Nostalgia, Tragedy And Catharsis: An Interview With Innocent Grey

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Leading up to today’s English release of Kara no Shoujo, Siliconera recently had the opportunity to interview the game’s developer, Innocent Grey, about their company, development philosophy, and their thoughts on the visual novel market in Japan.


The Innocent Grey staff member we spoke with requested that we not take his name publicly, emphasizing that the views expressed in this interview are those of the company as a whole, and not those of a sole staff member.


Finally, a quick note before we proceed on to the interview. In Japan, visual novels are generally referred to as “ADV” (adventure). For the purpose of this interview, we stuck to using the term “ADV” as it turns up a fair number of times, and we felt it would make for a more faithful translation of the interview.


There isn’t much information on the Internet about Innocent Grey, so can you introduce the company for us? All we know is that a company Gungnir owns two brands. Can you tell us how Innocent Grey and Noesis are different, and what each brand’s goal is?


Innocent Grey spokesperson: Innocent Grey is a game brand that debuted in April 2005 with the game Cartagra. Ever since, Innocent Grey has been a brand that was about depicting mystery stories in addition to creating the “Japanese” atmosphere and the “nostalgic, old-fashioned”1 atmosphere that’s present in Cartagra.


On the other hand, where Innocent Grey deals with the extremely serious stories, Noesis is a brand that handles the concept of ero-games that are both fun and easy to understand.


1. The term used to describe this concept was “Shouwa,” which is an era in Japan that lasted from 1926 to 1989. All of Innocent Grey’s games take place in the beginning to middle of this era. Thus, the nostalgia can also be interpreted as a “nostalgia for older times”.


Let’s talk about the Japanese ADV market. Overseas, many people [mistakenly] perceive ADVs and ero-games to be the same thing. Do you think this holds true for Japan as well? How are they different, and how are they similar?


Ero-games, as a genre, aren’t only ADVs, but they’re also puzzle games, RPGs, SLGs2, and so on. It’s true that they number fewer than ADV, but they do exist, and in Japan their incredibly great popularity can be compared to that of ADVs.


ADVs aren’t ero-games; it’s just that there are many ADVs that are ero-games. Although in reality, with RPGs and such, the game usually changes to an ADV-styled system with erotic scenes.  We believe that the ADV genre is an easy one to use to make ero-games.


2. SLGs = Simulation Games


ADVs are appearing more and more on consoles and portable systems. You can’t really make ero-games for them, can you? Do Innocent Grey or Noesis have any interest in the console market at all?


We’re interested, but, for example, with Innocent Grey’s games, you have corpses and violent images over and above the erotic scenes, making it difficult to port them over to a console.


Also, we don’t want to spend the effort on moving to the consoles when we’re pushing the limits [of what consoles would allow]. We work within the market with the 18-year age restriction.


Innocent Grey published its first game, Cartagra, in 2005. It’s been 6 years since then. Do you think the ADV market has changed?


In the case of our company, we just simply focused on other game types, rather than strictly ADVs. In reality, there are players who wish for simple ADVs and there are people who wish for more “game-like” games, so we believe we can have stable sales with games that achieve that balance.


As a company, how have you adapted to the change?


We’re aiming for games where you don’t just choose choices, but rather games where you have to think.


If there is something lacking from the ADV and ero-game markets, what do you think it is?


Standardized norms like the ones consumer [console markets] have.


Could you elaborate on that in more detail?


With bishoujo3 games, the hardware isn’t standardized like it is with consumer platforms, nor are the packages standardized, so we believe it would be interesting for these aspects to be standardized.


For many bishoujo games, we often hear that the packaging is large and cumbersome. That — and because the games would be easier to manage — is all the more reason for a standardized set of regulations.


3. “Bishoujo” translates to “pretty girl”. Bishoujo games are games centred around interactions with pretty, anime-styled women.


Let’s move on to Kara no Shoujo. You originally released it in 2008, but now it’s coming over in English three years later. Why at this time? Is there a particular reason you chose this time to do it?


It’s because there was an enormous number of requests [for the game] from overseas users. We’d also heard that the game wouldn’t sell overseas due to illegal downloads. Those are the most important reasons. There’s no specific reason as to why we chose this particular time.


Kara no Shoujo is a popular game. Why do you believe it was successful? Overseas, it was the art that drew people’s attention, but what do you believe makes the game special in Japan, where ADVs are common?


Even if you call them ADVs, the content covers a broad spectrum. We think many ADVs are love stories or comedies or other manga-like content expressed in an ADV format, but Innocent Grey writes mystery novels as ADVs.


With the art, too, where the girls are often drawn to look cute, or even sexy, Innocent Grey also expresses the mood and the anxious, unsettling atmosphere you feel while reading a mystery novel.


Kara no Shoujo is more interactive than the usual ADVs, isn’t it? For example, there’s the diary within the game. Do you believe these [interactive] elements in the game are becoming more and more important to the ADV genre?


It’s more of a memo pad than a diary. This is something that will be essential to Innocent Grey games in the future as well.


While the case (the game) will end if the player “reads” mindlessly, but with this the player can “think” and end the case for him/herself. We want to create a game that gives you that feeling of satisfaction (catharsis) when you solve a case.


We heard that when you were converting the game to English, you ran into a fair bit of trouble and had to completely create a new engine from scratch. May we ask what happened there?


Originally the “notebook” is used during deduction scenes to choose clues or to choose the perpetrator. You choose a person’s name recorded in the notebook to name the criminal.


However, because expressing Japanese and English in the notebook is done differently, it turned out to be completely impossible to use the same system for both.


This holds true for Kara no Shoujo as well, but your games usually have very graphic scenes and the stories are tragic in nature. Do you feel this distances your audience? Or do you feel that your fans expect this from Innocent Grey?


We’re always asked this, but, for example, the sorrow caused by a heroine being killed is what grants the protagonist the power to pursue the case to its end or to acquire clues.


In other words, it’s tragedy that’s necessary for the story. If murders don’t happen, then it would be just like the many normal ero-games out there. It has nothing to do with being Innocent Grey.


The two existing opinions of fans are that they agree and that they agree but still want to save her. In response to their requests, we created Caucasus in 2009 where you can choose to save the heroine based on your choices.


In later works, we believe that there will be both characters that you can save and those that must inevitably die.


What do you think of the overseas market? We’ve heard opinions from many different publishers, but we would like to hear from Innocent Grey what you think about player interests and tastes overseas.


As the Japanese market is gradually shrinking, we must expand our horizon to overseas. Also, the Japanese otaku culture is pretty well-accepted overseas, but we would love to know what sort of literary style is liked by overseas players.


We heard about Noesis’ new game, Cure Girl, in May, but haven’t heard anything about Innocent Grey’s new title. Could you give us a hint?


There’s a tiny announcement on the official site, but we’re currently working on Kara no Shoujo 2 (temporary name). The memo pad system is still present and going strong, so please look forward to the game.

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