Taito made a few more fighting games after Psychic Force, and I feel like they use the same engine as Psychic Force. Is that true?
HA: No; actually, each title was built off its own engine.
For a while, Taito was trying to make third-person action games like Bujingai and Tsukiyo ni Saraba and that sort of thing. Why did you stop? I thought Bujingai was quite good in terms of its exaggerated Hong Kong action style. It was an interesting prospect; why didn't that keep forward?
HA: (laughs) I wonder why. Well, the company wanted to go in certain directions... (laughs) I did want to make more, but anyway, it didn't really happen.
That's too bad. Do you happen to know if Gackt was pleased with the final product? I watched some of the interviews on the disc, but I wonder if you actually got some response from him in terms of how much he actually liked the game. Silly question, but...
HA: I never got to ask him directly, but we held a launch event when Bujingai came out, and Gackt demonstrated some of the game to the audience during it. I was surprised to see that he was really good at it -- deliberately playing to look flashy and showing off the cool parts and everything. So I definitely think he understood what we were aiming for, at least. Seeing that really made our efforts feel worthwhile.
He seems to be a game fan. I think he's in like five different games now.
HA: He's definitely a big gamer, yeah.
You still work in the arcade section of Taito. How important is the arcade business for Taito going forward? This may be more of a business question...
HA: Oh, it's definitely one of the most important focuses the company has. Arcade operation is one of our core businesses, and in order to keep things fresh for visitors, we're constantly trying to develop new stuff for the arcade market.
I've heard that game centers like Taito's Hey, and so on, have been slowing down in terms of number of users. Is that a concern, and are there things you can do to try to get people back into arcades?
HA: I think the only real solution is to keep releasing new and innovative things. Arcades in Japan have had these cycles of peaks and troughs -- when they're in the midst of a recession, some hit title comes out and their popularity shoots right back up.
I think we're definitely in a valley right now, and that means not just Taito, but everyone in the industry needs to work on creating the next big thing. People's tastes in entertainment change over time, and it's important that all of us change along with those trends.
A few years ago, Taito created the Type X and Type X2 arcade boards. They seem to have gained really wide acceptance among other developers -- SNK, for example. What is your impression of the arcade board selling business? Is that going well for Taito?
HA: Well, I think the fact that it's a Windows-based environment makes it among the easiest boards in the market to develop for these days. The fact we were first with a board like that was really key to our success.
Was Taito first? Didn't Namco have one as well? Maybe I'm wrong.
HA: Around that same time, but Taito's boards have actually been running under a Windows-based architecture since [1998's] Psychic Force 2012. It wasn't part of the system board, though. That didn't become a concrete strategy until Type X, and I think that's when it hit big.
This one's definitely a business question. What is the importance of Office Create [Now Cooking Mama, Ltd.] for Taito?
HA: It's a very important partner for us, definitely. Office Create became well known only after Cooking Mama became a surprise hit, but we've actually had a relationship with them for a really long time. They've actually programmed some of the games I've worked on, too. They've been with us for at least a decade or so, well before Cooking Mama. So even if that game never came along, they've always been and would've continued to be an important partner for us.
I always suspected that Taito would purchase Office Create, but it hasn't happened yet.
HA: (laughs) Mmm, I don't know how to respond to that! (laughs)
With titles like Darius Burst and these kind of reinventions, it seems like Taito is trying to find its own identity within Square Enix. What do you see as the future of Taito as a company?
HA: Well, Square Enix is a company built upon a base that's completely different from ours. We both have different strengths and weaknesses. Square Enix is known for RPGs and really big, sensational games, but Taito is better known for casual pick-up-and-play titles, taking its experience in the arcade field and exercising it in the home market.
This combination of knowledge is hard for one company to pick up, I think, and I'd like to see both sides take advantage of each other's strengths as we go into the future.