I’m not a big fan of classic RPGs. I think they’re too slow in combat and story. Some are also too Japanese for my tastes. When I think of classic RPGs or more specifically JRPGs in general, I think of hot, slow summer days full of sweat and misery because the A/C broke and all your friends are on vacation. It’s a drag. But there’s a new game called Celestian Tales: The Old North that aims to redefine the genre. Thank goodness.
Celestian Tales: The Old North is a classic-style RPG from Indonesian development team, Ekuator Games.
At the beginning of the game, players can choose to play as one of six main characters. Depending on which character the player chooses, certain scenes will be revealed or hidden behind a branching story line. Yes, a branching story line is also present in The Old North.
Early in the game, players have to choose between executing a group of bandits for raiding a village, or sending them to trial. I chose not to kill them outright. My decision led to upset villagers but gained favor with political leaders. This mechanic isn’t exactly a staple of classic RPGs or JRPGs and that’s a shame because it immediately makes the game feel more modern and gives players more control. Most modern RPGs like The Witcher or the Fallout series does this brilliantly and it’s nice seeing player choice applied to The Old North.
It’s a modern take on the classic RPG genre, at least, that’s what Producer Cipto Adiguno is hoping to achieve with the first of three games. I had a chance to speak with Adiguno about the game and how it was conceptualized. Read on to find out what she had to say.
Adiguno stated that the idea of Celestian Tales came from a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
Adiguno: In case you're not familiar with it, in that game every player role-plays as a character he or she makes. This made a very diverse and interesting combination of characters, each with perks and background stories unknown to the rest.
B: We played Star Wars D&D in middle school. We never got far!
Adiguno: Haha, everyone's got the same problem I see!
Celestian Tales: The Old North is the first title from Ekuator Games but it almost didn’t happen. They began Celestian Tales as a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 but ultimately failed.
Adiguno: Ever since the first Kickstarter failed, we've been continuously keeping our backers updated with our work. We connected with them up until the second Kickstarter. A lot of them had increased trust in us, and they returned as some of the earliest backers.
The second Kickstarter campaign was eventually successful in 2014 and the game officially released earlier this year for PC on August 10th. The producer had a little more to say about how to create a successful crowd-funding campaign.
Adiguno: For small-scale independent teams, communication is indeed vital. It's the greatest asset we have to get people to trust us -- that we're really working on this project instead of just slacking off. For teams with big names, such as Mighty No. 9, the presence of one person is sometimes enough to drive backers in, regardless of what the project's current state looks like. These rockstar developers spent years on their craft getting their names known. Compared to those giants we're just fledgling dragons. But even fledgling dragons will be dragons one day.
Adiguno revealed that Ekuator Games consists of six friends who work on different aspects of the game. Every now and then they would get help from their “non-fulltime friends.”
One of the most notable aspects of The Old North is it’s hand-drawn art style that seemingly blends both east and west aesthetics.
Adiguno: We aimed for a blend between Japanese and Western art styles, somewhere not very anime, somewhere not very realistic. [Final Fantasty] Tactics and Suikoden indeed play a part in shaping the story. For the art and backgrounds, we pulled a bit of Legend of Mana, while the sprites and animations take a bit from Suikoden II and Ragnarok Online.
B: Can you speak a little bit about that? Does that aspect of the art, seem to just hold up better with time you think? As opposed to traditional pixel art.
Adiguno: Hmm... I guess there's a lot to speak about for the arts. Pixel art is dying. That's the truth. When our SNES-playing generation cease as the biggest gaming population, I'd say it'll be the end of pixel art. It used to be a prerequisite. Pixel art is small in size, and old consoles can't handle much more than that. So they had to make it in pixel art. Now that screen sizes are bigger than ever, they're much harder to make and animate as they require much bigger sizes. Also with all the tools available now, it just takes too much time and resources to do it well.
Adiguno stated that “due to the number of 3D games, hand drawn ones now have a special feel to them.” She mentioned The Banner Saga as a great example of hand-drawn animation and art.
B: The characters are a big part of the game obviously. And there are moments in the game that are really funny, like when Camille's brother is awkwardly flirting with Aria. How important was it for you guys to insert a bit of humor in a fantasy world that is and can be really harsh and dark and steeped with political issues?
Adiguno: When we first wrote the story, it was a bit too much on the serious side. But then we found each character to be too one-dimensional... After all, everyone has a weird side to them. I'm sure even the most serious person hides that side somewhere. Some humor makes the characters more relatable. More human, so to say. It gives the impression that they are indeed alive and breathing just like we do.
The game's tagline reads: You are not special, the world is not about to end, there is no ancient prophecy... It was important for Adiguno and the rest of the team to go against RPG tropes.
Adiguno: I'd say it's the note that we want to push forward -- we want a game that looks like a Japanese RPG, but feels like a Western movie, which are often more down-to-earth. One night while we played D&D, we spoke to each others about old RPG games, and laughed a lot at how absurd their storylines were. We then thought -- it all felt OK back then because we were kids. But we can't enjoy them the same way since we've grown now. ‘What about making something like the old games, but geared for us grown-ups?’ that was one of our ideas back then.
B: My friends think I'm crazy because I'm not a fan of JRPGs. But you can only look at a spiky-haired, shirtless guy with an insanely massive sword for so long.
Adiguno: Yes, well, Final Fantasy X and XII's main characters' clothes really irks me till now.
B: Seriously, what’s up with Vaan and Tidus? What was up with those guys?
Adiguno: I can't even begin to ask. I mean, Cloud and Squall may be cliche, but they look like someone you'd not stare at on the streets.
Adiguno goes on to speak about the planned trilogy of games and more playable characters in Part 2 of the interview. Catch it on BiyaByte.com later this week. Celestian Tales: The Old North is out now on Steam.
Billy is a co-founder and producer of Biya Byte. Follow him as he hunts for the mythical McWhopper on Twitter. Follow him here @BillyByte.