Melancholy Republic: A Tragic Tale of Political Intrigue – Interview With Nicholas Spargo
Those of us who were lucky enough to be brought up during the 16-bit era understand how truly special that particular time was for game development. Genres that had gotten their start in the previous generation were being refined, while fresh ideas that would go on to shape the industry were being tested and nurtured.
It was a more simplistic and in some ways, a more innocent time for the industry. Of course, everything looks better in hindsight, and those of us that are now on the short end of the countdown to forty, have a tendency to look back on those days with rose-colored glasses.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the caliber of games that came out during the age of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Classics like Super Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country (I could go on and on) stand the test of time today for two primary reasons. First, and most importantly, is that the game-play is timeless. These games are still just as fun today as they were twenty years ago upon their release. Second, is that the hand-drawn sprites of the 16-bit era have aged extremely well, especially compared with the somewhat rudimentary, low-polygon count titles from the beginnings of the 32-bit era. So it’s hard to not feel a twinge of nostalgic excitement when one sees a title that hearkens back to those halcyon days now decades in the past.
That’s a pretty long introduction to try and explain why Melancholy Republic, an indie game now in development from Cloud Runner Studios, grabbed my attention when I first saw it. On the surface, Melancholy Republic appears to be an ode to classics like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III. (Final Fantasy VI in Japan.) However, while the game shares the aesthetics of the classic SNES era; Melancholy Republic allows itself to carry influences from a wide range of RPGs from the afore mentioned classics of twenty years ago, all the way to more recent RPGs such as Lost Odyssey.
Melancholy Republic transports players into a world of political intrigue and drama centering around its main protagonist Claire Lockridge, as she fights to end the corruption that is plaguing her city of Lorna. Melancholy Republic is taking a more mature approach to the story and characters than what we may be used to seeing. It draws on historic figures who fought for their beliefs and didn’t necessarily get a happy ending. Melancholy Republic commits itself so fully to its tragic tale, that they eschew combat in order to focus on story and the exploration of the city of Lorna.
The laser like focus on story also carries over to the game’s setting: Lorna. Attempting to capture some of the feelings one had while exploring the classic city of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, Lorna is the only location featured in Melancholy Republic. However, Lorna is being developed as a vast, fully developed world in and of itself.
With a classic look, as well as intriguing attention to creating a compelling story, I could not help but to develop a fascination with the title. Luckily, I recently had the opportunity speak with Nicholas Spargo, the lead designer of Melancholy Republic, about the game and his influences in the creation of this RPG.
NB: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about Cloud Runner Studios, how the studio was formed, and the team behind Melancholy Republic.
NS: Cloud Runner Studios was formed because of the belief I had in Melancholy Republic. In the early stages of development I saw huge potential in the design and story of the game and finding a team who were also passionate about it came really easily. Once the game started to take shape we formed the company with the goal of making Melancholy Republic as fantastic as we imagined. Our hope with Cloud Runner Studios is to make games with heartfelt stories with a focus on having players of our games having awesome emotional experiences.
NB: How long has Melancholy Republic been in development?
NS: The game has been in full development for about 5 months so far.
NB: How long did it take to develop the story in Melancholy Republic?
NS: This was a longer process, setting up the initial story and plot came about rather quickly but this has been developed and worked on continually through the development process. To get the story to its more final state it is in now took brainstorming and writing on and off for about 3 months during the time we built a prototype version of our game.
NB: What were some of the inspirations for the story and setting of Melancholy Republic?
NS: Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar while artistically different, was a huge inspiration for our city and story. Since I was young I always found Midgar amazing as a setting and was surprised when you have to leave Midgar a few hours into the game. I really liked the idea of a game set in one massive city, telling the story of its people and their struggle to change their country. The structure of the city is somewhat inspired from Midgar’s circular structure and zoned areas for different citizens. Our sad short stories and tragic plot are also inspired from games such as Lost Odyssey and the indie game To the Moon.
NB: Melancholy Republic is being constructed using RPG Maker. What have been some of the advantages and disadvantages with using that developer suite?
NS: Only the story, scripting and UI are done in RPG Maker. The RPG Maker level design software is really limited so we actually make all our maps outside of it and then import them into the RPG Maker software. This allows us to make maps with unlimited detail and care that really captures the beautiful city republic that we wanted to create.
The software is great at being lightweight and at doing many basic tasks for us relatively easily, this saves us time to focus on the maps and story which are most important to us. The biggest disadvantage of RPG Maker
however is that it makes porting our game difficult, so if we want to bring the game to other platforms beyond PC it will take a while to port and get right.
NB: What are some of your favorite JRPG moments, and how have those influenced the development of Melancholy Republic?
NS: I have fond memories of exploring two cities in JRPG games that I really remember well. One was Chrono Trigger’s Zeal and the other was Final Fantasy IX’s Lindblum. I loved the look of these cities and going around, talking to NPC characters and exploring every area I could. These rich and detailed locations really inspired our aims with Melancholy Republic. I remember wanting to explore more of Lindblum but being disappointed that the city was not larger and more immersive. I mean compared to other JRPGs it was massive but I love the idea of a JRPG city that is the entire game and where exploration really comes alive in a massive amount of environments.
I also loved most heartfelt moments from different games. The short stories and major moments in Lost Odyssey were amazing in their emotion and heartfelt nature, that *spoiler alert* moment when Kaim’s daughter dies on the first disc is heart wrenching and really stuck with me. Every Final Fantasy too had its heartfelt moments and it is these that helped to give us the direction we are going for.
NB: We can tell that Melancholy Republic carries your passion for classic JRPG games, however the genre has declined in popularity since its height during the 16-bit and 32-bit era.
What factors do you think have played into the genre’s decline and what do you think it will take to regrow the genre?
NS: I think the main reason is that 3D games and western devs just got better and better while too many JRPG games during the PS2 era kept safe and stopped taking risks both in gameplay or story. So many JRPG games lost their focus on what I loved most about the classics and that was the story.
Suddenly graphics were the main focus, the CG and how cool or unique the characters looked took main priority. This meant the stories and character development suffered. For someone like me whose main reason to play those
games was to play though a powerful story it was really disappointing.
In recent times I think some JRPG games are doing well and we are seeing a certain resurgence for them due to greater innovation in their gameplay. Persona took risks to offer a really unique design as did Valkyria Chronicles. Kingdom Hearts, Bravely Default and Xenoblade Chronicles are all modern, more innovative JRPGs that have seen great success too.
NB: One of the hallmarks of JRPG design is the combat system, yet with recent indie JRPG-inspired titles such as Melancholy Republic, as well as Sometimes Always Monsters, and To the Moon, we have seen the combat eschewed in favor of the story. Do you feel that the combat system’s of JRPG’s has become too tedious?
NS: I think battle systems can be great, and even the main reason for playing some games. If however it is not quite right it can be tedious and repetitive. In respect to Melancholy Republic, we are focusing on aspects of JRPG games we loved most, beautiful environments, great characters and a captivating story. I think there are many other fans of JRPGs or fans of great stories in general who really like the change of pace these story
based games offer.
I think a great story has a bigger impact on a player than a great battle system so it takes priority for us. We could have had a battle system added but honestly I think it would just weaken the story and premise of our world. We would have needed to force monsters, weapons and dungeons into a world where it doesn’t really make sense. A politician running around with a two handed great-sword slaying Oozes and giant rats sounds like fun but probably not in keeping with our tone and world!
NB: Main Protaganost Claire Lockridge is depicted in the game as being involved in a relationship with a woman: Marrianne Dawnmark, which I find interesting because we don’t see many homosexual relationships touched upon in gaming. What was your inspiration for this story choice and does Melancholy Republic’s story have an undercurrent that parallels real-world social and political issues?
NS: There is no real world influence for Claire and Marianne’s love story. Their relationship just made sense for our story and their personal characters. We don’t want to push a message onto players with them or have a political reason ourselves for it either. I just want to tell great stories no matter what topics they cover, we believe that if a story inspires you it should never matter if it tells a heterosexual or homosexual love story. I agree there are not many same-sex relationships in gaming.
We don’t want to hit people in the face with political messages so there are no obvious issues being mirrored. Lorna may mirror many countries in the world who have seen political change into a democracy and the political issues in a democracy are highlighted in aspects of our tale. Serious topics such as racism, xenophobia are also highlighted in some of our short stories.
Personally I love unique stories and non-cliché characters, so this is definitely a reason I love our direction for Melancholy Republic. It is the kind of story I would love to play though and experience; it is the reason I
am so motivated to ensure it is made.
NB: What is the impact that you would like to see Melancholy Republic Have on the JRPG genre?
NS: Being that we are not really a JRPG it would be hard to ever have an impact on them but if there is something I would like to see change in JRPG games that some people may take away from Melancholy Republic is the story.
Personally I am tired of stories full of cliché and familiar tropes that don’t engage me. I would love JRPG games to put story and characters first and not be afraid to have another ‘Aeris death’ or other dark and personal stories.
Melancholy Republic certainly has the makings of a unique take on the role-playing experience. The love and care that are being poured in by the development team at Cloud Runner Studios is quite apparent. The game is currently in the final stages of its Kickstarter campaign. Be sure to check out their page to find out more about the story and characters, as well as sample some of the beautiful music that is being written for this potential gem.
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