Kazutaka Kodaka is a writer and director of video games at Spike Chunsoft. He is best known as the creator of the Danganronpa series, which features elements of mystery, survival horror, and anime-styled whimsy. He has also been involved in localizing non-Japanese games for Chunsoft such as Hotline: Miami. We spoke to him at length about his influences and inspirations for the unique series and approach he takes to gaming.
This interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth at Anime Expo 2015.
First of all, how was your trip to LA?
I loved Hooters! I just went straight there.
What inspired you to get into the gaming industry? What was the moment you knew you wanted to go into designing and making games?
I was originally going to write scenarios for films, but I was asked if I wanted to join the game industry instead. So that is how I got in.
So you went from just telling stories to making more interactive stories?
You’ve said you are a fan of movies like Cube, Saw, and other survival horror. Are you interested in any other horror movies or films, and have they influenced your mindset?
I like Twin Peaks. I like sequels…I wanted to create games where once the first chapter ends, you’d want to see the second [installment].
You mentioned Twin Peaks. What other David Lynch films do you like?
Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart….all of them!
You also said you were influenced by a game called Illbleed. Anything stand out from that game that really stood out to you?
It’s very particular, but I like the fact that the healing items will disappear if you don’t use them.
Any other games you are inspired by now or in the past?
Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which was made by Rare. A squirrel has a gun and just starts shooting…I think the comedy and parodies are awesome. It’s cute but it has a very aggressive and violent tone…one of the characters [a piece of poo] even sings opera! I can never see what’s coming next.
Are you familiar with Five Nights at Freddy’s? It feels like an American take on something similar to Danganronpa.
Yes, it’s true, the concept and a lot of things do seem similar. Even though it’s similar, it still has its own different individual character.
What do you remember most about working for the Konami Group?
The company is really strict. I was debugging games part-time.
What impressed you about Hotline: Miami?
I liked how cruelty is turned into entertainment through 8-bit art styles…I also like how the music and soundtrack, and the fact that the game is only written by two people. There are games that are so famous or big that you don’t know who’s creating them. I prefer games where there’s a small group of people making it so I can see what kind of people they are.
What do you look for when you want to bring American games to a Japanese audience? How do you localize a game like Hotline: Miami?
I didn’t want to change that much…I don’t mind if not that many people buy it, only the few people who would love that game who would be entertained by it. Same goes with Danganronpa.
Your company is also well-known for the 999 series [of room puzzle type games]. What draws you to that genre?
It’s an interactive story, as interactive as possible. The situation is similar in Dangonronpa where you have to kill a character at a time. Instead of showing you a character to kill, you make the player choose who to kill.
What direction can we expect for the Dangonronpa series?
When I release something to the public, I want to surprise the audience. I don’t just want to release the same old thing, rather something where you say “you’re doing that?” Still, the core component is mystery.
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