Hello, everyone! I'm Akinori Sao, a writer in Kyoto. This is the final installment of a series of interviews commemorating the release of Super NES Classic Edition. My topic this time is Kirby Super Star.
For this final interview, I will be interviewing Masahiro Sakurai, who is well known as the developer of the Super Smash Bros. series. Sakurai-san is also the creator of the pink and cute Kirby. Kirby Super Star, which released three months before the launch of the Nintendo 64 system in Japan, was the third title in the series for him as director. I'd like to ask him about various things, such as his goals during development and what kind of problems he encountered.
And now for Sakurai-san!
One of the Console's Last Titles
Sakurai: Thank you.
Sakurai: I feel like I've aged! (laughs)
Sakurai: When I was a kid, there was an anime called Dokonjo Gaeru.1 It had an extremely elderly teacher in it named Machida, and he always said, "I've been a teacher for 25 years…" Have I really reached that point? (laughs)
1. Dokonjo Gaeru: A manga series by Yasumi Yoshizawa that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump for six years beginning in 1970. There was also a television anime series.
Sakurai: Yes, that's right.
2. Kirby's Adventure: An action game originally released in Japan for the Famicom system in March 1993.
Sakurai: The NES system was hardware with a long life. I believe I was directed to make that with the idea of transplanting the Game Boy game to NES. We had made the Game Boy game for beginners, and that decision was just fine, but I thought NES players late in the system's run would no longer be new to video games.
Sakurai: Right. I abandoned the idea of simply porting the game and decided to add the Copy3 ability. By adding that, beginners would be able to enjoy simply inhaling and spitting out things, and advanced players would be able to use more hardcore abilities.
3. Copy: This ability allows Kirby to inhale enemies and thereby gain the use of their abilities.
Sakurai: To be honest, we didn't end up using it as much of a base. Even though we could use the same pixel art for Kirby, when it came to capacity and what was possible, all that expanded greatly with NES.
Sakurai: That's right. Among the titles included in NES Classic Edition, Kirby's Adventure was one of the last ones released, and among the titles included in Super NES Classic Edition, Kirby Super Star was one of the last ones released. But for Super NES Classic Edition, there's Star Fox 24, so Kirby Super Star avoids being the very last. (laughs)
4. Star Fox 2: A "phantom game" initially planned for release for Super NES, but now included in Super NES Classic Edition. See the interview in this series regarding Star Fox and Star Fox 2.
Sakurai: I suppose not. (laughs) But for the NES game as well as the Super NES game, it isn't so much that development fell behind as that it started late.
Sakurai: Yeah! I was really fortunate!
Two-Player Cooperative Gameplay
Sakurai: I had three pillars in mind. One was two-player cooperative gameplay and another was including actions similar to those in fighting games. The third was an omnibus format. May I explain all three?
Sakurai: The first one, two-player cooperative gameplay, was a request from (Shigeru) Miyamoto-san. That was really about the only request he made.
5. Iwata Asks: See the interview regarding Super Mario Galaxy.
Sakurai: No, that was there at the start. If the request had come later, we wouldn't have been able to implement it.
Sakurai: No, even before that. Making a Kirby game for Super NES would, of course, mean making the characters bigger and the graphics better, but when it came to what the core of the game would be like and other essential aspects, I wanted to think about that after hearing from Miyamoto-san.
6. Satoru Iwata (1959-2015): Nintendo's late president. During his time as the president of HAL Laboratory, he participated as a programmer in the development of EarthBound.
Sakurai: Yes. And Miyamoto-san said he definitely wanted us to achieve two-player cooperative gameplay, which was one task that lay ahead for side-scrolling platform games.
7. The first Super Mario game with simultaneous multiplayer gameplay was New Super Mario Bros. Wii, released in North America for the Wii console in November 2009.
Sakurai: That's right. It would be impossible with Mario because he's so fast, but it should be possible somehow for Kirby, who's a little slower. At least, that's how it was put to me at the time.
Sakurai: It's a misconception that Kirby is slow. He actually displays an incredibly wide range of speeds. For example, in Kirby's Adventure, we gave him the Wheel ability. (laughs)
Sakurai: The Copy ability assumes a wide variety of gameplay, so I had dug my own grave! (laughs)
Sakurai: Well, I decided to give it some thought.
Sakurai: Yes, of course. After all, Kirby is different from Mario. And the idea I came up with was a system dividing the two players into a main player and an assisting player. The camera follows Kirby, while the assisting character roams around.
Sakurai: That's right. But in order to make it fit with Kirby, what would the second character be like? I brainstormed that and thought of simply using the Copy ability.
Sakurai: Right. And that became the Helper system, by which enemies become allies. What I liked about dividing the characters that way was how seasoned players and inexperienced players could play together.
Sakurai: In this game, the playable characters have a fairly strong guard against enemy attacks. You don't just protect yourself. Relatively speaking, you can withstand various types of attacks. You can say, "Just hang tight and I'll handle this!"
Sakurai: Yes. I thought that made it a game open to people who couldn't enjoy Kirby before.
Sakurai: That's right.
Fighting-Game Actions and an Omnibus Format
Sakurai: Until then, when Kirby used the Cutter ability, he threw blades. And when he used the Fire ability, he breathed fire, and that would defeat weaker enemies with one hit. But in Kirby Super Star, we gave durability to even weaker enemies, so you have to hit them more than once to defeat them.
Sakurai: Because when I played the game in two-player cooperative gameplay mode, I thought it lacked something. The main player would simply hurl blades and lay waste to opponents while the Helper just watched.
Sakurai: Right. Another reason was that I thought it would be better for broadening the possibilities with the Copy ability if players could perform multiple actions. In some fighting games, the moves rapidly change just by hammering the same button—punch, punch, hook, uppercut.
Sakurai: We made Kirby Super Star so that you can pull off various moves with the same ability. Thus, one guiding concept was the inclusion of versatility.
Sakurai: Yes. On Super NES, games went on for a long time before reaching a conclusion. And that was also true of the great games for NES.
Sakurai: Back then, players were paying high prices for games, so we boasted things like long play time and big maps. Basically, bulk had become one standard of value.
Sakurai: Yes. I thought about having resolutions come more quickly and that led to the omnibus format. I wanted to give each section its own plot in addition to providing different types of gameplay.
Sakurai: The main plots are really only in six games, though. The Arena is a bonus, so it's actually six games plus one.
Sakurai: Yes. The game manual for Kirby's Dream Land described Kirby as a youth who came with the spring breeze, and this game was based on that game, so I gave it that title. It's also the first game in the software, so I wanted to suggest that the going was still easy at that point.
Sakurai: In Spring Breeze, you can use the Copy ability, but that wasn't the original plan.
Sakurai: At first, I thought about just following the original game to show complete beginners how to play.
Sakurai: Thank you. By the way, I was the one who did the title logo calligraphy for Setsuna no Mikiri.
Sakurai: First, I did it with a brush pen, and then I imported that into the computer and turned it into pixels.
Sakurai: That's right! (laughs) As Mike Kirby, I say "Chesto8!"
8. "Chesto!": a Japanese battle cry when one swings a sword, similar to "hi-yah!" in English. The phrase originated from a dialect in southern Japan.
Sakurai: I went into the music room to record that. The window was open just a little, and when I cried out "Chest!" as hard as I could, people far away turned around.
Sakurai: No, they were complete strangers. People working in the fields.
Sakurai: Yeah. (laughs)
Sakurai: I think it was about three years.
Sakurai: Yeah. There are various reasons that development dragged on, but one was the influence of Donkey Kong Country.9
9. Donkey Kong Country: A platform game included in Super NES Classic Edition. Originally released in November 1994.
10. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island: A platform game included in Super NES Classic Edition. Originally released in Japan in August 1995.
Sakurai: Yes. Midway through development, it was decided that we should incorporate computer graphics, so we threw out the art we had made up to that point.
Sakurai: Of course, I could have refused to do it, but I was certain myself that there would be merits to using CG, so I don't feel it was forced on me. Rather, I feel like it happened at just the right time.
Sakurai: Also, while I said earlier that there were six main games plus one, there were actually seven plus one in the proposal.
Sakurai: It was called Kagero Mansion. It was like a horror game and was completely different from the usual Kirby game. Kirby finds himself in a mansion and under a curse sealing his mouth shut.
Sakurai: Right. He can't suck in or spit out, so he can't Copy. He would go around the mansion and, for example, get the Copy ability of Fire from a candle. I was planning a horror-action game with puzzle elements.
Sakurai: Unfortunately, we never even got started making it. We had our hands full just making the other games.
Rich in Content
Sakurai: At first, the development name was Kirby of the Stars: Active.
Sakurai: That's what we tentatively called it, to suggest that the game was more proactive and had more active gameplay. When it was time to decide the official title, Shigesato Itoi-san11 became involved.
11. Shigesato Itoi: In addition to being a copywriter and essayist, he has participated in development of video games such as the EarthBound series and Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No. 1. Currently, he is CEO of Hobonichi.
12. EarthBound: A role-playing game originally released in Japan for the Super Famicom system in August 1994 under the name Mother 2.
Sakurai: We decided to directly convey how rich it is in content and settled on the Japanese title Kirby of the Stars: Super Deluxe. Even the package design…
Sakurai: Yes, it really did.
Sakurai: High-priced sake and dishware often comes in paulownia boxes. Luxury items often come in minimal external packaging, and we wanted to portray that richness, so the design turned out like that.
Sakurai: I'm pretty sure it started with an idea from him, but I'm not sure if he came up with exactly that by himself. In any case, it was eventually decided through many people in discussion.
Sakurai: Yes, of course.
Sakurai: Actually, I didn't have much contact with him during development. For the most part, he left things in my hands.
Sakurai: EarthBound was completed first, but I think he was busy with his main responsibilities as president of HAL Laboratory. Instead of saying "Do this!" and "Do that!" during development, he completely left actual development to us, so I think he trusted us.
Freedom Above All
Sakurai: I think I've beaten most of them.
Sakurai: Oh, and I haven't beaten Super Soccer13, of course.
13. Super Soccer: A sports game originally released in Japan by Human Entertainment in December 1991. This game is included only in the Japanese version of Super NES Classic Edition.
Sakurai: I can only say that I want them to play however they want. I mean, there's no need to force them to play it.
Sakurai: The appeal of the hardware is that you can play whichever games you want from the many games included, so I don't want to push them to play it just because I made it.
Sakurai: For example, when you play Kirby Super Star, there's a cork board where you can choose which game to play, and the two subgames are there.
Sakurai: You can enjoy those subgames in a short time, and playing just those two a little bit is enough. One of the development concepts of Kirby Super Star is that all kinds of people can play all kinds of different ways, playing what they like however they like. So I think letting people do what they want is best.
Sakurai: Yeah. Another thing to mention is that if you leave Kirby Super Star idle, demos for the various games begin playing. I'm the one who's playing those.
Sakurai: Yeah! (laughs)
Did you enjoy these six interviews commemorating the release of Super NES Classic Edition?
Super NES Classic Edition includes 21 titles, and I was able to hear behind-the-scenes anecdotes for 8 of them. As someone who has been involved with Nintendo for over 20 years, this has been incredibly fun for me. I heard many things for the first time.
The Super NES Classic Edition is available now. As Sakurai-san recommends, enjoy playing it many ways, however you please! Bye!