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Interview: Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka

by Jacob Chapman,

Kazutaka Kodaka is the scenario writer and original creator of the Danganronpa game series, which is releasing its third entry, a midquel called "Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls," to Western audiences this September. The first game became a surprise hit in Japan on the PSP, was followed by a successful sequel, and both games have also found success in the English-speaking world with recent releases for the PS Vita. We sat down with him to discuss the evolution of this unique series at Anime Expo. Warning: Spoilers for both games ahead!

ANN: When playing Danganronpa 2 for the first time, it sort of felt like "Oh, of course this had to be the plot for the sequel." Did the story of the sequel come to you while you were writing the first game or after it was finished? Was it hard to figure out or did it just evolve out of the first one naturally?

Kazutaka Kodaka: I only thought of it after the first game had been released. Before the second game was created, I wrote a light novel prequel called Danganronpa/Zero, and it was through that novel that I finalized the larger world of Danganronpa. So that led to the creation of the second game.

As a scenario writer, how much of your script is informed by the art or the game's budget or limitations, and how much is just free-flowing craziness that the artists and programmers then work around?

It's a pretty small group and we create games based on the scenario first. The artists and other people working on the game try to do what they can to support the scenario. So this makes Danganronpa's style possible.

One of the things I love about Danganronpa is how violent and shocking it is while remaining very happy. It takes great joy in shocking and sometimes crass material. Where do you find the balance between disturbing and funny when deciding what to write?

It's all just based in how I feel. First I write the scenes out, and then I reread them multiple times and revise them. Once I feel completely comfortable with it, then I feel like I've done the perfect thing for me. The thinking is that we don't know how the audience will feel about the game once it's out, so why not make a game that satisfies us at least? If it comes out and they don't like the tone, then oh well.

Because of its underlying story, there are a lot of references to video games in Danganronpa 2. I know the Logic Dive minigame reminded me a lot of the snowboarding minigame in Final Fantasy VII, so I was curious if that was intentional?

The surfboarding part of Danganronpa 2 is actually a joke about Hajime's character. The voice actor for the Japanese version of the main character is the same as the voice actor for Detective Conan, who is known for his turbo skateboard. So it is similar to the Final Fantasy VII minigame, but it's just a coincidence.

What video games that you love have most influenced Danganronpa?

I would say that classic Famicom games have influenced me the most.

What was the development process like for the cast of Danganronpa 2? Because of the twist regarding who they really are, did you go back and forth on how likable to make them, while still maintaining those hints that they were formerly evil? Was it difficult to be true to both realities?

I try not to make villains that are not likable. In fact, I want to make all bad guys lovable. For example, I don't want to make a bad character who is a bully. Instead, I would rather make a bad character who is bullied themselves. I want to make those bad guys lovable in some way.

So what does that mean for Junko? I guess it's better that we don't know the answer, but what could have made a person like that if they were good at one time?

Recently, I feel like more bad guys in games are given a harsh background of some kind that explains their evilness in the present day. But that feels like cheating to me. I felt like the most dangerous thing about Junko would be that she doesn't have any reason to do the things she does. So I incorporated that into her character all the way through the game, as thoroughly as possible.

So if you were punished by Monokuma, what punishment do you think he would give you?

Death by not creating a game scenario on time. Overworking, writing continuously until I fall apart.

We've only gotten the first two games in English so far. What can you tell us about the future for Danganronpa, in the next game? Any hints?

Fans can expect almost anything from Danganronpa because it's so mysterious! So I want to create a Danganronpa game that goes beyond their expectations.

In the English-speaking world, visual novel-type game development is very young. There's only very recently been a surge in development for English language visual novels, even though they've been a commodity for a while in Japan. What advice would you give to English speakers who are trying to write and develop these types of games for the first time?

The great thing about visual novel games is that you can interact with the story personally, unlike movies where you can only view them from the outside. So if you are trying to make a visual novel, always keep in mind how you can get your player character more personally involved in the story.

Thanks to Kazutaka Kodaka and Anime Expo for the opportunity.

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