Chronicles of Mystara, released for the PS3 earlier this year, combines the two acclaimed CPS2 arcade beat em ups Shadow over Mystara and Tower of Doom. This short interview with developer Kenji Kataoka was published at Capcom’s official site as part of a “Dungeons and Dragons” themed interview series.

The interview was conducted by Zenji Ishii, who wrote many strategy guides and reviews for the famed arcade magazine Gamest in the 90s.

Official Capcom site (jp)
1996 D&D:SoM Interview

Chronicles of Mystara Developer Interview

Interview conducted by Zenji Ishii
Originally published at Capcom’s official page

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Kataoka Kenji: Chronicles of Mystara director. Planning director for the original Shadow over Mystara. Also produced the “Capcom Arcade Cabinet Retro Game Collection.”

—In our final installment of this interview series, 1 today we will talk with the Chronicles of Mystara director, Kenji Kataoka. Kataoka, you participated in the development of Shadow over Mystara more than a decade ago. Can you tell us what led to its development?

Kataoka: It was the heyday of vs. fighting game (hereafter, FTG), so we had to choose between developing a FTG or belt-scrolling (beat ’em up) action game. Capcom already had several FTG series going at that time, so I thought we’d take on a belt-scrolling game.

—Shadow over Mystara had a somewhat different atmosphere from the previous game, Tower of Doom.

Kataoka: Yeah, it did. I think Tower of Doom was more aimed at hardcore players. Even single zako enemies were striong, and there was a great sense of tension and danger running throughout the game. Tower of Doom was also fun to play single player, which I think is also part of that difference. But when I sat down to plan Shadow over Mystara, I wanted to make a game with a bit lighter, less tense atmosphere. The game could be enjoyed even if you didn’t know anything about D&D, which I think is largely due to the character designs of Nishimura Kinu. As we worked on Shadow over Mystara, people at Capcom saw our work and recognized the new atmosphere, saying “This feels a little different from the last game.”

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Red Dragon concept art, from the 1996 Shadow over Mystara mook.

—The copyright holder for D&D was TSR, a Western company. Didn’t that make the character designs difficult? The western fantasy designs for D&D heroes have a more rugged, muscular look.

Kataoka: The Fighter and Elf designs do probably look like children to westerners. We were told they looked too young. There was some conflict with TSR in the beginning, but by the end we had built a relationship of trust between us, and I remember being given a relatively high degree of freedom.

—I think the character designs came out very well. They retain the original quality of the D&D world, while also being accessible to Japanese players. The different 1P and 2P designs are also really great.

Kataoka: For the 2P Magic User, I thought it would be cool if players couldn’t see his face and had to imagine what he looked like. The 2P Fighter design was a similar idea, I think. The 2P Cleric is bald, which is a promised Capcom tradition. The 2P Elf’s ponytail, by the way, was my personal addition. (laughs)

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Concept art for the mysterious 2P Magic User.
Text beside him reads: “His face must not be seen.”

—I think one feature of Shadow over Mystara is the relaxed, relatively easy gameplay. Was this something you were very conscious of during the development?

Kataoka: Back then Capcom had recently released a belt-scrolling action game, “Alien vs. Predator.” I really, really loved the fun, easy-to-play quality of that game, and wanted to do something similar with Mystara. If there had been no Alien vs. Predator, Mystara might have turned out to be a somewhat more difficult game.

—I see, that makes sense. What do you think gives a game that easy, relaxed quality?

Kataoka: Well, this isn’t limited to Shadow over Mystara, but when I make a game I’m always thinking that the difficulty needs to progress alongside the player’s abilities. If a game is too easy, it starts to feel like mindless work, and if its too hard then players will just give up and walk away. I try to balance the game with that in mind.

I don’t know if we used the word “level design” back then, but that’s what I think level design is all about. With arcade games, if your first credit is bad and you think the game is no fun, you won’t bother playing the game again. If you watch people at the game center you can tell right away. In that sense, developing arcade games can be very intimidating. But by the same token it can also be very rewarding.

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Kataoka and the limited edition boxset.

—Do you think the enjoyable multiplayer is part of it too?

Kataoka: Yeah, and I think the fact that we increased the amount of things the player could do also contributes to Mystara being a fun, easy-to-play game. In Shadow over Mystara there’s also a FTG element mixed in, where you’re reacting based on the enemies’ movements. The influence of FTGs is also seen in the rolling dash move executed with a hadouken, as well as the up-down aerial attacks you can perform.

—Was the Thief’s backstab also inspired by FTGs?

Kataoka: Yeah. Its really difficult to master that move, but we added it so that expert players could have something cool to perform. Its one of those moves for experts to show off their skill with.

—I think Shadow over Mystara’s reputation for being a fun multiplayer game is a main factor in the long-lasting devotion of its fans. Over 10 years after the arcade release, Chronicles of Mystara is now being released for the PS3… and I imagine the requests from fans who played it at the game center are largely responsible?

Kataoka: People were always telling us they wanted us to port it. There was a Saturn port, but due to the hardware limitations it would be difficult to call that version a complete port. We had talked about porting the games since then, but there were copyright problems and it took a long time. But the PS3 release allows for online 4-player multiplayer, which previous consoles couldn’t do, so I hope people enjoy it.

—How has the reception been to Chronicle of Mystara’s network multiplayer?

Kataoka: Good, thankfully. But unlike the game center version, this version doesn’t use credits. You can have infinite continues, so in that sense the feeling of tension is different. Those veterans of the game center and newer players may approach the game differently.

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Kataoka and interviewer Zenji Ishii,
a Gamest luminary from the 90s.

—Even so, I think being able to play with different people and still enjoy the experience is one of Mystara and Tower of Doom’s unique strengths. Its an enjoyment thats different from the “win or lose” mentality of FTGs.

Kataoka: That’s true. Playing with people you know is also fun, but playing with complete strangers makes it an entirely different game. Instead of just completing it once and stopping, by playing with new people you can experience many different adventures.

—And I think that is the very appeal of playing games together with others. Online games that you play with many others have become very common, but I think Capcom’s D&D games are a kind of arcade predecessor to that style.

Kataoka: In the network rooms where you setup games, you can see the difficulty and “appeal comments”, thereby finding a game that’s appropriate for your skill level. You can also adjust different parameters and, so its friendly to beginners too. If you try out this online multiplayer I think you’ll see how fun it is, so please give it a shot. Thank you for your time.