At the end of 2015, we asked you, the fans, for your Murayama questions. It took a bit longer than expected, but the complete interview is now up!
As expected, there were a number of submitted questions that Murayama was unable to provide a public answer for, but the answers he was able to share still provide a lot of great insight into the history of this wonderful franchise. We hope you enjoy reading his responses as much as we have!
(You can find our 2014 interview with him here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/suikoden-revival-movement/interview-with-yoshitaka-murayama/619511931478328)
How did you come up with some of the specific gameplay ideas that make Suikoden unique, e.g. character recruitment or building your own HQ?
The original idea was to have a structured, dramatic group story based around several fascinating characters. We then decided that we could take those characters and make it like Water Margin, which is how it became an RPG with 108 characters. In order to give those characters worth, we made the character recruitment aspect itself into a collection game of sorts, making it so that the more characters you recruit the more your home base grows.
What was your main inspiration for the story of Suikoden and the fantasy setting used for the games backdrop?
So obviously we used the Chinese classic story Water Margin. For Suikoden II, we used the story of the Chu-Han Contention (a famous war in Chinese history and literature) as a motif. Also, the world feel was largely inspired by Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champions series of books.
How did you write the plot line for the Suikoden games? Who or what did you come up with first – the heroes, the villains, or perhaps the conflict itself?
I’m fairly certain we started thinking about the characters who would surround the protagonist. And of course since the Water Margin tale was the motif for the game’s story, we used that as the basis for the conflict in the game.
Why did you use the concept of a silent hero instead of a talking one?
The decision was made during meetings with the production team. I recall going with that, because there were a lot of RPGs that featured non-speaking protagonists at the time.
Often, when talking about the story of Suikoden, it’s said that you had a notebook in which you collected all your ideas about the history of the Suikoden world. Did this really exist and did you have any plans for Suikoden games after Suikoden III?
Although we did have a general outline, I personally believe that the setting exists to help tell the story and we never focused purely on the setting first. So a document detailing the entire history of the Suikoden world does not exist. To elaborate, suppose I create 100% of the setting, roughly 30% of this would be used explicitly in-game and the other 70% would only be referred to in order to to give depth to the backstory, meaning a lot of these details were never fully fleshed out.
Did you think Suikoden would be as successful as it was before the release of the first game?
We were too busy making Suikoden 1 at the time to even think about sequels.
The first two Suikoden games were released on the first PlayStation. What were some of the challenges you had to face when you switched the platform with Suikoden III?
From a technological standpoint, making the 3D event scenes was especially tough as we were just starting to figure out how it all works.
Which moment/scene of which game do you like the most?
Luca Blight’s death.
Gameplay of Suikoden II feels like a more refined version of the first game. Why did you feel you needed to change (and add) some elements to it with Suikoden III?
At the time, there were a lot of RPGs on the market. Plus, there were a lot of people who wanted new things out of the existing game systems.
Imagine you had today’s technology when you first worked on Suikoden. Would it be the same game or would you change it?
There’s two problems that we would have. First, RPGs have to be advanced from a technological standpoint. Also, it would take an awful lot of work to make a game like that.
When creating countries like Harmonia, or Scarlet Moon, did you take inspiration from real world countries or places from our history?
They are not based on existing countries.
How would you like the idea of a science-fiction Suikoden with a spaceship as HQ and space battles?
I wonder how that’d turn out? The truth is, I had a plot idea for Suikoden that revolved around a robot (or a being much like one).
Normally, RPGs use one magic point pool for all spells, but Suikoden uses a different system which is similar to the first Final Fantasy. Why did you decide for that?
We were basing this off of the magic system from the Wizardry series. We were hoping to make it so the user would know which spells are strong and which spells are weak and when to use each one.
Is there a special reason why you included the bucket and the balloon status?
Around the time Suikoden I came out, there were tons of RPGs on the market. So we wanted to find some ways, even if they were only small ones, to differentiate our game from the others. That’s why we came up with those status effects.
Is there a motif behind the True Runes? Many speculate whether they’re based on tarot cards.
We originally intended to have them be related to the 108 stars of destiny. At first, we thought of 36 (the number of Stars of Heaven in Water Margin). But we thought 36 would be too many, so we changed it to 27.
Were the conflicts between nations in each game inspired by anything from history or literature (besides the series’ namesake, of course)?
The whole thing in Suikoden II between Highland and the Jowston City-States was based on the Greco-Persian Wars.
When developing Suikoden III, was there anything planned that couldn’t fit into the budget or schedule in the end?
In Suikoden III, the story after the three protagonists finally join up was shortened due to development time restraints.
The bearer of the Gate Rune remains ageless even when the split into the Front Gate and Back Gate Runes, so how does it differ from the Rune of the Beginning? And can we count the Gate Rune as a single rune even when it’s split into two?
The two pieces of the Rune of the Beginning must do battle do become one, making them each their own separate entities. While the Gate Rune is a single entity with front and back sides, each controlled by different people.
Was Harmonia intended to be the setting of the series’ finale, or just another chapter in a much longer story?
The Holy Kingdom of Harmonia was supposed to play a big part in how I saw the Suikoden series ending at the time. But the finale was not supposed to be the player taking down Harmonia.
In Suikoden III, Estella mentions that she’s traveling to Tenjik to secure an old book. Is Tenjik a real location in the Suikoden world, or just another of Estella’s elaborate lies?
About 9/10ths of what she said is completely made up (*laughs*).
How did the direction develop for such a diverse soundtrack?
Most of the sound decisions were largely made by Miki Higashino, the person in charge of that at the time.
Was it difficult keeping all the lore consistent (no contradictions) across the entire series, including the official guides, novels, manga, and short story anthologies?
We did continuity checks, but we thought it would be nice if, just like real history, there were a few contradictions here or there. So I don’t really remember us working on that too hard.
Bloodstained, Yooka Laylee, Mighty No. 9 – in the past few years, we saw many spiritual successors to famous game series. Did you ever think of doing a spiritual successor to Suikoden, i.e. not a sequel, but a RPG that follows similar themes and motives?
I haven’t really given it much thought.
Given the opportunity, would you be willing to help make a new Suikoden game?
If the production environment allowed for it to be made right.
What other unused ideas did you have for future Suikoden games?
I had been thinking of using ships, and (coincidentally) they ended up being used.
Have you ever considered doing what Yu Suzuki did with Shenmue 3? Borrowing the rights from Konami and bring Suikoden VI to Kickstarter?
I have not.
Will you celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series with some of your coworkers from back then?
I drink with the original team members at the end of each year even now. I think it’s rare for a team to remain as close as we have.
What is your opinion on games released for mobile phones?
This is difficult to answer, because there are a wide range of mobile games available, but since they’re games, I’d like to see them get more and more fun.
Have you ever been approached by another large video game company to create a game?
I’m not sure if I understand the question correctly, but it’s rare to be asked to work on a game in its entirety.
Did you ever think about writing your stories as novels instead of video games? How do you think a story benefits from being a video game as opposed to a novel or a movie?
On a personal level, I never had any intention of novelizing Suikoden. The myriad of ways you can achieve a sense of challenge and accomplishment in games is one of its greatest advantages. Especially the incredible feeling you get from securing your own headquarters and growing along with it is difficult to express through text alone.
Which philosopher are you a bigger fan of: Mencius or Xunzi
Humans can so easily sway to the path of evil, which I why find value in preserving the good in humanity. I’m of the belief that humans are born evil.
What many fans love about Suikoden is how it strikes that perfect balance between not merely glorifying war as a series of heroic tales, and portraying how people must live on amidst the constant threat of war. What are your personal thoughts on war, political upheaval, and revolution?
I never meant to portray war as neither good nor evil. I drew up a vast array of characters of varying sociopolitical backgrounds and creeds and fleshed out how they would each react in this wartime situation, but anything beyond that is the player’s interpretation. With so many factors and multi-faceted viewpoints intertwining in a war, I find it impossible to simply label it all as good or evil.
Who is George Silverberg? We know he is the father of Caesar and Albert, but do you have any more details to share?
I do not.
What happened with Flik and Viktor in the three years between Suikoden and Suikoden II?
Viktor was originally the type of guy who would often wander around from place to place. I would guess that Flik just went along with him.
Do you have any details to share about Yuber and Pesmerga? What is their backstory?
Pesmerga’s name comes from the Kurdish language, meaning one who opposes death. Yuber was chosen simply because it sounded good.
What is the nature of Yuber’s Eightfold Rune?
He’s the personification of chaos, so the Eightfold Rune was meant to represent that.
Why wasn’t Pesmerga in Suikoden III?
Other than Viki, there were no plans for any other character to appear in each Suikoden.
What is the deal with Jeane and Viki? And who is young Viki? Did you plan from the beginning to make Viki and Jeane such mysterious characters?
From the outset, Viki was meant to be a mysterious character with a timeline all over the place. As for Jeane though, it was her character design that started out mysterious and the dialogue we came up with for her was meant to reflect that.
Is Culgan really dead and what happened with Captain Rowd?
Mum’s the word with Culgan. As for Captain Rowd, I’d say he made it off somehow and is doing something somewhere.
What ever happened to the heroes of each game? Since they possess true runes to live forever, did they continue to journey or did they settle down somewhere?
Since about half of the protagonist’s actions in each game are based on the player, I think it’s best if the players themselves decide those things.
Who is Hugo’s father? Of course Hugo from Suikoden III – not the librarian!
Some blonde guy.
How did you come up with the Schtolteheim Reinbach running gag? And how do you feel about an actual Schtolteheim being a character in Suikoden IV?
We just really wanted to create an overly exaggerated name. For them to keep it going up until Suikoden IV makes me happy.
What does Viki’s ‘Waffu’ mean?
I’d be teleported out of existence if I told you.
What kind of person was Jowy’s biological father?
He was a reliable man, but a bit strict. So because of that, Jowy must’ve had a lot of fun sneaking off to play with the protagonist and Nanami as a kid.
Why was Jowy not counted among the 108 Stars of Destiny?
He’s on equal standing with the protagonist in Suikoden II, so it didn’t seem right to include him in the 108 Stars of Destiny.
The personality of the series’ protagonists is wide open to interpretation, ultimately depending on the player, but what were they to you personally? And now that it’s been 20 years since the first Suikoden, in your mind, how do you think they’re doing now 20 years later?
Personally, I’ve always thought of them as typical young adventurer archetypes you find in many RPGs. But with the weight of the world on their shoulders as True Rune bearers, they’re forced to take on the role of a hero. This gap creates an internal struggle, and overcoming it is what helps them grow as a human.
Is it true you once talked about how Hikusaak and Leeknat have entirely opposite opinions on True Runes? Could you please expand on this?
I don’t recall calling them opposites (forgive me if I’m remembering this incorrectly). In general, Hikusaak tries to gather the True Runes under his control, while Leeknat strives to maintain the current state of the world.
The Tenson Star Yam Koo’s skin becomes so white from Suikoden I –> Suikoden II that he could almost pass for a different person. Did something happen to him?
There was no real plan there, so it is just a difference in interpretation between character designers.
What’s Master Haia like? What kind of rune does he bear?
Hmm… I don’t really remember…
Who is Nash’s wife? Is it really Sierra?
It’s just something Nash said, so we don’t really know if he has a wife or not.
Thank you for your time, Murayama-san. In closing, is there anything you’d like to say to the Suikoden community?
I believe that a story comes to life only when taken as a joint collaboration between storyteller and audience. While many things may be open to interpretation, there is no wrong in how each and every one of you fans may interpret and imagine a story. I hope you will each embrace the truth that you reach for yourselves.
Translators: Hsing Chen (Japanese ↔ English), Matthew Alberts (Japanese → English)