The booming indie market and Kickstarter phenomenon have given a second birth to many of the genres we once believed to be extinct. 2D platformers, point-and-click adventures and Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPGs are now huge again.
All these genres of yesteryear have seen a marvelous revival, and it’s thanks to the young minds who grew up playing these genres. They’re now able to sit in the developer chairs and turn their own dreams and memories into video games.
One aging genre which has yet to be fully represented through this movement is the JRPG. The indie scene has not taken off the same way in Japan as it has in the West, mostly due to lack of funding for translations, difficulty in distribution overseas, and a serious need for quality control.
Western audiences have seen a handful of fun minor hits like Zeboyd Games’ Breath of Death VII and Chuthlu Saves The World, but those are fun on a more tongue-in-cheek level rather than the emotional depths your childhood favorites ignite.
By and large, as of today, there has yet to be an all around success story for a home brewed JRPG, and that is a void Disastercake and its project Soul Saga are looking to fill. I asked Disastercake LLC founder Mike Gale a few questions about its exciting project given my own love of the classic JRPG genre and that of a shared passion.
Disastercake is a one-man team made up of independent developer Mike Gale. Although he “outsources a lot of talent throughout the world” for his video game, namely the art and music, Gale sees himself and Disastercake as a way to “bring all the pieces together to create games that he loves.”
Gale himself has experience in the video game industry at Microsoft Studios, working on games like Fable 3. He praises the learning experience he picked up working at a AAA studio, perfecting his programming and learning the importance of “project management,” but he eventually left, wanting to find a new way to put more creative input into his work.
“I quit that job a few years ago to spend time focusing on my true passion,” Gale says. “And that passion is creating JRPG inspired games I’m proud of.”
Not just any JRPGs, though. Soul Saga is “inspired by Playstation, Dreamcast, and SNES classics.” As a fan of the genre himself, Gale knows where to turn for the best ideas and which titles to mention when listing his favorites.
Sky battles and airship exploration from the Dreamcast cult-classic Skies of Arcadia. A huge roster of recruitable characters from the Suikoden games. The fast and actively swapping battles from Final Fantasy X. Hints of Final Fantasy VII, Breath of Fire, and Persona scattered throughout. Many classic ideas which make old time fans’ mouths water and eyes tear at the memory of the peak of this genre.
“Soul Saga takes what I loved about the classics, changes what I didn’t, and adds my own unique twists.”
Not only does he turn to the right places for ideas, but Gale is innovative in his revealing the secrets and mechanics of Soul Saga, turning to the modern magic of “Let’s Play” to inform his backers and fans. Each week of the Kickstarter campaign, Gale explains and discusses one of Souls Saga‘s ideas while playing alongside the classic which inspired it.
Graphical Power to Back Up Nostalgia
What sets Soul Saga apart from other indie JRPGs by and large is Gale’s excellent graphical style. “Soul Saga is a 3D JRPG,” vivid and alive with gorgeous character models, beautiful scenery, and a large variety of freakish monsters and peaceful races.
The thought and effort put into Souls Saga‘s world is evident by its fleshed out culture, and the 3D gives it a style very reminiscent of games from the tail end of the classic JRPG age. Think early PlayStation 2 RPGs and you’ll have the right idea.
Much like most the the genres booming on the indie scene, the modern JRPG library has come onto some hard times in recapturing that old spirit of adventure, and most fan favorite hits are small projects which find their way to the Nintendo DS and PSP.
Consider The World Ends With You, Radiant Historia, and the Dragon Quest games. Nostalgia seems to be the driving force of the genre nowadays where innovation has failed, and Gale thinks that Soul Saga will be able to bring that to consoles.
“I think games are moving more towards flashy effects and twitch based gameplay mechanics,” Gale thinks of modern JRPGs. “I think that Soul Saga can definitely provide a bit of that nostalgic touch that bigger game companies are afraid might not have a big enough market for.”
Honoring its Roots on PlayStation and Nintendo
Thanks to the opening of the indie market onto consoles and the achievement of stretch goals, Gale will be bringing Soul Saga to the Wii U, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita on top of the previously planned PC, Mac, and Linux builds. Although unable to dive deeply into the process of of getting his game onto the consoles, Gale is “excited with how the industry is changing.”
Not only is he excited about “honoring Soul Saga‘s roots” by bringing it to PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, but he is also excited about the possibly of seeing the game venture into Japan as well.
“I think it’d be really cool! We already have Japanese backers and Japanese gaming sites like kotaku.jp featuring Soul Saga in their news!” Mike mentioned. “We also just had our first fan music cover of the theme song by a Japanese girl named Nozomi here.”
Breaking into the New and Improved Indie Market
Being one of the first to break into this new wave of console indie gaming, Gale offers his thoughts to those who wish to break away from AAA gaming to follow their passions.
“My first piece of advice is be prepared to make HUGE sacrifices. If you’re getting paid $50k-$60k and you’re hoping to one day make that again by yourself, don’t do it. I could live the rest of my life happy getting paid less than a fast food employee as long as I can work on games I love. If you can’t make a life long sacrifice like that then I don’t recommend quitting your comfy job.”
Of course, Gale also realizes how fortunate he is to be in the situation he is in and to have reached out to so many people with his dreams.
His Kickstarter and Stream Greenlight page are clogged with followers offering him praise for his transparency, genuine passion and enthusiasm for his project, inclusion of his fanbase in the development process, and his humbleness in thanking backers with each update.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic about the support over 3,500 people have shown Soul Saga! It’s so motivating and inspiring to see so many passionate fans that really want to see Soul Saga get done and get done well. I’m excited to get feedback in the beta so we can work together to polish Soul Saga and make it something we’re all proud to have been a part of!”
If you have a hankering for an old school JRPG that most modern games can’t seem to recapture, or if your shelf of PlayStation games is littered by the likes of Brave Fencer Musashi, Wild ARMs, SaGa Frontier, or any of their peers, then I highly suggest to take a trip over to Disastercake’s webpage and give his game a look.
Through his Kickstarter page, Disastercake self-Introduction, and Let’s Play Channel, it is obvious that Mike Gale is well versed in the history of JRPGs and knows a thing or two about what makes them fun. What sets him and Soul Saga apart is that he has the talent and vision to actually make his dream a reality.
Hopefully his success will pave a solid road for many indie sensations like him who love the old JRPG genre to follow, and the flickering genre can bloom once again, just like it did during the days of Soul Saga‘s brilliant inspirations.