Strider confused the Cold War hell out of me when I was younger. Sure, I knew about the Soviet Union thanks to a healthy diet of 80s action flicks like Rambo III, Red Scorpion, and The Living Daylights. But this?
Visions of fur-capped guards wielding AK-47s and the motif of a red star pinned to their uniforms defined a lot of that. So when I saw Strider’s robots and screen shots in mags of a Soviet council turning into a mechanical centipede and a guy with a sword fighting all that, I could feel my mind trying to make sense of Capcom’s enigma.
Strider started out as an idea by Kouichi “Isuke” Yotsui when he was working at Capcom. Like Hideo Kojima, he was very interested in film, but in Kouichi’s case, he had opted to go on and study film at university (he studied under the legendary Kazuo Miyagawa) before jumping right into the video game industry. In another interview, he said that his professor wasn’t very happy that he went into games, but at the same time, he knew he needed real world experience. He also didn’t have a lot of money to do that, so he when he saw a job opening at Capcom offering good money, he took it. There, he worked on creating bitmaps for game such as Rush ‘n Crash before being asked to propose a new game.
Akio Sakai, the head of development at the time, suggested working with outside companies on new products and had set up a deal with Motomiya Kikaku, a group of manga artists, as part of an initiative to create a serialized manga and game “at the same time.” Kouichi wanted to go down the ninja path for pure action (he notes that one of his inspirations was Shirato Sanpei’s Kamui Gaiden) and outside the room that they had rented for the week to sort through ideas, Shinjuku’s futuristic skyscrapers must have looked back at him asking to be included. With the concept loosely fleshed out, the manga artist with them had an idea of how to sketch things out.
Kouichi returned to Capcom and with Masahiko Kurokawa, began fleshing out both the world and the story. They worked further with the manga artists in nailing down the concept until they finally had the basics down. Meanwhile, two other projects were also started at the same time as a part of this three-way media assault — an arcade game based on that setting (and which would debut on Capcom’s new CPS-1 arcade board) and a Famicom title. Kouichi was in charge of the arcade version while Masahiko Kurokawa headed up the Famicom one. Each project was a competition of sorts, sharing the same title, but not necessarily be similar to each other.
Kouichi went on to say:
“You can tell a complex story in a manga, or even in a consumer game which is not income-intensive, but this is impossible for an arcade game which is played on a per-coin basis. If you tell too much story, you destroy the gameplay. There was no problem with the basic premise of the Striders. There was no problem with the near-future world view. The problem was the story’s details. Forgive me. My team changed the story only a very little bit. We changed the world to better fit a stand-alone arcade game.”
It would also explain why the manga was packed with a lot of information that wasn’t necessarily referenced in either the arcade or the NES versions which borrowed many of the initial elements but, as Kouichi had indirectly pointed out, limited what they could use based on what they wanted to design their titles around.
This was all a part of their strategy in creating a new property in three different directions — manga, arcade, and home console — not unlike what companies such as Ubisoft today are doing with their own IP covering comics, handhelds, and other platforms ranging from consoles to PCs in order to commercialize as much of their worlds as possible. In this case, Capcom wanted to do the same thing with a new hero and setting and each person in charge wanted theirs to stand out in its own way.
The result were two games that were very different from each other but based on the core concepts fleshed out by Kouichi, Kurokawa, and their partners at Motomiya Kikaku. The manga, in a sense, acted as the biography of who and what the Striders were. The Famicom version was the adventure game borrowing heavily from that mythos. And the arcade version was a pure shot of action with only a brief taste of what the manga detailed.
The Famicom version didn’t make it onto shelves, but the NES version did later. It was an action-adventure title complete with a narrative told in snippets throughout the game as Strider Hiryu tries to uncover a mysterious plot while grabbing upgrades along the way. It’s often held as the most faithful to the ideas fleshed out by the manga by a number of players and Strider fans, though its design made it easy to see why — as an action adventure, more time could be spent on actually telling a story and tying things together for the player.
The arcade version, on the other hand and as explained by Kouichi above, stripped the concept down to the basics so as not to interfere with the actual gameplay. The result, however, was still a remarkable arcade game with an unusually iconic hero. Despite the few games dedicated to his exploits, Strider Hiryu would become one of Capcom’s most iconic characters in the years ahead.
The Genesis version was a straight port from the arcade version and while it’s not the greatest game on the Genesis, it was noted as one of the most faithful translations of an arcade game to arrive on Sega’s little black box.
It took two pages of storied text to set up the action in the manual, describing how the world went to pot by 1998 and slowly recovered after that when everyone joined together. Then a few years later, mysterious invaders arrived with strange creatures devastating Europe, North and South America, until five continents lay wasted. The creatures were led by Meio, the Grand Master, who lived in a distant nebula and had long studied the Earth. Ruling what was left from his space station orbiting between the Moon and Earth, the Third Moon, he seemed unstoppable.
But the Striders, the last defenders of Earth, have something to say about that. In 2048, Strider Hiryu, the youngest to ever reach A-class, is sent out to rip through the Grand Master’s armies and take care of business on the Third Moon. He’ll just have to get through his mechanized minions to get his shot at justice first.
Strider threw a giant ape robot boss, a flying fortress, and a zero-g boss battle at Hiryu who broke it all down. They didn’t even send him in with a tank, much less a gun. Just a health bar, a few power ups for a little extra help on occasion, and a sword flashing death. None of that regenerating health crap here, either, though it did have upgrades found in the game that would attach an additional block to his life bar.
The manual had even described each of the game’s five stages with fiction describing what you would see, something that not every game takes the time to do nowadays. Even a few temporary upgrades were given colorful names like the “Terapodal Robo-panther” which was…a robot panther that temporarily helped you out.
Hearing the mocking laughter of the Grand Master, gliding in and hearing the distinctive theme sound off on your arrival to the sound of alarms, leaping and slashing from ledge to ledge as you battled crazy bosses, fighting strange machines and slicing enemies in half, and hanging inches from death fed my gaming imagination with feats of awesome that kept me coming back for more even after finishing it. It also helped that the soundtrack was amazing.
It was simple action and while it wasn’t revolutionary, it had a specific charm about it with its take on the lone hero formula, arming him with a blade and mad skills — something that continues to hold a special spot in my gaming history. It was also a lot different from the first Strider on the NES which was more of an action adventure which had confused me back then until I started poking through the series’ history.
Only years later did I find out that the Genesis version was the arcade port of what never showed up at the arcade near me. The adventure-leaning NES version had more in common with the manga that tied in with the series. It wasn’t bad, I enjoyed that, also, so the Genesis threw me for a curve when I started playing it because of that difference.
The Genesis version of Sega’s arcade hit arrived at North America in 1990 shortly after making its debut in Japan. The ad below celebrated it in usual Sega fashion with a triple page spread boasting it as the “First and only 8-meg game ever” making it a big technical coup for the Genesis. And it’s actually a good read with captions underneath the screenshots in addition to the core description to get everyone excited enough to join the Striders.