When Street Fighter II creator and retro gaming legend Yoshiki Okamoto announced two years ago that he was leaving console games forever to pursue mobile gaming projects, many probably thought he was joking. A lifelong arcade and console game creator abandoning ship to work in the much loathed and parodied mobile platform? This must be some kind of pre-retirement prank, surely?

As it happens, Okamoto was dead serious, and – far from having retired – has made good on his promise to focus on mobile games, working with a protege to crank out one of the most successful mobile games of all time: Monster Strike.

Monster Strike has reached over 16 million players in Japan and Taiwan, exceeding all expectations and becoming a cultural institution in the game’s native Japan. Sensing it was time to strike out into other territories, Okamoto, game producer Koki Kimura and his team are now working to expand the game into the west and beyond. We caught up with Okamoto and Kimura in San Francisco at Monster Strike’s North American launch party to talk about the game and the industry in general:

 Monster Strike in action


RN24: We’re sure you’ve been getting this question from everybody, but why did you decide to give up consoles and go into mobile games?

Okamoto: That’s the number-one question I’ve been getting. It seems Western audiences think I’m crazy for doing something like this. But, when you look at console games, they’re big, bloated affairs. So much money and time goes into these games and it’s hard to turn the ship around once it’s going in a specific direction. A lot of console games turn out half-completed; the developers run out of time or money, and they just push it out prematurely. And then, it’s hands off. There might be a couple of patches, but that’s the finished product and it never changes. On the other hand, mobile games can be manipulated constantly. You can constantly evolve a mobile game after release. You can fix things on the fly. You can listen to user feedback and implement changes. It’s a more intimate, user-oriented experience. 

Western audiences think I’m crazy for doing something like this

Kimura: The reason we chose smartphones (for Monster Strike) is because it was the best platform for reaching the most players. Everyone has a smartphone, it’s always connected to the Internet, and it’s always with you. It’s the perfect device for the kind of co-op multiplayer experience we sought to create with Monster Strike.

Okamoto: And smartphone hardware has come a long way. It’s powerful enough to create a very deep gaming experience. Past freemium games have sort of ruined mobile gaming’s reputation in the West, but mobile game companies in the past have sought to make money over making a good game. Our primary concern was making a fun game that people can enjoy with friends. And smartphones were the perfect platform.

▼ Okamoto and protege Koki Kimura at the Monster Strike launch party in San Francisco.


So what is Monster Strike, anyway?

Kimura: Monster Strike is a cooperative action RPG. You can play alone, but the experience is so much more fun when you play with friends. The controls are sort of like pinball or air hockey. You have a team of collectible monsters and you fight enemies and bosses by tapping the screen, pulling back and releasing – like a slingshot – to send your monster around the screen. When you bump into enemies, you damage them. When you bump into friends, you trigger special moves like lasers, bombs, homing missiles and other cool stuff. It’s very simple. We basically sought to take the two gameplay elements of an action RPG – moving and attacking – and combine them into one simple control scheme, so that anyone can play, but while also retaining the deep collecting and leveling elements of more hardcore RPGs.

Okamoto: That was one of our big requirements for the game when we were early in the development stages: It needs to be simple enough that anyone can pick it up. But it’s also very deep and strategic. You have to think carefully about the placement of your monsters on the battlefield, about the elemental composition of your team and their special abilities. 

“I very much had that arcade game experience in mind”

We’ve been playing the game, and the controls and length of a typical level – not to mention the presence of special moves, etc. – all feels very arcade-like. Was that on purpose?

Okamoto: You know, I started in arcade games before going to consoles. I loved working on arcade games so much more. They’re a pure gameplay experience. And I really leaned on my arcade game creation days when we made Monster Strike. I very much had that arcade game experience in mind when we made it. You can play it in short bursts, there’s a continue system, you can play face-to-face with your friends or strangers – just like back in the day when you would stand side-by-side with someone else in the arcade and take on a game together. 

▼ Okamoto double fists games of Monster Strike with another familiar game in the background.


Why did you choose to take the game to the US? Were you worried American audiences wouldn’t buy into it?

Kimura: Of course we were aware of the “freemium” stigma, but our game is really not a “freemium” game in our minds. Monster Strike can be played as much as you want without ever paying. In fact, the strongest monsters can’t even be purchased in the hatcher (a roulette-like incubator that spits out randomized monster eggs for a small fee of Orbs, MS’s in-game currency); you have to play the Event Quests with friends for the best chance at getting the strongest monsters. Freemium games often seek to create stress in the player and the player must pay real money to relieve the stress. We think that’s a bad business model and makes for a bad game. We think of Monster Strike more like Magic: The Gathering – the randomized monster eggs are like booster packs. You might get a monster to impress your friends with, but you can still enjoy the game plenty without it. 

Okamoto: We also know that North Americans like to play online. It’s the land of the first person shooter, after all. But there’s still plenty of gaming happening face-to-face: Magic, board games–I’m partial to Settlers of Catan, myself–traditional card games, etc. So we think American gamers are definitely open to it. 


Okamoto-san, since you famously left the console gaming world, we really have to ask: Do you have any plans to go back?

Okamoto: Not at all. I’ll work in mobile games till I retire. I was ready to give up on games entirely when I left the console realm. In fact, if Monster Strike hadn’t succeeded, I’d be picking rice in the rice fields right now (laughs). 

Thanks for your time! We’ll let you get back to the launch party.


You can download Monster Strike for iOS or Android at these links.

Photos: Monster Strike Studio