In the west, visual novels have slowly become more popular, which allows more titles in the genre to be localized. Now, Japanese developers are trying new things with the genre to present it to fans in unique ways, which brings us to visual novels in VR. While VR technology is still pretty young and almost always evolving, Japanese developers MyDearest and Spicy Tails have joined together to bring these experiences to western fans and spread the joy of visual novels in VR.
During Anime Expo 2019, Noisy Pixel had the opportunity to sit down with MyDearest CEO Kento Kishigami and Tokyo Chronos Director Haruki Kashiwakura to talk about the future of visual novels as well as AniVR Japan and bringing these unique experiences to western audiences.
Azario Lopez: How did the idea of AniVR Japan first come about?
Kento Kishigami: The way it started was I had dinner with Isuna Hasekura, the author of Spice and Wolf, during Machi Asobi, which is a large anime event in Tokushima, Japan. We often exhibit together at events. During this dinner, we got to talking about Japanese VR content and had the idea that “we need to spread this to the world!” And that’s how it started.
AL: After playing some visual novel VR titles like Project LUX, I’ve noticed that I feel a little closer to the characters emotionally in VR. Do you find it easier to control the player’s emotions telling stories in VR?
Haruki Kashiwakura: Yes, after working in the anime industry for so long, you begin to develop these skills and mechanisms to lead the viewer’s emotions. Such as raising the tension to its peak as the story leads into the climax. There are so many ways to do this, but I used these same mechanics in VR and I believe it really paid off.
KK: So when it comes to Spice and Wolf VR the only point of the game is to meet a cute girl named Holo and hang out with her. The creators really focused on how cute they can make Holo in VR. Basically, the team did everything they could to make the player undoubtedly think she is cute and using VR allowed them to do that.
AL: Is the relationship in Spice and Wolf VR supposed to be romantic or just a friendship?
KK: This leans more towards the romantic side.
AL: When developing Tokyo Chronos did you start the project thinking that you were about to create one of the longest visual novel VR experiences?
HK: We initially wanted the game to tell a long story, but it turned out to be a little longer than we thought. By a little a mean twice as long as we originally planned.
AL: Why did you feel that Tokyo Chronos was a story to be told in VR?
KK: There are many horror VR games, but almost no mystery VR games that have a deep story and world for the player to visually be a part of.
HK: VR games usually have a lot of surprise gimmicks, but we wanted to tell a story. For us, Japanese creators, writing mystery is something we enjoy doing and we felt this would work best using VR.
AL: Do you believe that the future of visual novels will be mostly VR?
KK: We hope so!
AL: When it comes to western players, do you feel like they are interested in this way of storytelling?
KK: The sales of Tokyo Chronos on PC were 50% Japan and 50% global, and out of that 30% was the United States.
HK: When developing Tokyo Chronos, we did think that at first the fans in the west would be fewer than in Japan, but that turned out not to be true. We get the feeling that LAM’s designs are more popular in the west and I’m sure this helped in some ways.
AL: Tokyo Chronos has a large cast of characters, do you feel like you have more stories to tell within the group?
KK: Currently, there is a light novel in the works featuring the character Sai Kamiya which has some dark and suspenseful themes.
AL: Will we see more of that with the characters?
KK: We hope so and we’ve been talking with publishers. These side projects have only just started so we don’t have the exact plan of who will be next, but we definitely want to do more.
AL: Do you wish to spread your knowledge of developing visual novels in VR with other developers or do you wish to simply keep all the knowledge gained for yourselves?
HK: We definitely want to spread our knowledge of creating visual novels in VR because as fans we want to see VR versions of Steins;Gate, Danganronpa, and other titles. Throughout the history of visual novels, things have typically stayed the same, but VR is a huge change.
While the presentation of visual novels has a base that is the same, some of the best creators have developed new and interesting methods to create these games, but now with VR, we have to push ourselves again to make new methods. So, we need more people and developers along with fans to make VR the best place for visual novels.
AL: Will there ever be romance implemented into Tokyo Chronos, more specifically with the character Yu Momono?
HK: Oh very specific, I understand. Well, there are some themes of love in the game, but this is not anything close to what you’d find in a romance visual novel. I will say, though, that there are multiple endings in the game and Yu Momono’s ending is the most popular ending.
AL: During Tokyo Chronos’ development, the game suffered a delay. Did overcoming the hardships that caused the delay make the final product better in your eyes?
HK: It definitely did make the game better. Throughout that experience, and even with things we encountered through the entire game’s development, we used all of our knowledge to create this title. Everything learned during that time will definitely be implemented in the next project.
AL: Do you have plans for a future project?
KK: Yes, we do!
AL: Would Kickstarter be an avenue for on this project?
KK: We are considering it, but nothing has been set in stone.
AL: Developer UNIVRS came up with interesting tech used in their Little Witch Academia VR project that fixes bad cases of motion sickness. Now that this exists, will we see MyDearest create any action type VR games?
KK: We can’t say much, but our next project might have a little more action. This is to use the experience of Kashiwakura-san’s anime background to produce some unique experiences within the VR world.
AL: Kashiwakura-san, was the jump from anime to VR easy for you?
HK: Well, I want to keep making anime, but that doesn’t have to be in 2D. I’ve come to find out that anime and VR are both totally different industries, but do share similarities. So when I transitioned to the VR industry, it was because I was tired of the issues that I encountered in the anime industry and the pressure of making content every year. That’s why I wanted to do something different and started in VR. However, after I began working in VR I noticed similarities when it comes to a character’s expression or emotions and how I wanted to project them through the screen to the viewer. That’s how I approached anime and that’s how I found that I approached VR, but with the added bonus of VR, I can express those emotions easier to the player.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to western fans looking for to projects from AniVR Japan?
KK: AniVR Japan is a huge project, that might extend past this year. We want to bring our content to the west and it’s through this project that we hope to reach global anime fans and deliver it to them.
HK: Even though I’m not managing the AniVR Japan project, I think it’s important to keep doing it. Having Spice and Wolf VR, Tokyo Chronos, and Project LUX is a good start, but it’s not enough. I’m hoping to see more VR titles from Japan in the hands of western fans.
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