised by Ys' popularity in the west after XSEED's PSP localizations? 

Falcom: Although Japanese culture has become more accepted in the West thanks to anime and manga, we're genuinely pleased to see just how popular the Ys series has become. We're very thankful to XSEED for assisting us in gaining popularity in countries outside of Japan.

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Cover art from Ys 4.

According to the fan base, who is the most popular Ys character aside from Adol?

Falcom: For the female characters, probably the two heroines - Feena and Lilia. For the male characters, aside from Adol, Dogi would be most popular. Also, among some female fans, Geis from Ys Seven and Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, has been popular as well.

Falcom is primarily an RPG developer, but with Gurumin you attempted action platform gaming. Are there any other genres you have an interest in trying out?

Falcom: As a company, Falcom is always up for new challenges. It's true that we're known for being RPG focused, but we've released games in a variety of other genres, including adventure, strategy, shooters, and even a fighting game - Ys vs Sora no Kiseki Alternative Saga. As long as it's a new and interesting concept, we're up for doing anything regardless of genre.

Falcom stayed relatively small and dedicated to PC development for a long time in a turbulent industry. Did this keep you safe, or was there ever a time when the company was in danger?

Falcom: Ever since the company was established, Falcom has never been in the red. So from a financial point of view, we've never faced any danger. However, when we transitioned our focus to console games due to the decrease in the PC gaming market, there was a time we felt unsure because we weren't seeing the sales we were hoping for. Since then, thanks to the hard work of all our staff, we've been able to increase sales and garner more popularity and positive reviews for our titles.

Falcom was successful with the PSP, and have now moved to the PS Vita despite its lesser market position. Do you think you will stick with handheld console development, or have you considered producing games for a home console? 

Falcom: We're seeing a consistent increase in the number of PS Vita users, so it's most likely that we'll continue to develop games for it. There are also many PS3 users still, and we're extremely interested to see what the future of PS4 holds once it's released in Japan, so we will be evaluating our direction very carefully.

With Oath in Felghana and Memories of Celceta you have remade Ys III and IV - only Ys V is left to bring the series full circle. Can you tell us if you have any plans to develop an Ys V remake for PlayStation Vita (or another console?)

Falcom: A remake of Ys V has been a popular demand among the fans; however, we don't have any comment to make at this point.

When will we get Popful Mail 2? (Sequel to an action platform RPG that received a Mega CD localisation by Working Designs in 1995)

Falcom: We're extremely grateful to hear all the demand for this title even 20 years after its release. There isn't any specific plan for it right now, but the possibility will only get higher as we hear more from users, so please keep expressing your support for this title.

Could you leave us with a final message for overseas Ys fans regarding Falcom and the future?

Falcom: As new and different platforms continue to be introduced and the preferences of the users split in different directions, Falcom will continue to pursue our basic principles: Passionately creating products with the utmost care, and expressing constant gratitude toward our fan base. There isn't any news to share regarding Ys yet, but please look forward to hearing from us in the near future.

Thank you to Falcom and Chris King at Nippon Ichi Software for helping facilite this interview.

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