In a recent interview with Denfamicogamer, David Jiang, the producer of HoYoverse’s upcoming Honkai Star Rail recently sat down in an online meeting with Nihon Falcom’s president, Toshihiro Kondo, talking about his inspirations and the design philosophy behind the title. While the interview itself doesn’t reveal anything groundbreaking per se, I immediately wondered: Why did the Honkai Star Rail producer want to meet with Kondo?
The answer might surprise you because David revealed themself to be a massive fan of the Trails series. During his conversation with Kondo, he sounded super happy to finally meet someone he has admired. According to the article, David sent a fan letter to Nihon Falcom, mostly about his love and admiration for the Trails series. So, his dream is realized by having the pleasure of talking with Toshihiro Kondo.
Furthermore, and this is perhaps the very cool part, David supposedly showed with a silly grin that his profile picture on the Chinese social media site QQ has been Tio Plato for over ten years. He never wanted to change it, as he is particularly drawn to her character design and her staff that combines “magic and technology.”
In addition, his favorite Trails games are the Crossbell Duology (Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure). In fact, he also claims that Honkai Star Rail does feature heavy inspiration from Trails and hopes to capture the same “novel feeling” he had felt when he played the series during his university days. Many staff members from HoYoverse’s production team are also fans of the series.
Denfamicogamer: First of all, I would like to talk to David. I think this interview was made possible in large part because of David’s enthusiastic call to Nihon Falcom. What are the specific areas of influence and respect for Nihon Falcom’s titles?
David: My first experience with a Nihon Falcom title was Trails from Zero, back when I was a university student. At the time, it was one of the few games from Nihon Falcom that was officially published in China, so it has a very personal impression on me. After that, I also played Sky trilogy, and when Trails to Azure was released in China, I immediately bought and played it. That’s how addicted I was to the Trails series back in the day. In fact, I haven’t changed the icon on my QQ [A Chinese social media website] account in 10 years! [he then excitedly shows his account photo, revealing to be Tio Plato]
I also love the music of the Sky series. In particular, Hoshi No Arika is very popular among Chinese fans, and I still use it as background music when I work (laughs).
Kondo: I was honestly surprised when I heard that David-san loves the Trails series (laughs). It is truly an honor that the series is loved outside of Japan in this way. We have been putting a lot of effort into the commercialization of character figures for the Trails series, and recently we have seen an increase in the number of Chinese fans contacting figure makers and getting them to work on projects.
Moreover, more than half of the new employees who joined Falcom this year are from China, and like David, many of them are fans of Trails from Zero or were influenced by it. When we were making Zero, we were honestly desperate to make the game, and we had no idea that we would be able to establish such close ties with the Chinese people. Ten years have passed since the [Japanese] release of Zero and it is very moving to be able to have this conversation with David.
Denfamicogamer: I wanted to ask David specifically about how JRPGs and command/turn-based RPGs are received in China, but after listening to the conversation so far, I have a feeling that only Japanese fans think that the command/turn-based RPG style is a bit old-fashioned.
David: If we’re narrowing it down to just the Star Rail development team, there are still quite a few staff members who like JRPGs. And many of my personal friends and colleagues also like the genre. My friends and I used to get excited whenever a new Trails series game was released (laughs). I knew that JRPGs and command/turn-based RPGs had a certain number of fans and users when I researched successful command/turn-based RPGs in China, their number of users worldwide, and their sales data during the planning stage of marketing.
Of course, we were also concerned that command and turn-based RPGs might be perceived as old-fashioned, but the results of the beta test surveys for Star Rail, which we have already conducted twice, show that 95% of users responded that they would play the game “as long as the game is fun and the quality is solid.” This is my own personal opinion, but I believe that when checking reactions on the Internet, etc., people who are favorable to the work do not leave many comments, so the critical opinions inevitably appear to be larger than they are.
Kondo: As of right now, Nihon Falcom’s titles are now available in North American territory. However, until 10 years ago, not many people were playing our games in the region, and we have seen an increase in the number of users thanks to the Trails series. Seeing the reaction in the North American market, I wondered if turn-based RPGs were just a fad that has long since passed.
However, I also believe that we, game creators, are responsible for the fact that Japanese people have grown tired of turn-based RPGs. We have pushed the genre to the point that we would need to reboot the system and show the possibilities of the next generation of turn-based RPGs. After watching the trailer for Honkai: Star Rail, and I believe that there is still a lot of potential for turn-based RPGs.
David: Thank you so much! (laughs)
Denfamicogamer: This may be a rather abstract question, but what do you two think is the reason why the RPG genre has been loved for so long?
Kondo: To begin with, I think that games, regardless of genre, are “something that gives you an experience that you normally can’t have”. In a sports game, you can experience sports as if you were a professional athlete, and in a racing game, you can experience racing like a professional racer, and so on. Now if you asked what on earth can you experience in an RPG, I would say that RPGs are a genre that allows you to experience a life other than your own.
When I was a university student, I played many RPGs other than those produced by Nihon Falcom, and through the adventures of the main characters and encounters with their friends, I experienced many experiences that I could not have had if I had only lived my own life. I still cannot forget the excitement of those experiences, and I am grateful to the RPG genre for giving me those experiences and helping me grow as a person through those experiences. That is why I am making RPGs now, I think.
RPGs also have lots of play time. While you can get through a movie in two to three hours, an RPG can take 20 to 30 hours, sometimes even 50 or even 100 hours at the longest, to get to know the story and world. It may be one-hundredth or one-thousandth the time of your own life, but the immersive experience of taking the time to advance the story and develop the characters is something you cannot experience in any other medium.
Denfamicogamer: From your point of view, what do Trails and Honkai: Star Rail share in common?
Kondo: The first similarity I felt was in the way the world is created, with the world as a big box and the stages set up here and there for the players to travel through, as well as in the game structure. The Trails series often takes the approach of traveling to various countries on a large continent, so I think that is the first point in common.
Personally, I feel that Star Rail is a title with a tremendous amount of passion to depict each area of its magnificent worldview. I have seen some footage of the game in action, and I was surprised at the amount of text describing the trash cans when you open one of them. The Trails series, perhaps in a similar fashion, has the NPCs. Each person living in a town has a story to tell, and the text is updated as needed, so the amount of detail in the text has been well received by users.
I also felt that the visual aspect of Star Rail had a lot in common with other Nihon Falcom titles. The cityscape combines medieval European towns with a sci-fi feel is a common element with the Kiseki series in particular. [Translator’s Note: Kondo may be referring to the town in Jarilo-VI.]
I mentioned earlier that I like the design of the trains, and I really like the visuals of cutting-edge technology with a bit of nostalgia for the old. In the Trails series, I often consciously incorporate designs that have something that’s a little old in the midst of technology, and I felt a sympathy with Honkai: Star Rail in this area.
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