KOEI Tecmo's President On Western Success, Adapting Dark Source Material, And His Dream Warriors Game
At a recent event, we spoke with KOEI Tecmo president and chief operating officer, Hisashi Koinuma. Koinuma oversees a number of the publisher's Warriors projects, including Hyrule Warriors and the upcoming Attack on Titan 2, two very different kinds of games within the same Warriors genre. One of his biggest responsibilities has been going to license holders and making the deals for partnerships with KOEI Tecmo for those games, trying to keep the brand fresh with new IPs and make the genre more popular internationally.
Warriors games have become more popular over the last couple of years in the west. What do you attribute that to? Why has the genre started selling better in America?
Koinuma: This is probably because we were able to handle Zelda (Hyrule Warriors) for Nintendo. Alongside that, Japanese games are now being revisited by gamers in the U.S. and Europe and they are finding value in Japanese games. So new players are probably looking at Warriors games and finding the fun of those games. Those are the factors making contributions to Warriors games becoming popular.
You mentioned Hyrule Warriors. There was Fire Emblem Warriors last year, Dragon Quest Heroes, and Attack on Titan. How do you go about choosing which licenses to partner with?
Koinuma: Each title has its own unique history. For example, the criteria we consider is how the gameplay will fit with the game, and how interesting and appealing the license will be when combined with the Warriors genre. But in the case of Dragon Quest Heroes, it was Square Enix's idea. That was different from Warriors, where it was more like a role-playing game, and we approached it trying to figure out how to make it like an action game.
In the case of Attack on Titan, it was popular in Japan, and originally the comics and animation became very popular. I didn't think it was going to be as well accepted as it is to this degree in the rest of the world when I started to work on the game. I went to the comic's publisher and asked if it's okay to make a game out of this and, when I approached them, they said, "It's fine, go ahead, go for it!"
That was when I thought about how to actually take the comics and make the game fun. The first thing I thought was to make it possible for the player to really feel like they're flying around in an omnidirectional axis, which is what we based the game around.
The source material for Attack on Titan is violent, depressing, and rather dark compared to a lot of other Warriors games. Was there any worry that would be difficult to translate to the game?
Koinuma: I think that Attack on Titan [works] because it's so shocking how the Titans eat people. [Koinuma mimes picking someone up and biting their head off like a Titan] It's ultimately the story of the human race fighting off extinction. Humans fight against Titans and ultimately have to destroy them in order to survive. That feeling of the world is very well-received by readers of the comic, the people who watch the animation, and also those who play the game.
I worked on a game called Fist of the Northstar, and that game is also very violent. It's also an end-of-the-world setting, and both backgrounds are a severe world. Somehow the original writers of those pieces included some comedy and mystery situations in those series, and the authors of those worlds were able to create warm feelings both for and from the characters, as well as some assurance. That's why it resonates with people.
For the new Attack on Titan, what changes have been made from the previous game to get people interested in this one?
Koinuma: The previous game was based on the anime's first season. Attack on Titan 2 has story developments from seasons 1 and 2, with new characters and stories. In the first game, the hero of season 1 was Eren [Jaeger], and you mainly played him throughout the game. Now, you can create your own character, and play alongside the story. So even though that story is the same, you can see the first season from a different perspective with your created character, which is very interesting. To do that, we also have more content and characters. The last game had only 10 playable characters, but now we have 30 playable characters. Each character has their own unique story, so if you play as one character you get their perspective, and another character gets their own perspective. Each character has a larger variety of actions, and so do the Titans. Both have an expanded variety of actions and skills to use.
Some players wanted more communication between the characters, so we have improved that by adding more events and dialogue between them. Players also wanted to have more online capabilities, so we have expanded that, too. There are various points in which we have improved the game for the sequel.
What is your dream license for a Warriors game that, if you could get any license in the world, you would make a game for it?
Koniuma: I've been saying that for many, many years, but I have always wanted to try Star Wars.
Attack on Titan 2 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC (with a Vita version exclusive to Japan) on March 20. Hyrule Warriors gets a Definitive Edition landing on Switch in Spring 2018.