During Tokyo Game Show, publisher Nippon Ichi Software America (NISA) and developer Idea Factory revealed Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory would be receiving a Western release. Ryan and I caught up with Naoko Mizuno (Director/Producer of the series), Damien Urvois (Idea Factory) and Alan Costa (NISA; interpreting) to talk about the series and its latest incarnation:
Ready Up: How long have you been working on Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory?
Mizuno-san: We wanted to make one Neptune title a year for the fans, so this one had a very tight schedule of less than a year or so. As soon as we finished Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 we moved on to Victory.
Ready Up: Where did you get the idea of focusing on the console wars in the Neptunia series?
Mizuno-san: At the time when the series first began there were really no games parodying the game industry so we thought it would be really cool to do something like that. Also, at the time there was a boom of new main characters and I noticed there was a pretty big dearth of female, cute characters so I thought it’d be an great opportunity to create characters based on this idea.
Ready Up: The series has had its fair share of cameos in it. What can we expect for the third iteration of the series?
Mizuno-san: Without saying too much, in the towns there are little avatars of characters that you can speak with and they are all parodies of something. A lot of monsters themselves are parodies too. For summon characters we have three famous developers: one is Keiji Inafune (Resident Evil, Dead Rising), who’s very famous. The second one is Masanobu Endo, who made Xevious. The third is Famicom videogame champion, Mouri Meijin, Takahashi Meijin’s rival.
Ready Up: Did they approach you after hearing about the cameos in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 or did you approach them?
Mizuno-san: It was from our side. The motif in this game is the game industry in the 1980s; these three were very huge names back then so we asked if they would be kind enough to appear in our game.
Ready Up: Was there anyone who you tried to get but couldn’t?
Mizuno-san: Yeah, there were others, of course. For example someone who dealt with Sonic who’s now affiliated with another company (Yuji Naka), talking with him is really difficult as he’s a CEO. But for the most part we got who we wanted.
Ready Up: Have you had any feedback from Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft about their portrayals as characters in the game?
Mizuno-san: Essentially, nothing directly from them. At heart we created the game with the idea that we wanted players to be like “I think this is so and so,” not in-your-face so much. We’ve seen a tweet from someone at Microsoft who’s said he knows what we’re up to though!
Ready Up: How do you take on board the feedback you receive from Japanese and western players?
Mizuno-san: We actually listen quite a bit. In Japan we have questionnaires that are available online and we listen to fans and incorporate ideas and feedback that way. In terms of outside Japan, through Damien here passes on what people are saying about the games. To give an example, in Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, players said it was kind of difficult to turn into your Hard Drive Divinity form, plus it ate your SP. People were saying they wanted to spend more time with the goddess forms. So for Victory we made it so it’s very easy and you can use your goddess form a lot more readily. The first game also used the “bust-up” style where you had character portraits interacting with each other to advance the story. In the second game we used a lot more 3D and a lot of the fans were like “no, please go back to the original’s style,” so we listened to the fans and in the third game you can expect beautiful hand-drawn portraits interacting.
Ready Up: How about the new player challenges in this game – did they come about because of player feedback?
Mizuno-san: For that specifically we actually came up with it inside the company. One of the reasons it came about was because there are lots of people who like to use a certain character’s on-screen avatar and make them super-powerful. We thought the challenges would be a cool way for the players who enjoy a certain character to be able to make them especially powerful as well as a certain amount of extra growth.
Ready Up: Sales-wise how well does the western market compare to Japan for the series so far?
Damien: For the original and mk2, Japan is a little stronger, but figures are really similar which is very surprising for a game made primarily for a Japanese audience.
Ready Up: Do you think western audiences might feel uneasy about some of the outfits in the game seeming to sexualise many of the young-looking characters?
Damien: I think I can reply. When you say sexualised… in Japan it is seen as cute, like “kawaii,” and people don’t think at all about sexuality. They just look at the character and say “oh, she’s really cute; she’s funny” but they don’t see any, you know, sex or perversion in the game. I would say that 99.9% of the players are male in Japan, which is different in the US and Europe. I’d say about 30-40% of our players there are female. Maybe for them, sometimes they don’t understand, like “please remove some of this fan-service because it’s too much to handle as a woman.” But still, the humour in the game, the jokes and personality of Neptune especially, make it, I think, acceptable for female players too.
Ready Up: So, if there is a difference between the genders of the audience in the West in terms of there being fewer male players, do you think that there’s an aspect of the male audience feeling uncomfortable?
Damien: I mean, this kind of game is really made for hardcore gamers. You know, people who love anime and manga and are really used to that style, so it’s not shocking. I think the problem comes from people who don’t understand what a hardcore game is, what anime is, what manga is. So for them, looking at that could be shocking sometimes. They don’t see it as cute, purity of the characters so I totally understand your point. But this game is not for everyone – it’s really for anime and manga lovers, you know, otaku who really understand Japanese culture.
Ready Up: In terms of the translation, I was speaking to Nick Doerr (NISA editor) earlier and I understand jokes and wordplay occasionally need to be changed around a little bit. How pleased are you with the resulting translation overall?
Damien: For the most part we can get about 90% of what’s there translated and it’s that really unique wordplay and humour, or things that are just so ingrained inside the culture, that don’t carry over. For the most part it’s pretty faithful, we hope, to the original.
Ready Up: Out of all the new mechanics, what are you most pleased with?
Mizuno-san: Probably the one I’m most proud of and think is most necessary to use is the scout system, where you send out characters to get stuff and bring things back to you. So much so that we made the bosses really powerful so that if you aren’t using the system or taking your time to explore, the boss will really hand it to you. It’s really cool and I love it so please use it!
Many thanks to Nao Zook (NISA) for organising the interview. Hyperdimension Neptunia will be available in the UK in Spring 2012.