Below is our full interview transcript with Suikoden creator Yoshitaka Murayama conducted during early 2014. It was a great pleasure to speak to the original series director and story writer. Hope you enjoy!
In reading through your questions, I could really feel your passion and gratitude for the Suikoden series. I thank you for this. Suikoden as it is now cannot go forward unless Konami makes a move. I touch upon this in the answers below as well, but I strongly believe your efforts are not in vain. I wish you good luck.
What is your personal favourite Genso Suikoden title and character(s)?
Out of the series, I like Suikoden II the best. As far as characters go, to me, I feel like Viktor holds a certain significance as my ideal character.
Aside from the Water Margin, Genso Suikoden has always appeared to incorporate elements of Western mythology as well as Eastern folklore. What were some of your primary influences when developing this unique setting?
We used another old Chinese story called “The History of the Han Dynasty” (Translator’s Note: this is not the actual name, I took this from Wikipedia based on the name of a film based on the book. The name is… well, pretty hard to translate, to say the least). It had a large impact on the game itself.
We originally didn’t plan on the world to be such a big mix of Eastern and Western culture. Originally, we wanted to differentiate Suikoden from other RPGs, so we aimed at writing a drama around a large group of characters. This is why we used the story of The Water Margin. However, an RPG that was purely based on Eastern culture would sell well in Japan, but we would hardly call that good. So, we decided to add in some Western fantasy elements.
So really, it wound up that way as a sort of coincidence. There isn’t any sort of work that we used for reference in that regard.
However, as far as the 27 True Runes and the whole battle of Chaos vs. Order is concerned, Michael Moorcock’s “The Eternal Champion” series was a big influence.
What served as your inspiration for each of the True Runes? Were all 27 planned out from the beginning?
The idea of the True Runes came from a card game in Japan. In this game, you would attach Runes to your monsters to give them special abilities in battle. Then, you could change the Runes in order to change your monster’s abilities. That was what I used for inspiration. At first, I thought if you took it in terms of a video game, you could give characters magic or special abilities (special attacks). As far as the story and the meaning the Runes would have in it, that came later.
In the beginning, we had some things about the 27 True Runes set in stone, but there were some things we hadn’t figured out yet. The stuff we already planned were some of the rough ideas that would be necessary for the story and the world. But we left ourselves some freedom to change how things went and how the story itself would unfold later.
Is there one particular story in the Genso Suikoden mythos that you wish you had a chance to tell?
We had a basic premise for what the successors of all 27 True Runes would do in the very end. Though, I cannot touch upon the specific details.
The intro sequences for Genso Suikoden III and the Genso Suikogaiden games got a lot of fans talking about the series’ potential beyond games and manga. During your tenure as series director, was there any consideration for the series to branch out into other media, such as anime or film?
Around the time when we were working on Suikoden III and the Side-Story titles (the Suikogaiden games on the PSX), it wasn’t normal to take a game and turn it into an anime. Plus, at the time Konami wasn’t very assertive about turning their content into anime or movies. The system they had set up maintained a very passive attitude towards those sorts of things. In other words, you could say that it was a time where games were only made to be games, and nothing else.
In regards to the prequels as well as the more recent “Million Worlds” spin-offs, how do you feel about the direction the Genso Suikoden series has gone in?
It goes without saying that since the Suikoden title itself belongs to Konami that it is not mine. So I don’t particularly have anything to comment about in regards to the current trends for the series. That said, right now the Japanese game development scene is in a bad place. Games like Suikoden, where they’ve used 108 characters throughout the series, require a lot of material to create. So I believe making a game like that is quite difficult right now.
Tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since leaving Konami.
I worked as Game Designer on TAITO’s “Farewell to the Moonlit Night” (Tsukiyo ni Saraba), and did the Scenarios for Asmik Ace’s “Reincarnation Academy: Moonlight Record” (Tensei Gakuen Gekkouroku). After that, I lead the Scenario team on many games, but due to certain circumstances many of them never got released. Right now I work on original manga, world design for social games (cell phone games and the like) and story text for games.
More recently, you penned a Magic the Gathering manga. How was that experience for you, and how do you find that writing for manga differs from writing for games?
I got involved on this project through the request of a good editor friend of mine back from the Konami days.
The biggest difference between [scenario writing in] manga and games is, for games, we have to make the cut-scenes as short as possible while maintaining a steady flow throughout the entire adventure. For manga, however, constantly changing the scene would only serve to confuse the reader, so I had to minimize the amount of scene-changing that I was used to. This was the part I found most difficult at first.
Working on this Magic the Gathering manga showed me various hardships that I had never seen in games, so it was an incredible learning experience in that respect.
Since setting up Blue Moon Studios, has Konami ever reached out to you in regards to coming back?
There were never any offers to return to Konami as an official staff member. However, they have contacted me a few times with various offers which never came to fruition.
What are your plans for the future? Is there anything you’re working on now that even Western fans can look forward to?
It’s hard to say with certainty what will happen in the game industry, but one of the projects I’m currently involved with is targeted mainly towards the overseas audience. However, we’ve only just launched the project very recently and are not sure when things will actually get off the ground. When we do have something to show, I’ll be sure to post a message about it on my homepage.
How do you feel about how the RPG genre has changed since the early Playstation days?
Modern RPGs take a tremendous amount of resources to make. In the PS1 days, Japan was still a very robust game market, allowing for the creation of many ambitious titles, including Suikoden. But nowadays, more and more companies are shying away from making AAA blockbuster RPG’s – it’s usually reserved for the very famous IP brands that nearly guarantee a return on development costs.
Yoshinori Kitase of Square-Enix recently stated that a remake of Final Fantasy VII would be difficult for them to achieve due to “budget and staff availability” problems. What do you think this says about the pressures of HD development in the gaming industry today?
As I mentioned previously, the average consumer game is extremely difficult to make nowadays. Instead, what we’re seeing across the industry as a whole is the gradual transition to social games for smartphones.
But in a way, there are other factors already in place before even considering the rising HD developments costs of games. Entertainment is and always has been a gamble. I believe that once we’ve stopped innovating, we can only go downhill. The current situation is not exactly ideal.
Recently, designers like Keiji Inafune and Yasumi Matsuno have found success on Kickstarter for funding their newer projects. What are your thoughts on the platform? Would it be something you would consider using for a project of your own?
I believe Kickstarter’s notion of “by the fans, for the fans” may very well be the solution to the aforementioned problem.
What sort of advice would you give to someone trying to create an impactful and memorable story?
You’ll find similar advice on many How-to-Write-a-Scenario guides, but to write a story is to write about the nature of humankind. Each and every character in a world goes through their lives thinking various thoughts. To portray that is to write a story. When facing hardships, how do humans think? How do they act? Placing yourself in their shoes is the very first step and is needed every step of the way.
In the case of Suikoden, whether it’s a leader, his close confidants, or a common soldier, no matter the character, you have to consider their thought process and how that leads to their actions. When you take it all as a whole, we have a story.
And, finally, is there anything else you would like to share with the Suikoden fans and the SRM?
As mentioned above, the consumer game market in Japan is facing difficult times now. However, from my experience, game companies do not turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the fans. Of course, often times nothing is borne from it, but let us not forget within these game companies, there are many who are truly passionate about games, and of them are many who love Suikoden.
Suikoden is not something I could ever make myself, nor does it belong to me personally. Yet, I am truly grateful and touched to see everyone’s everlasting love for Suikoden.
Thank you so much.
Thanks a lot to our translators Hsing Chen and Matthew Alberts for their hard work!