Interview: President of NIS Sohei Niikawa

by Christopher Macdonald, Dec 5th 2012

Sohei Niikawa graduated college with a degree in Archaeology and got a job at Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) in sales and promotion. So how did he go on to become the creator of one of the biggest Japanese game franchises of all time (Disgaea), and eventually become the president of NIS ? Niikawa sat down with Anime News Network's CEO Christopher Macdonald to discuss his rise.



ANN: How many years did you work in sales and promotion?


Sohei Niikawa: Roughly five years (from 1998). But from the beginning of year one, I started helping with the development of games. So I was doing both, I was multi-tasking.

What drew you to game development?


One of my biggest reasons is that I loved games, ever since I was little. And the fact that games are multi-faceted entertainment with music, graphics, storyline, and so on, it just appealed to me very much.

You started at NISA in the late 90s, and you started working on videogames almost from day one… What year did you become the president of NIS Japan?


Four years ago.

Around 2008?


Maybe.

Can you tell me how, in  roughly ten years, you went from sales and marketing to games developer to being the president? That's a very fast progression within the company.


When I realised what had happened, I was already the president. There was no-one above me when I realised it! (laughs)

So one day you were just the president?


Yes!

You're very young to be the president of a large Japanese corporation that you didn't start.


Maybe! But I believe that whether I was the president or not, what I would do in the company wouldn't change that much. And the fact that what I want to do as a job is to present people with good entertainment and that will never change.

You were involved in the development of the last Disgaea game, which was released last year. Are you still involved in development yourself today?


I am still working on other titles that we haven't announced yet. Even before I came here, to the United States, I was actually working on scenarios and it was really close to the due date, but I finished it and I was able to come over.

You just became the president of NIS America. So that's a bit of a change for the corporate group, having the same president for both units. How does that change the way the companies work, or does it change anything?


The style of NIS America itself won't change. At NIS Japan, they're trying really hard to exceed and go out to other different kinds of entertainment right now. And that's what NIS America has been doing; we've been broadening from games to anime, and NIS Japan is trying to actually follow in the footsteps of NIS America.

So NIS Japan is thinking of expanding into different forms of entertainment?


Yes, and I believe that when NIS Japan reaches the same level as NIS America, as in broadening the field of entertainment, that's when the two companies will perform their best.

For that, you've used the term, “entertainment corral.” Can you tell me what that means to you?


That is the goal, to put various entertainments, various people, from various countries, and to have all those various groups of people in different divisions enjoy, and see the good parts of our products.

There's been an anime made for Disgaea, and as you said before, NIS America has the anime division, and you're talking about getting NIS Japan up to that same level. How involved do you see NIS Japan becoming in the creation process of future anime, and do you see the creation of more anime based on NIS titles or properties?


I'm thinking about it very much. And there are things that are almost decided.

Do you see NIS America and the American market in general influencing NIS at all on the creative side?


I'm really happy and excited that NIS America has such core fans in America. But I believe that if the only thing I think about is making sure that American fans will like it, I feel that it wouldn't go as well. The fans we have right now appreciate and like the fact that we bring the Japanese culture here, and I believe that that is the way we should continue. Not changing our style for the American audience but creating from a Japanese perspective, so what we've been doing all along. We can't make God of War or Grand Theft Auto or Batman or anything like those American franchises.

In NIS America, the anime side, you've taken a very different approach to anime packaging than most other companies. What your thoughts are on the way your company approaches anime here?


I believe that it's the same with Japan and America, that we have a lot of core fans, and we would like to support the core fans by giving them the highest quality possible, and giving them the limited editions that they won't be able to get anywhere else.

NIS has focused on titles that a bit more niche and a bit more targeted for fans. What your thoughts are on that level?


Because NIS presents itself as working for the fans that are really niche and core, so I believe that NIS America is also capturing the hearts of the fans doing the same way, going the same direction as NIS and that's a wonderful thing.

Can you tell me what Prinny represents to you?


At NIS, it is a mascot character. And as my goal, I want to make Prinny not just NIS but like a world character that everyone will recognize.

Like Mickey Mouse?


Like Mickey Mouse, and I don't even want to lose to Mickey Mouse! I want to go above…

Is there anything that you would like to say to our readers?


I believe that NIS and NIS America are going to be able to present way more cool titles from now on, and we just want all of our fans to support us, just look out for all the good news.

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