Armed Fantasia, Penny Blood Interview
Today, key creators behind Wild ARMs and Shadow Hearts announced spiritual successors for both series. Wild Bunch Productions is being run by Wild ARMs series creator Akifumi Kaneko, with its new project titled Armed Fantasia, while Yukikaze and Shadow Hearts series creator Matsuzo Machida are working on Penny Blood. RPGamer was kindly given the opportunity to put some questions to both teams about the projects and their upcoming “Double Kickstarter”.
RPGamer (Johnathan Stringer and Alex Fuller): Can you give an overview of the two games and what you think will make each unique?
Akifumi Kaneko (Wild Bunch Productions, Armed Fantasia): If I was forced to put together a single expression to describe the story and gameplay of our new JRPG it would be “An adventure where you overcome the various riddles and puzzles in your path!”
You don’t need fast fingers to enjoy our game. Rather, you need smarts in order to get through the various gimmicks placed in the dungeons. You need to master the timing-based Force Break system to either bolster your party’s attacks or stop your opponent’s combo attacks in real time. The game demands strategy and decision-making ability.
Matsuzo Machida (Yukikaze, Penny Blood): Penny Blood is a dark horror RPG set in modern times where the player will control Matthew Farrell, a detective who does battle with monsters in the shadows as he investigates a series of bizarre incidents.
Pulse-pounding battles with timed inputs through the Psycho Sigil system and a spine-tingling story that explores the dark side of history await all who play it.
RPGamer: How easy was it to persuade your fellow veterans to get back together on the games, how long has the idea of spiritual successors been in the works?
Kaneko-san: The idea for the Double Kickstarter came about when I was talking with Penny Blood creator Machida-san about the JRPGs we used to develop, and what it would be like to make another one using modern hardware.
It’s been a while since both series had been developed, so the staff members all had split up. Some work at other game companies, while some are doing other jobs. Some of them are friends I can no longer contact. So that was a little tough on me.
But I have plenty of reliable staff members on the project this time around, so I’m not worried.
Machinda-san: I’ve had the idea for Penny Blood for quite a while, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that it truly manifested itself.
Right after I started up this project, it still didn’t feel very ‘real’ to me, so I was hesitant about contacting old staff members. The truth is that I tried to start up a project to create a new sequel to Shadow Hearts three times in the past, and it had fizzled out every time. I knew I’d never be able to face them again if this turned out to be another fizzle.
This time, however, I’m creating a brand new game. Penny Blood is not a sequel to Shadow Hearts. With that in mind, enlisting the help of Kato-san, our character deisgner, and Hirota-san, our sound director, was an absolute must for the project… And they’re also the best staff members I could have ever asked for.
RPGamer: Both games have distinct settings, what about those settings drew you to them?
Kaneko-san: I love movies, and I loved Spaghetti Westerns as a kid. So I’d say I take a lot of influence from those.
Everyone loves Westerns. So I took elements from those, fantasy, sci-fi, and even Japanese manga and anime and blended them together into a unique combination.
Love is always our greatest weapon. Which is why I took as many of the things that I love and crammed them into this one game.
Machinda-san: I’ve always been interested in the world of 100 years ago, ever since I was young. The same countries exist now, but their situations and relationships are completely different now… As if we’re living on a different planet. If you dig up enough history, you’ll find the paths that led us to the world we live in now. At certain spots along these paths, you’ll find a strange darkness… And I believe that by shining a light on this darkness, I’ll be able to create a game with a very entrancing story and visual identity.
RPGamer: Are there any brand new ideas you’ve aimed to incorporate into the games?
Kaneko-san: This depends heavily on how the campaign goes, but we’re currently considering making the world map of the game have different actions and gimmicks the player can interact with. On a scale that no other game has done before.
We’re taking a new approach with our battles as well. While it is a turn-based command-style battle system, we’ve added techniques that you can do in real time called Force Breaks. We’re challenging ourselves to make this as unique as possible. We hope we can exceed everyone’s expectations.
Machinda-san: As I just explained, Penny Blood is a brand new game. One other brand new element it boasts is the fact that it’s a game aimed at adults. It’ll have much more creepy, horror, and grotesque elements in it than my previous series.
The story will also be aimed at adults. It won’t be a simple story where the hero triumphs over the villain. Instead, it will require players to look at the characters and their morals from different viewpoints in order to truly understand them.
Honestly, I never thought I’d get a chance to create a game like this. Of course, things are still not set in stone, as it largely depends on the results of this Kickstarter campaign.
RPGamer: What are the planned platforms for the games, are there any specific considerations behind the platform choices?
Kaneko-san: We would like to bring our game world to as many gamers as possible. So first, we’re starting with Steam. After that, depending on how the campaign goes, we will look into adding ports for PS4, PS5, and the Xbox Series.
As far as the Switch goes, we’d like to apologize to our fans in advance. But this game will be released several years down the road, and because of that, we’re not considering a Switch port. That said, if any information about new Nintendo hardware is released in that time, we will consider a port to that hardware.
Machinda-san: The game will be released on Steam for starters, and then ported to consoles such as PS5 and Xbox. Based on how well the campaign does, we are also considering Switch and Nintendo’s next-generation hardware.
I’m especially interested in Nintendo’s next console. If the timing works with our dev schedule, I’d love to release the game on that as well… But I wonder if they’ll let us release a game where heads explode and blood squirts everywhere on a game console that’s mainly aimed at children. [laughs]
RPGamer: When creating a spiritual successor, how do you balance making each game feel like its own new thing against borrowing or leaning on the inspiration material?
Kaneko-san: I’m doing my best to maintain the mindset I had when I was creating those games, while not using anything from the old stories or using any old characters.
Having my career be this long, I look back on the younger version of me and see that he’s a bit embarrassed or bashful. But just like the old days, I’m here on the front lines of development, working hard and doing my best to create something you’ll all enjoy!
Machinda-san: Much time has passed since I sent my last series out into the world. I know exactly what elements were good about those games, and what elements should be fixed. With this game, I plan to further enhance the strong points and fix the weak points to the best of my ability. Of course, I also want to add a bunch of new elements to the game, so I’m challenging myself to create nothing but superior systems.
RPGamer: Does creating a spiritual successor grant any more freedom than titles that were part of a franchise?
Kaneko-san: Back when I was making new games in the Wild ARMs series, I had to keep in mind what changes to make in systems, the target audience, and all kinds of things. And behind the scenes, if we didn’t make new changes, it would be hard for the plans for a sequel to even get off the floor. And I thought back then that that’s the way things had to be.
But with Armed Fantasia being a spiritual successor, I feel free from the spell of “I have to change things”. I can approach things from the perspective of “this is how I want things to be”. Thinking of it that way, you could say that I have more freedom in creating this new game.
Machinda-san: Good question. I think it does grant more freedom. It may be hard to truly actualize what people expect from a sequel, but I am confident that I’ll be able to present things in a form that surpasses what’s come before it.
The theme that runs through the core of both Penny Blood and my previous series is the same. And no matter how someone chooses to play the game, I believe the deep messages about pushing on and surviving through life’s hardships will reach all those who experience it. Of course, I don’t plan to make this a ‘preachy’ game. If people can feel even a sense of my messages through the characters who come alive throughout the story, that’s enough for me.
RPGamer: How long do you envision the games being?
Kaneko-san: We’re trying to make a JRPG like the ones that came out in the 90s. So we want to make sure that at the very least this game has the amount of dungeons and monsters that the first Wild ARMs game did.
Thinking of it from that perspective, it should take about 40 hours or so to complete, I think?
Everyone please consider supporting the campaign so we can make our dreams into reality!
Machinda-san: My plan is for the game to be about 30 to 40 hours long. I really hope everyone will enjoy the world of Penny Blood and explore all it has to offer.
RPGamer: Can you describe how the partnership between the two development teams came about?
Yukikaze: The Japanese game industry is fairly small and Kaneko-san and Machida-san ended up bumping into each other at a gathering. Both creators knew of each other and talked about how fans wanted a sequel. That conversation ended up being a motivator for them and they began talking to publishers. Unfortunately, it had been so long and neither Wild Arms or Shadow Hearts were as famous as Final Fantasy so they were told they needed to prove there was adequate demand for the titles. In seeing Eiyuden Chronicle go through a similar path, they decided going to crowdfunding would be the right way to prove user demand.
RPGamer: What are the benefits and risks of executing a “Double Kickstarter?”
Yukikaze: The benefits, or rather “hope”, is a JRPG fan may have played one of the creators previous games and heard of the other one to the point that they end up backing both titles. Hopefully the discounted price makes this an easier decision to make. The risks are that backers become competitive instead of cooperative and begin comparing one title versus the other one by making comments like “I like this games graphics more than that game’s”. We have tried to set up the campaign so that backers naturally cooperate to create more content and better games and rewards rather than competing or comparing but it’s hard to know how backers will react.
RPGamer: Is there any sharing of assets or much cross-collaboration between the development teams?
Yukikaze: Throughout the planning phase, we shared most of the core assets so that we could make sure each game had a unique visual design that wouldn’t compete with the other title. We’ve done massive two team meetings every two to four weeks so that both teams could sync up properly. It has been a lot of back and forth coordination but we feel both games capture the essence of what the fans will want while also being visually unique.
RPGamer: Did the success of Eiyuden Chronicle’s Kickstarter provide any encouragement or inspiration to start this one?
Yukikaze: Absolutely. It was great to see backers empower creators that way. Obviously Eiyuden Chronicle is a spiritual successor to a PS1 JRPG and they also had to prove market viability via crowdfunding so we are in a very similar situation.
RPGamer: Can you describe how the funds will be “fairly” distributed to each game?
Yukikaze: We will be splitting the funding based on the amount backed so it won’t be a 50/50 for the initial goal. Still though, if we reach that initial goal, the expectation is that enough people are seeing the campaign and interested in the content that eventually both titles will do well enough to support the bare minimum of content necessary to make a good game.
RPGamer: How far along in development are the games currently?
Yukikaze: Both games are in the prototype phase but will only continue if the crowdfunding goals are met.
RPGamer: What languages are the games planned to be localized in?
Yukikaze: Initially we plan to localize the games in EFIGSJ [English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese] but depending on the success of the campaign we may look into other languages.
RPGamer would like to extend our deepest thanks to the teams at Wild Bunch Productions and Yukikaze for taking the time to answer our questions. More details about Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood can be found on our news post for the games’ announcement.