Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) and NIS America didn’t have an official booth in the venue at Tokyo Game Show 2018. However, they did hold meetings with members of the press in an off-site venue nearby to go over their upcoming lineup and give interviews. We were lucky enough to sit down with the president of NIS, Sohei Niikawa, the writer and producer of Disgaea, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure and more.
In an incredibly insightful and honest interview from Nippon Ichi Software’s humble president, we talked about the upcoming release of Disgaea 1 Complete, how a small company rose to the top by creating niche IPs, and the effects of gaming on children.
I really appreciate those kind words. However, we still think of ourselves as quite a small company. Honestly, there isn’t really any one particular game, movie, anime or anything I can point to for either title that I feel was really a main inspiration. However, I have loved all three of those mediums since I was a child. So probably having been exposed to so many of those things growing up, they kind of mixed within me. What came out would be Disgaea and Rhapsody.
Talking about Rhapsody in particular, I’m sure music games are very common in Japan but they aren’t so common in the west, especially in terms of RPGs. Why did NIS decide to produce a music-focussed JRPG?
When we made Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, Nippon Ichi Software was very small. We had never made an RPG up to that point. The area that we did operate in was very limited. We figured if we were to make an RPG let’s say, like everything else, no one would really want it and no one would buy it. So, we thought: let’s put something in it, one thing that would differentiate it from everything else out there, something that would have a big impact on the player. What I thought of was a musical. With a musical you don’t need some kind of super high-tech developing software, programs or anything like that. All you really need is music and characters. I figured if it’s just those two things, well I can do that.
Disgaea and Rhapsody are definitely two of the funniest JRPGs I’ve ever played. Did you yourself write the scenario and dialogue for those two games?
I did, and thank you. I personally think that in terms of entertainment, humor is something that is very, very important. I would say that in most of my works specifically, you would mainly find humor in them.
Disgaea is a title that’s been around for 15 years. Here, after 15 years, Disgaea 1 is still the title that fans often point to and say that’s my favorite one. We really wanted to give players an opportunity to play Disgaea 1 on these modern platforms. Actually, the first target would be people who have never played Disgaea on any platform. The second, would be those people who did play Disgaea 1, but maybe a long time ago who are looking to revisit it and have those nostalgic feelings. In order to hit these two groups, we made sure to create a complete version of the game. As you know there’s been several releases over the years of Disgaea 1. Most of them had something new in terms of either new characters or new story. So, this version has everything that’s been released from all those versions. Another thing too would be that again as it’s on modern platforms, it’s not in the old sprite art that you saw in the original version but would be up to the same speed as Disgaea 4, D2, and Disgaea 5. It’s in HD sprite animation.
So for the gamers out there as you said, who have never played a Disgaea game before, let’s talk about the Disgaea series as a whole. There are tons of Strategy RPG games out there from Final Fantasy Tactics to Fire Emblem, but now on its fifth installment, Disgaea is one of the longest-running Strategy JRPGs of all time. What would you say is the distinguishing factor that makes Disgaea stand out from all the rest of the strategy JRPGs out there?
First of all, I’d like to say that both Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem are fantastic SRPGs. But what we can promise you that is different from these classics of the genre is an experience and gameplay unlike anything else amongst those original style of SRPGs. We consider ourselves a gorilla company. We want to make sure that we do things that no other company out there can do. Honestly, if we were to try to make a game like big companies that make Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem, there is no way we could reach that level. That’s when it turns into this guerilla warfare strategy that we have. So, the things that the other companies would never think to put in their games, those are the kinds of things we do. We put tons of those things into our games. If you do give Disgaea a chance, you’ll understand very quickly that this game is unlike anything else in the same genre. I feel that if people were to play Fire Emblem after playing Disgaea they’d want to pick up the characters and throw them in the Disgaea style.
humor is something that is
very, very important”
Of course, in Japan the gaming industry is oversaturated with JRPGs. But now that I live in Japan I’m realizing how many amazing JRPGs English audiences missed out on. As the president of perhaps one of the biggest Japanese-English Localization publishers and developers out there, how do you decide which games do and which games don’t get an English release? Can you tell us a little about that process?
First of all, we believe that the mission for NIS America is to bring good quality Japanese content to fans in The West. So games that our staff really champions internally are the games that we look at and talk about bringing to The West. Not even the games that are contained specifically within this RPG or JRPG genre but any game that comes from Japan that we believe is something that fans in the west should play. Those are the kinds of games that we actively pursue and bring out.
Switching gears a little bit here, I think video games changed my life and made me the person I am today. However, in North American media, sometimes people have said that video games are the cause of violence in children and young adults. I want to know: how did video games change you and do you think video games are good for children? Why or why not?
Just like you, I’ve played games ever since childhood. As you can see, now I work in the industry. I’m incredibly happy and gratified to work in this industry. So, at the very least for me I can say they had a very positive impact on me and my life.
I don’t believe video games have a negative impact on children. For example, you might see a video game where you have to beat an enemy and enact an act of violence on them, cut them or take them down. The question then becomes: do children or people think it’s okay to perform those some kinds of actions out in the real world? So then whether a child or person believes it’s ok to perform those kinds of actions in the real world actually doesn’t really depend on the game or not. It depends on how that child thinks and then more importantly the influence of the parents on that child. If a parent teaches the child “you can’t do this, you mustn’t do this,” then there is now way they’d kill someone else from the influence of a video game.
I mean, we have the same types of things from the media in Japan telling us that video games are bad for children. I am extremely opposed to that and again I say that it’s up to the parents to raise their children properly. Let’s say you have for example, a parent who gives their child a video game. Then, he or she goes off and does their own thing, leaving the child with the game by themselves. That there would be the problem: if the parent doesn’t take the time then to watch the child or see what the child’s doing. So, I would love people’s opinion to change and to realize this fact. I believe people have the ability to choose between right and wrong and they understand what’s right and what’s wrong.
Lastly, with Disgaea 1 Complete soon to be released, can you tell us any plans for your next projects? Might we be seeing a Rhapsody remaster?
At the moment, there are several titles being developed by several different developers at Nippon Ichi Software. There’s also tons of projects that I personally want to bring to life. Of course, within that would be Disgaea but not just limiting Disgaea to a strategy RPG, we’re doing something else with Disgaea, something that’s attractive. On the other hand, we’re also thinking about making another strategy RPG that’s not in the Disgaea world or franchise. Of course, Rhapsody is another game that’s very near and dear to my heart as well. So maybe not a remaster, but something else in the universe, a musical RPG again that’d be something I’d like to maybe look at.
Have you played Rhapsody or a game in the Disgaea series? Will you be picking up Disgaea 1 Complete? Let us and our readers know in the comments below.