RPGFan Exclusive Interview #3: Kouichi Kitazumi, president, Nippon Ichi Software
Conducted and Translated by Chris Winkler
This week, we present you an interview with the president of a company that has been well-known to fans of the RPG genre in Japan and within the import community for years. However, few fans in the US had even heard of Nippon Ichi Software prior to their critically acclaimed US debut Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. In fact, the company has already released about 20 games in Japan since 1995. Among them was the light-hearted PlayStation RPG Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, which was published in the US by Atlus in the year 2000. Following last year's Phantom Brave, the company will release its newest PlayStation 2 title Phantom Kingdom on the Japanese market on March 17th. The game is currently scheduled to be released in North America in July under the title Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tomb, courtesy of Nippon Ichi Software's newly established subsidiary NIS America. Today we will not only talk about the company's current line-up of software, but also about the intriguing road ahead with no other than company president Kouichi Kitazumi.

Mr. Kitazumi, we have many questions for you. But first, could you tell us about the impetus that made you enter the game industry?
A: The company, which I entered upon graduating from school, had a game division. I was assigned to it and that was the impetus which made me enter the game industry.

Q: The strategy RPGs developed by Nippon Ichi Software have a very particular style to them. How did the concept of light-hearted stories and characters, as well as beautiful anime-like designs come into being?
A: A game is influenced by people of various professions such as programmers, graphics designers, scenario writers and sound creators. If you think about those talented [people] among them, then you get our games' current form. I probably wanted to possibly create different games, but I'm very content with our current situation.

Q: Nippon Ichi Software's games have become critically acclaimed worldwide. What do you think is behind this acclaim? A: Thank you. Games are games, and not anime or movies. At the point, when we [first] wanted to create something interesting in the form of a game, I thought, we could get support for this idea.

Q: What sales numbers are you projecting for Phantom Kingdom in Japan?
A: Phantom Kingdom was created by reflecting on Phantom Brave, adding requests from users and steadily including new features. I'm looking forward to see, what kind of acclaim this will bring us. I hope to listen to the opinions of those who played the game and steadily expand on that.

Q: Since there is a lot of anticipation among our readership, let me ask you about an American release of Phantom Kingdom. Is there a possibility, that the game will be released in the United States sometime this year?
A: We will release Phantom Kingdom in America this year. In the US, it has been announced as Makai Kingdom by Nippon Ichi Software America (Editor's note: NIS America's announcement came after the questions of this interview were submitted to Nippon Ichi Software.) We are eagerly preparing the game's release and aim for a July release. Please look forward to Phantom Kingdom. Since we really want American players to enjoy our games, we have established NIS America in 2004 and, beginning with Phantom Brave, began publishing our own games in the US. In the future, we would like all Americans to play our games.

Q: Phantom Kingdom will be released in Japan on March 17th, but looking at your next strategy RPG, which platform will it be released on? Possibly on the next generation PlayStation?
A: Honestly, we are about to begin thinking [about] this question. With Phantom Kingdom in its final [development] phase, my head is boiling. However, while we also would like to seek the challenge that comes [with developing games for] a new hardware platform, users of the current hardware will remain important to us.

Q: Last year, Nippon Ichi Software announced a PlayStation Portable game titled Makai Wars. Can you tell us any details about this project?
A: Nooooooo. At least, not yet...

Q: In addition to this PlayStation Portable game, are there any other games currently in development? Is Nippon Ichi Software studying the development of online games?
A: Not online games, but we are steadily progressing with our cellphone-based content initiatives. In January 2005, we began offering the PlayStation title Rhapsody (Marl no Oukoku no Ningyouhime in Japan) to North American cellphone users. It ended up being very beautiful and the reception in Japan has been very positive as well. After accumulating the know-how [acquired by creating such games as Rhapsody,] we want to create full-blown online games in the future.

Q: When looking at the game industry right now, one can observe a trend towards the continued spread of MMORPGs. Mr. Kitazumi, what are your thoughts on this issue? Also, how do you think the industry, and in particular the RPG genre, will evolve from here on? A: In particular, the RPG genre has so far evolved around games being played by one person. But originally the genre's starting point were games many people played together, like table top [RPGs.] This means, that future RPG will be somewhat different [from today's games], but I think of it as an interesting trend. If one takes a certain viewpoint, the industry [environment] will become very harsh in the future. However, if you take another viewpoint, e.g. not to fuss over the way games were ought to be until now, this can become a game industry with many interesting forms. Watching how RPGs have gone beyond imagination is interesting, isn't it.

Q:What games are you playing yourself?
A: Our own games, of course. I always worry, that there might still be a bug inside.

RPGFan would like to thank Kouichi Kitazumi and Keiichi Inoue for their cooperation and support in enabling us to present this exclusive interview to our readers.