Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Exclusive Interview: GUST on JRPGs, Tecmo Koei and developing on PlayStation and Mobile platforms

Atelier Totori: Perhaps the most highly-
regarded GUST game yet
In late 2011, Tecmo Koei acquired a niche RPG developer with a very committed fan base. That developer is, of course, GUST.

Despite having a very small team, this Nagano-based developer is responsible for one of the most popular JRPG series in recent years. The Atelier franchise has grown from the original PlayStation, through to the PlayStation 2 (when the American gamers were able to discover it courtesy of NIS America), and PlayStation 3. There's also been Japan-only releases of DS games in the series to top things off.

In between this, the team has also found the time to collaborate with other Japanese developers on games such as Hyperdimension Neptunia, create the Ar tonelico trilogy. Not one to rest on their laurels, the team has branched into Vita game development, and the Atelier series continues to go strong with Atelier Ayesha due for release in the US and Europe in early March.

As a huge fan of GUST (indeed, it's become my favourite RPG developer in recent years), I think it's fair to say that I was more than a little excited that Tadanobu Inoue, GUST Producer and Executive Director, would take the time to answer some of our questions.

Though it's a little difficult to run an in-depth interview across two languages, Inoue has given us some amazing insights in the interview (see below). To bullet-point some of the key takeaways:


Soon we will be questing with Ayesha in the
west, and it's going to be grand
  • For small developers such as GUST, pushing hardware is an unprofitable proposition. That doesn't stop teams from being innovative with ideas, and the PlayStation 3 has proven to be the best fit for the team's development cycle.
  • While the big budget and old RPG franchises such as Final Fantasy might not remain at the top of the industry, the JRPG genre is far from in danger. GUST is, however, looking to work in other genres moving forwards.
  • GUST is considering leveraging its parent company, Tecmo Koei, to develop mobile games

Inoue also mentioned the collaboration opportunities that being part of Tecmo Koei has opened up for the team. I wasn't able to resist: I asked about the chance for a GUST-developed Dead or Alive RPG. The answer wasn't no... that's enough to start the rumours flowing, methinks. 

That last question is a joke, so don't read too much into it, but on a serious note, it was interesting to get some insights from a true mid-tier developer punching well above its weight. The full interview follows:



Digitally Downloaded (DD): What has GUST got planned for 2013?
Tadanobu Inoue (TI): We are creating new IP and making expanding on existing titles.

GUST's other RPG series: Ar tonelico
DD: Late in 2011 GUST was acquired by Tecmo Koei. What benefits have you seen from that partnership?
TI: By joining the Tecmo Koei Group, we are now equipped with resources that ease the creation of new IP, as well as opening up the potential and opportunity for group collaboration and expanding our games to other platforms.

DD: You have a small team, but the Atelier series is so popular throughout the world. What do you think is the reason behind its success?
TI: I think that by being able to put our ideas into shape, and the common desire among the staff to create a new kind of game for users is what has contributed to the success of our games.

DD: Where has the inspiration for the Atelier series come from, and how do you keep coming up with fresh new ideas for more games in the series?
TI: This game came about based on wanting to provide a fun and kind natured large-scale RPG that would not rely on advanced graphics and 3D data (which has poor cost-performance). When trying to create something interesting on a limited budget, it seems that after much worry and thought, a lot of fresh ideas can come about.

Like most Japanese niche RPG developers, GUST uses
fan service. It's impressive how relatively restrained
the Atelier games have been over the years.
DD: How do you see the Atelier series growing into the future?
TI: I think it will grow because it responds to the current need for originality; through its unique worldview, fantasy elements around creation through synthesis, and characters that change on a regular basis from game to game.

DD: There are so many different platforms on the market now. How do you decide which platforms are the best options to focus your resources on?
TI: We consider hardware which has as few limitations (such as size of memory, loading speed, etc) as possible to allow us to create highly imaginative games. Currently, the PlayStation 3 is the best match for us.

Also, we think that the PlayStation Vita and its communication functions carry a lot of potential, although the current hardware numbers have not stretched too deeply into the market.

DD: Will we see Atelier games on mobile platforms such as the iPad? What challenges do you see in bringing games to those platforms?
TI: We now have the infrastructure in place to challenge ourselves with mobile and network games platforms, since the Tecmo Koei Group can handle the base technology. We are considering creating highly original, new mobile games.

The early days of the Atelier franchise looked like this
DD: In between the Atelier games you’ve experimented with a couple of other games, such as the Ar Tonelico series. Are you interested in developing some new franchises in the future?
TI: We have plans for several original titles, although announcements is still far off at this stage.

DD: GUST also collaborates with other developers, such as Compile Heart with Hyperdimension Neptunia. Do you plan to continue working on these collaborative projects?
TI: There are no current plans, but if the conditions are right, we are open to the possibility for collaboration.

DD: Many people claim that the JRPG (Japanese RPG) genre is ‘dying’ from its lack of popularity outside of Japan. Does this concern you as a developer of JRPGs?
TI: The JRPGs genre is not just made up of major titles such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and games that were massive successes in the past can not necessarily be expected to remain big hits until the end of time. We plan to continue providing users with new kinds of rich and varied original games and not limit ourselves to the RPG genre.

The Japan-only DS games are, to be blunt, amazing
and it's tragic that western gamers missed out
DD: What games, and game developers inspire you personally?
TI: Tecmo Koei producer Hisashi Koinuma. Recently I have had a lot of opportunities to speak with him, and I think he is an energetic creator with so many projects and ideas flowing out of him.

DD: Now that GUST is part of Tecmo Koei, a lot of your fans would love to see you develop a Dead or Alive RPG. What do you think the chances of that are?
TI: That’s an interesting idea! The chance of it happening is not zero…



For people who are not so familiar with GUST's work, the GUST game development history as well as an overview of the company (taken from Wikipedia):


Releases in North America



Releases in Japan

All games were developed and published by Gust unless otherwise noted. Some games have many versions on different systems; only the first release is listed here.
  • Atelier series
    Vita title, Ciel no Surge, is quite experimental.
    I wouldn't expect a western release
    • Salburg series
      • Atelier Marie ~The Alchemist of Salburg~ (マリーのアトリエ ~ザールブルグの錬金術士~) - PlayStation, 05/23/1997
      • Atelier Elie ~The Alchemist of Salburg 2~ (エリーのアトリエ ~ザールブルグの錬金術士2~) - PlayStation, 12/17/1998
      • Atelier Lilie ~The Alchemist of Salburg 3~ (リリーのアトリエ ~ザールブルグの錬金術士3~) - PlayStation 2, 06/21/2001
      • Atelier Marie & Elie ~The Alchemists of Salburg 1 & 2~ (マリー&エリーのアトリエ ~ザールブルグの錬金術士1・2~) - Dreamcast, 11/15/2001
      • Hermina and Culus ~Atelier Lilie Another Story~ (ヘルミーナとクルス) - PlayStation 2, 12/20/2001
      • Atelier Marie, Elie, & Anis ~Message on the Breeze~ (マリー・エリー&アニスのアトリエ ~そよ風からの伝言~) (published by Banpresto) - Game Boy Advance, 01/24/2003
    • Gramnad series
      • Atelier Judie ~The Alchemist of Gramnad~ (ユーディーのアトリエ ~グラムナートの錬金術士~) - PlayStation 2, 06/27/2002
      • Atelier Viorate ~The Alchemist of Gramnad 2~ (ヴィオラートのアトリエ ~グラムナートの錬金術士2~) - PlayStation 2, 06/26/2003
    • Atelier Iris series
      • Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~ (イリスのアトリエ ~エターナルマナ~) - PlayStation 2, 05/27/2004
      • Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana 2~ (イリスのアトリエ ~エターナルマナ2~) - PlayStation 2, 05/26/2005
      • I really cannot recommend the Arland trilogy;
        Rorona, Totori, Meruru enough to fans of RPGs.
      • Atelier Iris ~Grand Fantasm~ (イリスのアトリエ グランファンタズム) - PlayStation 2, 06/29/2006
    • Mana-Khemia series
    • DS Atelier series
      • Atelier Lise ~The Alchemist of Ordre~ (リーズのアトリエ ~オルドールの錬金術士~) - Nintendo DS, 04/19/2007
      • Atelier Annie ~The Alchemist of Sera Island~ (アニーのアトリエ 〜セラ島の錬金術士〜) - Nintendo DS, 03/12/2009
      • Atelier Lina ~The Alchemist of Strahl~ (リーナのアトリエ 〜シュトラールの錬金術士〜) - Nintendo DS, 12/22/2009
    • Arland series
GUST's games are so popular that there are
some remarkably high quality character goods, such as
this minature. A real collector's item!
  • Surge Concerto series
    • Ciel no Surge ~Ushinawareta Hoshi e Sasagu Shi~ (シェルノサージュ~失われた星へ捧ぐ詩~) - PlayStation Vita, 04/26/2012
  • Others
    • Falcata ~Asutoran Pâdoma no Monshou~ (ファルカタ ~アストラン・パードマの紋章~)
    • Mêrupurâna (メールプラーナ)
    • Welcome House (ウエルカムハウス)
    • Welcome House 2 (ウエルカムハウス2)
    • Noir Yeux Noire -Cielgris Fantasm- (黒い瞳のノア)
    • Karyuujou (火竜娘)
    • Robin Lloyd no Bouken (ロビン・ロイドの冒険)
    • Taishou Mononoke Ibunroku (大正もののけ異聞録)
    • Hresvelgr (フレースヴェルグ)
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