Yasuyuki Oda on SNK Heroines' Sexualization, Accessibility, And Competitive Audiences
SNK has seen a rollercoaster of ups and downs in the video game world for the last decade. After essentially leaving active video game development, the once-household name Japanese developer is now doing their best to recommit to video games over merely leveraging its back catalog and focusing in on Pachinko.
Last year, the studio announced that they have once again achieved acceptable profits after pivoting back to video games based on strong sales of King of Fighters XIV.
Fans and analysts alike have been eagerly anticipating where SNK would go after KOF and how the company would follow up a major success. The answer came early this year, when SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy debuted on a Nintendo Direct, putting SNK's female characters against each other in a simplified fighting system with revealing costumes.
We got a chance to talk to the game's producer, Yasuyuki Oda, about the game and where they think it will go with modern audiences.
Let's talk about the genesis of how this game started. KoF (King of Fighters) XIV kind of famously saved SNK as a gaming company. What brought this idea into fruition?
Oda: Instead of working on something like KoF XV, the sequel to XIV, we wanted to make a game with our popular female characters, and a little more light-hearted than our other fighting games.
Do you feel like this is a setting for more of a fighting game tournament audience, something like EVO, or is heading for a more casual - because I know this game is heading to the Switch as well - is it trying to reach and audience that hasn't played fighting games before?
Oda: As you've played yourself, controls have been simplified, and we feel like that opens up the gates a little wider for people to know a game like SNK, but at the same time there are mechanics in the game that we feel are capable of it becoming a competitive fighting game that be played potentially in EVO or fighting game tournaments.
So one thing I notice is the control method doesn't seem to lend itself well to something like fight sticks, but it does work with a controller. (Item use is relegated to the right stick.) Is that an intentional design, or is that something that can be changed for arcade sticks?
Oda: It was a design choice ... so more people would be able to play this game without an arcade stick. As for the question about it being changeable; at this moment there is no option for the more traditional input option.
Are the characters coming from King of Fighters in general, or is it going to be from the larger SNK universe?
Oda: At this moment, the six characters are the only people that we've talked about and will continue to talk about for at least a day, so we can't really comment on that, but please look forward to more announcements from us.
Culturally, where do you think this game actually fits in with a modern, more broad gaming culture? There has been backlash against games of this type that kind of flirt with sexuality as a driving force. Do you think this game follows in that, do you think it bucks that trend?
Oda: There is exposure of female parts, but we don't feel like it's overly sexualized. It is there, but we want to push the cute aspect of things, the elegant-ness of the women, and we feel like we are able to cull the people that would bash this game for there being too much exposure.
Do you feel like that the game, with reference to sexuality, tends to respect the characters? Mai has always been a very sexualized character, but for example Leona hasn't. She's been a very stoic character, and yet in this game she's wearing a catsuit in a thong. What would you say to a fan who has loved that character for years, but sees this and doesn't jive with what they know of that fighter?
Oda: There's a reason they're wearing these costumes. They're not just wearing these costumes because we wanted them to. There's a full story behind it which we can't really go into details about at this moment, but if you play the story I think our fans would better understand why they were put in this situation. We made an effort to make sure the image of our characters will stay the same, even after people play this game.
So Nintendo got behind this game in a big way. The game was debuted in a Nintendo Direct. This is the first SNK game I can think of in a long time on Nintendo systems, especially one that's being so heavily pushed. Is the relationship between the two publishers an indication of things to come? Have you been working with Nintendo on development of the game, or is it a general marketing deal?
Oda: This game is multiplatform (PS4 and Switch), but we would like to work - and like you said, it is the first SNK title on a Nintendo platform in a really long time - but we would love to work with different platforms. We may come out with something that's Switch exclusive. On the flip side, we might come out with something that's PS4 exclusive, but we would like to work with many different kinds of first parties to develop our games.
Was there any development with Nintendo on the game?
Oda: There hasn't really been direct involvement from Nintendo's side for development of this game, but it is SNK's first time to work with the Switch. There's more like a standard of how to do this (with) Nintendo back and forth when we were developing this game for Switch.
So for the actual audience of this game, do you expect there's going to be a lot of crossover with the King of Fighters main audience, or do you expect a lot of the players will be new to it?
Oda: We're going to do it by platform to platform. I think for Switch, as we mentioned earlier, since this is a brand-new title and the first (SNK) IP on Nintendo in a long time, we feel people that maybe just know about KoF or just know about SNK will pick up this game, so maybe a lot of new players. Players on the PS4 side, there are a lot of people that play KoF, and maybe there will be more KoF carryovers into this game.
The fighting game genre in general, in terms of competitive esprots, is changing quite a bit. I don't know if you saw the EVO announcements, but KoF XIV wasn't part of it, Marvel vs. Capcom wasn't part of it, Dragon Ball FighterZ ended up being part of it. But do you think within a modern fighting game culture that there's a chance for this game to latch on the more competitive aspects?
Oda: Regarding the current EVO roster, since it is a touchy subject and it is other people's works we can't really say too much about it. As of this moment, we don't have any plans for it to be at EVO, but I feel like it'll be dependent on the fans to voice that they want this game to be at competitive events, and if that is the case then we'll be more than happy to accomodate and be a part of the competitive fighting game community.
KoF XIV landed on PC. This game is only PlayStation 4 and Switch. Is there any plan to bring this game to PC as well?
Oda: At this very moment, we only have plans for the two consoles.
SNK Heroines: Tag Team Battle Frenzy is releasing on Switch and PlayStation 4 later this year.