The Adaptability Of Visual Novels: An Interview With 5pb’s Chiyomaru Shikura

By Ishaan and Laura . April 27, 2011 . 2:32pm

At the beginning of the month, Siliconera had the chance to get ahold of 5pb executive director, Chiyomaru Shikura, and ask him a few questions regarding his thoughts on the visual novel (or ADV, as the Japanese refer to it) genre in Japan and 5pb’s place in it.


Shikura’s responses gave us the impression of the kind of individual that’s extremely passionate about his work. Armed with a most deep adoration for visual novels, Shikura hopes not just to continue creating them, but to help advance the genre as a whole.


Shikura-san, you were originally from a music record label company called Scitron. Afterwards, you split from Scitron and set up a record label-cum-game design company, 5pb. That’s pretty amazing. Could you tell us about your long journey on this road?


Executive director, Chiyomaru Shikura: Before I came to Scitron, I’d been employed at a game company called Human for a long time, so I thought, “I want to build a company that combines my skills in music and games!” Those were my thoughts when I created 5pb. After I resigned from Scitron, I didn’t take a break; instead, I spent the next two months preparing to create the company, so it wasn’t really a long journey at all.


5pb generally develops visual novels. Why did you choose this genre?


Visual novels, as a genre, are more like “picture books” than a game. It’s a very rich picture book, where there is music and sound effects as you read, as well as the wonderful voice acting. This is the method that tells the stories we want the most accurately and straightforwardly. Of course, we do gradually lose the “gaming” component, too… The scientific ADV series also challenge this balance.


Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate have been great successes. Why do you think these games were so successful? What do you think separates them from the visual novels on the market now?


The Japanese may like fantasy, but actually they also love reality. If you can create a story, complete with terror and joy, within the confines of reality, you can make it feel more relatable. The setting and situations are events that can happen in everyday life. I don’t believe anyone who says they can become passionate over a super, over-the-head fictional story “taking place in Year XXXX, on Planet Y.” (laughs)


It just means that there are an unexpectedly large amount of people who share my opinion. Chaos;Head takes place right here [in reality] in Shibuya, and Steins;Gate in Akihabara. I hope these games function as travel guides too!


What’s the visual market like at present? How connected do you think visual novels are to ero-games? Ero-games are gradually slipping from favour, and the general consensus is that developers are troubled about what to do. Are visual novels in the same situation?


Until recently, the genre “ADV” was a world that only contained adult material. Ever since Chaos;Head, I think that’s changed little by little. Japan has many categories of media, such as manga, light novels, and of course anime, etc., but ADV are a “composite art,” like I said earlier, that combines art, music, script, and even sound effects. I think it’s a genre that will gradually win the populace’s favour, as one that can appeal to all.


A lot Japanese publishers aren’t taking to this console generation very well, but 5pb seems to be growing. Why do you think this is so, and what will you do to continue this trend?


5pb concentrates on visual novels, and visual novels can be played without a problem no matter the hardware capabilities [or limitations]. As long as you have the will, you can make it work on past game machines as well. It’s not 5pb that’s strong; it’s the adaptability of visual novels that is strong.


5pb appears to be an Xbox 360 supporter in Japan. What are your thoughts on Microsoft’s game market?


We’re not focusing on the hardware capabilities, but rather the users who use this console. The Japanese Xbox 360 users love games dearly, and their ability to increase their community is also exceptionally high. Games that don’t get the community roused up are boring, and they don’t sell well anyways.


Phantom Breaker and Bullet Soul are also 5pb’s original titles. What was the impetus behind the creation of these two games? Why did you choose to make them a fighter and a bullet hell game?


Characters are important in both those games, and so we focused on this important charm. All we need to do now is make a visual novel for them, and then we can go on to a TV anime… ♪ (laughs) [Editor’s note: It’s likely that he was joking.]


Let’s change the subject to Robotics;Notes. This is another sci-fi game. With Robotics;Notes and the new version of Ever17, you’ve made the jump from 2D to 3D. That’s an enormous step forward for visual novels. Outside of this development, what other evolution will visual novels undergo?


As a media genre, ADV stands “above manga, but below anime,” I believe. Manga doesn’t talk, but ADV does. However, ADVs aren’t animated. Now, with the advance into 3D, ADV, which up until now were in that middle ground, will be naturally animated, and will gradually catch up to anime. They might be compatible to the Kinect someday, too! (laughs)


Could you tell us about Robotics;Notes? What are your goals for it?


We’re aiming to make it close to anime [in the way the story unfolds, or in the way it plays out]. It’s a game where, if you split it into anime episodes, it could fill up about 40 episodes. It would be a great success if we could attract people who have never played visual novels before as well.


Recently, you also announced Dunamis15. We know the general plot and about the fact that you have to escape a time loop. Is there anything else you can tell us?


That’s still top-secret.


The Nintendo 3DS, the Apple iPhone, and the Sony NGP will strongly impact the Japanese market. What do you think about these three systems? Does 5pb have any plans for each of these systems?


The 3DS, iPhone, and NGP are each extremely unique systems; there will be new releases for them if we can create plans that work these specializations well. We’ve already recognized the iPhone as being a system favourable to visual novels, so we’ve already released a product for it.


Could you tell us anything about your project with Kojima-san?


Development is only 1% complete. Sorry.


Do you have any plans to bring this game overseas? What about other games, through Nitroplus USA or other localization companies?


We are aware of the overseas market, of course. We will capture the populace with visual novels, and we will then commence a unique plan of attack for overseas, so please look forward to it!

Read more stories about & & & & & & on Siliconera.

  • Guest

    Capture the populace? It’s already captured (in Japan); that’s not going to help with overseas sales. Also he should try playing 999. That’s an ADV game with more ‘game’ in it. Same with Phoenix Wright series.

    • Skua

      Regarding Japan, he’s probably referring to a more mainstream type of success than the tiny niche the genre currently occupies. Based on this interview, it sounds as if he foresees a lot of growth (a genre that can “appeal to all”) once they evolve the audio/visual presentation and provide stories that people find relatable.

      • godmars

        Thing is audio/visual presentation has had lots of time to evolve on the PC. And yet here as far as I can tell its like things have gone back to square one.

      • Guest

        If there’s no “game” element to them it still won’t matter. Thats why Phoenix Wright has a following because it is fun to play; not fun to read.

        • Hetare Kaiser

          Because it’s fun to play AND read. Phoenix Wright’s gameplay is fun, but I don’t think it could stand on its own.

          As far as appealing to a greater audience is concerned, I think that in order to achieve that, aside from making actual content that appeals to those audiences, it needs to be marketed smartly. As long as it’s marketed as a “game” to a game-playing public, they’ll miss out on both those who don’t play games (or only play simple timewasters) and those who expect games to make “ratatatatata” and “pewpewpew” sounds. However, people are slowly starting to warm up to the idea of reading (regular) novels on devices, so if you aim from that direction, adding visuals, sounds and a few branching paths might not be that big a leap.

          • Guest

            Yeah thats what I meant really; it does both (PW). Maybe bringing VN to iPhone/iPad might help…

          • Joanna

            As much as it pains me to say this, I have to agree, most gamers aren’t looking for a reading experience when looking for a game. Marketing these on e-reading devices as sound and visual novels would probably be the best option and the one most likely to succeed. Of course, whoever tries this has to really do a good localization job and pick some A+ titles. Otherwise, it may do more harm than good in trying to get VNs out into a wider audience. After all, these people will be primarily readers and if the localization is sub-par or the stories dull, they probably won’t give VNs another try.

    • Aoshi00

      Well.. I don’t think it’s fair to compare Phoenix Wright or 999 to Steins;gate and such, they’re really different kinds of games.. even though there might not be a lot of interactivity, it’s still an excellent visual novel w/ good art, captivating music, stellar voice acting, and overall immersive presentation..

      It’s like Anata wo Yurusanai for the PSP. there really wasn’t an awful lot you could do to change the course of the story (compared to say Hotel Dusk), except some branching points leading to gameovers, but boy was that one of the best stories I have ever experienced in “games”.. Even the dozens of flashback novella parts in Lost Odyssey accompanied by Uematsu’s music and sound effects felt like VNs, and the result was very emotional..

      Steins;gate does have 6 endings in total depending on many choices you pick mid-way. How you answered e-mails to each char also affects many little things… Haven’t played Chaos;Head, just bought a copy after enjoying Steins;Gate so much..

      I’m a big fan of the Ace Attorney series of course, almost done w/ Gyakuten Kenji 2 now… I don’t mind Steins;Gate having less gameplay though.. it has one of the most intriguing stories dealing w/ elements of time traveling. They’re really two entirely different kinds of games.

      • Guest

        ANd yet people who don’t understand Japanese will never get to enjoy those games you just mentioned; and because they lack gameplay elements, will fail the focal group test everytime. Also immersion in the game can only go so far in static non animated scenes. Though I hear 5pb is planning on improving that aspect…

        Also Blazblue has a lengthy VN like story that many people found intriguing that delt with time travel (or time loops); and it has fighting in it

        • Aoshi00

          Well.. like he said, he’s aware it’s not as dynamic as anime.. but the story is not any less captivating.. there’s a lot of drama CDs where stories are only acted out by sound, or on the radio, when you listen to it attentively you get sucked into the story.. Many manga have drama CDs released before being adapted into anime too.. like Busou Renkin or Rurouni Kenshin.. or like Deathsmiles, the background story is minimal in the shmup, but Cave released 3 drama CDs for it so far filling in the story w/ more details, one for each chars, don’t know why the one for Rose isn’t out yet..

          More variety than the still shots would help of course. So I look forward to seeing what Robotics;Notes would look like w/ new visuals. I know the same still shots over and over could look a little plain if the story is not good enough..

          Translating Steins;gate would take a lot of work though, it took me many more hours to finish it since I don’t read Jpn as fast as a native Jpn.. but watch the anime man, it’s a good adaptation.

          Also, Steins;gate is very Jpn since it has all the real Jpn locations and cultural/otaku/internet references, unlike Phoenix Wright which is less specific and had been totally Americanized to suit the Western localization, just like Inazuma Eleven had been for Europe.

        • Visual novels are hardly the kind of game you subject to a focus test to check how many people care for them. No one in their right mind would do it if they understood the present limits of the VN market.

        • kroufonz

          current visual novel is not really static image tough, beside gameplay in VN never be the most important factor, it is usually story and character(and voice), and graphic is the more important element. most still manage to immerse and succked player in it,

          and VN with and without gameplay shouldn’t really treated the same, for example folks at 2ch vote for best eroge every years With each game vote the person can choose one aspect of the game which he thought was exceptionally good, so games with good scenario get a higher score in the scenario section and games with better “gaming” get a higher score in the Playability section(this 2ch stuff taken from zepy blog)

  • kroufonz

    interview like this why i come to siliconera

    in the future I’d like siliconera to interview other Visual Novel developer especially The Big Boys like Leaf/Aquaplus (their game sold very good on PS3 TtT sold more than 70k, TtT avalon sold more than 40k and white album sold more than 26k) they are only release game in sony system so it will be interesting to see their view point, now that we already have some words from 5pb that mainly support x360 this gen.

    or maybe even interview with konami developer of mother of The dating sim about Tokimeki memorial and Loveplus ><


    The last part was the beeeest.
    Nice interview!

  • I hope by “unique plan of attack,” they mean something faster than JAST’s weird relationship with TLWiki.

  • 5pb is seriously a great company, i could see so many details that makes a visual novel feel more unique than others, im seriously expecting great, AWESOME things from them in the future.
    I hope a localizing company *cough* Aksys *cough* that had a good experience with a visual novel game can bring one of these guy’s VN too!

  • kroufonz

    “Until recently, the genre “ADV” was a world that only contained adult material. Ever since Chaos;Head”
    there is already more mainstream ADV even before chaos head for example clannad is non ero both pc and console/handheld version?

    and maybe he’s right about the fantasy reality stuff since the only big VN with pure fantasy setting i can think of only Utawarerumono and Tears to tiara series

  • Aoshi00

    I wonder what Robotics;Notes’ graphics would look like.. would it be full 3D or a combination of 2D & 3D? This science series is really good though… I respect Chiyomaru a lot as a passionate artist w/ a vision.. btw, is that his real name? His name is just too cool lol…

    • I believe that is his real name, yea. :P

      • Aoshi00

        He reminds me of a ninja, or Badtz-maru :)

    • PrinceHeir

      he also looks like one of the J-pop stars to be honest :)

  • Kai2591

    I shall wait for the day when they will “commence a unique plan of attack for overseas”~

  • DarkWaterClone

    I want to know if 5pb is still trying to work with SCEA or Microsoft to allow Visual Novels to come out in North America. I have always enjoyed a good story & I very rarely get to read a Visual Novel game. Because of things like in the past when Sony said that VN are not games.

    I know some times SCEA will not allow different games to come out on a disc if it does not have a dub & it can only be released then on PSN. So would 5pb bring their VN games then out if they can only come out as a download.

    Also if they would never bring them out to other parts of the world would they allow other companies too. Like Xseed, NISA or maybe even Victor Ireland’s company Gaijinworks. Speaking of Gaijinworks is there any chance Siliconera would ever get an interview with him. I would like to see if Mr. Ireland has any plans for the future of his company.

    That all being said I hope more VNs come out of Japan some day.

    • Considering the recent rumours of expanding the use of Games On Demand [resident evil ports, deathsmiles 2, etc] , it would be fairly interesting to see if anyone just decides to simply hire a translator and release it through there [since it’d probably be less strict, if it were opened up…].

      I mean, it wouldn’t be any different than it is now, most of the visual novels on the pc are fan-translated and so it’s not like the majority actually owns the disc. And since GoD is region-locked, you can get away with putting it at $40 maybe.
      *shrugs* anything is better than nothing, right?

      [plus, they could always start with all the fan-translated ones since they should be the quickest :x…then again mmm]

    • I don’t know about Sony, but as far as Microsoft is concerned, there is nothing preventing visual novels from being released on the 360 in the US. As a matter of fact there already have been some via the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace. Though, only one of those are in English iirc.

      As far as Sony is concerned though, it would at the very least depend on the content. Using Record og Agarest War as an example, Sony required censors added to the game where as Microsoft did not. This followed true with the uncensored US versions for 360 and censored PS3 version.

      It all falls down to demand. And it was not until relatively recently that even entertaining the though of releasing visual novels overseas officially happened. As it seems the market for them over here is *growing*, it’s still a risk to localize.

      *growing: it is growing, but very slowly; a highly niche market

  • PrinceHeir

    “Visual novels, as a genre, are more like “picture books” than a game.”

    agree, i just hope Visual Novel get’s at least some recognition outside of japan.

    would love to play 5pb Visual Novel games to be honest, will get the PC versions and patch them through ^^

    love the interview, definitely one of the best things this site has to offer.

    5pb is cranking up tons of games, Ever 17 remake, Dunamis15, Robotic;Notes and a kojima collaboration with suda 51(hope to see a Snatcher or Policenauts style)

    “The Nintendo 3DS, the Apple iPhone, and the Sony NGP will strongly impact the Japanese market. What do you think about these three systems? Does 5pb have any plans for each of these systems?”

    for once, i actually like the idea of putting this kind of titles on the Ipod Touch/Phone/Pad. at first i didn’t like apple due to their BS ways of handling music, but the app store seem really nice. i can just download this on the app and poof i have it on either of the devices. i only have an Ipod Touch as long as it’s compatible with it(which i think every app it does except for Ipad?) it’s all good :)

    hope to see more 5pb games in the future and companies like Sony or Nintendo allowing this type of games on their system. as they say:

    “5pb concentrates on visual novels, and visual novels can be played without a problem no matter the hardware capabilities [or limitations]. As long as you have the will, you can make it work on past game machines as well. It’s not 5pb that’s strong; it’s the adaptability of visual novels that is strong.”

    it’s not matter of the hardware but the will and adaptive style that makes 5pb such an amazing developer :)

  • I’d love to see them try to bring some Visual Novels over to America!

  • keriaku

    This was a very wonderful interview. I agree with him on a lot of points. I look forward to the future!

  • “Nitroplus USA”

    What. It exists? 0_o

    Anyway, this made me wonder… how were the sales of Saya no Uta, compared to, say, Chaos;Head’s?

    • Nitroplus USA is actually a collaboration with JAST:

      • Zero_Destiny

        Ah JSAT :D I’m so excited for the release of School Days and Demonbane. XD

  • Cool, I look forward to anything released overseas

  • Joanna

    “We are aware of the overseas market, of course. We will capture the populace with visual novels, and we will then commence a unique plan of attack for overseas, so please look forward to it!”

    Looking forward to it already!  Especially if these unique plans involve Steins;Gate, Chaos;Head, and Ever17. ;)

Video game stories from other sites on the web. These links leave Siliconera.

Siliconera Tests
Siliconera Videos