Yoko Taro, the game director and scenario writer infamous as the primary creative force behind some of the weirdest games released by mainstream publishers, has finally arrived in the world of mobile games. Or perhaps I should say he arrived a while ago. Now the rest of us are finally catching up. Meet SINoALICE, a mobile game released in 2017 in Japan, developed collaboratively by Square Enix and mobile game developer Pokelabo, with creative direction by Yoko Taro. Now, on July 1, it’s finally coming to the West on iOS and Android.
Taro, of course, is best known for the eccentricities and darkness of the Drakengard and Nier franchises — which intertwine to form one massive sci-fi-fantasy universe full of existential moodiness and oddball anime excess. SINoALICE brings some of Taro’s old collaborators and much of the same energy.
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Soundtracked by Nier and Nier Automata composer Keiichi Okabe, it’s the story of fairy tale characters set loose in a violent fantasy world where, to put their lives back on track and resurrect their authors, these classic characters need to kill. The storylines is supervised by Taro, while the product itself is a gacha-style role-playing game. That is to say in-game battles and randomization allow you to “draw” for new characters. Naturally, in-app transactions grease the wheels if you don’t feel like waiting or grinding.
Ahead of the game’s release, I got a chance to chat with Taro alongside Square Enix producer Yoshinari Fujimoto and Shogo Maeda, who’s overseeing the game on Pokelabo’s end. And I got… well, a few answers.
I know for some of you, this is your first time working on a mobile game in a key role. How does the experience differ from console development?
Yoko Taro, creative director:
Mobile games are developed mostly by young people. They’re fast, talented, and seeing them makes me fearful. As an old geezer, I feel like game development should be more laid back, they don’t have to work so hard…
What do you really want Western audiences to know about SINoALICE before it’s released?
Yoshinari Fujimoto, Square Enix:
Please turn your sound settings on before playing! It would be great if you could put on your headphones or earphones, if possible.
Shogo Maeda, Pokelabo:
Yoko Taro’s world is one of the appealing points of this game, but there aren’t complicated action controls like Nier. While the game itself is simple, it also puts great emphasis on communication aspects such as guild battles.
A lot of games in this genre aren’t exceptionally narrative heavy. How does the story-driven approach of SINoALICE shape development?
One of SINoALICE‘s appeals is its world building, but the story unfurls in short sentences.
We consciously make sure players can enjoy the game in short time sessions, unlike console games that require longer sessions.
For Taro-San: You’ve had an interest in fairy tales throughout your career, with things like references in the original Nier. I’d love to hear about your thoughts about fairy tales and your interest in them, and how that shaped the concept and scenarios of the game.
My thoughts about fairy tales… I wonder… I’m not sure, but in my dreams, I think a black mouse with a high-pitched voice whispered to me, “you’ll get rich.”
What were the unique challenges in creating a game built out of so many overlapping character stories?
We worked on showing the characters under Yoko Taro’s guidance. All the characters have strong personalities, so we’re careful that their uniqueness doesn’t get diminished by the characters’ stories overlapping. We’re also careful that no one character gets more attention than the others, because we want the players to play the character they prefer.
What were the team’s inspirations for this world and the game design? What kind of things were on your mind?
Square Enix hadn’t published a game based on Alice in Wonderland before, so I thought an Alice by Yoko-san would be interesting. I had also decided at that time that there would be a guild vs. guild system. There are a few reasons, but a big reason is that I believe the essence of online games is the drama and communication created by players themselves, and had experienced the real fun of guild vs. guild games.
The world is built by Yoko Taro. The game design is based on the simple command battles centered around communication, which Pokelabo has been good at developing.
I’ve heard the game design of SINoALICE is a complete clone of the game system of some other game that the same company made. As for the world, I had too much beer and I forgot.
Finally, a fun one: What’s everyone playing lately?
SINoALICE and Fortnite. They’re completely different game designs, but according to my wild imagination, they’re similar in some ways.
Clash of Clans. I’ve been playing it as a reference for our global release, but it’s fun to play. I want SINoALICE to make even more money than CoC.
What game I’ve been playing lately? I got the same question from Game Informer, so if you try searching that I’m sure you’ll get the answer you need. If you don’t like that answer, try putting your hand over your chest and listen to the beating of your heart. Yes, you’re alive. That alone should be enough. That’s life.
SINoALICE is out now. It’s free-to-play, too, with a crossover storyline featuring Nier and Nier Automata characters. That’s also written by Yoko Taro, and planned to release shortly after launch.