While Yumi’s Odd Odyssey is the perfect title for a game about a young woman’s fish infested adventures, it also illustrates the winding path the series took to come to North America.
The series began life on the Super Famicom in 1994, and saw new installments up to the PSP and DS. That PSP entry, known as Umihara Kawase Portable, is where things got a little weird. Folks like Jeremy Parish felt it had performance issues, and Natsume’s plans to publish the title in North America fell through.
Thankfully, Natsume remained vigilant in their efforts to bring the series to the West. Yumi’s Odd Odyssey will see release here on March 20, exclusively on the 3DS eShop.
Natsume provided me the opportunity to speak with Graham Markay, VP of Operations at Natsume, about one of my most anticipated games of the year. I hope you enjoy it.
What about Yumi’s Odd Odyssey spoke to Natsume so strongly?
Graham Markay (GM): It basically sums up our publishing philosophy: A fun, family-friendly game that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
Natsume attempted to bring the PSP game, Umihara Kawase Portable, over to North America, but later decided against that decision. When this entry was announced for release in Japan, was it something you immediately wanted to bring over? At what point did Natsume approach Agatsuma regarding publishing rights?
GM: We would have liked to publish Umihara Kawase Portable, but unfortunately, we ran into some red tape when it came to publishing that game. Therefore, when the 3DS version of the game was announced, we were definitely interested! We ended up meeting with Agatsuma at last year’s E3, and we both quickly realized it was a great publishing match.
Language aside, was there any other changes made to YOO in the localization process?
GM:No, there are no differences in the game other than localizing the game to English.
What’s the key element that allows Umihara Kawase to have survived for all this time?
GM:Good games are good games, no matter how old they are. Look at how well NES and SNES games sell on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, for example, even though the games are, in some cases, over 30 years old! Even though the Umihara Kawase series hasn’t been released outside of Japan until now, it’s had a cult following overseas for a reason: The game, and its concept, are fun! It’s one of those games that takes only a few minutes to learn, but years to master.
The series is known for its difficulty, but YOO is notable for allowing players of all skills to have a chance at success. Can you better explain how the three playable characters affect the game’s difficulty?
GM: In Yumi’s Odd Odyssey, the player can control not just grown-up Yumi, but also Young Yumi, and her friend, Emiko. They have the special ability of restarting from checkpoints throughout levels. Therefore, they are perfect characters for players who are new to the game. The other special character is Noko Yokoyama, a time-traveling policewoman, who can move even when time is stopped.
Does YOO take advantage of StreetPass or SpotPass at all? Are their online leaderboards that measure level completion times and things of that nature?
GM: Yumi’s Odd Odyssey doesn’t have any StreetPass or SpotPass features, but yes, there is a Ranking feature that allows you to compare your times with players all over the world! We’re definitely hoping players make use of this feature, and try to get the best time they can!
I completely side with your decision to release YOO exclusively on the eShop, but out of curiosity, can you explain the factors the decide whether a game is released at retail or not?
GM: Basically, for every title we publish, we internally discuss what the best retail plans for the game are. Since Yumi’s Odd Odyssey is basically an unknown franchise in the West, spending money on production, packaging, etc. for a title that will probably only be carried at select retailers and in turn sell a relatively low amount of units doesn’t make fiscal sense for us. However, the great thing about digital distribution avenues like the Nintendo eShop is that we can take risks on niche games like Yumi’s Odd Odyssey without having to depend on retail stores. Therefore, gamers get to experience games they wouldn’t necessarily be able to due to the high cost of a physical production runs.
The director has hinted that this could be the last entry in the Umihara Kawase series. If that were the case, is there any concern of creating a fan base that may never see another drop of what they love?
GM: We don’t think so. We just think that this is a great game, and want to share it with as many people as possible. And, perhaps with a new Western fanbase for the series, it’s possible that it could actually cause enough waves for another game in the series to be made!
Continuing along that topic, if this were to be the final entry, what makes YOO a fitting ‘goodbye’ to fans?
GM: The fact that Kiyoshi Sakai, the original designer of the Super Famicom game, was also the director and designer of Yumi’s Odd Odyssey, brings a nice finale to the series.
Thanks for the interview Natsume and Graham Markay!