So, turns out we didn’t have to wait long at all to uncover the truth behind the mysterious Neo Geo fighter that was discovered earlier this week. Only days ago we didn’t even have a name, let alone any details. Now however, we have both a name in Dragon’s Heaven, and first hand recounts of its development.
You see, It seems like NeoTurfMasta’s find, and the subsequent news that spread through the retro world, has reached some of those who once worked on this enigmatic title. The first person to come forward (via Twitter), was Takumi Matsumae. A pixel artist better known as “Coin” who once worked for the small game developer Toy Pops.
That may have been nearly 20 years ago, but luckily for us, Matsumae recognised the title as one he had once briefly worked on when work was outsourced to Toy Pops by the game’s developer FACE. He was even after all this time, able to recall that the game had a tentative working title of “Dragon’s Heaven”. According to Matsumae:
I believe this is an unreleased fighting game from FACE, the company that made Money Idol Exchanger and whatnot. I think this was made around 1997. I know because they outsourced and I did some pixel art for it. It was being developed after Technos closed operations, so it might’ve been that a guy from Technos moved ship and worked on it. FACE didn’t have any experience in fighting games as far as I recall.
Unfortunately for Matsumae and the Toy Pops team in Ikebukuro, it seems like the project’s cancellation also had a part to play in the studio’s closure soon after. As such, all of those who worked on the game’s outsourced content quickly moved on.
That’s not all though, as it seems Matsumae isn’t the only one who remembers Dragon’s Heaven’s lost development. That’s because, on reading Matsumae’s tweet about the game, former Technōs graphic developer Kouji Ogata reached out to Matsumae via twitter. And in doing so confirmed many of his statements about the game. A translation of Ogata’s tweet can be seen below:
You’re absolutely correct. A number of Gowcaizer staff including myself moved to FACE and we launched it as a new project. Btw there’s one character that’s not human in the game, and I was involved in creating his movements. The character that you worked on was being handled by someone else at the time when I was around. I think you probably came after I had left FACE. I hope that helped a bit. Also coincedently, I recently made contact with Asai-san although it was for an unrelated case.
You see, it turns out that a number of ex-Technōs staff members ended up moving over to FACE after the company disbanded, and once there they launched a brand new fighting game project. All of which came thanks to the fact that Ogata still had connections with the former R&D division head at FACE, Kengo Asai. Obviously this project, which we now know as Dragon’s Heaven, would never be completed, however that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any mention of it at the time.
In fact, references to FACE’s planned fighting project can even be found in the April 1997 issue of Neo Geo Freak magazine. Here, not only does Asai mention that he was involved in the development of Technōs’ Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer, but that FACE had recently brought in a number of staff members with fighting game experience. This was all for the purpose of creating FACE’s first fighting game in order to capitalise on the genre’s popularity, especially in Japan.
On top of this, he also went on to say that he and the team were planning to use this experience to create a story driven fighting experience, one that would use extensive text, akin to the modern fighter Blazblue. The project was planned for a late 1997 release, however as we all know that never transpired. Now just like Matsumae and Ogata, Asai has moved on, now working as a Freelance Scenario Writer.
So there you go, Dragon’s Heaven it is, or rather was. The project may seem somewhat cursed based on the tales of those who have come forward to confirm the game’s existence. However, despite all this, the fact that the game still exists today, shows that it wasn’t completely doomed.
Now that we’ve got a clearer picture of what exactly Dragon’s Heaven is, all that’s left to discover now is the actual gameplay. And thanks to NeoTurfMasta and the team over at MAME, hopefully we’ll soon also be able to play what does exist of this mysterious fighter. I for one will certainly be keeping a close eye on this, and can’t wait to get my hands on a brand new retro fighter.
[UPDATE]: Dragon’s Heaven is now available to play via MAME, at least what was found of the game. Through this release gamers can play as one of 12 characters in a variety of arenas. However, there is not sounds of UI. Either way though, it’s certainly worth it just to experience this piece of gaming history.
Footage of Dragon’s Heaven working in MAME can be found below: