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Filed under: Masahiro Sakurai

“The Character Named Kirby” – Sakurai’s Famitsu Column, Vol. 17

Hey everyone, Brando here with a new translation for Kirby week. This is a very early Sakurai column (August 2003) around when he decided to leave HAL Laboratory (the subject of his next column). In this one he talks about Kirby, and the thoughts and aims that went into designing the character and his games. Enjoy it!

Note: Do not repost the full translation. Please use the first two paragraphs, link to this translation, and credit Source Gaming. The following is a selection from Famitsu. This translation is for fan use only, and may not accurately reflect the opinions of Masahiro Sakurai. If you enjoyed this article, I would strongly encourage you to support Sakurai by buying his books. Translated by Brando. Thanks to PushDustIn and Nirbion for comments.

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The Character Named Kirby

Originally published in Famitsu on August 15, 2003


This time, I’d like to talk about planning and intentions. At the time that I’m writing this column, it’s been 12 years since Kirby first came out into the world. With a design so simple that you can draw him up in 5 seconds, and a diverse range of copying abilities, he’s a character capable of taking on many forms.

I’ll make an action game where you utilize your enemies!” That was the idea I had in mind when I wrote up the project proposal that Kirby was born from. Then he was drawn in pixel art, animated on the NES, and given the power to inhale his foes and spit them back out. Being able to take multiple hits from enemies, yet dying immediately upon falling into a hole didn’t mix well in my mind, so I blew him up like a balloon, so that he could fly at any time. I was in charge of the planning, design, and most of the graphics. And so, the simple Game Boy game, Kirby’s Dream Land, was completed.

After that was Kirby’s Adventure, on the NES. Starting with this game, Kirby has been able to make the powers of inhaled enemies his own, with Copy Abilities. Beginners can keep sucking in enemies and spitting them out, and more advanced players can choose to make use of a variety of copy abilities as they play. The inclusion of one-button minigames** also began with this title.

**Translator’s Note: Sakurai talks in more detail about this “one button” concept here.

Moving on once again, next is Kirby Super Star, released for the Super Nintendo. There were a lot of large-scale titles in those days, so for this one I included 7 different types of games, to make it so that the player’s small victories build up quickly. You can keep tapping that copy ability button to proceed smoothly, but if you figure out the other controls, you can use an even wider variety of techniques. In this way, the game accommodates both new and experienced players even more. Also, Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto from Nintendo tasked me with making it a side-scrolling action game where two players could both play at once, so the “helper system” was created. By dividing the action between the main character (Kirby) and a supporter (Helper: an enemy character turned friendly ally), we were able to make the co-op play work well even as the screen scrolls sideways.

After that, I worked on Smash and Air Ride, but I’ll save those for another day. During that same period, a Kirby anime was created. In this anime, Kirby’s defining feature is that he doesn’t talk, which is strange for a main character.

When working on a Kirby game, I take special care to ensure that beginners can play too. Video games are difficult in a lot of ways, so I’ve always tried to make sure that the Kirby titles can introduce as many people to gaming as possible.

Aside from the pictures on the box art and manual, Kirby’s mouth is often just a dot within the game, not really happy or sad. That’s because the role of Kirby himself is to serve as a “cursor,” reflecting the player’s intentions as they go through the game. The emotions are purely on the player’s side—it’s the same as how the protagonist in Dragon Quest never says anything.

Whenever possible, I want him to stay neutral, no matter who’s looking at him. That idea lives on in Kirby’s design, his voice, and his expressions. Kirby is a character built on various intentions.

Kirby is precious to me, since he’s been with me ever since I first started making games, but soon I might not be able to take care of him anymore. The reason why is…


Looking Back

—That last part was quite the cliffhanger. At the time, it caused a lot of commotion about “The Character Named Kirby.”

Sakurai: This column was like a practice run. Since, at that point in time, I’d made up my mind to leave the company. When I thought about what to write, I came up with this review, with a connection leading into the next column. I was thinking, “I won’t be able to write about something like this again, once I quit.”

—I see.

Sakurai: Although somehow, the topics ended up being the same as always.

When I read the line “I might not be able to take care of him anymore,” in my mind I saw Kirby with tears rolling down his face—it was kind of heartbreaking. I first thought about Kirby, but actually, the one who was really feeling lonely might’ve been you, Mr. Sakurai. Am I wrong?

Sakurai: Who knows? Interpretations vary from person to person.

—You won’t say? Tch.

Sakurai: Well, after that Flagship worked on Kirby & the Amazing Mirror, so they helped look after him a little bit.**

**TN: The game was a collaborative development effort between Flagship, Dimps and HAL Laboratory.