Nihon Falcom’s 40 years of RPG glory

Founded in March 1981, Nihon Falcom is one of the oldest active video game studios. By celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the company helped pioneer the action role-playing game genre, shaping both the JRPG industry and the PC gaming scene in Japan. These days, Falcom is best known for its iconic Ys and Trails franchises. While it only recently attracted more attention in the West, the studio has retained a solid reputation in Japan, often cited alongside giant Square Enix as one of the most influential and distinguished role-playing game developers. To honor four decades in business, we spoke with Nihon Falcom President Toshihiro Kondo to reminisce about the company’s history.

Nihon Falcom’s roots are very much in the PC scene; Falcom’s name even nods his head. For the nickname, the founder Masayuki Kato was inspired by Star Wars Millenium Falcon, but changed ‘con’ to ‘com’ to represent the company’s focus on computer games. The studio’s first game, Panorama Toh, arrived in 1983, with Yoshio Kiya at the helm. Later, Kiya would create the popular and influential Falcom Dragon Slayer and Brandish franchises.

When asked about the company’s most notable achievements, Kondo recalls the first Dragon Slayer game, which debuted in 1984. The top-down adventure is credited with pioneering the action RPG genre, featuring timed combat. real, an in-game map and Resource Management. It also introduced item-based puzzles, which served as inspiration for The Legend of Zelda series. “Dragon Slayer has been called our first real hit,” says Kondo. “That is still considered a great achievement for the industry in Japan, and I think that was the title that determined the direction of Falcom, which now excels at creating fantasy and role-playing games.” Its sequel, Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu, continued the fanfare, setting records for PC game sales in Japan at the time, selling 400,000 copies.


Just a couple of years later, in 1987, Falcom would release Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished. The series became a flagship franchise of the company and continues today with nine main entries and several remakes. Falcom’s other key series, The Legend of Heroes, followed in 1989 and debuted as part of the Dragon Slayer series. It was named Dragon Slayer for two entries before the Gagharv Trilogy arrived in 1994. In turn, that franchise eventually evolved into the Trails subseries in 2004, culminating in the massive interconnected series we know today.

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Kondo said that many of the staff, including himself, had respect for Falcom games before joining the company, but says that working on them gave him a new appreciation for what made them special. “In Ys’s case, it was the action-packed gameplay that was as addictive as popping bubble wrap, as well as the art that contributed to the epic feel of the setting. And in the case of The Legend of Heroes, it was the concept of creating a proper story, “he says.

Because these flagship series have been around for decades, the team has strived to uphold their legacy while modernizing them. Kondo said he will always have a special place in his heart for 2004’s Trails in the Sky, for this reason, calling it a “seminal title” for himself and other staff members, as he was one of the first to represent Falcom in a new era. “In the case of our [work on the] series, we will be careful not to deviate from those things [I mentioned earlier] and add new challenges that are appropriate for the times, ”says Kondo. “If nothing new is brought to the table, then I don’t think we can stand out as much as we have.”

Kondo did just that when he took office in 2007 and decided to tap into the console market. “For me, shifting my focus from PC games to consoles shortly after I took office was a major event,” he says. “Compared to earlier times, I feel like the company’s thinking process regarding games has become more flexible.”

With a company so entrenched in PC game development, it was a big change, but Kondo says it was necessary. “That change came about because at that time, the space for PC games in stores was starting to shrink, and distributors were telling us that they could no longer take orders like they used to,” explains Kondo. “Since download sales weren’t as viable as they are today, one option we had was to go to consoles.”

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This move allowed Nihon Falcom to broaden its audience and redefine its approach to games. “I think that in the shift to console players, the gameplay mechanics and visuals were changed to be more flexible and easier to understand for as many people as possible,” says Kondo. “It was The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero that determined this direction. During the PC era, the titles were likely made specifically for Nihon Falcom fans. “

Falcom started as a small company and continues to be so today. Kondo believes that its success comes down to the core values ​​established in the early days of Falcom. “I think it is due to the fact that we have consistently released games that have met the expectations of our players,” he says. “Our games are not necessarily the most technologically advanced, but their content is highly appreciated. ‘Get it right’ and ‘don’t take too long, don’t skimp’ are phrases that came from our founder and are still things we believe in today. “

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These values ​​have helped Falcom stand out; fans often comment on the extra details that go into the studio’s RPGs, like the hilarious callbacks to their previous games. The best example is the NPCs from the Trails series, who don’t mutter the same dialogue repeatedly and have their own story arcs unfolding. “Here at Falcom, we have a saying: ‘Before you try to solve something with money, try to solve it with brainpower,’” says Kondo. “In other words, we highly value the process of creating and refining ideas.”

Trails of Cold Steel IV

Falcom isn’t slowing down anytime soon, either, especially when it comes to its beloved Trails series. The company’s 40th celebratory broadcast announced four titles making their way west: Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure, Trails into Reverie, and The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails.

Kondo says he’s excited about the future and feels the studio has a good mix of creative flair to keep things exciting. “A lot of the staff who joined the company when I joined the company did so because of the early Ys and The Gagharv Trilogy games, and now they are working on the Ys and Trails games,” he says. . “Today’s young staff came together thanks to Ys VIII and the Trails series. I look forward to the twist they will put on their games to make them Falcom-style and carry on the legacy as they grow in their craft. Naturally, I intend to continue creating games, so I want to compete with them and come up with new ideas. I want this positive interaction to continue in the future as well. “

This article originally appeared in Game Informer Issue 338.