So I had the chance to interview Kazutaka Kodaka, the writer and essential creator of the Danganronpa series. For clarity’s sake, the interview was conducted between myself, Kodaka-san, and a NIS America representative, who acted as translator. The responses for Kodaka-san are through him, so they are referring to him in the third person.
Niche Gamer: What made you decide to make Hope versus Despair the focal battle in Danganronpa?
Kazutaka Kodaka: They decided on several different I guess you could call them scales or ending points to the tension. Hope and Despair is one. Another one, he says, is Life and Death. And another is Cruelty and Humor. And he says the reason they did this is because just like a pendulum, you’re able to move the player’s heart in different directions using that sort of scale of things. That’s why they did it like that.
Was there any reasoning behind making the clues and facts in the games into truth bullets?
There’s an online video service in Japan called Nico Nico. One of the big difference between it and Youtube is that as people are watching, they can type comments, and these comments fly across the screen, and people watching it can break it, and so when they were thinking about “What would be a good way, when you’re debating with someone in the game, what would be an interesting way of visualizing that?” they thought of this Nico Nico, and how you could break the words and stuff like that, and they thought that would add a cool shooting element to the game, and that’s where that came from.
Who is your favorite character in the original Danganronpa and what about Danganronpa 2?
Because he’s the writer, he loves all of the characters. But he had a good answer, in that, in his mind, every one of those characters is the main character. That was the place that he wrote from when he created each one. He wanted each one to be strong enough on his or her own to be the main character. And so that’s where they came from, that’s why he likes them all so much because he’s able to put everything into them. That said, his favorite character is Monokuma and the reason for that is because Monokuma is the easiest for him to write, because he feels that’s the character that can say whatever he wants to say, and it’s okay.
Which of the two games’ writing are you more proud of?
In terms of attachment, [the original Danganronpa] is his favorite because that’s the game that broke through, that was the first game he was ever project lead on, that’s the game that kind of started everything, so he has that really special attachment and love for it. That said, he thinks the scenario for 2 is better and stronger, and even if he goes back and plays 2, he says when he gets to the latter half of the game, he ends up crying himself because it’s so moving.
The latter half of 2 is a game within a game, as it were. And the main character, Hinata, is receiving messages and such from other players in this game, which Hinata is then able to pass on and extend to the player, and he feels that as a narrative tool that ended up being really effective, and it worked really well, and he liked the fact that this was something that, in terms of narrative style and how you tell the story, could only be done because it was a video game. How it all came together, he was really proud of that.
Do you see the story continuing after the conclusion of 2, or moving back in time instead?
Good question. Actually, every time they make a game, he feels that, that’s the end. He felt like, when he finished 1, the story was complete, that was the end. When he finished the novel, Danganronpa 0, that was it, that was the end. Now, though, when he’s writing, it always feels like he’s written an out for himself [so] that it could go either way. […] Which way it will continue, depends on how he’s feeling at the moment.
A lot of times in Japan, too, people will be like, “Well, what happened to that character outside of X, Y, or Z episode?” And he says, “I’ve never actually thought about it. I just wrote it like, ‘That’s the story.’” It’s self-contained. That said, he likes to leave himself room where, if he did want to go somewhere else with it, or a character, or scenario, he can.
This is from one of our fans. Is it possible for there to be an Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) x Danganronpa spin-off of some kind? That seems to be popular these days.
He’s okay with lending Monokuma to Ace Attorney, but he feels like if they [the Danganronpa developers] got the characters, they’d end up murdering someone or something. If he had a chance to use those characters, he’d definitely want to kill ’em in Danganronpa, so …
So you heard it here, folks: Phoenix Wright would die if there were a crossover. So next up: where did the idea for Another Episode come from?
The original concept was, an action game, and then within that, two girls together, in an incredibly hopeless situation, and how they come together to overcome what they’re experiencing, what they’re facing. Those were the two main ideas they had when they made Another Episode.
Are there any plans for an anime adaptation of Danganronpa 2 on the way?
That’s not something he can answer. [The translator rethinks his translation.] I rescind my translation. It’s not so much that he can’t talk about it, it’s that it tends to be difficult. [SPOILER ALERT] The ending of Danganronpa 2 is a game within a game, so to do that within a medium like an anime would be very difficult. [END SPOILERS] So he’d like to see the concept with Danganronpa used in a different way, in a different setting, but he knows that a 1:1 “This is what happened in the game, and this is what happens in the anime” would be impossible, so he doesn’t really see that necessarily happening or being viable.
Which murder was your favorite from the entire series?
2‘s Gosho [Editor’s note: Chapter 5]. He feels that because the way it took place, the murder itself, was something that could only happen within Danganronpa, so he really liked it.
This is coming off that, too: was there any character you genuinely disliked or didn’t want to survive?
Not in particular, but if he had to choose one, it would be Monomi. He said the way he took out his frustration with that is that she was abused a lot. On the other hand, it had the opposite effect in a way, in that everyone ended up liking her and loving that situation. He feels that she ended up getting a lot of sympathy because of that, and that’s part of why people like her.
Where did the idea for the megaphone used by Komaru come from?
It’s a third-person shooting game, third-person action game. But having a girl wearing a sailor uniform, shooting a gun, just didn’t feel quite right to him. In Danganronpa 1 and 2, it’s the truth bullets, right? The idea of the truth bullet, Japanese call “kotodoma”. He thought what would work best with that, and the idea was that a megaphone would work well. Again, keeping the same idea about the truth bullet, and the method of delivery being the megaphone, is what they came up with.
In Japanese it’s “kotodoma”, and in English it’s “truth bullet”. So “kotodoma” in Japanese literally means “the soul of words”, and it’s something that you describe to talk about “the power of words”, so turning that into a literal form was to make it a bullet, right? In English, it might be kind of hard to see that link but in Japanese, because it’s actually words, using the megaphone to project your words can turn those words into a bullet, which is how that relates.
Is there any chance of another action-style spin-off, like Another Episode, in the future?
He’s personally a fan of action games and RPGs, so he wanted to make an action game this time, so that’s what it ended up being. In the future, he’d like to make an RPG, too, using this world. It’s just limited by what he wants to do, so whatever he wants to do, he will do. To answer your question more directly: there are opportunities for other things besides straight visual novels.
Obviously, pleasing your fans is something that they always strive for, and he wants to do, but by the same token, that creative instinct and creative spirit is something that he wants to fulfill within himself. He wants to challenge himself and the team to make something new and exciting and more challenging, so that’s how they approach every new title that comes up in the series.
He called someone out here: “Besides, if you keep making the same thing over and over again, it ends up getting tired, right, like Bioshock?”
[Little bit of confusion here, as it was mistranslated. Kadoka-san meant Bioshock, but it was mistranslated as Biohazard. However, the creator then admitted:]
“No, no, you’re right, it’s both.”
So where do you see the Danganronpa series as a whole headed in the future?
Like he said earlier, the idea is that creating something that the fans want and will be pleased with, but at the same time, creating something that he wants to make, too—he feels that when either one of those is lost, the series is over. So he feels that in that regard, he feels that the series doesn’t have much longer to go. But by the same token, provided he can come up with ideas that will fulfill both of those conditions, making fans happy and making himself creatively fulfilled, it will continue.
How does Kodaka feel about cosplayers of characters from Danganronpa?
He really likes it. In some ways, when people cosplay as the really sexy characters and he sees them, it’s something that he created, so it’s not something that he can get hot to, as it were, it doesn’t really get his engine going, but at the same time it’s really gratifying and he thinks it’s really cool that people do cosplay.
He feels it’s difficult to come to terms with his doujinshi, with his copycats, like “How does one approach this?” That kind of crosses a line, as it were.
That opens up the question, how does Kodaka feel about hentai doujinshi?
This is an answer that will probably make a lot of Niche Gamer readers happy, because it’s kind of a cool answer. Personally, it’s not something he looks at or reads, but at the same time—get ready for it—it’s a unique part of Japanese culture, and it’s something that he’s okay with to be as it is, and some people enjoy that, and good on them, and so he’s not going to question what they’re doing, it’s their thing.
To go deeper into that, as many of you probably already know, doujinshi is actually sold, so I guess you could say technically it’s a copyright infringement. It could be considered a grey zone, but it’s essentially copyright infringement. The original copyright doesn’t belong to Mr. Kodaka, so it’s not really something that he has to defend, as it were, and actually more than trying to defend something like that, something that essentially is in the past—stories that have already been created, characters that have already been made, tales that have already been told—he’d rather focus on the future. It’s not really something that he’s all that concerned or worried about.
Is Kodaka-san a fan of the Persona series, and which is his favorite character, and also, is there a possibility of a crossover between Persona and Danganronpa in the future?
Persona is what it is, and it’s got its thing going, and especially with 4, it’s this community thing, right? So he looks at that and he sees this really well-told tale of youth and all of its meanings, and he realizes that he went to a boys’ school, and he’s just kind of jealous of seeing all the women and their interactions with each other.
If we’re going to do that [a crossover], Monokuma’s going to kill Teddy, so …
What or whom was your inspiration growing up?
He has a sister who is ten years older than him, and when he was a kid she would take him to see movies. Most of those were Western movies, more specifically The Goonies and Indiana Jones, and he feels that American movies from the eighties have made a distinct impression on him and have had a real impact on him.
Is Kodaka-san a fan of eighties music, specifically from America and Europe?
He likes eighties American music. He’s got a ton of Bon Jovi stuff.
How essential is good comedy to horror writing? What aesthetic styles would you like to see incorporated into the horror genre in gaming?
Difficult question but for example maybe in something like Resident Evil, maybe a little more interesting zombies, unique zombies.
Is it possible that there’s some sort of comedy there that wasn’t meant to be there—it ends up being humorous because of how, say, tacky or hammy it is? Say, Wesker, the things he says in the games, is it possible that there’s some sort of unforeseen comedy coming out of the game?
Essentially, the series is probably a little more serious than it should be, but there are still times when you’ll be playing, when you’ll be like, “Huh, they’re really going for that.”
Special things you could say about Resident Evil, is that it wasn’t really for gamers, as it were. It was really well received and played by a lot of “normal” people. Parappa the Rapper is also like that. But in that regard, because it’s kind of what it ended up hitting, especially with the first Resident Evil, the series ended up being serious, [in order to] reach those “average” people, and not necessarily gamers.
In terms of “B movies” or “B things”, the idea is that the only way you’re able to classify something as B is if you’ve seen a lot and you understand the genre, and seen enough of it as it is. Since most people who are playing are just “average” people and haven’t really done games or maybe horror games that much, they feel like this isn’t like a “B drama”, just as “It’s going to be serious.” He feels that it ends up being taken more seriously than it is.
Is there a chance of a PC or Steam release for Danganronpa in the future?
Steam is gradually gaining … I won’t go with that … It’s gradually increasing in Japan—I restrained myself. That said, he feels like they would like to do a Steam version of the game, that would be really cool. He thinks it would be really neat to do. A solo PC version is not really something he would want to pursue, but Steam definitely is really cool.
Does Kodaka-san think that more Japanese developers, both doujin and, say, double or triple A, is that becoming a trend now, where they’re considering that as a viable option, considering that Steam has built-in DRM …
It might be surprising, but it costs a lot of money to do something on Steam. So he thinks that probably most developers, Spike Chunsoft included, when they’re making a game, maybe if they can find that delicate balance of how to allocate the funds and how to make the game, it might become more viable in the future, but right now he thinks everyone is taking more of a wait and see stance.
Right now, the way Steam is seen in Japan, even though gaining ground is the truth, it’s still kind of at the same level as Xbox One. It’s seen as a platform for what’s called “poor gamers” in Japan. That said, unlike Xbox One, there is the potential for growth, and it is growing, so it kind of remains to be seen what’s going to happen from here on out. On the positive [side], it is kind of growing as a platform in Japan.
I’d like to thank both Kazutaka Kodaka-san and NIS America for being so gracious as to let us conduct this interview—I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope it was as fun to read as it was to conduct it. Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!
[Editor’s Note: questions were polled from both Niche Gamer staffer Chris Gregoria and fans.]