MoeNovel, the publishing team behind If My Heart Had Wings, appeared quite suddenly when they announced the localisation of one of their first visual novel titles back in May. Shortly before the release of their first game as a company, I interviewed Fujisan, MoeNovel’s Producer, for his thoughts on visual novels, localisation and, of course, the game itself.
Hello! Thank you for agreeing to an interview. I look forward to the release of If My Heart Had Wings!
Thank you for having us. We appreciate your interest in our project. We at MoeNovel also look forward to the release of If My Heart had Wings.
For the benefit of our readers who might not have heard of it, could you give us a quick overview of If My Heart Had Wings?
If My Heart had Wings is a visual novel that was released in Japan by a company called Pulltop on May 5th 2012 (Original name: Kono Oozora ni, Tsubasa wo Hirogete). The story takes place in the near future of Japan, in a town called “Kazegaura”, where renewable energy facilities, like solar and wind power, line the streets. Here, the main characters of this story attend a handicap-friendly vocational school called “Keifuu Academy”. They fall in love with the sky and revive the aviation club that almost folded with the goal to fly above a rare cloud called “Morning Glory” with a glider.
If My Heart Had Wings is a refreshing story of adolescence in which the heroes have difficulties that stand in their way but continue to aim for the sky that they long for. Until now, there haven’t been many high resolution visual novels that took advantage of high quality visuals, animation and screenplay production that seemed to have a sense of motion. Many Japanese players have supported the release of such a product. Last year in Japan, when this visual novel was released, it entered a competition and won awards for best character design, best scenario, best BGM, and finally, in 2012, it won the award for best visual novel. Now, with MoeNovel being chosen as the official localisers with the supervision of the Pulltop staff, we were able to release this novel.
What other visual novels, if any, have inspired you in the past when making visual novels? Does your team have a favourite?
For the purpose of studying, we check hit titles and titles with originality but we don’t consciously try to take influence from the same genre. If we take influence from the same genre, in the end it’s possible that the title will end up being a smaller summation of that genre. But because we want inspiration, we do things like watch recent Japanese anime that are high quality and popular. Though it doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken influence from visual novels in the past.
It’s a bit different from the current visual novel genre in design, but there is a game called Dokyusei (“Classmate”). It’s quite an old game but a certain generation of visual novel fans in Japan are generally familiar with it. Many developers played the game before they debuted as pros and respect the producers that created this game.
This is your first visual novel as a publishing company. What made you start up MoeNovel and announce If My Heart Had Wings so suddenly?
In the past, there were visual novels released in the west, but I think only a small number of Japanese visual novels have been officially localised and released. Further, in the Japanese visual novel genre there seems to be few creators that actively try to expand the genre throughout the world. So this genre seems to be treated as something niche. We can say that this genre has yet to become commonplace. We looked at this situation and thought, “We want to let the world know about the genre of games that is the Japanese visual novel!” and in thinking that, MoeNovel was started. I mean, announcements have more impact if they’re made suddenly, right?
How much work goes into localising a visual novel? What are some things you have been doing leading up to the game’s launch?
Starting from the time it takes to prepare, it’s taken more than a year. This time, in order for many users to get to know If My Heart Had Wings, we decided in the early stages of production to get ESRB and PEGI ratings. Because we cut the sexual content and replaced it with new content, parts of the novel were no longer consistent and so we had to fix and revise all of it. Of course we recorded new voices for those parts and attained a higher degree of perfection for the visual novel.
Are there things you’ve learnt since starting up the company? Even small things such as “we need to make sure we do such-and-such first next time!”
In terms of learning, we probably learned most about acquiring ESRB and PEGI ratings. It seems that visual novel makers like that of If My Heart Had Wings rarely bothered getting game ratings, and as a result I now have memories of fumbling around for what would work when we examined things like what the criteria was.
We wanted western players that like Japanese anime and manga to get to know If My Heart Has Wings so we read these people’s blogs for research, but we were impressed that people could acquire information about Japanese manga and anime and understand its contents almost in real time. These things are easy to find on the internet but we were still impressed by the passion of these bloggers. For the anime that I like, when I read comments like “this one was interesting” from western people, I feel kind of happy. Recently, there are a lot of articles and images of Attack on Titan. I have been looking at it as well. The anime rather than the manga… (mumble mumble). Sorry for rambling on. I think it’s interesting when you can expand in a way that many people can share titles with each other.
If My Heart Had Wings seems to deal with romance, growing up and aspirations. What are you hoping players will take away from the story after they finish playing?
When someone is watching or reading something, for the creator of that something to specify what they want the viewer or reader to feel is considered “ya-bo” (boorish, unsophisticated), to use a Japanese phrase, so I’ll just leave it at that. The Japanese meaning of ya-bo means to not understand the inner workings of human nature, or to be unsophisticated. This explanation isn’t in the game, but it is his own idea that is meant to supplement the meaning of the game.
In Japan, this game was released under the title “Kono Oosora ni, Tubasa wo Hiragete”. In that version, the director and producer, Yow, put the project together immediately following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. So the influence of the earthquake was strong while working on the project. In the game, there are absolutely no earthquake-related scenes, and there are many serene scenes of the sky. Also, the characters are very lively as they go through the story. The staff who made this title told me that they routinely moved forward with production without surrendering to the difficult circumstances, similarly to the If My Heart Had Wings characters.
Since the ESRB and PEGI system have given If My Heart Had Wings an all-ages rating, do you think players will see the game made available to more stores or are you mainly interested in enticing new audiences?
We don’t think short-sightedly that just because we got an ESRB and PEGI rating that they’ll be lined up on the shelves at storefronts. [Though] getting a rating is one of the ways to achieve this.
As stated earlier, we think that the visual novel genre still isn’t very well known. If that’s the case, we first need to get people around the world to recognise the genre. So we have to start by getting people to become familiar with the Japanese-born genre known as visual novels. One of the steps in achieving this is to get an ESRB-TEEN or PEGI-PG12 rating. Getting If My Heart Had Wings into places where it can catch the eye of anyone anywhere is important in getting unfamiliar people to become familiar with it. Being able to stream information about If My Heart Had Wings to anyone, any time, anywhere is also important in getting people to become familiar with the visual novel genre.
For example, if a 13-year-old girl in the UK who happens to be an anime fan saw If My Heart Had Wings on Rice Digital and became interested, she might then visit MoeNovel’s official website or Facebook page, and might even write about it on her Facebook page. This is the flow of things we expect in attaining a game rating. We think it’s important to try to appeal to people who might be thinking, “I have always liked Japanese anime and manga, but have never played visual novels”, or “I don’t really understand what’s so great about the visual novels that have been released in the west so far.”
Are you planning on publishing other games for the broader Western market? Perhaps even the If My Heart Had Wings fandisc, Flight Diary?
We are working on these plans. The If My Heart Had Wings Flight Diary is also a contender but I think we want to examine the activity of the original story.
How do you feel about the fans’ responses to your localisation announcement so far?
When we first announced the project, I felt like we received a lot of harsh criticism for cutting out the sexual scenes. But then we slowly began to receive more supportive opinions regarding our proposal, and many people who previously didn’t understand the appeal of the visual novel genre began to take interest in If My Heart Had Wings.
If you look at our Facebook, you’ll see that young girls are also starting to take interest. In Japan this would be unthinkable, where 90% of players are male. It might be rude to mention this, but while we mainly started this project with the west in mind, we also started to get a lot of interest from south-eastern Asia. Young people from south-east Asian countries are very studious and I’ve heard that many of them have learned English or Japanese. I think many south-eastern Asians are starting to proactively look more at foreign countries. I commend them.
Visual novels are still very niche in the west – why do you think it has taken so long for western audiences to wake up to the magic of visual novels, and what do you think could be done to get more western people to play?
As mentioned before, there are not many developers that are trying to actively develop visual novels in the west. Accordingly, visual novel titles released in the west are very few, and I think making a breakthrough for this genre takes time.
I’ve often thought that iOS and Android are the perfect platforms for visual novels – do you intend to release If My Heart Had Wings on these platforms?
Of course we have an interest in releasing it on platforms other than the PC, and we periodically discuss this situation. In terms of a smart phone, I think compatibility would be bad. The picture and the text would become small and unfortunately I think it would become difficult to read. If we have it on a tablet, there is no longer a problem with the text but the amount of gigabytes that you can download through wi-fi, I think, is restricting. We are discussing delivering the scenarios in sections, supplied through something like a USB flash drive, but this is only in the concept stage.
Can you give us a hint about what we might see from you in the future?
For titles released in the future, it is likely we will work closely with Pulltop again. This idea is still like a vague dream, but MoeNovel is a brand that releases and localises Japanese visual novels to the west. However, in the future, if there are developers that want to make commercial grade visual novels available overseas, I think it would be good if we act as a “back up” brand that offers Japanese know-how. If we can do this much, I wonder if we can make visual novels flourish.
Is there anything you’d like to say to players picking up If My Heart Had Wings, potentially starting their first visual novel?
Thank you for having an interest in If My Heart Had Wings! Please enjoy it!
Thank you for your time. I wish you all the best and great success in your project!
Thank you very much.
As a reminder, If My Heart Had Wings is available right here on the Rice Digital store!
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