Interview: Project Rap Rabbit creators Masaya Matsuura and Keiichi Yano at A 5th of BitSummit

Creators explain Kickstarter, initial Switch stretch goal, and more.

Project Rap Rabbit

At A 5th of BitSummit in Kyoto this past weekend, Gematsu had the opportunity to sit down with Masaya Matsuura and Keiichi Yano, respective creators of iconic rhythm games PaRappa the Rapper and Gitaroo Man, and collaborative creators of the recently announced Project Rap Rabbit.

Project Rap Rabbit is a new story-led, rhythm-action adventure game set in 16th century Japan. It follows Toto-Maru, a farm boy rabbit able to harness the special power of force through rap, who must use the magic of rhythm and rhyme to heal the world of its destructive rifts and bring about global unification. It is currently on Kickstarter seeking $1.1 million in funding.

Read our full interview with Masaya Matsuura and Keiichi Yano, with the occasional appearance of PQube’s Geraint Evans, below.

I read that you all have known each other for 20 years, so is Project Rap Rabbit something you all have talked about for a while or is the collaboration a recent idea?

Matsuura: “Actually, we had a chance to meet at several gaming events, so we had a lot of chances to talk with each other. We felt there were many points of similarity between us, but obviously we didn’t have a chance to work together. But this time I called Yano-san to discuss something.”

So originally it was your idea to contact Yano-san about this idea?

Yano: “Well it was kind of a collaboration between PQube and us. We had the idea to make a new story-based rhythm action game, and it’s like, ‘I’ve been talking to Matuura-san for a long time; I should see if he’d be interested.’ So on Facebook Messenger I was like, ‘Hey Matsuura-san.’ At first we were having lots of meetings, just thinking about all the things we had discussed over the years and what might be relevant today. We both, I think, had the notion that we didn’t want to do something that was like a Parappa 3 or Gitaroo 2; not something of a continuation—we want to do something new that would give some meaning to a collaboration.”

I read on your Kickstarter page that you were visually inspired by things like the Choji Jinbutsu Giga and Spirited Away, but from a musical perspective are there any artists or hip-hop artists you like or who influence the style you are taking this game?

Matsuura: “Yes, for this time I think we will make the game for a unique visual style and story. So we have to think what kind of music style and action will fit this kind of story well. I think we have to take time and investigate with a bit of trial-and-error for the collaboration of the audio and visuals.”

Yano: “Yeah some of the samples you’ve heard on the Kickstarter video are indicative of the direction we are going. Since this world is a fusion of modern technology and feudal Japan, the sound needs to reflect that, as Matsuura-san mentioned. What we have right now in terms of tracks so far has been a good mix of that. So you’ll see a lot of, not particularly artists per se, but lots of inspirations from lots of different types of music. Everything spanning from traditional Japanese, like uh…”

Like enka?

Yano: “Yeah, and even just your typical rap artists, including Eminem and new stuff as well. But there’s a lot there I think we are pulling from, and the challenge has been to get the Japanese vibe and the rap vibe at a good balance. We’re still trying to figure that part out, but it’s been interesting.”

Right. When I looked at the game and it’s fusion of traditional Japanese culture and modern hip-hop, it reminded of the two anime, Samurai Champloo and Afro Samurai. Were those in mind at all?

Matsuura: “Actually, some of the artists in our team mentioned being inspired by them. But for the story, I think the concept and the theme will be opposite from them.”

Yano: “Yeah, they were definitely two of the inspirations actually. You’ll see it in the themes and the stories. The whole story is about how we get away from this era of protectionism; it’s about everything domestic and local. As we thought about designing the main character, those were the main themes we thought about. Things like Afro Samurai and Samurai Champloo pull from similar sorts of Japanese history, although they address different themes. So they were interesting to think about.”

One of things that jumped out at me is how you choose different lyrics and responses while rapping. Is there a plan for this to evolve into a branching story path, or have different allies and enemies based on those choices?

Yano: “That’s actually exactly correct.”

Evans: “One of the teams describe it as being like a musical Outrun.”

Yano: “Yeah, the rap battle system is made to be a branching system, much like the dialogue trees of Mass Effect and such. As you progress through rap battles and the call-and-response system, the whole thing branches depending on how you answer.”

OK, cool. On one of the pages you wrote you want to appeal to the hardcore gamers who are looking for more difficulty, so like—I was very bad at PaRappa when I was a kid, I couldn’t even beat the first level—are there different difficulty levels?

Matsuura: “I think rhythm games are made for rhythm. So I really don’t like rhythm games called rhythm games who’s higher difficulties just raise the BPM (beats per minute). Sometimes the musical feeling is difficult for unmusical people, but I want to break this kind of border. So I think this game will have a set difficulty.”

For the main characters, do you have any voice actors in mind?

Yano and Matsuura: “(Laughs.)”

Yano: “It’s still early.”

Matsuura: “Good question, thank you for reminding us. Ahh, that’s a very good question. (Laughs.)”

Yano: “Yeah we don’t have anybody scoped out yet.”

How about this guy (points at Matsuura)?

Matsuura: “(Laughs.) No no no, I’m not very good at voicing characters, but ah…ooh. (Laughs.)”

So who is the better rapper here?

Matsuura: “He is. (Laughs.). I really think so.”

Evans: “We’ll have to put it to the test.”

Yano: “Yeah we’ll have to see, we’ll have a PaRappa battle (everyone laughs).”

So is the art style going to be 2D as in the promotional art or like PaRappa, or will you go for a 3D polygonal direction?

Yano: “It’s a full 3D game, powered by Unreal Engine 4.”

One of the questions people wanted me to ask is if this becomes successful, would you consider making, either individually or collaboratively, a new Ouedan, Vib Ribbon, PaRappa, or some continuation of an older series?

Matsuura: “It could happen, but that’s up to circumstances after this project.”

Yano: “Up to the community. But I think there’s a time and place for things like that. As creators, I think we like to create things. So, it’s always very interesting to always be challenged by new projects. We are really appreciative and grateful of our fan base, so if there’s ever a chance where we can have the fans support us in some type of continuation of a series, we’d love to do that.”

Were you set on Kickstarter from the beginning or did you consider approaching a larger publisher for funding?

Evans: “The origin of the project came from PQube and Yano-san coming together, so we were involved in the genesis of the project to a certain extent, in terms of the initial conversation insofar as it would be really cool to work with Matsuura-san and Yano-san. At the time we were thinking about it, we didn’t realize Matsuura-san and Yano-san knew each other quite so well. If it had happened the other way around—if they came up with the idea it may have been the case that they approached a large publisher. As you guys know, you cover much of our work, we are quite a small publisher. Had we the resources to do it, we would absolutely look to bankroll the project. We also wanted to reach out to the community to get an understanding of the popularity of the idea.”

The goal for the Nintendo Switch version dropped from $4.95 million to $1.5 million, so could you speak to the thinking or reasoning behind that decision?

Yano: “What were you thinking!?”

No no, not that at all. (Everyone laughs.)

Yano: “It was pretty simple. First of all game development is, contrary to popular belief, a very expensive endeavor. When we first set our stretch goals, we designed it to have certain types of features; we wanted a full-featured game. The first thing to understand is that at our base level, where we’re shooting for right now–$1.1 million– is we want a good, full-featured game that everyone can be happy with and where we are not cutting corners or doing anything like that.”

Not like episodic or something?

Yano: “No no no, we want it to be a full game. On top of that, we had a whole bunch of features we wanted to put in but we just couldn’t do at that level—kind of bonus features. Then add we added them up, and then put the Nintendo Switch version on top of that, that’s how that came to be in terms of where the level is. The community really shouting for a Nintendo Switch version has been very clear to us. (Laughs.) We really appreciate our fans, so we want to make sure that we’re giving them, to some extent, what they want as well. So what we did internally is we revisited how we would approach this, and I think a lot of the misunderstanding here was that, if you look at the stretch goals we used to have, we have all these features and all these stages, and then on top of that for an extra four or five hundred thousand, you got the Switch version. So we weren’t actually charging $3.5 million or anything like that just for the Switch version, it was all the things that came before that that made up the cost. Then we decided to prioritize Switch and thus did a lot of planning in terms of how we could do that. The biggest realization was, ‘if we don’t have to port over all of the features that are in the stretch goals to Switch, then the porting to Switch could be done for a little cheaper than we had planned for.’ That’s how we were able to get the cost down and subsequently get it down to a stretch goal that everybody could be happy with.”

That’s all I have, but is there anything else you’d like to share or say?

Matsuura: “For me it’s very exciting to collaborate with Yano-san and PQube on this project. I really hope this will be a gate to making this genre great again.”

Yano: “We’ve been thinking for a long time what a lot of music games do well, and even just in our own work where we’ve kind of fallen short as video gaming in general. So what we’ve set out to do with this project is to establish a new genre of rhythm action game. The system we’ve designed is going to be very unique; I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s turning out really exciting. We’ll be able to show some gameplay target video pretty soon. We’re really looking forward to showing everyone how cool the game is going to be.”

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