Interview with Kondo Toshihiro: Aiming for the series’ new direction with Kuro no Kiseki

The following is a translation of an interview with Kondo Toshihiro, president of Nihon Falcom, as published in the Hajimari no Kiseki Official Visual Collection, released in Japan on 28 November 2020. The following is the second part of the interview (pp 220–223), focusing on the upcoming title Kuro no Kiseki. It contains information about Trails of Cold Steel IV’s ending and minor, plot unrelated details from Hajimari no Kiseki. Click here for the first part of the interview.

Please continue reading at your own discretion.

The meaning of Kuro and the highlights of the Calvard arc

Tell us about the meaning behind the character for kuro (黎) in its title.

First of all, you can guess the meaning is about the dawn (黎明) of a new story. Reading it as black (くろ) evokes the idea of “darkness before dawn is the blackest”, doesn’t it? From there, a bluish light points at the sky, little by little, and it becomes dawn. The character for kuro represents that we’re approaching the crux of Kiseki’s story and that it’s time to shed some light on the mysteries of Zemuria’s world.

A simpler explanation would be that we’d suddenly like to change the atmosphere from the games in the series thus far. I think it’s specifically a more mature Kiseki title. The protagonists we’ve had so far — Estelle, Lloyd and Rean — were all protagonists on the light side. Kuro no Kiseki will be relatively dirty, depicting mainly what lies between societies. It will focus on fights between crime syndicates and also their disputes with the Society. Previous works also featured hostility toward Ouroboros, but didn’t develop a collaborative partnership with Ouroboros as an organisation rather than its members, did it?

Those grey areas is what we like to focus on now. Naturally, the protagonist and party members familiar with those grey areas will find themselves involved in several incidents. It offers a perspective unlike previous titles in the series.

In the first batch of Kuro no Kiseki information, it revealed Spriggan as underground fixer and people making their living in said underground. What kind of profession is this?

In Kiseki titles up until now we’ve dealt with events on the front, but in cases where bracers can’t get involved and the police can’t openly move, one might resort to Spriggan as an underground fixer.

Compared to the setting of the series so far, is Spriggan similar to jaegers?

They’re quite similar to jaegers if you define them by taking on any job as long as the price is right. In that regard, they’re also similar to bracers by contracting all kind of different jobs, but I suppose they’re a little more like jaegers than bracers. The atmosphere of games thus far was bright whereas in Kuro it will be mature and grey, and accordingly, we started using the character for kuro.

[Kondo continues with a joke that doesn’t lend itself to translation. In Japanese, the phrase 白黒つける (literally: settle in black and white) is used to settle things for once and for all. Aware hindsight’s 20/20, he remarks that Kuro adds black to the previous games in the series, suggesting these games represent white. He laughs at the end of his joke].

Was it easy to decide on the title for Kuro no Kiseki?

It was difficult as always. (laughs) I’ve been thinking about it since October. The idea for Kuro no Kiseki came quite early, but ever since I’d been wondering whether there wouldn’t be a better title…

Who was responsible for choosing Calvard as the game’s setting?

Basically it’s a mixed team, with at its centre members who have been working on the scenario since Trails in the Sky, joined by the members who worked on Hajimari. It’s been a while since we went through the hardship of making a story from scratch. At the beginning of the series we had faint ideas for the Erebonia arc, which was covered from Trails in the Sky up all the way through Trails of Cold Steel, whereas the Calvard arc starting with Kuro no Kiseki wasn’t even faint. It’s a lot of work, starting from scratch, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Hajimari no Kiseki touched upon topics related to the state of the world. Will these become important in Kuro no Kiseki?

That’s right. Like its predecessors, the story is presented through the relations between the power of the state and various organisations as well as the correlation between several people, within the framework of the world situation and the standpoint of the regional situation of the game’s setting. Of course it will also address Calvard’s history. In Kuro no Kiseki, Calvard will have an increased say following the astronomical amount of repairs they received from Erebonia following the Great War depicted in Trails of Cold Steel IV. Try to think about what happens within that course of events.

In Hajimari no Kiseki there’s talk of movies coming into fashion and a certain actress becoming famous. Will the game also address the realm of arts and culture?

That’s a portion that will be touched upon in light of the setting. There may even be a scene where you get the chance to meet the person referred to . That aspect of the Kiseki series so far is something we’d like to continue. In Calvard you can see the culture resulting from immigrants from the East, the situation of surrounding nations that hasn’t been addressed so far, and geographical features and sceneries not present in Liberl or Erebonia.

Concept art 1

Kuro’s graphics in the new engine

Kuro no Kiseki will use a brand-new game engine. How different is it?

Looking at just one of the in-development screenshots we’ve released should be enough to see the leap in graphics. It’s far more obvious when you see it in action, though. Looking at the motions of the characters or the expressiveness of the maps, you immediately see there’s a dramatic improvement in quality. I should mention it’s not only its expressiveness, but the ease of development as well.

Up until now we put up with a deprecated development environment, tools included. We completely upgraded them so our staff can continue working without stress, like they should. For example, when designing the turning of a car on a road, we had to manually calculate the coordinates of the car ourselves and insert the data. The new engine eliminates that menial work, improves the work efficiency and allows us to focus more on actual development. The significance of switching to a new engine is also noticeable in those aspects.

The game is announced for a 2021 release, but can you provide a more specific time period?

I think it’ll be the second half of 2021. 2021 marks Nihon Falcom’s 40th anniversary, so it’ll definitely come out within that year. We also haven’t decided on the compatible platforms, but we’re planning to announce something soon.

Are you taken new hardware, like the PS5, into consideration?

Of course we’re taking new hardware into consideration, but we’ll think of the hardware owned by most Nihon Falcom customers first.

Next I’d like to ask some things about the screenshots that have been released so far. What flat-bladed, sword-like weapon is the young man holding?

That weapon is called a Stun Caliber. That may sound familiar to fans of the series, for Randy wields a Stun Halberd. The Stun Caliber doesn’t have a blade. On the inside is a hidden weapon function, a gimmick, that allows its wielder to attack with jolts and shocks. By the way, many weapons in Kuro no Kiseki have their makers and model number engraved on the weapon. If you zoom in enough, you may learn several things about the weapons.

Tell us about concept art [1], in which we see a little girl and a dragon-like creature uncoiling itself. Do we see a sword-wielding young man in the foreground?

That does seem to be a case. (laughs) It also looks like the little girl is doing something near his hands. More information is deeply related to the man, so we’d like to keep that a secret for now.

Another tidbit from the first wave of information was the female student entering the Arclide office. This is the girl revealed in the screenshots, right? Also, her hair style looks similar to the Aramis High School student appearing in the Episode “ある少女の学校生活”.

They are similar, indeed. Makes you wonder if they’re twin sisters. (laughs) While I can’t say if they are the same girl, the girl in the screenshots does seem to be the same as the one in concept artwork [2].

Concept artwork 2

Speaking of that artwork, is that pocket watch the new orbment model, Xipha?

That’s not Xipha. The new orbment model is planned to look more like a gadget, similar to the ARCUS. This pocket watch looks antique. It’s actually a hint, so I can’t say more. Fans who look carefully may realise something.

We also see a red-haired man in the screenshots. What can you say about him?

Right now, the only thing I can say is that his hair is long. (laughs)

We’ve also seen him on the calendar that came with Hajimari no Kiseki.

It may actually be more interesting to look carefully at the background than the red-haired man. We hope that you put your discoveries together and enjoy letting your imagination run wild.

Battle system and evolution of the series

We’ve seen a screenshot of the red-haired man in battle. Is this from an actual battle?

That’s right. We’re still working on the UI.

Looks like the battle system will seamlessly shift from action-based field battles to command-based turn battles.

Based on screenshots it may look like an action RPG, but it’s a proper command-based battle system. Aspects of the AT Battle system will be inherited, but the battle system as you know it from Trails in the Sky up to Hajimari no Kiseki has temporarily ended and we will start from scratch again in Kuro no Kiseki.

Up until now there were field attacks and the like to go from from field to battle, but now we plan to make such aspects seamless by taking it to the next level with the integration of commands. Even we as designers of the battle system have problems properly explaining the system and we can’t definitely call it just a command-based battle system. Then again, it’s also not action. However, the battle system of the series so far can be seen as completely command-based and it was a weak point for it hurt the tempo of the games. We’ve been thinking what we should do with those parts and the new battle system is the result of our thorough investigation and reassembling.

Will the orbment system also change with the introduction of Xipha?

That, too, is something we had to re-evaluate to some extent. The orbment system is on the threshold of trial and error right now. While I don’t know yet how it’ll end up exactly, it will be quite different from the systems so far to fit in with the timing of the rest of the battle system, which has drastically changed as well.

New additions to the gameplay mechanics include the Topic System, where as underground fixer you gather tidbits of information as bargaining chips by talking in cities, and Alignment Frame, in which one’s playstyle leads to shifts in the character’s Law, Grey and Chaos alignment which in turn affects the scenario. What are these mechanics?

For details please wait until a next batch of information. As a hint, I’ll say that the protagonist’s position doesn’t completely swing in favour of justice. By adding these unprecedented elements, the Kiseki series will see a reset in the true sense of the word. I have a feeling we’re off to a good start to the second half of the series. Of course the charms of the series, such as the elaborate story, setting and conversations with NPCs will be continued in Kuro no Kiseki, so we’ve also been thinking about how to take dialogue systems to the next level.

New works, reboots and aspirations

News about Nayuta no Kiseki Kai caught me by surprise. Why did you reveal this game at this very moment?

It’s simply a response to the many customers indicating they still want to play it but can’t on the current generation of hardware. Also, we ourselves wanted to create a flow where we expand our number of employees and reboot our older IPs. Among them Nayuta no Kiseki was highly praised as game and we wanted as many people as possible to play it, so we proceeded with the development and thought that now was the right time to finally announce it.

It’s scheduled for a 2021 release. Can you be any more specific than that?

We want to release it before Kuro no Kiseki.

Speaking of Nayuta, there’s this firmly-rooted theory that Creha is the Grandmaster, so is the tale of Remnant Island tied to the Kiseki main series?

Whether Nayuta no Kiseki and the main series are connected remains still unclear. Although it carries ‘Kiseki’ in its title, you normally wouldn’t think of it as a related game. It also doesn’t mean we’re releasing Nayuta no Kiseki, in which Creha appears, now the Grandmaster appeared in the main series. Nayuta was originally released in 2012, a period of shifting from PSP to PS Vita. In 2013 we released Trails of Cold Steel for PS3 and Vita, an entry point for many into the series. These players didn’t have a chance to try Nayuta, which is why we’ll be releasing the Kai version now. Also, there’s also a vocal group of fans outside Japan who really want to play Nayuta.

Are you planning to add extra components, like expanding the range of difficulty settings?

Nayuta is an action-oriented game and in Ys IX, aside from the six difficulty levels, we also added platforming elements. Right now I can’t say which elements will be added, but it’s definitely something we consider.

Kuro and Nayuta included, what’s your prospect on the future of the Kiseki series?

With Kuro no Kiseki we’re breaking into the Calvard arc, meaning we’ll be reconstructing the Kiseki series from here on out. From the graphical qualities and the addition of game systems to a new cast of main characters, starting with the protagonist, everything will be a brand-new Kiseki. Of course, for fans of the series it will be an extension of everything up until now and I hope they’ll thoroughly enjoy it, but for those who’ve grown interested in the series, Kuro no Kiseki will be the best entrypoint into Kiseki to date. The story will continue after Kuro no Kiseki and we feel we’re entering the second half in great shape.

This might be a bit early to ask, but what can you say about the volume of the Calvard arc?

Based on Calvard as a setting, chances are very likely it won’t be finished in a single game. We headed into the production of the Erebonia-centred Trails of Cold Steel with the mindset of ‘a grand story, the largest in the history of RPGs’. The approach of making something so large-scale isn’t what we have in mind for the Calvard arc. It revolves around innovation rather than scale… And so we aim for content that can be enjoyed, like the game mechanics. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t be voluminous. It’s a Kiseki game after all. Like before, you can still count on its volume to be larger than the average RPG.

Hajimari no Kiseki featured VR compatible mini games. Are there plans to make Kuro no Kiseki VR compatible as well?

That hasn’t been decided as of now, but seeing its favourable reception we’d like Kuro no Kiseki to inherit it in some way. VR in itself is interesting and I think it has potential. In Hajimari no Kiseki it was used to hold conversations with female characters and I think that the feeling of approaching a character that way may find itself back into the game.

Finally, is there something you’d like to say to readers of this artbook and to all who pay close attention to the Kiseki series?

I’m glad we finally head into the second half of the story but I also feel a bit mixed about starting over and resetting everything we built up since Trails in the Sky. It feels fated that the latter half of Kiseki’s story happens to start in the year of Nihon Falcom’s 40th anniversary and we want to make it a title that we can proudly introduce to our players. Right now we’ve released only the first batch of information so I can’t reveal too much information, but we really can’t wait to release screenshots of the game. Please look forward to the brand-new Kiseki title released during our 40th anniversary milestone.

Since this interview is intended for an artbook, we should briefly address the next game’s artwork as well. We wanted this more mature vibe for Kuro no Kiseki and wanted to reflect that in the art as well. That’s why we reached out to Enami Katsumi, for the first time since Ao no Kiseki, so please looking forward to that as well.

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