Legend of Valkyrie – 1991 Developer Interview

Legend of Valkyrie – 1991 Developer Interview

This interview with Legend of Valkyrie character designer Hiroshi Fujii and main designer Koakuman originally appeared in the 1/91 issue of Hippon Super, and was later republished (with extras) in the World of Valkyrie illustrated book. Fujii discusses his early days at Namco, how he got involved with the first Adventure of Valkyrie game, and his sophisticated approach to character and world design.

Hiroshi Fujii – Character Designer
Koakuman – Main Designer

—What kind of work did you do when you were employed at Namco?

Fujii: When I graduated from college and joined Namco, I was first placed in what was then called the design department. We did a wide variety of work for different games and products, all related to design. Sometimes we were asked to write planning docs for new games too, and sometimes we shopped our games around to potential business partners. We also designed robots, eletro-mechnical arcade machines, and toys.

The design department was eventually dissolved, however. After that I moved to the game development group, and did the character design and game design for Legend of Valkyrie. All the color illustrations found in this book were used as internal development materials for the game.

—So you weren’t involved in game development during the development of Famicom’s Valkyrie no Bouken (Adventure of Valkyrie), then?

Fujii: I was still in the design department during that game, but because I could draw, some work for it was sent my way. So it’s possible that if that work had been given to someone else then, they might have taken ownership of the Valkyrie character, and she could have turned out totally different. I was given the source pixel art for the character, but told I didn’t have to follow that when I did made my illustrations.

And so if you look at the pixel art for the Valkyrie in Valkyrie no Bouken, you can see how she doesn’t have a French braid, and she’s wearing some one-piece kind of dress. For the box art illustrations I just made up my own design. A lot of the work I did back then was like that, my own original designs—including the covers for Sky Kid and Tower of Babel.

—When you were turning these pixel art characters into illustrations, what aspects of the characters did you try to emphasize?

Fujii: Well, seeing as she was called “Valkyrie”, I figured I should go with something from Norse mythology. So I knew my designs had to match that. The planning notes also indicated she was a child of the Gods. But her character was already different from the Valkyries that appear in mythology, and I also had my own image of her as a simple female warrior.

Hiroshi Fujii, 1991

I originally drew 8 different sketches of her in various ratios and proportions, and I believe we selected the 5 or 6 head proportion (a proportion that lends a somewhat childish and cute appearance to the character, in which the head is 1/5 or 1/6 of the character’s total size). That one was also the closest to my very first drawings of her.

—And these illustrations you did for Valkyrie no Bouken became the art for Legend of Valkyrie as well?

Fujii: That’s right. When the design department was disbanded, I was brought into the developer group as a main designer (because I had experience doing the characters for Bouken), and was placed on the Legend of Valkyrie development. I worked on it from the planning stage onwards.

—Was the world of the game the first thing you designed, then…?

Fujii: Well, the general outline of the world had been set in the previous game (Valkyrie no Bouken), but we nevertheless created most of the details anew. The social level of development is somewhere between the middle ages and ancient times. Magic also exists. I don’t know how much the other main designers cared about these details, but as someone who has to draw these things, it has to be clear and specific for me… so to an extent, I decided a lot on my own. I wanted there to be boats and horses as methods of conveyance in this world, too, and I drew illustrations for them, but they weren’t used in the game.

After talking with the main designer, we decided that the Valkyrie’s destination for this quest should simply be the “North”. We pictured her journey starting in the mid-latitudes of Europe and proceeding northwards from there. The terrain would gradually change from broad-leafed woods to thin, pine-leaf forests, eventually transitioning to sparse strands of white birch, and finally barren tundra. At last she would reach the land of ice and snow, the arctic itself.

—And that’s where the North Spring would be?

Fujii: No, there’s still a little more—after the arctic area you suddenly find yourself underground. Inside the Earth there’s a whole different climate, a tropical jungle… and that’s where you would fight the final enemy, Kamooz.

Some of Fujii’s Famicom box art designs he made in his early days in the “design department” at Namco. His illustrations have a characteristic dynamism that no doubt fueled the imaginations of the Japanese children who played these games back then.

—How much of that initial vision were you able to realize in the actual game?

Fujii: Very little of it. Largely, it was because of the vertical scrolling format we chose. In a vertical screen, you can’t really depict too many trees or dense forests, because it would end up obscuring the rest of the screen and the action. It would make the screen too cluttered. So, sadly, we settled on a simpler presentation for the backgrounds which you see in the game today. I think the frigid atmosphere of the Faraway Village area (stage 5) was done really well though, so not every idea went to waste. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have regrets about what we had to leave out.

—By the way, did you also create personalities for the characters? I don’t get a strong sense of a personality from the Valkyrie character.

Fujii: When I look back it now, Valkyrie has kind of a weird personality. She rushes headlong into danger, thrusting forward with single-minded purpose. And she’s really greedy when it comes to money. (laughs) Of course I’m half-joking, but yeah, she doesn’t really have a clearly defined personality. When we were making the game, we didn’t think about that much.

In terms of “personality”, I’d say more than Valkyrie, the supporting cast is more colorful. Xandra, Koakuman (poorly translated as “Quarkman” for the US, which completely loses the “little devil” meaning of koaku), and so forth…

—Did you not give her much personality because she was the protagonist—the stand-in for the player themselves?

Fujii: That, and now when I think of it… Valkyrie doesn’t actually belong to that world, I think. When the denizens of Marvel Land are in trouble and pray to the heavens, the Valkyrie appears, but she really is appearing as the manifestation of their (the people’s) prayers. Xandra and the others, for instance… in order to produce a single savior capable of rescuing the world, the prayers of a million Xandras are necessary. This is all just my own recent interpretation, of course, but I think it matches up with the world of Marvel Land quite well, doesn’t it?

—Hearing that, I can really tell how much thought you’ve put into this game.

Fujii: Well, RPGs that take place in medieval Europe are a dime a dozen, right? But most of them include ridiculous items and locations that don’t match the original medieval setting at all. I wanted to avoid all that, and draw a very clear line in the sand, and focus on greater consistency in the design. No castles higher than three stories, just adhering to practical details like that… but of course, these are video games we’re talking about, so it’s impossible to be that strict.

We added those cutscenes between stages, but those weren’t just for following the story—we wanted to try and expand the breadth of the game world for players. There was a lot of talk in the development room about how we wanted to make a game that felt like a movie, but again, it’s a game, so there are limits to what you can do there. I wanted to spend more time depicting Valkyrie’s sword, and we wanted to create more detailed scenes for the side characters, but… it’s an action game. If you focus on those side things too much, it ceases to be a game.

One of Fujii’s earliest pieces of concept art for Legend of Valkyrie, showing the Valkyrie and Kamooz battling above ice and fire.

—Right. Being obsessive about details can be both a strength and a weakness.

Fujii: Consider, for example, ancient times when men still fought with swords. In that era, if your own sword was even slightly higher quality than your opponents’ sword, then it was a huge advantage—to make a modern comparison, I think it could be as significant as the difference between whether a nation has nuclear weapons or not. So back then they gave names to their swords, and that attachment makes perfect sense when you’re entrusting your life to that weapon. I wanted to somehow try and convey that spirit in a video game.

I felt the same way about magic, too. In the real world, the practice of magic is deeply connected to both the climate and the practitioner’s mental state. The existence (or absence) of a single piece of information could determine everything. In video games, though, everything is very set and straightforward: just follow these steps and magic happens. With video games there may be no way around that, but in my own manga I draw, I try to depict magic in a slightly more realistic way, showing some of the origins of the magic and more of the specific “how”.

—By the way, I’ve noticed that the antagonists and enemies you’ve created are not the stereotypical “totally evil” bad guys we’ve come to expect. They have more nuance. In Legend of Valkyrie there’s a certain gentle or soft quality to the bad guys.

Fujii: Part of that is my personal belief that no one is completely evil. This is a slight digression, but in all the stories and fairy tales I read as a child, the bad guys were always simple characters with a single-minded devotion to evil. Ever since I was a child I’ve always hated characters like that. To my thinking, your enemy always has his own circumstances, his own reasons for having to fight—and when you think about it that way, the simplistic conception of a “bad guy” falls away. You’re just left with two opposing forces. You don’t see that in video games though.

—Right, in a video game, without a clearly defined enemy, there’s no goal or purpose for the player.

Fujii: Right. And along those lines, there’s a big difference between Zouna and Kamooz, the antagonists of Valkyrie no Bouken and Legend of Valkyrie, respectively. Zouna (from Bouken) is a simple villain, whose single-minded purpose is to destroy his enemies. The particular land he inhabits is irrelevant: he just wants to destroy everything. He is cruel to the core, and in a certain sense that lends a feminine quality to his evil.

In contrast, Kamooz wants to rule over everything. He wants to rule over those specific lands, to be their overlord. He’s a very masculine character in that regard. This idea for him was something the main designer and I decided at the outset of the development: that while Zouna came off as relatively feminine, for Kamooz, we would go a more masculine route. His horns are the personification and symbol of his ambitions.

—Ah, I see now. I definitely did get that impression of Zouna. The illustrations of him also convey that image.

Fujii: Yeah.

—Will you be doing any new Valkyrie drawings in the future?

Fujii: I can’t rule it out, but… well, for the moment, I really can’t say anything about that!

In a separate interview for Gamest, Fujii explains that Legend of Valkyrie was originally planned as a 4-player game like Gauntlet, with a linked-play cabinet like Final Lap. One idea was to use Valkyrie, Xandra, a Koakuman, and Zul (a human thief). Another idea was to use multiple Valkyries, as suggested in this piece of concept art.

Bonus Interview with Main Designer Koakuman

originally featured in the World of Valkyrie storybook

—What were some things you focused on when creating the characters for Legend of Valkyrie?

Koakuman: My basis was The Wizard of Oz. So I wanted to avoid anything cruel or mean-spirited. That goes for the enemies too: we gave them some humanity so they wouldn’t just be hated. All those enemies in Legend of Valkyrie, I believe someday they might reform their ways and become Valkyrie’s allies. The Xandra and Koakuman (Quarkmen) were just the first to do so.

—Did you already have the overall world designed when you began making the characters?

Koakuman: Marvel Land, the world of Legend of Valkyrie, was once home to an ancient civilization that was destroyed long ago. It was an age of magic then. In Legend of Valkyrie, you embark on a journey from the Xandra lands to the far north, so naturally our image was of the Vikings of northern Europe. A great deal of the game was fleshed out from Fujii’s attention to detail with regard to the architecture of the buildings and the overall atmosphere of that place and time.

—When you first created the Valkyrie character, what was the very first thing you decided?

Koakuman: That it would be a female warrior. A female protagonist was still taboo when we made Valkyrie no Bouken for the Famicom. We wanted her to be strong-willed and uncompromising, and with a strong sense of justice.

—Were there any details in the setting that you changed, from Valkyrie no Bouken to Legend of Valkyrie?

Koakuman: The Xandra race. We decided to make them good guys this time (they’ve reformed their ways) and we made one of them a playable character. We had planned to do the same for the Koakuman too, actually, so it’s a shame they got relegated to being monsters that you just farm for gold. Someday I want to raise them up to the level of actual characters.

—And were there any changes to Valkyrie’s character?

Koakuman: The girl of Bouken has matured into a young maiden in Legend. Her strong-headedness has been tempered with love and kindness, but that’s probably it in terms of changes.

The developer “koakuman” has never been identified, though Fujii does refer to the main designer as Okawa in another interview (though this, too, could just be another psuedonym). His credits in Legend of Valkyrie shown above actually say motto detakatta koakuman, or “I wanted to add more koakuman!” –a desire which is (literally) answered in the credits of the later SFC sidescroller Xandra no Daibouken with ippai deta yo koakuman “There’s lots of koakuman this time!”
Early concept art of three Valkyrie sisters. The green costume was the Valkyrie of Life, the red was the Valkyrie of Fire, and the blue was the Valkyrie of Wisdom. There was also a black Valkyrie of Death which Fujii made other drawings of. They were ultimately abandoned along with the whole multiple Valkyrie idea.
The ruined castle in the background was built in ancient times with the power of the Golden Seed. It appears in stage 4 of Legend of Valkyrie.
An early illustration by Fujii. Depicting the various wonders of Marvel Land was part of his creative process in expanding the world, though this particular image/scene did not end up getting used.
Concept art of the sea stage which did not get used in the final game. In the very early brainstorming stage, the team considered centering the game around an adventure by ship.
Two unused pieces of concept art. The stone giant was envisioned as a boss; he would have had one of the four Mythical Faeries imprisoned inside him. The faerie on the right, trapped in a cursed tree cage by Kamooz, also did not appear in the game.
This piece of concept art shows Valkyrie just after she has been sucked into the Earth’s interior after reaching the northern aurora lights.
Sabine Koakuman, Kurino Xandra, and the thief Zul, as depicted in the World of Valkyrie storybook illustrated by Fujii. The storybook tells how the characters met, and the events leading up to their initial encounter with Valkyrie.

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