Wild Arms creator Akifumi Kaneko and Shadow Hearts creator Matsuzo Machida are back with new large-scale RPGs Armed Fantasia: To the End of the Wilderness and Penny Blood, and are asking for the community’s support via a “Double Kickstarter” crowdfunding campaign launching on August 29.
Gematsu had the opportunity to talk to Kaneko and Machida about their new projects, as well as learn more about the Double Kickstarter campaign that will decide whether each project progresses beyond the prototype phase.
Armed Fantasia: To the End of the Wilderness
What makes Armed Fantasia: To the End of the Wilderness a spiritual successor to Wild Arms? What major elements does it carry over?
Akifumi Kaneko, Lead Game Designer: “None of the story or characters from the Wild Arms series will be carried over.
“However, the setting of a wilderness on the brink of destruction, and the story that is a mix of Western and Fantasy will be similar.
“I would say my personal tastes and style as a game designer will also be carried over throughout the story as well.”
The protagonist Ingram is a Pathfinder, which is an adventurer similar to the Drifters of Wild Arms. What separates Pathfinders from Drifters?
Kaneko: “This is simply a difference in how the translator chose to express the word. In Japanese, we use the term “wataridori” (literally “migratory bird”, this term was used in all Wild Arms games as well).
“It’s meant to evoke an image of an adventurer who doesn’t live in any one place, who lives free like a bird.
“60 years ago, there was a main character in a Japanese movie that was called ‘wataridori.’ He was a vagabond who solved the problems of the towns he visited and then would go back on his journey. Sort of like the Western movie Shane. That’s what I had in mind when choosing this name.
“The translation of “Pathfinder” this time around has a very romantic, but powerful, reassuring feel to it. I’m quite fond of it.”
Can you tell us more about Ingram and companions Euclid and Alicia? Who are they and how will their paths cross?
Kaneko: “Euclid is Ingram’s childhood friend. They meet again as a means to fulfill a promise they made when they were young. But Ingram has forgotten most of his memories from that period. The story starts when those two cross paths.
“Their meeting with Alicia is more shocking. At this time I can’t go into much of the details, but what I can say is there’s a dramatic car chase scene.
“Alicia uses a large spear and shield as her weapon and is a very powerful warrior, but she has a very bright, social personality as well.”
The concept of ARMs also returns, and this one by the same name. The meaning of “ARM” varies from one Wild Arms game to the next, and the same is true here. Can you talk more about Aether Reaction Maximizers and their significance in the world of Armed Fantasia?
Kaneko: “My apologies, but since that would get into some very important parts of the story I can’t reveal much at the moment.
“What I can say is that there is an organization that is trying to control the world, and ARMs are weapons they have created for many years.
“ARMs take the magic power within the user (Aether) and turn it into power. This makes them able to unleash much more power than any normal weapons.
“That’s why in the story, most adventurers who wander the wilderness use ARMs.”
Tools are another returning concept, this time under the name Gadgets. In Wild Arms, Tools were used to clear dungeon obstacles and the same is true in Armed Fantasia. Can we expect any freedom in utilizing these Gadgets to solve puzzles, or will there always be one route or solution?
Kaneko: “We’re still figuring out the specifics for this, but stuff like using bombs to blow up rocks in your path… that kind of thing.
“For puzzles or times you need to use Gadgets to get by, we definitely want to make it so there are multiple solutions.
“However, in order to do that, we will need a lot more development funds. At the moment, before the Kickstarter has even begun, we can’t say for sure whether or not that will be possible.
“But that’s certainly one thing we would love to include in the game.”
Armed Fantasia is described as a large-scale JRPG adventure with a gigantic world map that players will travel across on foot and in various vehicles. How “gigantic” can we expect the world to be? And what kind of vehicles will we be using to traverse it?
Kaneko: “The world map is going to be gigantic. I want it to be so big that there isn’t a word to express how big it is.
“For vehicles, we’re planning on having vehicles for land, sea, and air. By acquiring said vehicles, it will make it easier to explore the nooks and crannies of the world.”
Is the world map a traditional-style world map (e.g. Wild Arms 1, Final Fantasy VII) or will it be rendered at the same scale as dungeons, towns, etc.?
Kaneko: “We’re currently figuring out the specifics for that. Honestly, things might change depending on how much we get in terms of development funding.
“In my personal opinion, I hope we don’t have to limit it to the size of towns or dungeons.”
What kind of activities will there be for players to come across on the world map?
Kaneko: “Movement and exploration will be the main things to do on the world map. However, if possible I’d like to include some puzzle solving elements from my previous works as well.
“We hope you look forward to what’s in store.”
I probably should have been more clear. Will there be any additional activities such as side quests?
Kaneko: “We’re currently trying to make the world map as gigantic as possible and we want to include exploration elements as well as side quests for the player to complete.
“Also, there’s a new element that wasn’t in my past games where you can use Character Actions on the world map and Gadgets as well. We’re working on making it so there are plenty of things for the player to overcome on the world map as they play. We hope you look forward to it!”
Can you talk about the turn-based Cross Order Tactics battle system? What are Chain Order and Force Breaks, and how can they be utilized to battle more strategically?
Kaneko: “Order Chains are when the characters attack the same enemy one after another. It increases the attack power of their attacks and the effects of the skills they use.
“Order Chains can not only be used by the party, but they can be used by enemies as well.
“Because of that, there will be times where you’ll see enemies trying to set up an Order Chain and you’ll have to interrupt the turn order in order to stop them from doing an Order Chain. If you don’t, you’ll wind up taking a ton of damage.
“Force Breaks are flashy techniques that are another source of damage for your team. If your Force Break gauge is filled, you can use a Force Break whenever you want during the turn order. For example…
- “You can use this to pull off a move that hits all enemies before the enemies get their turns.
- “At the end of everyone’s turns, you can recover an ally’s HP.
“Depending on how you use it, it can become a very strategic part of your battles.
“And again, you can use them whenever you want during the turn order. So you can use them to interrupt an enemy’s Order Chain, like we talked about above.”
We’ve talked about the similarities between Armed Fantasia and its predecessor, but what are you doing this time around that is all-new or that you were not able to do before in Wild Arms?
Kaneko: “Everything we’ve revealed has been prepared specifically for the Kickstarter. The actual development of the game will happen once the Kickstarter is over.
“Because of that, there isn’t a lot I can give very precise answers about.
“That said, the gigantic, gorgeous world map is one of the features we want to include in the game.
“Back when I developed Wild Arms 4, various circumstances caused us to have to leave out the world map entirely. The frustration I felt from that time remains within my heart to this day. That’s why I want to include the best high quality world map I can in this new title.
While you (Wild Arms creator Akifumi Kaneko) are of course helming Armed Fantasia, what other key staff from the series is returning for the spiritual successor?
Kaneko: “Our character designer, composers, and directors are all people that worked with me on the Wild Arms series. It is very reassuring to have them backing me again.
“And not only that, but our new staff members are great too and all have wonderful careers in the industry.
“I am proud to have the best of both worlds, designers of both traditional and new games in one amazing team.”
For our final inquiry, please use this opportunity to share a message with the fans.
Kaneko: “Hello! My name is Kaneko, and I am the overall game designer and scenario writer for Armed Fantasia.
“Since the end of the Wild Arms series 15 years ago, I’ve created other action games and created anime as well. But I had no idea that so many fans outside of Japan would be supportive of my return to JRPG creation. Thank you all so very much. It is an honor.
“We’re working hard developing the new game in a way that meets all of your expectations. Please consider supporting the campaign!”
What makes Penny Blood a spiritual successor to Shadow Hearts? What major elements does it carry over?
Matsuzo Machida, Lead Game Designer: “The fact that it’s a game set in modern times that deeply explores the shadows of history, and its horror aspects such as black magic and creepy creatures are two major elements that PB has inherited from its predecessors. The detective aspect of investigating and solving bizarre murder incidents, on the other hand, would be one new major element.
“The game will also have a very sad, tragic story that overarches everything, but this is an element that represents my own thoughts on life and the world rather than something I’ve carried over from a previous work.”
The protagonist Matthew is an investigator cursed with transformation abilities inherited from his father, which he must use to vanquish creatures and uncover the truth behind a bizarre incident. What elements of cosmic horror can we expect to encounter in this story?
Machida: “Matthew is an Inheritor—one who has inherited “Old Blood.” In his case, the power of his blood allows him to transform into fusion monsters.
“As he goes on to solve various bizarre incidents, Matthew will close in on a criminal hiding in the shadows who is slowly becoming a threat to all of the human race. He’ll also run into a slew of other monsters… And maybe even some from the Cthulhu Mythos which you might be familiar with.”
Matthew has a complicated relationship with his abilities, hating them, but using the gift he despises to defeat evil. Will that relationship be reflected in the gameplay at all?
Machida: “I designed the game systems of my previous games in a way that they would reflect the main character’s psyche, and it’s become a large characteristic of the way I approach game design.
“The same is true in Penny Blood. Matthew, the main character, will wander through the ‘Graveyard’—the abyss of his own heart. To Matthew, it looks like the creepy traveling carnival that his father took him to when he was a child. As Matthew experiences the different attractions, he’ll face his trauma and all the anguish that comes with it. This is a path he cannot avoid if he wishes to unlock new fusion monsters.”
The Graveyard will also hide great mysteries and affect which ending each player unlocks.
Can you tell us more about Matthew and companions Emilia and Suseri? Who are they and how will their paths cross?
Machida: “At first, Matthew prepares to dispassionately complete his new job just like every other one that’s been assigned to him… But as he proceeds with the investigation, he starts searching for Emilia, a woman who went missing while in Japan. Matthew’s meeting with Emilia will greatly change the course of his life. Suseri is someone who helps Matthew out while he’s in Japan. No… perhaps ‘surveillance agent’ is more accurate.”
Like the Shadow Hearts series, Penny Blood will have players exploring multiple locations across the world, including New York, Japan, China, and Europe. Given the variety of locations, what can we expect in terms of the scale of each new place we visit?
Machida: “I’m very interested in the world of 100 years ago, and overjoyed that I can set Penny Blood in that time period. The same countries still exist in our time period, but their cultures and relationships have changed a great deal. I hope to depict these elements in a fresh manner through a visual story.
“The size of each town will depend on its location, but my aim is to make them each ‘just the right size,’ and of course fill them with unsettling and striking landscapes.”
The overworld map is described as a bird’s-eye view-style display. Does that mean we can expect a more traditional-style method of traversal (e.g. Wild Arms 1, Final Fantasy VII), or is it selection-based?
Machida: “Penny Blood will be a game where you dive deep and explore a cramped, yet profound world, rather than one where you adventure across a vast world map.
“Our current plan for the world map is that it will be selection-based and displayed from a bird’s eye view, but we plan to create it in 3D so that players can change the perspective to find hidden landmarks or new routes that can lead them to important evidence. We really want players to become immersed in the detective / special agent role, even when they’re on the world map!”
Besides the story, what other activities can players look forward to doing in Penny Blood?
Machida: “Aside from the overarching story of Penny Blood, which will be its main focus, there will also be several sub-quests (side stories) that the player can engage in.
“The sub-quests will solving cases by using technology that had just been introduced at the start of the 20th century. This includes fingerprinting, voiceprint profiling, mental profiling such as Rorschach tests, and other pioneering methods of criminal profiling that rely on science to nail criminals. Through Matthew, players will be able to experience what it’s like to explore the world of Penny Blood as a professional investigator.”
Can you talk about the turn-based Psycho Sigil battle system? How does the twitch-trigger reaction strengthen attacks and keep the player more involved compared to traditional turn-based battle systems?
Machida: “The original idea for the Psycho Sigil came to me when I was trying to imagine a way to depict a character’s soul—an otherwise invisible thing. I needed a way to graphically display a character’s lineage, personality, and trauma, and also in a way that would allow it to transform as the story progresses. I thought it’d be a great way to depict the unique aspects of each character.
“As for how it works, each sigil contains shining dots that represent spots the player is supposed to hit. The player’s goal is to hit the button when the moving light passes over each spot at the proper timing. The Psycho Sigil will serve as an important tool for succeeding in both battles and events.
“Attaining a perfect with a Psycho Sigil input during an attack will allow you to do things like kill a normal enemy in one hit or perform a combo attack. For the latter, there will be a randomness to it. Combo attacks won’t simply link up separate attacks from different characters—they will each have their own animation, where characters gang up on the enemy together. Discovering the hidden combo attacks for each of the unique characters will be part of the fun of Penny Blood‘s battle system.”
The Fusion system from Shadow Hearts returns in Penny Blood, allowing Matthew to utilize monsters in battle. How has that been enhanced or changed this time around?
Machida: “The concept I used in my previous series was “devils,” which was influenced by Devilman, a personal favorite of mine, but this time I’m focusing more on myths and legends. With Matthew, I wanted to focus on the ‘holy’ nature of heroes that appear in fairy tales, so I decided to go with knights. But they aren’t just normal knights—they’re spectral knights. I really put a lot of care into each of their designs. I wanted to make each knight unique, with equal helps of style and creepiness, in order to turn them into special creatures you can only see in Penny Blood.”
Sanity Points also return, which keep your party members in check from succumbing to darkness. Can you tell us more about that? Does this have any consequences outside of battle?
Machida: “The aspect of the battle system that evolved the most for Penny Blood is actually how the Sanity Points (SAN) affect things.
“In my previous series, when a character’s sanity points reached zero, they would go berserk and the player would no longer be able to control them. In Penny Blood, the player will be able to go on controlling characters with zero sanity. Characters who go mad will receive attack boosts and become stronger, but if they take any damage, they’ll gain sanity points and become sane again—just like when you slap someone who’s gone berserk in order to help them get a hold of themselves. In order to defeat powerful foes, players will need to strategize and constantly dance back and forth between the realms of sanity and madness.
“We’re currently investigating how to use sanity points outside of battle. They may be involved in certain events, such as performing black magic rituals…”
We’ve talked about the similarities between Penny Blood and its predecessor, but what are you doing this time around that is all-new or that you were not able to do before in Shadow Hearts?
Machida: “By setting this game as a product aimed for adults (18+) from the start, I aim to restore the creepiness and grotesque atmosphere that gradually faded out from my previous series and see how far I can really take things. Of course, I don’t intend to just make this some messy splatterfest. No matter how grotesque a scene gets, I still want it to excite players and give them an exhilarating feeling.”
While you (Shadow Hearts creator Matsuzo Machida) are of course helming Penny Blood, what other key staff from the series is returning for the spiritual successor?
Machida: “Currently, Kato-san, the character designer and art director, and Hirota-san, the main composer, have been fully involved in the game’s production. There is a high possibility that several other people who worked on my previous series will take part in this project as well. However, you can trust that every staff member of my current team is amazing in their own way, and that Penny Blood will be a completely new creation that can stand on its own.”
For our final inquiry, please use this opportunity to share a message with the fans.
Machida: “It’s nice to meet you, everyone. I am Machida, the general director and scriptwriter for Penny Blood. We’re deeply grateful for all the passionate support fans all around the world are giving us as we embark on this new challenge of ours.
“A new type of RPG filled with love, tears, and laughs is about to resurrect right here and now, wearing a newly-polished dark horror dress! Please give us your support!!”
Double Kickstarter Campaign
What brought these two projects together into a single Kickstarter campaign?
Publicist: “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 out user demand.”
How has the success of Kickstarter campaigns for other notable spiritual successors (Bloodstained, Eiyuden Chronicle, etc.) influenced the launch of the Double Kickstarter campaign?
Publicist: “It gave us enough confidence to create new assets and go down this path. We talked with many different publishers and they all needed a proof of concept so seeing other developers get the opportunity to make a new game via crowdfunding helped inform this decision.”
The “Combo Meter” concept is interesting as it allows backers to support both games even if they are technically only backing one. How did that idea come about?
Publicist: “One of our planners loves how you are seeing a lot of different collaborations like Naruto in Fortnite and how publishers like Capcom and Bandai Namco have worked together on the same title. So we just started thinking about what elements could fit in both games without breaking the different game worlds.”
Similarly, the community game campaign seems to allow users to support the game without funding the game at all. What kind of stretch goals and upgrades can we expect to come out of that?
Publicist: “The community game is largely focused on upgrading the different merchandise that you will get when you pledge for a reward. We understand people have limited amount of money they can pledge to a campaign so our hope is that by supporting the game via the community game you are helping to raise awareness and improve the rewards for all backers.”
Are both projects equally as far along in development?
Publicist: “Both games are in the prototype phase but will only continue if the crowdfunding goals are met.”
Thank you for your time, everyone!