DualShockers had a lengthy chat with Toshihiro Kondo on Trails of Cold Steel III’s western release and the Trails Series, how to create intricate characters and stories, Ys IX Monstrum Nox and other Falcom games.
If you’ve never heard of Falcom’s Trails series, known as the Kiseki series in Japan, it’s not an exaggeration to call it the queen of niche JRPGs. Its intricate combination of storytelling, world-building, politics, character development, and foreshadowing made it earn dedicated fans around the world. NIS America is releasing PS4 exclusive The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on October 22, continuing the series outside Japan after years of wait.
During Anime Expo 2019, I was able to talk with Falcom’s President Toshihiro Kondo as he was NIS America’s guest of honor at the event. During our interview, Kondo-san and I mostly talked about Trails of Cold Steel III‘s development and western release, the Trails series as a whole, and Falcom’s other game IPs.
Iyane Agossah: The Trails series mixes advanced technology elements together with fantasy elements. For example, there’s the Bracer Guild, which is an Adventurers’ Guild-like organization, but there are also mecha and trains. How did Falcom get the inspiration to write such an intricate world?
Toshihiro Kondo: When we started developing the first game of the Trails series, Trails in the Sky, most of the employees at Falcom were people who played previous The Legend of Heroes games. In particular, The Legend of Heroes III: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch and what we call the Gagharv Trilogy. As such, seeing Trails in the Sky was a brand new start, we wanted to create a universe that was different than what has been depicted in these games.
The first concept we thought about was how we wanted to depict a fantasy-themed world that ended up undergoing an Industrial Revolution. We asked what if the technology born with this revolution, the Orbments, are using a mysterious power source that wasn’t created by the humans themselves but is from the remnants of an ancient civilization, and how that civilization and its artifacts aren’t understood by humans. This is why the world of the Trails Series mixes so many different elements.
IA: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III has the protagonist Rean Schwarzer becoming a military instructor. Was this one of the story developments you planned from the start?
TK: Yes. The outline of Trails of Cold Steel‘s story was already being written when we were developing Trails in the Sky, and that was among the things we decided back then.
IA: Trails of Cold Steel III is the first game Falcom developed exclusively for PS4. How did the development go with that switch?
TK: Trails of Cold Steel I and II were developed with the PlayStation Vita in mind, as they initially released on both PS Vita and PlayStation 3. A lot changed when we moved to PlayStation 4 starting Trails of Cold Steel III, we could do a lot more with the series.
IA: Trails of Cold Steel III also features a new GUI for its turn-based battle system, with each button corresponding to one action. How did you get the idea for this system?
TK: Since when the Trails series started, a lot of players often told us how they wished the battles’ tempo was faster, how they wanted a faster and more intuitive response. We’re always taking feedback into consideration. When we were developing Trails of Cold Steel III, a lot of games released then also prioritized the users’ experience and having UIs that are fun in themselves. This is why we changed the battle GUI.
As for the one-button corresponds to one action idea, we actually wanted to do that since the first Trails of Cold Steel game. But that series was released on both PS3 and Vita, and there weren’t enough buttons to do it on the Vita. We started doing it when the series moved to PS4 with Trails of Cold Steel III.
IA: Trails of Cold Steel III includes Japanese and English voiceovers, but is also the first game in the series whose text is not only translated in English but also in French. Why did you decide on French over other European languages?
TK: NIS America took this decision. They explained to us how there are a lot of otaku in France who love Japanese games, and how including a French translation will definitely make the game much more popular.
IA: Trails of Cold Steel III also includes many mecha battles. Why did you decide to add a mecha battle system in the Trails of Cold Steel games?
TK: The reason is simple. A lot of developers at Falcom are fans of mecha anime. They said that if we’re making a game with mecha, we should definitely be able to control them or it would be unacceptable.
IA: Besides Rean’s Valimar, there are also different kinds of mecha like the Panzer Soldats. Do you know if Trails Of Cold Steel‘s mecha designers were inspired by specific mecha games or anime?
TK: I haven’t spoken this much in detail about the designs with them so I can’t answer you.
IA: When creating new characters appearing in the Trails series do you decide from the start who will voice them?
TK: We do to a certain extent, but we don’t particularly fixate on a certain seiyuu either. Sometimes we think about it, sometimes we don’t. It varies from character to character. The only time we thought “this character must be voiced by this seiyuu no matter what”, was when writing Giliath Osborne. We wanted him to be voiced by Nakata Jouji no matter what. But besides that one time, it’s not something we usually do.
IA: It’s true Nakata-san really fits characters like Osborne. Trails of Cold Steel also has a character named Towa Herschel, and she’s extremely popular in the Japanese fanbase. Were you surprised by her popularity?
TK: The first time the name “Herschel” appeared was before we released Trails of Cold Steel, in the game Nayuta no Kiseki, with its protagonist Nayuta Herschel. After that, we decided to make a character with the same family name, Towa Herschel, and made her appear in Trails of Cold Steel. So in a sense, Towa is like private joke character among us, and we all really like her whether she’s popular or not. Later on, we decided to turn Towa into a Japanese girl and make her appear in Tokyo Xanadu too. It’s like how Osamu Tezuka reutilized the same characters from manga to manga.
We didn’t know if Towa and all her group of friends would be popular or not. Towa, Angelica, Crow, and George are all seniors to Rean and his classmates, and they’re all unique characters. Their friendship is very different than the friendship relationships between Rean and his classmates, and later on Rean and his students. So we were surprised at the fan popularity of the senior group in general.
IA: In Trails of Cold Steel III and IV, there’s a new party member called Ash. He’s one of Rean’s students and always causes trouble. And he’s blond. In Tokyo Xanadu, there’s Shio, a blondie and an ex-gang leader. And then in the upcoming Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, there’s Hawk, who’s blond, violent and a troublemaker. Do you guys at Falcom have a preference for these type of characters?
TK: Well at Falcom, we love having unexpected characters as allies and party members. We don’t like it when typically bad looking guys turn out to be villains. In the opposite, we tend to make typically nice characters and good-looking characters turn out to be villains. We do this because we like it and things are more interesting that way.
IA: Falcom is a pretty old company now, so it feels similar to how older manga often had delinquents and bad boys as protagonists.
KT: It’s something similar, yes.
IA: The Trails series’ stories always focus on the characters’ growth. Why do you always make these kinds of stories?
TK: The previous games in The Legend of Heroes series always had these themes, so we’re continuing the tradition. It was always about the protagonists’ growth and it will always be that way. It was especially true for The Legend of Heroes III: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch, and most of the developers at Falcom making the Trails series now are people who loved this game.
IA: Trails of Cold Steel III will finally release outside of Japan this year. Could you tell us more about its sequel Trails of Cold Steel IV and if it’ll get a western release too?
KT: Things are moving around, but I can’t tell you anything yet. For now, we’re focusing on properly releasing Trails of Cold Steel III in the west without problems.
IA: In September, Falcom will also release Ys IX: Monstrum Nox in Japan on PS4. Do you have plans to bring it to the west?
KT: For now, a western release for Ys IX isn’t planned, as we’re focusing on completing its development and releasing it in Japan.
IA: You previously revealed how Ys IX: Monstrum Nox uses motion capture to a certain extent. Will future Trails series games start using motion capture too?
KT: Using motion capture brings a lot of benefits but it doesn’t always fit. In the Trails series, the battle animations are very anime-like. Anime-like movements aren’t realistic, so using motion capture for them isn’t optimal. However, all the event scenes in the Trails series have the characters moving realistically, so motion capture would be great to use for these.
IA: On June 29, during the Trails Series 15th Anniversary Stream. you were asked if PS4 ports of the PS Vita Evolution versions of previous Trails games are in the works. If these really end up releasing in Japan, could we expect western releases for them too?
KT: I can’t tell you much yet, but at Falcom, we obviously want our games to be played by as many people as possible. So if these ports end up releasing in Japan, we’ll definitely find a way for people outside Japan to enjoy them too.
IA: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana released on Nintendo Switch. Is it possible we’ll see more Switch ports like previous games of the Trails series one day?
TK: We have talks in progress with multiple publishers regarding possible Switch games, but I can’t tell you anything precise yet or if it will happen or not.
IA: Falcom currently has two flagship series, the Trails series and the Ys series. The Trails series main focus is its deep characters and story, but it actually has really good gameplay too. Meanwhile, the Ys series’ main focus is its action-packed gameplay, but the story developed through the games is actually great as well. How do you manage to nail both sides like that?
TK: Well, when we develop games at Falcom, we have very important rules we stick to: Don’t compromise, don’t hold back, but don’t take too much time on a game. Our staff always does its best in the development timeframes we have to avoid delays, and we do everything we can to finish our games without regrets.
IA: Is it possible one day Falcom will release a Trails game but with Ys-like gameplay? What about a Ys game but with Trails-like storytelling?
TK: We already did experiments like that, with Tokyo Xanadu most notably. Tokyo Xanadu is a game with a heavy story focus, similar to the Trails Series, but with Ys-like action RPG gameplay. And if we ever do a sequel to Tokyo Xanadu, we will improve this concept and perfect it.
IA: Tokyo Xanadu also featured a poster ad for a nonexistent “Ys VS. Sen no Kiseki II: Another Chronicle” game. Will we see a sequel to Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga one day?
TK: A lot of people at Falcom want to make another “Ys Vs Kiseki”, hence why this poster was included in Tokyo Xanadu. We often chat about it and about how a new “Ys Vs Kiseki” game, with multiplayer to have fun with everyone and everything, would be great.
IA: The first two Ys games got anime adaptations a long time ago. There was a Trails in the Sky anime too, and recently there was the Minna Atsumare! Falcom Gakuen comedy anime. Will new anime adaptations of Falcom games happen again?
TK: Our fans often say they’d like to see an anime of the Trails of Cold Steel games. Trails of Cold Steel most notably recently ranked second place in a Japanese ranking asking what would you like to see an anime adaptation of. But Falcom is a game only company, so to make an anime adaptation we need to have many talks and negotiations with other companies. It’s not something that only depends on ourselves.
IA: Each Falcom game also has really cool anime opening sequences.
TK: Yes. We don’t think having anime openings that follow an actual anime-like storyboard is mandatory. Just showing off the characters being cool is fine. The Trails series is full of strong characters and each one of them is very important, so we always try to show them off.
IA: Back at Tokyo Game Show 2018, you announced a collaboration between Falcom and Aquaplus. Things like a concert with OSTs of both companies’ games were teased too. Could you tell us more?
TK: We decided on this collaboration with Aquaplus as we realized our companies have a big common fanbase. Various talks about the collaboration are still underway, and we’ll tell you more when we can.
IA: Is it possible we’ll see the Falcom JDK Band doing a concert overseas one day?
TK: We actually already organized multiple concerts of the JDK Band overseas in Asia, in China and Taiwan. We’ve never done any in America and Europe and none are currently planned, but we’re looking into it so it might happen one day.
IA: What does Falcom think about Google Stadia? Is it possible we’ll see Falcom games on the platform?
TK: Stadia is quite interesting. Being able to enjoy a game with the same quality, whether on a smartphone, a TV or a tablet without the need of a console is a smart idea. I can’t tell you whether we’re actually planning something for Google Stadia or not, but you should know a lot of Japanese developers have their eyes glued on it. Everyone in Japan is focused on Stadia and observing how it will go. This is especially true as unlike in most of the world, Stadia won’t be launching in November 2019 in Japan.
DualShockers would like to thank Kondo-san for his time as well as NIS America’s Erin and Alan for setting up the interview. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III will now release for PS4 on October 22 following a recent delay. You can also pre-order it on Amazon right now. NIS America will also be bringing Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories westward as well, so you can check out our interview with Granzella on that game.