The double Kickstarter for Armed Fantasia and Penny Blood is nearing completion and to celebrate its success we were able to hold an interview with the lead games designers of both games: Akifumi Kaneko for Armed Fantasia and Matsuzo Machida for Penny Blood.
In this article, Matsuzo Machida tells us more about the dreadful world of Penny Blood. The spiritual successor to the Shadow Hearts series, Penny Blood aims to take players back to the gothic world of the 1920s with a mixture of RPG mechanics with psychological horror.
In terms of past works, Matsuzo Machida was the director of the original Shadow Hearts and its’ sequel Shadow Hearts: Covenant as well as a writer for the Konami title Ninety-Nine Nights II.
In this new interview, he told us about the type of horror he wishes to infuse in Penny Blood and even about how the idea of the double Kickstarter came about between him and Akifumi Kaneko came about in the first place.
You don’t often see RPGs set in a historical setting like the 1920s. What potential do you think these kinds of settings bring to RPGs?
A lot of things happened in that decade. For example, Prohibition was put into effect in the US, and the first socialist nation in the world was created in Eastern Europe. I thought it would be perfect to depict the things I hadn’t been able to depict in my previous series. I also hope that playing Penny Blood will get people interested in the world and history from a century ago.
Are there any challenges in incorporating real-world events like World War I, and the Russo-Japanese War into the game in terms of story and world-building?
One big challenge is how different values are now compared to how they were 100 years ago. For example, there are words and actions that were commonplace back then that aren’t acceptable anymore. So I’m being very careful in how I depict things and choose words for dialog. I want to depict the truth from a hundred years ago in a fashion that matches up with modern values.
From the media, that’s been released, Penny Blood seems to heavily emphasize the horror aspect of Shadow Hearts. Could you tell us more about how horror has been implemented into the story and gameplay?
There are two kinds of horror that I want to depict in Penny Blood: one is psychological fear. I want the information that comes from the mysteries that the player solves alongside the main story to be fear-inducing. Every time they learn something new, they should become more and more afraid.
The other type of fear is fear of the grotesque. As players explore dungeons, monsters will suddenly jump out and surprise them – direct fear, in a style that only video games can deliver. Of course, creepy monster designs are another big feature of the game.
Looking at the first gameplay trailer, it seems like the combat will have a system that is similar to Judgment Ring and Sanity Points from Shadow Hearts. Will these work the same or is there going to be a new twist to them?
The names and system basics are similar, but basically, the Psycho Sigil will be a completely new type of timed trigger system featuring ways to play and visuals that simply could have never been done with a ring, so I’m personally really excited for it. We also greatly changed how sanity points work in this game. Instead of worrying about them going down like before, you’ll want to lower them in certain cases and make your characters go mad to unlock certain abilities.
It’s exciting to see Miyako Kato is back as the character designer. What was it like creating a visual style that felt fitting for the game? Especially when converting Kato-san’s character design into a 3D space along with other aspects of the concept art.
It was hard to imagine going with photo-realistic models/maps for a project of this scale, so she instead tried to go for a unique Penny Blood-esque art design. After multiple rounds of trial and error, she arrived at an ‘adult American comics’ style using hatching. Actually completing the models required a lot of rounds of shader adjustment. And we still probably have many rounds of that to go.
We’re curious about the role of our main character as an investigator/detective. How will the investigation come into play for the progression of the game? is there going to be a separate deep system for it besides the RPG elements?
Aside from the main story of Penny Blood, there will be several sub-quests that we’re calling side stories. These subquests will feature forensics techniques that were the state of the art in the 1920s such as fingerprint, voice print technology, and psychiatric tests such as the Rorschach test. We want to give players a taste of what it was like to be a detective in that time period.
Is there anything in particular that fans of Shadow Hearts should be excited about in this game?
Penny Blood is a way for me to return to what I originally set out to do. It’s also a new challenge in which I attempt to create a grotesque, mature-oriented story with heavy dark and occultic touches. Of course, I’ll also be putting in the comedy that everyone loves, so don’t worry. I’ll make sure it’s properly balanced in my own unique way.
The Kickstarter was able to reach its initial funding in less than a day. How does feel knowing you were able to reach your goal so quickly?
Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be able to reach it this quickly. I was overcome with surprise and greatly moved at the same time. And of course, I am deeply grateful to all the fans who gave us their support. Please keep cheering on Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia!
This is the first time a double Kickstarter has been attempted for video games. Could you tell us more about how the two teams came together for the idea?
The Japanese game industry is fairly small and Kaneko-san and myself ended up bumping into each other at a gathering. Both of us knew each other and talked about how fans wanted a sequel. That conversation ended up being a motivator and we began talking to publishers.
Unfortunately, it had been so long and neither Wild Arms nor Shadow Hearts were as famous as say, Final Fantasy so we were told we 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.
Penny Blood, like Shadow Hearts before has a very distinct atmosphere and setting. Gothic horror in 1920 is certainly one of a kind idea for a JRPG and it’s interesting to see how it’s being brought back.
As a fan of horror and horror games, I’m especially interested to see how Penny Blood incorporates horror into its turn-based gameplay. The idea of an insanity meter that can affect battles has a lot of potential for intense risk vs reward gameplay especially if you’re at times encouraged to allow a character to go mad in order to bring about new skills in battle. You gain power, but at what cost? A classic horror question.
We thank Matsuzo Machida for answering our questions on Penny Blood and the double Kickstarter for this interview. We wish the best of luck to him, his team, and the Armed Fantasia team in bringing these new RPGs to life following the success of their double Kickstarter.
We’ve also held an interview with Akifumi Kaneko the lead game designer of Armed Fantasia: To The End Of The wilderness, the other half of this double Kickstarter. To hear what he was to see about the upcoming game click here.