This short interview with Toshinobu Kondo, character designer for the lauded Umihara Kawase series, first appeared in Action Gameside #2 in June 2013. He talks here about the updated designs and how the game relates to the previous entries in the series.

A theme that continues to emerge with newer iterations of older action and STG games is making things “accessible” for newer players.

Official Umihara Kawase site
Umihara Kawase @ hg101

Action Gameside #2
Buy Action Gameside #2 (NCSX)

Sayonara Umihara Kawase Developer Interview

with Toshinobu Kondo, Umihara Kawase series character designer

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Toshinobu Kondo.

—Its been 4 years since the Nintendo DS Umihara Kawase release, and 2 years since the cell phone version. Please tell us the history of how Sayonara Umihara Kawase came to be developed.

Kondo: At first the game was planned as a kind of “fan service” item to fans of the Umihara Kawase series, but when we talked to Agatsuma Entertainment about it, they said we might was well make a new, full game in that case.

—How have fans reacted to the new game?

Kondo: We kept hearing “her breasts sure got bigger.” (laughs) In any event, we were glad that so many were happy to see a new entry in the series.

—Kawase is 20 years old now, and her character design has been updated to reflect that. Why did you decide to make her older?

Kondo: The previous games were ports, so it wasn’t strange to keep her age the same. But being a new game we thought we’d try making her older this time.

—What was your concept for her character design?

Kondo: We added the sex appeal of a young woman.

—In this game you’ve got the pairing of 20 year old Umihara Kawase and her younger sister Kawase-chan, and 18 year old Noko and Emiko-chan. What was the reason for this pairing of younger and older?

Kondo: Since Umihara Kawase was now 20 years old, we decided we needed to add something that would preserve that loli ingredient from the previous games. From there we came up with the idea of two kids and two adults.

—What meaning is there in the “Sayonara” title? 1

Kondo: That title is a holdover from when we were thinking this would be a final fan service item for the Umihara Kawase series. It had a nice sense of impact so we kept it even as the concept of the game changed. The title conveys a sense of being ready for the end, along with the wish to return.

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Celebrating the new release.

—One question that I imagine players who are new to Umihara Kawase will have is: why are the enemy characters all fish?

Kondo: Umihara Kawase is a traveling chef, so she’s on a journey to find the ultimate ingredients. Its implied in this game that the world is that of Umihara’s psychological landscape, so its like the fish are trying to stop her on this journey.

—What were some of the challenges of drawing the fish enemies?

Kondo: It was tough to strike that balance between having them be a little creepy, but also a little loveable and cute.

—How did you originally come up with the fishing lure mechanic? 2

Kondo: Our programmar Sakai had come to the realization back then that “to make an interesting game, its important to make a prototype.” So he went about making all manner of different demos, and Umihara Kawase came about from one of those. The system we made the demos for was the X68000, and even today I can remember the first time he showed it to me.

—What was your overall concept for the development of Sayonara Umihara Kawase?

Kondo: The original Umihara Kawase had a strong reputation of being an unapproachable, difficult game. We wanted to change that and make it easier to play, and broaden its appeal to different kinds of players.

The original SFC Umihara Kawase on
gamecenter cx. Kondo is apparently
a big fan of the show and sent
Arino an Umihara Kawase drawing
for encouragement in that episode.

—This is the first time in the series you have characters with different abilities, like the unique “time slowdown” power. What led you to introduce these, and what were your intentions in adding them?

Kondo: If you play Umihara Kawase a lot you know that diagonal directional inputs are very important in the game. Following on that, we implemented an idea where precisely inputting diagonals would stop time, and from there we developed the slow motion, or “time slowdown” power. In addition to having improved controls, it was also meant to help beginners out.

—How many fields (stages) are there in Sayonara Umihara Kawase?

Kondo: There are 50 in total.

—What were some of themes you had for the fields, or things you put a lot of effort into?

Kondo: We made sure you could get through the regular route 3 without needing to perform any crazy manuevers. Visually the game has that element of a psychological landscape, so I strived to give it a jumbled, mixed-up feeling.

—In the previous Umihara Kawase games, the stages were all numbered, but there were stages that didn’t exist. 4 Why is that?

Kondo: There are no missing stages this time. The reason we had them before was that, even though you could complete the full game, we wanted to give players the sense that you hadn’t conquered the entire world of Umihara Kawase. But nowadays, with all the information about a game shared on the internet, it seemed pointless to do, so we omitted the “missing” stages.

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Promotional poster at popular
game store medialand in Akihabara.

—How was it developing for the 3DS? Did you have any difficulties with the 3D visuals?

Kondo: There were no special problems with the 3D technology, but because Umihara Kawase is an action game with a lot of movement, we decided not to use too much 3D overall.

—For those who are new to the series, please tell us about the appeal of the Umihara Kawase games.

Kondo: The game system might look a little weird at first, but it has those unchanging, essential characteristics of an action game: “think with your head and execute with your hands” and “practice makes perfect.” If you love action games, be sure to give it a try.