If you're a fan of old skool RPGs then you're no doubt excited about the imminent release of Dragon Fantasy Book I on Vita.
This indie darling has built a dedicated fanbase on mobiles, and it's looking likely to win over the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest crowd that are searching for a truly hardcore Vita RPG.
I got in touch with Muteki Corporation president and founder Bryan Sawler, as well as creative director Adam Rippon, to find out a bit more about the game.
They talked to me about classic RPGs, working with Sony, and the importance of comedy in games.
They also revealed to Pocket Gamer their plans for a forthcoming sequel - news that fans of Earthbound and Chrono Trigger won't want to miss.
Pocket Gamer: Dragon Fantasy Book I is out now in the US on Vita. Tell us a bit about the game.
Bryan Sawler: Dragon Fantasy Book I is a retro 8-bit style RPG for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, out now in the US and we're currently working on the European release.
The game is broken up into three main chapters (with a fourth "non-canon" intermission as well) following the progression through 8-bit RPGs. Starting with just a single hero fighting single enemies, up through multiple enemies, multiple heroes, and monster capturing.
In Chapter 1, we were aiming straight for a "Nintendo Hard" RPG, an absolute throwback to the dawn of console role-playing. It's the classic tale of a lone warrior going against an army of darkness, but instead of being a young, fit 16-year old, our hero Ogden is a 46 year old retired former hero who really isn't fit for battle any more.
Chapter 2 brings Prince Anders into the spotlight, and adds recruitable companions to help him on his journey while he discovers a bit of the backstory behind what set Chapter 1's events in motion.
Finally, Chapter 3 introduces Jerald and Ramona, two thieves attempting to escape from the eastern empire of Sandheim by fencing stolen goods - goods lifted from Prince Anders's ship.
Can fans of the series - who perhaps already own a copy of the game - expect to see exclusive content in this port to Sony's handheld?
Adam Rippon: The Sony release of the game is the first to feature a new "Special Edition"-style update. We've redrawn the artwork and re-created the music to make sort of a SNES-style Special Edition of what was originally made to be a NES-style game.
We feature Cross-Buy, so if you buy the game on PS3 you get it on PS Vita as well. And we implemented Cross-Save so that you can share your progress between the systems. The upcoming patch 1.10 will also allow players to "mix and match" the styles - 8-bit chiptune music and 16 bit graphics, or vice versa.
The game's title clearly suggests that several RPGs are an influence on Dragon Fantasy Book I. What is it about classic series like Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and Ys that you feel has made them endure in people's memories for so long?
Adam Rippon: The Dragon Fantasy series is an exploration of what we've loved about three distinct eras in RPG history: 8-bit, 16-bit, and the more modern era.
For those early games, I loved (and hated) the fact that they simply weren't easy! Slogging your way through hundreds of monsters to fight the Dragonlord in the original Dragon Quest actually felt like I'd accomplished something, and we've very much tried to reproduce that feeling in Book I.
Likewise, the early Final Fantasy games did an excellent job telling a story within severe technological limitations, and I remember as a child filling in the gaps with things far more vivid than the actual games themselves.
Also, who could not love the bizarre mumbo jumbo of the time loop storyline with Chaos and Garland in FF1? It barely made sense, but it fuelled many schoolyard debates for me and my friends.
What was the reasoning behind breaking the game up not just into multiple "Books" but into individual chapters within them? Is the ultra long form epic narrative in RPGs a thing of the past?
Bryan Sawler: When we originally released Dragon Fantasy we never thought we'd be making updates and sequels. We expected it would come out and no one would really care and we could finally check "make the old skool retro RPG we tried making when we were 14-years-old" off our checklists and move on.
But then people started playing and loving the game! So we decided to add more content, and do it in bite-size portions. We thought it would help keep the game in the news and get us more sales. It didn't quite work out that way, but in the end it kept the fans happy so that’s something!
Also, I think having a set of connected shorter stories with defined starting and ending points actually works out really well for us as fans of the genre who rarely get the time to actually play all the way through a 60-hour RPG from start to finish.
There's a great deal of humour in the games: there's madcap stuff, as well as references to other games, and poking fun at the genre too. Why have you made a game with this sense of the jovial, when so often the genre is very deadpan?
Bryan Sawler: To quote my hands-down favorite author Theodore Geisel (perhaps better known as Dr. Seuss): "These things are fun, and fun is good".
Ultimately, video games are a form of entertainment and we want to entertain people. We have some seriousness to the game, but it's wrapped in fun and frivolity because, hey, there are enough people out there trying to make games WAY too serious.
The story actually gets fairly dark in a few places, and I think that having that contrast between drama and comedy helps to highlight each.
What's the process of working with Sony to get the game onto the PlayStation Store been like? We're hearing murmurs that it's been aggressively encouraging indie studios to bring games to the Vita platform
Adam Rippon: Sony has been fantastic.
It was a weird joint venture in working with them. Bryan had started talking with Sony about their PubFund a while ago. We originally thought maybe we’d release a small PSP game or something of the sort. Then things came up (as they always do) and that project was put on hold for a bit.
Fast-forward to GDC in 2012 and we talked to Sony again and oddly enough just prior to GDC at PAX East 2012 someone from Sony had wandered by our booth and talked to us.
So we all got together in a room, showed them Dragon Fantasy Book II and what we were wanting to do with it, and they were (to our surprise) as excited about it as we were!
Onto future projects now: what can you tell me about Dragon Fantasy Book II? (note to readers: this answer contains significant spoilers for Book I)
Bryan Sawler: Storywise, Book II continues where Book I left off, with our heroes having left Sandheim on a boat for the Southlands.
Most of the heroes from Book I will be coming together within the first couple hours of the game, which is something we've all been looking forward to for a while.
The party is searching for the missing talisman that Anders found in Chapter 2, knowing that Jerald from Chapter 3 has it, but mistakenly believing him to be en route to the Southlands. In reality, only his young niece Ramona escaped from Sandheim, whom they know nothing about. By the time they discover all this, though, they'll be busy dealing with entirely new problems.
Just as Book 1 was modelled on older RPGs from the dawn of time (circa 1986), Book II is our take on mid-90s RPG design, such as Dragon Quest VI, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy VI; we're going for a spatially-aware battle system with monsters on the maps, somewhat akin to Chrono Trigger.
In addition, with the more modern design we're taking more liberties with play variation - like ship-to-ship combat, where you actually use Rock monsters as ammunition against your enemies. Also, our bosses in Book II are way bigger and more intimidating than in Book I - we've got numerous full screen and scripted bosses who have some severely devastating attacks.
And finally, since we just finished implementing this today, I definitely want to mention that we'll have "Smaaaash!!" attacks like in Earthbound - if you encounter an enemy that you are substantially more powerful than, you will destroy them in one automatic super-attack. No sense wasting your time with wimpy enemies!
Thanks to Adam and Bryan for their time. Dragon Fantasy Book I is out now on the US PlayStation Store, and coming soon to European Vitas.