Victor Ireland is a legend among the JRPG fanbase. Don't know him? You should. He is the former President of Working Designs, a company whose mission was to discover quality niche RPGs in Japan, translate, and then localize them for Western audiences to consume when the developers across the ocean didn't have the guts (or more likely, the finances) to do so, especially games that no other publisher would give a chance. The titles that Victor and his former company brought over that were adored by millions of those loyal to the genre include Lunar Silver Star Story Complete and its sequel Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, Alundra, and Arc the Lad.
This is very much the same goal that his new company, Gaijinworks, has endeavored to do. Aside from porting many of Working Designs' earlier works to the digital platforms of the consoles of PSN and XBLA, they have also put a strong focus on the Playstation Portable when it comes to the games of the here and now.
Working in tandem with MonkeyPaw Games - another company who has much of the same vision that Gaijinworks has, in that they want to bring games from all over the world to the West - have teamed up on the ever-popular crowd-sourcing service Kickstarter to fund a monumental effort to make their project to release Class of Heroes 2, a portable RPG formerly owned and recently obtained from original publisher Acquire along with the rest of the series, way more than a simple digital release. The success of this effort not only has an impact on the size of the game's future release in our regions, but also the JRPG effort as a whole in Victor's eyes.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: "Class of Heroes? You mean that dungeon-crawler that came out a few years back and people had less than kind things to say?" Well, you'll be happy to hear that the sequel was far better received than the original game had been, and grew a respectable amount of popularity over in Japan. It also had a lot of potential to be even better, potential that Victor hopes to improve upon with the funding in order to provide a much more comprehensive localization effort. Along with addressing the issues the original Japanese release had by adding features like extra saves, fixing the controls, improving the User Interface experience, and adding perks, this also includes having actual English voice acting in the localization, an English opening song and video, and even a translation release of Class of Heroes 2's webcomic series.
Fans can invest a small amount of money in order to receive items like a Limited Edition game poster and arranged soundtrack, but for those that want to go the extra mile and fund $59 (the first tier where the game is included), they will receive a Limited Edition Deluxe Pack, Details of this pack have not been shared yet, but Victor is promising the most ambitious and overwhelming pack he has ever arranged for the fans.
This is really something that Working Designs was quite well known for in the past. In my household, my brothers and I loved these fantastic bundles that came with the Lunar games on the original PlayStation. We were quick to purchase the Collector's Edition, a set that included not only the soundtrack, but also a making-of CD, a giant artbook, and even a cloth map of all things! Remember how big those things ued to be to fans? And the goodies only get better from there through higher tiers.
So if this "Deluxe Pack" is anywhere near as amazing as those were, then the $59 price that the companies are also for is peanuts in comparison to the incredible value to be had there. I had the distinct honor of conducting an interview with Victor Ireland that included a couple of questions that I personally have been dying to ask him. The results are highly enlightening as I am sure you will see. There is a lot of passion pouring out of this man, and it should make any JRPG fan really excited for what he hopes to accomplish with Kickstarter.
Kickstarter for games that we know and love dearly. I personally don't remember ever seeing a page dedicated to a JRPG, let alone one whose modus operandi in part is to act as a vehicle for those clamoring for more of them. Do you feel that Class of Heroes 2 has the legs to lead that charge, and based on the success of this project, would we see the companies using Kickstarter again in the near future?
Victor Ireland: The goal of this Kickstarter is to blaze a trail to make it possible to bring out more and better console RPG games regardless of whether the platform they happen to be on are considered “popular” by the general market. We’re targeting fans of the game and asking them to support this as a method to get the games they want that probably never will come in English or any other language. If we can make this Kickstarter a success, it will absolutely help legitimize it as a venue for more and better RPGs the fans want.
Game console, portable or otherwise, is a hard special case with lots of parties involved and rules unique to it because you’re in a licensed situation with a hardware manufacturer as soon as you think about doing one. There are approvals and meetings and all sorts of other things that have to happen before the Kickstarter can even be known by the public. If this fails, it will have a chilling effect on trying this again for console. If it succeeds, it makes it easier for us to do the next one and help us get the licenses we all want to see because we can point to the model as “working” to Japanese publishers, who often want to see something with a working track record before they will commit.
RPGSite: Now that the focus has been shifted to the PlayStation Vita and with the appearance that more Japanese developers are seeing more potential for the system than they did with the PSP (like the ability to have both a Vita and PS3 release), do you see Gaijinworks and MonkeyPaw Games moving away from PSP games and towards the new handheld, or do you still see plenty of games still worth investing in for the PSP stuck in Japan?
Victor: There is a huge mountain of great RPG content in Japan on the PSP. The games we’re pursuing and ones the fans have told us they want after this are almost identical lists. Of course, if a Vita or any other console platform’s game becomes a “most wanted”, we’ll investigate the possibility of doing it, but at this moment, there are a LOT of PSP RPGs needing to hitch a ride out of Japan. The bonus is that they will work on the PSP and Vita as well.
RPGSite: As a follow up, here are plenty of big PSP games that were released in Japan but never had a chance to shine over here, such as Valkyria Chronicles 3, Last Ranker, Blood of Bahamut, and many others. Have you ever approached the bigger publishers about these games?
Victor: We have talked to most major publishers about titles the fans want. Our “want” list is almost the same. But until we can prove the Kickstarter route as a viable way to reach the fans directly and make these “stranded” games viable, I seriously doubt we’ll make more headway with the major publishers. That’s why it’s so important to get the word out about this project and support it so it is a funding success. Class of Heroes 2 is a good game, but this project is about the game AND the business model. We need to get that message across so we can succeed with this and then we can come back to the publishers we’re talking to with proven results. Proof this model works by funding the current project will make some really difficult to get RPGs on the “want” list actually attainable.
RPGSite: After all of the attention that surrounded Guardian Heroes when it was brought to current console digital distribution channels, and the fact that there are many games by Working Designs featured on the Sega Saturn that may have appeal such as Shining Wisdom and Dragon Force, are there any plans to bring more of these games from the back catalog to current systems?
Victor: Currently we’re working to get all the WD PSOne titles out on PSN. There are a few holdouts that fans really want. After that, anything is possible. I personally would love to revisit Dragon Force. It’s an amazing game, which has reached legendary status with only the small console base that it was originally released on. Think what it could do on a platform with tens of millions of minds to blow!
RPGSite: Considering the sheer magnitude of exclusive console releases in Japan that never make it to our shores, are there any plans for the two companies to also assist developers across the pond to bring their bigger screen products to Western shores, much like a company such as Atlus does with games like Demons Souls? Are there any examples of console games you would like to bring over if given the opportunity? You can announce your plans for IdolMaster if you want here
Victor: It’s not an RPG, per se, but the IdolMaster series is one of my dream projects. Initially I wasn’t into it because of some of the more unsavory aspects to the loli angle, but I’ve since worked out a way to fix it without breaking the game. That said, there are still issues to resolve to make it work here, but I think it could work for a western audience. The move back toward boy and girl bands it on the upswing again with groups like 1 Direction, so the timing might not be bad. There have been talks about this series specifically, but we’re not there yet.
Speculating about the titles we’re targeting is not a good idea. The list is long. If we wrote it out, it would probably be in the dozens that are in some stage of conversation/negotiation. We need to keep the focus on this Kickstarter project and spread the word to RPG fans to get all the support we can muster to make it fund successfully. It’s really of critical importance. $500k sounds like a lot, but the reality is that, for example, if less than 7,000 fans sign up for the $59 or $100 level with the Deluxe Pack or the Deluxe Pack that also includes the digital download code in addition to the physical UMD, we fund and the negotiations for the next, bigger game become instantly easier. 7,000. That’s less than 1/3 of the Cosmic Fantasy we sold on the Turbografx in the early 1990s. Less than 1/20th the Alundra we sold. That’s not even 1/40th the number of LUNAR:SSS deluxe packs. With the help of just 7,000 RPG fans, we can invest in a better gaming future for us all. Please help us make it happen
RPGSite: I know that Gaijinworks and MonkeyPaw Games prides themselves on translating and localizing products from Japan, but would you ever consider going the independent route and making your own game, perhaps on a service such as Steam? What would be your dream game to make?
Victor: I would love to make a Rock/Metal RPG. But honestly, there are so many great Japanese games that have never seen the light of day that need to be seen, I could work on them forever and never catch up. I’m fine with that; so let’s make this Kickstarter happen!
I would like to thank Victor Ireland for the great inervie. There were some fantastic responses, especially his belief in past games like Dragon Force and where he thinks the company could go next. But if there is an overlying theme to be had, it's that based on the success of Kickstarter, Victor hopes to take Gaijinworks to even greater heights by satisfying the growing demand that neglected fans have been feeling for years. If you don't feel that your voice is being heard, here is a great project to invest in.
Even if you don't intend to purchase the Deluxe Edition, putting your money where your mouth is will serve as strong evidence for Gaijinworks and MonkeyPaw Games that all their hard work and passion for the genre is an effort worth pursuing, one that could make a bigger impact than even Operation Rainfull made. So what are you waiting for? Head over to the Kickstarter page and invest in the future of fantastic JRPG games making it to us in the West!