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Virtue’s Last Reward Director On Going 3D And The Future Of Visual Novels


Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward director, Kotaro Uchikoshi, feels that the future of visual novels lies with smartphones. We aren’t quite there yet, but we will be sooner or later, he says, and likens it to selling manga digitally.


In this second part of our interview with Uchikoshi—you can read part 1 here—he also discusses the transition from 2D to 3D for Virtue’s Last Reward, and tells us about his next project.


The last time you spoke with us, you said that English bio-chemist, Rupert Sheldrake, was one of the major inspirations behind Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. What was the inspiration behind Virtue’s Last Reward, and what do you think the differences are between this game and its predecessor?


Kotaro Uchikoshi, director: I am still following Sheldrake’s hypothesis in Virtue’s Last Reward. However, there are people who have not played 999, so to prevent them from feeling left out I have not mentioned Sheldrake’s name at all in VLR


But even then, the mechanism behind it is the same. So what I am trying to say is that 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward are a two-volume story built from the same setting.


In the case of 999, it was a story where you are entering another person’s consciousness that exists in another time, but in VLR you will be entering into your own consciousness. That is the big difference between 999 and VLR.


One difference that’s immediately noticeable is the move from 2D illustrations to 3D character models and exploration in Virtue’s Last Reward. Can you tell us how this affected both the way you told the game’s story as well as the development process?


Originally, we were anticipating that we will be using 2D for VLR’s characters, but we wanted it to work with the 3DS’s 3D feature. We now know that as long as you present it in the right way you can have awesome 2D characters on the 3DS, but at the time the 3DS hadn’t been released so we hadn’t seen evidence of that.


We were working under the assumption that 3D on the 3DS would require 3D models. Since our original idea used 2D character art, however, I don’t think we were really thinking of 3D models while we were developing the game at first.


For example, when we changed route to 3D characters, we were just thinking all we had to do was to portray the EVCG in real time rendering. (EVCG is the still shot you see when a special event occurs.) Unfortunately, the way the game was programmed wouldn’t allow us to do that, so we had to use pre-rendered images for the EVCG parts.


So to be quite honest, even though we used 3D models for the characters, it didn’t end up being that different from what it would have been like with 2D sprites. We couldn’t use the 3D to its full potential. That is one of the things we learned from this project.


But I think the people who made our 3D models did a really great job, especially considering the short amount of time they had. I’m satisfied with the quality. I would like to stress that fact.


You’ve been making visual novels for a long time now, and you mentioned to us in a previous interview that devices like the iPhone and iPad would help spread awareness of the visual novel genre in the future. However, games on the iPhone and iPad are often priced much, much lower than console or portable games. Do you have any thoughts on how that will play a role while developing and deciding on the budget of visual novel games in the future?


Yes. It’s true that visual novels and smart phones such as the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices seem to be made for each other. Action games, shooting games, fighting games, and racing games have already been ported onto them, but—and this is my personal opinion—the control schemes on these devices don’t serve those types of games well.


On the other hand visual novels only need “send message” and “select options” inputs; so player progress isn’t dependent on the quality of the controls.


In fact we have already ported visual novels onto smart phones and we’re doing pretty well. And we’re currently working on a new project that uses smart phones as the main platform.


It’s true that the price point is much lower, but that gives people more of a chance to purchase it and we can make up for the cost in that way. The only problem, which is the obvious, but it’s how to get the word out. I think this point is universal and any developer is pondering it.


I feel that sooner or later the main platform for visual novels will be smart phones. If it’s on a smart phone, you can price your work at a price point similar to that of a single manga volume while enjoying visual novel functionality. I think this is great for the users, creators, and the developers.


You said back in February that Virtue’s Last Reward had been received well in Japan and that you’re going to be doing another game. Is there anything you can tell us about it at this early stage?


I’m involved in several concurrent projects; one of them being a super straightforward moe-type otaku game! We are considering localizing it so please look forward for it.


For those who played Virtue’s Last Reward, please voice your desire for a sequel via Twitter and Facebook. That will tie into a potential new game. Thank you in advance for your support!

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.