Chaka-chaka-pata-pon, dear readers. With Sony's latest PSP arthouse project finally wowing gamers (Europe got it last Friday or today, depending on country/retailer), we thought it only right and proper to find out some details about the gestation of the tactical rhythm-action experience that is Patapon. If only to spread the word of this magnificent title and hopefully get as many people to experience it.
So we caught up with designer Hiroyuki Kotani, who in addition to working on Patapon can include the PSone DIY gamemaker Yarouze project, the excellent and million-selling Devil Dice, quirky music-based title Mad Maestro and steampunk air combat game SkyGunner in his CV.
Pocket Gamer: How did the concept for Patapon come about?
Hiroyuki Kotani: I believe that the idea itself – communicating a command to soldiers by the drumbeat – is simple. However, I managed to merge the idea with such pleasure in Patapon [which] was due to the strong character of the Patapons. When I first saw them moving in Rolito's [the game's graphic designer] website, I was inspired and I instantly had an idea of a game featuring battles with use of music.
Cheerful songs and heroic drums were included in the first idea inspired by the Patapons. The challenge was to express it in a form that is happy and simple enough for everybody to understand.
How did you get the idea to work with Rolito and why did you think his style would work well for this type of game?
I cannot help my desire to realise the idea that his creation, the Patapons, inspired in me. I contacted Rolito and this is how the project started. I knew "I would get a great game out of this!" at first sight. (Laughs)
How much of the game was inspired by the feedback from LocoRoco?
It is widely misunderstood but we, the Patapon team, are completely different from the team who created LocoRoco. That being said, I was inspired from LocoRoco too, as the both games have a fun and happy tone in common.
The game has a very Japanese style so how have you tried to ensure its appeal to American and European audiences?
I did not realise it, almost at all. I am Japanese. I was born and grew up in Japan. I love this country and culture. It's natural that my games should have Japanese tastes. However, I believe that the best way to communicate how fun Patapon is to let people get their hands on the game, regardless of nationality or culture.
This is why we created a demo version to provide levels that work as a tutorial so that people can understand what the game is like. We want to communicate the pleasure of the game which is very hard to do without getting people play it. I am happy if people play our demo version. I hope they like it.
How many different sort of Patapon are there and how important is the customisation process in terms of different weapons and armour?
The game has six types of Patapon warriors and more variations will be available when crossed with the rare varieties called Rarepon. However, please note that the customisation is not a hardcore element that the player must master to complete the game. It is rather to offer an alternative and additional fun in the same mission, for example. Please try it in as many ways as you can find.
What can you tell us about the enemies we fight?
They are eyeball characters like Patapons but are square and red and are called Zigotons. They believe in their legend that tells them if they let the Patapons reach Earthend, the world will be doomed. Therefore, they desperately try to thwart the Patapons' march to Earthend. Among them, the Zigoton general Gong is a cool character and I am a big fan.
Apart from the Zigotons, the player will face fierce and powerful monsters protecting Divine Artefacts. It is not easy to defeat them but the Patapons will get a new power throughout those tests. Certainly many adventures are waiting for them on their journey to Earthend.
Can you explain how the levelling up process works?
There is no ordinary level-ups by experience in Patapon. Instead, the player will build up their Patapon army by creating new type of Patapon with items they acquire in the adventure and providing weapons that are more powerful. Also, they will find more drum commands become available during the adventure and they can use more dynamic strategies as a result.
What can you tell us about the mini-games and do they feed back into the main game in any way?
Mini-games are one of the key factors in the main game. The player can unlock them by awakening the spirits called Patapooka in Patapolis, the Patapon's base and village. The player can get items that are useful for their adventure by playing fun rhythm-based games with Patapooka. It will eventually support the adventure in many ways such as creating new Patapon varieties, as well as legendary weapons.
Why did you decide not to use wi-fi for trading, for example?
This time we concentrated on making the game as fun as possible for players. When we've provided lots of Patapon fun all over the world, we will think about what new fun we can do.
Finally, what do you think is the most impressive thing about the game?
That should be the songs the Patapons sing during a mission. I assume a lot of players will have the song of 'Pata Pata Pata Pon' constantly in their heads!
Beside the songs, I think each player will have different moment that is the most impressive to them. Patapon has several climaxes that require a lot of work from the player. However they can overcome those tough missions at last and when they finally complete the game, I hope the memory of the tough battles experienced with their Patapon army will stay in their heart as a very happy memory.Our thanks to Hiroyuki Kotani for his time. We look forward to his future projects in the hope that they will provide us with plenty more Patapon fun. But that will only happen if the game proves successful. And that's ultimately down to you. So if you haven't already, check out the demo (and be prepared to rush into the nearest game shop soon after).