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Lunar I+II Official Artbook
Interview with Hajime Satou, Katsutoshi Akashi, and Kei Shigema
Translation by Maou

Below is one of the translations from the Lunar I+II Artbook, in the Long Interview section. This interview is with Hajime Satou, Katsutoshi Akashi, and (as a special guest) Kei Shigema, the designers of the Lunar games. Translation here is by Maou.

p. 88

Hajime Satou x Katsutoshi Akashi Long Interview
Special Guest/Kei Shigema

Mr. Hajime Satou, World Design Chief
Chief of the world design and illustration for "Lunar II." He gave birth to many things in the game. Also chief of illustration in "Lunar I."

Mr. Katsutoshi Akashi, Chief [Visual] Director
Representative director of project design studio "Ikusabune." Chief [Visual] Director of "Lunar II." Strongly concerned with the game's movies. Representative work as director: "Silpheed."

What was the worldview of "Lunar II" in the initial stages?

Akashi: As far as the image of the town in the desert in the beginning, we first talked about a very typical, true desert. However, after that, Mr. Satou came up with more concrete things like "The Town of Larpa" and sandships, and with this we are able to create the image of the Lunar II world's desert.

Shigema: Hiero's House? That was good.

Akashi: There aren't many houses as cluttered as that, are there?

Shigema: It's disorganized... That's the first thing you see when you enter into Lunar's world though. I thought that would be good. Where did that idea come from?

Satou: In a lean-to cabin, you have nothing but the practical. It's for emergency use. So if for example something happened in the desert, in order to be able to escape easily, the ship is on the first floor. And the mast serves as one of the wall faces, so if something happens you can spread the sails and hop on easily and get out into the desert.

Shigema: Did you think that it would turn out [looking] like that?

Satou: Yes, I was always waiting for it. I thought everyone would work hard on that.

Shigema: There aren't many places that do things as well as Game Arts. People worked really hard, I think.

Satou: They work very hard on particular sections like that. But whether in the end all those will come together neatly will be a different problem (laughter).

Shigema: That's definitely true (laughter).

Satou: Well, everything is that way, but the most important thing is the characters, isn't it? I tried to prepare a world of the size that the characters could move through.

Akashi: In the beginning we really asked you to design freely. So, there wasn't any real atmosphere then. In that way, Mr. Satou created the atmosphere, like "the desert should seem sandy like this." In the beginning the desert was planned to be orange, but after a variety of circumstances orange didn't end up matching.

Satou: The original design had all kinds of colors of flowing sand swirling, in the beginning, but we weren't able to do that.

When you're giving a shape to the ideas that aren't solidified in Mr. Akashi's mind yet, you give it a lot of thought in your own mind, Mr. Satou. Was it fun working like that?

Satou: Yes, I tend to focus very intently on one thing at a time, whether on the world design or creating the towns or on creating the atmosphere. Each time, I have a particular plan and I'm allowed to work on it, and whether it's a plan or a design I make it a little bit how I want it to be. I think it's interesting if the backgrounds can have their own character. For example, in any temple, the character of the person who built it will show. And even if you have temples for the same religion, the layout, design, and decoration will change depending on the preferences of the important people and priests of that parish. When you actually play the game, this isn't relevant at all and simply seems to just flow by, but if you pay attention to it, it's pretty strange, with these funny little touches. Or, even if you don't consciously show them, just by putting them there, you get a view of the world. I think it's better to have them than to not have them. This time, I think we did that well.

p. 89

Akashi: Visuals are really scary; there's lots of things that get taken in on an unconscious level separately from consciousness. In the game this time, there were the Cult of Althena parts and then the normal towns. So for the town of the Cult of Althena [Pengatulia], we tried to make it so it felt like the Cult of Althena. Of course, there were certain parts we were a little off on and didn't get quite right. But we asked Mr. Satou to come up with the feeling of the fearfulness of Althena's Temple itself along with the splendor of the outside front. We asked him to make it a building that was authoritarian and a seemed little unpleasant just standing there.

Shigema: Before the plot development started you were drawing freely, but this time the orders [for designs] started piling up, didn't they? Did that end up being unpleasant for you?

Satou: No, not at all, because what I'm doing is still the same.

Shigema: We were pretty concerned with the Vargan. The design line changed countless times, didn't it? What we were aiming for was a fairly simple line, but you know, in that regard, Mr. Satou wanted something with a different feel from the start.

Satou: Something a little more fantasy-like...

Shigema: It was very good, but we had said things like, "can't you make it a little more simple?," right? How was that for you?

Satou: Well, honestly, it was a little bothersome.

Shigema: I guess it was a little different from your original design...?

Satou: Right.

Akashi: Well, you ended up presenting us with a really great design, though. There was a period when the image of Leo was very unclear in our minds. When we had decided on an exact Leo, you made the Vargan white and gave it more character. Before, the Vargan was a symbol of the Cult of Althena, but when we got to the stage where we settled on it being Leo's Vargan, we asked for more designs from Mr. Satou.

Shigema: But honestly, in the middle of the process we weren't quite sure. I think that in having Mr. Satou design freely the world of Lunar may have been created. But while he was creating it, we also had our own design images we created in our minds, too.

Satou: It's good that way. In those cases I make my designs match [the creators' own images]. When asked by the scenario writer, Mr. Shigema, for a certain image, I'd say, "Right, I understand." It's my job to take these considerations into account and be conscious of them when I'm designing.

Shigema: So is that interesting work for you?

p. 90

Satou: It's very interesting, since a different sort of image can enter into my work. It's really thrilling to take those images and match them with my pictures as I make them.

Shigema: Mr. Satou didn't just do the world design, he also designed things like monsters and trap ideas, too. So in that sense, we relied on Mr. Satou for almost all the designing that Mr. Kubooka didn't do.

He had all kinds of ideas for the magic, too, right?

Akashi: Like Purse and Cat Kick. We really wanted to implement those.

Shigema: Mr. Satou's ideas could be difficult, we...

Satou: Yes, maybe. I made them with an arcade image in mind, visually flashy.

Akashi: I really wanted them to do Lemina's Purse.

From Zophar's Image to His Birth

Shigema: It matched the character. On the other hand, in that sense, it might have been a little serious as far as Lemina was concerned.

Akashi: Purse might have ended up having the same kind of impact as Rong-Fa's lousy Dice.

Shigema: Rong-Fa's Dice doesn't have a good reputation?

Akashi: No, the it's not worth the cost (laughter).

Satou: Zophar...well, he's a god. But he's not a Western conception of a god, but rather like one of the spirits of the Lunar world.

Shigema: That pillar of flesh was used in the actual game, and I think it's a really interesting image.

Satou: It's a thing terrifying enough to ruin the world. So instead of something very abstract, it would be easier to understand if it was something physically terrifying instead. I thought it would be scarier if, rather than using a monster's form, he came down in an incomprehensible shape like a clump of flesh.

Shigema: I really thought it was outstanding having that battle field be the enemy's body. Until then, no one had really come up with anything. That picture became the basis for our image, exactly as it was.

Satou: The final course is fairly pretty grotesque, isn't it? I didn't want it that way this time. The grotesque form already showed up in the movie "Butai X" ["Object X," originally titled "The Thing" in English]. It was like it would even show up in the [game's] finale. Design techniques for showing something gross or grotesque where the object, the body is destroyed and it changes its shape and fuses together, are limiting. Lots of games have already done the same thing. And having the last boss appear in the form of a dark lord like in Draque [Dragon Quest] is an over-familiar form, as well. So, I decided he'd make his appearance as a very typical god, the form of a mighty god. Because he's a god of this world, and he brings great evil, that's precisely why he appears in a beautiful form. In his third stage, he would show his real nature and be still huger, and say that this castle itself is Zophar, and that inside it is something like his real body. So you could call it a complicated or two-layered construction...or multi-layered construction. It's like an inverted body.

Shigema: I understand that the image's starting point was "the Buddha's hand." [Buddhist reference to the Monkey King who is unable to escape from the Buddha's hand despite his ability to jump very far.]

Satou: Yes, right.

p. 91

Mr. Satou's View of the Problematic Points of "Lunar II"

Shigema: Ah, I thought so. It was a picture showing the arrogance of a god who is saying, "In the end, you pathetic humans are in my hands." The moment I understood that, I thought, "Oh, I definitely want to do this," it'll definitely match perfectly. So we used it just like that.

Satou: But when it became a picture [in the game] it was a little off.

Shigema: Yeah (bitter smile).

Are there any things you would have liked to have done differently?

Satou: I'd say that if would have liked to keep up intense communication going until the very end as I made the pictures. There were quite a lot of changes. The Four Dragons, for example. In the beginning, all of the real ones were supposed to appear. But...the meaning ended up being completely different. They ended up being the False Dragons. If I had been able to say something, like "Sure, that's fine," or "Okay, let's change it"...

Shigema: Or on the other hand, it could be that the images of Mr. Satou's pictures are so strong that we couldn't think of anything else so we decided to use them...conversely that we couldn't think of any other way.... I'm really very sorry about that.

Satou: Also, I think I would have liked to put in more game parts [i.e., mini-games or extras] or secret parts into the game. If we had focused on those, hard-core fans might have gotten obsessed with them, though. Maybe some more puzzling parts or something...

Akashi: Elements beyond what are just for the drama, or in other words unnecessary things, unnecessary noise, these can be the very things that make a world deep and profound. The further you get in the second half of the game...

Satou: Right, especially as you continue towards the end, things like that are all focused. If possible, it would have been nice to have been able to set that kind of direction aside here and there. I think it might have been even better if we had been able to create a world that vast. But then, this is true for any game. No matter what you's always so lonely when you finish games, as you finally get close to the ending. It's lonely when you've looked around and seen everything and there just isn't anything you haven't seen.

Shigema: But after the ending there are a number of places you can go. What about them?

Satou: Well, those are mostly just dungeons. Something more for fun [i.e. mini-games, hidden events] would be... That's why at first we had stuff like a ghost ship and things. We thought it would be good if you had ended up being able to run as far as you wanted to go.

Akashi: With nothing to do at all with Zophar's world ...

Shigema: No, even if it did have something to do with the world. So in short, it would be part of the story's worldview, or part of the daily life there. Not everything necessarily has to do with Zophar or with Lucia.

Satou: Well, it's often normal for every game, that you have to work hard to have that degree of extras. So you have to be very conscious of it or you can't do it. But in a game world it's okay to have things you don't know or things you don't find until the very end.

So even though the character [Hiero] is the protagonist, that world isn't everything.

Satou: Right. It's like a perception of the world focused around him.

p. 92

The Difference Between SF [Science Fiction] and Fantasy

Shigema: If we were to do a "Lunar III," what would you want to do, Mr. Satou?

Satou: Hmm, I think I'd really want to do a fantasy-themed one. I'd be fun to plunge even more deeply into the myth of Lunar's world. Not that I know what it would be, though. After all, there's a world that a goddess controls, and there are sort of monotheistic elements. There might be the god of another world somewhere, too. It would be interesting if Lunar collided with that kind of world, I think. Or maybe it could be about what happens afterwards to the world of Lunar, which has achieved civilization.

Shigema: Mr. Satou's foundation is fantasy...

Satou: Yes, because it's the most fun kind of world, a world with many possibilities. SF almost always has explanations attached. For example, if a monster or even if a god appeared, in an SF world that would be the result of gene manipulation or something. You end up understanding the world in that shape, and the imagination doesn't soar any further than that.

Shigema: That's exactly right. The beginning part of "Lunar II" also has quite a SF flavor to it. We told the story with less and less SF elements after that, and that one moment become surprisingly SF. Essentially, SF is part of the vastness of the imagination, but once you take that perspective in the fantasy world, there is also disagreeable tendency for the imagination to be cut off.

Satou: It transforms into a world where everything can be understood by numbers. Mysteries are not understood scientifically, but one day they will one day certainly be solved by science. That type of limit. That's why SF doesn't go well with games. Even in movies, as long as SF movies aren't wonderfully unique enough... So if SF doesn't use the kind of presentation like in "The Year 2001~," in that sense, that lurks in people's minds, it won't be very appealing. The core of fantasy, I think, is something like a "jolt to the consciousness" deep in people's minds. Something like a consciousness in your dreams that you're unconscious of. But, this becomes difficult. I think fantasy is like a darkness that you have never set foot into before. People's minds don't have an end no matter how deep you go, do they? If you lurk on, you reach the origin of humanity... There is the possibility of going on even further. And there is infinite variety, too. So fantasy that focuses on the human mind is a world that holds so much incredibly mysterious vastness...that's why everyone is fascinated by it.

Shigema: I may be wrong about this, but it certainly may be a very personal thing in essence.

Satou: It's a hazard. If you do something like that in a game you are selling as a product, it's more hazardous than it is difficult. If you don't do it well, it could become something that nobody understands.

Akashi: Speaking from the standpoint of having taken part in the game's direction, the world that Mr. Satou created for us where magic exists naturally is very close to the fantasy that he describes, a different world, not this world. The moment you enter into that world, you don't know what will happen. If you offhandedly said "hello" to somebody, he might suddenly transform, or something. You might be walking and find that something you thought was a brick was soft. People believe bricks are hard, right? But in this world, bricks might be soft. This is another world.

What is the current state of games?

Shigema: That's very interesting, isn't it? But the question of how to impose a universal drama on that world or not is tough. But I feel that we can do it right, that this kind of material will be absolutely necessary.

Satou: So in the instance of making make a game that will be a product, to a certain extent you have to prepare a familiar story form, since a personal type of story that no one understands won't do. I think that to a certain extent, the type of story formula you might have heard of before is necessary. However, a formula is used as a container, and if the numbers are different, the answer is different, too. There isn't just one way to solve it. In the content of the story you tell, it's good to have personal words and thoughts. Current games may be too particular and inflexible about the formula, and while pretending to tell a story, there's actually nothing being told at all. I think that these kinds of games have increased greatly in number.

Shigema: A criticism?

Satou: Towards games in general. I think that's particularly the case recently.

Shigema: Games with stories that don't really tell a story....

Satou: Right, so I call them little FF's (laughter).

Shigema: But whether it's a story or a fantasy worldview, I think it's definitely the case that these problematic points are being used because they're convenient. Essentially, you should use this world, use this story because it has meaning.

Satou: In short, the question is whether there are thoughts being communicated or not. And also whether a conversation can take place with the player or not, beyond that story.

Shigema: Definitely personal material [is needed].

Satou: That's a big part.

Akashi: So you're saying that games should be works [i.e., of art], too, then. And for it to be a work, you need an artist. The artist is part of the material.

Shigema: Basically, personal material; recently, "Mother II" [called "EarthBound" in its English release] was made incredibly well. In a good way, a bad way, or a certain way, you can see Shigesato Itoi's face [Itoi was the creator of the Mother games.]

Satou: It would be good if a lot more games like that came out. But many people want to make these hum-drum, "model" games.

Shigema: Hum-drum, "model" games are made to sell, so... They don't have things in there just for the fun of it like Game Arts. Did you wonder why we made this kind of game for the Mega CD?

Satou: Because it's the greatest epic on the Mega CD (laughter).

Akashi: It was written in a certain magazine this software is what the Mega CD should be. It's hardware you really can use if you try...... (laughter).

Satou: I think it's too late.

Shigema: I seems just like other companies aren't using it at all, doesn't it? (laughter) That's not true, of course. Well, I support it (laughter).

Satou: I don't think they're using it.

Shigema: No, really, I'll use it.

Satou: Yes, it's true, it would seem cruel to the Mega CD not to use it.

Shigema: ...I hope that the Saturn won't meet the same fate.

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