How R-Type came back from the dead

R-Type wasn’t supposed to come back.

When the studio behind it, Irem, released R-Type Final in the early 2000s, it meant the name literally. Final was supposed to be the last proper game in the celebrated 2D shooter series. And sure, a pair of PSP spinoffs followed, as did remakes of the first two R-Type games from publisher Tozai, but for the main franchise, Irem stuck to its word.

Irem’s lead producer of consumer development, Kazuma Kujo, also known for his work on games like Disaster Report and the original Metal Slug, went on record saying he had put everything he could into the game, feeling that it was likely to be the last R-Type shooter Irem would produce. Offering a staggering 101 ships to unlock, and the most accomplished visuals in an R-Type game to date, Final seemed destined to live up to its moniker — especially when Irem later shifted priorities, leaving video games behind to focus on pachinko machines.

But sometimes things have a way of coming back around.

Following Irem’s shifting priorities, Kujo left and formed Granzella, a development studio composed of many former Irem developers. While also working on other projects, Granzella picked up the rights to finish Disaster Report 4, the last game Kujo’s team was working on at Irem. And as it turns out, Granzella also picked up the rights to make a new R-Type.

On April 1, 2019, Granzella announced R-Type Final 2 for PlayStation 4. Many feared that this was a cruel joke, in keeping with Irem’s tradition of announcing elaborate fake April Fools’ “jokes.” However, this was no joke. R-Type Final 2 is real.

Citing the emergence of 16:9 HDTVs as a catalyst for reviving the series, as well as a desire to express “beautiful destruction,” Kujo and Granzella are bringing back the game with a title that will make Square proud — and as of this writing, it has successfully passed its Kickstarter goal. Below, I talk with Kujo about what he has in store for this unexpected revival.

R-Type Final 2 screenshot
Image: Granzella/Irem

Polygon: Why did you decide to announce R-Type Final 2 on April 1st? People who remember Irem also remember that Irem loved its elaborate April Fools’ jokes, so this caused a lot of concern amongst gamers, for fear of getting their hopes up. I know you clarified this on Twitter later — that the project was real — but surely you could have waited until April 2nd.

Kazuma Kujo: In Japan, April 1st is the beginning of the fiscal year, so businesses see it as the beginning of a fresh start. That’s why we chose that day and did a lot of preparation in March for the announcement. … It did cross my mind that it might be a little confusing, and I was a little worried about that, but we had prepared the announcement in English, as well, and it felt right to start the fiscal year with a big announcement like this.

The timing was confusing, though, and to make it worse, the title sounds like something that might be an April Fool’s joke. So we got quite a few people asking if the announcement was real or a joke and that they would be heartbroken if it was a joke. We even had some people threatening to “cut us off” if the announcement was a joke. It was a little scary. I did feel bad about the unfortunate timing of the announcement.

Kazuma Kujo
Photo: Granzella

How much of the game is completed?

We’ve only just started. I’d say about 20% [as of April, when this interview took place].

How many of the original R-Type Final development team members are working on R-Type Final 2?

Granzella isn’t a huge studio, but we have staff who worked on Final, Delta, and Command. We have the original, former Irem programmer, the artist, the music composer, etc. working on the game. We have even reached out to former R-Type Final development members who don’t work at Granzella, asking them to collaborate on this title. So far, we have gotten a very positive response from everyone.

Who, beside yourself, are the most senior members of the former R-Type developers from Irem working on RTF2?

I don’t know what their [code] names were in the credits, but Mr. Ifugi, Maru, Hatake, and Hiroaki who worked on R-Type Final, Delta, and Command 1 & 2 are working on Final 2.

When and how did you approach Irem about licensing the R-Type IP?

Contractually, I can’t say when we started negotiating with Irem about making this title, specifically. But we have continuously been in discussion with Irem about various IPs that we worked on since we founded Granzella. […] Every time we meet with Irem we ask about various titles, including R-Type, and the possibility of bringing them back.

R-Type Final 2 ship render
Image: Granzella/Irem

How long have you wanted to work on a new R-Type game?

I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking about making a new R-Type. There were a few things that happened that led to the decision of making the game, though. The first trigger happened about six years after making R-Type Final. Around 2008 or 2009, I had a meeting with the producer of Dariusburst and the producer of the Gradius series. The meeting was set up to discuss the possible loaning of the R-Type IP to Darius and Gradius for a collaboration. I had already made R-Type Command at that point, so I wasn’t interested in making another R-Type shooter myself. But it did make me think about what I would do if I was able to borrow other [shooter franchises’] ships. That was the first vague inspiration, if you will.

Then, when I was working on Kyoei Toshi [also known as City Shrouded In Shadow, a Disaster Report-style game featuring Ultraman, Godzilla, and Evangelion, published in Japan by Bandai Namco] and Zettai Zetsumei 4 [aka Disaster Report 4], the dimension spec for monitors was, and is the standard today, 16:9. It occurred to me then that we could make a different R-Type game experience. But I didn’t instantly decide to make the game at that point, either.

In 2003 [with R-Type Final], I felt that I had done the side-scrolling thing and done everything that I wanted in the genre, but over the past few years making games on the PlayStation 4, I slowly started to feel that I could make a new R-Type game with a fresh, new experience. Towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year I started to really get excited about the idea. I think it was around February, I posted something on Twitter about R-Type and had a fair number of fans respond positively about the prospect. That encouraged me even further to consider reviving the series. And that’s when I started to really move forward with the concept.

So, there wasn’t a single event or start date, it was more of a combination of various events that fueled the momentum, and I eventually gained enough confidence that I could see this through.

That’s … a really fast turnaround if you decided to commit to making the game in February and already have 20% of the game completed.

There’s a reason for that. Shortly after we formed Granzella, we weren’t making an R-Type game but we were experimenting with side-scrolling shooters for about a year. So that’s one reason, and another is that we are using the R-Type Final system as the basis for the new game. So, these things are contributing to the rapid start of the project.

Since you got Irem’s blessing to create a new R-Type Final, are you using any of the original R-Type Final code as the foundation for this game, or are you building it entirely from scratch?

We’re building it from scratch. We have the original code and use it as a reference, but we’re using a different engine to build it and writing the code from scratch.

Are you using all proprietary code, or are you using Unreal or Unity?

We’re not writing proprietary code, and it’s one of the two engines you mentioned, but I can’t say which at this point.

R-Type Final 2 screenshot
Image: Granzella/Irem

Does reviving the series in the 16:9 widescreen format fundamentally affect the challenge, pace, design, or flow of R-Type, since it allows people a longer view of the level, rather than the old format, which left incoming enemies off-screen longer?

16:9 definitely affects the game design. When we were developing R-Type Delta, I felt the screen was too cramped, so I think the widescreen ratio is a positive thing for a side-scrolling shooting game, and will be doing some fine-tuning to meet the new dimensions. One reason I strongly felt I wanted to make a new R-Type game is precisely because of the possibilities of designing for a widescreen format.

The last R-Type Final came out in 2003, 16 years ago. That’s a long time between iterations in the series — the longest between R-Types, actually. Why did you name this “Final 2”? Do you feel like you painted yourself into a corner with the title for the previous game, or is this now more like the Final Fantasy definition of “final”?

I considered alternatives like “Forever,” “Reboot,” “Returns,” “Rebirth,” etc. But, cool names like those aren’t really my style, and I thought it was better to embrace the fact that the prior game was called “Final.” It’s very straightforward, but the simplest reason is because this is the game that comes after R-Type Final, so Final 2. There’s no mystery beyond that.

Obviously you have some affection for the franchise. The original R-Type Final was your love letter to the genre, and your goal was to end the series on a high note. What’s the goal for this game?

I don’t have any sentimental feelings toward this project [as I did with R-Type Final]. The focus is purely on how we can make a new and fun R-Type game that we couldn’t make in 2003. That’s all there is to it.

R-Type Final was pretty comprehensive in terms of the ships included in the game from across the series. For people less familiar with the series — a lot of readers, I assume, at this point — are there any ships that didn’t make the cut last time that’ll make it into RTF2?

Fundamentally, we will use the same ships as R-Type Final but they will be redesigned to look cooler, stronger, and easier to control. But we haven’t decided whether to keep all 101 of them and we’re currently in the process of picking the ships to include. Plus, we are open to adding new ships, as well. But, in general, we will be enhancing the ships from R-Type Final.

In the original R-Type Final, the ships often had multiple variations. While they were all functional, in hindsight were some of them perhaps less than essential?

Yes, that’s right. And players had to really invest in the game in order to collect all 101 ships. We’re thinking of removing the tediousness of collecting all the ships and allowing the player to select the ship that they want to play with, and enjoy the game using the ships they prefer. We’re in the process of adjusting the game system to accommodate this.

When R-Type Final was released, downloadable content didn’t exist, at least in its current form. Will this game offer DLC?

Yes, we are considering DLC for new ships and new levels.

Presumably you will finally give the Granvia submarine from Irem’s In the Hunt a chance this time? Outfitted for space-faring navigation, naturally, like Space Battleship Yamato?

Yes, since you brought it up. [laughs]

R-Type Final 2 ship render
Image: Granzella/Irem

My work here is done. Unlike Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, R-Type doesn’t have as deep a legacy to draw from for fan-service stuff. Do you have any other ideas of what kind of fun stuff you can include in Final 2?

Yes, we already have ideas in our planning doc for our hardcore fans. Look forward to it!

How much of a hardcore R-Type fan will you need to be in order to recognize these things?

You’re going to have to be pretty hardcore. We’ve added things that you would have had to play the very first R-Type game in order to catch.

On the topic of ships, obviously the Final approach is very fun, because of the sheer number of options available. But was there ever a temptation to create a more traditional R-Type with a limited number of ships, like R-Type Delta?

No, that wasn’t a consideration. Delta only had three or four ships, and even before I started designing the original R-Type Final I wanted to make a shooter with lots of ships. So I always had lots of ships in mind from the beginning.

Is there a main ship you intend to use to shoulder the narrative, or is that purely up to the player’s choice?

The main ship will be up to the player to decide, and the story that unfolds with that ship will be up to the player as well.

You mentioned in interviews for the original R-Type Final that it was getting harder to justify making shooters because the genre wasn’t selling as many copies as it previously had, and that it was harder to convince management to greenlight these games. Do you feel the marketplace has changed? How do you rationalize bringing back R-Type back now?

I don’t think that the market has changed or become more accepting of shooters. In fact, I presume that R-Type hardly has any brand recognition in today’s market. The release of R-Type Dimensions was more recent, but I think there’s a lot of people who’ve never played an R-Type game before. I don’t have any illusions that R-Type will sell better in today’s market. The only difference between the Irem days and now is that I’m the founder of Granzella, so I don’t need anyone’s permission to make the game. [laughs]

Besides sales numbers, what would make R-Type Final 2 successful in your eyes?

I think that if the game is played by people all around the world, the game will have succeeded. There are people who were not able to play this game 10, 15, 20 years ago due to lack of access. If there is a measurement of success, it’s that people around the world who don’t know the original games are able to enjoy this game, and people who do know the earlier games are able to enjoy it that much more. This is our goal.

R-Type Final 2 screenshot
Image: Granzella/Irem

I know your initial announcement mentioned that you want to create a game full of “beautiful destruction,” but we’ve come to expect spectacular graphical effects in shooting games. Do you imagine taking things to a visual level that shooting games have never produced before?

I think there are a few points of measurement for visual expression in games. One is to change the graphics of the explosions of the enemy ships depending on the material that the ship is made of. Another measurement is the force of the weapon used by the player on the enemy and how that visually affects the way the enemy ship explodes. The “beautiful destruction” refers to the differences that the player will see in the destruction of the enemy ships depending on the weapon, the force, and the type of enemy ship. Those are the factors that I think matter the most, and which we’ll focus on getting right.

The more important nuance is how this storyline connects to the storylines of past games. Will you have any lore-related material in the game to bring newcomers up to speed about the Bydo, etc.?

I’d like to keep text to a minimum and hope to communicate the narrative more through the progression of the levels. That’s precisely where I’m at in the planning stages of the game design; brainstorming ideas.

The end of R-Type Final had a satisfying and conclusive ending, presumably because the intention was that it was going to be the last R-Type shooting game. Will this game pick up where the story ended in R-Type Final, or will any of the story elements of R-Type Command or its Japan-only sequel, R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate, factor into Final 2?

R-Type Final 2 won’t pick-up exactly where R-Type Final ended. It will tell a story beyond the prior games while preserving the storyline of all the past R-Type games.

You mentioned that the ships will be customizable. Will this simply be body color and cockpit color options as in the previous game?

No, we hope to be able to expand the customizability of the game beyond just changing the color of the body and cockpit. This means changing the color, but also changing the decorations, like decals. I hope to also have customization of the ship functionality, as well.

You mentioned meeting with the producer of Dariusburst and the producer of the Gradius series, which sounds like the coolest gathering possible to a shooting game fan. Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours in particular featured collaborations with lots of other shooters. I understand why this would not work for R-Type’s particular speed and pacing, but have you considered similar collaborations?

We aren’t currently working with Dariusburst or Gradius collaborations for this game, but we are open to collaborations in the future.

When you say collaborations in the future do you mean R-Type specifically, or in general?

In general. Not specifically for R-Type.

Removing R-Type Final from your possible answers, what is your personal favorite R-Type game?

My personal favorites are the very first R-Type and R-Type Tactics 2.

Operation Bitter Chocolate? R-Type Delta seems to be a high-ranking favorite among fans of the series.

I wrote the planning doc for R-Type Delta, designed the game system, and designed three of the seven levels.

R-Type Final 2 ship render
Image: Granzella/Irem

Do they follow the same stage design philosophy that you brought to Metal Slug prior to developing R-Type Delta?

It wasn’t like Metal Slug. Delta was the first time we made R-Type in 3D, using polygons, so there were a lot of challenges.

There were stylistic differences in Metal Slug between the levels that you designed and [fellow Irem and, later, Nazca planner] Meeher designed. Yours scrolled continuously, while Mr. Meeher’s were more stop-n-go. Were your levels in R-Type Delta different than the other designers’ as well?

The levels that I designed are more fun. [laughs] Stage 1, 4, and 6 were designed by me.

Which R-Type do you think was the most innovative game in the series?

I think the original R-Type was the most innovative. R-Type Delta and R-Type Command were also very innovative. R-Type Command was a simulation game, and that was pretty revolutionary.

What do you think about the arcade-only R-Type Leo? It was the only game in the series to allow two players to play at once.

Yeah, [R-Type Leo] was quite innovative for an R-Type game, and it was well done for a shooter, but it doesn’t quite feel like an R-Type game.

So R-Type Final 2 will be a single-player game?

Yes, R-Type Final 2 will be a single-player game, and players can compete globally online [via leaderboards] with others around the world.

Do you think you’ll bring back the Leo ships in the ship selection?

Right, they were in R-Type Final, as well, although they were slightly modified. I’m currently feeling 50/50 on whether to include them in the new game.

Will the ship from [Irem shooter] Image Fight make a comeback as well? How about X-Multiply?

I don’t think I’ll include ships from X-Multiply this time.

How about Image Fight?

If you’d recommend it.

I feel like I’m wielding so much power in this interview. I think it would be cool because of the Irem legacy, but I’m not sure. Image Fight came out after R-Type, and they have some DNA. Will we learn more about the origins and nature of the ‘human’ side of things, aka Space Force?

I don’t think we’ll get too deep into the origin story of Space Force. As a shooter, I don’t think it’s crucial to the game, but if during the course of the development I feel we need to elaborate on the narrative in order to make the game more enjoyable, I’ll come up with something. But I think the game will focus more on the Bydo.

R-Type Final 2 screenshot
Image: Granzella/Irem

One of the cool things about R-Type Final was that you’d have to sometimes play from the perspective of the Bydo. And in R-Type Tactics 2: Operation Bitter Chocolate, you play entire campaigns from the perspective of the Bydo. So, it was interesting in how it expanded the experience from multiple perspectives, much like Gundam often does.

Thank you.

R-Type Final was an incredibly melancholy game, I assume since it was originally imagined to be the last game in the series. In the case of R-Type Final 2 it feels more like a cause for celebration, since it’s a rebirth. Did you consider this when you made the announcement?

Yes, that’s true. But we’re in the process of figuring things out right now, so it’s hard to say what mood the game will have.

R-Type Final had a musical theme — with ship names like Last Dancer, Curtain Call, and Grand Finale — which matched the “Final” concept of the game. Do you imagine this type of dynamic being featured in the new game, since it’s a rebirth?

Yes, once the overall story and game has been formed, we will probably come up with a theme. I always thought that “Last Dancer” was a cool name and “Curtain Call” and “Finale” projected a sense of coming to a close. I do see this next title as an extension of the prior game, so there will be some continuity.

It’s really exciting to see what direction you take the game, although it would be sad if you go out of your way to re-emphasize that this is the “final” R-Type Final.

This is the process that is the most exciting so give me some time.

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