Interview with Director of Fantastic Boyfriends: Legends of Midearth

Fantastic Boyfriends key art

This interview originally appeared on in June 2015. Interview questions and introductory text are by Rinoa (@link6616), and I assisted with liaising with the Fantastic Boyfriends director in Japanese, which included translating Rinoa’s questions into Japanese, and translating the director’s answers into English. (Full disclosure: I also translated prologue chapter of the game and Indiegogo promotional materials). I’m republishing this interview here with Rinoa’s permission so it can remain available as an important discussion with an indie Japanese game developer on LGBTQ topics. Please note that I have an ongoing relationship with the developer, but I’m not able to answer any questions on their behalf. Enjoy! 

About a month ago we wrote about Fantastic Boyfriends: Legends of Midearth‘s Indiegogo campaign to get the game localized. We had the chance to interview the Director of this project, Yojou Hansuke from Lifewonders. The game is a free to play mobile RPG for iOS and Android phones targeting gay men specifically.

Could you explain how the romance/dating side of things works in the game?
Fantastic Boyfriends is a mobile game with simple gameplay, and our first title. We were very careful to make it easy to pick up for people who haven’t played many games. It’s the kind of game that draws you into the story right off the bat. The romance element is also very easy to control – just select your preferred response when given multiple options to deepen your relationships with the characters.

As an RPG what would you say are the main inspirations for it?
I’ve played many RPGs since I was a kid, so I think a lot of them have had a major influence on me. Probably the first RPGs I ever played, Ultima III: Exodus and Dragon Quest I, were the biggest inspirations for Fantastic Boyfriends.

A lot of developers make mobile games for various reasons, but RPGs seem to fit mobile very unusually well, why do you think that is?
I think it has to do with the fact that mobile devices are easy to take out and play anywhere whenever you have free time, even if just a few minutes. In Japan in particular there are a lot of people who commute using public transport, so I’m sure that increases the demand for portable titles. If Fantastic Boyfriends is successful, we would definitely like to make an LGBT RPG with an even larger scope for mobile devices.

It’s interesting you chose to make an RPG aimed for gay men particularly. We’ve written in the past about the fact that gay gamers tend to be drawn to RPGs very consistently. Are you aware of this trend? Do you have thoughts on this phenomenon?
That’s really interesting! I can’t really speak for other game players, so I’ll answer this from my perspective as a member of the LGBT community who likes RPGs.

I think that though we live together with everyone else in society, LGBT individuals are often required to conceal their sexual identities (of course, this depends on the person and their environment and may not be the same for everyone…). While it may not eliminate it entirely, playing RPGs and being able to become a completely different person can help you deal with the frustration of hiding your identity. Looking back on it now, I think the ability to escape from that frustration when I played RPGs was really important for me growing up.

In Fantastic Boyfriends, the protagonist is open about the fact that he is gay, and never hides his emotions. Not only that, but the people of the fantasy world he is brought to never react in a negative way in regards to him being gay (though some characters may be surprised at first). I hope if there are any gay people out there feeling upset about their sexuality, they can be a different person while playing Fantastic Boyfriends and feel relief from their frustrations, even for just a few minutes.

The game is a free to play title. These days that can mean almost anything. How does that work in your game?
The opening quest of Fantastic Boyfriends is completely free to play. This even includes an ending where you pledge your love for one of the main characters, the knight Orgus. Other quests can be purchased as additional content, either individually or in a bundle. If you purchase at least three of the additional content options available in version 2, you’ll be able to see romantic endings with the other three main characters.

The other purchasable quests give you stronger equipment to help you advance the story easier, learn more about the various characters, or gain further insight into the game’s world. We hope players will be able to enjoy the opening quest and then decide what content to purchase based on which characters or quests are most appealing to them.

A lot of Japanese anime and games that comes out in English, most of the male characters are much more effeminate. And when we hear about gay Japanese media we often hear about Boys Love (少年愛) or Yaoi. I don’t think many western game players are used to an art style like the one used in Fantastic Boyfriends, and I was wondering if you could tell us a little more about that?
That’s very true. As you mention, many of the male characters that appear in Japanese anime, games, and comics are thin bishounen (beautiful young men). You don’t see many buff or chubby men like we have in Fantastic Boyfriends. (You may see them occasionally as sub-characters, but never protagonists or antagonists… and definitely not love interests!)

Particularly with anime and games where there are a large number of people on a single project, it’s much cheaper to draw or make 3D models of characters with similar features and body types. In the end, the majority of player prefer these bishonen characters, so they continue to be made.

Moreover, the Japanese entertainment that does make it overseas tends to be what has a large audience and is already proven to be very successful in Japan. I think this can lead to the impression that all Japanese media features the same kind of art style and male character types.

However, in reality, artists in Japan are producing and exporting tens of thousands of products. These works have a wide variety of art styles, each with extremely enthusiastic fans, even if their actual numbers may be relatively small.

Fantastic Boyfriends characters

We would like to bring that kind of diversity that is often overlooked into gaming culture. This includes more diverse sexual orientations as well as more diverse art styles that haven’t really been seen in the market before.

Of course, that is not to say that we wish to eliminate slim, bishonen-style characters. These characters are appealing in their own way to many players. Rather, we recognize that there are more diverse players who do not fit in that majority. How do we know? Because you can count the members of our staff in that category! (laugh)

We all believe in bringing more diversity to gaming culture, which is why we decided to go with an art style that is not seen as often. We would very much like to try a variety of different styles, as well as collaborate with artists from not only in Japan but also different countries in the future.

It is hard to not get excited when you hear a developer talk about being a company targeting LGBT people. While in the west we have slowly been gaining a few games aimed for that audience, it is still rather slim. What are your thoughts on where Japan’s gaming is going with games targeted for LGBT players?
I know of a few doujin (self-publishing) teams who are making games for LGBT players in Japan, but overall there aren’t that many. There are probably only 10 to 20 in all. As both a developer and a player of games, I hope more and more LGBT game developers enter the market. As a player, I’m hungry for more of the games I’d personally like to play! (laugh)

Fantastic Boyfriends English screenshot

While games are becoming more inclusive with same sex relationships, it is usually more of addition rather than specific targeting like you have done for Fantastic Boyfriends. Personally, I appreciate being a primarily part of the target audience rather than a secondary concern. But what do you think of focusing in on different groups compared with trying to provide everything to everyone?
That’s true, you often see one or two characters who you can have a same-sex relationship with even in mainstream Japanese games. But there aren’t many who are actually main characters. Not only that, but gay men who play games are often forced to choose a female partner whether they want to or not, even if there’s a male character they’d rather choose. When that happens, I think, “I wish they let me pick who I wanted!”

To answer your question of whether I’d prefer a mainstream game that includes LGBT characters or a game that targets LGBT people specifically as a player rather than a developer, I have to say I want both! (laugh) It’s the same as feeling like eating bread some days and rice on others.

However, answering as a developer, I think there are many more difficulties involved in making a game that includes LGBT characters but can appeal to anyone. Even if a large publisher decides they want to add an LGBT component to their flagship title, it’s difficult if it doesn’t result in an actual profit for them. But for a new company like ours who would like to make games not just for LGBT players, but for anyone to enjoy, it’s very difficult without the resources. Because of this, we have to start by prioritizing what’s important and putting the games we enjoy out into the market.

Thus, we started with Fantastic Boyfriends, a game aimed at gay male players that has a romantic component, in order to take the first step towards developing games that appeal to an even broader audience. It may not be successful at first and it may take a long time, but we’ll keep moving slowly towards our goal. I believe that if we can show there is a demand for LGBT games, the games culture we love will become even more varied and will have a positive effect on LGBT and non-LGBT players alike.

Fantastic Boyfriends header

Advertising through 9monsters (A popular gay dating application similar to Grindr) in Japan was an interesting choice, as I don’t think I’ve seen LGBT targeted games advertised through those kinds of apps before. Will you consider advertising through similar western smart phone applications? And also was it effective?
Thanks for checking out our advertisement! Yes, we are thinking of advertising the English version on gay apps like 9monsters (though we are still undecided).

We decided that this way would be a better way to reach gay male mobile users than, say, magazine advertisements. We were able to reach users who do not normally see this kind of game release information, so I think it was successful.

I know you aren’t allowed to play favourites, but is there a favourite Fantastic Boyfriend the team has?
I’m sorry, my feelings change from month to month! I just love all of the characters. (laugh) I can’t put a number on them. However, in terms of a character who was easy to write and talk about, I like the fire dragon in human form Fafnir. Despite being super strong, inside he’s a childlike troublemaker, and I hope players come to love him, too.

Fantastic Boyfriends Fafnir

Fantastic Boyfriends is an RPG, however on the crowdfunding page you say you want to look at other genres, what genre are you excited to work on next if you can say?
As a company, our current objective is to make games that are easy for as many people as possible to play, but personally I love tactical RPGs and business simulation games and would love to make something like that. (But in terms of genres many people would like to play, those are probably kind of far down the list…)

Outside of games, I would also like to try making comics or even figures.

Thank you very much Yojou Hansuke for your time. We appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to talk with us.

If you are interested in Lifewonders’ Fantastic Boyfriends: Legends of Midearth the Indiegogo finishes June 28, 2015 11:59pm PST. Please take a look here. At the time of writing it has $12,875 of $20,000. Note: The Indiegogo campaign is completed. Please direct all inquires regarding Fantastic Boyfriends to the developer here.

About Anne Lee

Also known as apricotsushi. Anne can be written with the kanji for apricot (杏), and sushi was the most quintessentially Japanese thing I could think of when I was 13, resulting in my goofy, albeit memorable, nickname.