This humorous interview with the Gokujou Parodius development team was originally featured in a mook published by Gamest in 1994. Gokujou Parodius was the second Parodius game released for arcade, and this interview shows the big difference between 1990 (pre-SFII, when Parodius Da! was released) and 1994, when most game centers were caught up in “fighting game mania.” Stage design, characters, and music are all discussed as well.

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Gokujou Parodius! – 1994 Developer Interview

Originally featured in the Gokujou Parodius Gamest mook

Tokuda Tsukasa – Team Leader/Programmer/Planner
Shuzilow.ha – Designer
Sitar Senoo (Kazuhiro Senoo) – Sound
Masahiro Inoue – Konami Development Section 2 Chief

Introductions and Project Origins

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Tsukasa Tokuda, now a teacher.

Tsukasa: I should probably change my name soon. (laughs) I’ve been the team leader for the Parodius games for quite awhile now, since Parodius Da! I’ve also handled the X68000 and PC-Engine ports of Parodius Da. Oh, and I’m also the main programmer and planner. (laughs) My favorite games, if we’re talking about genres, would all be STGs. Horizontal scrollers like Gradius, in particular. Outside of arcade games I also like strategy simulations. And when I was very young I created this suguroku-ish game that I played with my neighbor. Today I’m that same kid, just grown up. (laughs)

Shuzilow: No doubt you were destined for this fate since birth. (everyone laughs) I’ve done a lot of character design in my career as an animator, but my first game design project was Detana! Twinbee. After that I worked on Gaiapolis and, of course, Gokujou Parodius as the main designer. You can probably tell it’s me just by looking at those Twinbee illustrations.

Senoo: I only just joined Konami last April. I worked on the music for Gokujou Parodius, and this was my first game.

Tsukasa: After finishing Parodius Da!, I mostly worked on console stuff (the X68000 and PC Engine ports, for instance). Then, I was offered the chance to return to the arcade division, and I started thinking about what I wanted to do. Since I had only worked on Parodius games (laughs) and people around me were saying they wanted a sequel, so my boss asked me if I would do another Parodius as a kind of anniversary title announcing my return to arcades. That was how the project got started.

Shuzilow: So that’s how they roped you in for another round. (laughs)

Tsukasa: Yeah, they got me alright. My boss yoked a rope around my neck, “No going home until the game is done!” (everyone laughs)

There was also another impetus for Gokujou Parodius. It had been awhile since I had worked on arcade games, so when I went down to the game center I felt like I was seeing it through the eyes of just another player, not a game developer. But I noticed there was nothing but vs. fighting games. I personally loved STGs like Gradius, but you could barely find even a single hori STG. Well, I thought, if no one else is making these, I’ll just have to do it myself! I wanted to make a hori STG precisely because we’re at this juncture.

Character Design

Tsukasa: From the beginning I had been thinking that I would expand the roster. I was thinking about having 6 characters at first, but when I showed it to my boss he said “Fighting games have lots of characters, so why don’t we make it 8?”

Since I wanted to emphasize characters with this release, I decided to go for living creatures rather than fighter jets/ships. For Akane-chan and Hikaru-chan… they were added to make “those folks” happy. You know who I’m talking about. (everyone laughs) 1 With Michael and Gabriel, I was just thinking that if I did a good job making a pig character it could be really cute, but it turned out that a magazine noticed it was the same enemy pig character from stage 4 of Parodius Da!

As for Mambo, the MSX2 game Space Manbow was something that I’d been thinking about for awhile. When I talked with people at Konami who knew a lot about our older games, that name kept coming up. I wanted those people to see the Mambo character and think “Oh, it’s Space Manbow!”

With Koitsu and Aitsu, my initial inspiration was that I wanted to try making a bunch of really small character sprites who I could move around in a variety of action poses. The paper airplane idea came simply because this character needed something to fly on. (everyone laughs) They couldn’t just fly on their own, and they’d look weird piloting some mecha design, so paper airplanes it had to be. That actually then fed back into my design ideas, and Koitsu became the “the stick guy riding the paper airplane” character.

Shuzilow: Drawing that character gave me a lot of trouble. (laughs) It isn’t easy to depict something flat and straight like that with pixel art, in such a small space. The bunny girls were in the previous Parodius, you know, but Koitsu and Aitsu I stil think of as one of Tsuka’s personal fancies. (laughs)

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Koitsu’s “bell” barrier.

Tsukasa: Yeah, they are. (laughs)

Shuzilow: For Koitsu’s barrier, I had originally drawn this whole design with flames, but I was abruptly told to change it to “that.” (laughs)

Tsukasa: Whoever made you do such a thing?

Shuzilow: It was you Tsukasa. “Draw this.”

Tsukasa: No way, I never said that!

Shuzilow: Yes you did! “Make it look like rubber.” (laughs)

Tsukasa: I said make the sound effect have a “pop!” sound, but that’s because that barrier is really just a bell. A soft, transparent bell… (laughs)

Shuzilow: During the development the question came up of who was stronger, Michael or Koitsu? My sense was that most of the developers thought Michael was stronger. But it seems that the really good players thought Koitsu was far more effective.

Tsukasa: If we’re talking about the Special Stage only, I think Koitsu does win out. You know, at the end when the game was completed and we were all supposed to be doing the bug checking together, all they did was play the Special Stage over and over like a bunch of monkeys! “I can do this, I can clear this!” (everyone laughs) They ignored me when I said that’s not the way you check for bugs; they were more interested in playing than playtesting. The only character they used was Koitsu. Obviously his strong forward-shot is a big help there. Michael, on the other hand, is very effective for areas like the traffic light stage where enemies come in from the rear. Everyone thought so. But for the game overall, maybe Koitsu is best. As far as tuning the balance of the game goes, we spent the most time altering the qualities of each character’s main shot.

Shuzilow: Yeah, to make it balanced we created a lot of variation. We tried things like lengthening the hitbox of the bullets, or giving the new characters fewer options. Everyone was testing out all sorts of new ideas.

Tsukasa: For the Vic Viper, for instance, one of our ideas was that it has a strong hatch that can withstand multiple bullets without breaking, but a single missile will destroy it. We tried out a lot of things like that, like making lasers destroy you instantly regardless of your shield, just lots of trial and error.

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Koitsu fanart by pixiv user okura. Koitsu actually won the
“best character” award in Gamest that year, by an overwhelming margin.

Difficulty Adjustments

Tsukasa: The “YOU LOSE” game over message was something we added just before the deadline. We thought a message like that would make the player gnash his teeth more when he dies. You also see those words in vs. fighting games, and we were thinking about that too.

As for the difficulty, I think it might be a little bit higher than before. Although you have to consider that compared with other vertical scrollers, it’s really not so bad.

Shuzilow: Stage 3 is the first wall, in terms of difficulty. After Gokujou Parodius was released we all went out drinking as a team, and on the way back we stopped by the game center. Tsukasa sat down to play the game he himself had created, and we all watched him intently… and stage 3 is where he died. (everyone laughs)

Tsukasa: Yeah, even for us as developers, that stage is a real toughie.

It depends on the person of course, but for people familiar with older games I think the gauge-style power-up system will be nostalgic, while for new players it should feel fresh and new.

We had the Auto option in Parodius Da!, and I think that was a period where the appeal of STGs was expanding to include a wider userbase. As such the Auto mode was intentionally added for those new players. Semi-auto is new to Gokujou Parodius. For the Gradius III SFC port, which I also worked on, I secretly made the Auto mode act more like Semi-Auto since I wanted the power-up button to still be useful for players. When I actually playtested it, I thought, “wow, this semi-auto sure is useful.” (laughs) So for Gokujou Parodius I decided to make the “semi-auto” official. The idea is that new players totally unfamiliar with games can start with auto mode, and then progress to semi-auto and finally manual. My intention was to let more people enjoy the world of Gokujou Parodius, and horizontal STG generally.

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Crazy Core, stage 4 boss.

Designing the Bosses

Shuzilow: I did most of the boss illustrations. It was very tiring work. (laughs) When I was drawing the stage 4 boss, Crazy Core, I thought to myself, it looks like if you pushed him from the side he’d just topple over. Tsukasa thought the same. My original concept for Crazy Core was something featuring traffic lights, but as I designed him it gradually turned into something absurd and unrecognizable.

At the end I decided to add that wind-up key to his rear section, and the whole thing was just “wtf?” His design sure changed a lot. I think he was supposed to be a more traditional robot in the beginning.

Tsukasa: Yeah, my original image for him was the layout of a single ROM chip. I also knew from the start that I wanted to incorporate all those license plate numbers in his design. At the end of the high-speed stage of the SFC Gradius III, we had a similar boss, but he was really well done there, and I didn’t want to just recycle the same enemy here. I wanted to do something that had a similar feeling, though, and since the Gradius III boss was affixed to walls, I thought for Gokujou Parodius I’d give Crazy Core feet and make him walk.

Shuzilow: I got a lot of requests like that, “Add lots of feet!” But since I didn’t have a concrete image in my head of where this was all going, I just added each request literally, eventually resulting in this nonsensical absurdity. (laughs)

I also got a lot of contradictory instructions when I was designing the stage 2 boss, Eliza: “Make her a vivacious young girl in the bloom of youth!” and “Actually, it’ll be better if you make her a little older.” In the end it was more like, well, this is what I can draw. Afterwards people saw her and said “hey, doesn’t she remind you of something?” You know, that famous alien boss in the first stage of a certain game… 2

Tsukasa: We put her early in stage 2 because we figured a lot of players would see her that way. We especially wanted to lure salarymen (laughs), so we put a boss there with some sex appeal. And for a sea stage, that makes a mermaid the only option, right? As an aside, if you remember the stage 7 boss “Honey Mikayo” from Parodius Da… someone once asked me why the mermaid Eliza seems more haughty than Honey Mikayo. I said it was because our team this time for Gokujou Parodius had many women on it, and their collective power was fearsome. All the men were tyrannized by them… whoops, there I go again, saying things I shouldnt. (everyone laughs)

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Gokujou Parodius fanart of the stage 2 boss Eliza, by pixiv user kara.

Shuzilow: The most fun thing to design was probably the stage 5 boss.

Tsukasa: The capsule power-up parody.

Shuzilow: Among the team, they called it “mizumakura” (water pillow) because it looked so jelly-like. The planning documents said “Revenge of the Capsule”, so we made decided to try making a capsule-themed boss, but since this is Parodius, I think it can also be seen as a parody of the st2 boss in Gradius III. Parodius can suggest many different things to Konami fans, and we tried to take advantage of that in our designs.

Tsukasa: The capsule boss was made to be easy for bad players, and as the rank goes up and he fires more spiked iron balls, harder for good players. On the other hand it’s a good place to power-up if you’ve died. At maximum rank he fires an equal number of power-ups and spiked balls, and when I saw that during the bug checking I cracked up. (laughs)

Tsukasa: The Moai battleship was supposed to be the Moai from Parodius Da! taking revenge. So I thought it would be more fitting and interesting if, rather than having the Moais be fixed in place, their position changed each time you played.

As for why Moai feature in these games, that’s something you’d have to ask the creator of Gradius about. As a parody of Gradius, we’ve got to have them for Parodius. But just using them as-is would be boring, of course.

Stage Design

Tsukasa: Stage 5, with all the miniaturized boss enemies from previous Gradius games, was the first stage for Gokujou Parodius that didn’t have terrain, so we were trying to think of what we could do that would be interesting for it. The enemies are all from Gradius and Salamander, so I thought older players would enjoy it. I was also thinking about vertical STGs when I made it, those old games with a single fixed screen like Space Invaders and Galaga.

For the bunny stage (stage 6), you can see from the background that it takes place on the moon, but I wanted the stages to feel like the Volcano and Reverse Volcano stages of Gradius. Actually, the stage 1 boss was also designed after the part in Gradius with the erupting Volcano, but I had the idea of changing it to a Panda who spews out enemies.

The area with the bridge toward the end of stage 6 was inspired by the underwater stage in Parodius Da! In that stage you go underwater, your speed falls, and there’s a ton of fish enemies that release suicide bullets. It’s a very difficult section, and I wanted to have at least one part in Gokujou Parodius, too, where bullets are flying everywhere. But the boss…

Shuzilow: Yeah, about that boss. (laughs)

Tsukasa: Can I offer an explanation? (everyone laughs) We added her at the very last minute. Originally I had an image in my mind of Yoshios (the cylindical Moai that Yoshiko from the Moai Battleship stage spits out) falling from top of the screen at the player. It would have been a vertical scrolling “escape” section where you’re dodging terrain and these Yoshios. But since stage 6 was on the moon, we pretty much knew that Princess Kaguya was going to be the boss. So I took my Yoshio idea of some vertically stretched enemies being spit out by the boss, and since the stage had so many bunnies, I thought we’d use bunnies… then one day someone come up to me, “Hey, you know this looks exactly like the biwa player from Genpei Toumaden?” (laughs)

Shuzilow: Let’s just call it a coincidence. (laughs) When Kaguya-hime was completed the whole development team was saying “oh, Genpei Toumaden!” And all I could say was “Um, yeah…” (laughs) Let’s not forget they were also saying “Ah, I remember that game, I loved it!” (laughs)

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The biwa player in Genpei Toumaden.
Note the transparent rabbit.

Tsukasa: Well, putting aside the actual circumstances of this case, there’s been many times where we’ve heard that such-and-such looked exactly like something from another game, when it wasn’t something we did intentionally. This much I can say: with STG games and homages and references to other works, it’s all about how you use it. Of course just pasting something as-is would be plaigarism and should be called out.

Shuzilow: Tsukasa said this to me, but our big design premise with Parodius is to make the player laugh and have a good time. If we see something that makes us laugh, or something outrageous that makes you go “wtf?!”, then we might end up cribbing that. If it makes us laugh, it’ll make the players laugh too–that concept was something we had in our heads for every character and enemy we designed.

Tsukasa: The final stage, a parody of the final stage of Gradius II, was something I had talked about doing since the original Parodius. It was another thing we added into Gokujou Parodius at my insistence. We had a completely different final stage planned at first. I personally loved Gradius though, and figured it was now or never for the Gradius II stage homage. That’s why the BGM here is from Parodius (stage 4). People will probably be wondering why we didn’t spoof the Gradius II music instead, but it’s because I wanted to give a little nod to those fans who were expecting the Gradius II parody back in the original Parodius.

Shuzilow: Hikaru’s option formation was something we added at the last minute too.

Tsukasa: People familiar with the formation options in Gradius III, which you could spread out after you’d activated all four, can probably guess where that idea came from. I thought it would be fun for players if each option was immediately spread out in that formation, rather than having to wait until you had all four.

Shuzilow: Tsukasa had a lot of problems with that design. He was saying they’d be too wide, that we should make them smaller, etc.

The Ending

Tsukasa: You set out on this journey to find the “glory of the past”, but in the ending it turns out to be nothing. It’s a pretty cruel punchline…

Shuzilow: All you find is “Mr. Past Glory.” After Gokujou Parodius came out I had a funny exchange with my friend that went like this:

“Hey, Shuzilow, so I was credit feeding Parodius, and I put in enough money so I could finish it.”
“Thank you!”
“But maybe because I put in too much money, I got the bad ending!”
“Eee!!”
“This little guy was holding a slip of paper with LOSE written on it. How do I get rid of that?”
“Um… you can’t.”
“Then what the hell did I spend all this money for!!!”

Tsukasa: (everyone laughs) That is indeed a tragic tale. (laughs)

Shuzilow: There was also this salaryman who was diligently working his way through the Special Stage. He had another salaryman friend sitting next to him, and I overheard this exchange:

“Oh, is that the ending?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like I got the good ending, so I’m going to beat this special stage and get the true ending.”

(laughs) I wanted to stay and watch him, but hearing that somehow made me feel indignant so I left. (laughs) With the special stage, we issued a real challenge to players.

Tsukasa: Yeah, it is. It’s challenging but we also wanted it to be fun, so the music is a medley of our previous STGs. It would have seemed a little weird to put that music in one of the stages. Games aren’t only for skilled players, but this stage was intentionally made to please those who really love the STG genre.

Special Stage clear, with Koitsu.

The “THANK YOU FOR PLAYING THIS GAME” text made out of enemy zako was something I had wanted to do for awhile. As I’ve said before, the point of our games is to let people enjoy themselves. Since they went to the trouble of spending their money on our game, the least we could say is thank you. After all, I want players to walk away with good feelings when it’s all done. Maybe this way they’ll feel good and want to play again, after having endured so much abuse. (laughs) That was definitely part of it too.

The Music

Senoo: I had played a lot of Parodius before I joined Konami, so I knew about the series and was fired up to do a sequel. Parodius has been using classical music for a long time now, so I think that image is firmly entrenched. I wanted to continue that tradition, so the basis for the songs are remixes of classical pieces. Also, since Parodius Da! had more of a Japanese feel to the songs, this time I tried to impart an “American Variety Show” atmosphere.

Tsukasa: We didn’t really give him any specific intructions like “make this song.” But we did request music that would be fitting for a STG, with lots of lively energizing parts–those kinds of rythyms are very important and we asked that he include them.

Any kind of song was fine, but when a player goes to a game center and hears a song that sounds familiar, that’s a great way to make your game stand out. It’s not such a big deal when you buy a game and play it at home, but for arcade games, we’ve got to find ways to get players to notice our games amongst the crowd, and using a famous, recognizable melody is very effective, I think.

Senoo: I heard early on in the planning phase that we’d be using 8 characters, and I decided to make 8 individual themes for each character. I did arrange versions of the returning characters from Parodius Da!, and made brand new music for the new characters.

Shuzilow: None of the developers know much about music, so there was this one planning meeting where we all brought cds and listened to them together. There was lots of talk like “Oh, this is a good song, use this!” I’m sure it was a big pain for the sound team. (laughs)

Senoo: Yeah, when the conditions are “classical music that fits a STG” and songs that people will recognize… well, we used most of those up in the previous Parodius games. So yeah, searching for songs and inspiration that won’t overlap with the earlier games was a major challenge. Then there’s also the matter of clearing up any copyright issues.

We worked with some people from JASRAC and another music publishing company, who really helped us. They recommended us Sarasat’s Zigeunerweisen, which became the first phrase for Yoshiko and Yoshio’s theme. They also suggested Mozart’s 25th symphony. I’m sure you hear these titles and draw a blank. (laughs) We had the same thing too as we listened to the cds, “Oh, I’ve heard this somewhere before, let’s use this.” But then we’d look for the title and it was like, “where is it?!” (everyone laughs) That happened countless times, but we always picked the songs that people knew by ear, regardless of the titles.

Tsukasa: The final stage has a disco theme, so I asked the sound team to go all-in with a disco style song.

Senoo: We used Dvorak’s New World symphony for that.

Gokujou Parodius OST.

Shuzilow: Everyone has heard it, but nobody knows it. (laughs)

Senoo: As for my inspirations, I really loved the music to Gradius. I had this very old CD with wonderful remixes of Gradius music, and I used to listen to that all the time while gaming. It ended up being that I only remembered that music, although sometimes the images of the original game would just randomly pop into my head. I think that’s the ideal game music though: music that you can listen to on its own, standalone.

Game Centers and STGs

Tsukasa: I can say this now, but I actually didn’t have that much anxiety about this development while we were in the middle of it. You see, I don’t think that the reason we’re seeing less horizontal shooters these days is because the audience has shrunk; if anything, there’s more fans of STG today than before.

However, to be honest, I definitely feel like arcades today are becoming too dependent on a single genre. That was one of our goals with Gokujou Parodius, to bring some diversity to the kinds of arcade games being released, so different fans can enjoy themselves.

Another thing I can say now is that I’d like to see more arcade games that respect and value their older, longtime fans. That was something we had in mind with Gokujou Parodius, and its subtitle “Pursue the Glory of the Past” has that nuance too. Back in the day I used to go to the game center, and there were all these different games to play. But nowadays it’s nothing but vs. fighting games, and there’s no place for players like me. I’m not going to be able to start making good fighting games now even if I tried, so what I’d like to make are games that go back to the roots, that players like me can enjoy. This is all my personal opinion, of course.

Shuzilow: Well, I am one of those people who still goes to “modern game centers,” but in general I’ll only spend one 100 yen coin on a game. In my view it’s not about how long you can play on a single coin, but how exciting and absorbing the game is within the time that one coin gives you. Imagine a game where you work up a sweat while playing, and completely lose yourself, and when you look up it’s only been 30 seconds. I would call that a good game. Those are the kind of games I’ll play, and still want to play. Hmm, I think I’ve gone a little off-topic here…

Anyway, if I was pushed to say, I think a big reason people are playing fighting games today is that caught up in the expanding “fighting game hype.” In some ways they don’t really feel like traditional fans to me, just people who can’t help but play fighting games, when that’s all that’s being released. As for what “normal fans” play, I would say it’s a lot of puzzle-y, single-screen games. If you’re looking for something with a simple system that you can grasp at a glance, that’s what you choose. I also think a big trend is the concept of a game center as a general “amusement” space, somewhere people come for all sorts of entertainment, not only games. In that sense too, puzzle type games probably have a lot of life in them yet.

Tsukasa: I think developers should be looking at the big picture. If every game ends in five minutes, then that’s great for your income, but I think fans will be unsatisfied with such a short experience. On the other hand, if every game could be played for 20 or 30 minutes then operators wouldn’t make any money. So as developers, we need to create a variety of games–not just one genre or style. It would be best if game centers had a good mix of different games.

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Promotional telephone cards for Gokujou Parodius.

Inoue: By now, a game like Gokujou Parodius can practically be called a “nostalgic” game. The first half of the 80s was dominated by STGs, wasn’t it? The way players in Japan started playing arcade games, at first it was like “this looks interesting, I’ll try it out”, but gradually a class of real hardcore fans developed. I’m not sure anyone involved really noticed it happening, but before long the game centers were full of those hardcore players, and income also went up. Then arcade operators started to realize that these players were their bread and butter, and they started catering to them more and more with the selection of games. I think that pattern has been going on for awhile, and we’re seeing it again now. If players don’t change their habits, then I don’t see these circumstances changing either.

At Konami we want to challenge ourselves by creating a variety of different games, but if your game doesn’t match the prevailing trends it will inevitably be judged poorly. That’s the dilemma right there. Having a stance where you only release highly original, creative works is, in my opinion, a good thing, but not every experiment will turn out to be a success. But I still think that challenging approach to game design is the way to go. And of course the developers themselves all feel that way, I think! They don’t want to have to constrain their creativity, they want to let each idea be fully realized, just as they envisioned it.

The Rise of Polygons and 3D

Shuzilow: I like polygon style graphics, but as far as the differences between polygon characters, pixel art characters, and hand-drawn characters… I think in the future as designers we’re going to be moving away from the very precise, 1 pixel at a time methods of pixel art, and instead move toward character design that tries to bring out more individual style and “character”. I realize I’m speaking somewhat abstractly, but I mean that graphics will need to have that special atmosphere or “je ne sais quoi.”

The feeling a person has when seeing a beautiful photograph, and the feeling they have when seeing a beautiful picture, are two different things. And I think as game designers working with pixel art, we’re going to need to be more mindful of that distinction in the future. For STGs, for example, there’s definitely a feeling that you need to make the sprites really look like actual metal. But more than that, I think you need to evoke that sense in the viewer of the individual artists’ personality, so they go “oh, I wonder who made this?” That’s how I think pixel art will survive in the future.

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Gokujou Parodius SFC boxart,
featuring Chichibinta Rika.

Tsukasa: I think hand-drawn graphics will continue to be around for awhile. You can take the movie industry as an example: even though there’s many movies with amazing special effects, different films, like anime and Hayao Miyazaki’s work, are still very popular. So long as people like what hand-drawn graphics offer, that style won’t disappear. The question is which style fits your game better: polygons or pixels. Each one has its appeal.

Shuzilow: Perhaps because I’m a designer, when I see a game, what stands out most for me are the things with visual impact, so of course I’ve given the recent polygon games a go. I liked how smoothly the characters moved, and how well you could control them. I was reminded of Prince of Persia. They’re different games from what I’ve been creating, but for that very reason I sense they’re something I might really get into. I played Flashback recently, but it’s so hard! I can’t get anywhere. (laughs)

Final Score

Tsukasa: How would I personally rate Gokujou Parodius? Well, I would say it’s somewhere around 50/100. The previous Parodius Da! was more like 80/100, for me. As the creator of both games I’m probably not the most objective judge, of course… maybe others will think it’s great, maybe they won’t, but for me there’s a number of parts that make me cringe. In reality it’s probably just as good as Parodius Da!, or maybe even a little better. However, it’s been 4 years since I made that game, and during that time I was working on a number of different games. My ideas about games changed, and I started to see a number of things differently. And there’s a lot of parts in Gokujou Parodius where I feel “oh, I should have done more of this.” So yeah, for those reasons I rate it a little lower than Parodius Da!