2015 - Masato Kato, by Mariela Gonzalez
In December 2015, video game researcher Mariela González published a Spanish-exclusive book on the Chrono series titled Más allá del Tiempo. This book contained a general retrospective on the history of the Chrono games, as well as two exclusive interviews—one with Masato Kato and one with Yasunori Mitsuda. It was later translated to French as Hors du Temp. Scans of the relevant passages are below; this was initially reported through this NEOGaf thread.
Question: Let's talk about Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross if you will. When did you think about a sequel or a new story set in the same universe? Did you think there were certain aspects of Chrono Trigger that were worth going into in more depth or explored further?
Answer: I'm going to make a confession: when I finished writing Chrono Trigger, I felt a huge relief! (Laughs) Incidentally, shortly after, I took up the writing of Radical Dreamers and the first idea I had was to make a game that would follow the adventures of a band of thieves. I also had the image of a manor in mind. I started writing and writing, without thinking much, and when I was at the last stage, the doubt came about how to finish the story. That's when I realized, for the first time, that what I was writing was the story of Schala and Magus. (Laughs)
As for Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, I have wanted to imagine an episode that would conclude a trilogy [i.e. a third game, after Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross] and that would take place shortly after the events of the first game. I thought of the following lead: Kid and the others have to go help Crono, Marle and Lucca, who were then in great dangers. In the end, it was some sort of "all-star"! (Laughs) That said, I have the following principle: the past is the past, and it should be left behind. You have to let go. To lay new foundations. To move on. Nevertheless, if I recall correctly, I'm pretty sure Square Enix suggested the possibility of a project titled Chrono Break. But I wasn't part of it, so I'm not in the best position to talk about it. In fact I don't have any other information on this topic.
Supposedly, around the same time, Kato posted the following on his Facebook profile (where he often shares sketches and other drawings). This is an English translation:
And so, Kid, Serge, Crono, Lucca, Frog and Janus are gathered together in one chamber, Zurvan the sea of time is awakened, the curtain rises on the final battle.
I would like to have this story individually spun.
Thanks to r66y; see thread here.
Q: It is an honor to speak with you Mr. Kato, thank you very much for your time. In first place, I’d like to talk with you a bit about Radical Dreamers. I really enjoyed the game, I believe it’s a great story for all of us who grew up with text-based adventures and phantasy books. It’s very close to these classics, to adventure PC games, and even to tabletop role-playing games. Were you someway inspired by these formats when creating the game? Had you some text-based adventure in mind, some favorite one?
A: It’s my pleasure. I am glad, sincerely, that you enjoyed the game and that you liked it. By then, I also loved conversational adventures and played, mainly, a lot of mystery games. However, there isn’t one that remained engraved in my brain [laughs]. Actually, I’ve never played tabletop role-playing games. Something that I loved, and which indeed remained engraved in my brain was the game-book House of Hell by Steve Jackson [laughs].
Q: And regarding literature? Some writer that you consider specially close to your ideas by then, to what you wanted to convey with Radical Dreamers?
A: Hmm…. I can’t think of anything related to literature either [laughs]. When I create something, I don’t use to consult other sources, neither do I have a concrete mental image. Normally, all the movies that I’ve seen, all the books that I’ve read and everything that I have within me mix, ferment and end up by giving raise to something concrete which reflects my sensitivity, but I never use some specific existent work as a base. Although it’s not like I have been influenced by anyone in particular, if I had to name one writer, I would say that I love Theodore Sturgeon. Even to these days I still keep thinking that I’d like to become someone so unique as him.
Q: You have commented on some occasion that Radical Dreamers was released in a, somewhat, unfinished state, due to the deadlines to which you had to adjust. In what changes or additions would have you liked to work? Would you like to see a remake edition of the game someday (maybe in the new Super Nintendo console along with Chrono Trigger)?
A: It weren’t only the “tight deadlines”, I really was under a lot of pressure since the beginning. It was really a crazy project: They told me that I had to complete it in two months [laughs]. Of course, I wasn’t able to finish in time, so I had to delay it a bit. If I had had more time, maybe I could have done it better, instead of having to end it like then, in a hurry and running, although I’m not totally sure. Maybe, if I had completed it calmly, something terrible would have come out. Time ago I thought Radical Dreamers was too green and I was ashamed of it being released in the state that it did, however, lately I’ve taken that worry off me [laughs]. If there were the opportunity for a re-edition, I’d encourage them to do it. I have the impression that the title has detached from its creator and has started to get going on its own.
Q: Have you worked again in text-based adventures after Radical Dreamers? Do you find fundamental differences between writing for this genre and for an RPG?
A: Besides Radical Dreamers, I collaborated a bit in a game called Deep Labyrinth for Nintendo DS and I wrote the script of a horror adventure titled Phantom Blue for Square Enix. I like quite a lot the story of Phantom Blue and I’m sure that anyone who likes Radical Dreamers would also like it [laughs]. RPG are, very roughly, a succession of errands and quests and, structurally, they don’t have anything in common with adventure games.
Q: You also worked for Gainax, a very known and cherished animation study, even before doing it in Chrono Trigger. Are there similarities between writing for anime and for videogames?
A: During my stay in Gainax I made computer games such as Princess Maker, but I didn’t participate in any anime project. Obviously, anime and videogame are things 100% different. In fact, the script for a videogame is, in some sense, something very special.
Q: Now let’s talk about Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. When did you start thinking of a sequel, of a new story within the same universe? Beyond the elements taken by Chrono Cross to develop its plot, do you feel there are other aspects from Chrono Trigger which deserve further exploration, after the story of Chrono and his friends?
A: When I finished Chrono Trigger I felt very relieved that I have completed it [laughs]. Before too long, I entered the Radical Dreamers’ project, with the idea of making an adventure game including thieves and the exploration of a mansion. I started writing without thinking about it too much and, when I was on the last stage, the doubt on how to conclude the story came up. It was then, for the first time, that I realized that that was the story of Schala and Magus [laughs]. Regarding Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, the truth is that I did imagine a final episode of the Chrono trilogy, later in time than Chrono Trigger, in which Kid and the others had to save Crono, Marle and Lucca. Something like an all-starts [laughs]. But my position is that the past is the past and that we need to turn page, so we better let it be. (By the way, it seems that there was a time when in Square Enix a project called Chrono Break was discussed, but I had nothing to do with it and I don’t have any further information).
Q: You have mentioned characters and endings that it was necessary to cut off from the final version of Chrono Cross to be able to comply with the deadlines and with the requirements of the PlayStation hardware. It would be great if you could offer us some “scoop” on this! Was there something that resulted particularly “painful” for you to leave aside?
A: That was due to the plan, or rather, to the conception of the game. I wanted to create a game in which there was the possibility to interact with as many characters as possible but, by doing it, you get forced to decrease the number of details that characterize each character. Up to what point could I develop the relationship between Schala and Magus which is so special and unique, within a story in which they come across with an endless set of characters? I was going to end writing in a hurry and running, the same way in which it had happened with Radical Dreamers, so I preferred to leave aside their relationship. I decided then to center myself in Schala’s story. As I started worked from that premise, I don’t have any regrets.
Q: And, on the other hand, what are the greatest achievements of Chrono Cross, in your opinion? Of what scenes or dialogues are you particularly proud of?
A: That is a difficult question. I wouldn’t know what to answer. My favorite scenes and dialogues are the opening, the battle against Miguel and the ending from the combat against the final boss. I couldn’t say which one of these three I like the most though [laughs].
Q: Yasunori Mitsuda has spoken at length about his inspirations when composing the music of the game, which is fascinating, by the way. But another feature that gives Chrono Cross its incredible personality is its visual aspect. I personally find some traits from European pictorial styles like German expressionism or impressionism in some scenarios. Were these artistic tendences part of your inspiration? Did you have other styles, painters… in mind?
A: That’s thanks to work of Yasuyuki Honne, the art director. Basically, I made sketches with the perspectives and the formats and then passed them to him, who undertook the task of drawing them in full detail. At the time of the creation of the sketches for the dungeons and the scenes, I was only thinking on how to present them so that they were cool and the game enjoyable. That is why I didn’t have any painter or artist in particular in mind. Honne, on the other hand, may have had aim to do something resembling someone’s work.
Q: 16 years have passed and there are still people angry because Chrono Cross was not “an authentic sequel of Chrono Trigger”, as it refers only marginally to the circumstances and fate of the characters from the first game. You said, some time ago, that you weren’t worried about this complaint since Chrono Cross was a “different game”. I totally agree! But now, with the pass of the years, what would you say to those “skeptics”, so to encourage them to play Chrono Cross? (Or to new players that just got to know the series).
A: In Japan happens that there is a lot of Chrono Trigger fans which claim aloud that Chrono Cross does not belong to Chrono series [laughs]. That, because it passes from a plot from time travel to one about parallel worlds, it is not a second part of Chrono Trigger, but something different. I believe that, in any case, you can equally enjoy the game. If you explore its world freely, encountering every character, you get to feel and think things and you enjoy until the end. I believe it’s a game which gives a lot.
Q: In retrospective, is there something that you would have liked to do in a different fashion in Chrono Cross? If the Chrono series were to resurrect nowadays, with a new game (it is not very likely, but we still dream about it), what topics or story arcs do you think would be more interesting to it? Is there some loose end that you would like to see closed?
A: I believe I could have shown a little more empathy to the players and make the story a bit less convoluted [laughs]. Although it is important to say that it’s how things were done in those times. Regarding some new release from the series, as I already mentioned, it would be a final chapter to the trilogy. But is not going to come out [laughs]. As a matter of fact, there are many green, or loose, parts, but at that time all the team got involved to the fullest in the game and I guess is not so bad as it is.
Q: Finally, tell us something about you next projects as a writer, being within the videogame industry or outside of it. In Europe we haven’t had the opportunity to read your story The five seasons of Kirite, as it hasn’t been translated into English, even if we can listen to the fabulous soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. So, please tell us, what is Kirite about? Do you intend to collaborate with Mr. Mitsuda again or with some other artist?
A: Right now I’m developing a game based on time traveling for mobile devices called Another Eden. It has nothing to do with the Chrono series and it’s going to be a game with a different approach than Chrono Trigger. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to do the same as in Chrono Trigger. The other day, talking with Mitsuda, I said to him that it would be nice to include in Kirite’s CD an English translation for fans from outside Japan. He told me he have had thought about it himself as well, so it is possible that something is made in that regard. The five seasons of Kirite is the story of Kirite, a boy who meets a girl called Kotonoha which, together, get involved in a battle against a demonic being called Orochi, who wants to devour the world. When Mitsuda saw the version for theatre, he wanted to compose the music for the story of Kirite and, at the end, we added to each musical piece a brief episode. Currently I’m fully immersed in the creation of the videogame and I don’t have time for any other projects [laughs].
Q: Once Again, thank you very much for sharing this moment with us.
A: Thanks to you!