Interview: Shinji Yamazaki (President of Nihon Falcom)

Go and read A.J.’s “Gurumin: A Monsterous Adventure” preview.

It’s no secret here at Inside Pulse that we’re huge Nihon Falcom fans. Besides maybe Shining Force and the SMT games, there is no series we swear by more then Y’s. It was my pleasure to interview Nihon Falcom’s President, Shinji Yamazaki, about the soon to be released Gurumin: A Monsterous Adventure for the PSP and what the chances are we’ll be seeing a few of the many Y’s games in Japan that never made their way over to the US.

Tom Pandich: First off, please tell us a bit about Gurumin. What makes this game stand out from other action RPGs weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve played in the past?

Shinji Yamazaki: Gurumin offers a player experience unlike pretty much anything youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve played. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s the characters, the music, the graphics and art style, and (perhaps most importantly) replayability. Clearing a stage once is a good start, but because you get a grade on each stage, performing well allows you to unlock new equipment and costumes and gain access to subquests. This will encourage players to challenge each stage again and again. There are many hidden areas, and with enough drilling and manipulating the environment, you can sometimes unearth secret items.

Tom Pandich: One of the things many American gamers have come to associate with RPGs is customization, but Gurumin features only one weapon, the Legendary Drill. How did you go about adding in variety to this game?

Shinji Yamazaki: Gurumin features 16 equippable items that change your characterâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s stats, and 19 unique costumes. You can change the way your character looks using these items, and specific items are useful for certain situations. A simple example: Goggles will protect you from water damage. As you level up these items, they become more and more useful. Gurumin is about customizing the player character as much as the weapon, but donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t misunderstandâ┚¬Â¦ you can customize the heck out of the drill by changing parts. Elemental parts make the drill effective against different enemies. Also, the drill can level up (or down) depending on your success against enemies, and the drillâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s look and feel will change with each level.

Tom Pandich: Gurumin was originally a PC game. Why did you choose the PSP as the first console to develop a game for this franchise to over the PS2 or the DS?

Shinji Yamazaki: We really wanted to do a game that you could play anywhere, at any time, so a portable system was our first choice. The PSP was the only machine that could match the high levels of resolution weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re used to on the PC.

Tom Pandich: Gurumin has a wonderful look to it. Can you talk a bit about the style of the game and what influenced it?

Shinji Yamazaki: Realism is very much in style these days, but we wanted to do something different, something that looked animated and would be fun for kids and adults. Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s how we came up with the Gurumin look.

I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t think I can list our influences. A number of people have said the art is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, but we really think Gurumin has its own unique style.

Tom Pandich: Moving away from Gurumin for a moment, are there any plans to bring over Ys Origin to the US or a re-release previously released Ys games (perhaps through one of the download services)?

Shinji Yamazaki: We donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t have any current plans, but if there is strong demand from American users, we would certainly love to do it.

Tom Pandich: Gurumin has several different puzzles in it. Can you please expand a bit on some of the puzzles weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll encounter in the game?

Shinji Yamazaki: Puzzles in Gurumin break up the action a little bit, and range from simpler brainteasers to much more challenging riddles. There are times when you have to manipulate your surroundings to eliminate an obstacle, often by using your drill to crush the environment. There are also numerous side quests, including the enigmatic Skull Sentries, which hold the key to some of the gameâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s secret modes.

Tom Pandich: This isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t the first release of a Nihon Falcom game on the PSP with both Legend of Heroes 1 and 2 already out on the system. What are some of the challenges and advantages of developing for the PSP?

Shinji Yamazaki: For Legends of Heroes all we did was provide a license; Gurumin is the first PSP game weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve developed in house.

Because the PSP offers great graphics, we didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t have to lower our PC-influenced standards to work on it. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s also portable, and we wanted to do a portable game.

Technical challenges were working within the PSPâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s RAM and minimizing disk access to preserve battery life. I think we did OK on both counts, but it took some work.

Tom Pandich: Nihon Falcom has a long history of games with a major cult following in the US. Can you give us some inkling on what youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re working on for the US after Gurumin?

Shinji Yamazaki: Ys and the Legend of Heroes are popular in the US and Japan so weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d like to continue working with these franchises. There are also some other titles we are considering.

Tom Pandich: When gamers play Gurumin for the first time, what do you think they will enjoy the most?

Shinji Yamazaki: When they play for the first time I imagine theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll be focused on clearing stages and finishing the game; however, we really want players to enjoy the character dialogue, art and music as they play. After playing through once, users will go back for more, looking for the hidden areas, trying to complete their collection of items and enjoying encounters they missed the first (or first couple of) times through

Tom Pandich: Last question, when creating a game, every developer has goals for their game that arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t completely fulfilled. Are there any regrets you have with how the original Gurumin turned out?

Shinji Yamazaki: No creator ever believes his work is completely finished. There are always limitations â┚¬” things like time, the development system, the target machine; however, the fact that you arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t satisfied with your current title is what allows you to do that much more with your next title.

Tom Pandich: Thanks so much.

Shinji Yamazaki: My pleasure.