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interview: Half-Minute Hero producer Kenichiro Takaki

I had a chance to sit down with producer Kenichiro Takaki last month at TGS and ask him a few questions about his then upcoming game, Half-Minute Hero. Over the course of the interview he detailed the game's different modes, explained how strategy can come into play even in a thirty second game, and went into the hows and whys of the game's development. I was also also able to ask a few questions about some of his other projects, including the upcoming Sakura Note and his previously released beat-em-up based on the Ikki Tousen anime series.

First of all, can you tell us who you are, what you've done, and what you are currently doing?I am Kenichiro Takaki and I work for Marvelous Entertainment as a producer. I was the producer for Half-Minute Hero and Valhalla Knights 2. I also worked on games based on the To Love-Ru and Ikki Tousen animes. Right now I'm working on Sakura Note for the DS and another project that has not been announced yet.

Tell us about Half-Minute Hero

Half-Minute Hero is an RPG that you can clear in thirty seconds. When it comes to Japanese RPGs, you usually take thirty, forty, fifty hours to beat them. With Half-Minute Hero, I wanted to create a game that even if you're busy or if you don't have much time, you can actually clear. It's not just an RPG - it contains different types of games too, including a shooter and an RTS. So, as a whole, you get a lot in one package.

How are those games separated?

The story takes place over the course of five hundred years. In each period you have a different hero. So, first you have Hero 30, which plays as an RPG. Next is Evil Lord 30, the RTS part. After that you have Princess 30, which is a shooting game. For each period, a new hero is born and tries to save the world. Storywise, everything is linked together.

In the beginning of the game you can choose to play Hero 30, Evil Lord 30, or Princess 30 - you can actually start in any order you want. After clearing those three modes [Knight 30] will open up and you will be able to play that.

Which of those is the main game?

The main game is Hero 30, the RPG part. But it's not just "clear the four modes and it's over" - you can expect more once you clear them.

If someone has only seen the trailers, he or she might get the impression that all you have to do is push forward. How does strategy come into play?

When you play the game, you'll see that it's not all about just moving forward. You actually have to go into villages to unlock events, get health, and talk to people. Strategy comes into play as you find, discover, and figure out where to go and how to get there with the time that you're given. You aren't just leveling up and going up to the boss. You're doing everything that you do in the course of a regular RPG in thirty seconds. If you're just leveling up you will see that you will not be able to defeat the final boss.

I noticed that once you beat a boss, you see the credits. What is that about?

You see the credits because in this game, clearing one stage is equivalent to clearing one RPG...

So how long is the game?

This isn't just a thirty second game like everyone thinks - it's actually really long. Depending on how you clear the game, you can unlock new things, new options, and with those new modes you can expand the playtime considerably. You also have time attacks and there's an ad hoc mode where you can play against your friends.

How does multi-player work?

You can have four players playing at the same time, with each trying to beat the final boss. Each is going to try to level up quickly and do whatever it takes to get to and defeat the final boss. At the same time, the other players can try to bother and stop each other.

Can you describe the other three modes?

When you play Hero 30, you have to think about which strategy to use, what to do, and where to go first. With Princess 30, you have the princess, she has a bow, and she can shoot. She always has to go out and pick something up and try to get back to her castle within her thirty second curfew. It's a simple shooter.

Does she fly?

Because she's the princess, she doesn't need to walk. She's just on a chair and you have some soldiers holding the chair for her. That's how she moves. But maybe if you go further into this mode you're going to find out that maybe she can actually fly.

The RTS mode?

It's called Evil Lord 30. The evil lord creates monsters that fight for him. It's a little strategy game that uses [rock, paper, scissor-like] mechanics.

And the last one?

The last mode is Knight 30. It features a rookie knight that has to protect a sage, but since he's really weak, the only way he can protect him is by using his own body to push the monsters away. By doing this the knight will sometimes die, but as long as the sage is still alive, he can come back to life. Through re-spawning and pushing monsters away, he has to protect the sage for thirty seconds.

How did you come up with the concept for Half-Minute Hero?

At first, I wanted to create an RPG that uses 8-bit retro-style graphics. I contacted a developer who I used to work with (Kotaro Yoshida, aka UUE) to try to get some ideas from him. His hobby is to make games, and he actually had a small prototype of Half-Minute Hero. When I saw it I thought "wow, that's a great idea." So we decided to make it into a proper game.

Why the 8-bit-looking graphics?

Having nice, epic illustrations alongside 2D 8-bit graphics created a gap that was actually kind of fun, so that was actually on purpose - we wanted to have those epic illustrations with those tiny little cute 2D characters.

That's all I have for Half-Minute Hero, but before we move on to some of your other games, was there anything else that you wanted to say about it?

For all those players who are kind of sick of Japanese RPGs that take way too long to finish, this is the perfect game for you. And even if it centers around thirty second games, that doesn't mean that it isn't deep. There's a lot of stuff that you can do and you can enjoy it whenever and wherever you want, so please give it a try.

So, you're currently working on a game called Sakura Note. Tell us about it.

It's a game developed by Audio Inc. They were behind Contact on the DS. It's an adventure game that takes place in Japan. It has a traditional, nostalgic feel too it, especially for those who grew up in Japan.

What is the story about?

In a city somewhere in Japan, you have a sakura tree. Usually, after the spring, sakura trees lose all of their flowers. But this particular tree, even after spring, during the summer - it's still pink with flowers on its branches. A boy in the city is suddenly approached by a strange old man who tells him that the sakura tree will die unless he helps him. From there, the story takes off with the hero trying to find a way to save the tree.

How does the game play?

You play this boy in the city - you're hanging around, trying to find some hints as to the whereabouts of some monsters that are the reason why the sakura tree is actually dying. You do this by finding hints and talking to people. Once you've gathered all the hints and you know where to go, you go there and you fight against some monsters. For the most part, the battle parts are pretty simple - you press a to hit and b for defense. What you're trying to do is make the monsters cry since their teardrops are what you need to save the sakura tree.

Is there anything else you wanted to add?

I would like to add that we have some very talented people working on this project. We have Uematsu-san (Nobuo Uematsu) for the music. For the scenario we have Nogima-san (Kazushige Nojima). Both worked on the Final Fantasy series. And we also have Minaba-san (Hideo Minaba) who was a character designer for the Final Fantasy series as well.

note: At this point we were pretty much out of time, so we didn't get very far.

What was it like making an Ikki Tousen game?

First, personally, what you need to know is that I'm a really big huge fan of Ikki Tousen. Especially for the PSP version, when I worked on it, I really worked on it as a fan of the series.

So did it turn out exactly how you wanted it?

It turned out more or less what I had in mind.

Is there anything that you wanted to add but couldn't?

Of course, when you have the original concept, you try to have it as close to that as possible. But even I know that you can't have everything each time. But I'm satisfied with the result even after looking at the original concept we had in the beginning.

It looks like our time is up. Is there anything you would like to say before we go?

To all the Ikki Tousen fans out there, if you want the PSP version released in the US, please raise your voice!