Just as Tokyo Game Show kicked off, Ready Up met two Level-5 luminaries to discuss their upcoming RPG Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, put together with the help of critically-acclaimed Japanese animation wizards Studio Ghibli. Akihiro Hino (General Director of Ni no Kuni as well as CEO and President of Level-5) and Ken Motomura (Director) attended an open interview to talk about the game’s localisation as well as how it came to fruition:
Hino-san: In all honesty there have been instances where I did regret including the book, but the book itself is an important bridge to connecting the imaginary world to “the real world” in Ni no Kuni. It did take a lot of time to localise because we put a lot of care into it. However, in the end, just reading the book itself will allow you grasp the universe of Ni no Kuni. There were a lot of instances where it was troublesome to get through but it was worthwhile in the end.
Why wasn’t the DS version localised alongside the PS3 version?
Hino-san: When you think of the price point for the average DS title it was just too difficult to package the book with the game and sell it abroad. The book is the main reason why the DS version wasn’t brought overseas.
How closely did Studio Ghibli work with Level-5? Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, is known for being a technophobe, so how did this partnership come about?
Hino-san: I have a mutual friend who knows Toshio Suzuki, a producer at Studio Ghibli. After countless meetings and casual discussions we came to know each other and after presenting some of the original ideas for this project Studio Ghibli were on board. I am aware that Miyazaki-san is weary of videogames in general but after providing Suzuki-san with a glimpse of what this project may become I believe Studio Ghibli were able to see the value in working with us in bringing this project to fruition.
Miyazaki-san is an iconic figure around the world. What was it like to meet him?
Hino-san: I met Miyazaki-san a couple of times over the course of the initial phases of the project. I look up to him, and at one point I even asked him to take a picture with me. It is a very memorable moment and a keepsake I’ll always treasure. When we started discussing the project with Studio Ghibli they were in the process of making Howl’s Moving Castle. I was able to meet the people who were creating the original concept art; the people involved in the actual production of it. Regardless, we spoke on a very casual basis and were very friendly to one another. As a director and creator Miyazaki-san may seem a bit tough, but as a person he was very nice. For myself, as a creator, it was a very moving and emotional experience and I treasure it very much.
What was the relationship between the two studios like? How often did you meet up?
Motomura-san: As the director, I was the person who was doing most of the day-to-day communications with Studio Ghibli. We had Yoshiyuki Momose, the animation director of this project, working on this project with us at Studio Ghibli. There were numerous sessions where he would comment on the staging and theatrical direction.
Hino-san: I believe it wouldn’t have been possible to reach this level of Ghibli-esque universe on our own. At Level-5, we would make parts of the game ourselves then send it off to Studio Ghibli to review. When you consider specifics like storyboard checks, motion capture, staging direction and camerawork they were really involved in the day-to-day processes.
What did you find most challenging about converting the artistic vision of the game into the final product in terms of the two studios working together?
Hino-san: Technically, there were a lot of elements that were difficult to bring into the game but the main part was with regards to the staging and the artistic elements. Studio Ghibli identified where the fixes needed to be made. It was an extensive process but it was very worthwhile and an educational experience on our part. I didn’t think it was too difficult; only beneficial.
What have you learned from working with Studio Ghibli and how do you think it’ll affect your future titles?
Hino-san: We believe that Studio Ghibli leads the way in terms of animation in Japan, so in terms of the theatrical direction we learned a lot from them. When you look at the specifics like their backgrounds, they put a lot of care into what is natural to daily life. So what we consider “normal” in the RPG world wouldn’t be normal if you’re living a day-to-day life in a house in a Studio Ghibli world. Them pointing out these elements out was a wake up call for us. Another example was where Studio Ghibli puts a lot of thought into a character holding a cup, drinking from it and then placing it back on the table. These minor movements are very important; something that became very apparent after working with Studio Ghibli.
Level-5 games are perceived as family friendly in Japan. However, the battle system is quite deep and technical. Were you worried at any point that it might be too difficult for younger players?
Hino-san: The initial stages of the game are relatively easy to play so children can technically just press buttons and move on. However, when you get into the latter half of the game, the battles become a little bit more challenging while bosses get harder. If children were to play through til the end they might need a little bit of assistance from their parents. We wanted to make the game somewhat tough and challenging though, so that’s the reason for the game balance being how it is.
Motomura-san: I was able to tune it in a way to allow a broad audience to be able to pick up and enjoy the game, but the initial intent of the battle system was to make it intuitive and fun. The element where you’re moving around the creatures and having control over them is a very fun experience that even younger audiences can enjoy. However, when you start get into the nitty-gritty strategy of battling you get a lot more involved. In that sense it is more for an experienced gamer.
Would you like to work with Studio Ghibli again? How would you feel about Level-5 adapting existing Studio Ghibli properties into video games?
Hino-san: If there is a potential opportunity to work with them again, yes we’d love to work with them on some joint projects in the future if there is the possibility. Personally, I’d love to work on projects turning existing properties into games. Obviously they are Studio Ghibli’s properties though, so we cant easily say whether we’d be able to or not. It is something I’d like to try to pursue and negotiate with them about in the future. Given the opportunity, I’d most like to adapt Studio Ghibli’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky into a game.
The PlayStation3 version of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch will hit European shores on Friday the 25th January, 2013.