CyberConnect2 - the Near Future and Beyond: Anime Expo 2019 Interview with Executive Vice President Taichiro Miyazaki
Going into Anime Expo 2019, I honestly didn't know what to expect from CyberConnect2. I'd consider myself a fan of the company - particularly Solatorobo and the Little Tail Bronx franchise, so seeing that Fuga: Melodies of Steel would be the companies primary interest at the event definitely peaked mine, but I still wasn't quite sure what to expect from their panel. Would they just talk about the game? Would they show gameplay? What else were they going to be doing at the Expo - were they doing anything else?
Just a few days before the show, an email came in on the Anime Expo press list from a representative for the company advertising their panels, and I took the opportunity to reach out for an interview - I'm really glad I did, since after their panel on Friday I was left with a bunch of questions for the company, but in a good way.
CyberConnect2 is a Japanese company most well-known for their work on the .hack// franchise, as well as the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series. Earlier last year they announced a renewed interest to pursue self-publishing some of their titles, with the reveal of the company's self-proclaimed "Trilogy of Vengeance" - a trio of titles with vengeance as the main theme, intended for smaller development cycles, intended to release on PlayStation 4, PC, Switch, and Xbox One. We haven't heard much about any of the games in trio besides bits and pieces of information on Fuga before Anime Expo, and the company finally seems to be ready to show the game off on a larger scale. Not only was the game one major focus of the general CyberConnect2 panel, but it also had a demo station in the eGaming section of the Entertainment Hall during the show.
The company seems poised to expand in a big way, and a big part of their presence at this year's Anime Expo centers around that innitative. We got the chance to sit down with a few members of the CyberConnect2 team, and more specifically were able to ask the company's Executive Vice President, Taichiro Miyazaki, some questions about their upcoming self-published projects and their continued recruitment of western developers.
RPG Site: Hello – I guess for anyone that wasn’t here at Anime Expo this year to see your panel, can you give us an explanation of what CyberConnect2 is trying to do with their self-published projects.
Taichiro Miyazaki: So let’s just start with a little introduction – CyberConnect2 has been developing games since 24 years ago, starting in 1996. Up until now, we’ve been involved in the development of games such as the .hack// series, the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm series, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure games, as well as the upcoming Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot. So our next step is to challenge the world as a publisher – we’re publishing our first ever original title. It’s a very, very big step for us, as up until now we have only developed titles, not published them. To do that, we have started an initiative – called the C5 Project Initiative – and it is essentially an in-house game competition, from which we gather project ideas by our staff. So far we’ve announced 3 titles that are under development, and that will be released soon. The first of these 3 titles, and the focus of our panel yesterday was Fuga: Melodies of Steel.
RPG Site: This project – The Trilogy of Vengeance, as it were – isn’t actually the first time that CyberConnect2 has attempted self-publishing, isn’t it? I remember a few years back that you announced that you were working on some sort of shoot-em-up that you’d planned to release on Steam, what happened to that?
Taichiro Miyazaki: Yes, we did announce a project like that. C5 is slightly different, however. One of the goals of the C5 Initiative is to work on titles that don’t feature 100 people working on them at a single time, but rather to have a few dozen team members to develop a smaller project to be released after a smaller development cycle. A reason for that is because up until now we’ve had very large scale projects that take 3 to 5 years to produce, and around 100-150 people on the entire project. Our experiences with that is that we find when single developers are involved to one project for very specific tasks for an elongated period of time – this helps them get good at that one specific task, but as game creators, it doesn’t really help them grow. So we decided to, while at the same time we’re developing long-term projects, we would launch short-term projects so all of our staff could gain experience across a variety of tasks and projects.
RPG Site: So, that unnamed project is still in development, it’s just on the back-plate while the Trilogy of Vengeance is being developed?
Taichiro Miyazaki: So, yes, that shoot-em-up project is currently on hold. It was green-lit, but going into the project we realized that the development period might be too long for our first self-published work. This happened around the same time that we were considering the C5 Project, and that is why we decided to focus on the C5 Project and the Trilogy of Vengeance that has sprung forth from it first.
RPG Site: Alright, so let’s talk about Fuga. This has not been the first Little Tail Bronx project that you’ve teased/announced since Solatorobo finished production and released. There was another project called Strelka Stories, that seemed to be going towards a sci-fi space vibe, whereas Fuga – the next entry in the Little Tail Bronx series – has almost taken a step back in time with this focus on a WWII style and presentation. How did you guys as a company decide to take such a drastic shift, into what the latest Little Tail Bronx series entry has become?
Taichiro Miyazaki: So this might have been a little misunderstanding, and a little fault on our side – however, the Strelka Stories teaser that you mentioned, it was actually released on the 20th anniversary of the Little Tail Bronx series, and it was intended to show the world that we still have something in mind for the future of the series. At the time, nothing was determined. We didn’t have a game, or even an actual proposal, no details were determined. From there we thought about what we should do with the series, what should the next title be that fits this new era of CyberConnect2. At the same time, we had the C5 Project going on, and one of those project proposals was Fuga. So that teaser you might’ve seen on our official website was just that - a little teaser, a piece of concept art, we weren’t planning anything specific with it.
RPG Site: So Fuga was just one-third of the Trilogy of Vengeance, and originally the plan for the Trilogy was to release it all within the same year – 2019. But now with the latest information for Fuga, the title has been pushed back into Early 2020. How does that affect the other titles in the trilogy, will they come after it?
Taichiro Miyazaki: Yes, as you’ve mentioned – we have slightly delayed our schedule. The reason being that we are a company of only 200 or so people, and we don’t focus on just one project at a time. As a philosophy the company likes to work on 3 large, licensed IP at the same time, each taking 3 to 5 years, alongside 3 original titles – the Trilogy of Vengeance. So right now, having those 3 original titles being developed at the same time is basically impossible, and we knew that from the beginning, and we meant with the Trilogy of Vengeance was that we would release them one by one, with Fuga being our first title releasing in 2020. It’s unfortunate that we had to push our schedule back by a little bit, but after Fuga is released in 2020 we should be able to see our two other titles release one after another.
RPG Site: Let’s talk about Fuga’s gameplay. It’s a turn-based strategy RPG. As far as I’m aware, it’s something that CyberConnect2 has never attempted before. What are some of the challenges you’ve been facing, tackling a genre the company hasn’t developed before?
Taichiro Miyazaki: Yes, this is a very new genre for us, and we’ve been facing a variety of challenges along the way. Fuga is a game that follows a story with 12 chapters, and as a game itself, we wanted it to feel like a roguelike, that makes the player go through the story with trial and error. Where they’ll make mistakes, revive, and then attempt a different path. So we wanted to set the difficulty level really high, but not unreasonably so. So it’s been hard for us to find that balance between making the game difficult while also obtainable.
RPG Site: I can definitely see what you’re getting at – I managed to play the demo in the Entertainment Hall after last night’s panel, and I found it really interesting how the various mechanics play off of each other. How you want to pair kids with guns, and how their skills interact with a weapon’s own abilities. One thing I do want to ask, is that in the panel you mentioned that you’ll restart the game from the beginning if you lose, with experience retained. Are you intending to make the game beatable on your first attempt, or is the idea that players lose but keep playing until they can eventually succeed.
Taichiro Miyazaki: We can’t say more beyond this, but basically we have plans for the story to have multiple endings. Now whether those are happy endings where the children all survive and beat the boss, or you fail, it’ll be something that’s a very different experience for each player. It’s our challenge to keep the flow of the story and the balance between the battles – the times that you die and revive – and so on. It’ll be something we ourselves find out as we continue development.
RPG Site: If I remember correctly - when you first announced the Trilogy of Vengeance, one of the things that you appeared to be interested in was potentially finding partners to release physical copies of games in the west. Is that still something you’re considering?
Taichiro Miyazaki: Depending on the region of course, we’ve been going around visiting different companies around the world that might be interested in working with us so that we can bring the game to the world – but we’ve also been considering, for our first title as a publisher, we’ve thought about maybe doing everything by ourselves. We have received a lot of support from other companies. But we will have to decide how things will go in the future.
RPG Site: One thing I noticed about the panel, was how it was half talking about Fuga, but also half of the panel was almost advertising that CyberConnect2 is hiring people worldwide – a call to action if you would. What led to you choosing Anime Expo of all times to really push this initiative?
Taichiro Miyazaki: Our worldwide recruitment started earlier this year, so at the beginning of this year we already announced that we were looking to hire skilled, young creators from all over the world to join us in our offices in Japan. The reason for that is because, as we said earlier, we have 3 big projects under development along with our smaller projects – and with 200 or so people, that just isn’t enough manpower, realistically. That is why we wanted to expand ourselves, get more people to join the company, and so on. So we launched this project to hire around 100 more staff in the next two years.
We realized it wasn’t enough to hire 100 more people from Japan alone, however. It’s competitive, just having Japanese creators might stifle creativity, and we realized that people outside of Japan have equivalent if not even stronger skills. So we kind of wanted to find people from outside of Japan that have the same passion for Japanese IP, that have the same or even better skills than those we might find within Japan, and in Japan we will prepare for them a game development environment that’s suitable for non-Japanese creators, and that’s more appealing for everyone so that we could reach our goal to increase our staff members.
The reason that we came to AX, and did the recruitment panel here, is actually because about a year ago we were talking with some of the organizers for AX and they have told us that AX is a place where many, many people who share the same passion for Japanese animation, manga, culture and so on gather here – and many of them are creators themselves. Very, very talented artists and creators who seek to create something on their own as well. So we thought this was a golden opportunity – we could come and talk to a lot of people at once since they all share the same passion, and so many of them are very skilled.
RPG Site: That being the case – is there anything else you’d like to tell both CyberConnect2 fans, and prospective future employees about the company, and what you foresee about the near future?
Taichiro Miyazaki: To all our CC2 fans, and all of those interested in working with us in the future, we just want to say – sure, we’re going to be challenging the world as a publisher, and release our own original content, but at our heart, we’re still a developer. We’re still creators. We’d like to continue being developers, focusing on creating really captivating console games that can reach many, many people around the world – while at the same time, being a publisher, releasing our original content. We’re specializing in that anime style, and we want to keep using it. We want to be able to find people with the same motivation, to recreate that style, to improve that style, and express it in games that can reach many people around the world. We want to find people like that not only in Japan but also increasingly worldwide.
We’ve met so many fans of anime and manga that have the same skills to create games like our own – we want to find people like that, and appeal to them, and have them join us in recreating these games that can last for generations. We want them to come and join us, to help us create these titles and release them around the world. For anyone listening, we would love to have you continue to support us – we do have our recruitment pages in English, please don’t hesitate to send us messages, to send us applications – we would love to hear from you.
Ah! One thing we did forget to mention, regarding CyberConnect2’s future is – sure, we are a game developer, but we also consider ourselves an entertainment enterprise. Up until now, we have been involved in creating OVAs, and from now on we do want to get ourselves more involved with anime production, as well as manga serialization. So we’re challenging ourselves not only in the games industry – but also in other aspects of the larger entertainment industry. So we want to create our own original IP and spread that IP through multimedia outlets – so games, anime, manga – and then as an IP holder, as well as developer, grow and develop that IP more and more as not just a games developer, but also as a broader entertainment company.
RPG Site: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!
Taichiro Miyazaki: Thank you very much as well!