Virtue’s Last Reward Director On Going 3D And The Future Of Visual Novels

By Ishaan . November 1, 2012 . 3:35pm

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward director, Kotaro Uchikoshi, feels that the future of visual novels lies with smartphones. We aren’t quite there yet, but we will be sooner or later, he says, and likens it to selling manga digitally.


In this second part of our interview with Uchikoshi—you can read part 1 here—he also discusses the transition from 2D to 3D for Virtue’s Last Reward, and tells us about his next project.


The last time you spoke with us, you said that English bio-chemist, Rupert Sheldrake, was one of the major inspirations behind Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. What was the inspiration behind Virtue’s Last Reward, and what do you think the differences are between this game and its predecessor?


Kotaro Uchikoshi, director: I am still following Sheldrake’s hypothesis in Virtue’s Last Reward. However, there are people who have not played 999, so to prevent them from feeling left out I have not mentioned Sheldrake’s name at all in VLR


But even then, the mechanism behind it is the same. So what I am trying to say is that 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward are a two-volume story built from the same setting.


In the case of 999, it was a story where you are entering another person’s consciousness that exists in another time, but in VLR you will be entering into your own consciousness. That is the big difference between 999 and VLR.


One difference that’s immediately noticeable is the move from 2D illustrations to 3D character models and exploration in Virtue’s Last Reward. Can you tell us how this affected both the way you told the game’s story as well as the development process?


Originally, we were anticipating that we will be using 2D for VLR’s characters, but we wanted it to work with the 3DS’s 3D feature. We now know that as long as you present it in the right way you can have awesome 2D characters on the 3DS, but at the time the 3DS hadn’t been released so we hadn’t seen evidence of that.


We were working under the assumption that 3D on the 3DS would require 3D models. Since our original idea used 2D character art, however, I don’t think we were really thinking of 3D models while we were developing the game at first.


For example, when we changed route to 3D characters, we were just thinking all we had to do was to portray the EVCG in real time rendering. (EVCG is the still shot you see when a special event occurs.) Unfortunately, the way the game was programmed wouldn’t allow us to do that, so we had to use pre-rendered images for the EVCG parts.


So to be quite honest, even though we used 3D models for the characters, it didn’t end up being that different from what it would have been like with 2D sprites. We couldn’t use the 3D to its full potential. That is one of the things we learned from this project.


But I think the people who made our 3D models did a really great job, especially considering the short amount of time they had. I’m satisfied with the quality. I would like to stress that fact.


You’ve been making visual novels for a long time now, and you mentioned to us in a previous interview that devices like the iPhone and iPad would help spread awareness of the visual novel genre in the future. However, games on the iPhone and iPad are often priced much, much lower than console or portable games. Do you have any thoughts on how that will play a role while developing and deciding on the budget of visual novel games in the future?


Yes. It’s true that visual novels and smart phones such as the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices seem to be made for each other. Action games, shooting games, fighting games, and racing games have already been ported onto them, but—and this is my personal opinion—the control schemes on these devices don’t serve those types of games well.


On the other hand visual novels only need “send message” and “select options” inputs; so player progress isn’t dependent on the quality of the controls.


In fact we have already ported visual novels onto smart phones and we’re doing pretty well. And we’re currently working on a new project that uses smart phones as the main platform.


It’s true that the price point is much lower, but that gives people more of a chance to purchase it and we can make up for the cost in that way. The only problem, which is the obvious, but it’s how to get the word out. I think this point is universal and any developer is pondering it.


I feel that sooner or later the main platform for visual novels will be smart phones. If it’s on a smart phone, you can price your work at a price point similar to that of a single manga volume while enjoying visual novel functionality. I think this is great for the users, creators, and the developers.


You said back in February that Virtue’s Last Reward had been received well in Japan and that you’re going to be doing another game. Is there anything you can tell us about it at this early stage?


I’m involved in several concurrent projects; one of them being a super straightforward moe-type otaku game! We are considering localizing it so please look forward for it.


For those who played Virtue’s Last Reward, please voice your desire for a sequel via Twitter and Facebook. That will tie into a potential new game. Thank you in advance for your support!

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  • “Action games, shooting games, fighting games, and racing games have already been ported onto them, but—and this is my personal opinion—the control schemes on these devices don’t serve those types of games well.”
    This man knows what’s up.

    • Elvick

      Shame most other developers don’t understand it… and apparently consumers don’t really grasp it either.

      Every time I see someone say something like, “Why do we need handhelds again?” when reviewing an iOS game, I just facepalm. Someone said that about Rayman: Jungle Run, while it’s a well designed mobile game, it is in no way a replacement to Rayman: Origins. Not even close.

      People are insane. I question if people actually have played games on anything other than mobile when they say stuff like that.

  • Quinton Cunningham

    Does buying VLR twice count as voicing support? Cause I did that. Got both versions and I posted a picture of both systems showing the title to the Aksys Facebook page. Regardless, I’m kinda hoping that Vol. 3 uses 2D sprites again. I dug the 3D in VLR, but the models had a tendency to not portray emotion very well. ESPECIALLY Clover, as she would sometimess smile during really heavy moments and that didn’t mesh well.

    • cj_iwakura

       I personally was very impressed by the 3d. My expectations were wildly surpassed.

    • cj_iwakura

       I personally was very impressed by the 3d. My expectations were wildly surpassed.

  • Andrew Austin

    Any news of a patch for the 3Ds version? :/

    • Why do you need a patch?

      • Ace

        There’s a nasty bug in the 3DS version that causes the game to crash and corrupt your save data if you try to save during one of the puzzle areas. Most notably, in the PEC room.

    • Barrylocke89

      Why, is the 3DS version having issues?

  • “super straightforward moe-type otaku game! We are considering localizing” – Ears perks up! Orly? :D

  • Relytgninroht

    Something that bugs me, is that (Japanese) adventure games are often called visual novels outside of Japan (and in Japan as well- visual novels are actually a subgenre of adventure games, but they often get mixed together). I personally think of visual novels as games that have no gameplay mechanics whatsoever, and are strictly text based (with visuals, obviously). This game is more adventure than visual novel if you ask me. I mean, if Telltale was based in Japan, then The Walking Dead: Videogame would likely be called a visual novel (outside of Japan at least). Dunno why, but it really just bugs me.

    I mean, the name kinda makes sense as most adventure games are driven almost entirely by story, but still, visual novel just kind of evokes this image of a game without any gameplay, which is driven purely by dialouge trees.

  • Manny Being Manny

    “Future of visual novels is on smartphones”

    Yeah, no. Nobody is gonna be playing porn games on the go… which is what like 85-90% of all VNs in the industry are.

    • Luna Kazemaru

      Pulling numbers out the ass go.

      • Manny Being Manny

        The only visual novels that lack porn are games from big enough companies that don’t need porn to sell it (like Key and Typemoon), or console/handheld specific titles. If you look at the visual novel releases in Japan, the vast majority of them are 18+ titles on PC that you would never have heard of since they are no where near the quality for anyone to bother translating, either officially or by fans. There are like 12-15 that come out a month on average, and only about 2 or 3 are all ages (not counting the eroge turned all age ports on consoles/handhelds).

        • cj_iwakura

          All the noteworthy VNs that become extremely popular are non-adult, so you’re sounding kind of crazy here.

          • Manny Being Manny

            And those noteworthy VNs make up a very tiny percentage of the market. For every Steins;Gate or Clannad, there are 10 very low budget fetish oriented visual novels.

          • cj_iwakura

             Obviously. That’s not the point, the point is they don’t sell, the noteworthy ones do.

          • Manny Being Manny

            Also I just checked VNDB for last weeks VN releases…


            Out of last weeks 27 releases, 25 are 18+. This is the kinda market VNs are, even if Americans don’t realize it.

          • WingsOfEternity

            While it’s definitely true that majority of VNs are eroge.(I agree with your numbers) but I don’t think that’s good enough of an argument to say VNs don’t belong on smartphones. The design is  just perfect for text scrolling.
            You also have to realize once they ported this they are practically making money out of nothing but data, it doesn’t matter if it sells crazy or just hides in the shadows of the app store, it’ll be up there forever and they will still make a profit. Also just because most VNs are eroge does not mean the majority of it’s consumers only play eroge VNs- check VNDBs top rated VNs, a majority of them are infact- not eroge/have “alternative” versions

    • Jesu Petar Maglutac

      Do the App Store and Play Store even allow porn on the market? Like a lot of ero games once ported to PSP have the ero removed, and those ports still sell pretty well

      • Manny Being Manny

        Nope, which is why smart phones would be a secondary market at best. For any upstart VN company, you need to make eroge due to market demands, so they’d never be able to put them anywhere put PC. Maybe bigger names might go to Smartphones, but not the majority. And even then, I can’t see people paying 100 dollars for a mobile game, which is how much VNs generally go for. These are niche titles that survive on the otaku market, which is the opposite of the mobile game strategy.

      • Yerld_CK

        No, but there are concerns that the 18+ VN market will die anyway. Developers who are serious about their craft are trying to find different ways to sell their creations, whether it’s through the console game market, anime and light novel collaborations (i.e. Nitroplus, age, and Type-Moon), or the smartphone business. Banking on porn to save the day is a dead end since the market is a pale shadow of what is used to be. Creators aren’t even confident that the industry will survive the next decade, which is partly why MangaGamer is active.

        Despite tough conditions, some brands have even shifted to all-ages PC games, in the hope that customers might pay more attention to them (i.e. the line of thinking is that if the studio is selling their games without porn, they must be confident in their story and visuals). For instance, propeller/will released Tokyo Babel as an all-ages game, even though the company has endured much financial difficulty over the years.

        • “No, but there are concerns that the 18+ VN market will die anyway.”

          The industry will die when the libido dies. You’re probably only focusing on the larger companies like Leaf, but there are many, many smaller groups out there. Certainly, the market has shrunk, but part of that is larger companies charging US$100 for pornographic VNs compared to smaller labels charging a third of that.

    • Some of those “porn games” are mostly story with tht one or two scene thrown in…. And most of those VN ported to consoles are “cleaned up” and still sold pretty well…. *ahem*

  • Craig

    A port of 9 hours 9 persons 9 doors to Android/iOS certainly doesn’t sound too far-fetched right now. 

    • Quinton Cunningham

      Part of me hopes the Vita gets one too, so Vita-only users don’t miss out on it.

  • LynxAmali

    – I feel that sooner or later the main platform for visual novels will be
    smart phones. If it’s on a smart phone, you can price your work at a
    price point similar to that of a single manga volume while enjoying
    visual novel functionality.

    Oh, hell no.
    I DO NOT like the sound of this one bit.

    Don’t get me wrong. He has a point that VNs would function incredibly well on smart phones but at the same time, you’re limiting yourself in terms of audience and capabilities of what you can do.

    That being said, I’d buy up a Android/IOS port of 9,9,9 or Virtue any day.

  • Jesu Petar Maglutac

    As much as I would love to see visual novels on Android and iOS the biggest problem is that nobody bothers to localize visual novels. Currently, most VNs are translated by the fans themselves, which is easy to do on the PC, but harder once it goes on android and ios (although still possible).

    So having more vns on mobile will mean less english-translated vns =/ which sucks.

    >straightforward moe-type otaku game
    >considering localizing it

    Sounds fun!

  • Richard N

    Ah man, as much as I love VNs I hate doing anything on my phone beyond texting or calling people. It’s just that small screen, I hate staring at it. Which is strange cuz I have no problems with portable gaming, it’s just the idea of being like every other person and constantly being on their phone though. If I had the chance I would get a VN on computer or portable, but if an entry in Zero Escape is Droid only, hell yeah I’m gonna get it.

    • Barrylocke89

      And of course, if they only released a future game on android/ios, you could always only play it when you’re at home/on break, instead of having your phone out every moment of the day :P

    • Get a bigger phone? Galaxy Nexus with it’s 5″ screen bigger then the PSP/Vita even?

      Biggest problem for gaming relaly on phone is the controllers, as you need to have your figners covering half the screen, not really a issue with novels as stated above.

      And if you get good phones, many of those have HDMI out with adapters and viola 1080p on TV.

      • Eilanzer

        don´t know but…For me…A bigger phone is just lame as hell and at least a nuisance to carry in my pocket =S

  • At this point I don’t mind which platform anymore…. Just translate them in english. Plus its just like reading a book while waiting for bus.

  • Naninho Carioca

    Kotaro Uchikoshi’s Twitter? Anyone?

  • SteveThompson1
    Might be cool to drop a “love your game, can’t wait for volume 3”

    • Naninho Carioca

      Let’s bombard him with praise!!!

  • Istillduno

    Changing to phones for VNs would suck

    A) Hardly any VNs get officialy translated (Well there’s a ****load of H toss, but sod that) and it’s mostly up to fan translations, and that gets a bit harder when Android or IOS is involed.

    B) A pc version will work on a pc, but a phone version will either work on Android or IOS, exclusives would be a right pain in the arse, you can justify owning multiple consoles, but paying multiple phone contracts would be unrealistic and silly.

  • Vodoka

    I’m really enjoying VLR on Vita, but honestly, 3D models look pretty bad at points, most notably the event CGs. Now it’s clear that they didn’t have much time in making them, but for the next game in series I hope they go back to 2D.

  • As much as I dislike playing games on phones and tablets, visual novels would be a perfect fit for such devices.

  • MrSirFeatherFang

    I got all the endings… but I am utterly confused on some parts… Too many things unanswered…
    Only thing I didn’t like was some parts of the puzzle… How did you know if you were using the right method to solve some stuff? (specifically the second safe codes, since they are optional to those who don’t want to find them). I would spend hours (maybe my whole day’s worth of gaming) on trying to figure out what they were. Though at the same time I could feel it was all worth it… even if I didn’t have to resort to looking up what I was doing wrong.
    I loved the game, but I kind of like 999 more only because of it’s main theme. <3

  • Budgiecat

    “super straightforward moe-type otaku game”
    -_-  …..I’ll skip that one and just get this one to go along with my 999 I guess…

    • brian yep

      “B-but, onii-chan.”

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