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Project Rap Rabbit’s Rhythm Game Gurus On Making A New Kind Of Music Game



Project Rap Rabbit (working title) is the new rhythm game you want from the makers of PaRappa the Rapper and Elite Beat Agents. Instead of just pressing buttons to the beat, you get into rap battles as rapping rabbit Toto-Maru against animal overlords to save an alternate 16th century Japan.


Siliconera caught up with the two minds behind the newly unveiled Kickstarter project, Masaya Matsuura of NanaOnSha, and Keiichi Yano of iNiS J, to get some early thoughts on collaborating, the new characters and world, making a game about rap battles, and launching their Kickstarter campaign.


When did the two of you first meet, and what made this the perfect time to finally collaborate for what is now Project Rap Rabbit?


Keiichi Yano, Producer:: Matsuura-san and I, we’ve known each other for a long time, actually almost close to 20 years. He was my original inspiration, the reason why I’m in gaming right now, actually. We’d been talking on-and-off at various gaming events for many many years, about the future of rhythm games, what kinds of things could be done in the genre, and PQube and I, we kinda had the idea to collaborate on some new projects so the first thing I thought was, “I gotta call Matsuura-san and see if he’d be interested in working with us!” So that’s how that got started.


Masaya Matsuura, Creative Director: We met in many game events like this, overseas like Sweden or America or England. We had many chances to meet up many times. I felt, Yano-san and me, we think similarly about game design so it’s good to have a chance to collaborate like this.


Having known each other for so long, has this collaboration been smooth sailing, or have there been a few clashes?


Matsuura: I have long experience collaborating between people inside of the industry and sometimes outside, sometimes both. Yano also has developer experience, so we know what kinds of things would be bad. By having this background, we fight each other many times, but we both want the project to be successful. It’s not a negative.


Yano: When you have a team that’s collaboratively as experienced, we’ve done lots of games, you don’t necessarily have arguments. You have exchanges of ideas, and if somebody feels that something doesn’t work out, we just say it, and go “Okay, well let’s just go to the next idea.” So it’s a very good environment for creativity and collaboration. We’re able to do that because of all of the experience that we’ve amassed through collaborating with other creators, and we’ve just kinda known each other for a long time.


It just so happens that a lot of things that are happening in the world, globally and whatnot, we were kinda sharing a lot of the same views. With that as a base, it made it very easy for us to work towards a similar goal. When everybody’s working towards a similar goal, it just makes it much easier to have dialogue about what we think is the right thing to do.




What are your thoughts on how the music games industry has flowed over the years?


Yano: Obviously, Matsuura-san is the father of the modern rhythm game, I know that’s the whole reason why I’m in the whole games industry, is because of PaRappa. From there, there were lots of story-based rhythm games back in the day, and then started moving into rhythm-focused games, and here we are again back in full circle.


I think that it’s great that as a genre, it flourished and even had its peak, and I think people now are kind-of looking at the genre again with fresh eyes and trying to revisit it. “What could be the next step for the genre?” I think that’s exactly where we’re standing today, to try and have that solution for our fans.


Previous rhythm games like PaRappa, Gitaroo Man, Ouendan, they had contemporary settings and premises. What led to setting Project Rap Rabbit in its unique version of 16th Century Japan?


Matsuura: At the very beginning of the discussion between us, we talked about the basic ideas of the game. We both had the idea to create a kind-of-real story in Japan’s history. I think that it’s very difficult to forecast what happens in the world, in the near future, so we wanted to learn from history. We can do something more by using this kind of basis. This was kind of the theme that we already had from the beginning.


Yano: I think the theme is “history repeats itself.” By utilizing actual history, we’re kinda deriving a lot of our stories and our design from actual history, so it makes it easy for us to turn those into templates for modern themes that we might want to address, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with our stories.


Matsuura-san, with this being a fusion of Japanese and Western style hip-hop, how is the song-writing process?


Matsuura: Actually, the combination between Japanese history in the 16th century and hip-hop music doesn’t match. We have to rethink a lot of designing the music and using various music styles. Of course we’ll use mainstream hip-hop music, but we have to try various things now.


For me, the biggest new thing for Project Rap Rabbit is using the rap-battle style. For example, PaRappa was a call-and-response style, a pre-established harmony that already existed. The rap battle style is kind of the opposite type, so it’s already introducing new challenges to me, but I’m excited to try it out.


That rap-battle element of Project Rap Rabbit is quite ambitious. What was the seed behind this more involving back-and-forth system?


Yano: We wanted to create something that was new and fresh but at the same time familiar. We didn’t just want to focus on rhythm mechanics, but we did wanted to look at other types of mechanics that would be valid for a new type of music rhythm action game. As we were thinking about what the storyline would be, there’s a lot of messages we wanted to put in that, so we thought rap would be the perfect vehicle for that. Not to mention, obviously, a lot of people can look back to PaRappa as part of that lineage.


I think between those two elements is why we ended up settling on rap, and it allowed us to really think about “what rap really is” and what goes on in the minds of rappers when they’re actually doing it. That whole exercise of thinking about that is how we landed into this unique gameplay that we developed. It’s very interesting, and it’s different because it’s not just so focused on the rhythm. That’s where we’re seeing a lot of excitement on the idea.


If you’ve ever seen a freestyle rap battle, you’re kinda queuing off of each other. You’re listening as well as emoting, and as Matsuura-san mentioned earlier, that call-and-response mechanism was originally in PaRappa as well. He’s always had the idea that musicians don’t just play music, they’re listening to the music at the same time as they’re playing it. And that was an important concept for us to incorporate into this as well.




Why make the protagonist Toto-Maru a rabbit, and his friend Otama-Maru a frog?


Matsuura: We did a lot of discussion about the design of the game environments and characters and various kinds of things together, but in the beginning we tried to design human characters.


Yano: When you’re using human protagonists, essentially whatever scenarios we come up with that come from history, they’re real, right? Sometimes they’re not the most pleasant things.


Matsuura: If we do base things exactly off of history, we can’t do those sorts of things in the game! It’s different from our basic style of the game design concept, so we decided to replace the characters into animals. So that kind of flow started to imagine the new ideas of stories and characters, and someone designed the rabbit characters.


Yano: There’s some shoutouts there too, to rappers like Eminem, he used to be called like a Rap Rabbit. It just made sense, the speed of rap, and the association of speed with rabbits. The image of that really made a lot of sense. That’s how Toto-Maru was born. But the sidekick, Otama-Maru, that was somebody going, “Well that’s a rabbit… let’s try a frog!” It was a really good character from Day One. And then we got the whole idea and that’s how that came to pass.


What was behind the choice of Kickstarter as the platform to reveal Project Rap Rabbit?


Yano: So we’re working with PQube based in the UK. I would say that they’re an indie publisher, but we’re trying to make a AAA music game. To fund that is not an easy task, not to mention that we are really appreciative of our fans. Our fans mean a lot to us. We looked to Kickstarter to ask the community for their help and their support to bring something that we think is gonna be the next evolution of rhythm-action, and have it be a AAA production at the same time.


What would you like to tell your fans?


Matsuura: I’m very excited to have the chance to collaborate with Yano-san and having Kickstarter. I really want this to be successful as a project and make rhythm game fans happier.


Yano: We’re gonna be releasing target gameplay footage pretty soon, so I’m excited to show that to everybody. Please look out, and support the Kickstarter!


Matsuura: And I have to say, to all the people who have already backed us so far, thank you!


Yano: Thank you, yeah. It’s been great, lots of fanart- Fanart always makes me cry! It’s like, “Oh my God, they’re already drawing stuff!” It’s really cool. It’s been great.

Joey Chiu