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[Waseda University Public Relations Magazine "Northwest Wind" Special Project]
A meeting with Yuji Horii, Ryo Asai and Minako Okamuro

Creating From Waseda (Part 1)

Up until now, Waseda University has produced many creators. Here we will introduce two creators from different fields. Yuji Horii, the creator of "Dragon Quest" and up-and-coming author, Ryo Asai. Along with Professor Okamuro of the School of Culture, Media and Society, we pressed for the rich secrets in producing creators. [Venue] Hotel Metropolitan (Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toyoshima Ward)

Cast

Yuji Horii / Game designer

Born on Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture in 1954. Graduated from Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 1977. Switched to being a game designer after time as a freelance writer. Known as the creator of the famous role playing game series "Dragon Quest." As a pioneer in video gaming, he continues to have an influence, not only in Japan, but throughout the world.

Ryo Asai / Author

Born in Fuwa County, Gifu Prefecture in 1989. Currently studying at Waseda University School of Culture, Media and Society. Debuted as an author by winning the 22nd Subaru New Novelist Award with his teenage omnibus novel, "Kirishima said he's Quitting the Club" (Shueisha) in 2009. Earned acclaim for his smooth style in depicting small changes in high school life from the viewpoint of five classmates.

Minako Okamuro / Professor at Waseda University School of Culture, Media and Society.

Withdrew from Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences on completion of her PhD (UCD) in 1990. Entered current position after time as a full-time lecturer and assistant professor at Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Majors in drama and television, and is especially known as a leading expert in Japan on Samuel Beckett. Major publications include, "Theatre of Knowledge, Knowledge of Drama" (Pelican), and "All to Know About Beckett" (Hakusuisha).

University days spent doing things I liked
Okamuro

Today I'd like to talk with two people from completely different fields, the creator of "Dragon Quest", Yuji Horii, and last year's Subaru New Novelist Award winner, Ryo Asai. Firstly, Mr. Horii, how did you spend your days at Waseda University?

Horii

I was a student when, although it had died down, the student movement remained. The Alpine Base Incident occurred in 1972, the year I entered university, leading to a shutdown at the university for just under a year. Just as I became a university student, I was in a situation where I couldn't go.

Okamuro

1972 was the year of the Mt. Asama Lodge Incident, right? What a tough year to start university.

Horii

That's right. I wanted to become a manga artist at the time, and to become a manga artist I thought I needed to enter the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, so I did. After I entered university, I joined the manga research club, but ended up learning mahjong. When the university was locked down, all I did was play mahjong. Computers weren't common back then, so I did nothing in connection with my current job. But I did use mahjong pieces to come up with new games.

Okamuro

So, it wasn't a waste of time playing so much mahjong then?

Horii

No, it was almost a total waste of time. I became a second year student after practically studying nothing, and after that spent almost all of my time in the manga research club. I really don't remember much of my classes. It took me six years to graduate. But I did try hard at drawing manga. Waseda's manga research club was quite top class, there are many famous manga artists, such as Sadao Shoji and Kenshi Hirokane who have originated from here.

Okamuro

That's great. Now I have a question for Mr. Asai. You are a third year student, how do you spend your university life?

Asai

Going back to my first half, I would say circle activities played a big part. I joined a street dance circle in my first year and all I did was dance. I also joined a film circle and made short films with my friends.

Okamuro

"The dancing novelist." Why did you enter Waseda?

Asai

Because Professor Toshiyuki Horie's (School of Culture, Media and Society professor) name was in the university pamphlet. His name appeared in modern literature questions of past Center examinations I had studied. I found it really interesting and even forgot that it was an exam question I was reading. So when I saw the Waseda pamphlet, thinking that "this person will teach me!" had a great impact. Now I am in Professor Horie's seminar. The reality still hasn't hit home.

Okamuro

When did you start writing novels?

Asai

I wrote a little at primary school, but I never thought it would become my job. I also wrote at high school but was too embarrassed to tell those around me. But after entering Waseda, it seems natural to create something. There are lots of people around me saying they will become actresses or film directors and so on, and that is where I realized I don't have to be embarrassed about writing novels.

Okamuro

Waseda certainly does have a creative atmosphere about it. Especially in Mr. Asai's literary arts and journalism field at the School of Culture, Media and Society. All the students are writing something.

Asai

That's right. So student criticism is harsher than the professor's. Even after I won my prize, everyone is like, "so what if you've won one prize?" In a good way, this shows that the School of Culture, Media and Society has a competitive spirit. They won't let me show my pride.

Horii

When writing a story, it's easy to start but difficult to wrap up. There are people who can write part of the way through, but not many who can write to the end.

Asai

Yes, concluding a story saps up a lot of your energy.

(※1) Incident where the Revolutionary Marxist Faction students lynched and murdered a student from the Japan Revolutionary Communist League. Due to this, student rallies were held at Waseda and disorder continued, leading to the university shutting down most faculties to regain control.

The power of expression in "Dragon Quest"

"Dragon Quest"
© 1986 ARMOR PROJECT/BIRD STUDIO/CHUNSOFT/SQUARE ENIX All Rights Reserved.

Okamuro

You both have excellent stories, especially Mr. Horii, you have spun an enormous tale.

Horii

There aren't actually that many works. Now they are all written on computer, but I use paper up until "Dragon Quest VII, Warriors of Eden." Back then, I had about 20 8cm thick A4 files worth. It took four to five years to complete.

Okamuro

You made the first "Dragon Quest" in 1986 and have kept up with a consistent storyline since. Where does the energy come from?

Horii

No no. The pace at which I produce has dropped off. I think it is the fate of the series, but after each production the level of desire from the users rises and if the next story is just as interesting as the last, people say it is boring. In my case I was lucky because computer functions improved as the series progressed. With a huge increase in capacity and ability to express, I have been able to answer everyone's desires. But I don't think it would be possible if it were a paperback novel.

Asai

That's right. Because it's only print, you have to do new things on the same base.

Okamuro

Actually, I did a little research beforehand, and posted on Twitter, "What is the beauty of Dragon Quest?." Of the responses, the most common opinion was "the high level of freedom." There is room to spare in the storyline, and the beauty lies being able to make your own story to a certain degree. In that way, I think it is a great skill to give room to change while telling a story.

Horii

There are many people who have "Dragon Quest" as part of their own memories such as playing together with friends, or playing with their siblings. That is why people remember it, and that is why I want to add the element of freedom.

Okamuro

There is sorcery and alchemy in the game. I take a class called the art of the occult focusing on the culture of Ireland, where, before Christianity, the influence of the Druids tolerated leprechauns and sorcery. In that sense, "Dragon Quest" has a European feel about it. Where did the idea for sorcery come from?

Horii

I started by thinking, "This is sorcery the way Japanese see it." I set it in the middle ages because that is how I thought Japanese would perceive a real image of the world of magic. For example, if it was set in the Edo period, Japanese would see an unrealistic part of the setting.

"Dragon Quest Ⅸ Sentinels of the Starry Skies"
© 2009 ARMOR PROJECT/BIRD STUDIO/LEVEL-5/SQUARE ENIX All Rights Reserved.

Okamuro

I see. In art of the occult, there is a saying, "Ultramodern things are always exorcising things of the occult" For example, when new media such as video tapes become common, a horror novel like "The Ring" was released. I find it highly intriguing that games are always using state-of -the-art technology, yet are using fantasy images such as sorcery and monsters.

Horii

It is true that there is a concept of bringing in the opposite. In the beginning, I had a cold image toward computers, and wanted to bring a warm feeling into my games. Space was a cold image so I thought spreading forests and nature in the middle ages would be better.

Asai

When producing a game, how does the staff come up with the same image? I have never written a story with someone else and can't imagine how an image or outlook of the world in your head can be shared with others.

Horii

When I started out I was by myself. But as the series continued, the volume expanded. Now, after I decide the main outline and events that occur in each town, I get my staff to write each episode in line with that outline. They make the parts, and I make the adjustments and put it together.

Asai

I'm envious of that style. In my case, I basically draw upon my past experiences, but Mr. Horii draws from the foundations of the world. You pick up an image from nothing. Where do the ideas come from?

Horii

I have trouble each time. I and II weren't that difficult, but in III I had done everything I wanted to do. But when it came to continuing the story I didn't know what to do. In IV I thought, "let's make some friends", and I made each friend in a form with their own lives. In V, I thought, "let's do a story with a family spanning three generations." But the foundations where already laid from I to III and I couldn't start from scratch. It was really very difficult.

Asai

Is that so? When I ask my friends who like games, they say the language in "Dragon Quest" has a unique "Horii-esque" to it and find it interesting. What thinking is behind your writing?

Horii

There wasn't much capacity in the Famicom era and I was of the thinking that the sentences had to be short and ambient. I wanted to be a manga artist, so I thought the lines should be like captions in cartoons. So it seems the English translation for "Dragon Quest" was a tough job. Just by speaking in Japanese you can work out the sex and character, but that wasn't the way in English.

Asai

It certainly is difficult putting it in English. So you put your manga experience in the lines. Now I understand.

[Main Dragon Quest Series]
Release Date   Compatible Machine
May 27, 1986 Dragon Quest (Family Computer)
January 26, 1987 Dragon Quest Ⅱ Evil Spirit Gods (Family Computer)
February 10, 1988 Dragon Quest Ⅲ The Making of a Legend... (Family Computer)
February 11, 1990 Dragon Quest Ⅳ Chapters of the Chosen (Family Computer)
September 27, 1992 Dragon Quest Ⅴ Hand of the Heavenly Bride (Super Famicom)
December 9, 1995 Dragon Quest Ⅵ Realms of Reverie (Super Famicom)
August 26, 2000 Dragon Quest Ⅶ Warriors of Eden (Play Station)
November 27, 2004 Dragon Quest Ⅷ Journey of the Cursed King (Play Station 2)
July 11, 2009 Dragon Quest Ⅸ Sentinels of the Starry Skies (Nintendo DS)

※In addition, there are many related remakes and spin-offs as well as those compatible for handheld consoles and mobile phones

Noting the making of "Kirishima said he's Quitting the Club"
Okamuro

Mr. Asai's novel, "Kirishima said he's Quitting the Club" was really interesting.

Asai

Thank you.

Okamuro

In the end, Kirishima doesn't make an appearance. The story is about the viewpoint of five classmates when, one day, Kirishima leaves his club. Although it was one novel, I thought it was really interesting to have five viewpoints. The five children are from the baseball, volleyball, brass band, film and softball clubs. Which one reflects you, Mr. Asai?

Asai

About 1/5 of each, I think. When I was at high school I was in the volleyball club and I also played a bit of piano. I liked movies and thought I wanted to become a film director. Although various people are depicted, you can see all of them in me.

Horii

This story is about the cool-looking, good at sports "winning group", and the "losing group" from the culture clubs, right? But Mr. Asai, you played volleyball, played the piano and can write, you can do anything. You are definitely in the "winning group."

Asai

No, no, no. I'm nothing like that. I'm just a weak-stomached student. I'm also a coward and never thought of myself like that. But at high school, I always felt big inside from the point of liking to create. But I was too embarrassed to say that aloud.

Horii

What made you think to write a plot where Kirishima doesn't appear?

Asai

I have always liked reading mysteries and found stories with three-dimensional discoveries such as "it looks rectangular from side on but round from the top", interesting. In high school, there are actually many of those types of discoveries. One student may view a certain person as cheerful and fun, while another student sees him in a different light. So I experimented writing when thinking how it would look in a novel.

Horii

Is that so? When looking at the format, it felt a bit like a game so I thought you had that sense from the start.

Asai

In a sensual way there may be parts where I make the story like a game. I also liked movies and manga, and am the type of person who likes to visualize things in my mind. If a scene I like pops into my head I'll write it down, and in order to make that scene even better, many times I think of events that act as a premise or ways to express it. But what I write most beautifully is sentences, and I am always thinking of how to write sentences which outdo pictures.

Okamuro

The writing style of a novel is influenced by other media such as games, manga and film, but, conversely, novels question the inherent nature of such media. I feel, through talking with these two, that the gaming and writing worlds have been linked.

(Continue to Part 2 ※"Northwest Wind" readers, please read from here)