Yoshitaka Murayama (1969 - 2024)

Suikoden and Eiyuden Chronicle creator Yoshitaka Murayama has passed away at age 54. He leaves behind a legacy of unforgettable games.

Yoshitaka Murayama (1969 - 2024)

Creator of Suikoden and Eiyuden Chronicle leaves behind a legacy of unforgettable games

The creator of Suikoden and Eiyuden Chronicle has died. Announced by his company, Rabbit & Bear Studios, Yoshitaka Murayama passed away on February 6, 2024 "due to complications with an ongoing illness."

Born in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, Murayama’s dream of making video games drew him south to Tokyo, where he was hired at Konami as a bug tester in the early 90s. He quickly impressed his peers and superiors, and soon, despite his lack of experience, was put on a team with another newcomer, artist and fellow newcomer Junko Kawano, and tasked with coming up with a game for Konami’s new handheld—a 3D-based console meant to compete with Nintendo's dominant Game Boy Advance.

When that console failed to materialize due to Sony's emergence in the gaming market with the PlayStation, Murayama and Kawano were transferred to a small team of about a dozen people tasked with creating a new game for Sony’s new console. Murayama decided to continue with a brand new RPG, but when he couldn't pitch his boss on a Captain Tsubasa game, he wound up accidentally pitching a game based on the classic Chinese novel, The Water Margin. Despite the PlayStation’s promise of fancy new 3D graphics, Murayama was unimpressed by the early technology, and settled instead on the tried-and-true pixel art style that had defined the genre for much of its life.

And, so, Suikoden was born—and, with it, Murayama's reputation as one of the medium's boldest and most innovative storytellers.

In Suikoden, Murayama saw potential for a game drawing on multiple cultural inspirations to appeal to a large swathe of gamers. Blending Western fantasy with Chinese literature and Eastern narrative tropes gave Suikoden the edge it needed to gain traction with Western gamers in addition to its home audience in Japan. Though its systems and graphics tended toward simplistic, the Suikoden series pushed boundaries with sprawling stories, huge casts of 108 recruitable characters in each game, and an ongoing plot that stretched across multiple game titles and consoles.

Yoshitaka Murayama (1969 - 2024)

Often referred to by fans and critics as the Game of Thrones of video games, Murayama's work on Suikoden predated the publication of George R.R. Martin's legendary fantasy series by several months. In this way, it reveals itself to be startlingly prescient in its vision for fantasy that blends the politicking and real world inspiration of historical fiction with the fantastic elements popularized in the latter half of the 20th century by writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Terry Brooks.

Though it never hit the lofty heights or sales numbers reached by other Japanese roleplaying game series like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or even smaller titles like Xenogears, Suikoden gained a fervent and ferocious fan base who followed its story across many mainline games and spinoffs. Murayama eventually left the series near the end of Suikoden III's creation—citing a desire to go freelance after a decade at Konami.

Many years later, after dabbling in games writing with titles like 10,000 Bullets (2005) and The Alliance Alive (2017), Murayama announced a new game studio, Rabbit & Bear Studios, which he was starting alongside many original Suikoden staff, including his good friend Kawano. Their first announced project was Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes, a spiritual follow-up to Suikoden that embraced the same emphasis on large casts, retro-style visuals, and a large, complex story blending traditional RPG tropes with Game of Thrones-style politicking. It's Kickstarter raised ¥481,621,841 from ~46,000 supporters, marking a huge success for the new studio and the prospect of high quality RPGs from independent Japanese creators.

"It was always the passion from his fans that continued to drive his creative vision and motivate him to put his all into the project," Rabbit & Bear Studios said in a letter signed by longtime friend Junko Kawano, along with Junichi Murakami, Osamu Komuta. They further confirmed that his work on Eiyuden Chronicle as scenario writer was completed before his passing. "But as his co-workers and friends, it saddens us to know that he won’t get to see the reactions from his fans."

Exploring Suikoden’s heart and the excitement for Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes
How Rabbit & Bear Studio’s new Kickstarter is channeling the soul of the beloved Suikoden franchise

For Insert Cartridge, I wrote about the magic of Murayama's work, and seeing my lifelong love of Suikoden reflected in his work on Eiyuden Chronicle:

Suikoden was a bastion of 16-bit design during following console generations, eschewing the more cinematic direction the genre took on in the wake of Final Fantasy VII’s huge success. Over 20 years later, Rabbit & Bear Studios are banking on the formula working once again as it takes the groundwork laid in the PlayStation era and adds a modern coat of paint. Many of the genre’s greatest games succeed not because they chased trends, but because they set out to do their own thing, against the grain, and Suikoden’s beloved and passionate following is proof of that. If Eiyuden Chronicle can successfully meld Golden Age-era Japanese RPG design with modern quality of life and gameplay improvements, gamers — whether they’re Suikoden fans or not — are in for a treat.

Though Kawano and the rest of his team confirmed his work on Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes was complete, his absence will loom large over the game's upcoming release, and the future of the series.

"However, even with those feelings we need to accept the reality that he is no longer with us and continue to push his dream forward by releasing Eiyuden Chronicle to the world," said Rabbit & Bear Studios. "We want to maintain his legacy and vision with this game and know that he would have wanted the rich world he has created with Eiyuden Chronicle to live on."

Later this year, Konami is releasing a remake of the first two Suikoden titles called Suikoden I&II HD Remaster Gate Rune and Dunan Unification Wars—it's the first western release in the series since 2009. Murayama passed away just six weeks before Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes worldwide launch. He was just 54 years old.


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