Metroid Dread concludes Samus’ 2D saga, the storyline that began with the original Metroid in 1986 and had been left lingering for 19 years following the release of Metroid Fusion in 2002. That’s not to say Samus’ story is complete (or that we’re never getting another 2D Metroid game), but her adventure involving the extermination of the Metroids and then becoming the last Metroid concludes with Dread.
To get a better grasp of how developers MercurySteam and Nintendo EPD created Metroid Dread, I spoke with Metroid Dread producer Yoshio Sakamoto. Sakamoto is one of the most prominent voices behind the Metroid franchise, especially Samus’ 2D adventures. Prior to Dread, he was a designer for Metroid, director for Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission, and Metroid: Other M, advisor for Metroid Prime: Federation Force, and producer for Metroid: Samus Returns.
During our conversation, Sakamoto and I talked about his reason for wanting to focus Dread’s story around themes of fear and dread, restricting Samus’ voice following her talkative appearances in Fusion and Other M, and crafting a cinematic experience akin to the Prime trilogy with voice acting and cutscenes. Apologies if you’re hoping for any insight into Metroid Prime 4–prior to the start of the interview, I was told to not ask about the next installment to Samus’ 3D adventures.
Why call the game “Dread”? Is the title describing Samus’ feelings in the game or are there other meanings to the title?
The main theme that circles around this game is fear and dread. Of course, when we say fear and dread, we have the EMMI in the game, and of course there are many other [sources of] fear and dread or sadness inside the game. As one word that really entitles everything, I like the word dread.
[The themes] for this game reflect my original [canceled version of Dread] from 15 years ago. From back then, the fear, the dread were already the main themes of the game. I wanted to make a game with these themes as the center. Now that we have completed the game, I wanted to use the same name for this game as well.
How does Dread look now in comparison to its original cancelled concept? Beyond just the theme, has the structure for the game drastically changed over the years?
Back in my original idea, I already had this EMMI idea that pursues Samus. And also, I already had the vision that it’s going to be plot-focused, it is going to be a game that is focusing on the fear element. However, of course, with these 15 years, there are many things that I experienced in my life that I wanted to include in the game–I was able to meet with a great partner, MercurySteam Entertainment. And of course, the hardware specs have been drastically improved within the last 15 years. All of these elements combined enabled us to realize this game finally after all these years.
So answering your questions, yes the concept remained the same from my original idea, but the presentation, or the details of the game, have changed and evolved. I think ultimately, we were able to complete the game in the best form possible.
How do you design a game like Dread where long-time fans are coming in and might know everything there is to know about Metroid, but the mainline series has also been gone for so long that most newcomers might have only played one Metroid game or no Metroid games? Did you consider that balance when designing Dread or does it principally appeal to either veterans or newcomers and not both?
The main core, the main fun of the Metroid series, I feel that has not changed. And I did not want to change. It’s something that I wanted to keep. But of course, with every new game of the Metroid series, I have always added new ideas and new concepts to bring more spice and more excitement to the series’ fans. With that, the classical part and also the new part, this is something that I always kept in mind to maintain as the 2D Metroid series.
At the same time, by doing so, it could be true that for newcomers, it could be a bit of a hurdle for the new fans to enter this franchise. Therefore, for this game, Metroid Dread, by focusing on the dread part, the main concept dread part, what I wanted to do is for these new people, new fans, to be interested in the game: “Oh, so I’ve heard of Metroid, but I’ve never played it. It seems that this Metroid, it’s focusing on the fear element. Maybe I would want to give it a try.” That’s one reason that I have designed the game this way.
Second, the EMMI parts are something completely new for Metroid fans. Therefore, I felt that at least for the EMMI parts, newcomers and very die-hard Metroid fans can both have the same feeling, the same emotions. They could stand on the same starting line and participate at the same level. I thought that this would be something very exciting and very fun. That is why Metroid Dread is designed in this way.
Do you hope folks play Metroid 1 through Fusion before Dread or can folks start with this game just fine?
If the player can play these past games, that would be great. That would be fantastic. Of course, these are pretty old games. It could be a bit challenging to get a hand on these games to play nowadays. And of course, there are many game designs and difficulty levels that are suited for each era of the hardware and so I am not 100% sure that players nowadays could play these old games in a very convenient way or have absolutely no stress at all. If the players can play these old games, yes that would be great. But I would not say that yes, you do need to play these games.
In Metroid Dread, in the very beginning of the game, it explains the past events before Dread, especially focusing on the episode right before Dread, which is Metroid Fusion. Even if the player has not played any Metroid at all and Metroid Dread is their first experience with the Metroid game, there will be absolutely no problem. I would like to leave it up to the player to play the past games.
What has it been like continuing Samus’ main saga after nearly 20 years? We’ve all had to sit with Fusion acting as the conclusion to her 2D adventures for a while now.
Well, first of all, just one word: long. It was too long. It was very, very long. Of course, when we created the original Metroid, we did not imagine it to become this saga. The only reason that we were able to continue this saga was because of the fans. So first of all, I would like to say a big thank you to all the fans supporting this franchise.
By continuing this story, making a new story every time, there were many ideas that we needed to come up with, and there were many parts where it was challenging to continue and to connect with the past story. As you know, Metroid Dread is the conclusion of this story arc. I believe that I was able to connect various elements from the past games into this game and conclude it. So yes, I am very happy that we were able to complete this game. I am just very much looking forward to the release of the game.
Dread follows both Other M–a game that added a lot more traditional cutscenes and storytelling to one of Samus’ adventures–and Samus Returns–a game that emulated Samus’ early, lonelier adventures. How does Dread bring together those two types of storytelling, if at all? Does it ultimately lean towards one more than the other?
Well first of all, Other M is a bit of a different game compared to the 2D series. What I wanted to present in that game is not really the same [as] what I wanted to present with the 2D series. Comparing Metroid Dread and Other M is not really effective, so I would like to talk about Samus Returns and the comparison between Samus Returns [and Dread].
For Metroid Dread, of course there is a story which basically wraps up the story arc. We have added a number of cutscenes, many cutscenes that further explain the situation of the story and what is happening, so the player will get a better understanding of what is going on. With this, I feel that the story will be smoothly conveyed to the player.
Another point about the cutscenes is that we could really dynamically show Samus’ awesome actions and awesome battles. You could say that it’s in the same direction as Samus Returns, but we have many more story-related narrative scenes. Overall, the cutscenes have evolved greatly from Samus Returns. I am very satisfied with the final result.
There are a lot of narrative themes of motherhood, personal responsibility vs. professional responsibility, and overcoming grief in Fusion and Other M–do similar themes bleed into Dread or does the game explore different narrative themes entirely?
There is a narrative theme for Metroid Dread as well. Of course, I can’t explain in great detail here because it would be a huge spoiler. In the end, I would like the players to experience the game and understand, “Oh, so this is the story. This is the narrative of Metroid Dread.”
I think that there will be many surprises in this adventure. Of course, I cannot say in detail, but I am sure that there will be many ups and downs to the player’s emotions playing this game.
Are narrative and story important considerations for the Metroid franchise? Were they important when designing Dread?
Yes. I feel that from my side, the games that I make, I feel that the game should have some kind of narrative, some kind of underlying story and not just have the player enjoying the game solely for the action or the combat. I would like the player to be immersed and feel the story that exists in the core of that game.
Speaking of Metroid, yes I feel that the story part, the narrative part, is very important. That is something that also affects the game design. The game design needs to be changed depending on what the player is feeling at that moment. This wave of player emotion is another very important element in my game design.
My policy for the game design is that the game design and the narrative should be one. They are not like one is bigger, one is weaker. It should be just one thing. Regarding Metroid, the action, the exploration part, the game part, and the narrative should be one set.
The library of games that take inspiration from Metroid’s structure has exploded since the release of Fusion in 2002–did y’all look to these games, modern-day metroidvanias, as inspiration for Dread’s design?
First of all, as one of the people who basically created the very original of one of these exploration games that led to this huge game genre called metroidvania that is so big and so popular, I am very thankful for this big fanbase. I also feel very happy about it.
Regarding the other games, there isn’t really this particular game or idea that I referenced. For Metroid games, I always think, “Okay, what are we going to do new this time around?” Every time I look back at the past Metroid games, I think, “What worked well? What could have been done better?” I accumulate all these experiences inside myself and of course inside the team, digest it, and then create something new. I have also put a very high importance on not being too conservative and trying out new stuff, adding drastic new elements and things like that. This radicalness, this always trying out something new, is the core of my Metroid development. And so answering your question, there isn’t really this particular game [I took inspiration from], but of course while I am developing games or thinking about the new ideas for the games, not just video games, but other entertainment as well, there are many exciting things from my life that I look to for reference and put into the game.
Why go back to having Samus as a mostly silent protagonist? She doesn’t have her Metroid Fusion elevator thoughts or Other M monologues anymore.
In this game, Samus barely speaks. The reason that I wanted to make it that way is the main theme of this game, which is dread. I felt that to convey the current situation of Samus or what Samus is thinking right now, this would be better conveyed to the player not through actual words or actual voice, but more with acting or visuals. I want the player to think, “What is going on? What is Samus feeling right now?” That is why I decided to go this way for this game.
Why did you want Adam to have a voice in Dread after being a silent, text-based computer in Fusion? He and Samus aren’t the only ones to talk either–there’s actually quite a bit of voice acting in the game.
Well, there really isn’t any deep meaning for using voice. Of course, there are scenes where it is just easier to convey the message if there are voices. And of course, another thing is the atmosphere of the game and atmosphere of the scene. For certain scenes, it feels better and is more understandable if the player does not read the text, but instead hears the voices.
And of course, one other thing is that in old games, it was technically impossible or the cartridge size limitation made it very difficult to use the voices. But nowadays, it’s totally possible. There are many aspects related to this topic, but as one form of presentation, I feel that voices can be used to smoothly convey the messaging of the game to the player. That is one reason that I decided to have voices for [Metroid Dread].