When Aksys released 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors in North America, we spoke with the game’s director, Kotaro Uchikoshi, about the inspirations behind the game and its story.
This past week, Aksys released Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, the game’s recently released successor, and we caught up with Uchikoshi once more to ask about the new game. In this first part of our interview, Uchikoshi gives his thoughts on designing characters and lets in on how he, as a writer, focuses more on plot rather than on characters.
This time around, Zero III is a rabbit puppet, and he controls the Ambidex game. Can you say why you decided to go with a rabbit?
Kotaro Uchikoshi, Director: It is because one of the themes of Virtue’s Last Reward was the moon. In Japanese folklore, there is a rabbit that lives on the moon. This story has been passed down, and anyone in Japan, young or old, will know this story. It is said that this story started because when there is a full moon the shadows look like a rabbit making mochi.
But I heard in the US that shape looks like something totally different. I heard some say it looks like a man’s face, or a woman’s profile, or a crab…
On a side note, in Arabia the general consensus states that it looks like a roaring lion. But anyways, that is the reason why I decided to make VLR’s mascot a rabbit.
Is there something about them that’s inherently creepy? There’s a popular horror manga series, Doubt, by Tonogai Yoshiki, that also uses the rabbit theme to great effect.
I wouldn’t know about that. Actually I feel like it has more of a cute characteristic. But then again, because it’s so cute, [the idea that] it can give off a creepy vibe seems to be universal. For example, isn’t a doll lying in the middle of the street creepier than some sort of horrific monster?
Let’s talk about the other characters. Since this is a successor to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the characters that appear in this game needed to feel different from those of the previous game. When you were coming up with characters, how did you go about deciding what they’re like? How do you figure out the mix of personality traits and what goes well with what?
I’m a writer who prioritizes storyline over character, so I start with getting the basic story down. From there, I figure out which characters are necessary to the story, and that’s how I decide my characters.
I’ve heard that some other writers prioritize character, and will come up with the characters first and the write a story around them. And as an FYI, it’s more common to write stories prioritizing characters. There’s a much bigger demand for that. That means it sells. I think this is the reason my titles don’t sell, ha ha ha!
Anyway, let’s get back to your question. After I decide on the story and figure out the main character, I look at the balance. Let’s say there were more men or more women overall. Or if I make character “A” a cold person, then I should make “B” more nice. If there’s a grandpa, then I would need a child. Like so, I just make sure if there’s a plus, I put in a minus, or ying and yang, positive and a negative, rational, irrational.
I create characters so there is a sense of equilibrium. Once that is determined, I just throw the characters in with some rules,shake them up a few times and it’s finished!
Junpei had a set personality in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Sigma has a strong personality in Virtue’s Last Reward as well. Do you feel a character with a strong personality is necessary in visual novels?
Hmmm. That’s a very challenging question. Honestly, I don’t think Junpei or Sigma has a strong personality. If you compare them to main characters of other anime or manga, wouldn’t you say they are more reserved?
I try my best to not give my main characters a strong personality so I won’t get in the way of the player’s empathy. But if you’re going to say Junpei and Sigma’s personalities are still strong, then I guess we can say that my twisted characteristics are showing through, ha ha ha!
Do you think that it could also be interesting to do a similar game where the main character isn’t quite as developed and you let the player embody him instead?
I think it could be really interesting. Take the extremely popular RPG, Dragon Quest, for instance. The main character only says “Yes” or “No”. That is because there is a strong idea there that the main character or hero is really the player.
And don’t you think all the main characters in online games are like that too? The player determines the personality of the main character. I mean, the main character is pretty much a Mini-Me of the player.
So if you think of it that way, I feel like it was pretty natural decision that the newest Dragon Quest game [note: referring to DQX] was an online game.
We’ll have more on the development of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward next week, with talk of going from 2D to 3D and the future of visual novels! In the meantime, you can read our playtest of the game here.