Nippon Ichi Software has come a long way since the early days of Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure. NIS’s flagship Disgaea series has become a 3-million-unit-selling behemoth, their PlayStation Vita horror gem Yomawari: Midnight Shadows is getting a sequel and they are localizing international indie games like Nidhogg for Japan with their initiative, “Nippon Ichi Indie Spirits”.
Siliconera met up with Nippon Ichi Software president Sohei Niikawa and Yomawari director Yu Mizokami dive into the thinking behind Yomawari, talk indie game spirit, and to reminisce on the Disgaea series at Bitsummit.
Mizokami-san, what was the genesis behind what is now the Yomawari games series?
Yu Mizokami, Director of Yomawari: You may know this, Nippon Ichi Software’s office is in the middle of the countryside surrounded by rice fields. Every time you’re driving home, it’s really dark, it’s scary. You’ll be driving, you might see something like, “Oh! I think I saw somebody’s shadow, or I think I saw something move!” It’s in the dark, the lights are coming down, it’s a really spooky atmosphere. I thought, “What if you took that apprehension, that fear, that darkness, and turned it into a game?” That’s where the first thematic spark came from.
What went into the choice of a young girl protagonist for Yomawari?
YM: The premise of the game is to allow the player to re-experience the fear of the dark and the night, as you would feel as a small child. I took a weak, frail character, instead of a big, macho, strong powerful character, in order to allow you to experience that.
What’s a horror game that you’re really into lately?
YM: I’m really looking forward to playing Outlast 2, which came out recently in North America.
Niikawa-san, what goes through your head now with Disgaea the series coming up on so many years of ongoing titles and success?
Sohei Niikawa, President of Nippon Ichi Software: When I was first working on this, I never thought that it would have lasted for a whole 15 years, and at first it wasn’t even intended as a series for overseas publication. We were just thinking of selling it here in Japan. The only reason that we were able to continue this long is that not only do we have a great fanbase here in Japan, but we also have fans around the world who say, “I love this game, I love Disgaea!” It’s really thanks to our international community that we have lasted this long.
With such a long-running series, what kinds of challenges do you run into even now when it comes to making each entry?
SN: When we made [Disgaea] 1, we didn’t necessarily expect it to be as well-received as it was. When we had these incredible reviews from the fans who said they love the game, working on the second one we went, “What can we do to make it better than the first? How can we exceed our fans’ expectations?” With 2, after that was 3, then 4, and every time that is our biggest challenge in making this series.
What are your feelings on the Prinny mascot character from its humble origins to its status now as representing not just Disgaea, but all of NIS?
SN: In terms of where it came from, I thought, “Well, I would love to have a mascot character in this game, something cute.” And thinking of that, I turned to my artists and went, “I want a cute mascot character for my game!” And so of course, that particular penguin was born. I’m incredibly happy that the Prinny has grown to the position of the mascot of the entire company.
Nippon Ichi America goes to Anime Expo regularly. At first, ten years ago, people would see the hats we were wearing and go, “Oh, it’s a penguin!” But now, they go, “Oh, it’s a Prinny!” They actually know their names, so it’s really got an international fan-base now.
What led to NIS stepping in to help bring indie games from outside Japan like Nidhogg and Emily Wants To Play into the Japanese games market?
SN: Originally, we actually had many requests from foreign publishers to bring these games to Japan. However, considering the amount of work we would need for translation and time and resources, and a lot of the games requested didn’t fit the market, initially we felt that we did not want to localize these games.
But recently, we’ve seen so many big games abroad that have been well-reviewed and highly praised by the fans, and there is no Japanese version. So we saw this and thought, “That’s such a waste! The Japanese market would love these games,” and we saw the demand for them and decided to step in.
Do you have any closing thoughts, perhaps about your continuing support for Bitsummit, this Japanese indie games event?
SN: I’ve been to BitSummit many times now, watching it grow bigger and bigger, and seeing all the passionate people here, both gamers and game creators, it’s such a good experience and source of inspiration.
YM: It’s my first time coming to BitSummit, and I personally love indie games. I love seeing so many people getting together to celebrate the joy of indie gaming. It’s like a festival, in how much fun and high-tension it is.