After the first day of Tokyo Game Show 2019 came to an end, Gematsu met up with Moon writer Yoshiro Kimura to discuss the recently announced Switch port of the 1997-released PlayStation RPG, as well as his thoughts on role-playing games, sequels, and their plans for the future.
Get the full interview below.
Kimura: “Thank you very much for coming here to talk with us.”
—No, thank you for having us. So Moon released in 1997 on PlayStation and now it’s coming out for Switch. Are you considering any other platforms such as PlayStation 4 or mobile?
Kimura: “Now? Honestly, no. Currently we make mobile games for the App Store and Google Play, but recently, for bigger games developing on Switch is the most comfortable for us, although we did think about PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.”
—Who will localize the game? Someone inside your company?
Kimura: “No, my company is very small, just five or six people. A friend of the company from the United States and the best translator I know will do it. The same guy who translated Dandy Dungeon.”
—Are there any changes or differences on the Switch version from the original 1997 PS1 release?
Kimura: “No. This is a cult classic for some people, but the truth is not many people have played Moon since it is 22 years old and was never localized, so I feel it’s still fresh. It’s a very hard game and perhaps I should make it easier, but I chose to keep the difficulty the same as well. At the time a young me and young team worked hard to make the game what it is, so I didn’t want to touch it a lot. Of course there are small changes, such as the Moon discs (discs found in game to change the background music) in the game getting stereo audio while the original only had mono. This Moon disc system is perhaps strange as there isn’t a proper background music.”
—Speaking of technical points, will the game have some widescreen support or will it still be in 4:3?
Kimura: “4:3 in both docked and handheld modes. I didn’t want to change this either.”
—Do you think there’s anything that will culturally be difficult to translate or understand in other languages.
Kimura: “I don’t think so, I think everyone should be able to understand enjoy it. We call this an anti-RPG. We wanted to make a parody or twist on role-playing games which came from the west (Dungeons and Dragons, Wizardy, Ultima) before Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy started in Japan. I grew up playing and loving a lot of role-playing games. Eventually we; Kuroshima-san, Taro-chan, myself, and others; we’re working at Square. Some people were working on Super Mario RPG and others, like me, were on the Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 team. We grew up with Japanese role-playing games. So naturally we started thinking about the heroes of role-playing games and their actions; they kill a lot of monsters and animals—is this OK? This was the question that sparked the creation of the story.”
—Right. Moon is often described as a parody of RPGs, so does that mean it is a comedy with jokes and such?
Kimura: “No no, maybe parody isn’t a good word for this game. There are some small jokes, a normal amount, but it’s like The Neverending Story. Someone is reading a book and goes into it to find out what it is. Likewise, in Moon, a boy is playing a game and suddenly goes into the television and finds out what a role-playing game is from the inside. There are people in the game who live their own lives and the boy finds out the hero is killing animals or going into houses to take items like a thief.”
—Since Moon is a twist on role-playing games, could someone who hasn’t played the likes of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or any RPGs still enjoy Moon on it’s own?
Kimura: “Yes, there is a small prologue chapter we call ‘Fake Moon‘ where you play an 8-bit fake version of an RPG like Dragon Quest, so you can get an idea of what playing an RPG is like.”
—Just to confirm, in the games description is sounds like you don’t fight but rather collect “love” monsters and level up that way. So there’s not traditional combat?
Kimura: “Right. In addition to ‘anti-RPG’ we also call this ‘the role-playing game without fighting.’ Of course there are sort of experience points called ‘love,’ and so gather love you must rescue monsters which are called animals in this world. They were killed by the hero and you can see bodies of the dead animals as well as their souls as you walk around the world. The player can touch the ghost which will then return to the animal’s body and resuscitate them, after which the player receives ‘love.'”
—So that is the core gameplay then? Is there a challenge to this such as a puzzle?
Kimura: “The ghost move quickly and you must touch them with good timing. There is some puzzle aspects such as figuring out how to rescue the ghost as well.”
—So are the conversations with choices?
Kimura: “Yes, many. There is also a sort of mini-game where the answer will help recover the monster.”
—So it appears you only play as this boy and you don’t collect party members right?
Kimura: “No you only play as the boy. When making the game we certainly thought about the heroes relationship with friends and party members as it’s a popular aspect of RPGs but we wanted to focus on the hero themselves and their actions.”
—I’ve seen it mentioned in various places that Moon inspired various RPGs that came after it.
Kimura: “Ah I don’t know. Since the game was 22 years ago someone will say that, so I hope it influenced someone.”
—You mentioned the game is difficult, but without fighting is there a way to die or fail and if so how?
Kimura: “So we have something called ‘action limit.’ As you gather love and level up you get time to move. For example in the first level you can only move around for a few minutes, but as you level up to levels 2, 3, 4, etc. you can move around for a longer period of time. There’s no battle, no HP. It’s a stupid system by the way. I can’t answer you really. In other adventure games when there is a time limit and then you must go back to bed; fuck off. You can write that. I’m not saying my Moon is wonderful now, in my view there is a really bad point of Moon. I want to tell the young Kimura to ‘Please, please think more carefully about Moon and its game systems.'”
—I see. There are a lot of RPGs and games that follow standard methods and take the safe route, but you tried to do something different which I think a lot of people enjoy and respect. Maybe that’s another reason it became a cult classic.
Kimura: “When making the game we had that philosophy: the game should play like this, the story should be like this. Of course now I say something was wrong about the game, I can say that. But at the same time I can sense and see the heart in the game from young Kimura and others fighting against reality. After I escaped Square, thinking I can’t make games for this company, I almost quit making games. I was thinking I should go back to drawing and writing stories. But my friends said “come join us” and I suddenly had the chance to write the story for Moon. That was when I was blooming, so I can not deny this experience. I have to recognize both the good parts and bad parts and respect young Kimura.”
—So when you left Square you weren’t satisfied with the way they made games?
Kimura: “It’s kind of strange; I really respect the people who work at Square; they are wonderful really. I had a great experience, working a professional job and being able to meet (Akitoshi) Kawazu-san from Romancing SaGa as well as (Takashi) Tokita-san, the Live A Live guy. I was so happy to talk with them. But Square was becoming bigger and bigger with more and more people and I started to dislike the atmosphere. It was a small company but suddenly it became big and I don’t like being around a lot of people.”
—This was all still before Squaresoft merged with Enix.
Kimura: “Yeah. Before working I Square I really loved Romancing SaGa and Final Fantasy, so you understand how happy I was to be working with the people who made them.”
—So do you play any RPGs nowadays?
Kimura: “I don’t want to speak about this, but my favorite role-playing game recently is Undertale.”
—That’s interesting because I believe I read the creator, Toby Fox, was inspired by Moon. Have you ever spoken with him?
Kimura: “Yeah. Toby is a friend by the way. When I made Onion Games in 2012, Toby found us and wrote an email to me. After I made Million Onion Hotel he played it and we talked again, giving me a good review.”
—I haven’t played Moon yet but I can see some similar themes, most notably how both games have a non-traditional structure.
Kimura: “I think Undertale is a miracle. It’s a very good game made by one person, Toby, who is a very good guy and friendly. There is nothing I can criticize him about. Moon is much different, which I can criticize a lot. Also I am a rough guy, a drunk, I speak stupidly, but when I speak with Toby Fox he is a gentle young man.”
—The date given on the Nintendo Direct was October 10 for Japan. What is the progress of the translation?
Kimura: “It is still being done. It says ‘coming soon’ which means we don’t know, but we hope soon. Moon is a difficult game to translate. For games like Million Onion Hotel I did the English, but for Moon I want to make sure the English fits and is accurate. I’m a very careful person.”
—Do you have a particular philosophy on localization? A basic example is “senpai.” Would you prefer to leave it as “senpai” in English or translate it to like “friend” or something?
Kimura: “Translating is very difficult, as is writing text. The most important thing is if the audience is interested when they read. So with ‘senpai’ for example, or ‘onigiri,’ we have discussions about changing it or not. When talking with our translator, we figured people who love Japanese games and play our games will probably understand ‘senpai.’ So with Dandy Dungeon, the translation is a bit different from other games. I didn’t want it to just be easy to understand, I wanted to put the interesting parts in.”
—Yeah I remember in the Pokemon anime they called onigiri “donuts.”
Kimura: “Yeah I don’t like that. You know, the story belongs to Japan. Yamada-san is Yamada-san. He is living in Japan, so he doesn’t eat donuts. Of course we do eat donuts, but we have Japanese food too.”
—Onion Games has recently made games such as Million Onion Hotel, Dandy Dungeon, and Black Bird and you said you want to get back into making bigger games. Are you thinking about making a new RPG or perhaps even a sequel to Moon?
Kimura: “(Long pause.) Yeah. After the release of Million Onion Hotel I started playing Moon again. I relearned what Moon is, what I made. I was curious about about making another role-playing game. Then Toby Fox made Undertale. I thought, ‘Why didn’t I make a game like this?’ Making RPGs is a bit harder than other genres. I have a lot of stories in my brain every day and my team is making art and such, but not yet; I’m not ready.
“Regarding a sequel to Moon, my thing is I want to make RPGs but I don’t want to make sequels. Moon’s story is finished, I, nor anyone, should write a story after it’s end. I don’t want to think about money; of course if I announced ‘Moon 2‘ people will buy it, but I hate this philosophy: fuck off. Some people can make sequels, such as Metal Gear; I love Metal Gear. But I’m not that guy, I’m more niche; a smaller unknown game designer. I can’t make a sequel because my game doesn’t sell as much. Of course if we sold well, I don’t know what would have happened… no no no, never I am not this kind of guy. If I make money from a game, I would want to make another game, another story. Million Onion Hotel, Black Bird, Dandy Dungeon; they are all different games, this is me. I don’t want to make the same thing over and over.”
—If Moon sells decently and Nintendo pushed you to make a sequel how would you feel?
Kimura: “They won’t do that and even if they didn’t I wouldn’t do it. You know I’m different from other developers. My career has been unsuccessful while other work happily in big companies making sequels. People like Swery can live forever as an indie developer. I’m not Swery, not Kojima, not Suda. I am a poor indie game designer still. But I have a chance still some people want me to make games, even now. They still think I can make games.”
—Yeah on our article for the announcement of Moon for Switch I was surprised to see several of our readers excited for this game even though it was never localized before.
Kimura: “Yeah I was surprised too seeing even western people on Twitter, Discord, etc. showing support and excitement. It makes me feel good and makes me feel like I should continue.”
—This may be a dumb question but does Nintendo provide any funding or have you ever considered crowdfunding?
Kimura: “No, only I am paying. Nintendo doesn’t pay anything. Some people may see it in the Nintendo Direct and think maybe Nintendo is helping or paying something—no, nothing. All the risk is on us.
“Every year, maybe every month, I consider crowdfunding. But in the end I always think ‘we can’t do this.’ If I was a famous indie developer the campaign would be successful, but I’m not so famous in the western world, so if I do a Kickstarter and it’s not good in Japan… my answer is no. It’s impossible. If someone explains it to be and tells me it’s a good idea I may, but from my own analysis my answer is no thank you.”
—Do you think there are any major differences between the west and in Japan in terms of making or playing games?
Kimura: “I don’t know, I think there are some differences because we have different cultures. But I feel more similarity and sympathy than differences. When I see Undertale or Hyper Light Drifter, I feel they love Japanese games and are making games better than Japan (laughs). At the same time I feel I can do better than them (laughs).”
—You should show them.
Kimura: “Yeah I should. But I like this, this feeling of playing and reacting to each other. People overseas play and see my games and then we influence each other.”
—Is there anything else you wanted to share that my questions did not give you a chance to say?
Kimura: “People sometimes say Moon is like a ‘legendary role-playing game.’ I don’t like this sentence. Also on sites like Amazon the CD has such a high price, I don’t like this. I’m very happy to sell it for 2,000 yen (approx. $18.50). Moon isn’t a perfect game, but I hope people in this year and era can play it and find good things in it.”
—Thank you again for talking to us!