Bahamut Lagoon - 1996 Developer Interview
This short Bahamut Lagoon interview first 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; however, I discovered a longer interview in the official fanbook which I hope to add down the road.
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.
—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.
—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 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.
—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!
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