These rare Lennus developer interviews were originally featured in The Super Famicom magazine and the official guidebook. Clumsily localized as “Paladin’s Quest” in the West, Lennus is mostly remembered today for its striking visual aesthetic, owed in large part to illustrators Hiroyuki Katou and Keisuke Gotou.

Director and writer Hidenori Shibao sadly passed away in 2018; his archived personal webpage contains additional design notes about the making of Lennus and Lennus 2, which I hope to translate in the future (along with a “Chronicles of Lennus” timeline feature that gives some great background lore).

Lennus – 1992 Developer Interviews

originally featured in The Super Famicom and the official guide

Shinji Ogawa – Producer
Hidenori Shibao – Director/Writer

—To start things off, tell us what is unique about Lennus?

Ogawa: When we were making Lennus, we were lucky to come up with a really nice story. However, it doesn’t matter how good your underlying story if the rest of the game is sloppily made. On that point, as an RPG I think Lennus is comparable to a finely balanced dish of French cuisine, as we’ve put a great deal of care into all the ingredients.

Shibao: I think good games are uniquely fun in a way that you can’t find in movies or literature. In Lennus, that has been a guiding force for us. I’ve created many video game strategy guides working at Gekkosha, and I think the scenario I’ve created for Lennus draws heavily on all that know-how.

Ogawa: When he first handed me the story of Lennus, I was very impressed at how unique the world was. You can still call it a sword and sorcery fantasy world, but everything taken together, from the individual towns to the enemy characters, formed this brand new world unlike anything I’d seen before.

—What were some of difficulties you faced translating that unusual world into a video game?

Ogawa: In Hollywood, when they make a movie, the first thing they do is create illustrations for the various scenes. In the case of Lennus we did the same thing, and began by having Gotou and Katou draw us several concept illustrations. As you can tell by looking at them, they’re exceptionally sensitive, detailed illustrations, and we did struggle with trying to recreate them in the game. That’s why I think Lennus took a lot more time (and money) to make than other RPGs, but by the same token we created it with a great deal of care and attention.

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Shinji Ogawa (top)
and Hidenori Shibao (bottom).

For the music, too, we had the composer use the illustrations as reference and inspiration, which is why the songs match the world so well.

Shibao: And with the memory, we had first planned to make it an 8 megabit cart, but to faithfully recreate this world we ended up going with 12 megabits instead. Had it not been delayed, Lennus actually would have been the Super Famicom’s first 12 megabit game, but by the time we released it 16 megabit carts were already out… (laughs)

—Outside of the story, I appreciate things like the control scheme, which makes the battles easy to play.

Shibao: Yeah, you can control the fights with just the directional pad. You can eat your potato chips and drink your oolong tea while you play! We don’t want players to get hung up or annoyed by the controls; we want it to be an easy-going experience where you can fully focus on enjoying the story.

Ogawa: In addition to the battles, we strove to make everything immediately intelligble, on a visual level I mean. We also included a lot more sound effects than other games for a more realistic experience. Also, as you learn and master new magic the fights become a lot more varied, so please use your magic frequently.

Shibao: And the ending will vary depending on which mercenaries you used along the way, which I think is cool. There’s a big variety so please try and hire as many as you can.

—I understand there’s both a strategy guide and CD coming out soon too. What will they be like?

Shibao: I wrote the official strategy guide, which is 160 pages and contains tons of illustrations from Gotou and Katou. I think even people who haven’t played the game would enjoy reading it, so please check it out.

—Please give a final message for our readers.

Shibao: Lennus is a very relaxing, easy-to-play game. Please buy it and give it a shot!

Ogawa: Those of you out there who’ve played it, please send your thoughts and feedback to us at Asmik.

We also reached out to Hiroyuki Katou and Keisuke Gotou for a comment on their work on Lennus. Together, the two illustrators created concept art for 20 characters, 30+ mercenaries, 11 cities, and several unique vehicles, for a grand total of over 100 different designs.

—What was your concept for these illustrations?

Katou & Gotou: Imagination. As sci-fi author JG Ballard says, imagination is the world’s ultimate and final resource.

—What was difficult about this work?

Katou & Gotou: The main challenge was to make something no one had ever seen before, without destroying the underlying setting that Shibao had written.

—How did you feel when you saw your art translated into pixel form on-screen?

Katou & Gotou: I was surprised at how well they managed it, considering the kind of illustrations we drew.

—Please give a final word for readers.

Katou & Gotou: Please pray for Lennus II. (laughs)

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Keisuke Gotou (L) and Hiroyuki Katou (R).

Lennus – 1992 Developer Interviews

taken from the Original Strategy Guide (jp)

Part 1 – Hiroyuki Katou and Keisuke Gotou

Hiroyuki Katou was born in January 1963 in Tokyo. He graduated from the Shibaura Institute of Technology. Keisuke Gotou was also born in January 1963 in Oita Prefecture, and he too attended Shibaura Institute of Technology. Both artists are members of the Osaka Science Fiction Research Club. They initially aspired to be normal salarymen, but their talents found much praise in the doujinshi scene, and in 1984 they made their debut doing the illustrations for Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Mugenhyou Senshi Eria, a serialized story that ran in Bandai’s magazine Makugata Jouhou. In 1989, they won the Seiun Award. Their famous works include the manga Gyorosu Outei no Souonkikai, Tokyo Yume Hyouryuu, and the picture book Koumyakusuienfu. 

—Do you guys play video games yourselves?

Katou: The truth is, we don’t own a Super Famicom. We’ve never played it, not even once. The fact that we still were given this work, I can only attribute to what the staff said, that they felt someone who *didn’t* know about video games would be a better fit. Well, if you say so… (laughs)

Gotou: Creating the setting for a video game is extremely exciting work, I have to say. When I was a kid I used to look through the concept art book for the Alien film production, and I always thought I’d like to do something like that once.

—Once you got down to the actual work, what were some of the challenges you faced?

Gotou: We were given an outline of the story, plot, and world, so we didn’t have to generate our own ideas in that sense. However, the way we normally go about our illustrating, we’re not afraid to ask ourselves how far we can deviate from the original idea—on the contrary, we often like those weirder drawings more. But for this project, we had to take the exact opposite track, striving not to stray too far from the original scenario Shibao wrote. So there was that restriction, and it was a little tough.

Katou: This is true whenever we work, but we both consider Moebius, the world-famous French illustrator, to be our deepest teacher. We take a very generous helping of inspiration from his worlds. He’s the wellspring for us—so much so that if he had never picked up a pen, I don’t think we would have chose to draw for a living as we do. It was the same with Lennus, but once we got down to the actual drawing, we became kind of obsessed with figuring out how to deviate from Moebius, actually. Anyway, yeah, he’s an amazing artist.

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Moebius’ playful and wildly imaginative drawings were (and continue to be) an influence on a generation of Japanese artists, as Gotou and Katou attest too.

Gotou: Moebius’ drawings convey a sense of fun, don’t they? We thought it would be cool to have the same sort of feeling for Lennus. The actual drawing process was very hard for us, but we strove to find that fun and create a brand new world in the process.

—Did the two of you ever have any talks about the world and setting of Lennus?

Gotou: Well, in terms of our actual work process, we don’t really have a clear-cut division of labor between us. It’s more ad hoc, played by ear. So while a single image board will have both of our brushwork, we actually feel it’s better not to talk things through in that way. It’s more fun not knowing what will happen, after all.

Katou: Some people may read that and think we never fight, but that’s definitely not the case. (laughs) We argue a lot when we work. And of course we argued about Lennus as well. (laughs)

Gotou: In those situations we just talk until we’ve worked it all out. It wasn’t always this way though, in the past we used to just hit each other until one side won. (laughs)

—For Lennus, what was especially easy to draw, and what was especially hard?

Katou: We paint from what we imagine in our heads. So when we have a clear vision in mind, it’s easy to draw. The very first thing we drew for Lennus was Gabnid’s Tower, and the very last things were the characters. The characters were what we argued the most about.

Gotou: That’s why we decided that, for a single character we’d draw 7 or 8 different rough sketches and then have the development team select the ones they liked. That way the two of us wouldn’t argue.

Katou: Unfortunately we fought with the staff instead. (laughs)

Gotou: In situations like that I can get pretty stubborn about my opinions… well, let’s just say we employed certain techniques to make sure our ideas were heard. (laughs)

Katou: If there’s a Lennus 2 in the works, we’d love to do this again. I’d love to do all that worldbuilding again.

Gotou: If it happens, personally I want to focus on expanding on details that were more in the background in the first game. If we do that we could build it up into something even more interesting I think.

Katou: The worlds of science fiction tend to be built upon a foundation of scientific, material cause and effect, but it can also be interesting to deviate from that and establish your own unique ecosystem.

Gotou: If we could employ the methods of free jazz, I bet we could make something really new and unique.

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One of Gotou and Katou’s many inimitable concept illustrations for Lennus, featuring hero and heroine Chezni and Midia. This image was used for both promotional purposes and for the OST sleeve, where this is taken from.

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Gotou and Katou’s concept art for the cities and locations of Lennus. These were then translated into pixel art by the rest of the team. Clockwise from upper left: the city of Karon, the Magic Academy where the game begins, the city of Jurayn, and finally the Temple of Zaygos.

Part 2 – Kouhei Tanaka (Composer)

Born in February 1954 in Osaka. After graduating from the Music Composition department of Tokyo University of the Arts, he worked at a record company before traveling to America. There he studied at Berklee College of Music and polished his compositional skills. Upon returning to Japan, he began his compositional and editing work in earnest. “I do almost all of my composing in my head. That’s what I love the most, thinking everything through.” His famous works include the music for BASTARD, Top o nerae! (Gunbuster), Madouou Granzort, Zettai Muteki Raijinou, XARDION, and many more. “I wouldn’t call myself a game otaku, but I do play a lot of video games!”

In composing for Lennus, the staff first gave me materials of all kinds: the story, concept art, world and setting illustrations, anything and everything they’d put together up to that point. By studying these I got firmly acquainted with Lennus’ unique world, and only then did I set to work.

There are two types of composers: those who, no matter what the theme, will always compose in their own way; and then there are those who will try different compositional approaches depending on what they’re writing for. I am the latter type, so gathering all these planning materials makes it much easier for me to write. That’s why I don’t start writing until I’ve got everything in hand and have had a chance to study it.

Specifically, my main tools for expanding my imagination were the visuals, concept art, and image boards, and seeing those, the first theme to jump out at me was “a world of color.” In the case of Lennus I could see this was an RPG completely unlike anything I’d seen before, and knowing that helped me expand my vision for the songs.

Tanaka’s synth arrangement of several songs from Lennus was released in December 1992. It also has voice actors re-enacting specific scenes from the game; I’d like to translate these in the future if there’s enough interest.

This time, it took me about 2 weeks of composing to get to a point where I was ready to commit the songs to sheet music. As for which scenes in Lennus were easy to write for, and which were hard… the overworld music was easy. The continents of Naskuto and Saskuot have opposite personalities, so it was exceedingly easy to write for them. If you listen to both songs closely and compare them you may have realized this, but they depict entirely different worlds. I wrote them so the listener would be able to tell very quickly that Naskuot is “a world of peace and adventure” while Saskuot is “an evil world”.

In contrast, one song that was difficult for me was the music when Zaygos appears on-screen. I had no idea how Zaygos actually moved. There were the image boards, but nothing was written about his actual movement. Did he have a slow, sinister gait? Or was he more agitated and restless? I didn’t know… Similarly, the scene with Strabo the dragon, I didn’t know how he flew, so that was another challenge.

Also, and this is something I can say about every song I wrote for Lennus, but there were some restrictions to the songwriting that were difficult. Many songs in video games have no ending per se, but simply loop. Thus no matter how grand a climax you may build in your composition, in the back of your mind you know you’ve eventually got to return it to that initial toned down starting point… so you have to pay a lot of attention to that linkage. Those are the kinds of challenges one finds in writing game music.

Also, we may call it the “Super” Famicom but it’s still a video game console much like the original Famicom, so there are certain restrictions in the tools I have to use when composing. With the SFC we can now use strings and percussion, but the maximum polyphony (number of sounds you can play at once) is 8. This was very difficult to work around.

I felt Lennus was a great game and I wanted to see it shared widely with the world, so I tried to write my songs in such a way that they could also be played by an orchestra. That was something I was conscious of from the very start. I made a number of minor revisions to each piece to allow them to be more readily transcribed for an orchestra. Of course, trying to replicate an orchestra with the 8 sounds of the SFC is impossible, but I think I approached it as best I could.

In fact, this December, we’re releasing a CD of Lennus’ music. It’s not the SFC sound chip, though—it’s all re-recorded on proper synthesizers, so the sound quality is a lot better. I think people will really like it.

I did some actual test-playing for Lennus, and I was mainly impressed by how beautiful the graphics were. It has a unique visual aesthetic, or world-view, and it’s something I’ve never seen in any RPG before. The monsters, as well, are incredibly varied. It was really a lot fun to play through.

But worry not, the music also holds up! (laughs) The music and graphics match up almost perfectly… especially with the overworld themes, there’s a great synergy between the music and the visuals. I remember when I played the battle scenes too, and heard the music and sound effects together for the first time… I didn’t realize how stylish it all came out.

If Asmik makes a Lennus 2, I hope they invite me back to write the music for it!

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Composer Kouhei Tanaka hard at work in the studio.

Part 3 – Shuuji Imai (Monster Designer)

Born in Hokkaido in November 1963, Imai is an illustrator who also drew the items for the Dragon Quest IV strategy guide. On game development, Imai remarked: “Games are like movies, in that they are the product of a diverse group of experts, working together and compromising towards a finished product. That’s why if you want to create something great, it’s best, I think, to let each particular expert have the final say on the matters of his expertise.” He added with a mischevious laugh, however, that the team let him offer many of his own opinions about the story and scenario of Lennus.

I think making characters for a video game is just as fun as writing the story and scenes, because you get to infuse them with your personal interests and tastes. It’s a very free kind of “play” that you’re engaging in. To be sure, creating characters calls into question your own creative powers (or lack thereof), so in a sense, it’s also a very scary thing. But I confess that for me, that’s the most interesting part of it all.

I think character design has something in common with the crayon scribblings and sketches that children create. When kids scribble on a notepad, I think within those drawings you can see the incipient elements, in some form or another, of character design. And indeed, that’s one of the chief joys of sketching.

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Monster artist/designer Shuuji Imai.

In the beginning I was asked to draw 100 different character (monster) designs, but I love this kind of work, so I figured it would be a cinch. “Sketching 100 designs? That’s no problem,” I thought.

However, once I got started, I found that I stalled out at the 50-ish mark. I was out of ideas. I kept drawing things that looked too familiar, things I felt like I’d seen somewhere before… Was this really the extent of my creativity? I was feeling very dejected.

I remember with the robots, in particular. I couldn’t shake the feeling that my mecha designs looked too much like stuff I’d seen before on TV or in manga.

Well, eventually I ended up creating 128 designs for Lennus, but only 38 or so have my own spark of creativity. The rest were the product of much suffering and desperation. (laughs) Though perhaps the suffering is part of the fun, too!

Indeed, for all of the Lennus staff, this game was a labor of love. I could feel how keen they were on making sure Lennus was original. In fact, many of the design requests from the staff emphasized uniqueness above legibility. And that was another reason I was so doggedly insistent on trying to make them original.

To go into some specifics… whether it was the details of a beard, the antenna, all the way down to a character’s fingers—I tried to go into as much detail as possible with the designs. However, when the pixel artists went to create the graphics from my drawings, it was hard for them to capture a lot of those things, and they were very hard to reproduce there. Indeed, I suspected these drawings would cause the pixel artists no small amount of grief, but in the end I decided there was nothing for it, and I enlisted their cooperation (and their tears). (laughs)

Ultimately, I think everyone experienced their fair share of struggles on Lennus. (laughs)

Personally, if you asked me what I thought about the kinds of characters we’ve seen in RPGs up to now, I have some objections. A pure, righteous hero surrounded by a cast of oddball characters… that’s the stereotypical pattern we see in children’s games, and I wanted to avoid that in Lennus.

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Several Shuuji Imai’s
imaginative enemy designs.

The reason is that when I was a kid, rather than stuff aimed at children, the fantasy worlds made for adults left a much deeper impression on me, even if I couldn’t fully understand them.

That’s why with Lennus, I didn’t try to create designs “for kids” (and this includes my coloring too). Though this meant that some of my rejected drawings were in fact quite erotic. (laughs)

One extremely difficult part of the design process for me was finding good poses for the enemies. In a turn-based RPG like this, the enemies always face you head-on. In other words, they all tend to have a certain “in-your-face”, affected attitude to them. (laughs) But the thing is, the enemies’ attacks are animated, so no matter what best pose I come up with, the enemies will break it at some point. Then I have to somehow wrack my brain and come up with yet another cool pose for the attack. This was hard, truly.

The human-type enemies, in particular, were a challenge. Human limbs are quite long and can extend in any direction, so limiting the animations to a square frame was not easy. It inevitably led to weird, unnatural poses and animations.

But despite all that, I still had faith that if I created something that I found interesting, others would find it interesting too. Well, I hope you enjoy these characters, both in game and out.