It’s interesting how a few niche things sneak through to success. When we think about visual novels, we think of them as a little subgenre in a plethora of different videogames. But, a handful are bigger than you’d guess.
One such game is Danganronpa, with its wide cast of characters and game mechanics to move it beyond a basic VN. It has a big and obsessive fan base. The game’s creator and writer, Kazutaka Kodaka, pushed the genre forward. And now he wants to do it again. So, we sat down with the man himself at GDC 2023 to talk all about the new game, from its name and inspirations to possible sequels and anime.
In 2017, Kodaka left Spike Chunsoft after the release of Danganronpa V3. He now heads up Tookyo Games alongside other Danganronpa alumni. After World’s End Club came to Apple Arcade and received a reasonably positive response, the team is going even bigger with Master Detective Archives: Rain Coat.
Oh, wait, no, that’s not the name. “I thought of the name RAIN CODE after the first stage and thought it would be changing throughout development,” Kodaka says. “I thought of it like a raincoat and a code, and so RAIN CODE. And then the name just ended up as RAIN CODE.” An easy mistake to make then, on my part.
Master Detective Archives: RAIN CODE is an adventure game, but as any fans of Kodaka’s work will know, it brings with it its own strange darkness and mystery. “I’m inspired by Tim Burton’s atmosphere and feelings from his own works”, Kodaka explains. And later, mysteriously, he mentions that “there will be some betrayal.”
If this all sounds like familiar territory, then fair enough. Danganronpa is a videogame centred on hope and despair where high-schoolers murder each other to win a game that a creepy teddy bear forces them to play – RAIN CODE looks a little less full on.
“So, Danganronpa is good, but since it’s a visual novel and you only read text, there will only be niche fans for it,” Kodaka says. “I wanted to create a game where fans that don’t often [play] visual novel games also come and play this game. Danganronpa is like an introduction to mystery games, I wanted to create RAIN CODE as an introduction to new mysteries.”
Still, with a new game comes new challenges. Unlike Danganronpa, RAIN CODE is in full 3D. “I wanted more people to play this game like Life is Strange and [Detroit] Become Human. I wanted fans of [games] other than visual novels to play.” This extra development challenge hasn’t shrunk its scope, however; “Making it in 3D doesn’t mean the scenarios are shorter. It’s very bold and well-developed.”
All of Kanai Ward – the game’s setting – is rendered in 3D. You can freely explore it, going to crime scenes, conducting interviews, and trying to gather clues. Then, beyond that, there are Mystery Labyrinths, strange realms that embody the mysteries of the real world. To a lot of people, that sounds like Persona. Kodaka even said it himself.
“When I said [the Mystery Labyrinth] was similar to the palaces in Persona 5, I was making it as a joke,” Kodaka laughs. “If I say the Persona name, maybe more people [will] buy it. I really like the Persona games, so there might be some inspiration from there…” This makes me want more game dev pranksters – Kodaka and Yoko Taro can’t do it all alone.
So, RAIN CODE isn’t really like Persona and isn’t really like Danganronpa. But surely there’s some crossover with the latter? Maybe we could see a Danganronpa cameo. “No. It might contain spoilers, so I cannot really say much about that.” Oh, that sounds like there is something to find, but who knows what. Guess we’ll just have to put our detective hats on to find out.
Of course, when you create a series as successful as Danganronpa, a new project can be a little daunting. Does Kodaka think this is a new franchise in the making? What does he want to do in the future? Well, lots.
“I want to do everything, make a sequel to RAIN CODE, and Danganronpa too, and maybe make a new game,” he laughs. “I hope it becomes popular enough to get an anime. RAIN CODE[‘s story] moves a lot, so I’m wondering if the anime can go further than the games.”
This hope for the game to be popular hasn’t restricted any creative tendencies, however – it’s still very much a unique game, not watered down for a global release. “I really didn’t think [about selling] to international customers. I wanted to keep the Japanese aspects. I think maybe that is why international fans find my works interesting.”
I’d agree – the games Kodaka makes are unique, with a unique voice. And that’s why they’re so special. But what I really want to know is, what’s next? Kodaka wants to make a sequel to RAIN CODE and more Danganronpa, while also wanting to make a brand-new game. Surely there’s something in the works?
“I’m thinking a lot, but can’t really say.” Oh… guess we just have to wait and see.
Interview done by Ruby Spiers-Unwin and feature written by Ben Johnson.