[November 1999 Masato Kato]
Q: OK. First of all, before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let's get the basics down. You seem to look rather young for your age, but how old are you really? And also, if you don't mind, could you tell us your date of birth, your sign of the Zodiac, and your blood-type?
Masato Kato (hereafter, MK): March 28, 1963, Aries, type O blood... I really don't think there's any point to getting to know me better though...(laughs)
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
MK: Reading, scuba diving (although I haven't been able to go lately because I've been so busy with "Chrono Cross"), and collecting figures and toys.
Q: Presently, you're working as the chief of the development department at SQUARE, but could you please tell us a little bit more about your background (from about the age of 20) and how you got to where you are right now (including the titles of games worked on, if possible).
MK: Well, I'm just a plain ole' planner.
This time, I'm really not sure what the reason was but, I just happened to be picked as the director. And what I've done up to now is...... I feel like I'm being made to write a resume here (laughs).
After graduating from college, I worked part-time for about a year as an animator... Then I worked on the Nintendo game called "Captain Tsubasa" (my first ever job in this field of work was punching in dots for Tsubasa's animation sprites). After that, I worked on the game series called "Ninja-Ryu-Ken-Den" 1 through 3. On 1, I drew the pictures; on 2, I worked on the scenario, and also took on the role as the (sort of) movie director... Well, actually, I had to draw the pictures on that part too! And finally, on 3, I worked as the director of the action part. As a little bit of extra info, the person who planned "Captain Tsubasa" and the soccer and football games at TE_MO, is the same person who made "Furai-no-Shiren" - Mr. Tomie. And the man who brought the "Ryu-Ken-Den" series to life is Mr. Yoshizawa, who is most known for his recent work in "Kuronoa". I really wish these guys a continued success in the future... And by the way, when you guys hit it big next time, feel free to treat me to a few good drinks (laughs)!
PC games: Princess Maker 2 (planner, script writer, graphics)
PC games: Nadia of the Seas of Wonder (planner, script writer, graphics. The original idea for the Nautilus battle system came from Captain Tsubasa. I really didn't like the character messages written by the professional script writers on this soft, so a lot of it, I had to change by myself. Like the ending! I thought it was pitiful, so I decided to present my own idea, but due to the timing and everything, my idea was rejected. I still believe that my ending was a hundred times better than the actual one used. laughs) After that, I really don't remember too well, but I worked on the wallpaper collections for Gainax, drew a couple of icons. Also drew some wallpapers of Alice... but,
oh well, that doesn't really matter...
Super Nintendo: Chrono Trigger (planner, script writer, and wrote the majority of the story)
Satella-View: Radical Dreamers (director, scenario and script writer)
PlayStation: Xenogears (planner, script writer)
PlayStation: Final Fantasy 7 (planner, script writer - I was unexpectedly called upon to help out) The way that SQUARE creates their events is that they first discuss the story thoroughly with the entire project team, and then let each of the individual scenario writers freely (I say freely here, but of course, if it's not up to our standards; it's rejected) fill in the little details on the sub-events; so the people credited for writing the scenarios aren't necessarily the people who write the stories. For example, in Chrono Trigger, Mr. Yuji Horii wrote the basic plot line first; following that, it was editted and rewritten by me, and even further on after that, the sub-scenarios were created by Mr. Tokita and Mr. Kitase. So it all gets kinda' mixed up at the end. But the 12,000 B.C. part was 100% my original idea. After writing the story for this part, I also did the events for Zeal Palace, the dungeons, and everything else by myself (laughs). In "Radical" I wrote most of the main story and after drafting out the concepts for the sub-stories, (e.g. the elopement episode and the space-detective episode) I left them to the staff to take care of. Oh, wait... everything except for the sunflower episode. That one, I didn't touch. I let Mr. Shimamoto do whatever he wanted on that one. I sorta' avoided having any part in that episode (laughs). Xeno - Lahan Village, Citan's house, Shevato, etc. FF7, the village where Cloud becomes a vegetable, when he falls into the lifestream, the episode of Cloud and Tifa on the dawn before the final battle, on all of those I wrote them to my own personal tastes... er... maybe I should learn to listen more to what other people tell me (laughs).
PlayStation: Chrono Cross (director, script writer)
On Cross, I also let each of the individual staff members work on the sub-quests. No... well, to tell you the truth, I was too busy taking care of my own duties as a director that I couldn't possibly take part in them... This is a secret, OK?... well, this sorta' thing happens all the time (laughs).
Q: Why did you decide to work for SQUARE, and what are your present feelings about SQUARE?
MK: Well, after getting a bitter taste of working for minor projects at Gainax, I just felt like I wanted to take on something really big (laughs). All of this was before they hit it big with "Neon Genesis Evangelion", of course. My feelings about SQUARE right now are ... Let's not go there right now... Well, there's no real deep meaning behind that, but...
Q: What do you think you would have become, if you had decided NOT to become a scenario writer?
MK: Hmm... The reason I got this far is because I always did whatever I felt like doing, so it's kinda' hard to imagine myself doing anything else... On the other hand, there's always the possibility that I might just quit the game industry at any moment and start something totally different. Like maybe an owner of some suspicious little used toy store (laughs)?
Q: What do you usually do on your days off?
MK: Funny, I don't remember having any Saturdays or Sundays for the past year or so...(laughs). Long long time ago..., back when I used to have these things called "days off", I would go shopping for some books, CD's, or toys. That's only if I didn't go scuba diving.
Q: What's the one thing that you want to do the MOST, right now?
MK: I wanna go diving... Somewhere in the southern islands. Ahh, I have to go get my pool reviews too...
Q: OK... And now I'd like to ask you a few things about your loo--ng relationship with Mitsuda. Could you tell us when you first met him, and also about the situation back then?
MK: I first met him through my work in "Chrono Trigger".
It wasn't anything dramatic though... There weren't any strange magnetic forces that drew us together or anything (laughs). Back then, I had just entered SQUARE, and I really couldn't tell right from left... but regardless of that, they just shoved me into a huge project of about 40 people, and was like, "OK... Start writing, kiddo!" So, I don't quite remember HOW we really met. Sorry. All I remember from back then is that, we didn't even have our own PC's, and I had to draft out the ideas for the special combo attacks on these little report sheets. We all met in this one big conference room, and I can still remember Mitsuda, bringing in his songs and doing his presentations with a radio-cassette player in hand! I think that was the first time that we met.
Q: What were your first impressions of Mitsuda?
MK: Well, my first thoughts were like, "Man, who is this young, optimistic fella' who's getting all hyped up by himself?... Please don't tell me he's the only one working on our sound team... Is he REALLY going to be OK?" Those were the kinds of feelings that popped into my head. No, I'm not kidding.
Q: After having spent these few years with him, how does Mitsuda appear to you now?
MK: Hmm... I don't know. He seems to have softened up a little... Used to be, he had this dictatorial attitude and this powerful ambition that you could just see straight off in his character. In a bad sense, that is (laughs). Are you sure it's OK to write this sorta' stuff? I'm not taking any responsibilities, OK (laughs)?
Q: And how do you think he feels about yourself?
MK: Hmm... Come to think of it, lately I haven't really worried about what other people think about me (Huh? What kind of a human being are you!? laughs). I guess he sees me as some Progressive Rock-loving old man who's really picky about his songs and also likes to find the slightest little faults in them. But on the other hand, he really seems to be weak against those emotional, "tear jerker" songs.
Q: From your perspective, what do you think is Yasunori Mitsuda's greatest features? (if there are any)
I think his works speak for themselves in that aspect.
Sometimes, I really envy him just by the fact that he's a composer.
Q: Do you have any complaints about his works? Some parts where you just have to say, "PLEASE spare me just this ONE THING!"? (as many as you would like to list!)
MK: Nothing in particular...
Ahh! Well, there IS one thing, maybe. Please don't be writing songs down till the last last minute, right before the mastering up process.
...Like I'M the one to be talking (laughs).
Q: How do you feel about Mitsuda leaving SQUARE and becoming a freelance composer?
MK: I think that this was his best choice... but then again, I shouldn't be saying these kinds of things, so ... let's just say, "I know things are going to be pretty rough out there, but I wish you the best of luck!"... something along that line.
Q: And how did you feel about having the chance to work with him again in "Chrono Cross" (and also, if you could, please give us the details on how and why Mitsuda was chosen as the composer.)?
MK: Well, I thought that since he worked with us on "Trigger" and "Radical", he might as well work with us again in "Cross". For the company, there was probably a strong opposition against hiring a person who had just quit his job to become a freelance, but from our point of view, it didn't matter if he was a freelance or if he was an employee; we chose him because we needed that one and only "Chrono Sound".
The other keypoint was that he knew exactly what we expected; so we didn't have to explain to him in detail how we wanted the songs to be written; which made work easier for us (laughs).
Q: The following few questions are going to be about your latest work, "Chrono Cross". When did you start laying out the plans for this game?
MK: It was right about the time we finished making "Xenogears". Right when I was starting to think, "Finally... I can sit back and relax without having to think about anything!" ... I get this call saying, "So... What do you wanna do next?" (laughs). Thanks to this, even during my break period, I had to constantly keep that in the corner of my mind. And as soon as the break was over, the next project was started. That reminds me... I heard that on the day that "Xenogears" went on sale, while all of us were supposed to be still on vacation, the entire Xeno-team decided to get together at the company to talk about the next project. At that point, none of us knew which team we would be assigned to yet. Oh, and the reason why I say "I heard" is because I didn't go to the company on that day. I was off somewhere in the southern islands... enjoying my scuba-time (laughs). I also heard that because of this reason, some of the members decided not to work with the Cross-Team and decided to join a different team... Well, that's life I guess. Different people go their own different ways.
Q: It seems that the start-up of this project was much due to the game, "Radical Dreamers". Could you please explain the details of that part?
MK: Well, it's a really long story...
And I think I wrote a little bit about it on the liner notes for the "Chrono Cross OST", so if you're really interested... I'd have to say, "Please read the liners in the CD." Yes, people, this is business here. Please buy this CD (laughs).
OK then, I suppose I could write in here all the stuff that I left out in the liners. But if I start talking about "Radical", I know I'll end up talking about "Trigger" as well, so...
"Trigger" wasn't exactly "smooth sailing", and a lot of the parts ended up being changed in the end. I remember back then, I couldn't stand getting up in the mornings and going to work everyday. I had the worst stomacheache from hell. But even still, I wrote all of the 12,000 B.C. events by myself and made sure that no one laid a finger on my section. Oh yeah, I also recall that when it came time to make the staff roll, they thought about placing "the most important people" on the top and just giving the title of the "scenario writer" to the top people of the planning division. I personally didn't (and don't) give a hoot about any titles or that sorta' stuff, so I just told them, "do whatever you like" - but then, Mr. Tokita and Mr. Kitase protested and in the end, I remember I was given the rather unusual title of the "story-planner". But that was pretty much how the situation went, and so even after finishing the project, I only had this feeling of relief from having rid myself of this heavy burden. I was finally free, and I could at last take on something new now. I think much of thess savage feelings that I developed inside of me from the final developing stage of "Trigger", went into the making of the next project, "Radical". Take Kid for example, who for a young little girl, speaks in an unusally nihilistic attitude. Also due to the fact that this was a text-based game, the contents of the game ended up being rather serious and emotional. The game itself was a real life-or-death kind of survival adventure game. I think there was a feeling somewhere deep in my heart that said, "I wanna try making a horror game!" But soon after that, they came out with Biohazard, so I quickly got over that phase (laughs). Actually, on the other side, the comical sub-scenarios were written to be extremely comical beyond any measurement, so I think it sorta' balances out. If I start writing about this, I'll probably end up writing forever, so that's all I'm gonna stop for now... (laughs) But I CAN say that since this game wasn't expected to be widely sold on the market, and also since there wasn't any profit on our part, there was a feeling that I wanted to make this game outof my sole interest. In a way, I think that "Radical" helped me to find my own paths... But then again, I guess you could say that I strayed away from the paths of normal people... (laughs)
Q: So "Radical" and "Chrono Cross" are actually interlinked as one game. Could you say that this series was something like a little egg, that was being warmed up inside of you which just kept growing and growing until one day it finally hatched from its shell and got to this point? These two games must have really been filled with drama for you, but what are your feelings on that, now that you've finished the project?
MK: Well, if you put it that way, it makes it sound really nice, but... (laughs). In reality, I wasn't warming any egg or anything... I was just doing whatever I felt like doing at that certain point in time. But it sure was a long journey going from Trigger to Radical to Cross though. Right now, I'm just glad that I'm done with it all. Looking back on the works, I still get this feeling that there were a lot of things that were still left undone though. I just hope that Kid doesn't stab me for this... (laughs). But I think this really concludes everything, once and for all. Or... I guess maybe you could say that with this, Kid and Serge can finally begin their true "journey". Heh heh.. (the meaning behind this statement, including my suspicious little chuckle, lies within the ending of Cross... so please look forward to it.)
I also received this request during a meeting with the team making the PSX re-make of Chrono Trigger - they wanted to put in "Radical" as a little bonus game to "Trigger", but I humbly declined. I mean... there's no way that I could allow people to play that game. I read my scripts from back then, and it's embarassing (laughs). So... for those of you who were maybe looking forward to "Radical" being included in either "Trigger" or "Cross", sorry to disappoint you, but it's not.
Q: Are there any specific things (lines, specs, etc.) from "Chrono Cross" that you would like for people to pay especially close attention to? Anything where you'd like to say, "Check this out!! Please!"
MK: First, the hardware specs... well, that doesn't really matter.
The field and the battle scenes are really incredible, to say the least. Every single inch of the game is packed with each of our individual creators' unceasing passion and dedication towards creating a great game.
Well, as for the story, it's a rather unique but sorta' strange one that you won't find anywhere else (laughs). It's an ole' "boy-meets-girl" type of story, but it definitely hits the sweet spot... But then again, it's wierd... compared to other normal games. I think you'll get my point once you play it. I can promise you that you'll be shocked by the story. Sometimes, I think it may have gone too far, and may have even destroyed the entire image, but c'mon, that's how stories usually are. (are you serious? laughs)
The dramatization in the movies may have also been a bit wierd. You may think things like, "Huh? What's a monkey doing HERE!?"... (laughs). But then again, Kid's so cute that I'm willing to forgive all of the rest of the wierd parts (laughs). Although I AM a little worried that watching the scene where Kid lays cold and pale on the floor, and taking that to be artistic, is a rather bad influence on little children's education, ... oh well.
Speaking of Kid, there's a figurine of her that's coming out soon from Kotobukiya. It comes all painted and completely finished. It's so adorable! You've gotta get this baby!.. Aaaand if you have the cash, you can also get it as a set with the Serge and Yamaneko figures (laughs). If all of this goes well, maybe there's a chance of starting the next line of figures! I always dreamed of getting a Tukuyomi, or a Fio or a Star Child figure... Man, what a line-up!?
Q: How do you feel about Mitsuda's works this time in "Chrono Cross"? (compared to the other games in which you worked with him?)
MK: The setting was made to be somewhere around the southern islands, so my first thoughts were, I wanted "something with a Southeast Asian feel, mixed with the foreign tastes and the tones of countries such as Greece..." I think that the resulting sound matched the atmosphere created by the pictures quite well. Moreover, I think this time I left much of the music to Mitsuda and didn't really give too many complaints or any orders. I mean, in Xeno, we used to discuss every single minor detail, but I guess this really shows how we're starting to understand what we expect from each other.
Q: In making the music for this game, what were some of the difficulties that you faced while working with Mitsuda; also please tell us if there were any funny episodes or things that you enjoyed from working with him.
MK: Regarding the songs within the games, there weren't any major problems this time. Well, I bet there were a lot of things that went on inside Mitsuda's mind; as always. Oh yeah, there was this one time at the beginning of the project - I explained to him that I wanted two different songs for each of the corresponding towns and villages in the two parallel worlds A and B, and he told me something like, "huh?? You've gotta be kidding me. I think one song is plenty!" That sorta' got on my nerves (laughs). But after a while, we just got tired of having to ask him over and over, so we just told him to make one song each for town A and B. And THEN, he comes back to us, telling us "you know, I've thought this over, and I think it's better to have two seperate songs for each town!"
Personally, for me, the biggest pressure was coming from the ending theme song. From the start of the project, I had already planned to make the ending into a Japanese song, but the problem was now "who was going to sing the song?" There was a lot of pressure from the people in the PR division to get someone big and famous to sing it, but I was totally against the idea. And as usual, I didn't heed to the surrounding complaints, but this time, there was a pretty tough struggle. For the first time in a long while, I think I may have even stopped to think about my surrounding people. "Could it be possible that I'M the one who's causing all the troubles here?" (hey, let's be reasonable here... I'm a grown up too y'know. laughs) But then again, watching that ending theme song all come into shape was really the most enjoyable part.
Q: So are you thinking about buying the soundtracks once they go on sale? And which songs do you like the most out of the entire album, and which songs would you recommend?
MK: Oh, of course. About 10 copies (laughs)In fact, if it's only 10 people, I wouldn't mind giving them away for free either (laughs).
The track that I recommend the most is definitely the ending theme. I first had this feeling that it kind of lacked impact when compared to the ending theme of Xeno, but after listening to it a couple of times, it has completely overtaken Xeno and has set apart a special place deep within my heart. Especially when it goes from the final boss battle to the staff roll and this song starts to play, I really can't hold back my tears (why am I crying on my OWN game?). Just imagine what happens when it comes as a set with the opening theme... oh MAN!! (laughs)
Q: If you were to work again with Mitsuda on another game, what kind of game (and music) would you like to make this time?
MK: I'm not sure.
But we both have this similar belief that, "there's no use in making something similar to before" so if possible, I'd like to work with him and take on something new and even wierder again. Of course we'll still keep whatever we feel needs to be kept unchanged, so no worries there.
Q: (I don't know if I'm allowed to ask this, but...) Have you already decided upon your next project? Or is it still undecided right now?
MK: This game turned out to be rather serious because of the influence from "Radical", but next I'm thinking about maybe making a more fun game where you don't have to think too much. Something where it's fun to play, but also, fun to make. Maybe something like... The Great Adventures of the Star Child (laughs)! How's that sound?
Q: A word please, to Mitsuda, upon finishing "Chrono Cross"!
MK: A job truly well done, and thank you again for all those fabulous songs!
... But about your habit of writing songs till the last minute before mastering up... (laughs)
Q: Anything that you would like to say to Mitsuda about his future activities?
MK: Work hard, and even when you become a big name artist, I hope that you will continue to write good songs. I too, as a fan of his works, would like to continue to support him in his future activities.
Q: And finally, if you would please, a word for all of the readers and fans out there!
MK: OK. Since I may never have the chance to say this kind of thing anywhere else... I'll go ahead and say it. After the announcement of "Cross" this time, I heard a lot of voices out there that were saying things like, "Man, this isn't CHRONO". To tell you the truth, I was gravely disappointed. Yes, the platform changed; and yes, there were many parts that changed dramatically from the previous work. But in my view, the whole point in making Chrono Cross was to make a new Chrono with the best available skills and technologies of today. I never had any intentions of just taking the system from Trigger and moving it onto the PlayStation console. That's why I believe that Cross is Cross, and NOT Trigger 2. The thing that I can't understand is how could people possibly declare that this isn't Chrono? And for these people, I can't help but wonder what it was that Chrono meant to them...? Is it possible that none of the messages that I tried to send out to these people never really got through to them?
Cross is undoubtedly the highest quality Chrono that we can create right now. (I won't say the "best" Chrono, but) If you can't accept that, then I'm sorry to say this but I guess your Chrono and my Chrono have taken totally different paths. But I would like to say, thank you for falling in love with Trigger so much.
And to those of you who have fallen in love with the new Cross, Welcome. Pleased to meet you. And of course, Thank you very much.
But wait a second... the game hasn't even gone on sale yet (laughs). Oh well. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you will enjoy playing Chrono Cross. Seriously (laughs). I hope to see you all again!
Not counting the message data in the games, it's been a while since I wrote such a long script... Are there no messages of love for such a valiant writer like myself (laughs)?
Mr. Kato, thank you very much for sparing us your valuable time to valiantly(?) answer our questions (laughs)... And so, our staff member (hey, that's me!) would like to send you a message of love to show you our feelings of appreciation... (laughs). Whenever I think of Mr. Kato, I always get this impression that though you may seem cool and well composed on the outside; on the inside, there is a fiery and passionate part that is not too often seen. Also, you are always clean cut(?) and not to mention well dressed. But it really surprised me when this Mr. Kato that I had known so well, appeared in an creator's interveiw of a certain game magazine (July 1999). Seeing you again for the first time in a long while, I was rather awestruck by the changes in your appearance. Your hair was grown out long, and just from your appearance, I could almost image the brutal battles that must have been going on at work... But even behind that, I remember that could still sense the strong fire within your eyes and still see how lively your expressions were! I was really attracted by this wonderful look on your face, and thought to myself, how wonderful it must be - to be a creator; and to create things... Well, that was my message of love to you ... What do you think (laughs)?
And last but not least, we have a message of love (?) from our dearest Yasunori Mitsuda.
Mitsuda: Boy, I really have to thank you for giving us all these lo--ng answers to our staff's lo--ng questions (laughs). It's already been 6-7 years since we first met, but today I think I really reassured myself of how passionate this guy really is. Musically and scenario-wise, Mr. Kato and I have a lot in common, and I really enjoy talking to such a remarkable guy. I hope that he will continue to create wonderful games that will touch upon the hearts of many people around the world. And looking at him from just his words above, many of you may have thought, "Man, this guy is TOO MUCH for me..." but please be assured, he is nothing like that. (he's just simply an "overly-passionate person" so-to-speak) We really wanted to put up some pictures of him, but due to certain circumstances, we were unable to do so. Therefore, taking Mr. Kato's suggestion, I would like to put up this picture of "RADICAL DREAMERS NEXT 1996", which was personally drawn by Mr. Kato himself and given to me as a gift. This work of art was given to me by Mr. Kato back in the summer of 96; the day after when he and I went to an Irish musician's live together. He said that he was inspired by last night's live and drew the picture out of sheer inspiration... Yes, by this time, he was already beginning to develop within his mind, a new world for KID! ... Wait a sec... we're still not even done with Xenogears (laughs)! But maybe this was the true beginning of "Chrono Cross" (of course it didn't even have this name at the time) for us. By the way, this picture is for display only - so no copies, please. Oh yeah, and if you have any fan mails for Mr. Kato, (some messages of love!) please feel free to post them up on the BBS. I'm sure that Mr. Kato himself will be taking a look at your messages... in fact, I'll MAKE him read them! Thank you very much for your time, Kato-chan!
Illustration by Masato Kato