Paradise Hotel 51

Where Gaming Dies

Welcome to Hinashiro

Moonlight Syndrome is the fourth and final game that Suda51 directed during his stay at Human Entertainment. While it is the foundational piece of his Kill the Past mythology, it’s impossible to discuss it without first addressing his previous outings for the company.

His debut in the videogame industry was Super Fire Pro Wrestling III, released for the Super Famicom in 1993, surprisingly under the role of director. Suda had no previous experience in the industry; he was, however, a devout hobbyist. Being a child of divorce, lacking higher education and having married young, not to mention having to support himself and his wife in Tokyo since leaving his hometown of Nagano, he’d take on any job that was available to him without even attempting to build a career in an industry he was passionate about. He was working as a funeral director when his wife finally convinced him to send applications to Human Entertainment and Atlus, the two companies who would accept applicants without any prior experience. Luck would have it that, despite failing his interview at Human, they were in desperate need of an expert in professional wrestling, which is how he ended up being called back and entrusted the role of director.

Morio Smith, main character of Firepro Special

Halfway through development, his supervisors decided that he accumulated enough experience to independently complete development; However, as a director, Suda still felt like he should be building the game to be as similar as possible to its two predecessors. It wasn’t until the following year, with the departing producer Shuji Yoshida and Suda’s own mentor Masato Masuda both encouraging him to build the next game as he saw fit, that his identity as a creator began to coalesce with the release of Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special. (Source.)

Surprisingly, Suda’s first order of business was to include a story-driven single player campaign, “Champion Road”, which he would also write. This was done in an attempt to bring a wider audience to the Firepro series, who had been seen as a multi-player experience up to that point.
What’s even more surprising however is that the campaign featured a shocking ending in which the main character, after becoming the world wrestling champion but finding himself alone in the process, commits suicide by gunshot in his own home. This was, perhaps, an omen of things to come.

His very next project would be Twilight Syndrome, an adventure game centered around a trio of highschool girls: Yukari Hasegawa, Mika Kishi and Chisato Itsushima, investigating paranormal apparitions in their home town of Hinashiro.

The main trio of Twilight Syndrome

Suda was not initially assigned to the project, but his predecessor, Keita Kimura (developer of Septentrion), had a mental breakdown during development and Suda, who pitied him and the rest of the development team, decided to step in as director to prevent the game from being cancelled (in his words “I felt I had no choice but to wipe his ass”).

According to him, development had reached a breaking point by the time he was brought in. However, the game’s assets were already in place, so unlike his experience with the Firepro games (for which he had to be involved on every stage of development, from planning to data insertion) his role as “director” was better defined and it mostly involved managing the assets that were already in place and expanding on what was already done.

Due to its troubled development, the game ended up being split in two releases, Tansaku-hen (Search chapter) and Kyuumei-hen (Investigation chapter), both released in 1996. Because of this arrangement, Investigation ended up having more than half of its scenarios produced from scratch under Suda’s direction.

Hiroshi Kasai, the main writer behind the Twilight Syndrome scenarios, has revealed in a series of tweets that the additional scenarios produced for Investigation under Suda’s direction were “Hinashiro Grove”, which also served as the bridging point between the two halves of the game and happened to be the chapter where the town’s ritualistic past is revealed, “Telephone Call” and “Occult Mistery Tour”, which were simpler scenarios based around efficiently using the assets already in place (such as Yukari’s room and the school building.) The hidden scenario, “Prank”, which acts as a teaser for Moonlight Syndrome, was penned by Suda himself.

What I’m getting at is that Investigation, compared to Search, is closer to Suda’s vision than that of the original director, which is why the more light-hearted, drama-like tone gradually dissipates into a darker game during its second half. Kasai also showed some disappointment in the changes that Suda implemented to his writing.

Suda was actually quite critical of the original scenario. In this interview from 2003, which I have been referencing liberally, he claims the game’s depictions of various societal ills, such as bullying or suicide, had clear-cut, easy answers, which he considered to be a childish attitude. Having worked as a funeral director, Suda felt that matters of death should be treated differently.

From left to right: Suda (Director), Kobayashi (Production supervisor), Kumagai (Head of PR).

Obviously he’d be able to discuss it freely in 2003 since not only had he left the company by that point, it had already been dissolved. But I noticed that even in this interview from the Twilight Syndrome Official Guidebook, which would have been given while he was still a Human employee, both him and his producer espouse the credits of Investigation over Search. I find these two quotes to be especially telling.

Kobayashi: The staging in Investigation is quite a lot more refined than in the last game.

Suda: The programmers had to make effects that took loads of time to do individually for each event scene. For example, even with fade-ins, we had them create a few different versions of that. The thing I’d like people to see the most is a type of processing called overlap. It’s pretty tricky to do on the PS, but I hope those who have a bit of interest in the staging check it out. I don’t think it’s something that others are making much use of. I hope people take a look at these sorts of extravagance in Investigation.

Kumagai: We really went all out on this one.

Suda: We did everything we felt like. I think most of the things we didn’t manage to do in Search got put into Investigation.

—Did you start off with a fixed number of scenarios from the beginning and then split it into two? Or did you write scenarios as a continuation after making the first game?

Kobayashi: No, it wasn’t like that. When we went to put them all on the CD, we found that they wouldn’t fit on one disc.

Suda: Releasing it as a two-disc set meant that we had to rethink it all from scratch, so it ended up in this form. Half of Investigation is newly added stories.

—I think that a new genre has been established now that a game like Twilight has come out, and I’m sure the players want to see more come soon, even if it turns into a different sort of story.

Kumagai: Everyone says that when they try it out. I want everyone to feel that there’s more of a message, or sort of a theme, in Investigation than there is in Search.

Suda: I want people to pay attention to Chapter 6. It’s sort of, pretty… vulgar, I guess? I also think that in a way it’s sort of experimental. I wonder what kind of response we’ll get from the players after we give them that sort of message in the game. I’m kind of looking forward to that, too.

The previous director, who had left the company by that point, ended up playing Investigation and called it a kusoge (shit game). However, Suda was emboldened by the positive critical reception of the game into gaining more control over his next project. That project would be Moonlight Syndrome, released in October 1997.

While Moonlight Syndrome did follow through from the first two games, inheriting the setting of Hinashiro and the three main characters Yukari, Chisato and Mika, the game took on a completely different tone of the original, focusing on psychological horror rather than spiritual. That isn’t to say that the game is rooted in reality: it is the apparition of a seemingly demonic white haired boy that sends the main cast into a spiral of horror; however, the boy himself is never the initiator of violence. Rather he is a conduit for the twisted desires for those surrounding him. Mika is now the principal playing character rather than Yukari, so less time is given to her and Chisato, and a lot more of the scenario revolves around seemingly unrelated characters (the Kazan and Toba siblings) who appear to have dragged Mika into the chaos of their lives almost by chance.

The game’s storytelling is obtuse and abstract to a much higher degree than Suda’s previous works; In fact, the writing goes out of its way to make sure that placing its events in chronological order is impossible, events and even character traits are brought up and contradicted immediately. There is no real depiction of ghosts either, but instead a negative aura or thought that seeped into the walls of the newly urbanized Hinashiro and dragged it into a vortex of insanity. Moreover, the game completely did away with any of the investigative elements of its predecessors; Twilight Syndrome had branching paths with different outcomes, good endings and bad endings, while Moonlight Syndrome is completely linear save for a few optional events.
The visuals have also changed: While Twilight Syndrome relied on the digitized likenesses of real actresses (the actress for Mika even appeared in the Investigation manual) and 2D artwork, the characters in Moonlight Syndrome are modeled after the artwork of Takashi Miyamoto and both the environments and the CGs are 3D renders.

Moonlight Syndrome contains bizzarre and esoteric imagery, which often goes unexplained

To say that Moonlight Syndrome was divisive would be an understatement: the game sold poorly, it went on sale almost immediately, was lambasted by the press and while it did gain a small audience, there was nearly no overlap between Twilight and Moonlight fans. These 2ch archives are a pretty good summation of the general sentiments of the time. Common criticism include the lack of any real gameplay, the game’s obtuse storyline, and the extremely dark ending which I will not spoil here. I think one poster summarized his feelings very well when he claimed that “Suda cared more about his masturbation than he did about Twilight Syndrome fans.”

Twilight Syndrome: The Memorize

I do understand the criticism levied at it, especially when it comes to the main cast: The writing of the three main girls was the best part of the original Twilight duology in my opinion, so I can see why having their relationship being put aside could be disappointing. However I do think that Moonlight Syndrome is an extremely interesting and esoteric piece of digital artwork which has worth in and of itself, especially in retrospect now that Suda spent more than twenty years building up on it, which in no way invalidates the good aspects of the previous two games.

In fact, there seems to be indications that Moonlight Syndrome was always meant as a spin-off or “alternate universe” to the rest of the series; The Twilight Syndrome: The Memorize bonus disc already depicts a future which is contradicted by Moonlight, despite it being written around the same time as Investigation’s new scenarios (One of them, “Prank”, being a teaser to Moonlight Syndrome). The 2003 interview published on Continue Magazine with GhM employee Masahiro Yuki and Suda himself seems to confirm as much, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that the events of the game are so abstract and metaphorical that they should be taken with a grain of salt regardless.

Seito Sakakibara

That being said, according to this Inverse interview, Suda’s scenario did have some level of censorship, namely due to state interference over the Kobe child murders. (Decapitation is an important motif within the game.) It’s funny to think that the scenario which offended so many people was originally going to be even more hardcore.

According to these interviews, during the development of Moonlight Syndrome it became obvious to Suda that Human Entertainment was going under, due to telltale signs such as delayed salaries and unpaid bonuses. In his DenFami interview he even mentions how Human’s own president was arrested for tax evasion. He initially tried to join ASCII (who would later distribute The Silver Case) as an employee; however, ASCII’s own president recommended that Suda should start his own company. He then began making preparations, including poaching some of Human’s employees, to do exactly that, leading to the foundation of Grasshopper Manufacture in March 1998. Notable Human employees who followed Suda into his solo venture include Akihiko Ishizaka (Art director for Twilight and Moonlight), Masafumi Takada (Composer for Moonlight Syndrome), Kazuyuki Kumagai (Head of PR for Investigation and Moonlight), Satoshi Kawakami and Kazuhisa Watanabe (Programmers for Twilight and Moonlight). Takashi Miyamoto (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), the freelance artist who provided the character designs for Moonlight Syndrome, would also collaborate with GhM on several titles (namely The Silver Case, Flower, Sun and Rain and The 25th Ward, plus providing some art for Suda51 The Complete Book and No More Heroes III) and Masahi Ooka, the freelance writer hired by Human to write the Moonlight Syndrome Truth Files (a collection of faux journalistic reports chronicling the events of the game from outside perspectives) would also serve as co-writer for nearly every single Kill the Past game. Neither of them, however, joined the company as full time employees.
Suda’s instincts were ultimately proven right, as Human filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and eventually dissolved the following year.

Due to the reasons listed above, Moonlight Syndrome went on to be completely ignored by the rest of the Twilight Syndrome series, despite ending on a cliffhanger. After Suda had left, the two halves of Twilight Syndrome were finally brought together as one with the July 1998 release of Twilight Syndrome Special. Moonlight Syndrome was not included in this compilation.

Twilight Syndrome 2’s unnamed protagonist would eventually appear as Yuri Ando in Reunion

Right after that, development began on a sequel to the original Twilight Syndrome, tentatively titled “Twilight Syndrome 2”. While no information on the game ever leaked and its development was halted by Human’s bankruptcy, the one pre-release screenshot we have access to (depicting the new protagonist Yuri) seems to imply that it would have been similar, if not identical, to the later Twilight Syndrome: Reunion. That, combined with the timing of its release, suggests that the game would have sidestepped or ignored the events of Moonlight entirely.

The cryptic cliffhanger ending of Moonlight Syndrome would not remain without a follow-up however; Its story was continued in Grasshopper Manufacture’s first game, The Silver Case, released in October 1999.

The setting of Moonlight Syndrome would be expanded upon in said game, eventually growing into the Kill the Past series itself; the full moon imagery, the interpretation of ghosts as “remaining thoughts” (lingering consciousness, or remnant psyche), the obtuse and cryptic storytelling, the use of television screens as spiritual mediums, all of that informed what came after in Suda’s career. As late as 2018 Moonlight Syndrome was still being referenced directly in Suda’s own work, meaning that while the game itself may be “forgotten”, its legacy is very much alive.

Yuuyami Doori Tankentai

Funnily enough, a spiritual sequel to Twilight Syndrome called “Yuuyami Doori Tankentai” was released by Spike on the exact same day as The Silver Case.
Being developed by team YURA and EXIT inc., the game was advertised as sharing the same staff as the original Twilight. However, comparing the credits (Search, Investigation, Yuuyami) seems to indicate that only Keita Kimura (the original director) and Mika Mishima (the writer in charge of editing the girl’s dialogue) overlapped between the two projects, with programmer Kenichi Matsuda only being credited among the “Special Thanks” in the original Twilight Syndrome. Due to a series of bizzarre business decisions and court cases which would honestly deserve their own website to be chronicled, team YURA disappeared off the map.

Twilight Syndrome: Reunion

Spike eventually acquired the rights to the Twilight Syndrome brand itself.
July 2000 saw the release of Twilight Syndrome: Reunion (Saikai); it is unknown how far development had gotten under Human Entertainment, but Reunion contradicts the events of Moonlight Syndrome outright in its first chapter, and reframes the Twilight Syndrome franchise as an anthology series by starring a different set of high-schoolers in a different town.
Reunion was followed by a sequel film, “Graduation”, released just six months after. (Yuri’s friends in the movie happen to be called Mika and Chisato; they are not, however, the same girls as the original game.)

The series was revived one more time in July 2008 with the release of “Forbidden Urban Legends” on the Nintendo DS, again following a new cast of high-schoolers, but this time being set in Tokyo instead of a small town due to its focus on urban myths. Once more, Forbidden Urban Legends ignores the events of Moonlight Syndrome by depicting the older version of a character who died in said game, cementing that the Syndrome series and the Kill the Past series are in fact separate and running in parallel. The Nintendo DS release was also followed by two movies, “Dead Cruise” and “Dead Go Round”, however said movies take place in the “real world” where the main characters play the game Forbidden Urban Legend on their Nintendo DS.

Twilight Syndrome in Super Danganronpa 2

Twilight Syndrome would eventually make an appearance in Super Danganronpa 2. In one of its cases, Twilight Syndrome appears as an arcade game programmed by Monokuma (the game’s villain) to hint at one of the character’s past deeds. By the time of its release (July 2012) many GhM employees, some of them veterans who met Suda while working on Twilight Syndrome, were working under Spike-Chunsoft and collaborated on the development of Danganronpa, most notably Akihiko Ishizaka and Masafumi Takada.