Two weeks ago, we reported on a mysterious fighting game for the Neo Geo identified by one of its former artists as Dragon’s Heaven, a prototype of which had been found by a Neo Geo enthusiast named NeoTurfMasta on an online auction. Though plenty of juicy information was revealed about the game at the time, Dragon’s Heaven still begged countless questions. Why had it been canceled? How would the morality system have impacted gameplay? And why is this wolf woman/eagle man character split into two different characters?
The game’s director, Kengo Asai, divulged many of these secrets in a recent interview with tekken8810, via Japanese tech and gaming website nlab. The Madman’s Cafe was kind enough to translate the interview, which can be read in English here.
Below are some choice tidbits for Neo Geo and retro fighting game aficionados to chew on:
– The game, which was previously identified by one of its former artists as Dragon’s Heaven, was also titled DarkSeed at other points during development (not to be confused with the point-and-click game of the same name, Dark Seed). As it turns out, Dragon’s Heaven was a tentative title because the team was having a difficult time obtaining the trademark for DarkSeed.
– Technōs Japan’s fighting game, Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, was also being developed by Asai at the same time as DarkSeed. Or, at least, during a part of DarkSeed’s development. Many of the staff members who worked on Gowcaizer also worked on DarkSeed, which was being developed by FACE from around 1995-1996.
– As for those enigmatic moral alignments: each character could exhibit a “Lawful,” “Neutral,” or “Chaotic” property. In this “Alignment System,” characters would adopt different alignments based on the decisions the player made after the end of each battle (choosing honest answers, for example, would maintain their Lawful stance). Both the Alignment System and the game’s gloomy atmosphere slotted nicely into a Dark Fantasy aesthetic that was very popular around the mid-90s in Japanese media (i.e., Kentaro Miura’s hyper violent and highly tragic Berserk manga). Each character’s dialogue would change depending on their alignments as well.
– Moreover, DarkSeed would have featured a “time change” system. This means that the time of day in-game would change on each round (following a progression of morning, noon, evening, night). Each alignment would be affected by the time of day as well; Lawful characters would be more powerful in the day and weaker at night, while Chaotic characters would exhibit the opposite effects. Neutral characters would stay at the same power strength at all times of day.
– As the time of day wouldn’t be the same at the start of every match, players could choose to join when the time of day was to their advantage (or to their disadvantage, if they wanted to show off their skill). This does raise the question, though, of just how DarkSeed would store its character alignments between matches. Would a Chaotic character remain that way until a future player shifted their alignment? Asai didn’t say.
– Each character would have been on a team of two characters that would be chosen together at the character select screen, said Asai. The wolf/eagle character in particular played into this mechanic. During day matches, the player would play as the man with an eagle. At night, the player would play as the woman with a wolf. The two characters were based off of a movie Asai watched in which two lovers were fated to never meet together, as the woman would turn into an eagle during the day and the man would become a wolf at night (if anyone knows which movie Asai referred to, please let us know in the comments below!). Asai feels that he could have developed this idea better in hindsight.
Finally, Asai closed with the following statement, in which he thanks NeoTurfMasta for his discovery and for bringing memories of DarkSeed’s development flooding back:
DarkSeed went through pending for two times due to funding issues, and then faced official cancellation. Development PCBs aren’t really supposed to leak out, so there’s a part of me that’s a bit distraught about that. However, it’s been 20 years. As of now, I salute NeoTurfMasta for his discovery, luck, passion, and knowledge. Personally it wasn’t all fond memories, so together with my surprise and joy, I also sort of felt the fear of something coming back and haunting me from 20 years ago. I haven’t changed that much, but it sure brought back memories of how inexperienced I was back in my youth.
Is this the end of the road for DarkSeed? Who knows. Perhaps there is more to be discovered in those long-lost arcade boards…
Translation credits go to The Madman’s Cafe.