The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by John Szczepaniak is an interview book series that compiles interviews with a multitude of Japanese video game developers. Volume 1 of the trilogy includes an interview with Ryukishi07 which primarily discusses his writing and publishing processes, as well as the doujin community and visual novel industry. It includes spoilers for the culprit of Umineko no Naku Koro ni.
This article or section contains untagged major spoilers for all of Umineko no Naku Koro ni, possibly including the manga. Readers who have not completed the story are advised not to proceed further.
Interview with Ryukishi07
Interview Date: October 28, 2013
JS = John Szczepaniak
R7 = Ryukishi07
JS: What is the first game you remember playing?
R7: If you go back to the very first game, I was about 7 years old, and it was a Nintendo Game & Watch, with a ball bouncing. In fact it was called Ball. This was released when I was about 6 or 7, and then when I was 9 the Famicom was released, and this is the time in Japan when videogames were just coming out. I’m part of that first generation of people playing games.
JS: Did you play Famicom or PC games?
R7: Actually it was both! My father was also quite interested in computers, so we had at home both a computer and a Famicom. On the Famicom I would play games, and on the computer there was this game called The Black Onyx — this was when I was in primary school.
JS: Did you play Portopia? (Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken — one of Japan’s earliest domestically made adventure games, by Yuji Horii. First computers, later Famicom)
<Group laughs with surprise>
R7: I knew about it, but actually I didn’t play it until much later. The first visual novel I played was Otogirisou on the Super Family Computer.
JS: I interviewed a programmer of Otogirisou — it was by Chunsoft. March 1992, a popular horror sound novel.
R7: [Without waiting for interpretation] So desu, so desu, so desu, Chunsoft! (Right, right right!)
[After interpretation] — <laughs> So desu ka! (Is that so!)
JS: When did you want to create visual novels?
R7: This was actually much later, I was almost 28 at this time, when I thought about making my own visual novel. At this time I was actively involved with the doujin community at Comic Market (Comiket). At this time there was this card game called Magic: The Gathering, which I liked very much, so I was participating in the Magic: The Gathering doujin scene. Right around this time, a sound novel called Tsukihime was released by the circle Type-Moon, and became a huge hit among the doujin community. So then my younger brother said that we should create our own sound novel, and that’s how it started.
JS: Your family was involved with your games over the years. What are some of the challenges to making games with your family?
R7: Actually, I’m the eldest of three brothers in total. I have two little brothers. It was mainly me and my second [the middle, i.e. 2nd eldest] brother, who would do most of the work. We were young, we had a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm at this time, and my parents were very supportive, especially when we were not that known. At that stage they were very supportive. At the beginning, when we were not that famous yet, it was just the three of us, me and my brothers, and when the copies being sold were 50, then 100, we would create these on our computer. We eventually reached the limit of how many copies we could produce ourselves, and started reaching out to friends and family members for help. For example, when the first instalment of Higurashi debuted at Comiket, we prepared 100 copies. For the next Comiket, we brought 200. Next, 300. Then 500. And then 2'000. We reached the limit of what we could do ourselves when the number of copies reached 10'000 and then over 20'000. I don’t remember the exact number, but somewhere around that point we started outsourcing to a factory.
JS: You mean copies being sold at Comiket?
R7: Yes, that’s right. The sales volume.
JS: Mr Seto explained that your current set-up has changed. Could you describe it?
R7: Actually my parents are running the office part of the company, and my youngest brother is in charge of accounting. It was right when my second youngest brother said let’s make our own game, that’s when I left 07th Expansion and went independent to make my own office. That’s as far as the family goes, and then it’s friends and close friends, who are now cooperating with us. And of course we are using this apartment, and we have the people you see here, but besides this there are people who are helping us out and we’re just communicating via the internet. These guys are in charge of, let’s say, making the imagery or the music. In total I think, it would be about 10 people, at least, involved in the production process.
JS: Those who you communicate with via the internet, are they based in Tokyo?
R7: Mostly in Tokyo, but even if they’re further afield, it would still be in the Kanto area.
AaQ backer: We read the words of a story and process them in our heads. For a videogame, we interact with what’s created. There’s debate on if games should be a medium for stories or whether they should create their own language. What are your thoughts?
Mr Seto: Are you asking for a definition of visual novels, from Ryukishi07-san, or are you asking what elements should be in a game?
JS: Visual novels are interactive stories. They’re distinct from purely linear fiction, like manga. Does this give games an edge, or is it more challenging competing with linear stories?
R7: <draws sketches of classifications> With visual novels, I think of it as being between manga, anime, and an actual novel. Also, it would be somewhere in-between an action game and a novel. So I believe that because it has this, let’s say, central position — at the centre between all these different genres — depending on which elements are stressed it could become closer to action games, or get closer to an actual novel. This central position gives you a lot of freedom. You know for us, the otaku culture, people who are passionate about something, I think about visual novels as being the middle position between manga, games, animation and novels. So there are these four classifications, and we’re getting something from each of them, and we can integrate them into one type, which stands by itself. So this is the expectation I have toward visual novels. It occupies this middle position.
JS: It contains the strengths from all of them?
R7: It’s as you say, it combines them. From the novel you can take the text; from the manga you can take the illustrations or the character expressions; from the anime you can take the music, and more recently even the voices. It can really bring together all of these elements.
JS: I believe Higurashi When They Cry was going to be a stage play. What changes had to be made for it to become a visual novel?
R7: At this time my friends were actually studying playwriting, and we went to see a play and there was this poster that said: “Play script wanted — the winner will get a prize of 100'000 yen.” So since my friends were on the stage, and they’re playing, I’m just sitting in the audience and I thought, I want to become involved myself. I thought the best way to do so, one thing I can do myself, is to write a script as a scenario writer. This actually became the script for Higurashi When They Cry. This first script was supposed to be written for a small cast, and it was supposed to last about one hour in total, so it was quite limited in scope.
At this time it was my younger brother who was influenced by Tsukihime, and he said let’s do a visual novel. Of course this is where your question comes in, of what changes were necessary to make it into visual novel. At this time the popular brands in the visual novel genre were Key and Leaf. John, you are probably already quite familiar with these, but there were games like Shizuku, Kizuato, To Heart, One, Kanon, and Air, which we regarded as the cutting-edge at that time. I was a great fan of these and I researched them, because I thought these were the latest in the visual novel genre, and so I rewrote my script to fit that sekaikan. More concretely, when you have a stage play the characters have to be quite realistic. But once you change it into a visual novel, characters can be portrayed closer to manga or anime characters.
JS: With Umineko: When They Cry (below), what were the challenges of writing in the theatrical style? Were you worried about people’s reactions to the estrangement effect? In German it’s Verfremdungseffekt, and in Japanese it’s ikakouka.
R7: This is going to be complicated, but with Higurashi When They Cry we had included a subscenario called “otsukaresama no kai”, and after the play, what happens is the characters get together, and while still maintaining their characters, they talk about the story. So you’ll have a guy who gets killed during the play, and saying, “OK, who killed me, I wonder?” What happens here is that you can have the characters draw the attention of the reader to the mystery — to one part of the mystery — and get them to wonder about this particular part. When I introduce this discussion point, where the characters give some hints to the readers, it was actually very much appreciated in the reviews as being easy to understand, and it received quite positive feedback. So when I made the next one, Umineko, I thought we’re not going to have this as a separate part, as we did in Higurashi, we will have it integrated into one story, to make it clear what the points are that will be discussed.
JS: Players interpret stories in different ways. Do you find it frustrating when they misinterpret a particular message?
R7: Something that happens with my fans is that they sort of… There’s a Japanese expression called “meisou”, which means to start running confused, basically to run amok, with an idea. In order to correct these feelings of anxiety, and correct misunderstandings so that players could better enjoy deducing the mystery, I introduced what we discussed previously, regarding characters explaining the story.
JS: When readers misinterpreted something, it affected how you wrote further installments?
R7: This is exactly the case. Actually, with Umineko in particular, we received some comments and thoughts from some of the players, and we made great efforts to reflect this in the next installment. Personally, I like people to deduce what’s going on, but a frequent misunderstanding I had with readers was that when people were trying to guess who the real killer is, they started to imagine: “Ryukishi07 is following everybody’s reasoning, and when somebody works out who the real killer is supposed to be, he secretly changes the story to make the killer somebody else.” And I got irritated with this, and I said publicly, no, I would not do something like that. The killer stays the same as originally planned.
JS: Speaking of the murders, and you don’t have to answer this… <Ryukishi07 laughs> In Umineko episodes 1 to 5, were the murders that occurred on Rokkenjima done by Yasu? Or is there another in the Ushiromiya family who committed them?
Mr Seto: Who is your book’s target readership?
JS: My book is aimed at a diverse range of people — not just visual novel fans.
R7: So that means it’s those who are familiar with Japanese games? […] In Umineko, what you have is this bottle with a note in it — “bottle mail” basically. This message is like a confession, it seems to be a confession by Yasu, and this represents one answer which is right now considered a very persuasive, very likely possibility. But this is just one interpretation, and I will stop at that. <laughs>
JS: For many doujinshi authors, the start of their work can be difficult to get into, but sticking with it you’re rewarded and it makes sense why the opening was like that – such as with Higabana (sic) the First Night. Do you consider this a trait of doujinshi writing?
R7: I understand the question is basically whether the doujinshi style is to have an ambiguous start, not very clear, and thus interest the player in finding out what’s going on. This actually is right now one of the most popular methods of capturing a player’s interest. First you have [a situation in which they’re] completely clueless, and the player is actually attracted by this feeling of not being able to understand. This is becoming the standard and also the most popular method of writing in Japan right now.
This is one item that I’m now a bit concerned by, because this is a really good question. Right now in Japan, I’m not sure if you know, the Japanese narrative style is defined as the four elements: Ki, Sho, Ten, Ketsu. Ki is the beginning, the starting point. Sho is the development. Ten is the switch, the surprise element. And Ketsu is the summing up, the concluding element. Right now, as I said, this style of: “I don’t understand the beginning, but because I want to know more, then it becomes interesting to follow.” This would correspond to number three, the Ten, the switch, the surprise part. Now everybody in Japan, it’s so tough, it’s like a tidal movement, where everybody is concentrating only on this, too much on this surprise element. Of course the Japanese idea is that even if you have something that’s well written, if you don’t have a surprise element, then it’s kind of boring. Right now it seems to be that everybody is concentrating so much on the surprise element that it doesn’t matter how the beginning is, just make it a big surprise. It seems that it’s not just games, but also animation, manga and books, which all seem to be carried by this tidal movement, to make this surprise the central element in narrative style.
JS: It seems different to the English narrative style which follows a “3 act structure”: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. What fascinates me is the distinction between Japanese and English narrative styles.
R7: <sketches the two different styles> This is the Japanese style. This is the English style. This seems to be the element which is particular to Japan, <taps sketch> number two. Ki is the setup, Ten is the confrontation, and Ketsu is the resolution. So the second element, Sho, is the everyday, the average, ordinary — in Japanese — “the daily occurrences”.
Mr Seto: <searches web on phone> In Japanese they’re translated as introduction, development, turn, and conclusion.
R7: These elements with the one, two, three and four, as I mentioned it’s number two and number three which are now the main focus in Japanese narrative style. Especially number three, the turn or surprise element, is really focused on. So now players are so used to this trend that when they start reading from the first one, the introduction, they are already starting to imagine what number three, the surprise, will be. In their head it’s something this big, like this, <gestures with hands> and then finally they prepare for number three in a certain way, because of this tendency, and then they get to number three and it’s not, it’s something a bit different, smaller let’s say. Then because of this preconception the reader says, “Oh, this is boring,” and ends up being very disappointed because of this.
My conclusion is that the otaku culture right now has caught on a [problem] which is this tendency to jump at number three. The most important part of my argument is that the Japanese culture has produced a lot of novels and visual novels which are really great, and because of this, the otaku culture has become familiar with a great number of twists — number three — which are really excellent. So they’ve created this image that, because they’re acquainted with all of these fantastic examples, now they expect the next one, whatever comes up, it’s going to have to overcome this. It’s going to have to be better than the experiences so far. And of course if it’s not, then they’re saying, “Oh, this is not as great as we expected, the old games, the old novels were so much better, it’s all going downhill right now.”
JS: Indeed, fan expectations can make the job of creating a game much more difficult.
R7: Yes, that’s right. There’s an expression in Japanese that says the hurdles become higher. Because of these hurdles becoming higher and higher, and this is even more so with popular writers, because the demands from the fans are so much above what this person can now produce, at some point he seems to fall below expectations and not meet those of his readers.
It’s actually like if you have a famous novelist, a famous writer, and he becomes so famous that his level is let’s say a 10. And he produced a novel that’s only an 11, then the acclaim, the reviews that he gets, is that OK he’s managed an 11 minus 10, meaning he only gets the accolades for 1. Whereas if somebody who was completely unknown produces something that is let’s say a 6 or a 7, his score is 6 minus 0, because he’s completely unknown. He gets a 6 and everybody is like wow, it’s great. For the popular writer who is a 10, if he actually just makes a small mistake and he only ends up with a 9 novel, then he already gets booed for it and receives a bad review.
JS: I think it’s the same in Europe and America as well, with game developers.
R7: Is that right? By the way, I’m a great fan of the Call of Duty series, and I really enjoy it. But apparently every time the new instalment comes up, it gets quite sharp reviews from the fans, because it always seems not to meet their expectations. I feel very bad for these guys, because they make this great series and every time there is a new instalment, a new game coming out in the Call of Duty series, all that the fans seem to concentrate on is what’s gotten worse? “This is bad now, it was better before.” This is bad, because I feel they’ve made such a great game, people should not just complain about it.
JS: Yes, it’s hundreds of people spending several years to produce. Do you play it online?
R7: [In English] Yes, yes! <laughs>
[Interpreted] Yes, of course, of course!
JS: Is your online nickname publicly known?
R7: <laughs> Well, probably it’s not known, but when I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II online, I actually used the illustration of Beatrice, from Umineko. It was shown on the pistol; a sticker. <laughs>
JS: You mentioned the trend of focusing on the surprise — do you ever speak with other visual novel authors, about your ideas and the industry?
R7: No, basically no. It may be a bit unexpected, but not really. So actually, no, there’s not much exchange going on between visual novel authors. There would be two reasons. One is that if you’re a professional then you work in a company, and you don’t have many contact points with the other guys. Whereas if you’re like me, an amateur, this is the problem with the culture in Japan, sometimes people are really close minded and they might decide, “I’m not interested in other developers.”
JS: We’re up to an hour, should we take a break?
R7: I’m completely flexible — it depends more on you, and how your schedule is. Japanese journalists, once they start they just don’t let you go! <laughs>
[After returning from photographs Ryukishi07 signs the two signature books, draws a picture of a tiny creature, and notices another doujin signature from the day prior]
R7: This is my character, Namekuchi! <laughs — notices ZUN's signature> Oh, it’s ZUN-san! If it’s ZUN-san you need to be drinking while interviewing.
JS: Yes, we enjoyed some beers!
R7: If you don’t provide some alcohol he won’t respond to your requests. <laughs>
JS: Well, at the end of the interview he did have a coffee. It wasn’t all beer.
R7: <referring to sketch by signature> I gave up on doing humans, so I’m only doing Namekuchi.
JS: These little creatures?
R7: Creatures! <laughs loudly>
JS: What is Namekuchi?
R7: <contemplates to self> Hmm, what is Namekuchi? Like in Metal Slug… It’s a slug!
JS: One of my interests is the doujin scene in Japan. It’s not well documented in English. What does doujin mean to you?
R7: Let me get some paper. About doujin, this is actually a question I’ve been asked by Japanese media as well, and it’s been debated, what is the definition of doujin? What is not doujin? Sometimes it depends on the person. <sketches> So, money and then hobby. And this is business, and here is doujin.
JS: Can I get a photograph?
R7: <laughs> I'm going to get killed!
JS: A lot of doujin devs make a living off it.
R7: Yes, that’s right.
JS: I believe when you started your parents were against it? What was your motivation to carry on?
R7: <laughs> > Regarding my parents, they weren’t against me doing this. But one thing they probably asked me… At the time I was a public servant, and right now the job market in Japan is not in the best condition, so being a public servant is considered one of the best jobs to have. But I quit and wanted to become a scenario writer, and this was one thing which my parents said, “No, stop and think very well about what you want to do.” This is one of the things, but they were not opposed to it.
JS: Well, it worked out well for you, because the popularity and sales have grown.
R7: Thanks to all of you, yes.
JS: A lot of doujin producers tend to gravitate towards erotic games, perhaps because it means easier sales. You’ve avoided that…
R7: If I can be very blunt, it’s just because I’m on this side, <gestures to sketch> on the hobby side, not on the… I was completely ignoring the money, the business aspect. When I wrote Higurashi When They Cry, at this time in America there was this movie that came out, called The Blair Witch Project, in which you have three students, university students, who get lost in the woods, and they get caught up in this witch legend. But this feeling of horror is only perceived by an American audience. This would not be immediately perceived by a Japanese audience. So I thought to make a Japanese version, a Japanese horror story, and that’s how Higurashi came about.
JS: Many consider Higurashi to be one of the first dark games, or darkige, and that it paved the way for titles like Song of Saya. Do you feel this description fits your work?
R7: <laughs> Let me talk about this. In Japan today, most people think of visual novel games as being love stories, with an adult theme, and there’s a huge number of “pink” (erotically-themed) games. So most people imagine games with some cute girls coming in. But for me personally, that’s not it. For me it’s Otogirisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru which I consider the starting point of the visual novel genre — this kind of dark horror, where somebody gets stabbed and dies, and it’s like a mystery. So when I started creating visual novels, from the very beginning I decided that my visual novels would be murder mysteries.
JS: There’s a lot of sub-genres or classifications. Visual novels, sound novels, adventure games, nukige, eroge, darkige, nakige, and so on. Do you feel some aren’t given enough attention?
R7: I actually think about, not these sub-genres in particular, but I think about visual novels in general as one, let’s say, comprehensive genre. When people now say visual novels, they now just concentrate almost… The whole field is concentrated on nukige or eroge. I think we should expand the definition to include more — there’s more to it than this. I have my own personal desire to see that this genre, visual novels, becomes more established. When you have a popular novel like Harry Potter it then becomes a movie, or even a TV series, a sitcom or drama, or a manga. Before in America it was Superman, which started out as a comic, and then it was movies and a TV series and so on. My personal dream is that to these three types of media — movies, TV series, and manga — I would like to see visual novels added, as another option when transforming a written novel into other types of medium.
JS: I’m actually dedicating an entire chapter to the broad classification that is “visual novels”. It needs more exposure outside of Japan.
R7: That’s right. The situation is probably similar to the initial period when manga came out, where it was perceived as being aimed at children. There’s some action, it’s targeting children, it’s a bit silly. But this has now changed, and through manga we can explain some difficult content, or even art books, or they can even be used for studying something. I think that the visual novel, right now, is too stuck on this nukige, eroge type, and that it should aim to reach a wider audience.
JS: A good point regarding difficult topics. In Umineko, some feel the character Maria (below, character on left) shows signs of having Asperger Syndrome. Was this your intention?
R7: Regarding Maria, who appears in Umineko, I think about her as sort of like a Joker character. When you think about a child you don’t think that they’re capable of killing somebody, you don’t expect that they would have tricks up their sleeve. But Maria is portrayed as somebody who is not a typical child — someone who is a bit strange, a bit mysterious — so she can do these things. So this was the background to creating the character Maria, as a different type of child, with some characteristics that make her different from everybody else.
JS: Your work seems to be historical fiction. Umineko is set in 1986, Higurashi in 1983, and Rose Guns Days in post-war Japan. How come?
R7: That’s right. I will answer these individually. About Higurashi, when it was released the readers would be university students, so they would be born around 1983. All of the catch copy for Higurashi, it was “Human, Occult, or Just a Coincidence?” If you think about stuff happening, if it’s 100 or 200 years ago, it’s a long, long time ago and it cannot be known. But if it’s something that’s 20 years ago, or about the time that you were born, it feels a bit more familiar. It feels like you don’t know, but you could find out more. It feels a bit more everyday. For Umineko, it’s set in a time when there’s no mobile phone, because of this simple fact that there can be no mobile phone, it has a lot of impact on the potential killer and the relationships in the novel. That’s why we decided on 1986. This can be said for Higurashi as well; it’s a time in 1983, it’s a time in 1986, where you cannot speak on a mobile phone, when there is no such thing as a mobile phone. Before mobile phones become popular. This is why the setting was chosen.
For Rose Guns Days, why the past, right? It’s a bit difficult to explain to a foreign audience. But for Japanese people we think about post-war Japan as, “How should we define Japan? How should we think about Japan?” This is a sort of universal thing, it was very relevant in 1947, which is the setting of Rose Guns Days, but even now it’s still a relevant topic of concern for Japanese people. The thing that resonates throughout the 20th century is, how should foreigners and Japanese people interact? There’s one more item, it’s that right before I wrote Rose Guns Days I went to France. There was a university festival about animation, and during this event I had a talk with someone there, and it was interesting for me to find out how foreigners think about Japan. It motivated me to write Rose Guns Days (pictured below) and offer a perspective to foreigners on how to think about Japan.
JS: It’s very different to your other works. Did you have to prepare for it differently, perhaps with regards to your writing methods?
R7: I think about Higurashi and Umineko as games. You try to find out who the criminal is, find out the tricks he or she uses, whereas with Rose Guns Days, it’s not a game for me. Its purpose is to raise a topic, to submit an idea to an audience. So basically it’s a message.
JS : Rose Guns Days feels closer to an anime. There’s been adaptations of your work into anime, but generally people feel they don’t match the quality of your originals. What are the difficulties faced with adapting games to anime?
R7: This is a distinction that’s made only in Japan, between novels and light novels. This distinction is very clear to the otaku culture in Japan. The first type is a type of novel that does not envision adaptations to anime. So of course this means that when it’s going to be adapted to an animated medium, there’s going to be some problems coming out. But as a light novel, from the beginning the author is aware that there will be an animation made of this same material. In my case [my games are] not written with the idea that they will be turned into animation, so it’s very normal for problems to appear in the process. This is what I wanted to say.
JS: Did you start Rose Guns Days to rekindle your love or writing?
R7: First of all, for Higurashi and Umineko I had a story, and this was the main focus. Whereas the characters were secondary, and they were just there to support or scaffold the story. Whereas with Rose Guns Days I had the characters as the main aspect, and they would develop into a story.
JS: What parts of the writing process do you like and dislike? Do you have a favorite part?
R7: This is a difficult question! What I really enjoy is when you have a character who has an opinion, and another character has another opinion, and these opinions bounce off each other. And of course feelings also bounce off each other. So what I really like is when we can put this in: <draws> “!!?”
For me, what’s really more difficult to write is the scenes that are really ordinary, really common occurrences, which feel a bit more average. From that point of view I am more challenged by these daily events. It’s easier for me to write a visual novel like Umineko where roughly every hour some character dies or is killed.
JS: On that note, in ep. 6 the reader gets an indication of what the detective thinks happened on the island. However, there seems to be reasons not to trust his conclusions. Should the reader work on their own to deduce events?
R7: This is exactly why I’m saying it’s like a game. There’s a part where you can trust this guy’s reasoning, or you can doubt it and come up with your own theories.
JS: In English we call that the “unreliable narrator” – the viewer is encouraged to question the person conveying events.
R7: Ahh. In Umineko the catch copy was, “If you challenge the view, then it’s a mystery. If you submit to the prevailing view, it’s a fantasy.” So that you could choose your approach.
JS: You said that when writing Higurashi you made reference to work by Key, but put your own twist on the pattern. What else has influenced you?
R7: <laughs> I said before that I took characters that were real and made them more like manga, and my approach was strongly modelled on the characters in Key’s works. You know, up to that point in Japanese moe games, the heroines were all just lovable and cute young girls, but Key made their girls just thoroughly bizarre. In that vein, I decided that from now on the heroines can’t be just cute, they have to be a bit crazy, a bit perverse or strange.
JS: Leading on from Key, I believe you worked with Jun Maeda previously. What was that like?
R7: I helped Mr Jun Maeda with a title called Rewrite. Mr Jun Maeda is a person with a great sense of responsibility, and this of course puts a lot of pressure on me. So for him being a top class scenario writer, it’s thanks to him that I also became a scenario writer. For me, working together with him, I felt greatly honoured, but also a lot of pressure because I’m standing next to such an important person.
JS: As this interview proves, your work is also highly regarded, alongside Jun Maeda’s.
R7: Thank you, but I’m much lower than him. <laughs> Thank you for that comment, but it’s not… For me, he is like a god.
JS: Have you followed the work of Mr Kotaro Uchikoshi? [lists games] Now he’s at Chunsoft. I was just curious if you’d heard his name…
R7: <looks at Mr. Seto's phone> Wow. I’m looking at the Wikipedia page for Mr Uchikoshi, and I didn’t know his name, but he’s a really prolific writer! Many of his visual novels I’ve played and I greatly appreciate them. I just didn’t recognise the name.
JS: I’m dedicating a chapter to visual novels – I specifically wanted you for this section, and I’m interviewing Mr Uchikoshi later. I also interviewed two guys connected with Otogirisou.
R7: I feel a bit… Wow… The other guys are so big, I’m feeling overshadowed. <laughs>
JS: Oh, not at all! […] How did you meet and start working with people such as Dai, who provided the amazing music for your work?
R7: How I came to meet Dai-san is, as I said before, my brother and I were making these games, but we didn’t have any music — we couldn’t create music. So what we did is, we used all this free music that’s available on the internet. Of course this presents a problem because these have different sound volumes, which means that we couldn’t balance them properly. So we used this free software which allows you to adjust the volume to make it all the same. Unfortunately, because we’re not very good at this, we made a really bad job and it was really full of noise. At this point Dai-san actually contacted me by email and said, “Shall I help you guys with this? Because you obviously need help.”
JS: Your game Ookami Kakushi was for Konami. What must you do differently when working for a company like Konami?
R7: There are two important things when we work with a company that’s developing the game. First, it’s the schedule: they have a schedule to keep and they give you this really detailed plan. You must have the scenario written by this date, you must have the heroine coming up by this point, and you have to have this revelation by this point. So there’s actually a really broken up schedule which you need to follow. But [when writing for myself], it’s the opposite. I just go by motivation, I just go by inspiration, it’s what I want to do. So this is where the conflict comes in — the schedule conflict, which is decided by commercial interests, which comes into conflict with my personal inclinations, when I want to be free to follow my inspiration.
Secondly… <laughs> When you work with a company of course you have a schedule, and then this means that everything has to be done by the deadline. Whereas when I do this by myself I like to be able to change things, and sometimes it’s even a couple of days before — even the last day before — the master has to be uploaded, that I change some character, or change some part. Which I really like. Of course this is a nightmare for the staff I employ.
<adds more to the previous sketch> This is the difference between… On the doujin side you can do it all by yourself, you can be selfish. Whereas on the commercial side many people work together, according to a plan.
JS: I believe you were quite open to fans translating Umineko – tell me about this. Also, I heard a rumour you secretly worked with fans on translating Rose Guns Days.
R7: To begin with, it was a group called Witch Hunt and they were doing this as part of their fan activities. In the doujin world it’s kind of considered natural, or the right thing to do, to support your fans in their activities. So that’s why I was open to the translation project.
Mr Seto: One reason that we worked with these guys is that some other groups of fans would just say, “Go to this server and you can download a free English version.” Whereas with Witch Hunt, what they did is, they said, “Buy the product and using our patch, you can play it in English.” So this is why we cooperated with them.
JS: Yes! Fan-translations can encourage official sales of the product in Japanese!
R7: That’s right. Of course, when fans were translating this for native English speakers I was very happy to get their support in producing an English version. But also — linking back to the previous question about if it’s only a hobby how can you live on this — to continue writing we need a certain amount of money. We’re here drinking this <gestures to chilled green tea> because of the support of our fans. So obviously this kind of support, which encourages other people to buy our product, there is no better support than this that somebody can hope for.
JS: Have you been surprised by the support your work has gotten outside of Japan?
R7: Yes, of course I was very surprised. When I wrote this I wrote it for the Japanese comic market, and Japanese audience, so I was very surprised when I got mail with some comments from one of my fans overseas.
JS: You visited a convention in France — any chance of visiting the US or Europe?
R7: Ah, yes! If I would be invited, I would be more than glad to participate. Of course once I go overseas, then my motivation will also be increased to write more, and there’s also more I can learn. This was the inspiration for Rose Guns Days, it came when I was in France. This is already widely known, but there are many pictures, many photos from my time in France, in Rose Guns Days.
JS: Do you have any unreleased games? Did any content have to be removed due to space or time limits before release?
R7: Most of them, no, not that I can think of. Most of the content ends up in the game.
Mr Seto: Yes, because you’re doing it as a hobby — without deadlines. <smiles>
R7: There is one item, however, and this is before Higurashi. The title is Flowers, and it didn’t get released. I was not part of 07th Expansion at that time, I was part of a doujin circle, and the scenario was actually completed, but the circle disbanded so it just ended, tragically, without getting published.
JS: Did you keep the material you created?
R7: What I wrote on the computer is on my harddrive here, but some of the related materials are not at this location. I was thinking about restarting the work on this one, and publishing it eventually, unfortunately it’s a moe game. <laughs> It’s not a mystery murder detective story, so I think my fans right now would be quite disappointed. It’s not what they expect.
JS: People are always interested in the unpublished chapters of someone’s work. Perhaps you can include it as a small bonus in your next game?
R7: <laughs> Thank you for your kind advice — yes, it’s a good idea that maybe I could put it in something in the future. So that all the effort doesn’t go to waste.
JS: Do you have any thoughts or message you want to put across?
R7: For foreign people? <laughs> One thing I could say to fans is take a photo of your surroundings, because as you saw in my games, there’s a murder happening and there’s a photographic background. So if you sent me photos of your neighbourhood, or your house, or your family, if it gets picked up I will make a murder happen in that place. <laughs>
JS: Excellent! I’ll definitely put that down!
R7: <laughs> Thank you very much. Any place in the world is OK. Actually, I’m more in trouble when I don’t have the background. So any photos would be more than welcome. But please, I’d rather not have [commercially recognised mascot] in these photos. <laughs> Maybe I’m going to get killed for saying this now. <laughs> Maybe cut that from the interview.
JS: One final question. Your game boxes are in the DVD slim cases. Is there a particular reason you choose those?
R7: DVD box? Ah! These are called “tall cases” in Japanese. There’s a very simple reason. In doujin shops in Japan it stands out more when on display, compared to the smaller CD cases often used. Most of the famous titles in Japan are published in tall cases actually.
JS: Thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
<We take a farewell photo and say goodbye>