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XSEED Interview with Ken Berry

by Aaron Kaluszka - September 9, 2009, 1:28 am EDT

XSEED's Director of Publishing chats with us about The Wizard of Oz, Sky Crawlers, Valhalla Knights, Ju-On, and yes, Retro Game Challenge.

XSEED is a publisher that isn't afraid to take risks. You can't help but admire their willingness to bring quirky titles like Retro Game Challenge and KORG DS-10 to these shores, and they've got more interesting titles on the way. We had a chance to sit down with XSEED Director of Publishing Ken Berry and talk about their upcoming releases, and some old releases as well.

Nintendo World Report (NWR) : First off, would you like to introduce yourself?

Ken Berry (KB) : I'm Ken Berry, Director of Publishing at XSEED Games.

NWR: Let's start with The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Why did you decide to bring the game to North America?

KB: The game was actually released with the name RIZ-ZOAWD in Japan. It was developed by Media.Vision, the developers of the Wild Arms series of RPGs for Sony, and it was published by D3 Publisher of Japan. Once we had a chance to play it, we just fell in love with the great 3D graphics, probably the best that we've seen on the DS system, as well as the great original soundtrack. We thought that the turn-based RPG element was also very accessible and very easy to get into for a newcomer to a turn-based combat system, and also provided a lot of depth for experienced players as well.

NWR: It seems like the story is a little bit different than what we're used to. Can you explain how the story is expanded? Does it pull from any of Frank Baum's other Oz works?

KB: The game was originally inspired by Frank Baum's original story, which is now public domain, so it was actually not made in any kind of co-relation with Warner Bros. and their film, The Wizard of Oz. With that being said, though, we found out that once we got the rights to publish it in the US, Warner Bros. was releasing the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz movie, and we started communicating to them about co-promotion opportunities, and it just seemed like a good fit where we could promote with each other. So even though the game is very different from the movie, in the movie, most of the plot takes place with Dorothy trying to find the Wizard, but in the game, you're going to come across the Wizard within the first hour, and that's for like a 40 hour game, so a big part of the game takes place after getting to the end of the Yellow Brick Road. So you can think of it as expanding on the storyline of the movie.

NWR: How exactly does the combat work, and how does it differ from other RPGs?

KB: The combat is first-person viewpoint and it is a turn-based RPG. It gives a rating number depending on your character and how strong they are. Your four main battle party members will be Dorothy, Scarecrow, the Lion, and Tin-Man. Dorothy and Scarecrow each have a one rating, the Lion has a two rating, and the Tin-Man has a three rating. So you add up their ratings together and it cannot exceed four, meaning that, for example, you can have Dorothy attack four times because she's just one-point rating, or you can have the Tin-Man with a three-point rating attack once, taking up three points, and then have the Scarecrow come in with another one-point attack. So you really have to battle the strength of each character.

NWR: I noticed you come across your comrades right at the beginning. Are there any other characters that are playable as well?

KB: No, those are the main playable characters. When you're out there running, you will only be controlling Dorothy, but as you go into the battle screen, that's when your other comrades will come in and fight with you.

NWR: As you mentioned, Media.Vision works a lot with the Wild Arms series. Can we see any of that influence in this game?

KB: I believe you do in that it is a turn-based RPG, and that is what Media.Vision has been creating for so long with the Wild Arms series, just excellent RPGs, and they're transferring that knowledge over to The Wizard of Oz license, something that they're obviously passionate about and put a lot of effort into to creating this great-looking game on the DS platform.

NWR: Let's move on to Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces. Did Sony Pictures' decision to release The Sky Crawlers film here have any bearing on releasing the game?

KB: Absolutely not. When we first started evaluating Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, we just loved the gameplay. Most of us knew nothing about the anime movie and once we just tried the actual controls where you hold the Nunchuk in your right hand like a flight stick, we just knew that was a game that most American gamers could relate to.

NWR: Is Innocent Aces based on the movie, or does it take elements from the book series?

KB: Actually, the game is sort of a lead-up to the movie, so it does include some of the back-story found in the books. Mamoru Oshii, director of the movie, and best known for The Ghost in the Shell, was consulted for the game and the game includes anime cutscenes. Sky Crawlers is an alternate history where the world has achieved peace, but because humans have become so accustomed to conflict, they manufacture war. These two corporations battle each other, and this endless war is shown kind of like 1984 as a way to satisfy the human need. And then there are these children who are created to fight and who seem like they can't be killed. They become intrigued with this one pilot who seems to be so much better than they are, and they want to know why.

NWR: Will the game include the original Japanese voice-overs?

KB: Unfortunately, there was only room for the new English voice-overs in this game. We always try to include the original Japanese voice-overs, but it was not possible in this case due to space constraints.

NWR: Another upcoming title of yours is Ju-On: The Grudge. Why is it labeled as a haunted house simulator?

KB: That is because we did not want this game to be mistaken for a survival horror type of game. There is no combat, and basically, the game is designed to just give you quick and multiple scares. So it forgoes any deep story-telling elements and complicated controls just so that anyone can jump right in and hopefully within a minute or so, they're jumping out of their seat. This game is sort of weird, saying that a Mature-rated game is supposed to be a casual party game, but that is how we see this game. You can play it, and it's fun getting scared, but it's even more fun handing the controller to somebody else and watching them get scared.

NWR: Does the game include elements from the earlier movies, or is it based on The Grudge specifically?

KB: I'm not too familiar with the movies myself. I do know that the original writer and director of Ju-On did help oversee the development process of the game. It takes place in the same general universe where once you get the curse, anybody you come in contact with, especially your family, is cursed. That is sort of the plotline of this game where one person is cursed, and then the rest of their family is cursed. So you're basically playing the game from five different viewpoints, of different members of the same family.

NWR: If the Vitality Sensor gets released, do you think that would be a good peripheral for Ju-On?

KB: I would have to know what it does first. I saw that E3 presentation, and I still wasn't clear what exactly it does, but I think Ju-On would be a good fit for it.

NWR: We were also curious about Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga. How will it use the Wii's capabilities, and how will it differ when compared to the original PSP games (which is quite a different system)?

KB: The main thing that Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga on the Wii uses, in terms of the unique Wii controller, is that you shake the Wii Remote when your burst gauge is full to unleash an attack. Other than that, it doesn't really use too much of the controls. It was more just bringing the Valhalla Knights universe to a home console for the first time, and the development team thought that the Wii was the platform that could most use this kind of action RPG, dungeon crawler type of gameplay, which seemed a little under-represented on that platform.

NWR: Can you talk a little bit about the online co-op feature of the game?

KB: The game has two-player online co-op, where specific quests, made specifically for two-player online co-op are accessible. Going in there, you can find rare items, and items that are specific only to that mode, and bring them back into your single-player save data.

NWR: We'd like to talk a bit about some of the games that you're not showing here tonight. Can you tell us about the status of Arc Rise: Fantasia and Fragile, which you showed at E3?

KB: Fragile is going along smoothly. English voice-over recording has completed, and things are looking good in being able to keep the original Japanese voice-over recordings, something that we try with every single project. So that is looking like a 2010 release. Arc Rise: Fantasia, there's not too much to be said right now, but you'll hear something very soon; I can't disclose anything more at this moment.

NWR: And how about Retro Game Challenge 2?

KB: (laughs) Oh yes, Retro Game Challenge. One of our personal favorites, everybody on the staff loved the first one, but unfortunately at this time, it doesn't look like we'll be able to do anything with Retro Game Challenge 2. The first one did not quite meet our expectations, and we really cannot justify going in and even trying to get the sequel. I mean, who knows if Namco Bandai would even allow us to publish the sequel?

NWR: A pseudo-sequel to KORG-DS 10 came out in Japan. Are there any plans to bring that to the U.S.?

KB: We are looking into KORG-DS 10 Plus right now. It is an expanded version of the original KORG-DS 10 and it's really optimized for the DSi hardware. When you run KORG-DS 10 Plus on the DSi, it's almost like doubling the horsepower that you have when you run the original KORG-DS 10 on a regular DS. Chances are very good that we will be making an announcement on that shortly.

NWR: Have you ever tried to get any Nintendo first-party games over here? Is that even a possibility, for Mother 3 or anything like that?

KB: We have never officially looked into any Nintendo games because we do not have the connections, the avenue to get in there. Just from what we hear, and what we can surmise from the general industry, it would be extremely difficult to license from Nintendo. We haven't really attempted too much with that.

NWR: It seems like you have a pretty good relationship with Namco Bandai. Was it very hard to get the rights for some of their games that are coming up?

KB: We started our relationship with them with Retro Game Challenge and the initial discussions took a long time, months and months. But once we did get it, we feel that opened the door to other opportunities, and that did help us land Fragile and Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces in the future. In the end, it was well worth the effort. We love Retro Game Challenge, even if it didn't sell as well as we hoped, and we were able to get a couple of stellar Wii titles in the future discussions and build a good relationship with them.

NWR: I think that about does it for questions. Thank you very much for your time, and we can't wait to see the games!

KB: Thank you for having me!

Interview conducted and transcribed by Aaron Kaluszka. Thanks go to Ken Berry, Jessica Chavez, Scott Fry, and Sarah Irvin for their gracious accommodations and assistance.

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