The Way Of the Samurai series has generally been overlooked outside of its native territory of Japan, with two PS2 releases receiving very little media attention. A pity, as they were interesting, off-the-wall titles backed by some truly amazing open world gameplay mechanics that ensured no two playthroughs of the game would ever be the same. Way Of The Samurai 3 looks set to be even bigger and even better than its predecessors, as it comes to current generation hardware this spring. We were lucky enough to speak with Yen Hau of Rising Star Games about WOTS3, upcoming projects and the state of the Japanese video game industry.
Xero: Let’s get the ball rolling with the formalities, who are you and what do you do?
Yen Hau: Hello, my name is Yen Hau and I am the Product Manager at Rising Star Games. Thanks for taking the time to interview me, my compliments on your website.
X: At MLG we’re on a bit of a mission to find out the food and drink preferences of people in the games industry, on that subject, what is your favourite beverage and biscuit?
YH: Apple juice and the classic Hob Nob.
X: Way Of The Samurai 3 is out very soon and, amongst critics at least, the series is championed as a paragon of choice and freedom amongst its peers. Can you tell us a little more about the title and why everyday gamers should be excited for its release?
YH: Way of the Samurai 3 is more of simulator than a traditional action game. You become the samurai and decide how he will interact with both the games population and the environment, which, when you consider the multitude of actions available, will lead to a different experience each time you play it.
The game is also incredibly detailed in how a real samurai used to behave; how they walk, how they act (depending on whether you are a good or bad samurai of course) and also how normal villagers used to react to them. The whole persona of how to become a real samurai of old can be found in this game, which is why the title is rather fitting.
X: Are you looking to bring any of the Way Of The Samurai PSP re-releases to the UK? Similarly is there any chance of the PS2 originals seeing re-release on PSN or as part of a God Of War style anthology?
YH: We have no plans to release any of those titles at the moment. We are concentrating on giving WOTS3 the big push it deserves; it’s part of a great series and is also an awesome game in its own right.
X: Other projects of Rising Star Games have included releasing Suda 51′s No More Heroes on Wii in 2008, you’re confirmed to be bringing the sequel over in 2010, are you going to be involved with the original’s port to Xbox 360 and PS3 at all?
YH: I think I speak for the whole of RSG when I say we are thrilled to have secured No More Heroes 2 for the Wii. We had a great experience working on the original title and the new version is going to be an absolute treat for fans. Sorry but unfortunately I cannot comment on the 360/PS3 port of NMH.
X: Harvest Moon has become an incredibly iconic series and must be one of your most successful franchises, what is it about the series that has made it so enduring?
YH: The Harvest Moon games have always, at their core, been about one thing – transporting the player into the game as fully as they can to provide a relaxing and enjoyable time. You don’t kill anything in the game, and similarly nothing kills you. You experience the responsibility of caring for your hard-earned crops as well as striking up relationships with the villagers. There is nothing threatening in the game but it is filled with endearing features that just makes the player feel at ease. The next instalment we have coming up is Rune Factory Frontier. A spin off from Harvest Moon; Rune Factory adds new elements to the original game but stays true to the game’s philosophy.
X: What is it like to be a games publisher based in Britain when so much development occurs overseas? Are there any benefits or drawbacks to working in the UK?
YH: There are always pros and cons to any business and it is how one handles both that ultimately proves how successful a company really is. Over the years our knowledge of the industry has grown and the relationships we have built in Japan have gone from strength to strength.
For me, the most exciting thing about working in the UK is that we often get to bring over some really great Japanese games that normally won’t see the light of day over here. For example Half Minute Hero is totally unique and RSG get to bring the game to an audience that perhaps otherwise would never have seen the game, let alone played it. That makes us unique and has resulted in us building a loyal following over the years.
X: As specialists of bringing games from the east over to Blighty (and of course the states), in real terms, how big is the west’s market for Japanese games?
YH: It is actually bigger than people think. I think with the growth in popularity of anime and manga in the west, particularly in the UK and France, it has really led to a corresponding increase in Japanese gaming as well. For example, a game like We Love Katamari would not have been as welcomed as it is today if it were released 10 years ago. People are more receptive to these weird and wonderful titles now, especially considering the plethora of western-style FPS and adventure games out there now. That’s not to say these genres are stifling creativity, quite the opposite really. Consumers are now more receptive to choice and trying out something different.
X: Do you feel games from Japan particularly appeal to a certain demographic of gamer?
YH: I would say it completely depends on the game. The Harvest Moon titles, for example, are well received across a very large demographic age group from kids to adults. Muramasa is really a young adult’s game, late teens to early twenties, and No More Heroes is targeted at an older age group. Gamers span a much wider range now than ever before, and to say that games from Japan only appeal to a certain demographic is, from a marketing point of view, a really dangerous view to take. I believe that if the game is good enough, people will like it, no matter what their demographic is. It is easier, and far more accurate, to sort by genre rather than the country of origin. For example the Mario games are developed in Japan and look at how many people bought those!
X: Are there any stereotypes (positive or negative) you feel western gamers have towards games created in countries that do not natively speak English? Are any of them true?
YH: I honestly don’t think gamers are overly concerned where the game comes from so far as it is good. They may feel that some games they see from Japan are weird, but they’re still enjoyable. I would hazard a guess that it didn’t even register as a consideration for gamers that Metal Gear Solid was made in Japan and not the UK or US.
X: Have Japanese games changed particularly in the way they are developed, are eastern games becoming more western in their play mechanics and presentation?
YH: For some of the major development studios you can definitely see that the style of Japanese games have definitely become more western, and is in no doubt due to achieving better sales in the west. You can’t fault developers for that, especially considering the steady decline of the Japanese market and the amount spent on games in the US and UK alone. The best example of this is probably Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series; you can literally see the shift in style across all games from 7 – 12.
X: Players seem to have fallen out of love with many ‘traditional’ forms of games that thrive in other markets. Perhaps most notably JRPGs have suffered in sales recently, there certainly seems like much less interest in the run up to Final Fantasy 13 than there was with the trilogy originally released for PSOne. Why do you feel players are beginning to have this apathy?
YH: I think the problem is that, after so many years, some of these ‘traditional’ genres have not developed. The format of some JRPGs, for example, are almost exactly the same as they were 10 years ago. It is only when they are given an innovative twist, like in Avalon Code, that they become of interest. In a time where we have seen some truly amazing action/adventure games, developers really have to move with the times to ensure the return of their loyal consumers.
X: So what’s next for Rising Star, what should we be looking out for in the coming year? Any unannounced projects you think gamers should be particularly excited for?
YH: We have just announced our first Xbox 360 game, a return of a classic brand in Samurai Shodown Sen, and also the eagerly anticipated No More Heroes 2. We will have more announcements to make in the coming months and are actively looking for more 360/PS3 titles, but we’ll make those announcements when the time comes. All I can say is keep an eye out, 2010 is shaping up to be a very good year for RSG.
Way Of The Samurai 3 will be released through publishers Rising Star Games, on the 5th of March.
For more information on Rising Star Games titles visit www.risingstargames.com