On-hand to talk about Tales of Xillia at Namco’s Gamers Day and also provide a demo was Hideo Baba, the producer of the Tales of series since day one. He was a very charming individual, and quite proud of the 15-year anniversary, of what he dubbed the “cornerstone of the JRPG market”. That topic what kicked off my questions.
With the 15th anniversary of the Tales of franchise, what do you think has been the biggest change in JRPGs in general in Japan? And how has the Tales of series changed during that time?
Hideo Baba, Producer: I’m afraid to say that it’s how the sheer numbers alone have gone down. Fifteen years ago, you saw a great variety of games coming out for the PSOne. But nowadays, you can count the number of games on one hand.
In regards to our franchise, not much has changed. Because it has been built upon the foundation of anime and manga culture, which all Japanese game players have grown up with. That’s always something we’ve tried hard to tap into and celebrate. To a certain extent, the Tales of games is a celebration of our identity.
Why do you believe is the reason for the decline?
There are several reason, but a major one is how the game industry in Japan has gotten much smaller over the years. That and JRPGs themselves take so long to complete. Which has always been the case, but with the rise of casual games, mobile games… gaming as a whole has become so dispersed.
Well, on that note, what do you think of the rise in popularity of JRPGs in America? Has that changed the way Tales of games have been produced?
We will always cater towards the Japanese market first, without even realizing it. Since that’s where we’re based, it can’t be helped! And while we are aware of the increase of interest in the eastern market, and it’s something we do consider when making certain decisions, we will first and foremost be catering towards Japanese players.
Otherwise we might deviate from our roots and loose the foundation that Tales of has been built upon. So I want to assure everyone that we’re not going to make something like Skyrim! [laughs]
Though here’s a hypothetical situation: the president of Namco Bandai one day asks: “Look, I love what you’re doing with the Tales of games, but I want you to make something like Skryim.” How would you react?
First and foremost, I would love to do something like that! I actually am a big fan of that game. I’m good friends with [Hiroyuki] Kobayashi at Capcom, and when I heard he was making Dragon’s Dogma, I was very jealous! But I really rooted him on, because he was creating a western style RPG in Japan.
So, if given the opportunity, I would end up going with a completely different development team. The main reason: the people who work on the Tales franchise have such a huge love for the series. And when you make something completely different, you have to go from ground zero and rest your mind, which is easier to do with another team.
I guess that’s why Tales will never end up feeling like Skyrim?
Being a producer, I need to stay true to the Tales of franchise and do my part to help mature the Japanese RPG market.
I know it’s probably difficult to answer, but what is your personal favorite Tales of game and why?
Over the years, has it gotten any easier to make Tales of games?
Fundamentally, it has never gotten easier. [laughs]
And the biggest challenge that has persisted during all these years?
It’s always difficult moving from one system to the next, dealing with changing specs and trying to find new ways to maintain the core essence of the games.
Also, it’s very easy to develop tunnel vision. The fear of re-using the same characters, the same scenarios. We try very hard to make sure that tap into familiar tropes, but at the same time, bring some originality into the proceedings.
Speaking of hardware, any thoughts on the PS4?
I can’t really comment on that, though I will say that we haven’t started any development on any next generation systems. We’re still focused on the PS3.
When it comes to platforms, it all comes down to what our fans have. We’ve done lots of research and have determined that most Tales fans have PlayStation 3s, which is why most of the main Tales of games come out for that platform.