E3 is an awesome opportunity for companies to talk about the games they love, the ones they’ve been spending weeks, months and years to prepare. Monkeypaw Games’ CEO John Greiner and Gaijinworks CEO Victor Ireland were both on hand at the show to talk about their latest labor of love, Class of Heroes II for the PSP. Anyone familiar with both companies knows the love they have for niche games and JRPGs and both men were excited to talk all about Class of Heroes, as well as some other Monkeypaw Games projects and import games. So the three of us headed off to a quiet area of the LA Convention Center to talk things over.
GamerTell: Let’s start with Class of Heroes II. The Kickstarter was more about getting attention, so it’s okay that it didn’t do well for you guys, right? You were still happy with the results and the publicity you got out of it?
John Greiner: Very much so. What we suffered with Class of Heroes II is name recognition. So I think everybody wants to see these kinds of titles brought over, but when they don’t know the name of the title, we need to educate and I think that’s the biggest benefit of the Kickstarter.
Everybody knows the title now and not just that small little group that knows everything about JRPGs, but a wider audience. We were very successful in that department.
Victor Ireland: And also the people who played the first one. That one kinda sucked. Now they know that it’s not the same. That Class of Heroes II is a better version of it. It’s the one they should have started with, when Atlus did it.
Ireland: Didn’t it drive you crazy though? Some of the things like, having to appraise all the stuff you bought. You have this whole inventory full of crap and you’ve got to pay to find out it sucks. The dungeons were entered randomly. It’s like, “Where am I?” You don’t know where you are when you start.
Greiner: Let’s hear what was good about the original Class of Heroes. What did you like about it?
Ireland: Exactly. I’m just saying all that stuff’s different in the second.
GamerTell: I liked all the different character customization in the original. You had all the different character classes and races and the way they influenced dungeon crawling. And I liked the whole school theme. Because usually with a fantasy RPG like that, it’s just a group of adventurers joining a guild. Here you have a school and kids going to the dungeon to learn. The PlayStation Portable didn’t have that many first person dungeon crawlers, 2D old school games.
Ireland: See, all the stuff you liked? The second one has and better. All that stuff is there and the annoying stuff is mostly gone. The stuff that bothered me and drove me crazy is gone.
GamerTell: I saw Monkeypaw Games had a post on the PlayStation Blog recently about Class of Heroes II. Did you get a good response from the community in the comments and how did you feel about that?
Greiner: I was pretty impressed. First of all, I was pleased that so many people did respond and nothing was about Kickstarter if you saw the comments afterward. Only one or two. Basically, it was about the game. People really are interested in it. Kickstarter, I don’t want to call it a marketing event, but that’s what it was.
Ireland: That’s what it became for us.
Greiner: If it had funded great. No problem. We would have created a boxed version that there’s a certain market for. So we learned about that market. Vic has done many of those boxed versions, so we know there’s a certain fan out there that likes that. Basically, we think that there’s a lot of positive things that were generated from it and it’s all good.
Ireland: And by getting people in to the second one, they’ll realize that it is great. It’s a fun series with cool characters and the third one, the fourth one, they just keep getting better. If you look at the history of Japan, each title has gotten a higher rating than the one before. So the first one started at one place, the second was higher, the third was higher and the fourth one’s higher. I think the fourth one got like all 8’s from Famitsu. Each one has done better than the last. Wherever you jump in with us, they’ll just keep getting better and better.
GamerTell: So anyone who jumps in with Class of Heroes II won’t have any problem? They’ll be okay?
Ireland: Yeah. Honestly? I think they’ll be in a better place, because some of the choices Atlus made with localization, I’m not making. I’m going in a different direction with some of that stuff. So, if you jump in having not played the first one, you’ll have a fresh experience. If you played the first one, you’ll be like, “Wait, that was called this in the other one, and now it’s called this.” But, there is a story arc that ties back to the school in the first Class of Heroes. If you played it, you get that plus one. If you haven’t played it, you get a different experience too. Either way, you get something good out of the game.
GamerTell: I know there are 10 different classes, what do you think works best? What kind of party would you recommend for someone who is just starting Class of Heroes II and getting into the series for the first time?
Ireland: Well, the party I play with is the ninja, the pop idol, he has a microphone, the sprite, the dwarf, the witch and one other. The felpier, I think? That’s the party I use. It’s sort of general purpose. The ninja totally kicks butt. The pop idol guy, he cracks me up with his songs. They have kinda bad English when they sing. Like, “Oh baby!” He performs a kind of song when he attacks and it cracks me up. The dwarf is awesome because he has dual-wield attacks. It’s a good group for me. That’s what I always play with. In the screenshots, you’ll see that party a lot.
GamerTell: What do you think is the best feature that’s new and has been added to Class of Heroes II, that wasn’t in Class of Heroes? You know, aside from the whole not-having-to-appraise-everything-to-find-out-it’s-horrible?
Ireland: Well, it’s not really a feature. I guess it’s kind of a feature. The dungeons are now specific. You enter in a certain place every time. That random stuff’s gone. When you come in a dungeon, you know where you’re coming in. You know where you’re exiting. You know there’s an exit here, an exit here, an exit here. That random stuff is absolutely gone. That drove me crazy with the first one, and I understand that the goal was to make you disoriented, but it just irritated me. As a player, that’s my favorite feature. Everytime you go in a dungeon, you know where you start and you know where you’re going to.
Also, you get levitation and some of the other spells really quick if you have a sprite. So you can go over water, You won’t get electrocuted. I go in and I cast three spells right away. I get the map, I get the levitation and I get something else. That way I cruise through the dungeons without having to worry about getting electrocuted or drowning, or blocked off by water.
Actually, there’s a long list of features I wanted to add with the Kickstarter, but since we can’t do all of them, there are still ones I’d like to do if we have the time. One of them is a hotkey, where you can put a certain number of spells so when you walk in a dungeon, you hit a key and it autocasts certain spells you want to have from the start. Because for me, it’s like one, two, three. I cast those certain spells every time. If I could hotkey that, I think players would love it. That’s on my wishlist, but I don’t know if we can do it.
GamerTell: Even though the Kickstarter didn’t go so well, do you think both of you would still try to use it again? Say, if wanted to bring over Class of Heroes III? Would you go back and do it again?
Ireland: Personally, with Class of Heroes and that series, I don’t think Kickstarter is a good fit. We found that out. I’m not saying never.
Greiner: I think it depends on how we would do it. If we did another boxed version, it probably wouldn’t work because that’s one of the things we realized. How big is the boxed version crowd now? Plus this is a platform that is pretty much dead. It’s the PSP. Not to mention it’s not that well known.
Ireland: Never say never. I’d say it’s a useful tool and maybe do it again for more marketing, but once Class of Heroes II comes out I think people will realize that all the stuff we’ve been saying, “It’s better. This is better. You’ll like it. Trust us. It’s great.” Once they see it for themselves, I think it will help a lot with the reputation of the game because we’re starting from a negative place and Class of Heroes II will put the kibosh on that. Then, people will be looking forward to three and four.
Greiner: So to answer your question, yes. We’d do it again.
Ireland: I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it again, I’m saying we’ll see.
Ireland: I was a fan. I talked John [Greiner] into doing it.
Greiner: And it takes the right kind of partner. Acquire is great. They’re very forward thinking. They want to see their game hit the Western markets and we offered them that opportunity. They’re very easy to work with and forthcoming with information and whatever we need. A great partner makes a great big difference.
GamerTell: Would you ever consider releasing more PSP games, especially since the Vita is backwards compatible with downloads and starting to build momentum?
Ireland: That’s the goal, definitely.
Greiner: We do a lot of PSP games on the import side.
Ireland: Plus there’ll be the PSOne emulator on the Vita soon and then you can play all those import PSOne games we’ve done.
Greiner: Things that help us to get our games bigger reach is great. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible. We need fans to support us so we can do other deals. Everything is dependant on how big the market is. If we get a mediocre response, those publishers probably don’t want to do another game with us. If we go to the top, then hey, what’s next? It’s simple. It’s math. We need people to join our party and become a part of this so we can do more and more.
Ireland: Yes, but even if they’re not really sure if it’s their genre or not, it helps. If you’re supporting the game, regardless of the genre, you’re supporting the next game we want to do. Everyone helps us build. We’ve got a lot of games on the PSN already, and with this PSP stuf we’re doing we have a big list, a huge list, of stuff that we want to do. How successful we are with the ones we have in process will determine how many more we can do.
GamerTell: Would you ever consider going to the 3DS eShop to bring over some DS games we didn’t originally get in English?
Ireland: I’m not against it.
Greiner: I am. Forget it. No way. Everything Nintendo is really, really tough and they haven’t been aggressive on the digital download side yet. We keep talking about it, but until I see action, no. I mean, it’s going to take a while.
Look how long Sony’s been at this. They’ve always been playing catch-up, but they’re always really aggressive. They’re always talking about the PlayStation Network. They’re always trying to include more. They’ve done a good job, but they’re still in second place and they still have a long way to go. However, the effort is there. We want effort. We want big strides so we can really have confidence when we bring titles over.
So sorry to be negative, because I’m negative about almost nothing.
Ireland: See, he’s the one who has to deal with that. I’m not against doing the games, but the business side definitely has to make sense.
Greiner: Oh yeah.
GamerTell: Would you ever consider bringing that over as a PSOne Import?
Greiner: Absolutely! We’re always trying for LSD. Always. It’s been on our list for a long time. One of the things we were talking about when we were walking over [to the interview area] is that people don’t understand how difficult it is to get these licenses and how there is a lot of hand-holding and face-to-face communication and nomunication, which means drinking and communicating, and all these other things that go along in obtaining these licenses.
That is definitely on the top of our list, actually. It fits our persona of bringing over weird and wacky, crazy Japanese stuff. So LSD? Absolutely. We’d like to bring it over.
GamerTell: You had mentioned a while back that Monkeypaw wanted to bring over Policenauts as well. Is there any chance we could still see that in the future?
Greiner: Well, Victor [Ireland] and I have a common thought and that is, “Never give up.” Never, never, never give up. We’re always working on things and I can’t tell you if anything is moving, but I can tell you that we’re moving and we’re always trying to get titles like that. Including that.
Ireland: You have to wear them down. It’s a process of keep knocking and eventually that door will open. It almost always does. There are very few things that never come back. Some things I’ve done, maybe four or five years before the door opens. You keep trying.
Greiner: There’s a good point about that. That point is that in this case, it’s Konami. They’re a tough nut to crack. They’re a big company and you don’t see many Konami licensing-out deals. So that’s hard.
The good news is, I used to work for Hudson for 20 years. Now Hudson is a part of Konami and so I know a lot of the people there. We’re always talking to Konami. There’s always a chance. Hopefully yeah, we’ll be able to get that game someday.
GamerTell: What about the Marl Kingdom series? That was a NIS series. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure made it overseas. Have you ever looked into bringing that over?
Ireland: No. I wasn’t a big fan of Rhapsody. The music drove me nuts.
Gamertell: It was an acquired taste.
Ireland: That’s the thing. When we do these licenses for games we have to localize, I have to live with them for a long time. So I better like them at the beginning, because I’ll hate them at the end. Serious, like Lunar. It’s a fantastic game. By the end of that game, I totally hated it. It took me about six or eight months before I was like, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” When we finished it, I never wanted to see it again.
Greiner: You’re the only one Victor, because everyone else loves it.
Ireland: That’s the way it always goes. My experience is usually by the time we’re done localizing a game, I’m so sick of playing it that I never, ever want to see it again. But then, six or eight months later, I’m like, “Yeah, it was pretty good.” It takes me time to decompress. What I’m saying is, I know that process now. I better love it at the start, because I won’t like it at the end.
Use Lunar as an example. It’s unquestionably a great game. I love it. I’m very proud of the work that was done. But even that game, it took me about six months before I wanted to play it, see it, anything again. But Rhapsody? I just don’t like it.
Greiner: With BurgerTime, we put it out on XBLA, PSN, WiiWare and shortly PC. We think it’s probably done best on XBLA, as anticipated, but Sony’s given us great spots. We’re going to run a promotion with Sony in the next two weeks I hope. It’s kind of a cool promotion. I can’t tell you about it yet, but keep your eyes out for it because I think when you see it, you’re going to be like, “Oh my god, I’m going to buy it again.” There’s a good hook to it.
GamerTell: After BurgerTime: World Tour comes out on the PC, would you ever consider maybe trying to make it part of a Humble Indie Bundle?
Greiner: You know, we did think about Humble. We haven’t done anything yet, because the game has to reach a certain level so we can pay everything off. But then we could do things like that. It’s definitely something we would consider.
GamerTell: Would Monkeypaw consider doing another original game like BurgerTime: World Tour?
GamerTell: Would you go the same route? Or would you try to put it on handhelds as well?
Greiner: You know, it’s a bit of a hard thing to talk about here because this is a game convention. I think browser-based games are really going to hit stride soon. I live in Japan, so GREE is a huge company. It’s a cell phone marketplace you can buy games off of. We have a different kind of cell phone marketplace here, but I think there are a lot of other platforms outside of consoles that will become more mainstream for core gamers.
That’s a hard thing to say, because core gamers playing on browsers? But I think it’s a trend that’ll happen just because you’ve got your iPad or iPhone with you all the time and things have to be more portable. They have to be more accessible.
I think any platform that is doing well is a potential candidate.
GamerTell: I think we’ve covered pretty much everything today! Is there anything else you’d like to say about Class of Heroes II that you think people have to know?
Greiner: Yes. If there’s one thing people are upset about the first Class of Heroes, which we didn’t touch by the way, tell us. Let us know so we can…
Ireland: So we can do another Kickstarter.
Greiner: Yeah, do that. We’ll do another Kickstarter and fix everything.
If you want to support Monkeypaw Games and Gaijinworks, thus ensuring more import games and niche localizations, then be sure to pick up Class of Heroes 2 for your PSP or Vita when it’s released on the PlayStation Store in Fall 2012. Or, you could always go and grab BurgerTime: World Tour or one of the other PSOne Imports on the PlayStation Store. (I highly recommend Yakiniku Bugyou, Kyuuin or Magical Drop!)