I got a chance on Saturday to interview Ace Attorney series producer Minae Matsukawa, who was not only tremendously polite (via translator) but a cho kawaii girly-girl as well! Matsukawa-san presented her business card in Japanese fashion, with both hands and a polite little bow, and my California-fried brains went "Oh shite! Japanese protocol! Crap!" - having just been instructed upon Japanese business formalities by my charming British uncle during a post-E3 family get-together in Santa Monica. So I accepted Matsukawa-san's card with equal aplomb and hurriedly whipped out my pink argyle business card holder and presented her with one of Tiny's Patented GayGamer Business Cards. Then, as she laid my card politely on the table before her, I realized I had slipped her card into my pocket - I spent the whole interview quietly reeling in horror, wondering how grand my faux-pas had been!
But enough about my world of soaring highs and nail-biting terrors, here's the scoop on Phoenix Wright, that pink sweater, and more!
It’s lovely to meet you, first of all!
Nice to meet you, too!
My first question is utterly unoriginal: were you surprised by the success of Phoenix Wright in the Western market?
You’re the last interview we have today, but everyone I’ve spoken to today and yesterday have asked that question, and I’m very happy to be asked it! It’s kind of surprising, but it’s a great honor. Two years ago we were at Comic Con before the game came out and we were trying to show it off, but nobody knew what it was. It was very low-key and sales at the beginning were pretty slow, but people who bought it – I guess they loved the game and they told their friends, and they bought it, and it gradually grew by word of mouth.
This very loyal community has been building up – since it’s been two years I come now and get to meet the fans. Everybody knows it; people love it; it’s very, very gratifying as a producer.
Make the jump for mo' Minae!
Do you feel pressure to keep adding new features or mechanics to the series, such as the “Psyche-Locke” feature, or is that just a matter or perfecting the recipe that everyone seems to know and love?
I don’t feel pressure to put in new game systems – the gameplay elements come out of necessity: we have a story we want to convey and we figure out, do we have all the tools that we need to convey that story already? Like, we have this kind of story, and maybe someone has this deep secret – and so in order to unlock that deep secret, maybe this game system comes out of that. So that’s where that comes from.
In number three, I think the biggest feature is the new story and the new characters and the character development, so there aren’t any major gameplay evolutions in number three.
In number four – I’m not really supposed to talk about number four – but there will be more gameplay elements added onto number four that users can look forward to.
Is there any possibility of seeing a Western port of the GBA game Gyakuten Saiban, or was the original Phoenix Wright as close to a port or iteration of that game as possible?
Yes, the first DS version was the port of the GBA version, although it had an extra chapter. In 2001 when we put out the first one on the GBA – basically a GBA is for kids in America, that's what the image or perception of the GBA was. So we didn’t really think a text-heavy game would do well here. That’s just the way we were thinking at the time.
But the DS introduced a lot of new gameplay possibilities – you wouldn’t need to know how to push buttons and up and down and everything. You could point and click and advance the story that way. So rather than just kids having it, you see a lot more older people because it’s so intuitive and so easy. That was really our big chance to bring the game to the US, because it allowed a wider variety of people: not just kids who like Pokemon or Mega Man, but also older gamers who enjoy more of a challenge, where you have to think more - that kind of game.
It was very good timing for us and for Nintendo, and we’re very happy with how the DS is selling. We owe our success to the DS in America.
Following up on that question, many people here have praised the Phoenix Wright games for their similarities, spiritually and mechanistically, to the text-based adventure games from Infocom that we enjoyed in the Western market in the 1980s. Was that an inspiration, or did those games not reach the Japanese consciousness?
The game actually started off as a vision from the director of the first game. He grew up reading mystery novels and watching mystery, suspense and drama. For all of his life he wanted to make mystery-style games like this. So he was able to do that. And one of the big designers on the game (who was a woman!) was able to take the characters and the text and the story and add emotion and animation. Although you’re being shown a lot and you’re reading a lot, what you’re seeing keeps it from being boring. I was just blessed to carry on this series that we had a great design team and a great director start for us.
I’m sure it’s premature , but do we have any timeframe for a Western release of number four?
We haven’t decided yet, and we’ll probably be able to announce that after number three is out the door. So after October.
But it will be coming, eventually?
Yes, we would like to very much, and we’re working to make sure that happens. But it’s kind of pointless if number three doesn’t do very well, so we want to make sure people know about that, buy it, and tell their friends!
About number three, we’ve got many people asking: What’s up with the pink sweater and face mask that Phoenix sports?
(Laughter) Nobody else has asked about that! Actually, the pink sweater and the mask are from when Phoenix was a lot younger. That’s a hand-made sweater from his girlfriend, so he’s wearing it out of an obligation! So we’ll also get to see Phoenix’s girlfriend from when he was younger. Hopefully fans will see that and go “Way to go Phoenix, go get her!” You know?
There’s also a prosecutor with a mask – he’s a very interesting character who likes to drink coffee in the courtroom. He’ll go through cup after cup and they’ll pile up, maybe ten or twenty cups in the course of a case. I think he’s very interesting. The mask, he’s hiding something from his past that comes to light during the course of the game – I think fans will really enjoy seeing why he’s wearing a mask!
Will there be any more mandatory yelling in the new game? Sometimes we get embarrassed…
You can yell “Objection!” and the other things, but you can still get through the game without that stuff.
I think that’s all we have time for, thank you so much for sitting down with us!
Thank you, thank you very much! Goodbye!
[picture source: JeuxFrance]