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interview: Little King’s Story producer Yoshiro Kimura

In Little King's Story you play as Corobo, a boy who, thanks to a magic crown that he found, is able to get others to do his bidding without fuss. With the help of his subjects, Corobo tries his best to expand his kingdom and make all of its inhabitants happy.

The game contains a mixture of simulation, adventure, and real-time strategy elements. While Pikmin may come to mind upon first glace, there is actually much more to it. Last month at Tokyo Game Show I had a chance to talk to producer Yoshiro Kimura about Little King's Story. Here is what he had to say about the game - it's story, play mechanics, and how it sets itself apart from the competition - as well as how his past experiences influenced its development.

Some of our readers may not know who you are and what you do. Can you give us a little rundown?

I'm a producer at Marvelous Entertainment. The past titles that I worked on are Chulip, moon, and a game called Rule of Rose - a horror action game. At the beginning, I started working with Wada-san on Chulip. The first project I started on when I came to Marvelous was No More Heroes with Wada-san and Suda-san. Now I'm working with Wada-san on Little King's Story. I'm sorta like the producer/director.

To go back a little bit, in the very beginning, I really wasn't interested in making any games. Back in the day, I was traveling around the world a lot, taking photographs, and writing a lot too. I really can't think of any places I haven't been to. I've been to Africa, Peru, America, Alaska. I've been in a lot of life-threatening situations too. One time I was attacked by mountain pirates and had everything stolen. Around [the development of] Chulip was the time that I started really making games.

I haven't talked like this in a while. I'm happy that I'm talking about myself right now. Actually, I just remembered why I started liking games. When I was traveling in Peru, there was this one mountaintop that was really secluded. It was this really poor village - they were basically living in tents. But there was this one guy that had around five Super NES games. And he was charging a dime or a cent just to play for a certain amount of time. There was this huge line full of kids. Back in the days I used to work at Square, but looking at kids playing Final Fantasy or Super Mario really made me realize that Japanese gaming was amazing, that it's giving entertainment to all these people in a secluded area. So that really changed my life.

How did those experiences influence Little King's Story?

I haven't really talked about this with anybody; even my development team doesn't really know about this. Traveling around the world was a huge factor in Little King's Story because I have so many friends around the world. One thing that I hate is war. There's always a war happening in some part of the land and there are actually a couple of my friends who have lost their lives in war. In a way, I wasn't happy with the US because it is always participating in war in some way, but one time when I visited it I received a culture shock. On one side there's this entertainment business mindset where they want to make people happy or entertained in one way, and there's this other side where they're constantly going to war. So, one of the things that I wanted to think about is - there's always fighting but there's always laughing in the world. So maybe having a country conquering another country, making that not too serious, but more comical and more cute, could make a difference too.

So, for example - No More Heroes - it's really gory - you see blood gushing out - but at the same time there's a lot of humor in it. It's not too grotesque. It's the same thinking with Little King's Story - all the characters are cute, but the basic concept is that you're conquering different lands.

One of the things in Little King's Story is there's different kingdoms, and each kingdom has a unique perspective on life. If you go to one of the lands there's this king that says that "I'm the noblest king because I can drink more than anybody else in the world." If you go to another place there's a king that says that "I'm the greatest because I can eat more than anybody else." There's a guy that says that "I'm at the highest place in this world so I'm the greatest," and another guy saying that "I provide TV to everybody, so that's why I'm the greatest." They all have different reasons for telling the other kingdoms that theirs is the greatest, and that's why they're picking fights with you.

Tell us about how the game plays.

Basically, you're the king of this really small kingdom, you're poor, and there are only a few people that live there. You can go up to them and recruit them, and once you recruit them, they will start to follow you in a line. What you do is you order them around, make them work. So sometimes you make them dig, and when you go in you can find treasures. Or if there is a rock you can order them to break it. So by breaking the rock you can go to another pass or another land. Or there are these animals called "UMA" - they're monsters that roam around - you order them to defeat those animals. That's a really simple version of what the game is about.

At the very beginning, there are these people that have no jobs. They're called "carefree adults." They like to eat, they like to sleep, and they like to just dance around but not work. There are a few people that are like "I don't want to work, but I don't mind going for a treasure hunt." So you bring them over and you go on a treasure hunt, and that starts the game off.

Once you get enough treasure you'll be able to create job houses, meaning you can build a shack so that you can train soldiers or you can build a farmer house, and by sending them in you provide them jobs, and as you progress through the game, more jobs will open up which will allow you to build more buildings for those jobs.

Each job has its own attributes. For example, soldiers - they're good at fighting enemies, so when you send them off you'll have an easier time defeating enemies. And farmers - they're good at digging holes, so they can dig holes faster than others. The can also produce hot springs at certain locations.

One of the things that I wanted to emphasize in the game is that each citizen is an individual. For example, if there are farmers and you don't recruit them, they have their own routines. So in the morning, they'll get up, they'll go to the farm, they'll start digging or they'll start working on their crops. Soldiers - they'll roam around the castle or they'll guard the cities. So if you're not even playing the game, you're just looking at what the people are doing, you can actually see that they're living their own lives.

I read somewhere that if something were to happen to the NPCs, their families might be affected. Is that element still in the game?

Yes, but not in the sense of the family family, like you'll have a father and a daughter... I'm not sure how much I can say about this, but what the hell? I'll just say it - not as a family, like a typical father and daughter. But they live in the same house, and people do sorta die, but they don't really die. They pop out somewhere and it's like "oh, i thought you were dead," but they really weren't. Once in a while they really really die, and when that happens it does become a sad thing for the citizens, so they'll have a funeral at nightfall. Also, people who were fond of him, if you go talk to them individually, you'll see that they're crying or saying something like "I'm so sad that he passed away" or something of that sort.

Little King's Story seems to have a few RTS elements to it. Did you get inspiration from any games in that genre?

That's a difficult question because I don't play that many games. To be honest, I watch a lot of movies and I read a lot of novels, but I don't really play that many games. I'm sure I've been influenced by other games, but I really can't think of anything. If I were to see another game and try to use what I see, it just becomes a copy of that game and I really don't want to do that. I always thought that originality is really important, so, based on that concept, if it looks like another game that's been done before, I think that's totally ok, but if it's the other way around, like you like a game and you want to make something like that game, then it just doesn't become original.

If I remember correctly, Chulip is a game where the character goes around kissing people. Did that element or any other things from Chulip make it into Little King's Story?

In Chulip, individual characters had their own lives too, so you'll see a lot of people sleeping, slacking off, fighting with each other, arguing - it's like in a real city where they have their own lives. In Little King's Story, they have their own lives too, but if the king comes up to you and says "we're going to this place - you're going to come along," they have to throw down everything that they're doing and just follow the king. It has a little bit of that ordering around aspect. It's sad but funny put together. They have their own lives but you can order them around and bring them to fight or whatever.

Another thing - there are the carefree adults, people with no jobs. People who have jobs have been working. They have pride in what they do, so if there's a farmer or soldier that sees a carefree adult, they look down upon them. So if there's a soldier that's walking around and there's a carefree adult, the soldier will try to kick him, but at the same time, the carefree adult will retaliate by going to where the soldier will walk around and just sleep in his pathway. So it has a little bit of those elements as well.

When you scout people, do they always follow your orders?

There are people who don't want to go to work, but you are the king so they have to follow your orders. So, even though they follow you around, you can go talk to them later on and then they'll say "I really didn't want to go but I had no choice." Things like that. So when you talk to them, sometimes they'll give you an evaluation of how good of a job you're doing, so you talk and they're like "yeah, you're doing a 30% job right now." They'll give you their opinion on what's going on.

Does morale come into play?

I didn't want too many status elements because it makes it too complicated, so each individual character just has strengths, weaknesses, their own individual characteristics, but as a group they'll always follow what the king is saying.

That's all I have for now. Is there anything that you'd like to add about the game or something you want the readers to know about?

I live for "love, peace, and game players," so as long as those three are there and everybody's happy, I really want them to enjoy Little King's Story.

Oh, one more thing - release date?

In the US it's coming this winter. I'll bring it out when everyone's freezing over there. My message is to stay home and play games. Please look forward to it.

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