Bringing visual novels to the west has been largely headed by a few western publishers. One of the biggest companies is Sekai Project, a publisher who localizes Japanese visual novels as well as publishes small indie projects. The company is known for launching targeted Kickstarter campaigns with these companies to help fund a game’s development and translation along with giving fans a chance to get physical rewards.
More recently, the company has branched out even more with its new subsidiary Sekai Games, with the goal to bring these games to console, which have been typically exclusive to the PC. During GDC 2019, Noisy Pixel had the opportunity to sit down with Sekai Games’ producer and director of console development Audi Sorlie to ask about this new push to bring niche games to console as well as what they have planned for the future.
Brad Crespo: Last year, Sekai Games was revealed. Since launch, how are things going with this new effort to bring visual novels to consoles?
Audi Sorlie: Yeah, so we [Sekai Project] started six years ago. This is our sixth year of operation. Literally, when we started, that market [visual novel market] really wasn’t there. So it was a challenge then. We asked ourselves, “How do we really bring visual novels to the masses in the west?” Adventure gaming as a whole, especially at that same time, was basically gone. Even if you look at point-and-click games, which is what I grew up with, they weren’t there anymore. We kinda came to the realization that Kickstarter is the way to find fans that enjoy those games and to help bring these games to the forefront. From there, it’s just been easier and easier to legitimize the adventure and visual novel genre. Everyone at Sekai are big fans of visual novels, especially the ones from the 90s. I was a weird kid so I had access to PC 98 from Japan and I was playing these things that I didn’t understand, but I loved the artwork and I loved the music especially. But yeah, it’s been a trip to educate western fans about visual novels.
BC: Now, looking forward to 2019, what are some of your bigger plans and goals?
AS: So right now Sekai is two separate entities. Sekai Project focuses more on funding and PC games, like for Steam and what not. Also, they do more with indie Japanese visual novels, and then Sekai Games specifically does console games. So, what we’re doing right now is we’re branching out to more genres in Japan, like the mecha arena fighter M.A.S.S. Builder and that’s coming to Switch. But visual novels on console is always a good thing, so fans can expect a lot more surprises this year. We were a bit quieter last year, but this year we’re just loading up on surprises.
BC: When looking for a game that is not a visual novel to publish, such as the mecha arena fighter M.A.S.S. Builder, is there anything that you specifically look for given that there are so many indie developed projects out there?
AS: There’s no one single thing I am necessarily looking for, I just love seeing creativity and passionate developers. I would love to do a fun rhythm game or work on a fighting game personally… I guess we’ll see what’s around the corner for us. I’m also working with the cast and crew from the movie Samurai Cop to create a game which we are currently prototyping. Kinda blows my mind that I just said that last thing there, what am I doing with my life…
BC: Since Sekai is now two separate entities, is there a chance that there will be exclusive Sekai Games published titles released on consoles that don’t release on PC?
AS: Yeah, that’s gonna happen. But generally, I like for fans to have complete freedom of choice so I’m not a stickler for exclusivity and that sort of stuff.
BC: Sekai Project has worked with Limited Run Games in the past, but would you be open to looking into publishing your own physical titles?
AS: So I mean, we can’t do that — the infrastructure just isn’t there for us to do it, and we’re such good friends with Limited Run, so if we did publish our own games, I’d feel like we were stabbing them in the back. Limited Run has been so supportive and they love Japanese games and visual novels as well so they give us a chance to do something really special and do it well. If we did it [publish] ourselves, there’s a little bit of a limit to what we could do, so with Limited Run, I’m like, “Here’s a game, please don’t screw it up” and they don’t.
BC: Sekai Project shares the status of their upcoming releases and there is a lot coming up. Are there any issues that come up that might slow down or halt the progress on a project?
AS: Not really. But communication, in general, is something that we’re really focusing a lot this year — making sure we’re doing everything right so the fans know who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing. So in terms of updating people, it’s been constantly evolving as we’re trying to figure out what’s the way that people enjoy hearing from us so for things like production status — we’re trying to communicate that as well as we can. There’s no one solution for that [communication] so it’s one thing that I’ve been really sitting on — and also, I ask myself things like “Do people want to see more or people in the company?” so yeah, just communication overall. Since we’re so busy behind the scenes, it’s hard sometimes to find out or listen to what fans want, but we have to make sure that they [the fans] can hear from us.
BC: Does Sekai Games listen to fan requests (we know there are many) when deciding what titles to bring to consoles?
AS: I personally read most of everything that comes to us via email and social media, which is why I cry myself to sleep. Generally, I do listen and take into account what fans say and want within reason. I also love to surprise fans however so it’s a bit of mix, meeting their expectations and going beyond them.
BC: You recently released My Girlfriend is a Mermaid on Nintendo Switch. How has the reception been with the title and do you see the Switch as the go-to platform for visual novels in general?
AS: It’s been pretty good. Since the switch is portable, it’s automatically a preferred system for visual novels, so the reception has been pretty good. Sales have been pretty good, so it’s just one of those games we’re happy with.
The response from Nintendo has been awesome as well since they’ve been like, “bring more of these games over to the Switch” so clearly there’s a market for visual novels. There’s a lot of support all around for these kinds of games. Expect to see a lot more visual novels on the Switch.
BC: Sekai Project has a ton of releases under their belt, are there any older Sekai Project titles that you’d personally like to see on Switch?
AS: Good question, naturally, there are a few obvious ones that I would personally like to see. Hmm, let me think… You know I think it’s best I go finish up the ones we already announced before going back into our catalog.
BC: Is there a timing window when fans can expect your next console announcement?
AS: I will be at E3 this year. I think you’ll see something fun there.
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