This collection of interviews from BEEP Mega Drive magazine chronicles the development and release of Lunar: The Silver Star, the beloved 1992 RPG published by Game Arts and developed by the now-defunct Studio Alex, a team formed by ex-members of Nihon Falcom and Xtalsoft.

Lunar was conceived and crafted in tandem with the then-burgeoning CD-ROM format to express a depth and breadth of character-motivated drama heretofore unseen in traditional Japanese RPGs; these factors, along with a heavy marketing campaign and a divisive but colorful localization, saw the game become one of the highest-selling Sega CD games ever and led to a small handful of sequels, as well as remakes across Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Game Boy Advance and PlayStation Portable.

Alisia Dragoon interview (1992)
Next-Gen feat. Game Arts (1993)
Grandia interviews (1997)
Grandia interviews (1998)
Game Arts x Chunsoft (1998)
Grandia II interviews (2000)

Lunar: The Silver Star – 1992 Developer Interviews

originally featured in BEEP! Megadrive magazine

Kazunari Tomi – Producer (Studio Alex founder)
Kei Shigema – Scenario Lead (Studio Alex)
Takashi Hino – Main Story Writer (Studio Alex)
Toshio Akashi – Visual/Sound Presentation (Studio Alex)
Yoichi Miyaji – Producer (Game Arts)
Tetsu Uesaka – Co-Producer (Game Arts)

—We’re privileged to have both Game Arts and Studio Alex gathered here today. To begin, please tell us how the Lunar project got started.

Shigema: Our work had just dried up, and we had nothing to do, and Tomi came over to me and talked about wanting to make an RPG—a console one, at that.

Miyaji: Later you came to me and we talked about doing it together with Game Arts, I remember.

Tomi: I think a big part of it was that we, Studio Alex, didn’t have a solid development under our belt yet. I’d been following Game Arts and their releases for a long time. Their games were uncompromising, they never did anything half-assed, and even if payment was somehow delayed they’d still keep hammering away. (laughs) I was a big fan. I had no idea how much they labored either, until I was on the inside working with them. (laughs)

—So, did Lunar turn out the way you first imagined it?

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Lunar’s title screen logo animation demonstrates the terrifying power of the Sega CD hardware.

Tomi: In terms of the original plot we had imagined, it turned out very different, but very good, if I do say so myself. Shigema, what do you think?

Shigema: Yeah, I would agree.

Tomi: The original plot involved airships and this big fleet of one hundred sailing ships, these 10 mechanical moving castles, a group of magic users… oh, and there were steam powered rockets flying everywhere, in a kind of outer space war setting. Anyway, it was going to be really extravagant, with everything animated. I remember there was a scene where Luna would sing and all one hundred ships would sink.  

Shigema: The early plans had a much stronger steampunk1 vibe. It was really pushed to the fore.

Tomi: I feel like more than steampunk, it was about the struggle of young people trying to live through a time of war.

Shigema: Hmmm, yeah. Though somehow I feel a little embarrassed saying that out loud.

—Lunar has such a light, breezy quality to it, but you’re telling me it was originally darker?

Tomi: Yes, the overall style was of Lunar is “light”, as you say, but it was always meant to be a backdrop for the drama between the characters that would unfold. Within this lighthearted atmosphere, we wanted to tell a moving, dramatic story.

—Each character in Lunar has a great deal of personality.

Tomi: That’s because they were modeled to a large extent on friends and people we actually know.

Hino: Ramus is the most enterprising of the characters. In terms of what we were aiming for, he’s the character I feel we really nailed.

Shigema: He’s not especially “cool” or anything. Nor does he have any special abilities that he uses to get his way. He just wants to do things, and he does them. It may seem plain, but I think it’s very realistic.

Tomi: Shigema and I are both like Ramus. We’re instigators. We like to rile people up and get them in on our schemes, which usually end up bringing them to grieef. But in the end things turn out ok, and you know what they say… all’s well that ends well. (laugh) It’s quite a thin line though, between success, and being chewed out by everyone if something goes wrong… (laughs)

Shigema: You said it all there, I think.

Tomi: No one on our staff is an Alex type though.

Shigema: Well, yeah—he’s the classic blank slate, mute protagonist.

Miyaji: And Mia?

Shigema: Alex’s VA, Kikuko Inoue. (laughs) I mean, I wouldn’t say we modeled Mia after her exactly, but it’s a match. She’s the type who will take the whole world’s problems on her shoulders.

Our designer Kubooka drew a lot of great art for Lunar, including the character’s face portraits and expressions. Jessica’s expression when she’s thinking of Kyle, when we saw those drawings it actually helped expand our understanding of the characters—”ah hah! so that’s who you are.”

Hino: Yeah, Kubooka’s collection of face portraits made it much easier to figure out these characters’ personalities. I joined the development midway through, but as soon as I saw those images, I got it.

—We printed those pictures in the bonus section of July’s BEEP Megadrive. You must have finished the characters early on in the development, then.

Shigema: That’s right, we did.

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From the Lunar I+II Official Artbook, character art and basic profiles for the Lunar I versions of Jessica, Killy (localized as Kyle) and Ramus, including some of the aforementioned facial expression sketches. (click to expand)

—Please tell us a bit about some of the challenges you faced in creating Lunar, as well as any memorable parts of the development.

Tomi: In the beginning, we were short on programmers. Then later, we found ourselves in a situation where we didn’t have enough manpower to realize all the ideas we’d planned. On top of that, midway through the devs wanted to add new sounds, so we had to re-do 2 or 3 songs. It was a bundle of frustrations. That’s why next time, I want to work with the sound team from the very beginning of the development, to the very end. And then, for the programming, let’s try nailing down the game design before we start programming. (laughs)

—Shigema, how about you?

Shigema: I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the scenario. When you consider that we only had a year and a half for the actual development, you can see how there were a mountain of other tasks that had to get accomplished.

Tomi: Shigema said “scenario” just now, but the reality is, he had to do a lot of other work—basically anything related or connected to the story. For instance, he’d point out how we needed a certain map for this part of the story, so he was involved in a lot of one-off “spec work” like that. It wasn’t just writing a manuscript, in other words.

—Miyaji, how about you?

Miyaji: There were no real struggles for me, no. (laughs)

Tomi: I think we caused you a lot of grief.

Shigema: The release date kept getting pushed back, if you recall, and each time we’d have to go apologize to Miyaji.

Uesaka: It was a longgg development. It was the first game development I’ve been on where my health collapsed… a lot of firsts on this project for me, actually.

Hino: By the time I joined, Shigema and Tomi had already laid the groundwork so things went extremely smoothly for me. I was more or less allowed to do whatever I wanted.

Akashi: For me, it was very fun seeing all my cool ideas gradually get brought to life. I drew many of the rough sketches for the visuals, which animator Shunji Suzuki would then finish and implement. I’m very grateful to him.

—How do you feel about the response and feedback from players so far?

Miyaji: We’ve been receiving about 100 feedback postcards a day. I always make it a point to read all the feedback postcards, but Lunar is the first game where I’ve been unable to get through them all. I can sum up what I’ve read into three basic responses: they think it’s a fun game, they wish we’d put a little more effort into making higher CD-quality cutscenes, and they’re looking forward to a sequel.

Tomi: Some people thought the game was too low-key as well. They’d have liked if it were a bit more exciting and dramatic. They may be right.

Shigema: Some people have compared it to Tengai Makyou II, saying that, just in a color sense, Tengai Makyou II has all these reds, greens, and golds, which visually makes it a more flashy, exciting game. Whereas Lunar has more whites and blues—calming colors. I think it’s a valid comparison. From the get-go, we decided that we didn’t want our protagonist to be a killer. It felt wrong to us, the notion of a boy setting out on a great adventure, and then ending up killing people. That decision had a huge effect on the overall atmosphere of the world.

—Do you think of Lunar as a model for what RPGs can be in this new CD-ROM era?

Tomi: In Lunar’s case, at least, when it comes to the visual potential of CD-ROM games, we were sure that other companies and developers could do a better job living up to those possibilities than we could. That’s why we tried to make music the focus of our game. The main theme, the songs, the koto… as well as the sound effects, like the turning of machine gears… we wanted to bring all that to life.

Akashi: The sound of the bell when you enter Meribia Port was a very nice touch.

Tomi: I like it a lot too. There’s simply a lot of sounds in Lunar. In reality, a single second worth of sound costs as much memory as a single image. I hope we can keep investing our efforts and know-how into sound, in the future.

A Japanese TV commercial for Lunar: Silver Star, featuring an exclusive vocal theme named “Sensitive Dream” which was re-recorded for the OST with a new performance by Luna’s voice actor, Kikoko Inoue.

—I would imagine that all that memory meant you could tell a more grand, epic story as well.

Shigema: You know, Tomi misled me there. (laughs) At first he told me my story was too short, but then when I made it longer, he told me it was too much! I’m pretty sure I was being manipulated. But I’m glad I did it, after all.

Miyaji: It would never have fit into a ROM cartridge.

Tomi: In fact, it had to be a MEGA-CD game. It wouldn’t have fit in other CD-ROM console’s formats.

Hino: There’s a lot of great lines in the script that most people will probably never see. Like in the jail, for instance.

—I’d like to ask about Lunar 2 now… what can you tell us?

Miyaji: We haven’t decided we’ll make a sequel yet. And when I say that, I mean that it’s still 100% up in the air.

Shigema: I want more dialogue for Kikuko Inoue to perform. And more beautiful voice actresses, in general. (laughs)

Tomi: I want 7 floating cities like Vane in the sky! I want to see an armada led by Mel, 100-ships-strong, and all of them sunk to the bottom of the sea by Lorelei’s song… (laughs) I want a spectacle on the level of Ben Hur.

Shigema: I’ve been saying this for awhile, but I want to tell a story like Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, something that explores the inner feelings of boys and girls respectively.

Miyaji: I remember Kubooka was saying he wanted to do a Magical Girl Academy thing next.

Hino: What I’m hearing from you guys is that Lunar lacked some flourish or pizazz. (laughs) Personally, I want to do a story with a mysterious girl. A story shrouded in mystery, but hitting all the classic RPG beats, the thrills and chills that make you to see what’s next.

Tomi: Having made Lunar, one thing I’ve come to understand is that it’s largely the story that’s captivated people. The gameplay, the visuals, the battles… I had wanted those to be more compelling, and I think in a sequel there’s room for growth there.

Uesaka: I want to see that Nall make an appearance. 2

Hino: Hey, that’s off the record.

Miyaji: I know all our staff has a lot of ideas for where they’d like the story to go, but speaking as the producer, even if we doubled the budget for the next game, I’m still not sure we’d be able to do everything we want. We had four voice actors for Lunar, and I’d definitely like to increase that number. The truth is I’d love to make a fully-voiced RPG. No one’s done that yet, I think.

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(L-R, top row): Takashi Hino, Toshio Akashi, Tetsu Uesaka
(L-R, bottom row): Kazunari Tomi, Kei Shigema, Yoichi iyaji

Lunar – 1992 Designer Interview (pre-release)

originally featured in BEEP! Megadrive

Takashi Hino – Main Scenario Writer. Assistant Producer for the play-by-mail game Houraigakuen. Has a deep love for RPGs.
Kei Shigema – Producer/Scenario Writer. Contributed to the Silent Mobius novelization before joining Studio Alex.

—Welcome. As scenario writers for Lunar, I’d like to talk with you both today about the magical world of Lunar’s story and setting.

Shigema: I should start by apologizing first. We’re very sorry Lunar’s release has been delayed… it’s all Hino’s fault. (laughs)

Hino: THAT’S the first thing you say?! Trying to pawn all our misdeeds off on me, I see. (laughs)

—On that note, what were each of your individual roles in the Lunar development?

Hino: Shigema would tend to generate the ideas, with me implementing them. Though in truth, it’s a little hard to delineate precisely who-did-what.

Shigema: There was a lot of cross-over, but the real hard thinking was done by Hino, and I’d bring his bigger ideas to completion by adding the atmosphere and details. My part was a lot less mentally taxing. (laughs)

—The logical side, and the artistic side, it sounds like.

Shigema: Yeah, you could say that. Or analogue and digital.

Hino: That’s about right.

—I’ve heard that the story for Lunar has an incredible amount of dialogue…

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One of the more famous branching events: the player can choose to enter either the ladies’ or mens’ bath, albeit with one option being significantly more difficult to reach than the other.

Shigema: There’s over 200,000 lines of text, and more than 70,000 of those are dialogue.

Hino: There’s over 600 different characters in the game. Their dialogue changes multiple times as the story progresses, too. At the port of Meribia alone, if you include the people inside the mansion, there’s over 60 people in that location.

Shigema: It makes you wonder, what crazy player is going to spend the time to talk to all of them?! (laughs)

Hino: Villagers who you met before, if you talk to them again they’ll say something different. We prepared a great variety of messages like that, which helps the dialogue feel natural. Of course, as the game goes on, you’re not required to talk to everyone or anything.

Shigema: When you talk to someone and realize their dialogue has changed, it contributes something more subtle, like looking up and noticing a cloud passing overhead. It adds to the feeling of being on an adventure.

—What did you hope to achieve with the story of Lunar?

Hino: That’s a good question. “Entertainment” can pretty much sum it up. There’s a lot of gag jokes in there too. And perverted stuff.

Shigema: I know what you’re thinking of, and it’s not perverted, it’s just being a crass middle aged man. (laughs)

—Can you give us some concrete examples of these gags…?

Hino: Let’s see. A lot of it comes from the characters with dual-sided personalities. Take Ramus, for example. He’s someone who one minute will warmly say something like “Bocchan! Bocchan!” 3, and in another scene call someone a lousy good-for-nothing. (laughs) We took great cares to make the overall experience of playing Lunar a fun one. We strived to make sure every line of dialogue was brimming with personality—no generic or uninspired stuff. And so, as it turns out, when we finished writing we realized we’d ended up creating a lot of mischievous, “bad” characters… no doubt reflecting the personality of the writers. (laughs)

—Which characters were most memorable for you?

Shigema: Ramus’ girlfriend, I think. I like girls like that. I’ll never forgive Nash though!

Hino: I’d have to say Nall, the white dragon. I wrote the most lines for him, and his sassyness left an impression on me. I’d add Ghaleon too, maybe.

—Finally, please say a word about what you’re hoping players get out of Lunar.

Shigema: My hope is they’ll pay attention to the relationships between all the characters, their comings and goings. We tried to create something dramatic.

Hino: A close sense of identification with the characters—that’s what we were after when we wrote Lunar. Please take your time and fully enjoy the world.

Lunar – 1992 Designer Interview (pre-release)

originally featured in BEEP! Megadrive

Ayano Koshiro – Designer. Worked on monster and background graphics for Ys, Ys II, Actraiser and more. In her second year of elementary school, she fell in love with manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, and has been an ardent fan of monsters ever since. She took the second place prize in a certain famous game company’s monster design competition, too. Her dream is to make a realistic “monster encyclopedia” similar in detail and scope to illustrated insect books. Currently employed at Ancient; born 4/16/1970.

—What was your process like for the monster design in Lunar?

Koshiro: I first received a number of rough sketches of the monsters, which I would then translate into pixel art, adding my own touches and interpretation. In particular I spent a lot of time thinking about how these monsters would move and attack. I think there’s almost zero duplicate movements; nearly all of them have unique animations.

—How many different monsters do you estimate you created, in total?

Koshiro: Around 90. There’s a lot of animation for each monster, so it’s something really different from what we’ve seen from RPGs up to now.

—How long does it take you to make a single monster?

Koshiro: It varies, but somewhere between 3 to 5 hours. A longer one might take a full day, from nailing down the design to creating the actual pixel art.

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Ayano Koshiro’s comment to the readers: “Don’t kill the monsters right away, I want you to sit back and savor the enemies’ animations as they attack you.”

—It seems like the skills required for rendering pixel art, and for traditional drawing, are very different. How is it for you?

Koshiro: Ah, I actually almost never draw on paper. I jump right into pixel art “sketches” which I use to figure out the broad strokes of the animation, and then I get to work on what will be the final product.

—What was your design vision for the monsters of Lunar?

Koshiro: Lunar doesn’t take place on Earth; it’s a different planet, so even when monsters had familiar names, I tried to give them a different form. I have some books and other reference materials I like to use for inspiration. From there, I use my imagination and iterate on my own ideas until I create something I like.

—Any design themes you can point to?

Koshiro: Hmm, I divided the monsters up into three general categories, in my mind: the devil types, the native insect/plant types, and the mecha types.

—What were some of the books you referenced?

Koshiro: It’s actually a mountain of books here. The one I used the most was probably a simple encyclopedia of animals. (laughs) I also had some books on different devils that I used.

—Were there any other games you referenced, or were inspired by?

Koshiro: Not particularly, but in terms of animation, I did study the movement in action games like Golden Axe and Daimakaimura (Ghouls and Ghosts).

—I can tell a lot of thought went into the movement of these monsters, as you’ve said.

Koshiro: There’s more than two ways for them to attack, too, so the animation took a long to come up with.

—Did the fact that this is a Mega CD game impact your approach in any way?

Koshiro: Just the large size of the CD-ROM memory, you know, meant that I could go to town on the animations. A single enemy could use an entire bank’s worth of memory, so when you think about it that way, it was truly a luxurious development. (laughs)

—How are you feeling now that you approach the end of the development?

Koshiro: Quantity-wise it was crazy, but in terms of the work itself, it was a lot of fun coming up with each individual monster’s personality. I hope everyone enjoys fighting with these monsters. At the same time, there’s a feeling like, stop picking on my children! (laughs) Not that I can really protest, though, since I beat them up just as badly in my own playthrough. (laughs)

Lunar – 1992 Character Designer Interview (pre-release)

originally featured in BEEP! Megadrive

Toshiyuki Kubooka – Key animator and Animation Director for various works, including The Wings of Honneamise, Gunbuster, and Fushigi no Umi no Nadia. Lunar represents his first time working as a character designer for a video game. His attractive, charming character designs are a fresh wind for the RPG genre. He also worked on the graphics for computer game Dennou Gakuen II.

—How did you go about designing these characters? What was the work like?

Kubooka: I first read the story Shigema had written to get a general sense of everything, then made numerous rough sketches for each character, slowly building up my image of them.

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Toshiyuki Kubooka: “When I’m drawing a character’s expressions, I tend to end up making those faces myself.”

—What were some of the key points of the Lunar designs?

Kubooka: The fantasy genre knows no end of cliches. We tried our best to avoid those, or remove them when they came up. The story takes place in a relatively cold environment, so I tried to give the character designs an almost “nomadic” look to them. Other than that, I tried mentally dividing the characters up into different general types: a magic-user/sorcerer type, a priestly type, and then enemies. The magic-users, with their more ornamented outfits, were imagined after the Russian Orthodox Church.

—How about for the enemy characters? What was your image of them?

Kubooka: I tried to make their clothing designs have weird “magical” rune-like patterns. Some of the enemies use machines as well, and I drew many different silhouette designs in the process of figuring them out.

—How does working on a game like this compare to animation?

Kubooka: The character design itself is almost the same. However, because these characters need to be rendered in compressed, chibi-pixel form, you’ve got to make sure their basic shapes are distinct enough to make them immediately recognizable. This was my first time doing that kind of bonafide character design work, but I was pretty free to do what I wanted, and I had a good time. The animation work for Lunar was entrusted to Shunji Suzuki, who worked with me on Nadia.

—Which character(s) did you struggle with?

Kubooka: Hmm, Nall. My first drawings of him were too realistic, and people said he was too scary. (laughs)

—How many characters did you design in total?

Kubooka: It was 25 or so. I did all the main characters. At first they were complaining because I was only drawing the female characters. (laughs) “You’ve got to draw the enemies too or we’re not going to have a game!”, they said. (laughs)

—When you saw your finished work on screen for the first time, what did you think?

Kubooka: Yeah, when I first saw the opening movie, I thought it looked just like an anime opening. I was surprised they used that much actual animation in it. It’s a fun feeling to see the characters you created moving there on the screen. A lot of that is owed to Suzuki’s talents, I think. The background graphics were great too—I was impressed how much good they made the pixel art look there.

Lunar: The Silver Star’s Japanese and US intro movies, back to back; Working Designs’ notorious and extremely liberal localization tack started from the opening vocal tune, the lyrics to which were rewritten by Vic Ireland to sound “less lovey-dovey”.