Japanese outlet Inside recently interviewed the current president of Nihon Falcom, Toshihiro Kondo, regarding the progression of the Trails series, with specific facets such as its notably immense array of NPC dialogue. In addition, Kuro no Kiseki is also discussed, with its movie implementation being a primary subject matter.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Before we begin, however, I would like you to have a look at these. The editorial department [at INSIDE] prepared two “fantasy ideas” for potential movies that could’ve been in Kuro no Kiseki. These are based on two popular stories: Puss in Boots and The Undesirables. What do you think? Am I worthy of getting Jet Black Steel directly from Producer Kondo himself?
The interviewer shows Kondo the two posters:
Kondo: They’re quite well done! However, the Legend of Heroes games focus more on the worldview. It could’ve passed if the movie felt like it was “made in the Republic of Calvard.” Also, I’m sorry, but you can’t get the Jet Black Steel unless you collect all 12 pamphlets first. If you don’t have all 12, may I suggest looking around the Republic of Calvard for a store that sells “bargains?”*
Interviewer: Welp, that’s a shame! (laughs)
*TL Note: In the final chapter in Kuro 1, there are two shops: one in Old Town and one in Dark Light District. They start selling old pamphlets for movies you haven’t acquired for a higher price.
Interviewer: The Trails series (known as the Kiseki series in Japan) has received much acclaim thanks to the diverse perspectives of its world. Could you tell us why you put so much effort into creating all those NPC characters, as well as a wide variety of cuisine and facilities?
Kondo: The Legend of Heroes series was created based on the question of how Nihon Falcom would compete with other famous RPGs that were popular at the time of the first game’s release. The plan was to focus on the “story” and not just on the graphics.
Interviewer: I see…
Kondo: In regards to the graphics, I’m sure we could improve them if we had more people and a bigger budget, but the [Trails team] MO is to focus on story first and graphics second, which is something that I noticed hardly happens in other companies’ JRPGs.
The Trails series staff, including myself, were all inspired by the Gagharv trilogy when we decided to join Falcom. So, we decided to build up a story that includes everyone―even the NPCs―in the Trails series.
Interviewer: But there are so many NPCs. Have you ever felt that you’re making too many of them?
Kondo: Well, sometimes. (laughs) The Trails series is known for having hundreds of NPCs, and I was frequently asked why there are so many NPCs and how I keep track of them all.
Interviewer: The classic “Talk with them over and over to get the unique dialogue.” So you are still very conscious of “how to compete with other titles,” and to do so, you carried over the best traits from the older Legend of Heroes games.
Kondo: That’s right. There are fans who say they like that aspect [immense unique dialogue] of the games, and I would like to continue implementing that for as long as possible.
But it seems to me that the volume of the text alone is quite large. To be honest, there were times when I thought “development was too difficult…….?
Talking to all of the NPCs is sometimes considered a “marathon” among fans. However, we have received positive responses, and though we are developing the games so that the main stories are enjoyable enough, the NPC dialogue helps distinguish each area of the world, creating greater immersion.
[He then proceeds to explain the reason there’s so much NPC dialogue is so players can immerse themselves in the story. Like you’re seeing the world move around you, with dialogue variety changing ever so slightly as you progress.]
Interviewer: In past Trails games, you collected books that contained many additional stories and lore material. Is there a reason why Kuro no Kiseki has effectively replaced books with movies?
Kondo: Trails is a series that has been going on for a little over 18 years now, but the countries and regions depicted in the story change. In order to better depict the world [of Kuro no Kiseki], we had to consider what was popular in the region beforehand.
In the Republic of Calvard, where Kuro takes place, movies are a popular part of its culture.
During the story writing, we naturally incorporated the idea of implementing movies as an in-game element. It felt unique enough to consider that Calvard is a place more known for its films rather than its books.
Interviewer: I wonder if there are any movie buffs among the staff. (laughs)
Kondo: Funny you’d say that because the office building of Nihon Falcom is actually located near a movie theater!* For us, movies are very close (literally) to our hearts. The Trails series had a system for collecting novels, which are essentially stories within stories, and that’s one of the aspects that led to the “movie” and “pamphlet collection.”
*TL Note: Yup, he’s right. Falcom’s address is near Cinema Two, a movie theater:
Interviewer: That’s an enviably good location! In Kuro 1, there’s a movie called Rain and Me, which has a Makoto Shinkai feel to it. I thought it was a very realistic production that would move the hearts of movie lovers.
Kondo: Makoto Shinkai originally worked at Nihon Falcom, so it is possible that some of his production techniques were passed on to other staff members. I myself learned how to properly draw clouds in Photoshop directly from him.
Interviewer: Wait, so I was right in assuming that?!
Kondo: That you were. (laughs)
Interviewer: As you’ve previously mentioned, it has been almost a full two decades since the Trails series’ first entry. As you have continued to create more and more games for the series, have you made any major changes in direction, or conversely, have there been any developmental quirks that you never feel like changing?
Kondo: The first ever Trails game was released on PC.* Therefore, we developed it using the “traditional PC game” approach. It was more of a muddy fantasy, where a young boy and girl leave the countryside and travel around the world.
We then changed our focus twice: In Trails from Zero, we focused on home video game consoles and changed the visuals of the characters and the world setting to a different protagonist and perspective.
Then, when we created the Cold Steel saga, we altered the story to one that takes place in a school, changing the protagonist once again while still being very conscious of the home console market at that time.
But even so, as I referenced earlier, the “careful craftsmanship” is the signature of the Trails series as a whole. That is the one thing we must never change, and we continue to adhere to it to this day.
We aim to create the same fundamental elements, but we are always conscious of our user base and develop new experiences closely, considering what kind of games would be easy for people to pick up and play.
*TL Addendum: Trails in the Sky’s PC version was initially released in 2004, and the PSP version was released in 2006.
Interviewer: By the way, the Trails series is mostly available on Steam, correct? What sort of response have you heard from overseas fans?
Kondo: I first thought overseas fans would pay more attention to the gameplay and system aspects rather than the story and its world. I was surprised, however, to find the same viewpoints as Japanese fans.
I once saw articles and other fans voice things such as “I like this character!” In that sense, the fanbase there isn’t much different from here in Japan. (laughs)
I had the impression that the so-called “JRPG” genre was shunned by people overseas until very recently. After the acceptance of Japanese anime and its subcultural content, the number of overseas JRPG fans increased exponentially. This has had a strong influence, and I believe they like our games in the same way Japanese fans do.
Interviewer: What do you think about the Japanese PC game market? It seems that the number of titles released on Steam by other companies is increasing by the day.
Kondo: We have [many] fans [in Japan] who play our games on PC via Steam, but it’s a very small number compared to the percentage of people overseas. The majority of user feedback [considering only Japan] also comes primarily from console players.
However, the number of PC game users has grown significantly over the past few years, so perhaps one day, we will return to the PC-centric approach [from when we developed Sky in 2004].
The PC player base is still a vital market we can’t ignore just because they are a minority. In every board meeting, the question of “how to expand to Steam” comes up almost every time.
Interviewer: It is true that the number of PC gamers has increased, and the age demographic has also changed considerably. What kind of approach do you plan to take with the Trails series titles for the PC market, where there’s a higher percentage of younger players?
Kondo: Basically, we can’t say that we want our games to be played by elementary school students right now! We think that children who have played our games since elementary school will still enjoy playing them in junior high or high school.
I think that the worldview and storylines of the Trails series are positioned as a “next step” for those who have had other original experiences rather than as a so-called “original game experience” itself. Due to the fact they started as PC games, I believe Nihon Falcom’s games have always been in that position.
Interviewer: You did mention that “careful craftsmanship” is one of the key points.
Kondo: Correct. Our approach is that Trails can be played by one or two kids in the class who “have a slightly different hobby.” I don’t think it’s that niche now, but that’s the basic idea.
Rather than “RPGs that will be popular with everyone,” we always aim for “the next step.” That is, a game that is a little difficult to understand at first yet brings an amazing experience all the same.
Interviewer: Lastly, with the release of this PS5 version of Kuro no Kiseki, what are your thoughts regarding both first-time players and long-time fans?
Kondo: As I’ve previously mentioned, Kuro no Kiseki comes from a series of games that have continued on for 18 years as story-oriented titles, so I hope that they [first-time fans] will take on the challenge, focusing on the “intricacy of the world.”
The story of Kuro no Kiseki II: Crimson Sin will continue to unfold in a way that you [the player] can’t take your eyes off of, so we hope that you will look forward to that sequel.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero is releasing for Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via the Epic Games Store and Steam on September 27, 2022.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure is releasing for Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via the Epic Games Store, GOG, and Steam in early 2023. Its limited edition and unaffixed merchandise are available to pre-order, too.
The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki II Crimson Sin is releasing for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 in Japan on September 29, 2022.
The Legend of Heroes: Kuro no Kiseki is the latest entry of the ongoing Trails series, taking place after the recently concluded Cold Steel Erebonia arc, and after The Legend of Heroes: Hajimari no Kiseki, releasing in the west in 2023 as The Legend of Heroes: Trails into Reverie.
This new title takes place in Calvard, one of the central regions of the series’ setting, the continent of Zemuria. While there are several returning characters from the Liberl, Crossbell, and Erebonia arcs, there is also a slew of new characters, each with their own struggles, relationships, and goals that enhance the liveliness of the in-game world.
Additionally, combat has undergone a significant shake-up, with action now freely swappable with turn-based in several circumstances, granting an impressive degree of player choice. The game is currently available in Japan for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 and in China via Steam.