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

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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!

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