Puyo Puyo Tsu – 1995 Developer Interview

Puyo Puyo Tsu – 1995 Developer Interview

Taken from Studio Bent’s All About Puyo Puyo Tsu book, this long interview saw director Kengo Morita, assistant programmer Yasutoshi Akiyama and designers Sonchou Sawa and Aya Shimazaki discussing the creation of Puyo Puyo Tsu, the second arcade entry in Compile’s wildly popular and influential falling-block puzzle game series. Their discussion covers the sequel’s many iterative additions, the selection of the game’s wide cast of characters, the series’ reception overseas, and much more.

Kengo Morita (Planner)
Worked as planner and director of the arcade and Mega Drive versions. The former Puyo King known as “Morita Puyo-do”.
Yasutoshi Akiyama (Programmer)
Assistant programmer, responsible for programming the demos.
Sonchou Sawa (Designer)
Supervised the settings for the various characters, including those from Madou Monogatari. He also worked on various illustrations.
Aya Shimazaki (Designer)
Handled the main graphics and character design for both the arcade and Mega Drive versions.

—Why’d you decide to make Puyo Puyo Tsu?

Morita: Primarily, because the president told us to (laughs). Rather, we received a ton of requests for a new game, and I think he was really buoyed by that response. We also wanted to realize a lot of the ideas that went unused since before the release of the previous game, so the wind was in our sails.

Incidentally, the “tsu (通)”1 in the title is a play on “2”, but because we made the game with the premise of retaining the previous games’ system without major modifications, it didn’t feel like something as declarative as “2” really applied, so I went with this title.

—How many of the ideas that weren’t realized in the previous game made it to Puyo Puyo Tsu?

Morita: I tested every idea we had, with the most well-received being the offset system2 and the all-clear bonus, but on the flipside, I didn’t include systems like items falling from above or bonuses for grouping puyo in specific shapes—if we implemented systems like these and made the game too complex, it’d distort the innate appeal of Puyo Puyo, so we only adopted game systems that were easy to understand.

—How many staffers worked on the game?

Morita: There were two programmers, and as for the designers, there were people who only handled specific parts like the game over screen, but 5-6 people all up. Additionally, there were 3 people working on sound, and all the miscellaneous gruntwork was left solely to yours truly (laughs).

—Did all the same people work on both the arcade and Mega Drive versions?

Morita: The arcade version runs on hardware that’s extremely similar to the Mega Drive, so we were able to get it running on Mega Drive with just a little tweaking, and thus the team composition didn’t change at all.

From left to right: Kengo Morita, Yasutoshi Akiyama, Sonchou Sawa, Aya Shimazaki. (click to expand)

—How did development on Puyo Puyo Tsu begin?

Morita: Work started in November of 1993, but our style of development is to first make something that broadly resembles what we’re going for, and then think “okay, this seems like it’ll work” and fill it in with ideas as we go.

Sawa: I think the first thing we worked on was the graphics; at that early stage, we figured we’d just add some pictures for the time being. What’s more, I think the opening demo was completely storyboarded before we’d finished working on the in-game characters…

Morita: Also, the president suggested that the intro should “homage” a certain super street fighting game (laughs). Arle was squared up and would lift her hands to charge up an attack… but before you know it, that idea had been scrapped. Even so, the graphics had been produced at a high quality; even the title logo was similar to that other game.

Akiyama: We’ll take inspiration from anywhere we can.

Morita: That’s something that hasn’t changed at all from the last game.

—Which ideas were added during the development process?

Morita: Before all else, the offset system was included from the very beginning. During the production of the Super Famicom version of the previous game, we came upon the idea of offsetting while tinkering with the code, and it was such a fun idea that we decided to implement it; the match-2 and match-6 rules were implemented back then, too. We were going to include them as hidden options, but the president told us “if you add all that stuff now, what are you going to do for the sequel?” (laughs), so I tearfully removed them. Had we included all those modes, the Super Famicom version would have essentially become Tsu.

Sawa: Well, if we had have gone overboard, Sega might’ve gotten angry (laughs).

—What about network matches?

Morita: That’s another idea that was around at the start of development. However, because we wanted to allow challengers to interrupt CPU battles, we were initially limited to standard two-player versus play, and it was a little while before we were able to implement the simultaneous four-player mode using two cabinets.

—Why did you choose to structure the single-player mode (“Hitori de Puyo Puyo”) in such a manner?3

Morita: We’d always planned on including a ton of opponents, so if the player had to fight the entire roster one after another, it’d take them over an hour to clear the game; as you might expect, that was a problem, so we devised a method of progression that would end the game after around 10 stages.

Initially, the course had high and low branches after each stage, and after a win, you’d be able to take the upper branch if your experience value exceeded a certain threshold—in other words, if you wanted to see the true ending, you needed to constantly earn the requisite score. That seemed a little harsh, so we came up with the current experience system to ensure that players would be able to reach Satan, even if they messed up here or there.

—How did you decide on the 32 characters that came to be included in Puyo Puyo Tsu?

Shimazaki: At one point, our initial stated target of 32 characters was lowered to 24, but since the previous game had 16 characters, we really wanted to be able to double the roster. (laughs)

Morita: As part of the process for determining the roster, we compiled a list of all the characters that had appeared in the Madou Monogatari series4 and held an internal survey, and then I simply picked all the most popular choices. All the characters from the previous game were quite popular, so the roster was ultimately formed by picking 16 new characters to include alongside the old ones… but meh, I personally would’ve liked to cut a few of them. (laughs)

Akiyama: That said, Madou Monogatari’s been around for quite a while now, so the response to some of the characters listed on the questionnaire was like “…wait, who’s this?” (laughs)

The entire roster of the original arcade version of Puyo Puyo Tsu, complete with tower placements and officially-localized character profiles, as taken from the Sega Ages reissue for Nintendo Switch.

Shimazaki: In the Game Gear Madou Monogatari game, Parara has a different name…

Morita: Tau-Tau, right?

Sawa: The president got mad when he saw that, so now it’s back to Parara.5

Morita: The various merchant characters turned out to be pretty popular, on account of people thinking they were cute.

Sawa: Well, when I was putting together the interstitial demos, I thought battling against merchant characters would be something distinct that isn’t typically seen in other games, and Rulue no Roux6 was packed with helpful merchants, so that was also a factor.

Morita: Over the last little while, the newer characters have started to pick up in popularity: Uroko Sakana Bito,7 Pakista and Cait Sith are all right up there, and Nomi is weirdly popular as well. Owlbear, however, is not nearly so popular. (laughs)

Akiyama: You never even encounter him on a normal playthrough, right?

Morita: Yeah, we fumbled that the first time (laughs). Subsequently, the Saturn version’s going to deduct some of your experience points when you lose rather than give you a game over, so it should be easier to go into overtime than in the arcade version.8

Akiyama: I mean, if you’re a Madou Monogatari fan, you’re naturally going to want to fight against every character, aren’t you?

Morita: The manual for the Mega Drive version contains profiles for all 32 characters, so one person was all “so-and-so’s not there!!”, basically accusing us of lying.

—How did you determine the placement of the characters?

Akiyama: The popular characters were put in places that were easy to get to, and the unpopular characters were stashed away in overtime, where most people wouldn’t see them (laughs). With regards to the returning characters, I felt they should be given VIP treatment and positioned them sort of like boss characters.

—Before release, the character positions were overhauled quite substantially, why’s that?

Morita: One of our female colleagues requested that we place a female character on each floor (laughs). That way, you can potentially climb to the top floor of the tower by only battling female opponents. That being the case, we figured we ought to put a merchant on every floor as well, and so the roster saw lots of alterations along those lines.

—That’s some deep background info (laughs).

Morita: Draco’s big promotion was just self-indulgence on my part, since Yuko Mizutani voiced her in the PC Engine version of the previous game (laughs).

Sawa: So if Mizutani voiced Owlbear, you would’ve moved him to the top as well?

Morita: (decisively) Yup.

Sawa: Man, quit screwing with me! (laughs).

A “90% true” recount of Draco’s promotion from middling enemy to prominently-featured quasi-boss character at the hands of Kengo Morita, originally published in Compile’s internally-produced Compile Club magazine. (click to expand)

Morita: Now, I did take the characters’ visual impact into consideration—after all, you wouldn’t want to fight Zombie before Mini Zombie, or only fight characters of a certain stature, would you? That’s why the Eight Champions and Six Song Sages are packed with so many new characters… beyond that, it’s all just based on the pre-existing hierarchy, and my own whims (laughs).

Sawa: But Skeleton T’s right at the bottom.

Morita: He can’t rotate his puyo, after all. He’s doomed to be an eternal toadie.

Shimazaki: Poor li’l guy…

Morita: That’s why he’s so popular, though. At the beginning of Tsu’s development, there was a practice mode, with the punchline being that he was the one and only opponent (laughs).

—Why wasn’t there a endless mode (“Tokoton Puyo”) in the Mega Drive version?

Morita: I was so busy working on the main game that it slipped my mind… seriously! On the dev side, we always felt like endless mode was more of a side-dish. As for the lack of manzai demos, we were simply pressed for time… but we got a ton of complaints about that in the user surveys, so we paid the price.

—How about the character designs?

Shimazaki: There were some disputes about Uroko Sakana Bito’s pixel art—some staffers were divided about their preferences, but she’s a popular character, so I guess people were bound to have particular opinions about how she should look.

Morita: Everyone has characters that they’re personally super into—the way I’m into Draco, Shimazaki’s into Suketoudara.

Sawa: Thanks to her, Suketoudara’s dimensions gradually became less and less elongated.

Shimozaki: Well, yeah.

Morita: Sawa’s favorite is Witch, and she’s the one who did that “Oissu!” voice clip, which turned out to be really popular.

—How about you, Akiyama?

Akiyama: I like the elephant [Zoh Daimaoh]. (laughs)

Morita: Again, it helps when the person doing the voice is someone who really likes the character.

Sawa: Mini Zombie’s sprite turned out really well, don’t you think? It’s unbearably cute (laughs).

Morita: Cait Sith’s tail looks really cute when they lose, too.

Sawa: Oh, and let’s not forget Pakista’s hands (laughs). The way they squirm around is so gross!

Akiyama: They weren’t so fast at first, but the designer in charge asked me to speed it up, so I made them move really quickly and he was like “ah, there we go” (laughs).

—Masked ?????? is new to this game, right?

Shimazaki: Right. I was asked to draw a weird ??????, and that’s what I came up with.

Morita: In the original design, they wore a Barong mask, not the takarazuka-style mask. Why’d you draw a mask like that, I wonder…?

Shimazaki: That was just something I personally fancied.

Morita: I did like that design, too, but I rejected it because it was hard to tell who was underneath the mask—the idea was that the identity of ?????? would be completely obvious to everyone else, and they were the only one who believed in the disguise.

—Why did you decide to add Masked ?????? to the game?

Morita: That’s top-level info, but… ah, what the hell, this is for All About Puyo Puyo Tsu, so I’ll tell you the truth: we were one character short of our quota (laughs). At first, the plan was to include a true ending for people who reached the end of the game without using a continue and defeated that character, but sure enough, we didn’t have time to implement it in the end.

Sawa: One of the user surveys came back with “so-and-so came out wearing a strange mask, is it a bug?” (laughs)

Akiyama: I don’t see how a character wearing a mask could possibly be a bug (laughs).

Morita: When I first learned how to make Masked ?????? appear on the first floor using a rapid-fire controller, it was like my third eye had opened.9

The standard final boss, Satan, and the mysterious true last boss, whose identity remains a mystery to this very day.

—On that note, if you play for long enough then you’ll no longer be able to offset garbage, right?

Morita: If both players are evenly matched and play exactly alike then any garbage generated will be offset and the match will go on forever, so we had no choice but to implement that specification, in order to prevent infinites. That behavior is true of the Mega Drive version, too, but probably just because we forgot to take it out (laughs).

—If you defeat Masked ????? during overtime on the first floor and you don’t meet the experience quota, you’ll be taken to the normal ending, right?

Morita: Whaaaaaa?!

Sawa: Get out…

Morita: For real? Uh-oh…

(everyone laughs)

Akiyama: Those were the specifications. (laughs)

Morita: During the initial design stages, if you weren’t able to reach a certain quota, you’d receive the bad ending, with the idea of pushing players to aim for the best ending… so, it’s either a bug, or…

Sawa: …the programmer got ahead of themselves [and forgot to review their work].

Akiyama: It’s all good, it’s all good!

Morita: Working as intended! Next question. (laughs)

—Are there any other interesting ideas that were scrapped?

Morita: Be sure to ask this question to Shimazaki, too.

Shimazaki: Ehh? I don’t even know where to begin (laughs) Talking just about the intro and ending, we made 5-6 storyboards for each stage, but once we started dotting the art they got cut down to about 3, I think? The close-ups of Arle, Carbuncle and the Puyo stayed the same but the images shown in between changed a whole bunch, didn’t they?

Akiyama: I dotted a few of those in-between scenes, because it was hard to know how they’d look without actually getting them up and moving, but when I’d present them to the team they’d say “ah, it doesn’t work” and they’d get cut, and I’d think, but I put so much work into these… (laughs)

Morita: More than anything else, it was the interstitial scenes that got cut down. Originally, when you defeated an opponent, they were supposed to fall through a hole in the bottom of the field, and then Carbuncle would jump to the other side and stretch out his tongue so that Arle could bounce across–that was the horizontal transition for moving to another opponent on the same floor, and when you hit the experience quota to ascend to the next floor of the tower, the idea was that Carbuncle would stretch his tongue off the stop of the screen and Arle would scurry right up.

Akiyama: You got as far as drawing Carbuncle’s tongue, right?

Morita: Yeah, we drew some preparatory tongue-lapping (laughs).

Akiyama: In the previous game, the manzai demos would end with the screen scrolling down to the playfields, yeah? We wanted to visually demonstrate a connection between the demo scenes and the game screens with this game, too, so we came up with various ideas concerning the tower and how to convey moving from floor to floor and opponent to opponent… but they weren’t to be. Ultimately, the reason the introductory demos were reduced to text was because those other demo ideas had been made first, but when they were cut, I was busy working on the other demos and ran out of time to replace them.

Morita: One neat idea that never went anywhere was taking the standard 12-rows-high play field and scrolling it vertically to about 60 rows tall, but when I brought it up at the planning meeting I was immediately met with, “dumbass!” (laughs)

Spec documents depicting the original plan for some of the intermediate demos; at this stage in development, the game was still structured around a good end/bad end system, and the “overtime” state functioned as more of a forced end-state that would lead to a game over whether the player won or lost. (click to expand)

—Were any of the user-submitted ideas reflected in the final game?

Morita: Quite a few of them, actually. The initial idea for offsetting came from Micom BASIC Magazine, and concepts like the all-clear bonus and network matches were made with reference to certain user-submitted ideas, but among those user-submitted ideas were a lot of duds. The moment I’d see the very beginning of the word “item” I’d reject it on the spot.

—So there were quite a few no-gos in the end.

Morita: In some cases, there were ideas that didn’t gel but ended up in the game anyway—the game over demo, for example, seemed a little plain and was something I planned to cut, but it somehow made it to the final game as-is… As for the ending, I had a lot of ideas for a true ending, bad ending, etc but it was eventually reduced to something more modest.

—A lot of people have said the ending’s difficult to understand…

Morita: It is difficult to understand. My apologies. (laughs)

—The arcade version’s the only version without a staff roll, correct?

Morita: Yeah, I didn’t want to include one. Personally, I’m not into staff rolls that drag on and on.

Shimazaki: The initial plan for the staff roll was to simply have it say “Compile no minnasan” (laughs).

Morita: In the end, for the sake of everyone who put in so much hard work, we decided to add a staff roll to the Mega Drive version, but I didn’t want it to take forever, so it scrolls really fast.

—When you clear the game, your “Puyo Average” is displayed during the ending.

Morita: The better the player, the more efficiently they can construct large chains and earn big scores, so the Puyo Average is supposed to offer a direct quantification of the player’s skill.

Sawa: ..but nobody paid any attention to it.

Morita: Right on (laughs).

—When it comes time to crunch, are you pulling all-nighters?

Morita: I try to avoid all-nighters whenever possible. That said, we held a location test in Hiroshima, and that was rough. There were no chairs, so I was standing next to the cabinets for the entire day, chasing after people who’d just finished playing the game in order to get them to fill out questionnaires.

Sawa: There were some serious bugs during that location test, right?

Morita: Yeah, there were.

Sawa: The networked cabinets let other people play without putting in any money, so long as someone else was still playing their coin. One turn could last an entire day.

Morita: It’s not such a big deal, but one of the issues was that Tsu’s staff were working on other projects in tandem. There’s one project I’ve been working on for the last three years…

Sawa: Ah, the one beginning with “Sh-” and ending in “-adowrun”… (laughs)

Morita: Yes, Shadowrun still isn’t done, but we’ve seen at least three other projects completed in the interim. The most grueling part has been plugging away at this main project while knocking out other games, one after the other.

Compile’s Shadowrun game, released exclusively in Japan in February of 1996 and proudly advertised as “the mightiest final Mega-CD RPG”. This game was produced in collaboration with Japanese TRPG publisher Group SNE and remains the only Shadowrun game made and set in Japan.

—I’ve heard the upcoming Saturn version of Tsu will be bringing back the manzai demos. What’s more, I hear Compile’s employees will be voicing all the characters.

Morita: Home run or strike-out… I think the likelihood of a strike is about 80% (laughs)

Shimazaki: Yeah, same. (laughs)

Sawa: I mean, if we were to use big-name voice actors, then we’d just be imitating the PC Engine versions, wouldn’t we? In that case, having voices stops being a big selling point, so then people start to be like, “in that case, we might as well use amateurs” and so on.

Morita: It seems like a bad idea to me, but it’s not like the game itself will be adversely effected, so… The big challenge with self-voicing the manzai demos is just getting them to a level of quality that people won’t think we’re just cutting corners.

Sawa: I guess we’re like children who disobey their parents and sneak off at night (laughs).

—The voice cast is different from the previous game, isn’t it?

Sawa: For Tsu, we basically tried to line up every character with an individual voice actor.

Morita: To start with, we asked people to volunteer their own takes, and then we screened them to make sure they properly fit the characters. We were able to use audio effects to cheat a little and correct some of the flubbed lines.

—It seems you’ve added “Brain Dumbed” and “Jugemu” to the voiced chains…?

Morita: The intent with the chain voices to have players think “the game’s over” when they hear “Bayoe~n“,10 but because Tsu has the offsetting system, you’ll need around a 7-chain for a decisive victory, so I shifted Bayoen from the 5-chain voice to the 7-chain voice and brainstormed a variety of new lines for the 5- and 6-chain voices, and from those candidates, “Brain Dumbed” and “Jugemu” looked good, so they’re the ones I added.

—What are some of the lines you scrapped?

Morita: There was one like, “Buchi Fire!”, with “buchi” meaning “terrible” in the Hiroshima dialect. Beyond that, there was also a plan to have only the 10-chain “Bayoen” sample spoken in a booming male voice, and for Rulue no Roux I had the idea that she should run out of breath around the 17-chain mark. I’m keeping those ideas in my back pocket, by the way (laugh).

—Incidentally, even a 1-chain has a voice now, doesn’t it?

Morita: There are circumstances where even a single chain can generate garbage, so it was necessary to communicate that to players by adding a voice; it was only supposed to sound whenever garbage was generated, but for whatever reason it ended up voicing any time you clear puyo.

—I’ve heard reports from some arcades whose machines have a male voice.

Morita: From what I gather, this can happen depending on the settings on the board… for instance, one idea we had for the network match settings was to have 1P say “Fire!” in Arle’s voice, 2P in Schezo’s voice, 3P in Rulue’s voice and 4P in Satan’s voice, and we went as far as to record all the voices, so I suppose there are still triggers for the voices somewhere.

—How long did it take to balance versus matches?

Morita: Not quite a whole month, I think. The primary concern was that the attack values doubled with every additional chain, so if your opponent came at you with a 7-chain then you basically had to counter with a 7-chain or higher to offset them, and so we loosened up the rate of increase on each chain. Fundamentally, I think I personally prefer the doubled attack values from the previous game.

—Is it true that some of the CPU behavior was modeled on real people?

Morita: Nohoho’s “frog stacking” style comes from the director of Madou Monogatari 3—he actually plays that way, and so we mimicked his play style.

—Why did you decide to implement those individual stacking routines, such as those seen with Suketoudara and Harpy in the previous game?

Morita: If you fight eight characters in a row and they all act exactly the same way, then the only unique thing about them is their appearance, so for characters of the same general tier, we tried to implement a wide variety of behaviors, like frog stacking or not rotating their puyo, in order to make the characters feel as distinct as possible. That said, there’s basically no rhyme or reason behind which characters get which behaviors (laughs).

Akiyama: To an extent, it’s something left up to the programmers.

Morita: It didn’t make the cut, but I had the idea to use an AI algorithm that would mimic the player’s stacking style, but it ended up being so slow to drop pieces that you could throw it completely out of whack by just stacking really fast.

The distinctive stacking forms used by Harpy (left), Nohoho (center) and Suketoudara (right); Harpy stacks along the left and right edges before filling out the middle, Nohoho quickly stacks his pieces vertically in the three right-side columns and Suketoudara rushes to fill the first four rows as quickly as possible. All of these techniques rely on dumb luck and are not particularly useful in competitive play, but the “frog stacking” technique can accidentally generate relatively large chains, and so Nohoho and other character that utilize this stacking form tend to present roadblocks for newer players. (source)

—The Mega Drive version has a fairly substantial number of special rules. How long did it take you to complete those?

Akiyama: They weren’t just thrown together—most of them were based on prototype concepts from the early development of the arcade version, so a lot of the work was prepared in advance.

Morita: To be honest, once the arcade version was done, I figured we’d have a little more time between that and the Mega Drive version to work on stuff, but it ended up being around two weeks (laughs)

Akiyama: It felt as if we were making both versions side-by-side, so we’d make little tweaks to the Mega Drive version where time permitted–for example, characters that didn’t move in the arcade version’s how-to-play demo were given some minor animation in the Mega Drive version, and so on.

Morita: Yeah, and we were also able to change the kanji for “tower”.

Sawa: That was a little embarrassing…

Morita: “Tower (塔)” was written as “っちへん”, wasn’t it? Due to an auto-correct error with the word processor, it turned into “てへん” (搭).

—Speaking of the tower, how about that silhouette on top?

Akiyama: Rather than using a plain silhouette, I thought it’d be fun to use the silhouette of Carbuncle as a fake-out gag, and when I left it to one of the other designers to draw something, that weird picture is what he came up with. (laughs)

Sawa: The punchline to every drawing was “ugh, that’s too forced!”

Morita: Only Rulue’s pose was too out there. I wasn’t with it at all.

Akiyama: I mean, it got a laugh, didn’t it?

Morita: Sure, fine.

Akiyama: We also thought about including a fight with Carbuncle.

Morita: That idea did come up, but the order from above was that “Carbuncle should be treated as the mascot of the game, and not as something to fight”.

—Is there any sort of backstory for why each character is inside the tower?

Morita: Nah, not really (laughs) As per usual, there’s not much to the story.

Akiyama: …but there was an opening demo for entering the tower.

—I really want to see all these demos…

Akiyama: Y’see, if we’d been more organized from the beginning, none of this would have happened. (bitter smile)

Morita: It was inexcusable, and I apologize. It was my fault, all of it.

Akiyama: When we showed the game at a toy show last year, the opening got a big response.

—Even the video you showed at that event featured a bunch of characters on the title screen that weren’t in the final game.

Akiyama: Yeah, they were scrapped—that’s how the game looked at that point in time, but for various reasons, it ended up changing.

Morita: …uh-huh. I’m such a screw-up. (bows head in shame)

—There are a lot more animations for the puyo stacked in the well, aren’t there?

Morita: I rounded up ideas from the staff and kept the ones that were most visually obvious. I did the same for the clear animations, too.

Shimazaki: The way I remember it, I was told, out of nowhere, “go ahead and make a bunch of these for us and we’ll judge them later”…

Morita: Yeah, that’s the honest answer. (laughs)

—The number of icons displayed in the garbage queue has also increased.

Morita: We collected multiple candidates for those, too. The star and crown were decided on pretty quickly, but for the final icon, I looked at the many shapes all lined up and from among those, I chose the spade-like icon, as it had an easy-to-parse shape; it’s not like we were necessarily thinking of it as a mushroom in the beginning. Also, during the planning stages, we had the idea of lining up red pachinko balls around the play field to indicate garbage, and to have the icon change to something else each time they did a full rotation, but that didn’t end up happening either.

—The previous game was released overseas for the Genesis as a Sonic the Hedgehog tie-in, and the SNES version was a Kirby game, correct?

Morita: I had nothing to do with the overseas versions.

Sawa: Unlike the Genesis version, we’d initially planned to release the SNES version overseas as-is, but then Nintendo approached us directly and asked us to change the characters to those from the Kirby series, with an extremely short turn-around.

—What did you think when you saw the overseas versions of Puyo Puyo?

Morita: I was pleasantly surprised! When I saw the Genesis version, I thought that American games were really cool; even though it’s just a reskin, it showed me that overseas games have their own style that I can’t hope to imitate.

—Are you going to release an international version of Tsu?

Morita: It hasn’t yet been discussed.

Akiyama: Maybe somebody’s secretly working on it right now. (laughs)

Morita: Well, I’m sure it’s bound to happen at some point.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (left) and Kirby’s Avalanche/Kirby’s Ghost Trap (right), reskins of the original Super Famicom Puyo Puyo game based on the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon and the Kirby franchise, respectively. Incidentally, Kirby’s Avalanche retains the manzai introductions from Puyo Puyo and as such, it not only depicts Kirby as being able to talk but talk with unprecedented levels of sass.

—What sort of reputation does Puyo Puyo have overseas?

Morita: In Japan, we can gauge the reception of the game from the postcards we receive, but I’m not really sure what’s happening overseas; these games aren’t aimed at the overseas market, so we don’t even bother asking for data.

Sawa: A little while back, when the president was hosting someone via exchange, I had the kid who was staying with him try out the game, but he wasn’t interested because he didn’t find the characters appealing; it seems Japan’s the only country where these kinds of chibi girl designs really resonate. What’s more, the European version of Harpy was given a darker palette and renamed to “Dark Angel” for religious reasons… Panotti became “Johnny”, or something. 11

Akiyama: Who the hell is that? (laughs)

—How was Puyo Puyo Tsu received in Japan?

Morita: As we’d suspected, most players were waiting on a sequel. With regards to the difficulty level, about half thought it was too easy and half thought it was too challenging, and I feel it may not have been a good idea to suddenly crank up the game speed around the second or third level.

Sawa: In other words, Tsu was the right game for people who’d played the original and wanted something more substantial, but was too tough for those who came in fresh with Tsu.

—I suppose newcomers and young women and the like might find it a little tough to swallow.

Akiyama: Tsu’s new features were welcomed by those who were familiar with the previous game but didn’t really matter one way or the other to beginners, so to a newcomer who’s deciding which version to play, the 100 yen/game cost of the previous game is a better value proposition than the 200 yen/game cost of the brand-new Tsu. In that sense, our biggest rival really was the previous game.

—The button layout for both the arcade and Mega Drive versions has changed from the previous game.

Morita: That was a complete debacle… regarding the button mapping, we weren’t considering the players of the previous game when we made this one. My biggest regret with Puyo Puyo Tsu is the inconsiderate button mapping, and the colors being somewhat tough to see on Mega Drive, and we hope to address these points with the Saturn version. If we’d spent a little more time doing user testing, I’m sure we would have received feedback to that effect before release. I’m truly sorry, so feel free to talk as much trash as you like (laughs).

Akiyama: I hope it comes across how sorry we are. We’ll make good this time, I promise! (laughs)

Morita: In that respect, we’re fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to remake our game on the Saturn. We’re grateful for what we were able to achieve with Tsu, but we were able to make a lot of changes with this version.

—On a different note: if you were to make Puyo Puyo 3, for which platform would you make it?

Morita: If I had to hazard a guess, based on how we’ve operated so far, Saturn and arcade seem like the obvious first choices.

Sawa: The big advantage of the Mega Drive was that it didn’t require a ton of work to port the arcade games and you could produce a playable home version really quickly, but now it’s been completely superseded by the Saturn.

Morita: When it comes to Saturn, there exists a hardware-compatible arcade board (ST-V), so if you develop arcade games for that board, porting them to Saturn should be as smooth a process as porting the previous games to Mega Drive.

—I’m looking forward to it!

Morita: Even a “Puyo Puyo 3” would have to retain the defining essence of Puyo Puyo, that being the core rule of matching and erasing four same-colored pieces. [Jemini] Hirono, the main programmer of Puyo Puyo Tsu, says “there’s untapped potential in the falling-block genre, so I want to make the next one, too”… as for me, well, I’ll do it if it’s asked of me, but I can’t guarantee I’ll still be working on the series by that point, because I feel like I’ve produced the ultimate version of Puyo Puyo with the Saturn version of Tsu. In terms of craftsmanship, I think Tsu definitely surpasses its predecessor, but in terms of general impact, the previous game obviously comes out in front… Puyo Puyo 3 would have to surpass both games, so making it would be truly challenging.

—In closing, please leave us with a final message.

Morita: After four years of work, I’m about to finally deliver a game of epic proportions (laughs). This game was made by the same people who brought you Tsu, so if you see it, please give it a shot! As for Tsu, the concept of making something accessible that anyone can enjoy hasn’t changed from the previous game, so I guess what I want to say is, whenever you get tired of playing fighting games, give a puzzle game a shot.

Akiyama: Oh, you mean Puzzle-dama?12 (laughs)

Morita: I’d be happy if people would play Tsu in between rounds of Virtua Fighter. Lately, I’ve been playing nothing but Virtua Fighter… I hope Virtua Fighter 3 is done soon (laughs), so I guess I’ll sign off with: Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2, please do your best! (laughs)

—And you, Akiyama-san?

Akiyama: Yeah, I feel I really ought to apologize again (laughs). I made a lot of demos, so I hope people can recognize the fact that only a fraction of my work made it out into the world, and if you felt unsatisfied, please buy the Saturn version. If you’re still not happy with that version, well, that’s no laughing matter. Oh, and check out the Mega Drive version of Madou Monogatari—we’re putting our all into the Mega Drive’s final RPG, so please check it out. Don’t just stick to Saturn, give the Mega Drive a play every once in a while.

—Over to you, Sawa-san.

Sawa: The earlier versions of Tsu for arcades, Mega Drive and Game Gear, there were a lot of areas that had had people saying “what the hell?”, so like Morita said earlier, if all goes well, the Saturn port should hopefully end up being the perfected version. Beyond that, I’d also like to enrich the characters and setting, not just for the betterment of Puyo Puyo but Madou Monogatari as well. Also, because Tsu supports up to four players, so if your local game center doesn’t have a 4-player, ask the clerk to buy more setups—the more boards we sell, the more we get paid (laughs), so I appreciate your support.

Akiyama: What’s the scene for 4-player games in Tokyo?

Morita: They do have them here [in Hiroshima], but I don’t see people playing them often.

—Oh, really? It’s surprisingly common in Tokyo.

Akiyama: Well I’d be glad if people are getting really fired up over it… typically, you don’t really see people challenging other people mid-game.

Morita: I did get a challenge in Puzzle-dama the other day, though! (laughs)

—Finally, a comment from Shimazaki-san…

Shimazaki: The manzai demos are being fully revived for the Saturn version, and I’m working to make the character animations and other elements as exciting as possible, so if you feel like the previous versions were lacking, please pick up the Saturn version and enjoy the manzai demos.

Akiyama: All the graphics are lying dormant in the ROM, so if one really wanted to get them running, they’re there, but they’re doomed to eternal slumber (laughs).

Morita: So, we can conclude that people ought to try the Saturn version?

Akiyama: Alright, let’s wrap it up… but, next time… (laughs)

—Thanks for your time!

Rare footage of the arcade version of Puyo Puyo Tsu being played in networked 4-player mode; while 4-player setups were not uncommon during the ’90s arcade boom, both the demand and know-how for configuring these networked cabinets has dwindled with time, and none of the emulated reissues of the original arcade version have managed to replicate this functionality.

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  1. Can be read as “expert”, and is also present in “tsuushin (communication)” which in this instance refers to the arcade game’s networked cabinet multiplayer option.

  2. A system whereby any incoming garbage in the queue can be countered with an incoming chain before it falls; this small change drastically widened the tactical element of the game and cemented it as a competitive mainstay.

  3. Tsu’s standard single-player mode sees the player climbing the floors of a tower, with a roulette after each round that determines which opponents are faced on each floor; the player needs to earn a certain amount of experience points on each floor in order to ascend, and players who defeat all the opponents on a floor without reaching the experience quota will be dropped into an “overtime” battle with a secret foe, giving them one last chance to earn experience.

  4. The first-person dungeon-crawling RPG series from which Puyo Puyo’s characters and setting are derived.

  5. Specifically, Tau-Tau was the name of a completely different existing character.

  6. An SFC-exclusive entry in the “Nazo Puyo” spinoff series, based around solving pre-configured stacking puzzles. Rulue no Roux is an expanded version of the Game Gear game Arle no Roux, the first in the series to feature an RPG-style overworld, and stars both Arle and her would-be rival, Rulue.

  7. Literally “Scaly Fish Person”, a term used for a couple of different mermaid characters in Madou Monogatari; outside of this game, this specific character is almost always referred to as Serilly.

  8. This interview was conducted roughly six months prior to the release of the Saturn version, and the implementation discussed here was ultimately not adopted.

  9. In the early rounds of the arcade, MD and Saturn versions, one can exploit the quick-turn move with rapid-fire to stall the game to the point where victory is assured but the experience gain for winning is extremely low; this is perhaps the only sure-fire way to meet Masked ?????? on the first floor.

  10. The signature spell of Madou Monogatari and Puyo Puyo protagonist Arle Nadja. Incidentally, the spell name comes from a specific performance of the song “Boyoyon Rock” on the radio program All Night Nippon, in which comedian Hikaru Ijuuin performed the song in an over-the-top opera style.

  11. The original Puyo Puyo arcade game received an extremely obscure localization that many fans suspected to be a bootleg until it was officially reissued as part of the Sega Ages line for Nintendo Switch. Incidentally, Harpy’s name was changed to “Dark Elf”, not “Dark Angel” as recalled by Sawa.

  12. Konami’s Taisen Puzzle-dama, one of earlier and more prominent of the many imitators that followed in Puyo Puyo’s wake. While the original game and its direct sequel sported an original cast and aesthetic, the series is better-know via a multitude of reskins, the most popular of which being the Tokimeki Memorial version released in arcades and for Sega Saturn and PlayStation.

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