The Cave – Natsume USA Connection Explored In Princess Debut

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Natsume USA doesn’t have a room full of programmers ready to code game, but this hasn’t stopped Yasuhiro Maekawa, the CEO of Natsume from designing them. Mr. Maekawa planted the seed for Puzzle de Harvest Moon and handed development over to Platinum Egg. Princess Debut went through a similar unorthodox developmental path. Instead of teaming up with Platinum Egg again Cave was chosen to code the project, the same Cave known for Deathsmiles and Muchi Muchi Pork. Princess Debut is very different from what Cave usually does.

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I spoke with Mr. Maekawa about his relationship with Cave, why he chose them as the developer, and his thoughts on developing games for girls.


I understand Princess Debut was a game you wanted to make. Where did the idea come from?


Yasuhiro Maekawa, President and CEO of Natsume USA: The Harvest Moon series has always been quite popular with young and teenage girls, so we have a lot of contact with that audience already.  But when we started looking at what other games are out there for that audience, we really didn’t see much.  We think it’s a big enough audience that they should really have more games.  So this game is really for them.  I wanted to create an original idea for a game and I had long been thinking about a game featuring ballroom dancing. That is where the concept of Princess Debut came from. It has dancing, handsome princes, and a fun, imaginative fairytale world.   Plus, it lets girls step into the shoes of a princess!


How long did you have the idea in mind?


I have had the idea for about 3 years.


pd3Did Princess Debut come out exactly as you originally planned? What changed?


Yes, the final product is amazingly close to my original vision.  I wanted a game with a strong emphasis on story that also had fun, challenging gameplay.  Also, I wanted players to learn real dance moves while playing the game.


Is the American version different at all?


Both the US and Japanese version are exactly the same except for the title (logo) and the text in the American version being in English, of course.


Why did you pick Cave as the company to make Princess Debut?


I had several friends there who are very talented in video game development.
I had known them for a long time and was impressed by the quality of their games and their dedication to their craft.


pd2How much control did you have developing the game once Cave started working on it?


We had development meetings frequently.  Cave was extremely receptive to ideas and feedback, and were always happy to hear new ideas.  Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the results.


I heard the movements in Princess Debut were motion captured with actual dancers. How was this done and why did you spend extra on the budget on mocap for the DS?


We teamed up with one of the well known Dance Schools in Tokyo and used professional dancers at the school for motion capturing. We know motion capturing is very expensive, but we decided it was worth it.  We wanted the game to show the beauty and grace of dancing, and you just can’t do that any other way.


So you follow the journey of princess and try to “woo” the prince of your dreams? Is this part similar to a visual novel?


Well, the game is half rhythm/dancing game and half adventure.  The adventure part of the game is packed with fun dialogue and exciting story events.  Players get to make a lot of choices in terms of how their character acts, what she says, and which prince she goes after.  Players will need to master both aspects of the game if they want to be a successful princess!


pd4 The princess theme may not appeal to Joe Gamer, but the gameplay feels a lot like Ouendan. Can you explain to our readers how Princess Debut plays?


Well, I’ve never played Ouendan, so I can’t really say anything about that.  The dancing part of the gameplay utilizes the touch screen to simulate the graceful, natural movements of dancing.  Players will have to keep their movements smooth and in time with their dance partner! At the same time we wanted the gameplay mechanics to be easy for all users, but challenging to master.


How many endings can players find?


There are 14 endings in Princess Debut.


How long does it take to get each one of them?


It should take most players about 10 hours to complete their first playthrough of the game.  Players then can try for a different ending which should take a little less time.


What are your thoughts about the otome game market in the USA. While games like Tokimeki Memorial Girls Side are pretty successful in Japan a market for this style of game doesn’t seem to exist in North America.


I wouldn’t say that the market for this style of game doesn’t exist.  I think that the US market has been very focused on male-oriented and gender-neutral games, and there’s a real fear of making a game that appeals primarily to a young female audience, because the assumption is that they just don’t play games.  I think that’s an outdated way of thinking, though.  There’s a healthy audience of young female gamers out there, and we’re really forward to bringing Princess Debut to them.


Do you have any future plans to collaborate with Cave?


At this point, we do not have a concrete plan, but I’m very pleased with how this collaboration has turned out, and I would love to work with Cave again in the future.


What about Cave’s bread and butter shooting games? Those Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS ports could use a publisher in the USA…


We are always open to new content, as long as it fits with our business model.


Images courtesy of Natsume.

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