Yasushi Suzuki might not be the most recognizable name in the industry, but his distinctive art style and unique vision rival anything else in the world of video game design. While he's only had a few credits as lead designer, his work is unmistakable, straying far away from the usual clichés and conventions associated with anime and video games.
Suzuki first broke into the industry with a rather modest position at Data East, designing interface elements for the sticker/printing machine Stamp Club. Fortunately for all of us, he was picked up by legendary cult developer Treasure not long after. His first game was the breakthrough shoot 'em up, Radiant Silvergun. While the character design was done by fan-favorite Tetsuhiko Kikuchi, Suzuki-san was finally able to show off with some impressive enemy designs.
But it was in 2000 that Treasure finally put him center stage. Sin and Punishment was a huge game for Treasure, their first collaboration with Nintendo, and a game thematically far removed from anything they had done before. Nintendo wanted a darker game, one that might help them escape their reputation for catering to children. The saucer-eyed designs Treasure had been known for were not going to work here.
And so Treasure had Mr. Suzuki take charge. His manga-tinged designs weren't quite like anything else out there. The characters he drew had shades of the familiar, but the creatures in particular seemed a surreal mix of biological and mechanical. The title was a very late release on aging hardware, so S&P was never exposed to a wide audience, but it remains one of the more acclaimed titles on the system.
When it came time to create a follow-up to Radiant Silvergun, director Hiroshi Iuchi (himself a game artist) decided to turn to Suzuki instead of Kikuchi. The team was intimate, with Iuchi directing, composing the music, and illustrating the backgrounds, while Suzuki not only designed the characters and supplementary art, but designed, modeled and textured the game's foregrounds, enemies and bosses. This put him in a unique position to personally craft much of the game's aesthetic.
Suffice it to say, Ikaruga was the most visually striking game the shoot 'em up genre had ever seen. The "black and white" gameplay theme became the visual motif with strong contrasts, and bleak, desaturated landscapes. Textures were painstakingly detailed with an almost hand-painted look, and mechanical designs that were complex, alien, and superbly imaginative.
Following Ikaruga, Suzuki left Treasure to pursue freelance work. He illustrated a few stories for GA Graphic, most notably his Phantoms series, before returning to the game industry to work with one of the industry's giants: Square Enix. He was employed as lead character designer for Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, a monumental task, given the size of the cast for that game. It was a chance to prove his versatility, working with exaggerated "chibi" proportions, and classic fantasy themes. He made this style his own, and, despite the major shift, the result is still unmistakably his.
Yasushi Suzuki's latest endeavor is a full-length manga, being developed, surprisingly enough, for the North American market. While he has dabbled before, this will be his first full-length foray into the world of comic books. Purgatory Kabuki is to be an epic tale about a fallen Samurai's fight to escape the underworld. It should be available sometime around the end of the year from DrMaster Publications. This summer will also bring the release of a long overdue art book compiling work from his various projects, as well as his personal portfolio.
Now that Suzuki has a project of his own to promote in the West, we've been given the opportunity to ask him a few questions.