Bahamut Lagoon – 1996 Developer Interview

Bahamut Lagoon - 1996 Developer Interview

The first of these Bahamut Lagoon interviews appeared in Dengeki SFC magazine. Produced during Square's golden age, the dragon-centric SRPG remains largely unknown in the west (though a new fan translation was released in 2021). As far as interviews go it's a nuts-and-bolts affair covering design, favorite characters, and development challenges. The second interview comes from the Famitsu Fanbook, and surveys the entire development staff.

Hitoshi Sasaki - Designer
Takatsugu Nakazawa - Planner
Noriko Matsueda - Composer

—Let's start off with some self-introductions. Can you tell us what part of the development you worked on?

Sasaki: I'm Sasaki, and I worked on the game design, and as the chief graphics designer.

—What games have you worked on before this?

Sasaki: I did the monster graphics for Final Fantasy VI.

Nakazawa: I'm Nakazawa. I designed the strategy portions of the game.

Matsueda: I wrote all the music for Bahamut Lagoon. This is my second game, but I personally love orchestral music, so please listen to it with that mindset, if you can.

—What's the biggest draw of Bahamut Lagoon, in your opinion?

Sasaki: I want to answer "everything", but first and foremost would be the dragon raising system. In the game, dragons have recently disappeared from the world, and you get to see them living and breathing in their natural state. It's that kind of fantasy. It's a little hard for me to explain in words, but it looks a bit different from other Square games… the Dragons really seem to be alive, it's a solid fantasy adventure.

Matsueda: I think the biggest draw is that you have to use your head to beat this game. It has a strategic aspect where you have to think about how far your enemy can move, the range of their attacks, and so on. And you have to raise your dragons. They'll act like dumb kids at first. It feels like you're working with real animals.

L-R: Takatsugu Nakazawa (designer/graphic designer), Hitoshi Sasaki (planner), and Noriko Matsueda (composer)

—What areas did you struggle with?

Nakazawa: Making something everyone can enjoy was tough, as you can probably imagine.

Sasaki: For me it was making suitably devious traps for players.

Nakazawa: They're scattered throughout the game. I remember when I played some of them, it was like… woah, Nakazawa has a mean streak! (laughs) You have to be especially on-guard in the latter half of the game. There's cannons whose long range will surprise you, and some maps have enemies that can revive… there's a bunch of little "traps" like that waiting for players.

—What about the score for Bahamut Lagoon, what challenges did you face there?

Matsueda: For this game I had orchestral music in mind, so creating the right reverb, spatiality, and balance on the Super Famicom hardware was very difficult.

Nakazawa: Campbell's song was very popular with everyone during the development.

Matsueda: My challenge was to make music that would get players emotionally involved in the game. Music that fits like a glove with the story and events you're seeing. As long as it's a good song, I think, it'll get stuck in players heads.

—What originally inspired you to make Bahamut Lagoon?

Sasaki: All I can really say is that we just wanted to make a game like this. A game where you raise your dragons and fight alongside them.

—Did you want to make a strategy RPG specifically, then?

Sasaki: Yeah. In the beginning, though, that wasn't an explicit goal of ours. We had an idea that seemed interesting to us, that we couldn't put into words exactly, and it happened to end up working out as a SRPG. But we weren't set on that genre from the get-go.

Several of the characters from Bahamut Lagoon: Byuu, Yoyo, Sendak, and Matelite.

—I felt like the relationships in Bahamut Lagoon were very complex and entangled.

Sasaki: Certain elements of that were very deliberate—one of our staff,1 who specializes in writing stories, used experiences from his own life… like being betrayed by friends, being dumped by a woman, and wove them into the story. So if you encounter some painful, emotional episodes in Bahamut Lagoon, know that they're mostly based on our staff's real lives. (laughs)

—A game invested with the developer's grudges, nice. I wonder if that's what makes the characters stand out so much. By the way, who are your favorite characters?

Nakazawa: I like Matelite, because he's tough and manly.

—He's slow though, isn't he.

Nakazawa: If you're clever with forming your team, that's not a problem. In this game, the characters' stats and abilities can change depending on the party composition, so if you use Matelite and level up the Light Armor job, for instance, you should have sufficient movement speed. It's all about the party.

Matsueda: I like Taicho.

—What do you like about him?

Matsueda: He kind of straddles the line between being a stereotypical handsome man and a comic relief, but when it's time to take action he acts decisively. In the beginning he's more of a light-hearted joker, but he becomes more serious in the latter half.

Sasaki: I like Donfan. He has everything that I lack, and opposites attract, as they say.

—The way he enters the story is amazing. Do you find him useful?

Sasaki: He's very useful. He may seem like a carefree playboy, but deep in his heart he's very serious, a true romantic.

—By the way, about Sendak, who plays the role of tactician... why did you give him that personality?

Nakazawa: I don't know. (laughs)

Sasaki: Yeah, the person who made him, it was like they foisted all their negative desires onto him. Definitely.

A look at the gameplay of Bahamut Lagoon using the fan-made English translation.

—A big part of the appeal of Bahamut Lagoon is the unique world of floating islands. Where did this idea come from?

Sasaki: You know the Izu Peninsula? I love looking down on those islands on airplane flights. I wanted to evoke that kind of atmosphere, and eventually arrived at the idea of a "floating lagoon". In the latter half of the story, especially, the true meaning of this world, and why it's this way, will become clear.

—The graphics are beautiful too. You can feel the play of light in the misty air.

Sasaki: Whenever I make drawings, I always draw the Tokyo sky that way. Maybe it's because my vision is bad. (laughs) I didn't specifically set out to make it that way, per se, but it was the natural result of my attempt to take these landscapes I see in my head and present them to everyone in a game-format.

—Are there any parts of Bahamut Lagoon you especially want players to see?

Sasaki: It's hard to narrow down to just one thing. We put a lot of energy into the backgrounds too, but I'd have to say it's the dragons.

—How many different kinds of dragons are there, in total?

Nakazawa: Over 250, roughly.

—Which ones are your favorites?

Nakazawa: I like the Molten Earth Dragon form. Guys with lots of spikes like that are cool.

Sasaki: I like Munimuni.

—What does that one look like again...?

Sasaki: It kind of looks like a daikon radish, and it multiplies when it evolves. We were really lost about how to evolve it, so we ended with the fabulous form you see there. (laughs)

—Regarding the dragons, there's only three commands for them: move, come, and wait.

Nakazawa: In terms of strategy, being able to issue concrete commands is certainly the more efficient approach that no one can argue with, but I felt strongly that I didn't want this to become a pure war simulator. That's why we made it this way, where the dragons feel more like cute pets you raise.

—What's the difference between the normal dragons and the holy dragons in Bahamut Lagoon?

Nakazawa: In battle the dragons fight alongside your party, but the holy dragons are summoned by characters called warlocks and have specific attacks. It all becomes clearer later in the story, but they're like gods who exert an influence over the entire world.

One of Hitoshi Sasaki's concept art drawings for Bahamut Lagoon. (thanks @VGDensetsu!)

—Please give a final message for our readers.

Sasaki: Please have fun with it. That's all I ask. Just give it a shot at least once. Nakazawa's sense for strategy games, Matsueda's music… everyone on the staff imbued this game with their own sensibilities and poured everything they had into it.

Nakazawa: Why stop at just once… play it many times!

Matsueda: I recommend doing a lot of dragon raising on your first playthrough, but on your second, try beating it without raising any dragons at all. Also, we're releasing the soundtrack on February 25th, so please buy that as well. It comes with an orchestral single too.

Nakazawa: Bahamut Lagoon turned out to be quite a weird little game, so we're very curious to hear what you all think of it. Sometimes I lay awake at night worried that everyone will reject it. (laughs)

Sasaki: Please send us your feedback letters. For your true feelings, address them to Sasaki. For the corporate feedback postcards, you can just write your praise there. (laughs)

—Thank you for your time today!

Dragon illustration commissioned for the Bahamut Lagoon fanbook, by Kensuke Suzuki (Shining Force/Dragon Warrior II). More of his work can be seen at @VGDensetsu's informative thread.
Bahamut Lagoon - 1996 Developer Interview

originally featured in the Bahamut Lagoon strategy guide (Famitsu)

Kunio Asahara - Graphics (Effects)

Description of Work: I worked on the magic, skill, weapon, and item effects. About 300 in total.

What you're proud of: The screen is so full of sprites (player characters and monsters) that they said we'd have to use the background layers for effects, and in the beginning I was worried. "Is this really gonna work…?" But I was quite proud of the result when it was all done.

What would you do different/improve: Special effects are team effort between graphic designers and programmers, and I had a hard time on Bahamut Lagoon explaining my ideas to the programmer and we fought many times over it. Wanting it to be perfect, I feel bad now about the way I pushed my ideas onto the programmers.

What you want players to notice: The character animation is not to be missed, definitely look closely while you play.

Who you want to be: uniuni.2

Games you'd like to make: For now, I'd like to try my hand at every genre at least once.

Your message to players: To all simulation lovers out there, Bahamut Lagoon isn't as hard as it might look, so definitely give it a try. See ya.

Tomoe Inazawa - Graphic Designer

Description of Work: Field graphics (jungle, castle interior, Altair, Persona's ship interior)

What you're proud of: I feel like I've learned how to enjoy drawing more after working on Bahamut Lagoon. I'm very happy about that.

What would you do different/improve: Umm… sorry, I'm too embarrassed to say.

What you want players to notice: After you see the ending, play the EX Version. It's fun too.

Who you want to be: A healthy person.

Games you'd like to make: A game with cheerful, bright graphics.

Your message to players: ???

Murasaki Iriguchi - Graphics

Description of Work: Field Objects.

What you're proud of: We strived to give each of the characters their own personalities.

What would you do different/improve: There's too many to write here, I can't sum it all up in a sentence.

What you want players to notice: Having the game automatically handle unit formation is fine, but you should try and manually form your units too.

Who you want to be: A warrior who can survive on 100-yen a day!

Games you'd like to make: That's a secret.

Your message to players: Maybe we'll meet each other somewhere someday…?

Top: Kunio Asahara; Tomoe Inazawa; Tetsushi Iwasaki
Mid: Hiroshi Ono; Naoya Kawahira; Takeshi Endou
Bot: Hitoshi Sasaki; Rena Sasaki; Teruaki Sugawara

Tetsushi Iwasaki - Programmer

Description of Work: Menus, Field, Battle, Event, Effects. Organizing and managing all the internal data.

What you're proud of: I don't think about my work like that.

What would you do different/improve: I made some mistakes with my time management and couldn't finish certain tasks.

What you want players to notice: Check out the sexy scenes with the female characters. I bet they'll turn you on… hehe

Who you want to be: A person who doesn't create bugs.

Games you'd like to make: None in particular.

Your message to players: Hitoshi Sasaki is a Akiko Hinagata fan. Motomu Toriuama is a Reiko Chiba fan. I'm a Cutey Honey fan. heheh

Takeshi Endou - Planning

Description of Work: Creating and organizing all the system data. Creating (a portion of) the system logic. Release planning. Monitor support.

What you're proud of: The parts of the battle system I worked out came out very well. I had a systematic plan in place for handling problems and that was a success.

What would you do different/improve: In general, I think if we'd had a little more leeway with our schedule, we could have increased the quality.

What you want players to notice: The smooth movement of the characters and enemies during battle. The Dragon evolution and the party power-ups.

Who you want to be: Someone with a wealth of practical knowledge who can work unconstrained by previous ideas and frameworks.

Games you'd like to make: A game that, regardless of the genre, is one that we ourselves can enjoy even after the development is complete.

Your message to players: The more you interact with the dragons the cuter they will become. Keep getting stronger and wipe out those enemies.

Hiroshi Ono - Programmer

Description of Work: Battle, event programming, visual scenes, the dragon raising screen

What you're proud of: Each member of the devteam was able to bring out their own individual personalities.

What would you do different/improve: The quality takes a hit at the very end.

What you want players to notice: How the dragons grow/evolve.

Who you want to be: Someone with love.

Games you'd like to make: A game with love.

Your message to players: Don't get deceived by the names of the dragon's food!

Naoya Kawahira - Planner

Description of Work: All maps/field, and everything related to that.

What you're proud of: The terrain destruction system.

What would you do different/improve: I'm sad we couldn't include reactions for every type of terrain.

What you want players to notice: Entrust your life to the dragons when you fight.

Who you want to be: I don't know.

Games you'd like to make: A solid action game.

Your message to players: (none)

Dragon illustration commissioned for the Bahamut Lagoon fanbook, by fantasy/sci-fi artist Hitoshi Yoneda (Phantasy Star).

Hitoshi Sasaki - Project Leader/Chief Graphic Designer

Description of Work: Game system design, world/lore design, dragon and background graphics, illustrations, part of the story.

What you're proud of: I want to live with humility, so I will leave judgments of good and bad up to the players.

What would you do different/improve: A secret. If I start enumerating them we'll be here all day.

What you want players to notice: Please just enjoy it all. And also watch the ending carefully. We went all-out and added lots of small details to enjoy.

Who you want to be: A secret.

Games you'd like to make: That's also a secret, but I would like to make Bahamut Lagoon 2…

Your message to players: I wonder if players will ultimately accept this game… I'm so worried about it, I can't sleep at night. Please let us know what you think of Bahamut Lagoon!

Rena Sasaki - Background Graphics

Description of Work: The backgrounds for Leviathan, Garuda, and holy dragon Valitora. I also did the backgrounds for Trafalgar, Hyperion, and Dafira, as well as part of the ending (the evening sun)

What you're proud of: When the release date was announced, and we saw that we really had a finished game on our hands, it made my parents very relieved.

What would you do different/improve: This was my first game development, so everything!

What you want players to notice: During the playtesting, from our developer booth I overheard people saying things like "AiiieeeE!!" and "Stupid dragon!" Please raise the dragons with thoughtfulness and care.

Who you want to be: I want to be an illustrator like Akemi Takada!

Games you'd like to make: Shunakkii (meaning unknown).

Your message to players: Thank you for playing.

Teruaki Sugawara - Sound Engineer

Description of Work: Waveform sampling, making sound effects

What you're proud of: The holy dragon sound effects! The high quality of the sampled waves.

What would you do different/improve: I wanted the knight and heavy armor skills to be a bit more flashy and impressive.

What you want players to notice: Let's summon lots of holy dragons!

Who you want to be: Someone who is always striving to achieve their goals.

Games you'd like to make: A game all about toys.

Your message to players: Take care of your pets!

Hidenori Suzuki - Sound Programming

Description of Work: Created the sound drivers (for the SFC). Also created sound tools for the computer.

What you're proud of: Nothing in particular.

What would you do different/improve: I was working on several other projects at the same time, so I didn't get to see all the details.

What you want players to notice: The character animation. They move so well, please look closely and appreciate it.

Who you want to be: A big shot (just kidding).

Games you'd like to make: It's not a game, but I want to create something that unites sound and visuals. Something like a musical.

Your message to players: See you next time.

Top: Hidenori Suzuki; Satoru Tsuji; Motomu Toriyama
Mid: Takatsugu Nakazawa; Shin Nagasawa; Kazushige Nojima
Bot: Noriko Matsueda; Kazuhisa Murakami; Takahiro Yamashita

Satoru Tsuji - Planning

Description of Work: Setting the initial battle parameters. Creating the maps for special events, and handling the variables associated therewith.

What you're proud of: The event map has the same sophistication as a Final Fantasy game.

What would you do different/improve: Not fully understanding how to create high quality events.

What you want players to notice: The rich variety of forms the dragons can evolve into (obvious, I know, but). Try them all out!

Who you want to be: A person who can proudly say, "I made this game!"

Games you'd like to make: A game that even someone with no interest in games would enjoy.

Your message to players: Nothing really, sorry.

Motomu Toriyama - Story/Event Planning

Description of Work: My main job was writing the story and the chapter interlude events.

What you're proud of: The eclectic cast of characters that exude human warmth and personality. The strong, memorable side characters (the shop people, crew, etc).

What would you do different/improve: Being unable to include the empire general event. I had also wanted to include a system where the characters' relationship status would influence what happens on the map/battle screens.

What you want players to notice: All the different characters. They're all a little shy at first, but before long their true personalities will emerge. Please be friendly to them all.

Who you want to be: A game scenario writer who can show children the world of dreams and nightmares.

Games you'd like to make: A lifelike game world, with players that are completely connected to it. A world in which you will see things you've never seen before, and experience feelings that exceed what words can convey. I want to make a game like that.

Your message to players: Dragons, middle-aged dudes, and old codgers too… please cherish them all.

Takatsugu Nakazawa - Planning

Description of Work: Setting up the simulation/strategy parts of the game, data creation.

What you're proud of: We've created a new type of game that hasn't existed before.

What would you do different/improve: There were multiple times during the development when I felt I was at the limits of my stamina.

What you want players to notice: The close relationship between the dragons and the party.

Who you want to be: Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet.

Games you'd like to make: A exciting game that makes your heart race.

Your message to players: Go crazy! You have to play Bahamut Lagoon at least 5 times!!

Shin Nakazawa - Graphic Designer (Monsters)

Description of Work: Monster design, all animation. The evolution for Molten and Twinhead dragons. Field objects (dragons, large objects), Fahrenheit, Trafalgar, and each lagoon's design.

What you're proud of: I put a great deal of effort into the monster animations.

What would you do different/improve: I could nitpick little things all day.

What you want players to notice: The battle scenes and Sendak's eccentricity.

Who you want to be: Muni-muni.

Games you'd like to make: There were a lot of things we had to leave out this time, so I'd definitely like to try making a sequel.

Your message to players: Let's all agree that "difficult dungeons" make us incontinent.

Kazushige Nojima - Planning/Director

Description of Work: Creating the events. Harmonizing all the aspects of the game.

What you're proud of: The characters that go too far.

What would you do different/improve: The lack of cohesion and sometimes loose, disconnected story (this is my failing as a director).

What you want players to notice: No matter how much you evolve or change the dragons' forms, their voice always stays the same. They're a cute bunch.

Who you want to be: Well, I'm already past 30, so… if it were possible, I'd like to be transformed into a beautiful 20-year old girl and have people make a fuss over me.

Games you'd like to make: One that can bring people to tears.

Your message to players: Don't just think of your dragons and party members as battle stats. The game will be many times more enjoyable if you can avoid that. Also, try naming your dragon after your real-life crush.

Noriko Matsueda - Composer

Description of Work: Writing the music.

What you're proud of: I included a number of "orchestral" songs in Bahamut Lagoon that are unlike any game music I've written before.

What would you do different/improve: The melodies aren't especially strong or insistent, so it's possible the music will pass by without leaving much impression…

What you want players to notice: Keep raising, raising, raising your dragons!

Who you want to be: A composer who is recognized for their music, not only in the game music world.

Games you'd like to make: A game that will remain in your heart throughout the long years of your life.

Your message to players: Buy the CD too!

Kazuhisa Murakami - Field Programming

Description of Work: The field messages, player controls, dragon and enemy unit AI, the field event interpreter…

What you're proud of: There were a lot of things I was unsatisfied with, but I'm glad I didn't just give up in frustration.

What would you do different/improve: There's a few points where I think I should have been more insistent with my objections and not backed down.

What you want players to notice: I'd like to see how players make use of the more unruly dragons.

Who you want to be: Someone who doesn't bother others, fulfills their responsibilities, and it also unique.

Games you'd like to make: A game that has a completely new kind of gameplay system. I'd like to try making an online RPG (single player), too.

Your message to players: Please look forward to Bahamut Lagoon 2.

Takahiro Yamashita - Graphics

Description of Work: The simulation field maps, and the generic town graphics.

What you're proud of: Burning, freezing, and destruction graphics.

What would you do different/improve: Doing a poor job taking care of myself.

What you want players to notice: Please enjoy the destruction.

Who you want to be: A passionate person.

Games you'd like to make: A passionate game.

Your message to players: The dragons may be dumb, but they're adorable things. Please give your dragon all of your love.

Dragon illustration commissioned for the Bahamut Lagoon fanbook, by Jun Suemi.

Assorted Questions (Silly and Serious)

—How do you clean and wash your dragon?

Staff: You Don't.

—How have the dragons been surviving after the fall of Kahna?

Staff: They're wild dragons now.

—You say the dragons can eat anything, but won't they injure themselves if they eat things like swords?

Staff: Their stomachs are harder than iron!

—Do the dragons eat humans?

Staff: In the early planning documents, they did eat humans. But it caused too many logical inconsistencies so we changed it so they don't.

—Are there male and female dragons?

Staff: They're hermaphroditic.

—How do four people (Byuu and his companions) fit on one dragon?

Staff: Well, if we drew them at actual scale, the maps would be gigantic, right?

—How are the continents floating?

Staff: I don't know.

—Floating continents sound scary! Don't people fall off them? If they fall, where do they go...?

Staff: People do. Every year several dozen people manage to fall off and lose their life (mostly drunks). No one knows where they go. Since there's no body, it makes funerals difficult.

—What does Bikkebakke eat? Where does he get those poisonous mushrooms...?

Staff: He eats… "bad" things. He cultivates them in a secret location.

—Who makes the meals on the Fahrenheit?

Staff: They rotate the duty between them.

—Are there male and female puchi-debi (Mini-Devils)?

Staff: After a fashion, yes.

—Matelite seems to know everything about Yoyo... what could this mean?

Staff: He does know a lot about her.

—How much does Bikkebakke weigh? During the game he says "I've gained some weight" to Yoyo...

Staff: A lot.

—At the beginning of the development, what kind of game did you set out to make?

Staff: A fun game.

—Of all the ideas that made it and are reflected in the final version of the game, which of those did you have from the very start?

Staff: The side-view battles.

Dragon illustration commissioned for the Bahamut Lagoon fanbook, by Hiroyuki Katou and Keisuke Gotou (Lennus).

—Were there any interesting gameplay ideas you had to cut from the final game?

Staff: A job change system. Though we ultimately axed it, that's actually why all the characters have different sprites.

—And what about the characters themselves, did you have to cut anything there?

Staff: Sendak actually had even more outrageous lines. Donfan was more lecherous.

—What was the most lively, exciting period of the development for the team?

Staff: When it was done.

—What foods were popular with the staff during the development?

Staff: Um, it's not like we're all eating the same food here. It wasn't some corporate retreat!

—If possible, could you give us a general timeline of the development?

Staff: Summer of 1993, planning starts. From there we gradually added people to the team. We were working on Bahamut Lagoon for a longggg time. It was finally finished in the winter of 1995.

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  1. Motomu Toriyama, who spoke very briefly about Bahamut Lagoon in a 2009 interview.

  2. This is a reference to the "uni-uni" dragon form in Bahamut Lagoon, which is obtained by raising a dragon's loyalty to 100.

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