These four interviews chronicle the development and promotion of the Mega Drive strategy-RPG Shining Force 2, the hotly-anticipated sequel to the critically-acclaimed Shining Force and the third home title for Sonic! Software Planning (now known as Camelot), whose Shining series had rapidly grown to cover both console and handheld entries, one of which is also addressed in the course of these discussions.

Appended to this collection is a translation of the liner notes to the official Shining Force soundtrack; producer Takahashi’s predictions about the ambitions of composer Motoaki Takenouchi turned out to be correct, as he left the video game industry in the late ’90s and is currently working on non-commercial traditionalist art music.

Shining Force interviews (1992)
Short Cuts feat. Crusader of Centy

 

Shining Force II – 1993 Developer Interviews

sourced from Famicon Tsuushin, BEEP, and Dengeki Megadrive

Hiroyuki Takahashi – Producer/Writer
Shugo Takahashi – Director/Programmer

Famicom Tsuushin 6/93

—You’ve released two new Shining games in the last year alone. You must be very busy these days!

Takahashi: We’ve been working at a pace of finishing one development every four months. Gaiden II is also complete now, but I’m still not sure if the timing is right for releasing it… we’ll see.

—Now that I think of it, the upcoming Shining Force II will be the fifth game in the series.

Takahashi: It all happened so fast, didn’t it? The good fortune we’ve had to keep making Shining games can all be credited to the foresight of Sega, who first approved the plans for Shining in the Darkness. At the time, it was said that Dragon Quest-style RPGs were the only console RPGs that players would accept.

—That was quite a risk for Sega to taken, then.

Takahashi: Yes, I think so. But that whole experience taught me that Sega is the kind of company that would take a chance on novel gameplay and new mechanics.

—What’s your relationship with Sega like these days?

Takahashi: They have high expectations for us, so we work together with them to create solid games. Once you release one good game, the expectations just go up from there. In this way we’ve built up an extremely good relationship with Sega over the years.

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Shining Force II’s cover illustration, drawn by Fumio Iida a.k.a. Suezen. (source, click to expand)

—I can see that this spirit of challenging and pushing yourself is reflected in the new Shining Force II, as well.

Takahashi: I just love the game style of Shining Force II. But in the first game, the chapter format we adhered to made the story a little hard to grasp. That’s why we’ve put a bigger emphasis on the story for this sequel.

—The characters are all different too.

Takahashi: We asked Suezen, the character designer for NHK’s anime Yadamon, to do the character designs for Shining Force II. When he finished them they were even better than I had expected. It was almost embarassing because I felt they made the story and writing look weak by comparison. (laughs)

—What other improvements can we expect from Shining Force II?

Takahashi: I think we’ve improved the enemy AI. That was actually something we’d improved on considerably for both Gaiden and Gaiden II, but for Shining Force II we were able to refine it further, so combat should be a better experience now.

—Is it a much more difficult game now, then?

Takahashi: Well, we did challenge ourselves to see just how strong we could make the enemies. We weren’t trying to be mean to players, though. It was about expanding the possibilities of the gameplay. We wanted to test the limits of this game’s potential, and create engaging, clever fights that would appeal to experienced players too.

—It sounds like you’ve got a lot of confidence in Shining Force II.

Takahashi: It’s our masterpiece. (laughs) You know, recently my attitude towards “what is entertainment” has changed. Before, my concept of entertainment was closely tied to self-expression; but now, I’ve come to see entertainment without such conditions—so long as it’s something that people can enjoy, that’s entertainment to me. In that sense of the word, I think this new Shining Force will indeed be very entertaining for players.

—I know it’s early, but do you have thought about Shining Force III yet?

Takahashi: At the moment, no, I’m not thinking of SFIII. I’d like to take a break if possible from RPG game development for awhile, and challenge myself with another genre.

—At Sega’s Sale Strategy Announcement meeting this year, the line-up included a title called Shining Rogue… what could this be?

Takahashi: What?! Actually, now that you mention it, that was a title we were kicking around here. I’d completely forgotten about it. (laughs)

—Well, you mentioned you wanted to make a non-RPG game, so it got me wondering. Is Shining Rogue an action game?

Takahashi: Hah, you’ve got me up against a wall now. There’s a lot of different things I’d like to do, but it’s true, I am especially interested in making an action game. (laughs)

—You said your turnaround for each development is about 4 months, right? By my calculation, that would put the release of Shining Rogue around March of next year?

Takahashi: Ah, because you saw that announcement… (nervous laugh)

—Well, I figured if you didn’t have a separate team working on it right now, you wouldn’t be able make it in time.

Takahashi: You ask some mean questions! Ok. I’ll level with you. We do have a team working on a different genre game right now. But “Shining Rogue” was just a provisional title, and it’s as-yet undecided whether it will actually end up being one of the Shining games.

—What do you think makes a good action game?

Takahashi: There’s a lot of game’s I’ve been inspired by. Recently, I’ve been blown away by the quality of Star Fox. I had this image in my head of polygons being more of an industrial engineering kind of thing. I never imagined seeing a game for the home console like that, of such high quality…

—Will Shining Rogue use polygons, perhaps?

Takahashi: ……we’re researching a lot of things. Look forward to it!

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The Mega Drive action-RPGs Crusader of Centy (left) and Landstalker (right) both began development with the working title “Shining Rogue” but for various reasons, both games were released as original titles that bore no affiliation with the Shining franchise; given the time of this interview, the “Shining Rogue” game mentioned here is probably Crusader of Centy.

Dengeki Megadrive 6/93

—It looks like we can expect Shining Force II to be bigger and better than the first game and the Gaiden releases for Game Gear. What do you feel the “selling point” is for SFII?

Takahashi: In terms of the underlying mechanics and systems, we’re doing many things with SFII people have said were only be possible on the Super Famicom. For example, parallax scrolling and spotlight effects in the dungeons.

—Yeah, the Megadrive hardware is no slouch.

Takahashi: I’m not talking about the hardware though. The SFC is, in fact, the only console that can do that in hardware. We went to great efforts to study those effects to see if they could be recreated in software, and we’ve succeeded in that. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but it was actually a real challenge to pull off.

—In many ways, there’s a lot of pressure for Shining Force II to be better than the original and Gaiden games.

Takahashi: Yeah. I always feel like we’re “battling” with the previous games, so to speak. That’s why we talked a lot together as a team, about how to deliver a satisfying ending for players. We’d built this story up for them, from the opening to the mid-game climax, so we knew their expectations would be running high.

Finding the right tone for that ending has taken a lot of trial and error. One day, as I was working on it, my brother Shugo sat down beside me and quietly said, “Seeing as this game has turned into such a big production… I want to cry at the ending.” I then spent about a month thinking about how to do that. I came up with something, but deep down I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to do that to players at the end of the game. I showed the staff what I’d completed, not knowing what they’d think. Then one of the staff spoke, with tears welling up in their eyes, “This is really good!” So yeah, I’ve got some confidence in the story this time.

The spotlight effect seen in Shining Force 2’s dark caverns, previously considered by some as impossible to achieve on Mega Drive hardware.

BEEP! Megadrive 7/93

—So what’s the current status on the Shining Force II development?

Hiroyuki: It’s coming along, don’t you think?

Shugo: The amount of time we have to work within is very strict, but yeah, it’s going smoothly enough. If you look at the big picture though, there’s no time to get lax. (laughs) We’ve pretty much got to keep pushing and pushing forward.

Hiroyuki: Right. With the first Shining Force, I remember how we were re-writing and revising the story right up to the very last two weeks before the deadline.

—What are you working on right now, then?

Hiroyuki: I’m in the middle of writing the ending. The story is really cool.

—In the last game, there was a robot character who had been created long ago to help the heroes. Will there be robots like that, and glimpses of the ancient past, in this game too?

Hiroyuki: That connection with an ancient past has been a part of the Shining series since Shining in the Darkness, so yes, it will of course be featured here too. However, I think Shining Force II has overall more of a “fantasy” feel.

—Opinions were very divided on the quality of the enemy AI in the first game. How’s that looking?

Hiroyuki: It’s been greatly improved. That would be my brother’s doing.

Shugo: I’m sorry if it’s too difficult. (laughs) But the story is much longer now, so the pace of the battles is more speedy. I think there are more nuanced battles this time around, too.

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Shugo Takahashi, Camelot co-founder and lead designer.

—Meaning?

Shugo: We want players to see SFII as more of an RPG this time. The way the battles in the first game unfolded had more of a traditional strategy feeling.

—Can I ask about Shining Force Gaiden II a bit here, also?

Hiroyuki: The Gaiden games were basically made by Shugo.

Shugo: Gaiden II also employs a compression routine to store more in the memory, which allowed us to really cram a lot of content in there, far beyond the usual limits.

Hiroyuki: Yeah, in game volume alone, it was quite a feat. I’d venture to say we filled it to the absolute max. I know Shugo’s other proud accomplishment is the scene where the King’s face changes.

Shugo: That’s true, but I actually only added that scene two days before the deadline. The memory was already full, but the guy in charge of the face (character profile) graphics showed me that effect. He also drew the underlying cells for the animation, but when I saw it in-game, in that actual scene, I was surprised at the dramatic impact. We had to add it now! So I scrambled to fit in at the last minute there. (laughs)

Hiroyuki: I took a step back on the development of Gaiden II (laughs), but my favorite part is the last scene. There’s a full-screen image of Natasha and Deanna there that I love!

Shugo: Before we even began making the game, that was the image I knew I wanted to have for the last scene. I didn’t know whether we’d have enough memory for it, but once we got down to things it fit without any troubles. As an image it captures what I really want players to see at the end there, which I’m very happy for.

Dengeki Megadrive 8/93

—What would you say the basic difference between SFI and SFII is?

Takahashi: The first Shining Force was a game of armies battling armies. In SFII, it doesn’t have that rigid “troops” feel so much—it’s more of a swashbuckling adventure. For example, say your team is traveling by wagon. In the first game you’d basically proceed straight to your “true enemy”, but in this one, you might get waylaid by random monsters along the way. In that sense, SFII doesn’t feel like a game where you’re simply trying to defeat the big bad guy at the end.

—The way the game progresses must be very different too, then.

Takahashi: Yeah, it is. In the first game, as soon as you leave town, you’re drawn into a fight. I think players saw it as very linear and forced. We’ve done away with that this time.

—Have you already completed the story?

Takahashi: Almost. That is to say, I’ve written up to the ending…

—Ah yes, the “ending that will make you cry”, as you described in our last chat.

Takahashi: Actually, I changed that. There were people on our staff who objected too.

—What’s the new ending like?

Takahashi: I think it’s a good, fitting ending to conclude the Shining series.

—What?! This is the last game?!

Takahashi: In terms of my own personal feelings at least, yeah, I feel like this wraps it up. Of course, if there’s enough demand and players out there ordering us to keep going, I could see that happening, maybe. (laughs)

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Hideyuki Takahashi, Camelot co-founder
and co-president and Shining series producer.

Shining Force II Liner Notes

written by producer Hiroyuki Takahashi

In October of 1993, we finally released Shining Force II to the world. Because the development ran in parallel with both Shining Force Gaiden games, it was, if I’m being perfectly honest, an incredibly difficult project. Nor were the in-house development challenges the only ones we faced; on top of it all, our rivals on the Super Famicom, Final Fantasy V and Dragon Quest V, had also just been released. The psychological burden of knowing we’d end up being criticized for the quality of our game in comparison to these big league RPGs made the Shining Force II development far from relaxing. Nevertheless, the experience of having endured those many pressures made crossing the finish line all the sweeter. When I look back at Shining Force II today, there are still points I’m unsatisfied with, but overall, I think we managed to create a game that fully satisfied us in that moment of time.

The composer of Shining Force II, Motoaki Takenouchi, has been working with us since Shining Force Gaiden. Since the Shining Force series (I should just say the Shining series generally) is a medieval fantasy, the only music that really fits that atmosphere is classical—though the occasional rock piece is not necessarily off-limits, either. The number of game composers who can write in that style is quite limited, but Takenouchi came highly recommended by Koichi Sugiyama, and was close friends with our programmer Yasuhiro Taguchi (who himself is friends with Sugiyama, by the way, and how they met apparently). That’s how we ended up hiring Takenouchi, who has a great ear for classical music, to compose the Shining Force songs.

A small aside: Takenouchi graduated with honors from Tokyo School of Arts, but when I first met him, he didn’t mention that at all. Perhaps that’s why, rather than initially seeing him as a talented composer, I was more impressed by his skill and knowledge as a gamer.

Shining Force II OST.

Later when we heard he had gone to art school, rumors started going around the office that he had gone to a “gamer college.” There’s lots of musicians out there wanting to write game music, but Takenouchi was such an expert in video games that we all wondered where in the world he had found the time, if not at a video game school!

These were, of course, exactly the kind of qualifications I was seeking in an employee.

Takenouchi is an extremely easy person for me to work with. He somehow always seems to know what I wanted. All I have to do is hand him the story and before long, he’s churning out one song after the other (I believe he communicates and works closely with programmer Taguchi). Every song he submits is wonderful (at least I think so… how about it?), and I continue to be deeply impressed with his talent. With the Shining Force II soundtrack, I’d say he’s done it again, delivering a collection of songs that thoroughly show off his talent and hard work. I think the songs are worthy of listening to not only as video game music, but as interesting classical pieces in their own right.

This makes Takeuchi’s third game that he’s done with us, and it’s been nothing but a positive relationship. I hope we can continue working together as partners like this into the future. At the same time, I believe Takenouchi’s talent as a musician is unlikely to stay contained within the world of game music, so I don’t think it will be long until he’s making his debut on the wider musical scene and sharing his talents with the rest of the world—a day I greatly look forward to.

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From left to right: the Takahashi brothers, programmer Yasuchi Taguchi and composer Motoaki Takenouchi. (click to expand)