Originally posted on 30 October 2021
Source: Hayarigami Official Guidebook, page 114-121

Hayarigami: Developer Interview

The release of "Hayarigami" must have come as a surprise to existing fans of Nippon Ichi Software. I visited their headquarters in Gifu to ask the development team about what they were aiming to create, and interesting stories from its creation process.

From the left:
Tatsuya Izumi (director, graphic designer)
Sohei Niikawa (producer, scenario writer)
Ryoji Yanase (overall programming)
Toshihiko Kojima (background designer)

Urban Legends and Fear

―Hayarigami differs from the games that Nippon Ichi Software has made thus far, such as Disgaea and Phantom Brave, in both genre atmosphere. What led to the game's creation?

Niikawa: Part of it was that we'd started wanting to try our hand at making a slightly different sort of game. We also wanted to establish a new development line aside from our main titles like Phantom Brave, but we aren't exactly a large company, so we'd have to start working on the new line alongside the main line. I was trying to think how we could manage this, and thought that an adventure game would be relatively easy to manage, and if we were going to do it, I'd like to make it in a genre I liked, such as horror. That's basically how it went.

―Are you all fans of horror?

Izumi: I am. I like stuff like Dawn of the Dead (laughs). I like all sorts of horror, though, not just Western-made stuff. It's not like I'm totally obsessed with it or anything, though.

Niikawa: I'm a fan of horror, too. I guess I'm a pretty big scaredy cat, but it's a genre I'm really interested in. If we're talking Japanese or Western horror, I find the malicious feeling you get from Japanese kaidan scary, but I like it.

Yanase: I love horror. As much as I love it, though, I get scared really easily, so I don't like watching horror films with other people. Whenever a scary scene comes on I jump and my legs shoot up, which gives me away. Then I sneakily lower them again (laughs). I still get this urge to look at things that scare me, though, so I watch all kinds of things. Horror is really entertaining.

Kojima: I love horror, too. I prefer Japanese horror over the Western style, though. Most Western horror uses sounds and gore to create the scares, whereas I prefer the Japanese method of using the atmosphere to scare you. Plus, in Western horror, they usually end up getting rid of the thing at the end, while the ghosts in Japanese horror have this feeling of "absoluteness" to them, which I like.

Izumi: Even if it would be described in short as a horror game, though, we also wanted Hayarigami to include both a scientific approach and an occult approach. It wasn't like we could just throw in some ghosts and be done with it, so it took a while for the whole team to develop a shared image of what it actually was.

Yanase: The meetings got pretty heated. We couldn't really agree on what we wanted from the game.

Niikawa: When we first started working on the game, we all had pretty different ideas of what it should be.

Izumi: Some of us thought that maybe we should just put ghosts right in there, while others thought we should avoid visual depictions of them completely. It was tough getting everyone on the same page.

Niikawa: Right. At the end of the day, it's a horror game, so we were pretty insistent about making it scary. Rather than achieving that with jump scares, we wanted to make it come from the slowly building atmosphere. Making someone jump is surprisingly easy. I wanted to avoid that where possible.

―What is the theme of Hayarigami?

Izumi: As well as being a horror game, an essential part of the concept for it is urban legends. If I'm honest, maybe we actually put more focus on the urban legend angle than the horror one.

Niikawa: We wanted it to seem like a sort of familiar, close by fear.

Izumi: Urban legends are modern kaidan, after all. Kaidan stories about ghosts popping up in graveyards don't really resonate with people these days, but sometimes you hear urban legends that sound like they might actually be true, which makes them scary.

Urban legends can never be definitively declared as fictional. Rumours of uncertain veracity have existed all around us for a long time.

―That's true.

Kojima: I find urban legends more interesting than scary. I guess I'd never really consciously thought of them as "urban legends" until I started this job, but these rumours you hear from a friend of a friend close to you are being passed around the whole country.

Niikawa: A lot of the time, if you look into the sorts of rumours you've been hearing since you were little, you realise that they're somehow related to an urban legend. When I was in elementary school, there was a woman who lived nearby who people said was "the purple granny" (laughs).

Izumi: There are so many stories where it's impossible to know whether they're real or not, and the fact that their truthfulness is so up in the air is part of their charm. Some of them are even pretty realistic-sounding.

Yanase: There are loads of urban legends I used to think were true, too.

Kojima: Some of them sound kind of like they could be real, like the one saying that if you put a cat in a microwave, it'll explode.

Yanase: I heard there's no record of anyone actually getting taken to court over that.

Izumi: There's a rumour claiming that it was spread by a microwave manufacturer to show consumers how dangerous they can be.

Kojima: Some people say they started spreading it in advance to head off any lawsuits.

Izumi: Among the newer legends, there are some that were deliberately made up and spread, like "Kaijin Answer".

Niikawa: People say "jinmenken" is made up, too. Of course, there's also the possibility that the rumours saying these things are made up are themselves urban legends. If the person telling the story claims they just made it up, that's that. Who knows?

Izumi: Some people even say that urban legends themselves are an experiment conducted by the US military, and that they spread them themselves to see how quickly a rumour can spread across Japan.

Niikawa: Sometimes derivatives appear, or they get mixed in with other stories. I doubt there are any definitive answers.

Yanase: Maybe the true essence of an urban legend is that there's no way to figure out the truth.

―By the way, what kinds of urban legend are your favourite?

Niikawa: I like the ones that shock you by doing things like going it's you!! at the end for the big reveal. I enjoy the silly, dirty ones, too. If you look into it, you'll find plenty.

Yanase: I like the comical ones. The one that really stays with me, though, is the urban legend saying that if you don't have a paranormal experience by the time you turn 20, you never will. That rumour was spreading amongst the people around me during the summer when I was 19. Even one of my friends said to me, "If you don't have a paranormal experience now, it's never going to happen, apparently." That very day I ended up suffering from sleep paralysis (laughs). Ever since then, it's been happening to me all the time.

Izumi: My favourite urban legend is the theory claiming that a celebrity is secretly dead.

Kojima: Oh, I was actually in the area that rumour comes from when it first took off. I heard the story when I was out drinking, and when I went back home I told it to a friend. Like, "I heard this from a nurse I know, so it's true. She heard it from a colleague of hers, so it's totally true," (laughs). It actually ended up being a lie, though (laughs).

Yanase: In Hayarigami, we explain the definition of "urban legend" and how they come about, but in actuality, we're always having conversations that would fit the bill. It's pretty fun to think that anyone could end up starting an urban legend of their own.

Kojima: I guess they end up steadily spreading because they're so interesting.

Niikawa: In some cases, urban legends are old stories including warnings or lessons that have been reworked into a different format. I guess that's because if they sound like something that could be real, you can use that so scare people away from doing the thing. Some of them seem to shine a light on and criticise the bad elements of society. I think stories like this naturally come about whenever people live in communities, for better or worse. Maybe in decades or centuries from now they might not be known as "urban legends" anymore, but I'm sure similar stories will still be passed around in some form.

Incidents During Development

―Including the F.O.A.F file, the game includes a lot of technical jargon and depictions. What sorts of materials did you look through while you were making the game?

Izumi: There was so much, it's hard to really single out anything specific.

Niikawa: We looked through a pretty diverse range of genres - anything from silly kaidan stories to things related to the police, the occult, folklore, and even things like the Roppo Zensho (Book of Six Codes) and forensic medicine.

―Roughly how much time did you set aside for research?

Niikawa: We didn't - we researched as we went along. We had barely any time to just do research by itself, so we pretty much just looked up whatever we needed to know while we were writing the scenario.

―When did development on Hayarigami begin?

Izumi: Around autumn 2002? That's about when we got started on it. It took about a year and a half to make, since everyone was working on Phantom Brave at the same time (laughs).

Niikawa: With regards to the database, we couldn't just make it up as we went along - we had to cross check a bunch of different books and sources as we were writing. Even then, sometimes the same word can be interpreted in totally different ways depending on the book or author. The items we wrote for the database aren't a 100% comprehensive overview of a given topic or anything - there are differing points of view out there. That's especially true when it comes to things relating to urban legends.

―The main character is working for the Metropolitan Police, meaning that the game is set in Tokyo. Did you go out there to do any research?

Kojima: I visited the MPD.

Izumi: He ended up getting surrounded by police officers (laughs).

Kojima: I'd spoken to them about going there for research purposes, but apparently the security guards hadn't been informed. I was there clicking away with my camera, and suddenly they called out to me to stop and surrounded me. I didn't have any ID or anything on me, so it was tough proving to them that I had permission to be there. In the end, I had them call the PR person and managed to convince them.

Niikawa: They thought he looked suspicious.

Yanase: It must have been a good experience.

Kojima: It was. I was pretty scared, though. They had me surrounded front and back so I couldn't run away (laughs). But the police were nice enough to cooperate with me after that, and I learned a lot from them.

In the pond at a shrine nearby the Nippon Ichi Software office, there is a fish not with the face of a person, but the face of a cat. According to the legend, the cat was turned into a carp by a water god.

In order to create a sense of realism, the backgrounds use locations from a variety of regions.

―Did you go and look at any places besides the MPD?

Kojima: I headed to some supposedly haunted locations, too. Places like the Aoyama Tunnel. It was pretty scary.

Izumi: That's when they were shooting the opening movie, right? We actually put quite a lot of haunted locations into that.

Yanase: Hoping that something would show up in the footage as a bonus (laughs).

Kojima: I went along with the team to scout out locations, but I ended up wandering around haunted hospitals and stuff by myself so I wouldn't get in the way, so I didn't really get scared (laughs).

―The MPD appears in the game, as does Machida (Tokyo) as the setting of "Oni". Are there any other locations that use real place names?

Kojima: We went back and forth on that during development, whether we should use names of actual locations or not.

Izumi: I would've liked to use places' real names and make them look as true to life as possible, but it might have ended up causing issues for the people living there, so it was pretty tough.

Kojima: There was a time when we were using names, like Shinjuku, but since the story is a blend of real life and fiction, it would actually seem less realistic if we used a proper name and then didn't get the balance right. It caused quite a bit of trouble when designing the backgrounds. We did have a few areas based on real locations, though.

Izumi: The Oedo Line, for example.

Kojima: Right. Initially, we were using the Oedo Line as part of "The Station with No Name". The Kishimojin shrine is within a pretty limited area, too. The scenario writer went there to take reference photos and stuff.

―Did you undergo a purification or anything before development began?

Niikawa: We did. We had it at a place called Atsuta Shrine in Aichi, where they keep the Kusanagi no Tsurugi. It was a pretty extravagant ceremony.

Kojima: We offered up sacred tree branches, didn't we?

Niikawa: We had anyone involved who was scared come along with us for the purification, regardless of whether or not they were actually on the team. Generally speaking, though, it was mostly people from the company. When I mentioned going to one of our outsourced staff, they got mad at me and were like, "Why did you ask me to come!?"

Kojima: Soon after that, we went on a haunted location tour.

Niikawa: There were accidents and stuff after that, though.

Izumi: There were a few, yeah. Nobody got hurt, though.

Yanase: Each of the people who attended the purification ceremony ended up having bad things happen one by one - accident, high fever, accident, accident. I suffered from terrible sleep paralysis, too.

Niikawa: I'm not the sort of person who pays that stuff much attention, but it didn't feel like anything happened to me.

Izumi: Once you get into the later stages of development, you're so busy that you could see anything (laughs).

Niikawa: I see weird things moving out of the corner of my eye all the time (laughs).

―Have you had any similar experiences working on other games prior to Hayarigami?

Niikawa: I think so?

Yanase: Huh? You mean like sleep paralysis and hallucinations? Yeah, all sorts.

―So it doesn't really have much to do with the content of the game?

Yanase: Not really. I was especially aware of it this time around due to the themes we were dealing with. It feels different when something from a scene you're working on happens to you.

Niikawa: Well, nothing major happened, and we managed to get it finished okay. In that sense, I guess maybe the purification did its job?

A New Challenge

―In the game, you introduce original mechanics like inference logic and self-questioning. What were you aiming to accomplish with them?

Izumi: I didn't want it to just be another run-of-the-mill adventure game. My belief is that a game is the repetition of the player acting, those actions influencing the way the story unfolds, and receiving a sense of accomplishment from it. I didn't feel like text and multiple choice options alone were satisfying enough, and so we created these gameplay mechanics in order to give more meat to the gameplay.

Yanase: I wanted to try making an adventure game where the player felt more involved in the outcome of the story, too. I wondered if maybe I could accomplish that with Hayarigami. I wanted the gameplay to feel so absorbing that the player would become one with the main character.

Izumi: In all honesty, I wanted to utilise inference logic a bit more.

Yanase: With inference logic, it was tricky to balance the scary atmosphere with the fact that the player can try to reason it out at any time. You can't just put them in a scary scene only to then drag them out of it.

Izumi: Horror is a delicate building up of atmosphere, so if you get sent into inference logic in the middle of that, you calm down and it stops being scary. I think as deduction-themed systems go, though, it's well done. There were some bits where it didn't quite mesh, which was an issue.

Yanase: We tried a bunch of different things with the inspection text for keywords, too. Players' imaginations tend to come up with things beyond what you anticipate, so we struggled with how to use it to guide them towards the path we'd laid out.

Niikawa: Some scenarios have more than one definitive solution.

Izumi: Episodes 0, 1 and 2 will check your answers. The other scenarios will only give you icons meaning good/OK/bad. I guess this was the solution we reached after racking our brains. We weren't really sure whether we should go, okay, so this is the answer you picked, or whether we should make it feel like you have more freedom. In the end, it feels like it's a roughly 50/50 split.

Yanase: There were actually other mechanics we came up with, but we decided to hold off on them for now. Please look forward to the next game.

Journey of the Main Characters

―Why did you end up choosing Mr. Sugawara as the character designer?

Niikawa: We began looking for a character designer once the project got off the ground, but it was really tough going. Then, one day, I happened to be introduced to Mr. Sugawara, and when I saw his drawings they had this amazing mood to them. At first, we had him draw about five different pictures for the image boards, and when we saw them we pretty much knew we had our guy.

One of the nap rooms at the Nippon Ichi Software office. Apparently, most of the people who slept here during Hayarigami's development ended up suffering from sleep paralysis.

Izumi: Seeing his drawings gave me an idea of the sort of thing I wanted, and that played a big part in solidifying the game's atmosphere.

Kogure tripping over how tasty his burger is. Unfortunately, this scene ended up being cut out.

Niikawa: He seems to be a big fan of horror and urban legends himself, and apparently enjoys visiting abandoned ruins in his own time.

Izumi: Some of his normal drawings are done in a fantasy style with a very different feel to them, but I thought he did an excellent job with a more contemporary style for this game.

―Some of the drawings are pretty scary.

Niikawa: Right. To an extent, he was drawing the illustrations according to our wishes, but a lot of them came back even better than we'd anticipated.

―Occasionally, some of the pictures are even comical.

Izumi: There were actually more of those - not just drawings, but a lot more funny events, too. We ended up removing them.

―What sorts of events were they?

Izumi: There were scenes like one where Kogure is eating a hamburger at a family restaurant, and it's so tasty that there's a flash of lightning coming down, to show off what a gastronome he is. Kogure actually really loves food. He's pretty extensively knowledgable on the subject.

Niikawa: A lot of the multiple choice options were quite jokey at first, but that made it tricky to bring out the horror or create a unified idea of what the game was, so we took out most of them.

Izumi: It didn't weaken any of the characters' personalities, so I think it was actually for the best in the end.

Niikawa: I believe that characters are really important, and that we needed to bring out their individual personalities.

―There are a lot of charming characters in the game. Which character is your personal favourite?

Yanase: For me, it's Hitomi. I was always chasing after her. I even made her my desktop wallpaper while I was working.

Izumi: Really? I thought your wallpaper was Kaoru.

Yanase: Why did you have to say that? (laughs) I like Hitomi because she's cool. Whenever a new scenario was being done, I'd check it to make sure she was doing cool stuff, and whenever a drawing was being done, I'd excitedly watch over it to make sure she was looking cool enough. I made a lot of comments (laughs). I like Kaoru because she's so mysterious. Things like the way she brings along a bag stuffed full of snacks.

Kojima: I decided what motorbike Hitomi rides. It's a Kawasaki ZRX. You can probably guess what my hobbies are (laughs).

The initial design image of Junya Kazami, the main character. He looks basically the same as in the final version, but he has a tough-looking face.

The initial design image for Soichiro Kogure, Kazami's lovable partner. He looks more unafraid and reliable than in the final version. He still doesn't look 27, though...

The initial design image for Akihiko Domyoji, man of mystery. His trademark wild sideburns seem to have been added later on.

―Do you all come up with the characters' backstories together?

Niikawa: The base is created by the scenario writer, but we all add our own little touches in the form of things like their belongings and minor details like that. I like Ranko Indo, myself. I guess she's a cool lady too. Normally she tends to mess around, but when it's time to get down to business she gets serious. She's a fun character to write.

Kojima: Mine is Domyoji. He's the sort of guy who seems like he has convictions but is careless, and I like him in that supporting role position. He's a character with a lot of mysteries surrounding him, so I'm probably letting my imagination run away with itself in a lot of places, though (laughs).

Izumi: I like them all. I was the one telling Mr. Sugawara what we were going for, so even the finer details of their appearances are just what I wanted. Not that all of them end up exactly how I'd planned. I'm attached to them all, though.

―With regards to the main characters, did you struggle to mould them into their current form?

Izumi: We were pretty sure about exactly what roles we wanted each of the main cast to play right from the start, so not much really changed there.

Niikawa: The main characters are more or less the same as they were when we first started work on the project.

Yanase: Now that you mention it, we kept changing the timing at which Yuka shows up. We weren't too sure at exactly which point in the game we should introduce her.

Izumi: We were adjusting the overall volume of the game's content, and it was a bit of a struggle figuring out when we should first bring in the heroine.

―I think some people are of the opinion that Kogure is the game's heroine, actually (laughs).

Izumi: Yeah, that's true (laughs).

Niikawa: Kogure seems to be the favourite of everyone who's played the game.

―He's a scaredy cat with a sweet tooth who's always eagerly following the main character around.

Yanase: He's a good character.

Izumi: He's very popular within the team, too.

Kojima: Not a single thing has changed about Kogure since we first came up with him.

Niikawa: We've added a bit more to his background as we've gone along, though. We had a solid idea of who Kirisaki and Hitomi were from the start, too, in their roles as the occult and scientific advisors.

Izumi: Yuka was the only one we struggled with. Mr. Sugawara and ourselves had somewhat differing ideas on the sort of person she is. We have her positioned as the heroine, but doesn't she quite fill those shoes. Maybe we'll have a different heroine in the next game (laughs).

Niikawa: Are we putting in another girl? Poor thing (laughs).

Yanase: Even though we went through such pains to create her? (laughs)

Niikawa: As the one writing the scenario, I found Yuka an easy character to write for.

―Who would you say you find tricky to write for, then?

Niikawa: Characters who don't do all that much. The main cast are all fine. Some of the minor characters don't have much of a role, so I struggled to think of what they might do in a certain situation.

Izumi: Characters like Shota Nozawa?

Niikawa: Yeah. Even with those types of characters, though, if I liked the drawing Mr. Sugawara did of them, I started wanting to make them do more. Ones like Taino. He's probably my second favourite. I'm quite fond of the picture of him standing around in the forest looking suspicious (laughs).

Drawings of Suimei and Hitomi done for the initial image board. Despite slight differences in their appearance, such as hairstyle, from the final design, you can see that their overall air is basically unchanged.

The Truth is in the Sequel

―Plenty of mysteries from the game's story remain unsolved. Will these questions be answered in a sequel?

Niikawa: Yes. That's the plan. There are still a lot of mysteries surrounding the main characters in particular. That's all secret for now.

―I see. Could you just give us a hint, though? Let's start with Hitomi. What happened in her past to leave a scar like that on her body?

Niikawa: Hitomi was dating a guy during her university days, a mutual friend of her and Suimei. At some point, he started to lose his mind day by day. He was actually involved in an occult-related incident, and Kirisaki and Hitomi, who were with him, got wrapped up in it. That's when she suffered the wound.

The scar on Hitomi's back. It looks both like a burn, and like it's been eaten away at by something.

―Indo has a lot of mystery surrounding her, too. The game gives us a bit of a peek into her past.

Niikawa: About a decade ago, Ranko lost her family - her husband and child - in an incident, which led to her becoming an exorcist.

Izumi: I'm sure you know this, but the woman accompanying Domei in Episode Kirisaki is Ranko. She had already lost her family by that point.

15 years prior to the main story, Indo appears before Suimei. What was the incident that led to her becoming an exorcist?

―You mean she used to just be an ordinary housewife?

Niikawa: Yes. She trained with a Buddhist priest, and then joined the Police Historical Archives Room.

―I'm curious about the accident in which Suimei lost both of his parents, too. Does the ghost story about the Police Historical Archives Room that lingers in the form of a rumour refer to that accident?

Niikawa: That's right.

Kojima: It's so dark that I'm not sure if you can tell, but when Kazami goes there for the first time, there's a box of "Shien" cigarettes, the brand Domei used to smoke, amongst the rubbish on the desk.

―Akihiko Domyoji actually pops up in quite a lot of the scenarios, too.

Kojima: He makes arrangements with Headmaster Nagamine in Episode 1, and he calls himself Sato, from the prefectural police, in Episode Yuka.

Niikawa: Domyoji is a pseudonym. His real name is unknown. He's a member of the "organisation", too, but his actions are based on his own convictions, so no one knows what his true goal is.

―What sort of group is the "organisation" that the man on the phone and Indo are working for?

Niikawa: They want to harness the spiritual and the occult for scientific purposes. That said, there are different factions and movements with the organisation. But if we push a mysterious element like that too far to the forefront, the game becomes detached from its theme of "familiar fear", so I want to be careful not to overdo it.

―Finally, do you have a message you'd like to send to the players?

Kojima: This game isn't set in a fantasy world with swords and magic, and I'm sure there are urban legends in it that you've heard somewhere before. I'd really like it if you'd feel that familiar mood and enjoy it.

Yanase: We've set up the controls and gameplay mechanics in a way that allows you to best concentrate on the story, so I hope you become one with the main character and feel immersed in the game, and have a good time.

Izumi: Even if it is a pure adventure game, we are challenging ourselves and trying new things, so I'd like it if not only horror fans, but also people who enjoy detective stories give it a go, too.

Niikawa: I'm both looking forward to and concerned about seeing whether players actually find the game scary. I'd be really happy to hear that people play Hayarigami and find it so scary that they can't sleep or walk in the dark anymore.