Last week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to catch up with Kenichiro Takaki, known in Japan as the “Bakunyuu Producer.” We talked about what he’s been up to, what games he plays, where he draws the line and GTA5, among other things.
Takaki-san’s latest two entries in the Senran Kagura series are releasing later this year; one on 3DS and one on PlayStation 4, a first for the series. After an hour with the man, I can tell you, everything you’ve read about him is every bit the truth, and it’s hilarious.
This interview was conducted through an XSEED-provided translator, so all pronouns have been edited to reflect Takaki-san’s point of view. The interview has also been edited for clarity and brevity.
Bowling: In an interview last year, when you were working on Bon Appetit, you mentioned you were interested in the three basic needs of eating, sleeping and sex. Are you hoping to explore any more basic human needs in Estival Versus?
Takaki: Since, eating sleeping and sex are the three basic human needs, I can’t really add anything to that. But, as a game, I want to concentrate more on sharing the experience, or sharing your enjoyment with others, which is where the multiplayer aspect is heavily influenced in this game.
Bowling: Outside of, well, boobs and fanservice, you’ve crafted a competent action title. Beyond just getting more fanservice, do you find you push yourself to improve upon the core action of every game with every iteration?
Takaki: So aesthetically, it’s exactly as you said. I like to emphasize on boobs and fanservice. But I didn’t want to just concentrate on that, either. Like you said the gameplay and mechanics are something that I take very seriously, because without the game being good, it’s just an aesthetic game, and you won’t be able to make a series out of it because there’s nothing at its core.
First and foremost, it needs to be a solid game, whatever game it is. It could be a fanservice game on top of that, but that’s just the outside of it. So, as you mentioned gameplay is something I really concentrate on, and whatever feature I can add to make a more solid game. To make the players happy or to make it more enjoyable [for them].
Bowling: Estival Versus is your first PlayStation 4 title. Is there anything that you were able to do now, having more power available to you that you wanted to do with the series that you couldn’t before?
Takaki: One of the things I was able to do because of the machine power was expand the multiplayer aspect. On a handheld four was the maximum I was able to do, but I was able to bump that up to ten. It sounds like just a number, but to be able to do that, the very first Senran Kagura started from just a small community. I wasn’t really thinking about the big picture. I didn’t really think there was going to be as many fans as we have today, so for there to be a 10-player multiplayer aspect, we need to have players to actually be there to make there that happen, so there’s a little bit of the machine being powerful enough to be able to have more players play at once and the fact that we have a fanbase that can support that 10-player versus mode. It’s something that I wasn’t expecting, but I’m really happy. I’m glad I was able to implement it.
Bowling: You mentioned sharing as one of the things you’re excited to add to the series with Estival Versus. Are you excited about the PS4’s potential for sharing gameplay via Twitch and Youtube? Also, is there any place you envision the series going that you haven’t gotten to fully explore yet, even with more powerful hardware?
above: a special illustration made for E3 2015. Oh, and some sexy buttons.
Takaki: I guess one of the things would be to improve the graphics more and more and refining the techniques of the girls. As an anime game, I want to reach the point that no other games like this can be close to it. I’m fortunate with the series that I’m able to keep making games like Kagura, and because of that I’m able to refine the look and feel of it more and more. As of now, I don’t think there are any other anime titles that are close to Senran Kagura. Because of that we’re able to have this fanbase. I’d like to get to the point that you look at Senran Kagura and a mainstream AAA title, and it won’t lose out. That will be something that I’m always aiming for.
Bowling: We’re going to get a little less serious. Obviously, this is a game about boobs, and naked girls. Takaki-san, do you play the game unedited?
Takaki: During the development phase, yeah. When we haven’t implemented the clothes, we just have the girls running around naked. (laughs)
Bowling: Have you ever considered porting Senran to the PC, so players can create their own mods?
Takaki: PC is something that I’m always curious about, and always wondering about. Since we were able to make a PS4 version this time. We’ll probably continue making them on PS4 too, but I think about what it would be like on PC. It wouldn’t be for me, but users would be able customize the girl however they want and satisfy their desires. I’m really curious to see what people would do there.
Jose ‘Nach’ Acosta: Have you ever felt you had to cut any content because it was too risqué?
Takaki: Yes. Because there’s a fine line between it being funny and too sexual. There’s a fine balance, so there’s a lot of ideas that would be too extreme.
Acosta: Could you give us an example?
Takaki: It’s a daily struggle every time there’s a new game. The game is about sexuality and being sexy and cute. At the same time we don’t want to make it too erotic. Basically, it works because they’re cute, and because there’s a comedy touch to it. But when you keep working on this title for a whole year, everybody’s expectations and what we’re trying to do just escalates more and more. So one of the new features we implemented in Estival Versus—this is unofficial—we keep calling it ‘Puru Puru Finish’, basically it’s like ‘Jiggle Jiggle Finish’.
Basically, depending on where you are in the map, or where you beat the girl, they get stuck in a tree or something, with a background image to emphasize the clothes being ripped off and that they’re defeated. When we were trying to implement that, more and more we sort of get numb to the situation and what we’re trying to do. So it just becomes how revealing it is without showing anything, but that’s not what we’re trying to do. It’s more of how to make that Senran Kagura, so we have to adjust ourselves and go back to the series’ roots constantly.
Another example is the illustration of the girls. When we were doing them with Yaegashi-san (Note from Steve: Senran Kagura’s illustrator is Nan Yaegashi), we keep talking and talking and talking and we kind of got numb to what we were trying to do. So the girls’ boobs kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and then one day you realize, “This is unrealistic, what are you doing?” So we have to limit ourselves.
Bowling: You mentioned earlier that you didn’t expect Senran Kagura to find as large of an audience as it has, and the games seem to be growing in popularity. Are you still surprised when you see fans interact with the game, and by the types of people playing it?
Takaki: Yeah, I’m constantly surprised. Especially around Estival Versus. I’m on twitter, and so many overseas users comment on my twitter posts. Every year there’s more and more overseas users. More than anything I’m just surprised and happy to have been supported by so many people.
Even though there’s different languages and cultures, everybody loves boobs. It’s a universal language. (laughs)
Acosta: These are all action games, but is there any other genre you’d like to explore, like you did with Bon Appetit, which was a rhythm cooking game?
Takaki: Yeah, as the series goes along, there are a lot more unique characters within it, so I’m constantly thinking about different genres. I always wanted to do a dodgeball game where you hit them and it just rips everything off. A pinball game, or a water-shooting game where they get drenched. I always think of something different. I always want a challenge.
Bowling: Are you a fan of anime, and if so what’s your favorite?
Takaki: I love Sailor Moon.
Acosta: Was it the first anime you ever watched?
Takaki: I used to watch a lot of Saint Seiya. But, when I first saw Sailor Moon, well, first of all , In Japan back then there weren’t many female main characters that fought. So, in the beginning, I was sort of hesitant to go in. I hadn’t watched it, but I didn’t think that I would like it. So, this one time, when I actually watched it I was blown away. It’s not really for kids, but it’s not really for girls only, either. It has a really nice story, and really good characters. So I was really blown away by how good it was. From there, I became a fan. And, as you can see from Senran Kagura, you can see the school factions are five girls, just like from Sailor Moon. So, there’s a lot of parts that was influenced by it.
Acosta: Regarding Sailor Moon, what did you think of the new one?
Takaki: I actually don’t like it!
Bowling: What is your favorite game of all-time?
Takaki: It’s hard to pick, but if we’re going through recent titles, I thought GTA 5 was really well-made.
Bowling: As a Japanese game creator, whose games are about as far as they get from Western titles, usually. Do you still pull inspiration from American titles at all? And what do you think of the Western development community?
Takaki: So, for the first part. The ‘Puru Puru Finish’ is kind of like a Mortal Kombat Fatality, depending on what kind of move you do, you get to execute them in a different way. They have a lot of destruction within the background and the environment. Of course we didn’t copy it, we had to see how it would work within Senran Kagura, we had to put it through a few revisions then refine it to make it work. So there’s always hints of ideas in Western games, but it’s just culturally growing up in a different environment. For instance, I don’t think I’d be able to create those types of games on my own, but when I play it I enjoy it. But vice-versa it’s really hard for Western gamers to make something like the Senran Kagura series because it’s just a cultural difference, but they’re still able to enjoy it, so it’s just a different aspect of that.
As for, as you mentioned, more and more Western games coming into Japan. I was always a fan of Western games from a long time ago. So whenever there’s a Japanese version and a US version, I always buy both and I play them to see if there’s any kind of difference to them. But, especially in the last five to ten years, I think the US games have been very user-friendly. Before, it was sort of like a norm for US gamers to jump in and already know what’s going on, but for the Japanese audience it was really hard to understand what’s going on or why you were doing it, so it was normal to say, “Western games are hard to play.” But now, it’s like watching a movie that you can dive straight in and immerse yourself in the plot right away. It’s a big advancement Western developers have made and it’s made it easier for Japanese gamers to play.
Acosta: What was your first memory of playing games? What made you like games and want to become a developer?
Takaki: There’s a lot of different types of games, of course that I’ve played. I forgot if it was Junior High or High School
Jimmy Soga, Translator, XSEED: He spoke about this in an interview earlier, I think it was…
(at this point Jimmy grabs his phone and shows a screen to Takaki-san to confirm)
Soga: Uh… Cybernator? Yes, it’s a Super Nintendo game.
Bowling: I know that one!
Soga: Yes, it’s a big influence for him because it was in an era that everything was just what it was, but it concentrated so much on the smaller aspects. Of like, when you shoot the gun, you’d see the muzzle flash, or the cartridges pop out of the gun, or when you shoot the wall you’d actually see the holes in the wall. When you jump and land you actually see the machine—
Bowling: You see it kind of compress and come back.
Takaki: Just the attention to detail, it gave me the impression that the developer really was passionate and had love for the game. It really blew me away. So that was something that was really dear to my heart that continues on when I create my games today.
Bowling: What would you want to say to someone that’s going to play Estival Versus as their first title. How would you convince someone to try it out?
Takaki: I guess, as a series I always wanted to make something that isn’t too serious, in that you don’t have to invest so much of yourself into it. Something you that you can pick up and relax, and make it kind of like a breather. I tried to make it as stress-free as possible. That goes for everything from the action controls to the menu. Something that people can play freely. Just enjoy the boobs and go to sleep after that.
Even if you haven’t played in a while it’s like, “Oh yeah,” and then you can come back and go right back to it without that much experience and start playing again. A good example is when we launched Estival Versus in Japan, it came out the same day as Bloodborne. A lot of fans bought both of the titles and concentrated on Bloodborne. It’s a really intense game, so as a breather they’d play Senran Kagura and when they’re done they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I think I’m rejuvenated. I’ll go back to Bloodborne.” I’m totally fine with that kind of thing. Just as a sidetrack, or a way to relax yourself as a breather. That’s something the title has that I’m really proud of.
Acosta: Alright, finally, are you an ass man or a boob man?
Takaki: It’s a difficult question, but if I had to pick it would be boobs. But I do like butts too!
Bowling: What’s next, when will we see the girls again?
Takaki: I can say one thing and that’s boobs.
This year, I’m working on another title called Valkyrie Drive. It’s sort of in the same vein as Senran Kagura, as it were. There’s that title I’m working on. It’s turning out to be a really interesting, fun game, so I’m pretty sure users will enjoy it. While that’s going on, they can look forward to meeting the girls again.
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You can contact the author of this post on Twitter @SteveBTAY . His sidekick, photographer and gifter-of-chocolate, Jose ‘Nach’ Acosta can be found @nach212. Both of them got sexy buttons after the interview.