Nihon Falcom (日本ファルコム) is one of the oldest developers of Japanese role-playing games that is still actively making games, creating some of the first examples of the genre in Japan. Today they are most famous for their long-running Ys series of action-RPGs and their storied Legend of Heroes franchise, who's Trails sub-series is one of the company's most popular properties.
Nihon Falcom was formed on March 9, 1981 by Masayuki Kato, a former employee at Hino Motors. Soon after, Falcom opened a brick and mortar store located in Tachikawa, Tokyo called Computer Land Tachikawa on May 31, 1981 . The store was an authorized seller of Apple products and software that quickly attracted various hobbyist programmers . One of these hobbyists was Falcom's future star programmer, Yoshio Kiya, who was a regular customer at the store. Kiya would sometimes barter software he created in his spare time to purchase computer hardware at the shop, with one of his first being a video game called Galactic Wars 1. This title would be published by Nihon Falcom in limited quantities in late 1982 and would mark the company's debut into the video game industry.
Throughout the proceeding decades, Nihon Falcom would play a pioneering role in the growth of Japan's early PC game industry, creating some of the best selling titles of the era and establishing many classic franchises that are still continuing to this day.
Throughout the history of Nihon Falcom, the company's various presidents have stated that their development motto is: "Don't spend too much time, but don't cut corners" . This saying comes from Falcom's founder, Masayuki Kato, and has been repeated by the company's 2nd president, Shinji Yamazaki, and current president, Toshihiro Kondo . Falcom was and remains a fairly small studio that only consists of around 60 employees with 40 to 50 people directly involved in game development . Since the company's resources are more limited compared to larger studios, Falcom's motto basically encourages staff members to use their resources wisely while still making the best game possible under specific deadlines. Falcom publishes at least one new title every year which sometimes causes the company to split a single game into multiple installments in order to meet that schedule. Falcom has done this several times throughout their history with the first two installments in the Ys and Trails franchises originally planned to be a single game . So, in a sense, Nihon Falcom is a developer that strongly values maintaining a consistent release schedule while still pushing themselves to make better experiences .
History in North America
Unlike many Japanese game companies in the 1980's, Falcom refrained from moving fully into developing for home consoles at the time. Until the mid-2000s, Falcom developed a majority of their titles for PCs like the NEC PC-88 and later Windows-based computers. Due to their once heavy emphasis on Japanese PC development, many of Falcom's earliest western releases were ports created by other developers like Sega, Hudson, Bandai Namco, and Konami among others. Third-party publishers like Infocom, Working Designs, and Atlus USA were also sometimes responsible for translating these ports. The very first Falcom game to be localized into English was, in fact, the Master System port of Ys: The Vanished Omens developed and published by Sega in 1988.
However, translations of titles developed directly by Nihon Falcom were very rare for many years with one of Falcom's earliest attempts to bring their games overseas ending in failure. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Origin Systems almost published the original Xanadu in the United States as part of a deal where Falcom would help them translate and port Ultima IV to Japanese computers. However, after the game was presented to Richard Garriott during a meeting in Japan, the deal broke down when it was discovered that some of Xanadu's graphics copied artwork from Ultima III’s manual. The negotiations ended with Origin settling the issue out of court with Falcom paying a settlement and changing Xanadu's graphics in future releases .
After this initial attempt to bring Xanadu to the West, the only games directly created by Falcom to be released in English were Broderbund's release of Legacy of the Wizard in 1989, Sorcerian released by Sierra Online in 1990, and Mastiff's translation of Gurumin for the PlayStation Portable in 2007. Falcom even dabbled with translating games themselves in the late 1990s when they released English versions of Vantage Master Online and Lord Monarch Online as freeware titles on their website. During the same period, they also posted a web version of their 1987 Xanadu manga with an English translation.
However, it wasn't until 2010 that games directly developed by Falcom began to be regularly localized by XSEED Games. The publisher announced in May 2010 that they had established a partnership with Nihon Falcom to release the PSP ports of Ys: Oath in Felghana, Ys I & II Chronicles and the newly released Ys Seven along with the Trails in the Sky trilogy . These releases were unique because, among their original translations, XSEED also licensed scripts from unofficial fan groups and amateur translators. This was done for their release of Oath in Felghana and Ys I & II as well as Ys Origin, Xanadu Next and Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. This trend continued with NIS America, who obtained fan scripts for their release of Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure in the 2020s . Among their licensed fan translations, XSEED also obtained outside help for their release of Trails in the Sky SC which was translated by Carpe Fulgur, a small localization team known for publishing Japanese indie games on Steam .
For many years, XSEED was the sole publisher bringing Falcom's games to the United States with the company eventually also finding success bringing their PC titles to Steam in 2012 . After over a dozen releases from the company, Nihon Falcom began branching out to other publishers around 2016-2017. Tokyo Xanadu was announced for localization by Aksys Games in 2016, DotEmu began releasing ports of Ys Origins, and NIS America revealed that they would be translating Ys VIII in 2017 . NISA’s release of Ys VIII began a new working relationship between their parent company, Nippon Ichi, and Nihon Falcom where they would help port Falcom’s games to other platforms with NISA becoming the company’s de facto English publisher for all their future releases. For a time, XSEED continued publishing re-releases of the Falcom games they had localized in the past, such as the PS4 ports of the Cold Steel duology and Memories of Celceta. However, modern ports of XSEED's titles have since been left in Japan with neither publisher seemingly able or willing to release them in the West.
- Nihon Falcom's name is actually a play off the name of Han Solo's space ship from the Star Wars films, the Millennium Falcon. The "com" was added to the end of "Falcon" since it was a popular ending suffix for Japanese computer companies at the time and "Nihon" (the Japanese word for "Japan") was added to make the title feel more complete . There is even a space ship featured on the cover of Falcom's first game, Galactic Wars 1, that looks very similar to the Millennium Falcon and one of the ships the player controls in-game is even named the "Falcon."
- Famed anime director Makoto Shinkai, known for works such as Your Name and 5 Centimeters Per Second, was employed at Nihon Falcom before he created films during the late 90s and early 2000s. While at the company he helped produce a number of opening animations for various games including Ys II Eternal and The Legend of Heroes V among other credits. Shinkai was also responsible for creating the iconic animated version of Falcom's logo that still plays at the beginning of many of Falcom's games and commercials .
- Nihon Falcom's logo features a design made up of four horizontal stripes of the colors blue, green, yellow, and pink. This design may very well be inspired by Apple's 1977 rainbow logo and, in fact, older versions of Falcom's logo feature almost the exact same same colors as Apple's iconic icon. This would make sense with the company's origins as an Apple retail store in the early 80s.
- Falcom Official Corporate History Timeline
- Chronicles of Ys: A Series Retrospective by Tom Massey (Eurogamer, 2014).
- The Prehistory of Nihon Falcom by Kevin Gifford (1up.com, 2011).
- Ys Interview Collection translated by Shmuplations.
- Preserving Nihon Falcom’s First Game by Takeshi Kanazawa (Game Preservation Society, 2017).
- The Falcom Museum - Japanese fan site.
- Interview with Yoshio Kiya (4Gamer, 2006).
- Falcom Package Exhibition by the Game Preservation Society (@tk_nz, 2017).
- Interview with Toshihiro Kondo and Masayuki Kato (Denfaminicogamer, 2018).
- List of Falcom Game Release Dates 1984-2011 (Kiseki Fandom Wiki) - Transcribed from the "Falcom Chronicle 30th Anniversary Book."
- The Official Book Of Ultima by Shay Addams, Pages: 77-78 (1990).
- XSeed Games Announces Wide-Ranging Partnership with Nihon Falcom by IGN Staff (IGN, 2010).
- XSEED Games Ys-es into Steam market by JC Fletcher (Engadget, 2012).
- Aksys Games localizing Tokyo Xanadu for North America on Vita and PC in 2017 by Adam Vitale (RPG Site, 2016).
NIS America is localizing Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, and it's coming to Steam by Adam Vitale (RPG Site, 2017).
- PROJECT FOUR: TRAILS IN THE SKY SC By SpaceDrake (Der Dräkblög, 2013).
- Nihon Falcom 30th Anniversary Vol.1: Memorial Roundtable (Dengeki Online, 2011).
- The Trail of Nihon Falcom by Kevin Gifford (1up.com, 2011).
- Nihon Falcom's Board of Directors (Ullet).
- Looking Back on the 17 year-long "Trails" series, President Kondo Talks about what Falcom Values (Denfaminicogamer, 2021).
- Interview: President of Nihon Falcom reflects on their 40 years in the game industry (GOG, 2021).
- Yamazaki's Person in Charge Column (Nihon Falcom, 1998) - Mentions the company's motto in the September 1998 entry.
- AX2019 - Toshihiro Kondo, From Fan to President (NIS America, 2019).
- From Fantasy to Reality: Our Partnership With NIS America by Supremezerker (Geofront, 2021).
- News Story Covering the Opening of Computer Land Tachikawa (Monthly Micom July 1981).