As the next game in the long-running visual novel adventure game franchise, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is being described as the biggest and most exhilarating episode yet. Due out in the West at the end of September, the game will be released on PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita. In an extremely comprehensive interview, Adam Johnson (Senior Director of Business Development, NIS America) talks about the game and expounds on the likelihood of it appearing on XBox One and Switch consoles. He also elaborates on where he sees the Danganronpa franchise going from here. Enjoy!
Danganronpa V3 was developed with PS4 Pro specs in mind. Given that those are high-end specs, how do they impact the Vita version?
Right. I think the Vita version is kind of made with… You still get the full game. It’s not like there’s any content cut there. I think in Japan, they had to have the voice quality, a little bit lesser quality. But now it’s fixed with the DLC patch for free. So if you have downloaded that, then it kind of matches the quality on the sound side. But otherwise, it’s the same content as the PS4 game. There might be some differences in the load time. And of course the visual quality is going to be a lot different because it’s going to be made for PS4 and 4K in particular, which the Vita does not support. So that’s kind of the biggest difference between the two. But other than that, the actual contents of the games are the same. There’s not a marked difference there.
Visiual novels tend to lend themselves more towards handheld gaming, but Danganronpa V3 is targeting home consoles. In terms of audience expectations, is there a disconnect between what you’re offering and what the audience necessarily wants? And if that’s the case, will that not impact the commercial appeal of Danganronpa V3? Especially when you consider the fact that the PS4 Pro is an iterative console, and not many people own that in comparison to the base PS4. At the same time, Danganronpa V3, because of its adherence to the visual novel genre, caters more towards Japanese gaming audiences who love their handhelds. So with that in mind, how do you think Danganronpa V3 is going to be able to fare?
I think it’s doing really well. We actually put Danganronpa 1.2 Reload and Ultra Despair Girls on PS4 earlier this year to help build the fan base for it. As we’ve seen so far, there’s been a lot of hype for Danganronpa V3. We’ve been showing it off at conventions in the United States. And we’re bringing it out here. Earlier this year, we were at Japan Expo with Danganronpa V3 and the creator, Mr. Kodaka, was there to help promote the title and to help bring awareness to the PS4 version in particular.
There are a lot of differences to maybe your standard visual novel with Danganronpa V3, because there a lot of additional elements that aren’t just kind of reading what the game is. There are a lot of mini games. The interactions in the courtroom settings are… they a lot more fast-paced and fluid and there’s a lot more going on to kind of keep you on your feet. So even though it’s a visual novel, it’s trying to kind of be a lot more active, and keep the player a lot more engaged than something that might be a little bit more simplified in its presentation.
I think we’re really gearing for with this game. Even in the presentation elements, there’s this picture-in-picture thing. It’s a bit different from the normal, bust-up presentations that the game has than in the previous titles which were made for the PSP version originally. So they were really thinking about consoles this time…
What about Nintendo’s Switch? Do you have any plans for the Switch, given the fact that in Japan it’s doing quite well?
Yeah. As a company, NIS America is supporting the Switch. I can’t speak for Danganronpa as a different company develops it in Japan. Of course, we’d love to support the Switch with many different titles. And we already have a couple we’ve announced earlier this year… Touhou Kobuto V is coming to Switch. And then for early next year, we have The Longest Five Minutes and Penny-Punching Princess. So those are titles that we are really excited to bring out for the system. As of this time, there are no plans for Danganronpa as far as I know. So that’s all I can say…
You’re obviously a representative of NISA. In terms of the Vita’s commercial appeal, the system died maybe about two years ago, but you’re still supporting it. I don’t have a problem with that because I like the Vita. I like it as a handheld. I think it was one of those handhelds that were… It deserved better.
But now that the Switch is en vogue… You’re still releasing games for the Vita in the West, whereas the Switch only has like the two or three games you’ve mentioned. When do you think the support for the Vita is going to die off and you’re going to spend more resources in terms of supporting the Switch? And given the fact that a lot of the hardcore Vita fans are now moving over to the Switch, when will the transition for NISA be taking place?
It’s a good question. I don’t really know when the transition is going to happen. It’s going to depend on Japan. We had a lot of success earlier this year with Disgaea 5 Complete on Switch, which came out in May of this year on Switch in Europe and in the United States. So that really gave us some insight into, “Oh, this is probably where the new handheld market is going to be. And this is going to be a new audience for us.” So that’s kind of what led to the conversations happening about. Let’s talk about Touhou on Switch, and it’s on Switch… And Penny-Punching Princess on Switch. We really like the platform, but there’s only so much we can do as a U.S. publisher for a game company. But we’ll talk as much as we can in a kind of a positive sense about the platform. We have nothing negative to say about it. But we don’t know when Japan is going to make the transition, so all we can do is just kind of keep telling people like, “Oh, no, we’re having some really good experiences over here.” So maybe we’ll see. Maybe around TGS time, we’ll see what is going to happen in Japan. I think that might be the nearest time to start seeing the results. But it takes some time.
Microsoft during their XBox 360 era were quite gung-ho in terms of securing Japanese exclusives, mostly in terms of shoot ’em ups. And they also went out of their way to secure a few notable RPGs – like Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. Given that Microsoft is a lot more prevalent in the West than Japan, and given that handheld consoles are less of a dominant factor in the West in comparison to Japan… You’ve mentioned that the target market for Danganronpa V3 is consoles, and the game is releasing in the West… What are the chances of Danganronpa V3 coming to Microsoft’s console?
Again, regarding that, it’s going to be all up to the developer. We can only offer our experience to the developer and say, “Well, this is what we see.” But they would also have to ask us because we would have to kind of just talk and coordinate about it. But at this time, I don’t know what they have as far as plans go for XBox One. Of course, nothing. So I’m sorry. I can’t comment.
Are there more console oriented elements to Danganronpa V3? For example, the mainline Danganronpa spinoff, Ultra Despair Girls, had third-person action elements. What about V3? Do you think that will harness the potential power of the PS4 Pro by utilizing more, like say… first-person action elements?
V3 has a lot more detail. The detail within the environments is a lot more neater than the PS Vita versions. And even the character models are a lot more drawn to that kind of specification.
The other elements will be the non-main game section. There’s kind of like a board game section of the game. Basically, half the game is actually the main game, and then the other half is actually additional mini games and additional bonus content. So that is kind of geared towards… after you’re done playing the main game, you can actually still keep playing the game and kind of unlocking more things. So it might not come through so much in the main story, and whilst Danganronpa Ultra Despair Girls: Another Episode was built with this kind of shooter aesthetic in mind, this one does have a lot more kinds of elements that carry over to what console gamers expect.
There’s a general stereotype regarding gamers who, having been brought up on Call of Duty, Twitter and social media, are viewed as suffering from ADD. Visual novels obviously appeal more to the sort of person who can concentrate for longer durations of time. How long is Danganronpa V3 meant to last? And is the game designed to maintain the focus of a conventional player over its extended play-time?
I think this is probably geared towards an older fan base just because the content is so mature. And as far as the audience with ADD… I don’t know if it was made with those people in mind. The idea is that because of Twitter, people have shorter attention spans in general, to just about anything. So I think this is made for maybe the older audience. The series did start about seven to eight years ago on PSP, so it was definitely kind of another era at that point. And now the fact that the series is still continuing to this day, it just amounts to like it came from a different period in time. Even before smartphone games became as big a deal as they are today, the series started on PSP that long ago. I think the initial audience kind of built into it, at least in Japan. And in the U.S., it’s a bit different because it launched over here in 2014 when it first started getting big. But I think that was also kind of built off the visual novel fan base that started here from the Ace Attorney games and the Zero Escape series as well. So I’m not sure how it’s going to be affected by that.
As far as the play time goes, it’s pretty lengthy… It’s about 30 to 40 hours. That’s for the main game. So if you want to get through all six chapters, it’s going to take you about that long. Pretty consistent with previous Danganronpa games, but then after that, additional content can push into like 50-60 hours. It depends on how long you want to stick with it and uncover more secrets.
You mentioned Ace Attorney and Zero Escape. Those games obviously started out on the 3DS. And you’ve mentioned as to how the original Danganronpa game started on PSP. How do you think Danganronpa has evolved from its PSP days to the PlayStation 4 Pro? What changes have taken place over this technological line, and in what way has the franchise been able to grasp and utilize the changes in technology?
I think the platform choice is always a big deal. PSP being a handheld from… I guess you would call it the seventh generation. It’s going to be different from like a mid-gen upgrade in the eighth generation. So there’s a lot more emphasis on probably the intimacy of the story like in the PSP version, versus something that is on PS4 Pro where the game can be grander and kind of bigger and more exciting in that sense.
So when you make something with a 4K screen in mind, you can do, “Okay, well, what can we do to take advantage of the space? Or what can we do to kind of keep people engaged with certain other elements that we didn’t maybe have the budget for originally?” So I think that definitely plays into it a lot.
Bigger budgets imply bigger risks. Do you think visual novels and the Danganronpa franchise are big enough in terms of the commercial appeal to be able to offset such risks?
I think it’s definitely something that happens per series. So maybe not the entire visual novel genre, but definitely, for a series that can kind of break out and do extra things. I think Zero Escape did it the same kind of way where it started off and it was kind of like bust up with the wrong kind of text, and then they remade it with like voice acting and extra features, then putting in some more features like updating the visuals and stuff like that. I think Danganronpa becoming like this is definitely a sign of it growing from humble beginnings into something much bigger.
Where do you see the franchise going from here? Also, are there any plans to support V3? Maybe with DLC?
Personally? You know, I think these stories are fairly self-contained. And there’s so much content in V3. I don’t know what they could do…
That’s kind of what people also said about The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4…
True, true, true. And in this case though, I haven’t heard any plans from Japan to be supporting it in that sense and at this point. It’s been almost eight months since launch in Japan. And if we would’ve known something by now, we probably would’ve heard about it to support the Japanese release. So the fact that there hasn’t been anything, I don’t know. I think that they’re much more willing to support it with another game than they would be to bring out DLC. That’s my personal feeling. As far as where I can see the series going from now, I really don’t know. I know a lot about where V3 kind of goes. And it’s pretty exciting. But I don’t know how they will be able to follow this one up. So it’s pretty unique and interesting. And I think it’s going to be hard to kind of come up with something different after this.
V3 is obviously a self-contained story in comparison to V1 and V2, as well as the third-person game, which also harked back to the first two games in terms of storyline where one needed to play the earlier two games in order to be able to understand it. But V3 is a complete break from the past. In a way, that enables you to get new fans on board who haven’t played the first three games. But on the other hand, those people who have come to like V1 and V2 as well as the third-person spin-off, and have really enjoyed the universe and the characters you’ve created… You’re obviously going for two different kinds of audiences. I know some people don’t really care that much, but some people would.
So from that perspective, are any of the characters from the first three games making any guest appearances in V3?
It kind of gets into the spoiler situation, but that’s kind of why the demo is there.
Otherwise you might as well call it another game completely…
Right. And in this case, yeah, there are definitely some elements that carry over. You have Monokuma. You have the setting of being trapped with other people. And then the whole murder mystery kind of setup. So there’s definitely that element to it. It doesn’t really connect with the first two games though. It really is a self-contained story. The thing was the first two games, and Another Episode, they were all concluded with the anime. So that was kind of the end to the story for all those characters, and you got to find out what happened to those people. And then V3 starts out kind of like a clean slate, brand new. So if you like the kinds of characters that you see in 1 and 2 and if you like the kind of setting and the gameplay, then that’s what V3 is there for.
Okay. But V1 obviously went on to V2, which was a sequel to V1.
And then the third-person game also was a “pseudo sequel” to the first two games.
Do you think V3 will have a sequel where you will have the same characters? I mean, does it lead up to that?
It’s possible. I mean it’s really hard to say because of the way that… I really don’t want to spoil it too much for really anyone because I think it’s really unique how the game concludes. But they can definitely take it some other ways. I was even talking about it with some people at work. “Maybe we could do…” I mean, we didn’t make the game. “But maybe, one way to continue it would be like this,” but we were really just spit-balling some ideas. And I think that’s definitely possible. But I don’t know if they’re going to take it in that kind of direction or not, or they have any plans to continue in that direction or not, since the game does feel very self-contained. And this is kind of a new story and it kind of does its own thing.
Adam, you’re the Senior Director of the Business Development Department for NISA. As a publisher, I know that your games are Japanese orientated. But what do you necessarily look for? What criteria do the games need to fulfil in order for NISA to consider publishing them? And at the same time, how does Danganronpa fit into all of this?
I would say that whenever we get a title and we evaluate it, we usually look at the market conditions to see if it will kind of fit in the U.S. because we don’t want to bring over a game… Or in Europe, I’m sorry…
Does that mean that if you’re targeting the PS4 Pro that a large enough market exists for something like that in Danganronpa V3 to even consider wanting to come out or something like that? Is the install-base for the Pro large enough?
Yeah, it’s definitely a big reason why we would like to bring it to people’s attention just because we know that there are enough people who have a PS4 Pro to actually say “Hey guys, this is going to look really good on your system.”
Do you know if it could look better on the Pro or the XBox One X? Because the X is like 6 Teraflops of pure power…
Yeah, the system seems like it’s much more powerful than the PS4 Pro. As for my position, I don’t have the technical know-how to actually give it that kind of endorsement. But we actually had Danganronpa 1.2 Reload on the PS4 and we were like, “Wow! That was a lot better than we thought it was going to be than the PS Vita game.” And we thought it looked really good on PS4. And then when we saw V3 running in 4K for the first time and we were like, “Oh my gosh! This is so much better than we thought that this could possibly be.” So we evaluate stuff kind on our own and with what we have. We do have a lot of dev-kits and stuff to kind of go off of them, to review titles. But I don’t have technical know-how on my own. I just know that so many people own this platform here, and this game looks good here. Then it’s something that we can definitely let people know about.
If we think there’s a cross-section that really works, like visual novels and handhelds is a great fit, then we would definitely look into some more visual novels for these handheld systems. Or if there’s going to be…
Like the Switch…
Like the Switch. I would love to bring some more visual novels to the Switch personally. But again, it depends on what is being done in Japan. So we’ll get titles from Japan. They’ll give us something for review, and then based on what the marketing conditions look like for the genre and the platform, we’ll see if it’s a good fit. We’ll kind of try to come up with our own marketing plan for it. And then we kind of offer that off and say like, “What do you think?” So based on that, we can decide to work together on certain things.
What about the PC? Point-and-click, first-person, detective, puzzley sort of games…
People sitting at their computer for like, how many hours a day… Danganronpa V3 in that context seems like a perfect fit for the PC. And it’s 4K…
And I’ll give the developers credit because whilst we’re not publishing it on PC, Spike Chunsoft are. So it’s coming out. Yeah, I agree. I think it’s actually a really solid fit. But we are not actually doing it ourselves [laughs].