Christ Centered Gamer recently reviewed Tearyhand Studio’s In His Time, an emotional adventure game that had some Christian roots with its Japanese developer. We got to exchange a few words with Yona, the game’s developer, as he delves into his game development history and journey of faith in Japan.
Please note that this interview was translated from the original Japanese by Tearyhand Studio’s PR contact. The rest of the responses remain unchanged in English.
Thank you so much for answering a few questions for us! First things first; what were your inspirations for creating In His Time?
Thank you as well for this opportunity! It all started with the works of Patricia St. John. I love the work of this Christian author, and there was a time when I would read the Japanese translations of her books over and over for days. The stories of young children facing their sins, learning to understand people they dislike, or learning to grow their love little by little, those stories moved me deeply. I wanted to do the same thing as this author and decided to create In His Time.
In His Time is an emotionally charged game with themes of faith and loss. How did you come up with the overall plot of the game?
I think a lot of it reflects my own experiences. My mother has muscular dystrophy, and my father passed away from ALS. Despite the circumstances and being on the brink of sorrow, my mother held strongly to her faith and pulled me along. I wanted to convey that, even amid any difficulties, God is very present and is bringing hope.
The game has a lot of unique aspects to it, from the graphics to the story. What is the one aspect of In His Time are you proud of the most?
I believe it is the act of directing, as a means to convey the story more vividly through the visuals. I really enjoy creating animation and making sprites move. Imagine being able to see a scene come to life on a screen exactly as you imagined it in your head. It was truly a joy to be able to create this game.
What was the most challenging part of developing In His Time?
To integrate the puzzles into the story. While I wished for the story to be the core of this game, I realized that to convey it effectively, I had to find ways to keep players engaged in the narrative through interactive elements. I decided it would be in the form of puzzles. I wanted to create a game where solving puzzles becomes the way to unravel the story itself. The puzzles needed to be easy and fun enough for the game to be enjoyable to as many people as possible while making sure the story was being told, figuring this out has been challenging. There are some places I believe I succeeded, others I believe I could have done better.
How was your experience with the Kodansha Games Creator’s Lab? Is the indie scene different in Japan compared to places like America?
The first thing I can say is that, without this environment, I would not have been able to complete the development of the game. While it goes without saying that being able to receive the financial support was crucial for me as I did not have any personal capital, the best advantage was to be able to receive their honest feedback. Thanks to this support I was able to make the message of my work more accessible to people.
Having lived in Japan all my life, I have little knowledge of how the indie game scene in other countries are, so I am not well placed to make any comments. Speaking from my own perspective, creating indie games in Japan and living off the sales revenue still seems like a very far off dream. While some creators are able to sustain themselves, it is still a very small minority. Even the culture of playing games on Steam hasn’t quite taken hold here yet. There is still a lot to be done to raise awareness about indies. Additionally, I personally feel also concerned about Japan’s declining population. I believe it is crucial to focus on how to reach an international audience with our games.
Video games and Christian ministry aren’t things that people think of together. (Christ Centered Gamer is also an example of this!) How were you inspired to create a game with Christian themes?
I believe a lot of it has to do with my immersion in the gaming culture.
When I was in high-school, I became addicted to online gaming to the point where my mother was genuinely concerned. The players I met through the games left a deep impression on me, as they all seemed to live their days as if they were always enduring and persevering life’s struggles. These players had a big influence on me, to the point where I lost my sense of purpose in life.
When I first thought about creating a game on the theme of faith, those adults came into mind. I thought I could convey a sense of hope to them through the medium of games. This was something I thought many years ago. In reality, when you think about the target audience of In His Time, I don’t think they would be part of it. (although I heard one of the players I was directly involved with back in the day had purchased In His Time not long ago, but do not know what they thought of it…)
In any case, I love creating games, and I think I believed I wanted to create something that would please God and dedicate it to Him.
I believe the existence of efforts such as yours, Christ Centered Gamer, is truly admirable.
While living on this earth, we are able to develop various interests as we live, and I believe can praise God in all of them. Someday, when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, I’d like to have conversations with gamers from all over the world, transcending the language barriers to talk about how “That game was really fun, right?”.
You said that you wanted to be a pastor before you decided to pursue game development. Could you elaborate more on your faith journey?
Since I was a child, my parents always told me to live in a way that pleases God. When the time came when I had to choose my University, it was my first big decision to make, and I chose to study biomedical engineering.
When my father’s ALS progressed to the point where he could only lie down in bed, an occupational therapist created various things to help my father to continue working. Thanks to him, my father was able to continue being a pastor until the very end, and even managed to write a book from his bed. The occupational therapist was truly a hero to me, and decided I would also like to be able to help others through engineering.
I devoted myself to my studies and was aiming to work for a medical device manufacturer, but I didn’t have many positive encounters. The people I met all seemed to be more focused on how to make profit. I also got influenced into this profit-focused mindset, to the point where I lost sight of a life to serve God. This made me lose interest in the medical device manufacturing industry. At that time, I didn’t quite understand that creating profit was one of the most important aspects of this industry. After that, I began to think about a more direct way to serve God.
I had a deep respect for my late father, who had been a pastor. I started to pray, wondering if becoming a pastor was the path God was showing me. While I didn’t receive a clear answer from God, I began to share my desire to become a pastor with the pastor I was close to. He was delighted to hear about it and offered his support. This strengthened my excitement of becoming one, and I even started to study Hebrew.
But after a while, I still was unsure of the path God was showing me, and began feeling uneasy. I was well aware of how challenging being a pastor in Japan could be, and I desperately needed that conviction. I eventually realized serving God in a direct manner wasn’t limited to becoming a preacher, and began wondering if I could maybe dedicate game-development to God, which I initially had picked up as a hobby. I then decided to let my pastor know I wouldn’t be pursuing becoming a pastor anymore. He was of course disappointed, but he ended up supporting me anyway.
So, I ventured myself into the game industry with the purpose of expressing God’s glory through games.
Is it a different experience ministering in Japan as well as the gaming industry?
As I’ve mentioned before, it is difficult for me to speak in comparison to other countries, and I am not well-versed in this field. Please understand that my perspective is quite subjective.
In my opinion, spreading Faith in Japan is very difficult. Not only is the Christian population here less than 1%, the perception of religions in Japan is quite complex.
Originally, in Japan there was a belief in 8 million gods. Japanese people believed to have found gods in mountains, the sun, the sea, and each is equally revered. When Buddhism arrived, they accepted it just the same, adding to the gods they revered. If you think of it as a cultural habit of cherishing harmony, it is a beautiful way of thinking. But the God described in the Bible is one and the only one. He is the One True God and all others are false. This fundamental difference from the traditional Japanese beliefs represents significant challenges.
Additionally, there is a strong animosity toward religions in the more modern days. Since WW2, various new religions have emerged, and Japan has experienced tragedies such as the Tokyo subway sarin attack. More recently, former Prime Minister Abe was assassinated, and it is said that religious movements were involved in the matter. Because of this, the word “religion” itself is sensitive. I believe that the frequent portrayal of churches and religions as villains in Japanese anime is a reflection of this value system.
Please pray for Japan.
What is your favorite bible verse and how is it important in your life?
Romans 8:28 - "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
With the passing of my father and the illnesses of my mother and sister, I have been through challenging times, but I believe that it all has a purpose and is part of God’s plans. No matter what experience lies ahead, as long as we hold onto this belief, we won’t lose hope. While we may sometimes understand God’s intentions here on Earth, I believe we will comprehend the reasons beyond once we see God’s face in Heaven.
Is there any place we can check out updates for your next games? Where can we find you?
I primarily use X(Twitter) for news and updates, so please check here for more information.
Regarding my next project, it is still in the early planning stages so I am not sure how it will turn out. Currently I am thinking about how nice it would be to create something that will convey the “the joy of being forgiven”. Despite the challenges of making a living in the game industry, I want to stick to the core principle of creating something that pleases God and can reach a wider audience.
Finally, any last words for our readers at Christ Centered Gamer? Maybe advice on developing independent games or sharing your faith in different places?
If I’m being honest, I’d like to say please try the game I developed “In His Time”. My 64 year-old mother has been able to play it until the end without even using the hints, I recommend it to anyone.
If you are thinking of conveying your faith to someone, I’ve learned through game development that it is important not to impose it, but to rather seek ways that are more receptive to others. While creating In His Time, I revisited how Jesus often used parables and various methods to make His messages clear and understandable to the people. It is a demonstration of the importance of truly connecting with those you are trying to reach. If you have that passion, I encourage you to not give up on connecting with others.