Editorial: Letting Go of Konami

... I hope it's not Konami's blood. Oh wait, wrong game!
There was a game company here…

The big juicy news stories came heavy and fast last week. Valve’s paid mods happened then unhappened, followed by Konami’s official announcement of the cancellation of Silent Hills which comes in the wake of Hideo Kojima’s separation from the company. The Konami announcement and cancellation was not the first time I had thought about the end of Konami as a company I care about or as a company that makes products targeted toward me, but it probably marked the last time I will consider them a relevant player in the gaming industry.

To fill in some background on the matter, Konami has long since abandoned most of its meaningful ties to the traditional games industry following several flubbed releases of its older properties, mismanagement of game release announcements, and dismal showings at trade events like E3. About the only remaining assets in the Konami stable I paid any attention to were Castlevania and the Metal Gear franchise. Castlevania I mostly held out hope for, since its current iteration is a predictable God of War clone (those are still a thing apparently), but Metal Gear was still producing interesting content. Platinum Games worked on the spinoff Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which was a fun action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, and Kojima was still plugging away at Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and both of those titles delivered or promised a lot for people interested in those kinds of games. I have always been a very casual Metal Gear fan, but the series is one I respect for its creativity and longevity. Even if director Kojima has voiced a desire to leave the series since MGS 2, it is still possible to see how he has a passion for the world and the characters of Metal Gear.

But all of that is coming to an end. Kojima will be parting ways completely with Konami once MGS V is out the door, and since he was also working on the company’s revitalization of their anemic Silent Hill franchise with celebrated film director Guillermo del Toro the fate of that project was up in the air until both del Torro and associated talent Norman Reedus both confirmed it was put to bed. Eventually Konami corroborated this while also delisting themselves from the New York Stock Exchange. Once MGS V is on the shelves, there is officially nothing else of note to look forward to from this company for avid gamers and so I see this as marking the official point where Konami has completely shed its old skin of once-beloved developer and publisher of videogames.

We'll always have Transylvania...
RIP Simon Belmont

Of course, the company itself is still going to be around at least for a while. They have a much more diverse business plan inside of Japan where they own and operate fitness centers, movie theaters, sell drinking water, as well as continue to produce throw-away mobile titles mostly for the Japanese mobile-crazy market. But for purposes of a site like Lcom, Konami is a nonplayer that I will soon have no real use referring to in the present tense. And it can be difficult to remember, amidst all the terribly infuriating decisions and news out of the company of late, that it once was among the best game producers on the planet. So allow me to touch on a couple high points in my interactions with Konami’s games, the company that created the Konami Code that would be lovingly referenced in other games by developers all over the world. Oh how things do change.

For me, the first big Konami series to sink its claws into me was Castlevania on the NES, which I dabbled in as a young child, and the SNES with Super Castlevania IV, which I played and replayed countless times. They were the first games I played that get into the horror fiction world that still enthralls me to this day, and they were the first games (right before Mega Man) to get me really interested in a game’s soundtrack or “Background Music” as it was then called. I would play the tracks through Castlevania IV‘s soundtest menu, sometimes booting up the game for only that reason, until I got my first ever soundtrack CD for that game. The game itself is a well documented highlight of the SNES’s library, combining huge beautiful 2D sprites and some of the best action platforming of its day.

I never got into some of the “best” of Konami, being largely a Nintendo home console only gamer back in my earlier days of gaming, so I missed out on gems like Symphony of the Night and all of the GBA Castlevanias, which I have since gone back to enjoy on the other platforms to which they have been ported. Instead I enjoyed the almost-good Castlevania 64, which faltered in its gameplay delivery, but truly excelled in the horror elements for its day. Again, the music was a prominent element, and now there was sufficient fidelity in the visuals to make traversing Castle Dracula a terrifying prospect.

I only played the shitty ones, and unsurprisingly didn't like them!
I never played Suikoden II, so tell me about it in the comments!

I would not come upon a Konami game again until I purchased my own PS2 and played the masterful Silent Hill 2, which heralds from golden age of Survival Horror and competed directly at retail and in the minds of gamers with Capcom’s Resident Evil series. And while I have always been more of a RE guy, there is no denying the power of Silent Hill‘s psychological horror and inscrutable plot. I always saw the two rival franchises as two sides of the same coin, accomplishing many of the same goals just through different approaches. Once again, the Konami brand would inspire my interests in dark fantasy genres elsewhere while proving it can be done in the medium of videogames.

As I mention above, I only casually got into the Metal Gear series, having only played Twin Snakes and MGS 4, but I have a pretty good working knowledge of the series’ plot and character from watching Lets Plays of more avid fans. It is an absurd, somber, funny, challenging, wildly creative, and feature-rich series thanks to the directing of Kojima who has stayed with Konami since the beginning of his development career. But now it is all done with, or so it very well seems. Perhaps Kojima will be happy to apply himself to newer ideas as a free agent, although the prospects of a fully produced title akin to Metal Gear are not as bright as they once were. I should hope his name would be enough to get him the funding and assets required, and that he should not have to scrounge up good-will dollars at Kickstarter, but I cannot be completely certain of that.

So follow up my article with some of your memories of the once-legendary Konami. I left out a lot of games that I know people adored, like the Suikoden series. Regale us with your fond memories, since I know you must have them. The company was so ubiquitous at one time that any gamer over a certain age surely must have a fond memory or two from something of theirs. Get writing!

4 comments

  1. Oh my god, I forgot that they own the Suikoden series. Which they’ve also driven into the ground. I will still hold out hope that someone there will realize that JRPGs are again a -thing- and pull it from the mire of mediocrity, but I’m also not gonna hold my breath.

    Sorry you missed out on Symphony of the Night, Mel. That game is one of the highlights of the late 90s in all of gaming. Still holds up today, though playing it back then, in a landscape where ‘Metroidvania’ wasn’t a buzzword was just wowing. When I played the first Dark Souls, I compared it to SotN constantly. Now people are saying that about Bloodborne (fitting honestly) and I’m pleased to see the legacy is carrying on in spirit, if not in proper sequel fashion.

    Great article Mel.

  2. PT was pretty much the scariest game made last year and it was a one-hour teaser that never left that single corridor. It is sad that such an iconic name in gaming will soon cease to live on and continue to actively innovate and shape the industry. I am starting to wonder if a lot of these companies are run by people who don’t know how to keep them afloat or if it is simply the industry itself that brings about inherent failure.

  3. It’s amazing to think of all the brilliant franchises (and game designers) that Konami has just pissed away over the years…

    Also, Mel forgot to mention Konami’s biggest cash-cow these days – pachinko and slot machines. This segment is bigger than their video gaming business, which appears to be why they are willing to let their game production wither on the vine.

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