Falcom isn't Japan's most prestigious or most successful development studio. The company's president, Toshihiro Kondo, admits that the Tokyo-based company doesn't have any big name developers. The way in which you are most likely to have heard of Falcom is thanks to the Ys games -- a long-running series of action RPGs, originally released in 1987, which has a passionate enough fan base that the games somehow keep coming out in the West.
The company itself has an interesting story. Originally founded in 1981 as Apple's official Japanese distribution partner for the Apple II computer, the company naturally transitioned into game development soon after. It had a string of early hits on Japanese computers, including Sorcerian, Xanadu and Ys.
Falcom primarily stuck to PC games throughout the 1990s and 2000s, even as the platform crashed in Japan. It finally made the leap to consoles -- specifically, the PSP -- in 2006, with a port of its PC title Sora no Kiseki, which was rechristened Trails in the Sky for its U.S. release last year.
Trails in the Sky was a surprise hit on the PSP in Japan, and lead to the property becoming the company's core franchise -- with follow-ups released directly to the PSP. In the wake of its success, Falcom has gotten serious about the Ys series once again too, with Ys Seven coming to the PSP, and a new game, Celceta no Jukai, slated for the PlayStation Vita.
These latest games were produced and dircted by Toshihiro Kondo, president of Falcom. He's been with the company since 1998, when he worked his way up from the IT department to become a developer and eventually take charge of the company, after being a long-time fan.
In this interview, Kondo shares his thoughts on why he thinks Falcom has enjoyed a resurgence in its popularity on the PSP, how the Western and social game markets are affecting the way he looks at game creation, why Falcom games have a particular aesthetic that's remained almost unchanged since the 1980s, and why the company typically focuses on one platform at a time.
What do you think of the current state of Falcom? What's the company's current philosophy?
Toshihiro Kondo: This is our current philosophy, but it's also a philosophy that we kept over the 30 years of our history: we carefully create our games with a lot of care and details. We're detail-oriented, and we've been doing that throughout the whole 30 years of our company history.
Falcom seems to carry the torch for the way games have been for a long time, and doesn't seem to change with fashions and trends in the industry.
TK: Whenever new people join the company, we don't educate our employees. We don't tell them what to do. However, when I joined the company 13 years ago, it was the same with me, too. Nobody taught me what to do. But I saw the titles that Falcom had developed up to that point -- the legendary games -- and I felt like they're there, and they're watching you. You feel the existence of those strong titles, so I naturally felt that I had to live up to that standard, and that kept me moving forward.
The company has that atmosphere -- strong feeling. People who enter the company will just naturally sense that, and just get on the same track as everybody else. That's probably the reason we've been carrying this torch for such a long time.
Are a lot of the staff at the company still the same people who you were involved in early days, or have they since left the company?
TK: You mean from the '80s?
From the '80s, yeah.
TK: Well, just a few people from those days.
I feel like there is a, Falcom aesthetic that's identifiable, and that has carried all the way till today, so it's kind of interesting to hear that.
TK: The reason for that is probably because people who join the company really like Falcom's games, so when they enter the company they come with full respect towards the games. They love the games, so they want to make them even better. They don't come in with the thoughts of making something totally different; they come in to try to evolve the games that they love. That's probably the reason you see "Falcomism" throughout our games.
There's a word in Japanese called "shinise". It refers to people who've been around the whole time, creating history. The traditionalists. There are rice cracker shops that have been around for 200 years -- the kind of people who have history.
Were you, yourself, a fan of Falcom's games? Is that why you joined the company originally?
TK: Yes, I was a big fan, and as a matter of fact, I had a fan site before I joined the company. I was a very big fan of Falcom and I had a fan site back in the day. Now I'm the president of the company, but some people still remember me from the fan site. So people write on the internet, "Is the president Kondo that Kondo, from the fan site?" People are really surprised and happy for me.
What was your favorite Falcom game from when you were a player, before you joined the company?
TK: Legend of Heroes III: The White Witch. It's my favorite game. I love the scenario and the characters. Actually, I had a fan site for this game. This was my favorite title. [Ed. note: find out more about The White Witch on Hardcore Gaming 101.]
It seems like recently the company's been concentrating very much on the Legend of Heroes games, in the form of the "Kiseki" series. Is that connected to the fact that you like them a lot?
TK: If I say it's my personal preference that would be a problem, so I don't want to comment on that. But Falcom has been creating our games on the PC for 30 years, and with Trails of the Sky, we ported the series to the PSP, and we gained a big fan base on the PSP. Because of that, that's the reason we are concentrating on the Kiseki series -- because we wanted to satisfy our fan base in the PSP market. That led us to publishing the recent game in the series, Zero no Kiseki, as an original PSP game.
That was one of your most successful games in recent years.
TK: When we first released Trails in the Sky, the PSP market wasn't as big as what it is right now, so it didn't sell too well. But after that, we put a lot of effort in selling the title, and also there were some elements of luck, like the PSP market growing. Because of that, when we released Zero no Kiseki, we were able to sell a lot of copies. The series got acknowledged more by fans. The latest title, Ao no Kiseki, came out in September.