Interview: Zero Escape series creator Kotaro Uchikoshi

by Jacob Chapman,

Fresh off the announcement of the final installment in his Zero Escape game trilogy, scenario developer Kōtarō Uchikoshi made a surprise appearance at Anime Expo this past spring. We sat down with him to discuss his work on this unique adventure game series, along with what might be in store for the future. Warning: this interview contains spoilers for 999 and Virtue's Last Reward.

ANN: When you were writing 999, did you know that you had a bigger world in mind for future games, or were you just thinking of it as one game alone?

Kōtarō Uchikoshi: When I made 999, the intention was for it to be a stand-alone game, so I wasn't really thinking much about expanding, I just focused on the game. But 999 got great reviews and people liked it, so when we were able to move on to make the next one I had the intention of having a volume two and three together. But when Virtue's Last Reward came out, it wasn't really well received in Japan, so three was sort of canned at the moment. But well, here we are, we got it and it worked out!

How do you balance the larger story and characters with the smaller puzzles inside it? Do you start with an overall story, or do you try and mesh them from the beginning?

Uchikoshi: I first start off with the details of the overall story. After that, I think of the many props within the game and the gimmicks. When I come up with those, they sort of get thrown into the puzzle aspect.

When writing these big mysteries, with many details, do you tend to work backwards? How do you keep everything straight so it doesn't get confused?

Uchikoshi: In general, I just start from the end and I work my way forward. For example, in 999, one of the biggest reveals was that they were not on a boat. So I would start from there and work my way back. For VLR, the end twist was that we were on the moon, so I would work from that. And for Z3, I can't obviously tell you what it's about, but I did start from a twist, and I am working my way back so everything fits together. To answer your question, it is always starting from the end to the front.

What can you tell us about Zero Escape 3? What will be new for fans they may not be expecting?

Response: Z3 is going to be a lot more suspenseful and there's going to be a lot of life-threatening stories in terms of plot. I want to tell you more but my manager right there is going to get mad at me, so... (laughs)

In light of Luna's character from Virtue's Last Reward, I wanted to ask how you felt about the idea of a lot of AI becoming real, becoming just as smart as a person. How do you feel about that becoming a reality someday?

Uchikoshi: There's a lot of robots and AIs that are becoming a lot more human-like, so what we used to know as science fiction is becoming more real. I am really intrigued by that, the evolution of the science is very interesting.

A lot of people have mixed feelings on the mastermind of the Zero Escape games, her motivations and whether she's a good person or a bad person or somewhere in-between. How do you feel about her as a person?

Uchikoshi: That's really interesting in terms of what you might perceive as being "good or bad in the end." That question doesn't apply just to Akane, but in the upcoming games there's other characters--and players--who are forced to make decisions as a consequence of their actions, and whether that's good or bad, that is always going to be a topic you're going to be faced with when you play, so that is something to look forward to.

The last thing I wanted to ask about is your friendship with Kodaka-san who does the Danganronpa series. How would you characterize that relationship?

Uchikoshi: Kodaka's not only my drinking buddy, but he's also the friend that takes me to the kinds of bars with girls--kyabakura, they are called--we're buddies in that sense.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to write scenario for visual novel games for the first time? What do you think is important to make a good game?

Uchikoshi: So for people who are serious about becoming a professional in writing, the best advice I could give to them is just write and write and write, write a lot and show it to as many people as you can. The more you show it to people, the more feedback you'll get, so the most important aspect is to expose your writing to other people.

Thanks to Mr. Uchikoshi, Aksys Games, and Anime Expo for the opportunity.


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