It’s good to see Japanese developers focus on creating games for a global market. All too often, western gamers don’t see certain titles or they just take a long time to be localized. However, developer GungHo seems to be trying something new with their upcoming line up of games and their recent push to get games out in the front of western players quickly.
During PAX West 2019, we were able to sit down with GungHo Online Entertainment CEO Kazuki Morishita to talk about all the titles that the developer is currently working on and also what their plans are for the future.
Azario Lopez: So let’s talk about GungHo, what’s your current strategy? It seems as though you are trying to make a larger impact in the west.
Kazuki Morishita: We are focusing more on the western region currently. When it comes to development at Gungho, we are focusing on the global market. That’s why for some of our newer titles, we are releasing in the west first.
AL: Does this approach seem to be working for you?
KM: Well, for example, Puzzle & Dragons just hit over 15 million downloads, and Let it Die just hit 5 million downloads, the game is now available on both PS4 and Steam, but most of those numbers are from western players, and for Teppen, which is another mobile title, we are almost at 3 million downloads. When it comes to Teppen, we released in NA and EU first, so this could be thought of as a western title.
AL: You recently released Grand HD Collection on Switch in the west, even though this is a more traditional RPG, how have you seen the west’s reception to the game?
KM: We received a lot of praise for that title from users as well as great feedback for the remastered version. Because the west’s reaction was so good, we released the game in Japan and the number one trending word at launch was Grandia. I was really surprised to see that when I woke up.
AL: With this reaction, do you perhaps have plans to remaster the rest of the Grandia series?
KM: Grandia was first released on Sega Saturn before heading to the PlayStation One and now the Remastered version, Grandia II released on PlayStation 2, other consoles, and then remastered on Steam. We have many voices from users asking when Grandia III and Grand Xtreme will receive a remaster and we are considering it based on those reactions. These players have high hopes for this so there is a lot of pressure to deliver a good product.
AL: Since games like Puzzle & Dragons and Let it Die is doing so well for you, do you think there is room for GungHo to focus on these traditional RPG experiences?
KM: RPGs are very difficult to create and they are a lot different from created an action game. Remastering and new stories are both things we have to consider. If you are wondering if there is bandwidth for something like this in our company, there never really is.
AL: Does that mean that the RPGs you create within the company are based on a pure passion to deliver quality products?
KM: The only thing we have here is passion!
AL: Ninjala was recently delayed to improve the game, how has development on that title been since the announcement of the delay?
KM: We announced the delay because we wanted the online gameplay to be an enjoyable experience for the player and with low latency issues. Since then, we’ve brushed up a lot of what you’ve seen in the past of the game and the action is more enjoyable. We’ve improved the controls and I personally feel the game’s development is going well. I am currently writing new story elements for the game so I’ll be returning to that once I get back to work.
AL: With most of the titles from GungHo going through you, what was it about Ninjala that made you greenlight the game for development?
KM: I typically enjoy fantasy games, that’s why I’ve put so much time into making games like Puzzle & Dragons — very user-friendly and happy. After that though, I became tired and so I turned my focused to Let it Die to tap into my darker fantasy side. Although, following that game, my angel side reemerged and that’s around the time Ninjala came into my life.
I wanted the game to have Japanese roots, but also have a global appeal, that’s why we went with ninjas. When you’re a little kid you pick up a stick and imitate these ninja-like moves and I wanted to return to that imaginative world of playing as a ninja. I didn’t want the game to be cutting and killing, but instead I wanted it to focus on being a little more kid-friendly where the user will gain points. This is also where the idea of using gum as a weapon came about, which is also used to execute ninja skills.
AL: With Ninjala appealing to the angel side of you, where would Volta-X fall on your morality scale?
KM: Volta-X falls somewhere in the middle, a game that appeals to both kids and adults. I mean, there is robot fighting in the game, but the violence isn’t too over-the-top.
AL: You’ve been in the video game industry for a while now, I’m wondering what keeps you motivated and invested in this industry?
KM: I don’t see what I do as “work-work” and I don’t want to do “work”. When I graduated high school, I had to write an essay where I said, “I don’t want to work, I’d rather have people pay me to do whatever I want to.” Thankfully, making video games has never really felt like work for me and I’ve always enjoyed it. Sure, issues come up and delays happen, but I’m not alone in that aspect, I’m making something with everyone, which makes it enjoyable. I enjoy the nights of going out with my directors for drinks and dinner to create friendships. Developing a game is a very long process, but during that period of time, there’s always really fun moments.
AL: What is a project that you worked on in the past that you are perhaps most proud of?
KM: I would have to say it was my time working on Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition. I did a presentation for Miomoto-san and I remember he gave a good review. In the video game world, Miomoto-san is like a god and that will always stand out as an important time in my career. I even have a picture of me with him in my office.
AL: Although they are different games, do you believe Teppen has the lasting appeal of Puzzle & Dragons?
KM: We would like it to. For Teppen we aren’t only focused on the online gameplay, but also on the appeal of offline gameplay and hosting tournaments.
AL: Will we see more tournaments for Teppen in the future?
KM: This is something that we’ve been planning for since the development of the game. We have plenty of plans for new updates and heroes.
AL: You’ve done a lot of collaborations in the past, is there any developer or publisher who you haven’t worked with but would like to?
KM: When it comes to collaborations, we have to look at the world and if the IP will fit within our game. There’s a lot of planning that goes into this and there are a lot of publishers who I’d love to collaborate with, but we are still in negotiations so I won’t say too much. Thankfully, we’ve done many collaborations that I’ve wanted to do already, but there’s still some that I have my eye on.
AL: Do you think there are still new stories to tell within the Grandia series?
KM: There is a lot of discussions internally about this, based on the voices of users who want to see it happen. Grandia is not a title that I personally started, but I do have a lot of respect for it. If we were to put something new out, I would want it to go with the original and improve it where I feel I can, which does put a lot of pressure on me. Looking at the RPG aspects of the series, I have to work on finding a way to create something that will satisfy users.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to say to fans of GungHo?
KM: I know in the past during the Let it Die streams we did a lot of silly and weird things. But during those streams, we saw a community of players grow who gave us nice comments. They were even supportive after a stunt we pulled to show how players can do co-op in the game using an awkward method. Our goal is to have our western fans enjoy us and our games, laugh and have fun. We will continue this community building as we continue the development of Ninjala so please stick with us.
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