We were recently given the opportunity to speak with Toshihiro Kondo, president of Nihon Falcom, ahead of the much-anticipated Western release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III next month. Kondo-san gave us his opinions on why the series has resonated with audiences, insight into how the series has been developed, and his hopes to bring future Falcom games to the West.
Push Square: Before working for Falcom, you were a big fan of its games; what initially drew you to the developer that made you such a big fan?
Toshihiro Kondo: I really appreciated the care that went into the games. Of course, I found the stories really compelling, I thought the gameplay was very good too. I thought that even though these elements exist in other games they were really well balanced within the Falcom games, and that’s why I became a big fan.
Where do you start with building a world as big as the one in The Legend of Heroes? Is it hard to keep track of everything?
There is no secret to how we do this. Basically we just have to think very carefully, plan very carefully, make sure that all our notes are well taken and that we follow them exactly when we make such large worlds.
What is it about the Trails series that you think has struck a chord with audiences?
Honestly, this is also one that we don’t really know the exact answer to, but one thing that I can say is that when we talk to fans they always talk about how much they love the care that went into the world building and the lore. They feel like the characters that come out of the game are people that could actually exist, you know, that were right down the street as it were. I think those sorts of things really resonate with the fans and that’s what has caused it to continue.
Throughout Trails of Cold Steel, Rean is really the moral compass for the group. What do you think we as an audience can learn from him?
You know, I feel that Rean is a very unlucky person. Obviously, he was born into a noble family, he’s the eldest son of a noble family, but even then there are various circumstances in his life in terms of that. He becomes an unlikely hero, he becomes a hero when he doesn’t really want to become a hero, and he’s always fighting against the wave of the way that things are going and in spite of that, he always continues, always has to struggle through what’s happening and put it all together, and he always does make it through, and I think that players can learn a lot from that.
There are so many NPCs in the world who all have really detailed back stories which you might never learn as a player if you don’t take the time to talk to them – are there any NPC quirks or back stories which stand out to you as being especially important or meaningful which players might not know?
Unfortunately I can’t choose just one, but what I will say is every single one of them, a lot of time and care was put into it by the staff and so each and everyone of them has their own thing to offer and I think that they’re all good. Kind of a self plug here too, there are a couple of NPCs that are around from the Trails in the Sky days that I created, and whilst I no longer write for the Cold Steel games, the staff that does write for it seems to really like these characters, so please be on the look out for them too!
With so many supporting characters in Trails of Cold Steel, is it hard to make sure everyone gets their chance in the spotlight? How do you decide which characters are worth developing further?
Basically the way we do this, we figure out the main characters first. The main characters are the ones that are going to be driving the plot forward. From the main characters we figure out what kind of friends and relations do they have? So we think about their family and things. We think about what kind of organisations all of these people belong to, and we build out from there. That’s how we manage which characters get the screen time and how they’re developed.
Then, I guess, the last thing we might think about is what location are the events of the game occurring in, and what kind of people are there at a higher level? So a great representative example would be Osborne. Osborne is a really important person in the Erebonian Empire and so we’d think about how does he come into play, and interact with the other characters that appear in the game.
Are there any characters you are surprised have been so popular with the fans? Or vice versa, characters you thought would be more popular?
I guess I’ll go with the second half of that question. I’m a little surprised at people’s reaction to Gaius. He seems to not hit. It’s unfortunate because he has quite the interesting backstory and a lot of it is still mysterious, but I think it might just be that he’s a little more adult than the rest of the characters and they have a tendency to brush him aside. This always seems to happen too, in the games. An example from Trails in the Sky would be Zin who comes up towards the end from the East, he’s a character too who never really caught on with people.
On the other hand, a character I didn’t really expect would be so popular was Duvalie. Duvalie honestly didn’t play that big of a role in the story, she just happened to interact with the main cast quite a bit, and so they had a lot going on between them. People really started to like her. Another thing I think contributes to her popularity, and this might just be Japan, is her voice actress [Naomi Ōzora] who was really well suited for the job. She was actually a newcomer to voice acting but she is a very gifted and talented voice actress, and so I think that probably has a lot to do with what made the character popular.
Who is your own favourite non-protagonist character and why?
I have a tendency to like mysterious characters, so I’ll give you a double answer. I like Ash and Musse [from Trails of Cold Steel III]. They both have some deep mysteries, so I like that.
Is there anything you can tell us about the possibility of the rest of the Cold Steel series being brought to the West?
If you play Trails of Cold Steel III, you have to play IV, there’s no way around it. I really hope, and I definitely will make sure that some way or another, IV comes out in the West as well.
Are there any other Falcom games that haven’t made it West that you would like to see make it over?
Yes - there’s a game called Nayuta no Kiseki, I’d like to see that come out in the West.
Are you a big Trails of Cold Steel fan? Give a shout to your favourite members of Class VII in the comments section below.
[Thanks to Kondo-san for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to the PR team at Reef Entertainment for making this interview possible]