Interview with Ace Attorney Series Producer Minae Matsukawa
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October 18, 2007
by: James Jursudakul
Details regarding the series' success in North America and other tidbits!
AMN recently had the privilege to chat with Ace Attorney (known as Gyakuten Saiban in Japan) Series Producer Minae Matsukawa at this yearís Comic-Con International: San Diego. The interview covers goes over various tidbits in regards to why the game took so long to come out in North America, as well some bits on its success. The following interview was conduced on Day 3 of Comic-Con International: San Diego, which was on July 28, 2007.
AMN: To start off, can you please introduce yourself?
Minae Matsukawa: My name is Minae Matsukawa and I am the producer of the Ace Attorney series. Itís great to be here at CAPCOM!
AMN: So how did the concept for the Ace Attorney series first come about?
Minae Matsukawa: The original idea came from the directorís vision of wanting to have a mystery-style adventure game that people can pick up and play very easily. And so when you think of mystery you think of detectives doing a sort of crime solving, but he (the director) wanted to do something very different, so we thought ďwhy donít we try a lawyer game whoís out there to prove people innocent,Ē so thatís where the main concept came from.
AMN: The series first made its debut in Japan in 2001 for the Gameboy Advance but it didnít hit North America until late 2005 when it was ported onto the Nintendo DS. So why did CAPCOM take so long to bring the Ace Attorney series over?
Minae Matsukawa: So at first when we started the game it was a text-adventure game where youíre a lawyer and youíre interviewing people, and we didnít really think that that would work as well in the American market by just looking at the kind of genres [North American] people play. But when the DS came out it changes a lot of things, and instead of just pressing buttons you have a lot more interactivity thanks to the stylus and the touch screen. So we thought, since the DS is coming out, why donít we try and bring Phoenix Wright -- bring Ace Attorney -- to the DS and to the American market for the first time, and see if we can put in some of the interactivity and capitalize on the new release of the DS and see if we if can get people into the game.
AMN: So the barrier (reason) was because itís a text-based -- or basically a visual novel genre game?
Minae Matsukawa: Yes, we thought just looking at the kinds of games people were buying in the U.S. -- you know what the sales are? And just overall it doesnít look like Western-gamers are into reading -- or games that where you have to read a lot of text -- but have to push buttons and act out things like in action/adventure games. We didnít think it was a good fit for the market. But with the DS and its revolutionary controls and putting the touch screen and interacting with the screen, you donít need to know how to press buttons. You just have to be able to touch things on the screen. So that was what started off as brining it to the U.S. on the DS, finally.
AMN: Do you think such a barrier from visual novel type games still hold in the U.S.? Because CAPCOM has Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law coming out in the U.S. and it plays just like the Phoenix Wright series except itís on the PSP (as well as PS2 and then later a Wii version was announced after this interview) -- where it has no such interactivity.
Minae Matsukawa: So yes, we are doing Harvey Birdman on the PS2 and the PSP, but just looking at the game, I think itís a very different game. With Ace Attorney you have a lot of reading and you interact with the environment and you interacting with evidence and questioning people; itís a lot of reading. But if you play Harvey Birdman itís like youíre watching the anime -- or the cartoon -- so theyíre speaking and you have to pick choicest after a time. I think itís a very different gameplay style so I think Ace Attorney is more suited for the DS for the controls and Harvey Birdman for the PSP because it is a lot of auditory -- listening -- and then choose and make a correction.
AMN: Will the North American release of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations have a Japanese language option? Why was the Japanese taken out in the previous releases of the series while the Japanese version has both English and Japanese?
Minae Matsukawa: We focus on giving only the English version in the North American version of the game just because there are a lot less people in America studying Japanese, whereas in Japan there are people who might want something to practice their English with. (In Japan, English is a required school curriculum.)
Phoenix meets a mysterious new prosecutor in the third game of the Ace Attorney series.
AMN: How satisfied are you with the success of the Ace Attorney series in North America?
Minae Matsukawa: Itís part surprise for me and also part being very thankful and appreciative of the fans out there. Two-years-ago, was before an Ace Attorney-type -- you know, a game with a lot of reading, text-based -- game came out, so Phoenix Wright was a first for us. And thus, being able to just call it a success makes me very proud. So Iím so thankful to the fans and the community that they keep buying the games! And meeting all the cosplayers and fans at the signing was a great feeling for me as the seriesí producer. Thank you!
AMN: Whoís your favorite character in the Ace Attorney games? And which game and chapter is your favorite?
Minae Matsukawa: My favorite character is Phoenix Wright, just because I LOVE the character. My favorite chapter is the circus stage in the second game (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All). A person in the story in that one was very bright and also cheery, but the storyline was very sad so just kind of getting to the bottom of the truth there was a lot of tension, and I just felt that whole chapter was just a very good experience.
AMN: Since the series has started back in 2001, the characters have grown and developed along with the story. Do you know if the characters have differed much in their growth and development from when they were first conceptualized early on?
Minae Matsukawa: Well. . .when we work on a single game we put everything we have into it and flush out the personalities. And so when we finish a game, weíve already put everything into it. All that we could think of and make sure we have no regrets. So when we start out with the next game, we kind of start out with a blank slate, except for what has already been established and we then build and flush out the characters more. We kind of let them grow in their own way as it comes to be left in the story writing part of it.
AMN: Gyakuten Saiban 4 (known as Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice in North America and Europe) was recently released in Japan. Did the sales meet your expectations, especially considering that this was the first title created from the ground up on the Nintendo DS and not a port of a previous title?
Minae Matsukawa: Yes, we were able to reach and exceed our goals that we had internally -- which was about a half a million units sold in Japan, so Iím very proud of that!
AMN: Recently Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice was announced for a European release, but there has been no mention of a North American release yet. Can we also expect it for the American territories?
Minae Matsukawa: Right now weíre focusing on (game) number 3 because thatís coming out in October and we want people to think about that before we start talking about whatís going to come after that. So as long as the game does as good as we hope it will and the community continues to support us then there should hopefully be a number 4 in the U.S. as well.
AMN: So now that part 4 has come out in Japan for the DS, whatís next for the series in terms of the future? Will we ever see a console iteration of Ace Attorney?
Minae Matsukawa: Well, when we make a game, what determines whether we make a sequel or not is mainly based on if it sells well enough according to the return on what we put into it, and also if the fans want a sequel; and then we decide whether we make a sequel or not. So when we made (part) one, we waited to see if it did well before we made (part) two. So as long as (part) three does ok, then four will come, and as long as four does ok, then five will come. . . So as long as that support from the community and the fans continue, then I think weíll continue too. But I canít comment about where weíll go as form as any other platform or anything.
AMN: So why did you guys originally decide on the Gameboy Advance for the series as opposed to any other platform?
Minae Matsukawa: Because you can take it with you and play it anywhere.
The cast of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney will be hitting North American graphic novel shelves in early 2008.
AMN: Del Rey Manga has just announced that theyíll be releasing the Phoenix Wright Graphic Novel series in North America. Any comments on this?
Minae Matsukawa: I hope it does very well!
AMN: Tell us what an average work day in the life of Ace Attorney Series Producer Minae Matsukawa is like.
Minae Matsukawa: Work starts at 9 a.m., so Iím usually there at 9 a.m., maybe even before and checking my e-mails. My first meeting usually starts at 10 a.m. so I have to then go there. And then after that, if I donít have another meeting I go and check my e-mail again, and then thereís lunch, and then in the afternoon thereís usually more meetings with more people. Then after that, when I come back to my office, my e-mail inbox is usually full again, so I check my e-mails again. Then I might be playing the latest version of the latest build of the game or visiting the development team usually. I usually go home about 9 or 10 at night.
AMN: Sounds like an interesting job. So do you have any words for the fans?
Minae Matsukawa: I was very thankful and very happy to meet all the fans here at Comic-con and see their reactions and see all the cosplayers and get to talk to them, and see their reactions while I was signing the posters and everything. I know my English isnít very good and I wish I could talk to them more, but while working on the localization of the latest game Iím practicing my English some and Iím trying to visit the message boards where the American people are talking about the games. So please keep supporting Phoenix Wright and Iíll do my best to make the games as good as they can be!
AMN: Thank you very much!
Minae Matsukawa: Thank you very much!
AMN: Oh, one last thing. There is a character in the series named Ema Skye
(first appearance in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Chapter 5: Rise from the Ashes). Was that character modeled after you, because you sort of look like her?
Minae Matsukawa: Hahaha. Oh really? Sheís not based on me but thank you for the compliment!
AMN would like to thank both Minae Matsukawa and the translator for taking the time out for this interview.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations Trailer Downloads
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