Nihon Falcom Corp. last edited by Bowl-of-Lentils on 11/23/21 07:27AM View full history

Overview

Nihon Falcom (日本ファルコム) is one of the oldest developers of Japanese role-playing games that is still in business, creating some of the first entries of its 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 the company's most popular property in Japan.

Origins

Masayuki Kato during Falcom's opening in 1981.
Masayuki Kato during Falcom's opening in 1981.

Formed on March 9, 1981 by Masayuki Kato, Nihon Falcom initially operated a brick and mortar store located in Tachikawa, Tokyo, called Computer Land Tachikawa [17]. The store opened in July 1981 and sold Apple products and software, including the Apple II computer. Hobbyist programmers were quickly attracted to Computer Land with Falcom's future star programmer, Yoshio Kiya, being a regular customer at the shop. Kiya would sometimes barter software that he created to purchase computer hardware at the store which eventually lead to Masayuki Kato working with Kiya to publish a video game he had created in his spare time in 1982. The game was a sci-fi strategy game with semi-real time elements, called Galactic Wars 1, and would mark Nihon Falcom's debut into the video game industry.

Throughout the following decades Nihon Falcom would play a pioneering role in the growth of the early PC game industry in Japan, creating some of the most influential and best selling titles of the time including Dragon Slayer as well as Xanadu and would eventually create many classic franchises that are still continuing to this day such as Ys and The Legend of Heroes.

Development Style

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" [21]. This guiding principle comes from Falcom's founder, Masayuki Kato, and has been repeated by the company's 2nd president, Shinji Yamazaki, and current president, Toshihiro Kondo [20][22]. 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 [20]. Since the company's resources are fairly limited compared to larger studios, Falcom's motto basically encourages staff members to use their limited resources wisely while still making the best game possible with the time they have. 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 not compromise its content. This has happened several times throughout the company's history with the first two installments in the Ys and Trails franchises originally planned to be one game [20][23]. So, in a sense, Nihon Falcom is a developer that strongly values finishing games on time with the company keeping a very consistent release schedule while maintaining a certain level of quality [20].

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 personal computers like the NEC PC-88 and later Windows based computers. Due to their once heavy emphasis on Japanese PC development, many of Falcom's early titles released in the Western market were localizations of ports created by different companies such as 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.

Richard Garriott meeting with Masayuki Kato.
Richard Garriott meeting with Masayuki Kato.

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 also help them translate and port Ultima IV to Japanese computers. However, after the game was presented to Richard Garriott during a meeting with Falcom in Japan, the deal broke down when it was discovered that some of Xanadu's graphics traced artwork from Ultima III’s manual. The negotiations ended with Origin settling the issue out of court with Falcom paying Origin a settlement and changing the artwork in future releases [11].

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.

Falcom showing off their US releases in 1991's
Falcom showing off their US releases in 1991's "All That Falcom" LOGiN supplement.

However, it wasn't until 2010 that Falcom's games 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 [12]. These releases were unique because, among their original translation work, XSEED would sometimes license scripts from unofficial translations created by fan groups and amateur translators. This was done for their release of Oath in Felghana, Ys I & II, Ys Origin, Xanadu Next and Zwei II. 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 [16]. 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 starting with Oath in Felghana and Ys Origins in 2012 [13].

After XSEED translated several titles from the company, Nihon Falcom began branching out to other localizers and publishers around 2016-2017. Tokyo Xanadu was announced for localization by Aksys Games in 2016, DotEmu began releasing ports of Ys Origins in 2017, and NIS America revealed that they would be translating Ys VIII [14][15]. NISA’s release of Ys VIII began a new working relationship between Nippon Ichi and Nihon Falcom where they would help port Falcom’s games to other platforms such as the Nintendo Switch and PC with NISA becoming the company’s de facto English publisher for all their new titles while XSEED continued to publish re-releases of games they had localized.

Trivia

Galactic Wars 1
Galactic Wars 1
  • 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 [4]. 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 [9].
  • 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.

External Links

References

  1. Falcom Official Corporate History Timeline
  2. Chronicles of Ys: A Series Retrospective by Tom Massey (Eurogamer, 2014).
  3. The Prehistory of Nihon Falcom by Kevin Gifford (1up.com, 2011).
  4. Ys Interview Collection translated by Shmuplations.
  5. Preserving Nihon Falcom’s First Game by Takeshi Kanazawa (Game Preservation Society, 2017).
  6. The Falcom Museum - Japanese fan site.
  7. Interview with Yoshio Kiya (4Gamer, 2006).
  8. Falcom Package Exhibition by the Game Preservation Society (@tk_nz, 2017).
  9. Interview with Toshihiro Kondo and Masayuki Kato (Denfaminicogamer, 2018).
  10. List of Falcom Game Release Dates 1984-2011 (Kiseki Fandom Wiki) - Transcribed from the "Falcom Chronicle 30th Anniversary Book."
  11. The Official Book Of Ultima by Shay Addams, Pages: 77-78 (1990).
  12. XSeed Games Announces Wide-Ranging Partnership with Nihon Falcom by IGN Staff (IGN, 2010).
  13. XSEED Games Ys-es into Steam market by JC Fletcher (Engadget, 2012).
  14. Aksys Games localizing Tokyo Xanadu for North America on Vita and PC in 2017 by Adam Vitale (RPG Site, 2016).
  15. NIS America is localizing Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, and it's coming to Steam by Adam Vitale (RPG Site, 2017).

  16. PROJECT FOUR: TRAILS IN THE SKY SC By SpaceDrake (Der Dräkblög, 2013).
  17. Nihon Falcom 30th Anniversary Vol.1: Memorial Roundtable (Dengeki Online, 2011).
  18. The Trail of Nihon Falcom by Kevin Gifford (1up.com, 2011).
  19. Nihon Falcom's Board of Directors (Ullet).
  20. Looking Back on the 17 year-long "Trails" series, President Kondo Talks about what Falcom Values (Denfaminicogamer, 2021).
  21. Interview: President of Nihon Falcom reflects on their 40 years in the game industry (GOG, 2021).
  22. Yamazaki's Person in Charge Column (Nihon Falcom, 1998) - Mentions the company's motto in the September 1998 entry.
  23. AX2019 - Toshihiro Kondo, From Fan to President (NIS America, 2019).
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