(Above: some WIP pixel art from Wizbane)
You might have noticed I’ve been writing about and playing a lot of RPGs recently. Starting somewhere in 2020, I started this huge dive into the Final Fantasy series – strangely enough, starting with the XIII trilogy. Over the past year and a half I’ve been diving hard into a huge number of different RPGs: Nearly all the 1-player Final Fantasies, Dragon Quest, Trails in the Sky, the Tales games, Scarlet Nexus, a really cool Japanese GBA game called Magical Vacation, and a lot more. Also I’ve been playing a bunch of CRPGs at the same time, like (obviously) Baldur’s Gate 3, but also Pathfinder Kingmaker and some Dragon Age.
This adventure into RPGs is, to be very clear, a re-discovery, not a discovery. Some of my earliest, most enchanted memories of games were in some early RPGs. This article, in particular, from Nintendo Power, I have a distinct memory of reading and being totally transfixed by the concept of the world of Final Fantasy 1. (I also think part of it is that there is a magic that is specific to Final Fantasy that was brought by the unique vision of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu, Yoshitaka Amano and others.) Throughout high school, I played a ton of different kinds of games, but the games that me and my friends would sit around the table and talk about were games like Fallout 1 and 2, exchanging stories of what had happened the night before.
Over the course of my late 20s and much of my 30s, I sort of parted ways with RPGs. I was focused hard during this time on learning as much as I could about game design, focused on “efficiency” and elegance in design, which is what brought me to crunchy rulesets like those of designer Eurogames and the indie Rogue-likes-and-company world. I don’t think I had the mental bandwidth, or the patience, or some resource that’s needed, during this time, to get through a 30-40 hour experience. That has changed over the last few years, and I’m really happy to be back playing games like these.
I think my appreciation for narrative in games – in particular, 1 player games – has increased massively. I think part of it was making Derby’s Story, the solo campaign for Gem Wizards Tactics . Working on things like characters, dialogue, music, building a scene… there’s something just so human about this that I had really missed. So yeah. I’m making an RPG, and I am so hyped about it.
The working title of the game is Free Tiya Bannet! – with Tiya Bannet being the name of the main character’s hometown.
So, what is this game going to be?
- A cool, fun game. First and foremost, what I want to do here is make a cool-ass videogame. It’s a love letter to the Final Fantasy series, for sure, pulling many of the best things from many of the best entries. Above all, I want it to be visually appealing, have a great soundtrack, and be fun to play.
- Reasonable length. I’m shooting for something in the range of 20-25 hours for the length. I find most JRPGs to be about 10 hours too long or so.
- A game with many secrets. And not just one type of secret, either. Many different kinds of secrets, many different levels of hidden-ness. Large things, like a whole town or a character might be a secret. Some secrets are signposted and the player is given clues for, some secrets are just plain old, old fashioned secrets. Very excited to make a game that has “more than meets the eye”.
- No crafting. Fuck crafting and crafting items forever. When you see a treasure chest or find an item shop in this game, you will find actual ITEMS with interesting abilities and such on them – not “1/100th of a sword shard”.
- Final Fantasy XIII-inspired combat system. The combat is inspired by (but slightly different from) Final Fantasy XIII’s – a real time thing that pauses when it reaches your character’s turn, with something like a Paradigms system.
- Final Fantasy X-inspired class system. There will be a Final Fantasy X inspired “Sphere-grid”-like thing, although I want mine to be more spacial and have some randomness to it, and SECRETS.
- At least a dozen playable characters and the ability to configure your team. Characters will be distinct from one another in ways that can’t be changed. Some will come in and out of your party due to story reasons, but many will be available throughout the game.
- A “main character driven” game. Far from a “silent protagonist” type of deal. The main character is driving the plot, is willful and has distinct qualities that are things that only he would do.
- Random Encounters that are Encounters (not just fights). I’m taking a page from games like Fallout 1 and 2 or Arcanum here, where an encounter means “you encounter something”. It’s often a fight, but it’s also often that you find some NPCs, a wandering shopkeeper, or even a secret town or dungeon.
- Mostly linear and story driven. Within a given area there will be a lot of things to do, so it’s not like you’re running down a corridor the whole game, but generally speaking this is more of a JRPG than it is a western RPG.
- Humanizing politics. How this game is most unlike Final Fantasy, would probably be in its worldview. This is not a game about “protecting the Monarchy!” – it’s a game about solidarity and the revolutionary power of ordinary people. It’s about one dipshit kid finding out the hard way that banding together with regular, working people – not royalty and not “chosen ones” – is the only path to a better world.
- Final Fantasy VI-inspired pixel art. Shooting for something with the basic vibe of Final Fantasy VI, but I want to hand-draw the attack animations and make them feel more dynamic.
- Awesome original soundtrack. This should go without saying, except I’m going to say it because I am really hype to write a huge, varied soundtrack, and get some more sweet tracks from Blake Reynolds as well (who I co-wrote 100 Rogues and Auro‘s OSTs with). I’ve already written a bunch of songs for this game. Also, there will be one section of the game that is a musical.
- The fullest realization yet of the Gem Wizards Universe. When this releases, it will be the fourth game in the Gem Wizards Universe (with Dragon Bridge, Gem Wizards Tactics and Spellstorm being the other three). But this the most detailed realization of this universe yet. This universe is the fantasy universe that I always want to see and never get from media that I watch. The Gem Wizards world is “a silly world, taken seriously”. My favorite movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit – I don’t think this game will be nearly that silly, but the way that that film takes its characters and political positions very seriously despite being about a cartoon rabbit, is kind of “the vibe” here. It’s also not a depressing, fascistic Hobbesian nightmare world, like some kind of dystopian hellhole where everyone is a selfish bastard (I’m thinking of games like The Witcher and Fallout: New Vegas, both of which I’ve recently played). That alone I think distinguishes it from most western RPGs. But it’s also not a goofy, toothless feeling game like how Dragon Quest or the Mario RPGs can feel sometimes, either. The closest thing I can think of as a comparable universe is probably Star Trek – in particular the Star Trek of DS9. I don’t mean that it’s sci fi, but rather just the way the world treats its people.
Obviously, some or all of these might change over the course of development.
I already have a bunch of art from several different artists. In particular I gotta give a shoutout to the incredible Wizbane, who has been hanging in there with me on this project since the beginning and doing phenomenal pixel art, absolutely mind blowing stuff. I’m definitely going to get Blake Reynolds (Auro, Killer Queen Black) to pinch-hit a bunch of attack animations and things like that, too.
(Actually, you might remember that a year or two ago I was working on a narrative card game called Castle of the Secret Arts. Well, the sad news is that it has been shelved indefinitely. However, the good news is that I’ve actually folded a lot of the stuff we made for CotSA into this game. All of that music and a lot of the conceptual development will be a thing inside of this larger game now.)
The goal for the next year or so is to make an absolutely kick-ass demo that we can put up on Steam, and from there hopefully we can get a budget from a publisher to make the whole thing. But budget or not, I’m making this thing and I’m prepared to spend however long it takes making it.
(Seen on the left: some WIP pixel art portraits by Blake Reynolds.)
How can you help?
There’s so much more to say about Free Tiya Bannet! I could talk about it all day. If you want to know more about what I think makes a great RPG, I would point people to this article on the three most important qualities in an RPG. I will say that taking on a project like this, is no small feat. But I feel that I have the experience now, having released a wide range of kinds of games over the years, that I can really make this happen.
If you are excited by this prospect and want to see it happen, then you can help me out by supporting me over at Patreon.com. Supporters get early access to stuff and will certainly be the first to get access to a playable prototype once it’s ready. But also you get access to our #patrons-only channel on our Discord, where I post a lot of the latest news and information about the game (as well as my other projects) exclusively. But above all, you’re contributing to the development of this thing.
And by the way, I’d like to give a huge thank you to my existing Patrons who already have enabled games like Gem Wizards Tactics, Dragon Bridge and Spellstorm to come into existence, not to mention dozens of podcasts and articles over the years.
You can also help by spreading the word about this game. Post this article around on your social media circles or in your Discords!
Thanks for reading!