Asking Kodaka Kazutaka about 7 Years of Danganronpa
It’s been about 7 years since Danganronpa 1 came out in 2010. Since then that new IP has grown to include anime, stage shows, manga, and other media and become a beloved series. While the series has been spreading since the release of the first game, the man who birthed it, Kodaka Kazutaka, has become a name that echoes throughout the industry. For Kodaka, who has said he is taking a break from Danganronpa, he looks back over the seven years he has continued the franchise and what he plans to do in the future.
Having Had a Rich Experience, He is Taking a Break
Interviewer: So despite that with the re-release of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls the entire Danganronpa series is now on the PS4, you plan to take a break from the series?
Kodaka: Since I’ve been working nonstop without pause this entire time, I’d like to take a break to rest. I’m going to have to recharge before I make my next move.
I: So the Kibougamine series has continued up through 3, with V3 being a separate story about Saishuu Gakuen. Since things were pretty handily wrapped up, everything up through V3 gives the impression of being a kind of “season 1″.
K: The Kibougamine series can be summed up as such, including everything before V3, but I don’t think of them as “what comes before” and “what comes after”. Back when the second game had just come out, I got a chance to speak with someone from TYPE-MOON, who told me that Back to the Future was a famous series that included three installments, so at that moment I thought that if I were to take a break I would do so after making a third installment.
I: If you think about how the series has progressed to the third main installment, it really has become increasingly impressive as it goes. V3 had particularly rich direction.
K: There are many different kinds of adventure games, including 2D ones we used as a base and titles that used motion similar to the Ace Attorney series, but aside from Ace Attorney, I think the techniques in V3 show off the pinnacle of direction. I feel like I’ve made something that could be called the pinnacle of text-based adventure games. I think it would be difficult to make a text based adventure game better than this. This was another reason I decided to take a hiatus. I figured I couldn’t do more than I had to cause a fuss on the net with the final developments of V3.
I: True, the series always causes some kind of stir, but it never would have reached this point if it hadn’t been such a great new IP.
K: Because of that, I want people who have never played to start from the first game.
I: The first game is the easiest to play, huh.
K: If someone who knows nothing about the series plays it, I think their expectations will definitely be undercut. I want them to play. I wonder how many Famitsu readers have played Danganronpa. I mean, 100% of readers have played Nier Automata, right?
I: It’s pretty popular, but I doubt the rate of people who have played is 100%…
K: Speaking of Nier, Yokoo-san (Yokoo Tarou, director of the Nier series) said that Nier fans are Danganronpa fans. That means that fans of the popular Nier Automata should also be Danganronpa fans, so Nier fans, please play Danganronpa. Let’s make this small, insignificant thing make big headlines!
I: So people who bought Nier should buy Danganronpa, haha.
K: That’s what was said before Nier Automata came out. It’s too late to take it back now, haha. Please write “Yokoo Tarou Guranteed It.” In nice, thick lettering.
I: Got it, haha. Danganronpa 1 came out in 2010, which means that it will be about 7 years old this November. Do you feel that things have changed greatly in your life from before the series?
K: Plenty of things have changed. Looking back it’s probably been about nine years since development began, and I was at the end of my twenties back then, meaning I’ve spent most of my thirties on this series. I mean they say that a man changes most in his thirties, right? So much so that I think you could say that I’ve changed completely.
I: This has been the period that has defined you, huh Kodaka-san. This rich time that you’ve spent.
K: It went by in a flash. When I finish a work, it’s not that I completely separate myself from it, I still remember the content, it’s just that I don’t really look back or mull over regrets. While making the anime, I replayed 1 and 2, and looking back they really were well-made.
I: When you replayed, did you complete both games?
K: I played to the very end. Particularly when making DR3, the anime staff looked over the previous installments to start making the plot, but there were some tough parts. Parts where we really had to look for the best route to join things up well. “If things are said this way, it will match up nicely, huh” was the kind of the thing I thought while I replayed. They gave off more of the feeling of works produced individually, rather than as part of a series. It was as if 1 had been put aside while developing 2. There was no feeling of unity.
I: So to what extent did you foresee Danganronpa becoming a series?
K: I didn’t at all. I didn’t plan on making 2 a continuation of 1. At the end of the first game I put in a part where Monokuma gets up, but I only really intended it to make the player feel like there was room for some other big bad to exist somewhere. But after the game went on sale, the players took that as a sign that there’d be a continuation, and I was pretty surprised that they took it that way.
I: So when 2 was released, you didn’t have any plans for 3.
K: None. There were anime and stage shows, but I didn’t think of it as a project, just that things were being made by animation and drama studios. It was like Danganronpa became a series while I was working on all the different parts. I think the moment when I realized it was a series was while working on the first game’s anime adaptation. “So this has become a series,” I thought. Yet that didn’t change how installments got made. It just meant I met a lot of new people.
I: Ah, so it was personal growth then, haha.
K: I haven’t changed much on the inside. I’ve just grown up a bit. Though I guess that makes sense since I’m getting older, haha. That means my salary has gone up, too!
I: Oh ho ho, I’m interested to know by how much.
K: Compared to when I started at the company, my salary has gone up to an overwhelming degree. Typically, how much does a person’s salary go up over the course of ten years?
I: It depends on the company and the person, but about 1.5 times…?
K: Well then, I’ve gone up quite a bit then, haha.
I: I’m going to write that down, haha.
K: Please write “Spike Chunsoft hands out raises like crazy!” Well, I don’t know about anyone else’s salary, but hey.
Danganronpa, Creator Approved
K: Ah, I remember how Danganronpa got recommended. It was because various famous creators called it interesting and it got spread via word of mouth.
I: Ah, because Narita Ryougo started it, it left this impression that it was being recommended by writers.
K: Nasu Kinoko from TYPE-MOON, Urobuchi Gen from Nitro Plus, and the writer Sanda Makoto all said that it was interesting. The truth is I signed up for Twitter just to see what they were saying about it. Kanda Sayaka also blogged about her thoughts on the game as well.
I: Both the game and entertainment industries received the first game well, didn’t they.
K: The first game carried this sense of being inferior. Probably also because it was from Spike, haha. Since it was a genre that resembled the adventure genre but wasn’t so easily categorized, and it involved Ooyama Nobuyo yet had all of these weird characters. I guess it might have really been a landmine.*
(*Translator’s Note: Kodaka uses the phrase 地雷臭 which means that something gives off the sense of being inferior, but it literally means to “reek of being a landmine”)
I: It certainly gives off the sense of being a kind of niche act, haha.
K: I think that creators are the kind of people to thrust themselves into landmine properties. It’s a thing like, “Even if it’s bad, I can get some content out of it!” Then, when they actually played, they were shocked: “Huh, this is actually pretty good?” So that’s why the game got such good reviews, haha.
I: I think for people in the industry, what made it was the various developments in Danganronpa. Because of this idea that Danganronpa = Kodaka, everyone accepts it as testament to your abilities.
K: I don’t think anyone really recognizes me as skilled though.
I: Oh, you don’t think so?
K: It’s the same with fans, but I always feel like there’s a sense of “It’s just a text adventure, you know?” going on. Yokoo-san really is making a fool of me, huh, haha.
I: No, no. That’s not true at all, haha.
K: Yokoo-san would say the same thing. But Uchikoshi-san is definitely making a fool of me!
I: Even though he also makes text adventure games, haha.
K: So if he tries to make fun of me I’ll just come back with “You make games in the same genre” haha. Other people may praise me, but I always feel like in their heart of hearts they’re thinking “You don’t make games, you make reading material.”
I: Kodaka-san, is that how you feel deep down?
K: A bit, yeah. Because I like games myself. I definitely can’t make something like Ueda Fumito or Sakurai Masahiro’s work, or the Legend of Zelda. I look up to that. And even as I admire them, I can’t help but think “Shit! All I can do is words!”
I: I see. But I think that many creators feel like they can’t write scenarios the way you can.
K: They might also be thinking that it’d be nice to make a game with a small number of people.
After Taking a Break, What Does Kodaka Plan to Make Next?
I: When you give interviews, it seems that your team is always raising the bar higher with each new installment. Was that intentional?
K: To start, we wanted to make a game that was exciting to us, and so we were able to make the first one, but then after that we wanted to get the same reaction out of our customers. So when we decided to make the second game, we decided that it had to be exciting. I wouldn’t say moreso than 1, but we were thinking that we could change tracks and really get it out into the world, so we were able to make something we were proud of. Before the player even got their hands on it, we knew that if the game didn’t excite us, it wouldn’t be very interesting. So I suppose you could say that that was raising the bar.
I: So until you got something that excited you, you wouldn’t give the go ahead?
K: It was more like we’d fix it. If something wasn’t exciting, we’d do it over. Later, when talking about it in an interview, we could be cool about it, but then that article wouldn’t be very interesting. Instead, words overflowing with emotion would be better. There were things we worried about during development, especially with 2 and V3 right before the endgame. Things like “this isn’t finished at all” or “this has no direction” got said. Despite that, we believed that if we were to bring the original idea to life, the player would be excited by it. We simply thought that if we didn’t find it exciting, the consumers wouldn’t buy it. We didn’t want to be badmouthed later, so we told ourselves “that probably isn’t the case” as a kind of defense mechanism. For that reason, it’s better not to do interviews. Since we’re always working to create the best masterpiece we can, obviously it’s not easy to talk big about it.
I: Well said. If the Danganronpa series were to continue from here, how would you want it to continue?
K: I’d want to try making a fighting game.
I: Where you could enjoy both story and competition?
K: I don’t think it’d need a story. I want a fighting game with all the characters from 1, 2, 3, and V3. I don’t need to be involved with it, I just want to play it.
I: Would you give it to a studio good at developing fighting games…
K: Contract work and collaborations are mostly handled by producers, but my personal desire is to see a collab effort in a different genre. I also would like to see Danganronpa as made by someone who isn’t me. I think it’s possible that my personal touch is fettered to being a big hit. If I were to make it, I think that it would end up having a bunch of betrayal, wild content, parody, or dirty jokes, haha. Danganronpa would probably sell better without all of those things. That is to say, if it won’t sell, I don’t want it to be made. I don’t want it to ruin the reputation of the previous installments… haha.
I: I think what would make it sell would be the quality of the content.
K: If it were to end up being like Persona, where the first and second games were good, but its reputation really took off with the third game…I would want to surrender my hopes for it to someone else. If that were to happen with Danganronpa, I could say “Once, long ago, I used to make that.”
I: You’re talking like the parent of a popular franchise, haha.
K: Seems like people will say things like “How long is he going to go on about that?” or “He’s always still got his flagship work Danganronpa” haha. But for better or for worse, V3 was my limit to making DR.
I: Well then, if Danganronpa exists in the future, you want it to be something you couldn’t make yourself.
K: It’s less that I want it to get sharper and more that I want it to be accepted by countless people. I think as a series goes on, it will continue to get more of an edge, but I think it would be difficult to get sharper than V3. More than that, rather than a grand work, I want something that lots of people will love. You probably don’t need Monokuma either.
I: Have you thought about what you want to do next, Kodaka-san?
K: I have. The genre would be similar to the adventure game one. The details aren’t decided yet, but an action game or RPG or something would be good too. I definitely want to make those three some day. Though I don’t think I’ll be making an RPG at present.
I: So then, it wouldn’t be Danganronpa, since as we said at the start, you’re stepping away from the series.
K: Right now, I haven’t thought about continuing it, but even though I don’t know if I’ll ever return to it, I feel as though I’ve already made the best Danganronpa I can. I don’t have any proof though, haha.
I: So the next game you make may be an adventure game, or it may be some other genre.
K: That’s right. I already have something I want to make, so while I’m honing that, I’m getting absorbed in various forms of entertainment. I get the feeling they’re going to tell me to get back to work soon though, *pained smile*.
I: Final question. What exactly is Danganronpa to you, Kodaka-san?
K: It’d be pretty boring if I said it was something good, huh. Uhhhh, it’s a source of revenue!
I: What a waste!
K: If I were to answer seriously, the best answer would be “it’s like the daughter my wife bore.” The moment it went on sale it wasn’t mine anymore, but because it went on to become popular, I provided cover fire. Though I suppose it’s possible that I might be thought of as getting in the way, with my daughter telling me “stand back, I can make it on my own” haha.
I: Well you’re being an overprotective dad, haha.
K: My creation and my fans are probably sick of me, but it’s still my self-made treasure. If I were to include everything, it really is as if the series is my daughter borne by my wife. So if my daughter were to get more popular, like the father who has raised a famous sports star, I might give a speech as the parent of the series, haha.
*Not actually healthy.