The People Who Resurrected Samurai Shodown

Samurai Shodown Header
Magazine: Famitsu
Publish Date: 07/11/2019

Kaito Soranaka (Planner): He was primarily in charge of the battle system, and also served as the director of SNK Heroines.
Nobuyuki Kuroki (Director): The director who supervised the entire project, also a long-time developer who worked on Fatal Fury, etc.
Yumi Saji (Character Designer): She was in charge of the character design, and also worked on King of Fighters XIV.

Taking a new look at what makes the series popular for the first time in about 10 years, a new Samurai Shodown game has been released. We bring you this interview with three of the staff members involved in its creation.

Hardships and Inside Stories of the Development that Created the Samurai Spirit

Please give us some details about how development on this game began.

(Kuroki) I heard this from the producer Yasuyuki Oda, but apparently he was asked by a chairman within our company if we were finally going to release a new Samurai Shodown game. I guess it all began when Oda answered with “Let’s do it!”. The Samurai Shodown series has the most personality of all of SNK’s titles when it comes to visuals and game play systems. So project planning began with us thinking about how it’s so easy to distinguish from those other titles, and how it will be able to bring in new fans.

Around when did development begin?

(Kuroki) At the same time we wrapped development on KOF XIV and started in on the DLC, and when we were in the midst of working on SNK Heroines. Our staff was primarily focused on those two projects, so we began development with a small team of only about 5 or 6 people.

That’s not very many! What kind of work did development start with, given the team was that small?

(Kuroki) It was mostly graphics work. The art is one of the most important points of this game, so planning started with that as the focus. We decided on the direction of the visuals as a group.

I see. The title of this entry in the series is the same as the first one: Samurai Shodown. Did you ever have plans to give it a subtitle?

(Kuroki) Yes, at first we had planned to give it one. We had a bunch of different ideas, but we went with “Samurai Shodown” to emphasize going back to the beginning. Before making that decision, we had planned to go with “Samurai Shodown: Akatsuki” (“Samurai Shodown: Dawn”). We didn’t end up doing that, but it’s actually the title of the Chinese version of the game.

Oh, it was going to be “Akatsuki”?! Though they’re just abbreviations, fans are calling the new game “Shin Samu”, or “Rei Samu” since it was released during the first year of the Reiwa Era.

(Kuroki) There isn’t any kind of official abbreviation, but I think “Rei Samu” sounds really cool and captures the spirit of the game. Personally, that’s what I’d like it to be (Laughs)

Did you have any particular difficulties during development?

(Saji) I’m not from the Samurai Shodown generation, so starting with studying up on the series was pretty difficult. I began with figuring out which characters were popular and what aspects were well liked, and then worked on implementing those into the designs.

(Soranaka) I was mostly involved with the battle system. A character has two states: Holding a weapon and bare-handed. This isn’t something I had to deal with in the titles I’d been involved with up until now, so balancing that was difficult. It was like having two characters worth of work for every one, and I didn’t particularly know how to check their movements and such.

(Kuroki) Speaking of checks, development for Yoshitora Tokugawa was particularly rough. He alone has a design that’s asymmetrical between the right and left sides. So the in-game models are swapped when he’s facing left or right. When he jumps over his opponent for example, the model data is swapped right at that point. So everyone suffered quite a bit due to those fairly invisible aspects.

To think those kinds of things can be issues behind the scenes!

(Kuroki) We developed this game prioritizing maintaining 60 frames per second, and that’s why the issue with Yoshitora was so rough. Anyway, it made me happy when we were finally able to achieve a consistent 60 frames per second, after we got past those difficult aspects.

Why is it that you prioritized the game running at 60 frames per second?

(Kuroki) That was Oda’s idea. In order to put even more emphasis on the battles, it was an absolute necessity to maintain 60 frames per second for comfortable play.

(Saji) For example, the sword designs were originally more elaborate. But then Oda said “Whatever, make sure it runs at 60 frames!” (Laughs bitterly)

(Kuroki) Yeah…that was a real pity (Laughs)

How Did You Decide Which Characters to Include?

What sorts of concepts were the three new characters created around?

(Kuroki) The ideas of them being an armored warrior, a super strong woman, and a Feng Shui master were pretty much in place from the very beginning. We determined what their abilities would be after figuring out the visuals first. I left the designs to Saji, without giving her many details at all.

(Saji) I personally love the look of an armored warrior decked out in full kabuto style armor. But thinking that might be a bit too obsessive, I ended up going halfway toward that idea. So Yashamaru Kurama ended up as the Karasu Tengu (“Crow-Billed Goblin”). Darli was originally going to be an Edo-period fireman character that shouted out “heave-ho!” while he fought. But everyone told me that no one would like that sort of character (Laughs) Then I came up with the idea of a builder, and the woman that I ended up drawing for that concept came out looking really cool. So we decided to go in that direction. Wu-Ruixiang began as a very serious female scientist, but turned into a clumsy girl somewhere along the way, so that’s why she ended up with her current design. She’s showing slightly less skin (Laughs)

But she’s showing off quite a bit of leg! How was it being in charge of the character designs, Ms. Saji?

(Saji) I was in charge of the 3D models for KOF XIV, and designed some of the costumes. But designing actual characters was completely new to me. There were a lot of things I didn’t know about it, but I was allowed to feel my way through.

Small parts of the designs of existing characters changed as well though, right? What were you aiming for with their designs?

(Saji) Design aspects that should be changed due to the story have been, but the rest are touch-ups that I thought would be either cool or cute. They were mostly slight design changes I made on my own, without necessarily being told to.

(Kuroki) And that’s because I don’t think those of us who worked on the first Samurai Shodown back over 20 years ago would have easily accepted design changes to those characters, even if they were forced. We’re all old men now, so we left it up to younger sensibilities.

Please tell us about why you included the thirteen existing characters that you did.

(Soranaka) We’d decided on there being sixteen characters from the start, and after the three new characters, that left thirteen. We actually wanted to include more, but it would have been a bit too much work. So we went with thirteen.

(Kuroki) Incidentally, we originally had planned for Nicotine Caffeine to be one of those characters. We created a 3D model of him, and I was very excited because he’s my favorite character. But in conversations with Oda we determined that there weren’t enough women characters in the lineup, which is something we wanted to have. We had to cut one character due to workload, and much to my dismay that character ended up being Nicotine Caffeine…

Is there any chance that characters who aren’t already in the game will be released later as DLC?

(Kuroki) Of course, though we’ve only announced Rimururu at this time. But as a hint, I’ll just say that they won’t all be new characters.

The Game’s Unique Japanese Feel Came About From Consideration For the West

What were you able to achieve from making use of Unreal Engine this time around?

(Kuroki) KOF IV and SNK Heroines were developed using our own engine. Development time was very short with that engine, but it felt more like doing what we were able to within those constraints, and not so much creating the art that we wanted. But since we used Unreal Engine this time, we were able to focus more on creating the visuals that we wanted to present.

The visuals are really amazing, and they feel like they have such wonderfully vibrant colors.

(Kuroki) Samurai Shodown really has a “Japanese” image, doesn’t it? At first we were creating the visuals by really following through on a Japanese person’s idea of that, but then it got so Japanese feeling that only people who really understood the aesthetic sense found in Japanese art could enjoy it. So we changed things more into the way someone from overseas would see Japan, and made the flashy parts even more flashy. And because of that, it’s earned a reputation for having a great Japanese feel overseas as well.

During matches there are small readings of names and such near the kanji. Was that done out of awareness for overseas players?

(Kuroki) It was us being aware of e-sports. It’s an obvious statement, but if a foreign player comes to Japan and everything is in Japanese, they have no idea what any of it says. We thought of making it a toggle-able option or something you could turn on and off, but we ended up just making it standard. Some people may find it annoying, but please try to put up with it.

The gore is back again this time around. Did it not feel like Samurai Shodown game without it?

(Kuroki) I was opposed to it, but the rest of the staff insisted that being able to slice opponents in half was absolutely necessary.

(Saji) But Kuroki really overdid it with the blood spray early on in development. There would just be a ridiculous amount of blood everywhere.

(Kuroki) Yeah, I overdid it (Laughs) I felt that the blood found in the sword fighting world of samurai was absolutely necessary, just like in period dramas and such. So I was trying to achieve a heavy amount of bloodshed from the start. Blood spurts out like a fountain when you finish the match with a stabbing attack, but at first it would shoot out all over the screen like a waterfall. So much so that people would ask me “Have you been working too hard, Kuroki?” (Laughs) But this is Samurai Shodown, so I needed to be very particular about the blood.

(Saji) Early on we had also planned for the blood not to disappear from the clothes until the match ended, but then the characters would just be completely red by that point. It was crazy! (Laughs)

I wish I could have seen that (Laughs) Please leave us with a message for those who may be reluctant to buy the game.

(Kuroki) Fighting games have high learning curves, but Samurai Shodown is fun even for beginners due to the weight behind every single hit, and it even has aspects of a party game. Playing seriously is fine, but I’d definitely like people to try playing while they laugh and say things like “That took away way too much health!”