Hot on the Trails of Falcom, Japan’s longest-running RPG developer

October 6, 2019
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Founded in 1981, Falcom is the longest-running RPG developer in Japan, even though it’s dwarfed by its closest rivals in terms of size, production values, and international recognition. Today, the company remains a modest size of 62 employees, perhaps attributed to its founder Masayuki Kato, who often joked that he didn’t want to make it any bigger because he didn’t really like people. But when you’ve been through nearly four decades facing as much turbulence as the Japanese games industry has, there must be a secret to Falcom’s longevity.

For its president Toshihiro Kondo, it’s definitely the company’s dedication to story, especially for the Trails series (or Kiseki as it’s known in Japan), with Trails of Cold Steel 3 arriving on PS4 this October 22nd. “When we started out, we had the advantage in terms of pixel art,” he tells me through his interpreter. “But as time progressed, other companies began putting a lot more manpower into graphics. We realised we’d need well over 100 people solely focused on that. But our founder [Kato] realised if we can get a writer who knows how to write good stories, and is able to build up their knowledge as a writer, that’s something we can make a sales point going forward.”

This began with 1994 title The Legend of Heroes 2: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch, which Kondo refers to as the roots of the Trails series. From thereon, it’s evident just how much emphasis is placed on story in Falcom’s games based on the text. The script size for Trails of Cold Steel 3 is over 1.6 million Japanese characters, the largest of any Trails game released so far – for comparison, The Witcher 3’s script contains over 450,000 words, while the entirety of the The Lord of the Rings books (including The Hobbit) add up to over 570,000 words).

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