Ni No Kuni II Director Akihiro Hino On His Ghibli Childhood And Working With The 'Nintendo Kingdom'
During E3 we had a chance to speak briefly with Level-5 president Akihiro Hino. Hino has had his hands in everything from Overblood and Dark Cloud, to more recent games like the Yo-Kai Watch and Professor Layton series. His most pressing project is serving as director for Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. We spoke to him about the sequel, his appreciation for Ghibli, and got a hint at Level-5's Nintendo and Switch aspirations.
Interview by Ben Hanson and Kyle Hilliard.
Game Informer: You've led a long and varied career and you jump a lot between directing and producing. What is satisfying about each role and when do you prefer to do each?
Hino: I do kind of wear a lot of hats in my role and in my career, and a lot of times when we do develop a new game it starts with a concept and I have a lot of concepts in my head, and in the process of developing the final product, I really identify what I want to do for each project. So, sometimes it might be the story so I will work more with the story, and sometimes I might want to try some new game system or mechanic. Other times I might just want to push the visual expression as far as I can. And in doing so, sometimes my role might be a producer. Sometimes director might be more fit to do what I want for a certain project.
Where is your passion leaning for Ni No Kuni II?
In the case of the Ni No Kuni franchise where it really began is, as a child I watched a lot of Ghibli movies growing up and fell in love with it instantly and I was thinking to myself, “How cool would it be if we could immerse ourselves in the world of a Ghibli project as a game?” And that’s where it really began. I had to convince [Ni No Kuni II composer] Joe Hisaishi and a lot of key Ghibli members to work on this project with me, so in that regard, it was a much more producer type of role. That being said, and in the the case of Ni No Kuni, I had to write the script myself and come up with some very detailed characters and settings, so in that regard it was more of a director role. So, with Ni No Kuni II, I felt like I was straddling both roles, producer and director, to make sure it became the project I wanted it to.
In terms of the fiction of Ni No Kuni II, is it a continuation of the first game, or more like Final Fantasy where thematic themes tie the games together, but each is a separate story?
I think it is much closer to the latter – the Final Fantasy approach in which there will be some common denominators that define the brand, but the story and characters are all going to be different.
I think in the case of an RPG, what really makes RPGs interesting is that sense of discovery, so you’re going to a new town, you’re meeting people, seeing new unseen worlds and discovering these surprises and Easter eggs, so in a movie it might work to see the sequel as the next sort of step of a character’s story, but for a video game to really retain and continue that excitement and fun of the discovery, I really don’t think using the same elements is really the right approach.
What was behind the decision to make the combat more action-oriented for the sequel?
A large theme of Ni No Kuni II is this idea of what a king is, and what it means to lead a large number of people, so our challenge then became translating that idea of, “Okay. A leader is this. How does this translate to a game system and game mechanics?” It kind of manifested in several different ways inside of Ni No Kuni II. Three major ones: the kingdom building mechanic, in which it is the protagonist’s responsibility to collect materials as well as very talented people. So, not only are you collecting materials, you’re looking for talent to put in key positions in your kingdom to kind of shape the personality of the kingdom.
The next is on the world map, there is a sort of troop commanding system where you are constantly moving around and fighting large battles with an army represented by a piece on the world map.
And last, is the battle system you mentioned. In doing so, to really translate the idea of commanding different things simultaneously, a more command-input/turn-based system wouldn’t have done that as well as a more realtime, tactile feedback system in which the Higgledies – which are a large part of the support system – are doing certain things. They’re either freezing enemies, locking them down, or attacking when your characters can also be doing a separate action, so the realtime was really the sort of natural solution that kind of manifested in the process.
When brainstorming and coming up with ideas for this game, were there projections of being the leader of your studio and being a leader in this game?
Um, yes, in many ways. I am in a position where I need to delegate a lot of work and figure out how best to allocate resources. So perhaps in that regard, when thinking what responsibilities a king might have, looking to my own personal experience was one source of information.
What lessons do you have for the king in Ni No Kuni II that you've learned from your own experience?
I don’t know if I have any direct advice or comments to offer to our protagonist, per se, but there is one thing that does come to mind in the story of Ni No Kuni II where he will attempt to negotiate with five different kingdoms throughout his adventures and form a contract, and that can be kind of similar to the gaming industry where I often find myself in a position of course where there is the company that makes the game engine, there is the company that has the video codex we use, and there are so many parties involved and you have to unify all that towards one common goal.
How has work gone with the Nintendo kingdom recently, and are you excited about making games for the Switch?
Well, let’s just say the Nintendo kingdom, in recent years, has really sprung back with the Nintendo Switch, so I think it’s time to increase our foreign trade development department with the Nintendo kingdom.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom releases November 10 on PlayStation 4 and PC.