Picture credit: Denfaminicogamer

The final part of the interview is more personal. Horii-san talks about his childhood and how he came to work for Sega. Why he has eight Sega Saturns, what he thinks about Ryu ga Gotoku’s popularity overseas, and how he sees the industry developing in the future. Enjoy!

If you missed them, here’s Part 1 and Part 2.


A Sega devotee from early childhood

—— From now on, I want to talk about you, Horii-san. We’ve heard that you love Sega, so I’ll ask you straight: why Sega?

Horii: At school, a bunch of classmates I didn’t really like were buying PlayStations. And I thought, “I don’t want to buy anything they’ve got.” (laughing) And then I got hooked on Virtua Fighter at the arcade, that was a big thing. 

I’d been going to the arcade for a while. It was the heyday of Street Fighter II, so it was really busy. I used the character called Balrog, and took part in a tournament organised by a small local toy shop. That was when I was in elementary school, around year four or five. 

—— Where I grew up, we didn’t really know about arcades, but did kids of that age really enter game tournaments?

Horii: Back then every arcade would organise tournaments, big ones or small ones. The one I was in was a small one, but there were kids even younger than me. Not many people used Balrog though … nearly everyone used Guile. (laughing)

So while I was regularly going to the arcade, Virtua Fighter was put in. That big screen, whoa! I’d never seen anything like it, it felt like the future was here! And then, when I heard you’d be able to play Virtua Fighter on the Sega Saturn, I queued up on release day to buy it. I’ve come to feel like, “I bought my future!” with that 44,800 yen.

—— As a kid who went the Sega Saturn route, what were you buying at the time?

Horii: Not much to begin with, as there wasn’t much to choose from. In the beginning it was Virtua Fighter or WanChai Connection, those were the only two options. (laughing) Then there was Clockwork Night and things like that, and I would just buy whatever I thought would suit me best from what was available. 

By the way, sometimes I’d buy hardware too, so I’ve got a collection of eight Sega Saturns at home now.

—— Eight!? Why do you have eight?

Horii: I was a bit of a hardware collector at one time, you know. Different model numbers, or the “THIS IS COOL” Saturn, limited edition models, I’d collect them. Like I wanted to prove through numbers how much I love the Saturn.

—— You never bought a PlayStation?

Horii: Not until after I graduated high school. People kept asking, “Will you get a PlayStation?” but I’d insist, “I’m a Sega Saturn person.” When things like Final Fantasy VII came out on PlayStation I wanted to play them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to betray the Saturn.

—— You really are a Sega devotee. (laughing)

Horii: I’m just stubborn. Once I’ve said something, I can’t take it back. (laughing)

Subconsciously picking up Sega experience

—— When you look back at the Sega games from that time, what kind of impression do you have of them?

Horii: I think a lot of them are a bit understated, they don’t really make much impression at first glance. But while they’re not very attention-grabbing, when you try them they’re really fun. And I think … there were a lot of games aimed at adults too, for better or worse. That’s probably because the company ran arcades too, I guess. 

—— It’s a very different style from how Sega is now, isn’t it?

Horii: It is. And they were also releasing a lot of home console versions of their popular arcade games, Daytona USA, for example. 

—— I get the feeling the release of Daytona USA delighted a lot of middle and high school students. (laughing)

Horii: I’d never heard of it at the time. (laughing) “What the hell is Daytona USA? Well, Weekly Famitsu gave it a really good review, so maybe I’ll buy it.” That was my thought process. Because there weren’t many options to begin with, I’d buy anything that was called a masterpiece, or that was doing something new. That’s how I came across Riglordsaga, which I loved. I jumped on it like, “An RPG on Sega Saturn? I can play RPGs too!” I’d always wanted to play an RPG, but there weren’t any before that. I think being able to play so many different types of game on the Sega Saturn made me feel even more devoted to Sega and the Saturn.

—— Sega designed a lot of games that weren’t RPGs, didn’t they? Maybe that experience had an influence on the diversity of your minigame designs too … When you play Ryu ga Gotoku, there’s a lot of times when you feel like, “What kind of game is this!?”

Horii: Until I graduated high school, the only RPG I’d played was Riglordsaga, because I played every kind of genre, so yeah, that probably did have an influence. (laughing) Even big titles like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, I didn’t play them. 

My first experience of Final Fantasy came when I bought a WonderSwan. And then I thought, “Now I can play Final Fantasy without being a PlayStation traitor!” 

—— You’re hardcore. (laughing)

The appeal of Sega was “feeling connected to the future”

—— Is there some reason why you got so deeply into Sega? Apart from having bought the Sega Saturn? 

Horii: I think they surprise their users, making them feel like, “They really made a game like this!” The console felt cutting edge too. Later, when it got a modem and could connect to the internet, and you could watch video CDs, functions like that were interesting too. It was like getting a sniff of the future. I didn’t really watch video CDs, but I bought it, thinking, “This is the future!” (laughing) Now my Sega Saturn can connect to the internet and play video CDs, it’s ready for anything!

From a sales point of view, it was losing to the PlayStation, wasn’t it? But I was still thoroughly enjoying my Sega Saturn, and I always felt like, “There’s so many great games. The PlayStation is only winning because no-one realises how good they are!” 

Good things should be valued, but there’s nothing wrong with rooting for the underdog, you know. (laughing) So I felt like I had to support Sega against what I saw as its rival, the PlayStation.

—— By the way, did you buy a Dreamcast?

Horii: I bought it as soon as it came out. That was when I was in high school. The games on the Dreamcast were amazing. But right after release there were no games coming out, so I was only playing July, the adventure game with the “More than 100 characters!” tagline.

Later, there was Sonic Adventure, and things like that. I’m prone to 3D motion sickness, so I took travel sickness pills for the first time in my life, so I could keep playing, even when I felt sick. (laughing)

—— What about Shenmue?

Horii: Of course I played it! I couldn’t wait for it to come out, and once I got it I played it all the time.

—— Were you checking for new game information all the time?

Horii: I was. At that time, there were the official Sega services, Sega Joy Joy Telephone and Sega Fax Club, where you could get information on games. They only updated about once a month, but that was one way of getting information. 

Then there were magazines, of course. I brought some with me today, I keep back issues of memorable game magazines even now. This Dreamcast Magazine Sega Saturn special lists Saturn games for each genre, and it’s interesting to look at even now. There’s lots of games I’ve played in the past and forgotten, but if I reread this now and again it reminds me, “Oh! There were games like that too,” so it’s useful in my work. And it’s fun to read old games magazines now. “Coming soon! Soul Calibur confirmed for Dreamcast! Bonus stickers included!” That kind of promo really makes me emotional for some reason.

—— When you switched from the Saturn to the Dreamcast, did you notice any change as a user?

Horii: I definitely noticed a huge difference in quality. Not just the number of polygons it could display, but the power of the sound too. And I thought the software was better too, as well as the hardware. The Saturn was no slouch, but this was “What the …!” a whole other level. (laughing)

The Dreamcast didn’t have many games, but they were all excellent. “With hardware this amazing, Sega can’t lose! We’ll get our reward! Victory!” was what I was thinking.

—— You love Sega’s games so much, it seems like you’d play the games from that time even now.

Horii: I use the Saturn, and the Dreamcast, even now. I’m pretty picky when it comes to hardware, but I don’t feel like I have to play on the newest equipment, so I use my WonderSwan when I’m commuting to work. I love Magical Drop, play it even now. Sometimes when I’m playing on the train, I’ll hear, “A new DS!?” from the kid next to me, which is hilarious. (laughing) I love that startup sound the WonderSwan has too. 

There are still games left that I want to play on the Saturn or Dreamcast too, so I’m thinking, “When I’ve finished Nier on the PS4, maybe I’ll play this next.” I’m flexible in what I play.

I love Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu [Power Pros] too, but I play Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu 9 on PS2, not the latest PS4 version. It’s from back when Matsuzaka was a rookie,  but I’ve been playing it for 10 years, pennant mode only, so when I was transferring that 10 years of data, I thought, what if I keep doing this for another 10 years … Kuwata was in his 30s back then, he’ll end up celebrating his 60th. 

(Everyone laughing)

Horii: But to last that long, it’s amazing, isn’t it. Everyone’s abilities decline to the lowest rank, whenever someone does a headfirst slide they get injured and have to take time out. (laughing) But 9 really has the best balance in the baseball part, that’s why I still play it. And afterwards I’ll pull out the Dreamcast version of Yakyuutsuku!! and play that … and now we’re way off subject, aren’t we! (laughing)

—— No, no. Anyway, I think you would have been at university, Horii-san, when Sega withdrew from the hardware business. For someone who loves Sega as much as you do, how did that make you feel?

Horii: “They beat us.” It felt like losing a war. (laughing) Of course, as someone who was so passionate about the Dreamcast release, it was devastating, but I also felt, well, now I can play the PlayStation without feeling guilty (laughing) because when I started playing on the PlayStation it was really fun. “Oh man, Xenogears is so much fun!” (laughing) There were games I’d been dying to play on the PlayStation, so I played like mad to make up for lost time. While I was at university, I played all the PlayStation and PS2 games I’d wanted to play.

—— What games did you enjoy at that time?

Horii: I particularly loved Yarudora. Doublecast of course, and I played the whole of Blood The Last Vampire, all the routes. Other than those, I loved things like Seigi no Mikata and Boku no Natsuyasumi. The PlayStation being the PlayStation, there were a lot of games that were different in nature from the Saturn, a lot of enjoyable ads too. 

Later, I really got hooked on Linda Cube Again, and Ore no Shikabane wo Koeteyuke. I have the utmost respect for Masuda Shoji-san as a creator. Masuda-san’s book, Game Design Brain, even now that’s my gamemaking bible. 

The games industry was full of things I wanted to do

—— So after all that, you started working at Sega. When you were looking for a job, Horii-san, was it easy to find one? 

Horii: It was just before the ice age, wasn’t it? You could say that. I liked the job search process itself, so I interviewed at a lot of places. I just really enjoyed getting to talk to people in the industry. 

But, being someone who grew up on the Saturn, of course my number one ambition was to work for Sega. Particularly at that time, they were putting out a lot of the “writerly” kind of games I talked about before. Ryu ga Gotoku being one of them, of course. It really made me feel like, “Games can do this kind of thing too. They can be just as good as films in representing culture.” 

—— What other games would you describe as “writerly” in that way?

Horii: I loved the work of Suda Goichi-san, Eno Kenji-san and Masuda Shoji-san. They express themselves through the worlds they create, but set themselves a different challenge every time, and I really respect that approach. 

—— And that’s why you wanted to take the challenge of making games in the industry yourself. 

Horii: Right. While I admired people who were making what they wanted to make, it was also a time of evolution in games. The games industry was a world full of the things I wanted to do. Music, which I love, creating stories, and finding out what makes playing fun. If I went into the games industry I could do it all. 

—— You were attracted to the composite art of games.

Horii: It certainly is a composite art. And I had a strong feeling that games would go further in expanding into the area of art and culture, that’s why I was looking for a job there. And another reason I wanted to work for Sega was because they recruited new graduates as creators. At that time, there weren’t many companies who recruited new graduates as creators, let alone planners. It was my ideal job and besides, I’m perfect for it, I mean, I have eight Sega Saturns, (laughing) you have to take me on. I’d have been shocked to be rejected because of that, so I made it part of my pitch. 

—— What was it like, being a new hire at Sega at that time?

Horii: Right before I joined, Sega had started going through a bit of a hard time, you know. And that was when Nagoshi stepped up and started his hit Ryu ga Gotoku project. Being able to join that team right after being hired was a real stroke of luck. 

—— From what Nagoshi says, it seems he had a hard time getting Ryu ga Gotoku off the ground. 

Horii: The game released before I started, so I wasn’t really aware of the troubles at that point. But they’d decided to move straight on to the next one while the enthusiasm for 1 was still fresh, so the schedule was tight. 1 was released on December 8 2005, and 2 was released on December 7 2006.

—— Making a whole PS2 game within one year … 

Horii: They were making this game at incredible speed, and I was thrown straight into the deep end. It was such a shock at first, I was a complete workhorse for the first year. 

—— Was it your dream to be in the Ryu ga Gotoku team?

Horii: No. I did kind of want to be on the console side, but at that time in Sega each department had an interviewer on the panel, and they would confer with their department heads to decide which graduates to pick up. And so I was picked up by the Ryu ga Gotoku department.

—— By the way, do you know what it was that made them decide to pick you up?

Horii: Karaoke, surely? (laughing) In the interview, I said things like, “I have eight Sega Saturns” and “Sega made me who I am”, to show my love and gratitude to Sega. And when they asked me about myself, I said, “My hobby is karaoke.” When I had the final interview with Nagoshi, he said, “A lot of guys have karaoke as a hobby,” which is of course true. So I had to find some way of showing him, “I’m not like those other guys.” 

So I showed him my karaoke list I showed you before, saying, “Other guys don’t do this,” with a bit of a smile, and I was offered the job. So that’s why I made that, I thought. (laughing)

I want to raise the cultural status of games

—— Listening to you talk, Horii-san, while I get that you’re “the joker on the team”, I also get the impression that you’re unusually focused on your players. You once wrote on your blog that you were going to take as your motto, “go nuts, be popular” and I’m sure there’s a connection there.

Horii: Basically, I want to do things differently from most people, that’s my passion, so I was trying to express that in a way that makes people immediately get, “This is a bit out there!” … if they don’t get it, no big deal. But if it doesn’t come across right and I sound conceited, that’s not how it was meant. 

Because I am someone who wants to keep working at this level, because for now I’m someone who’s working in a major company making major products, however idiosyncratic my ideas are, I have to make them easy for everyone to understand, or it’s pointless. If I found myself wanting to do something super-individual that almost no-one would get, then I’d quit and do it as an indie, I think. 

—— I see. Why is it you want to stay at that level?

Horii: It’s because I think that if you want to challenge the public, convert the public, you can’t do that without an audience. I have a strong tendency to like things considered niche or counterculture, and sometimes I get pissed off at the world, like, “Why don’t you like this great thing?” So by making things that the general public likes myself, I want to make them look at the world differently as it were, or I want to prove to them, “That thing I think is good, it really is good!” That’s how I feel. 

I want to use the things I make to convey to everyone the appeal of the different cultures that have influenced me, and have them appreciate them, that’s my fundamental passion in making games. It’s not just “going nuts is great, isn’t it”, it’s saying that I have to make lots of people understand the appeal of that kind of thing in real life. 

—— So rather than, “it’s good because it’s counter”, you want them to appreciate “It’s counter, and it’s good”. 

Horii: I want counterculture to go mainstream, and not just in games, for culture in general to be a constantly developing thing. For niche things to gradually become valued by the mainstream, for them to be accepted, then become established, and then to do it all over again, so the mainstream keeps acquiring depth and breadth. So I want to help in improving game culture so counter things can push into the mainstream, I think.

Also in saying that, I have a feeling that games are still looked down on as culture. I think everyone knows how it goes – novels > films > TV dramas > games, that’s society’s hierarchy. There’s still lots of people who think games are bad for society, and that’s one of the reasons, isn’t it?

So, that’s why I want to raise the cultural status of games. Like, making games is a great way to express yourself! And you can learn a lot more than you can from mediocre novels or films! I think that’s one of the reasons why I fixate on being at that level.

The increase in “good children” in the games industry

—— I was impressed by something you wrote on your blog, which said: “I’m going to keep working hard to make interesting things that can drive a provocative wedge into the games industry.” It’s a big subject, but I’d like to make your feelings towards the current games industry the subject of the next questions. 

Horii: The whole games industry has become “clever”, that’s what I think. I’m in my 13th year in the industry, and year by year that feeling has grown stronger. Of course, I don’t mean it was stupid before. But over the last ten years, it’s become completely permeated with this thing for strategic thinking. And so we have all these clever specialists coming in, creating things like detailed plans for monetisation, and that’s become commonplace in the industry. 

But the actual result of that is a tendency that “products without a clear monetisation strategy will not pass”, and that’s getting stronger all the time. As creators, we have to get our proposal accepted before we can do anything else, so we end up feeling like, “For now all I can do is write something that the powers that be will approve.” And that’s bound to result in a narrowing of the range of expression, don’t you think?

Well, to give an easy to understand example, Fate/Grand Order sold, so now lots of Fate/Grand Order lookalike projects are being approved. 

—— So things are being proposed just because they’re easy to get approved?

Horii: Right. If you think about it, ultimately it makes sense, but … But that way of thinking is taking root in new people, and it’s making it a bit scary to think about the future. 

—— Previously, Denfamitsu gathered a panel of game creators in their 40s for a discussion. Listening to people of that generation, it sounded like the game industry in the past was a lot less regimented. They said things like, “We made things that spit on the older generation.” 

Horii: Yeah, I hear that a lot too, how they had much more freedom to make what they wanted than we do now. (laughing)

—— They were also saying, “It’s the likes of us who ended up recruiting all those clever new people.” I think they felt it was best to use submissive, obedient new people so they could keep doing what they wanted. The consequences of that are being seen now, I guess. 

Horii: There’s definitely a lot more “good children”, but I think that’s the case in society too, not just in business, people want to be “right”. And so rules can’t be broken. But it’s not like absolutely everyone thinks in terms of numbers, and that’s why I want to somehow find another way, where we don’t always have to be thinking about the numbers.

—— Overseas AAA titles have a heavy focus on marketing, don’t they? They invest exactly as much of the budget they need to in order to make sure they get back the amount of monetisation they planned. So they end up making a lot of similar things, FPS, open world … But in Japan, the major companies are still bringing out products that are more individual to their creators, and I think it would be good to see that kind of originality spread across the whole industry.

Horii: I think so too, I want to keep that kind of motivation in the industry. Anyone who wants to do interesting, fun things, anyone who wants to make wild and crazy things – people who see games as a form of expression, are they going to want to stay in the games industry the way it is now? So I think we have to look at it like that too. People make films or write novels because they have those creative urges like, “I want to make something”, “I want to express my feelings in some way”, and I chose games for the same reason.

I have the feeling it’s not really the kind of industry that talented people who want to express something would choose to work in at the moment. It’s something that’s been occupying my thoughts a lot lately, how we can attract people like that to the games industry, like if they go to a game show, have them leave thinking, “The games industry is amazing! I want to work in it!” 

There’s no need to target the overseas market

—— With big titles now, you have to think about the marketing from a global perspective to a certain extent. Does that cause any compromises in terms of creativity, are there things you have to take into consideration?

Horii: Well. Since the domestic market is finite, the next step is obviously to look for sales overseas. But having said that, you don’t really need to look at it as doing this or that for the sake of overseas popularity, do you? That’s what I personally think, anyway. 

If you try to keep up with the overseas news to get a handle on what overseas players like,  that’s a hugely difficult thing to do. Even when we’ve done things that appear to be aimed at overseas, there’s no direct connection to the numbers. There isn’t yet anything that we can say for sure, “If we do this, it’ll sell overseas” about. 

—— The Ryu ga Gotoku series seems to be selling really well in Asia right now, what do you think is the reason for that?

Horii: There’s various factors in play, I think. Over the years tourism has increased, and there’s a lot more interest in Japan from overseas now, I think. Because Ryu ga Gotoku is a hardcore Japanese game, I think there’s a connection between the increase in the number of people interested in Japan and the increase in the number of people interested in Ryu ga Gotoku. 

Since there are very few titles that express Japanese taste as thoroughly as Ryu ga Gotoku, it stands out among the competition, and it has a strong identity. It’s particularly popular in Taiwan. Also there’s a lot of people you could call Japanophiles, who we get a really passionate reception from every time. I’ve even heard there’s people who’ve learned Japanese just so they could play the Japanese versions. 

—— Has the appearance of Japanese porn stars helped with popularity in Asia? The tie-up projects in Ryu ga Gotoku Zero and Ryu ga Gotoku Kiwami 2 were a hot topic even in Japan.

Horii: Yes, that’s been important too, I think. Japanese porn stars are hugely popular in Asia. She doesn’t appear in Ryu ga Gotoku, but I’ve heard that nearly everyone in China knows who Aoi Sola-san is. (laughing) The reaction to it was bigger than we’d expected though, and that really hadn’t been our intention in doing the tie-up, you know. The original concept of Zero was to thoroughly investigate three things – “money”, “women” and “violence”, and that’s what led to the involvement of the porn stars.

So I guess you could say that overseas popularity was a side effect, in a way. Though Nagoshi and Yokoyama could have had that in mind from the start, maybe.

For me personally, since Ryu ga Gotoku is a title aimed at Japanese adults, I think if we were to start putting in contents aimed at overseas players for the sake of overseas popularity, that would be weirdly pandering, so it’s not something I think we should do. I’m thrilled that it sells in Asia, I’m really grateful, I feel like, “We made this aimed at Japan, but it’s been more popular than we expected overseas. Lucky!”

—— I see. So you never really think about “overseas marketing” then, Horii-san?

Horii: I absolutely don’t make games based on the marketing outcome. Particularly in the case of Ryu ga Gotoku, any of that weird pandering would dilute the concept of the game itself and its world, and I think that would have the opposite effect. This is just my opinion as one creator, but I think the games that are popular overseas are simply the ones that clearly express their point of view in their world. Persona, Nier, those are popular overseas, and what do you know, they have great worlds. They’re textbook console games, you know. 

If the world is well-constructed, the story can really take root in it. If you have a solid enough world as a foundation, and take care to bring out its originality, that’s something that’s going to be well-received, and I think that probably holds true overseas too. It’s a bit of an old one, but Okami did that, didn’t it? It was extraordinarily popular overseas. But there was absolutely nothing in it that was aimed at being popular overseas. 

So for me, it’s not necessary to think too much about overseas. If we can make things that stand out even in a saturated domestic market, then in the end we probably should put them out in the global market too, that’s the extent of my feelings about it. In the end, I think it’s a weirdly pointless argument that could end up with us not being able to make what we want to make as creators, and that would be bad, wouldn’t it?

—— Earlier, I was researching Suzuki Yu-san and Mizuguchi Tetsuya-san. They put an unusually strong emphasis on “we want to make things for the younger generation”. The slightly older generation seems to be especially of the mindset that, “We have to get on board with global expansion before it’s too late,” they seem to feel there’s a crisis coming … 

Horii: We’re already thinking about overseas in the console games business, so even Sega’s games support many languages, and global expansion is continuing to accelerate. But still, for me personally, I really don’t think the overseas crisis is that much of a big deal … 

What I’d call a crisis is if we can’t make what we want to make even domestically, that’s what I think we should be worrying about. Forget whether it sells in Japan or globally, the Japanese games industry is a place where to an extent you can do what you want to do, and if we lose that sense of it being a place where motivated people can show off their talents it doesn’t matter what else happens, there is no future. That’s how I think about it. 

Maybe it’s just that it depends on the times, the creative way of thinking and finding what works is different, maybe it’s that kind of thing. Suzuki-san and the others, their generation witnessed the Japanese game industry bubble first-hand, didn’t they? They’ve seen Japanese games be overwhelmingly popular overseas, and they’ve seen that popularity decline a bit, so I think that experience is part of the reason why they see a crisis now. And maybe our generation sees smartphone games as a threat for similar reasons … So really, maybe it’s just that each generation can only approach these issues from their own perspective. 

The sense of when to say “I won’t do this”

—— I’d like to ask a bit more about those generational issues. What do you think will be the most important issues for the younger generation of creators coming up behind you, Horii-san?

Horii: Games now take two forms. One is “games you play to kill time”. And the other is “games you make time to play”. The way things are going, I don’t think there’ll be any separation between smartphone and console soon. Smartphone games now are on a comparable level to console games. 

When it comes to “games you play to kill time”, it’s the system that’s really important, they have to be structured so you can play them casually. And because they don’t really need to be particularly high-spec, you can go in a simpler direction so to speak, and the main issue becomes how to compress the big components.

When it comes to “games you make time to play”, because the assumption is you’ll play for a long time, you have to design something that gives the player enough to do. How long can we keep the player interested … That’s already something we’re concerned about on the console side, and I think it will become even more important in the future. 

—— What kind of creator do you think will survive in that two-part system?

Horii: Well, it’s the kind I’ve been talking about, isn’t it? The ones who can say “this is me” and really express that, they’ll survive. To be clear, we’ve already reached the place where technically nothing is impossible, you don’t have to feel like, “I want to try doing this, but technically it can’t be done …” any more. And that’s exactly why I think that the people who carry on making what they want to make and really expressing themselves creatively will be the ones to survive. 

I think in the past, the ability to create surprise or emotion while working with limited technology was highly valued. Like, “It’s amazing they managed to do this with that technology!” But it’s not like that now. Now if you’re going to create surprise or emotion, you have to do it without relying on the technology. So I think we’re back to a time when it’s your creative sense that will be called into question. 

—— I see … For sure, the older generation were able to show their skills because they were always having to ask things like, “How can we make a beautiful image with this number of dots?” or “How much can we cram into the space available?”

Horii: Now it’s the opposite, it’s more of a “time when we set limits”. Since we have this assumption that “we can do anything”, to make our work stand out as games, as products, I think we’re starting to set limits, to say, “I won’t do that”, maybe. In a world where “we can do anything!” if you want to make a game that “can do anything” you’re going to need unlimited money too. Even if there is – technically – nothing you can’t do, you’re never going to have unlimited resources, and in fact I think cost awareness will be even higher. In those circumstances I think it’s really important to set limits for yourself, as in, “This is what I want to do” and “This is what I won’t do.”

If we’re making a game on this scale, then what we can do starts here and ends here. And in that space we can do this, do that … Making a framework like that for yourself, I think that’s the way I’ve always worked. 

Bringing back the PS2 days, when lots of weird games came out

—— So, to finish, looking at the industry overall, regardless of the times, what do you think are the issues?

Horii: Well … console games really don’t have the same kind of energy they used to have, and that’s an issue. Of course, there’s things like Monster Hunter: World, that will always sell like crazy, but in the PS2 era for example, everyone had the console, everyone loved to play the games. Selling a million games back then is very different from selling a million games now, I think. Is it just game players running out to buy those million copies, or is it the likes of big brothers buying them? It’s the same million copies, but the value is different, isn’t it?

—— I think you’re right.

Horii: Nevertheless, it should still be possible to get more types of people to play console games. The point is, we’ve reached the limits of what we can do with contents aimed only at game fans. Really, if you try it, it’s fun! If you just try it you’ll definitely get into it, and even now there’s a lot of exciting games being made. But if we can’t get that across to people, if we can’t widen the player base, then we’ll just wither away. That’s frightening to think about, and sad too. 

And that’s why I think we have to keep doing what we’ve always done, making it fun however many hours you play, allowing each player to have a different experience depending on how they play, so console game culture won’t die. So that’s the challenge I want to keep taking. 

—— So rather than being about whether console games have a future, it’s about what form that culture takes.

Horii: Yes. And I don’t think we have to be tied to the hardware either. So the issue for the console game industry as a whole in the future, is for console game culture and the people who enjoy it to be popularised on a more general level, you know. Basically, if that’s not the case the business won’t be seen as attractive, and if it’s not attractive new and interesting people won’t come and join us to work here, will they? 

Really, I think the game industry was more appealing back in the PS2 days than it is now. Back then, all kinds of people played games, all kinds of people made games. And so lots of weird games came out, right? (laughing) But I think that’s what kept the energy high. So I want to bring back the energy of that time. You could say that’s my number one ideal. 

—— Is the “Shin” project part of that too?

Horii: Yes. At the moment, making a so-called major console game costs a lot of money, it’s not like making an indie. So a lot of proposals get turned down, and we end up with a lot of sequels and series. But if we just keep making the same things over and over, making something new will just become impossible. 

Of course making something new is always a challenge, but if we don’t find ways of taking new challenges even while making sequels or series, our players will just die off. And while we don’t mind having people who say, “I only play that series,” if that IP dies, that person might end up not playing any games at all. So I think we have to look at ways of nurturing our players so that doesn’t happen. 

And that’s why I want to take a lot of new challenges even in Shin. Of course we want to satisfy all the fans, but we also want to make a title that will pull in people who might not have played games for a while. Get them to remember the fun of console games, and ultimately bring them back to console games. I’m determined to make this a game that can energise people in that way.

—— Thank you so much for talking to us.

Credit for this amazing interview one more time: Denfaminicogamer