Yuzo Koshiro: Guardian and 80s Arcades

Magazine/Site: Kyuukyoku Manual: Moeyo Tiger
Date: 10/28/2021

Yuzo Koshiro Discusses Guardian (Get Star) and 80’s Arcades

Arcades on the Chuo Line

Guardian/Get Star will be appearing on the upcoming Tiger Heli collection, and today we’d like to ask you about your memories of Guardian since you like it so much.

(Koshiro) There was a McDonalds at the north gate of Toyoda Station on the Chuo Line, and there was an arcade I used go to behind it. It was a Taito run arcade called “Lucky”, but the name started with an “R” instead of an “L”. So Onitama (from ON-ON Software) started doing this, and then everyone was calling it “Lucky with an R” as a joke. I forgot whether it was “Rucky” or “Racky” though! (Laughs)

And that’s where you first saw Guardian, right? I believe you had said in the past that you first mistook it for Konami’s Galactic Warriors (1985), but upon playing it you found it to be really fun.

(Koshiro) I definitely played and liked Galactic Warriors, but I don’t think they had it at Lucky. So I had to go to a much further away arcade to play it.

Was the one you went to in Shinjuku or somewhere?

(Koshiro) It was in Kichijouji. The arcade itself was in a building that I passed by on my way to school, which is no longer there anymore. There’s a Yuzawaya or something there now.

The Yuzawaya building is on the Inokashira Park side.

(Koshiro) This arcade took up the entire third floor of the building that used to be there, and they had a lot of western cabinets as well.

Probably games like Taito’s imported version of Defender (1980) and Joust (1982), which HAL Laboratory would later port to the Famicom, right?

(Koshiro) Right. I think they had Atari’s Star Wars (1983) too. And then that game with the wire frame tanks…Battle Zone (1980). I guess they’d really gotten around, hadn’t they.

I guess there are cabinets even still in America.

A Game that Felt Dramatic Due to its Unfolding Story

Just what made Guardian so memorable to you?

(Koshiro) Guardian immediately lets you choose from six planets, so it kind of starts with a bang. There’s a certain sense of romanticism in traveling to each location and fighting there, and that’s the thing that got me at first. There weren’t really any side scrolling games that played quite like that back then either, right?

That’s true. There was Irem’s Kung-Fu Master (Spartan X) (1984) and Sega’s My Hero (Seishun Scandal) (1985), then Guardian.

(Koshiro) And My Hero/Seishun Scandal got ported to the Master System too. I really love action shooting games that have unfolding stories to them. Like Konami’s Gradius (1985) or going even further back, Sega’s Jump Bug (1981). The scenery changing as you progress through a game is really exciting.

Jump Bug had all sorts of interesting scenes: Pyramids, the bottom of the sea, etc.

(Koshiro) I really like Capcom’s Section Z (1985) too.

Speaking of Capcom, do you like Side Arms (1986) too?

(Koshiro) Yeah, I like Side Arms too. I’m the type of person who finds more of a sense of drama in horizontal scrolling shooters than vertical ones. That’s why back then I’d play games just because they had interesting visuals and were side scrolling. I was into other games back then too, so for financial reasons I didn’t put too much time into Guardian. But I managed to get to around the fourth planet or so.

Though it’s a vertical scroller, were you into Taito’s Scramble Formation (1986) too?

(Koshiro) I made a strategy guide doujinshi for Scramble Formation, I played that game so much.

I’ve heard that you were involved in a doujin circle called Harvest after graduating from high school. And a group spun out of Harvest called GPM, or something.

(Koshiro) Yeah, that’s right. I think maybe they were the same group back then?

Probably so. They were both around during the first half of 1986.

(Koshiro) The soundtrack to Scramble Formation stands out because it’s FM synth. But even so, the songs themselves are very impressive. I remember the sound effects in Guardian, but you couldn’t really hear the sound from cabinets in arcades very well back then. Though you could hear the sound when you warped out of a level pretty well…

The sound of the character warping out, leaving those afterimages of himself behind, right?

(Koshiro) So I guess you could say Guardian captured my attention because of the visuals. The graphics were pretty cutting edge for back then, after all.

And the character sprites were very large.

(Koshiro) And that was a big draw, since there weren’t many games back then with character sprites that big. I think Taito’s Ougon no Shiro (1986) had them too?

Large character sprites was all it took to make a game great.

(Koshiro) Yeah it was. But I’m trying to remember what game I was the most into back then. I think it might have been Gradius or something…

That was right around the time Sega’s Space Harrier (f1985) was out too.

(Koshiro) Ahh, I played Space Harrier to death too. That was the boom period for those full-body experience games. That arcade I went to had an upright Street Fighter 1 (1987) cabinet too. It was the one with the huge buttons where the strength of the move depended on how hard you hit them. Then there was also Taito’s Wyvern F-0 (1985), which I posted some of the sound from to Twitter. They also had a Wyvern F-0 upright cabinet that had two monitors with a half-mirror, which really gave it a sense of having three dimensions.

Just what you’d expect from a Taito run arcade.

(Koshiro) I went to Lucky pretty much all the time. So to me it feels like Guardian is in a set with all those games from that period. Visually impressive games stick with me very easily. Maybe visuals make even more of a strong impression on me than the number of times I’ve played a game. Guardian and full-body experience cabinets both made huge impressions on me in the same way. And that’s saying something, given that those full-body experience games are in cabinets that have a huge impact.

I see.

(Koshiro) When it comes to regular arcade games, I also like Vastar (1983). It had a vertical monitor, but the game was horizontally scrolling. And it had robots that were about the same size as the ones in Guardian.

I’ve heard that Guardian was in the position to be a possible sequel to Vastar.

(Koshiro) They do have similar feels. I feel like when it came out, the graphics in Vastar really stood out too.

We were talking about the original Street Fighter, in which Mount Rushmore made an appearance in the background. But it appeared in the background in Vastar first. Also the backgrounds in the original Street Fighter were almost all fixed, but they were vertically scrolling in Vastar. So it was very unexpected when Mount Rushmore suddenly appeared!

(Koshiro) That’s right. Vastar was a really beautiful game. And I always forget its name, but there’s a shooting game that Orca put out with robots probably around the same size as the ones in Guardian, and it had a vertical monitor with downward scrolling.

Could it be Sky Lancer (1983)? It had similar basic systems to the ones found in Vastar. This is just a guess based on the era…but it may be that the same staff just happened to work on both games.

(Koshiro) Around me, the biggest department store in Tachikawa (which is no longer around) was the only place that had Sky Lancer. So I went all the way from Hino to Tachikawa just to play it. Something about it just captivated me.

If there’s a genealogy that goes from Sky Lancer to Vastar to Guardian, then I guess Sky Lancer was the first one to captivate you.

(Koshiro) They were all very nicely connected to one another.

The Toaplan Game With the Most Impressive Sound Effects

Now I’d like to ask you about Toaplan’s usage of PSG sound.

Tiger Heli Book - Yuzo Koshiro

(Koshiro) Sega was the standout company to me at the time in terms of sound, and to most other developers it was Konami. But listening to Toaplan’s compositions now, they’re really very good. Back then people had ideas of what format game music was supposed to be in, and each company would mess around with their own unique sound drivers. This made it so everyone had their own distinct sounds and tones to their compositions, which was a really great thing. MUCOM88, the sound driver that I made, was a revision of Konami’s base driver. But if I were to do it all over again now, I think I’d want to take advantage of the functionality used by Toaplan, and some other developers. You can’t really get your hands on a MUCOM88 these days, but something about that is being done with the resources that are available: There’s someone making advancements in developing a Windows native version of the MUCOM88…


(Koshiro) It’s a wonderful person named kumatan (Twitter account here). It’s a program called mucomDotNET that’s already publicly available, and they are continuing development on it still. So I’d like to use that to reproduce some of the songs from games that I didn’t pay too much attention to back then. It’s coming along little by little.

It may be completed by the time everyone reads this interview.

(Koshiro) I might just make another Twitter post about it that day! (Laughs)

I’d personally be thrilled if Tiger Heli lead to Guardian coming back in some form.

(Koshiro) The music from Guardian, including the sound effects, would probably all work fine. By the way, was the music in Twin Cobra FM synth?

I believe so, given that FM synth was used since Flying Shark

(Koshiro) I see. The shot and explosion sound effects tend to stand out in shooting games, so sometimes you can’t really hear the music that well. But regardless, the sound effects in Toaplan games really left an impression on me. It may have been the same kind of thing with SNK back then too. Maybe it was due to the tastes and peculiarities of the composer, but it felt like they weren’t particularly trying to put the music up front.

Maybe it was them using sound to simply amplify the game?

(Koshiro) Anyway, I was kind of on the fence about the boss music in Guardian. But listening to it now, I think it’s aged really well. And when I listen to the music, the sound effects play in my head along with it. Probably because they made such a strong impression on me back when I played the game. I think playing PSG sound poly-phonically is one way to make a song sound more rich. But that may be a direct result of getting used to PSG though. A lot of developers had begun using FM synth by 1986, after all.

FM synth was a pretty new technology at the time.

(Koshiro) That’s why they stood out back then. And Namco was using WSG (their own sound chip), so they were taking yet a different approach from Toaplan’s.

Tower of Druaga (1984) and Metro-Cross (1985) are the Namco games that stand out to me. Taito’s Legend of Kage (1985) and Darius (1987) also were big games that showcased FM synth.

(Koshiro) Taito was great too. And now that you mention it, Taito published Guardian. I wonder if that’s why they had a cabinet at Lucky, since it was a Taito run arcade. But sadly, they didn’t have it there for very long. I just walked in one day, and it was gone!

It may have been a matter of how much play it was or wasn’t getting…

(Koshiro) I was always able to jump right on the machine, so maybe that meant other people weren’t really playing it. I only really started being aware of what games everyone else was playing with Street Fighter II (1991). I interacted with other people in arcades from there on, but back when I was playing Guardian, I felt satisfied after playing the games I wanted to play, and went home. I think I felt that games weren’t things you really lined up to play.

Arcades really were full of amazing games back then, weren’t they.

(Koshiro) It really was a period where all sorts of different types of games were coming out. And so many of them felt like there was no way they could be possible on home PCs.

The huge character sprites were amazing.

(Koshiro) Guardian was really impactful as far as that went too. But I always thought “There’s no way you could get this at home” right up until the X68000 came out.

You could probably do an arcade perfect port of it on X68000.

(Koshiro) Right? Konami’s Gradius II (1987) and Namco’s Dragon Spirit (1987) both had ports there. By the way, did you manage to dig up any old illustrations from Guardian when you were working on the Tiger Heli collection?

Unfortunately the robot images from the instruction sheet and manual were the only ones we found.

(Koshiro) The pixel art of the robots closely resembles certain anime robots and tokusatsu heroes, but they remind me personally of something from Kouji Maki’s manga Mecha Battler Gilfer. I wonder how everyone else feels about that?

So you’re telling people to see the truth behind it with their own eyes! (Laughs)

Most Played Toaplan Game Was Twin Cobra

Toaplan released a lot of different games, but was Guardian the one that you played the most?

(Koshiro) It might have actually been Twin Cobra.

Oh really?

(Koshiro) It was the game of theirs that I had the most opportunities to play. Of course Guardian left a huge impression on me, but I played Twin Cobra more times.

Just how much did you play it?

(Koshiro) I didn’t get that high of a score, but I played it quite a bit. I wonder if my score would have been better if I hadn’t spent more time playing others games…But they had a cabinet at pretty much every arcade I went to. So it was a very easy game to pick up and play.

Did you also play the previously mentioned Dragon Spirit, which would have been out around that time too?

(Koshiro) Dragon Spirit was probably the game I put the most time into for awhile after it came out. It goes without saying that Shinji Hosoe’s compositions for that game were masterpieces.

Dragon Spirit was a vertically scrolling shooter that still had a story that developed throughout the game.

(Koshiro) When I go back and listen to my older music, I know exactly what games I was playing the most at that time. That was the case for games like Dragon Spirit and even Darius.

By the way, Twin Cobra is on this collection along with Guardian.

(Koshiro) And of course Tiger Heli as well. But what’s impressive is that you’re including the console ports as well, it’s really great.

With our collections we take the stance of including super easy mode for those who just want to play the games for fun, but keep the ports faithful so that people can practice with them before going to the arcade…so it would be great if you would re-visit these games from your youth on our collection. Thank you very much for your time today.