When it comes to indie games in development, some are more well known than others.
On the one hand, you have stuff like Shovel Knight, Shantae and the various Kickstarter disasters that have been released in the last year or two. These games are heavily promoted, have lots of articles written about them and usually end up with a decent amount of information about them online. They have hype behind them.
Paper Soul Theatre is not like this. Instead, some may almost consider it the exact opposite. Why? Because despite it being announced a while back and advertised on Paper Mario fan forums, almost no one knows much about the game itself. The game is like some sort of strange enigma. A phantom game we know exists, but know nothing about.
Until now. Because thanks to a bit of careful persuation, we’ve now managed to get a full interivew about the title courtesy of the folks at Otyugra Games. This includes real concept art, details on the story and mechanics and a ton more besides!
So if you’re interested in the game and wish to know exactly what it is, keep reading. Because this is one hell of an interesting game…
Let’s start with the personal stuff first, just to get it out the way. Who are you? Who is on the team at Otyugra Games?
My name is Matthew Kordon –thank you for interviewing me. Game development has been a hobby of mine for about seven years, and is now transitioning into an occupation. I became interested in game design as a kid when I discovered Super Mario Flash, a browser level editor that had a big community around it in its heyday.
Since then, I’ve worked to become a writer and music composer. I’ve also been drawing my whole life, and as a college student, I’m majoring in computer science.
Okay, sounds good. Anyone else working on the game? Because your site mentions a team…
Otyugra Games as a group of people has changed in size aggressively and repeatedly since the start, but momentarily, the people who help on the team are all what I would call Directors of Game Design who are mostly game writers secondarily.
Including me, there are 4 members.
Right then. Moving on a bit now, how did you first get interested in video games?
My first experience with video games was a 2003 leapfrog edutainment handheld system when I was about 7-years-old. I immediately fell in love with gaming and soon after, I began to play early 2000s kid-friendly computer games and got a Game Boy Advance. My first interaction with the Paper Mario series was in 2007 when Super Paper Mario came out, which was also my second experience with RPGs, the Pokémon series being the first.
Ed: Huh, that’s pretty interesting. Didn’t expect your first Paper Mario game to be Super Paper Mario…
Oddly enough, Super Paper Mario was the game that made me appreciate what videogames are capable of, but it wasn’t until I played TTYD a few years later that I wanted to make a game inspired by the original trilogy. Yeah, for a Nintendo game, Super Paper Mario had an arguably-surreal and very complex story with mature moments, which was a cut above the kind of stories I was used to at the time.
Yeah, it certainly had a unique story for a Nintendo game. Quick question on game development now though. Did you make any games before Paper Soul Theatre?
You betcha. I’m head Game Director, so naturally I’ve had practice. One of my early games is an unfinished point-and-click sci-fi game that was going to deal with the ethics of business on a galactic scale. What’s cool about that game, Everlasting Night, is that it was the inspiration for the 3 RPG classes that you choose between at the start of Paper Soul Theater. As stated before, the class you choose helps determine Aponi’s personality and dialogue options.
Additionally, I made a game called Meat Quest, which is like a tiny, comedic, postmodern version of Myst. Of all my games, I think that one had the most striking art. I made it for a competition and it did really well. I’ve also made a little puzzle platformer, and a strategy game that is basically a Chess-Fire Emblem hybrid.
However, what exactly is the main gameplay setup in Paper Soul Theatre? Because the description on your site doesn’t say much about the game is actually played…
Paper Soul Theater is a subversive 3D turn-based RPG/platformer/survival horror video game, modelled after “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door,” about a girl in a surreal fantasy world, and the allies she gains, who use peaceful communication, violence, spiritual help, and the power of ancient totems to stop crusaders from beginning a devastating war with her weak confederacy.
And the newer description isn’t really a whole lot clearer in that sense:
Paper Soul Theater: …is a 3D role-playing/ economics/ action-adventure videogame, modelled after “Paper Mario: Thousand-Year Door,” about a troubled girl and her nomadic allies, who use peaceful communication; violence; powerful ancient artifacts; and spiritual help to return home, all while discovering the true history of her world
Okay then. That’s something. Can you explain it in a slightly clearer way? Like, a way the average Joe on Reddit or NeoGAF can understand?
I think the clearest way to describe how Paper Soul Theater will play is by building off of Thousand Year Door’s gameplay description. Just like in TTYD, you move around “in the fields” to go from town to town, or from town to important location. Along the way, your party battles the corrupted “half-souls” who are cursed to walk the planet. Combat relies on weapon type advantages and Action Commands (interactions required of the player to land an attack or defend, often more complex than simply pressing buttons at the right timing).
Because the setting is a cross between medieval-fantasy, and indigenous-tribalism, melee weapons and magic are used to settle turn-based battles. However, there is a major twist. There are two win conditions in most (if not all) battles; all characters in a fight have both a health total and a Willpower total. If a foe’s Willpower reaches zero, they end their aggression often by running away (if they are unintelligent) or by surrendering (if they can talk).
Aponi Oru is the playable character, who you start the game with one of three RPG classes (defense expert, illusionist, and divine dancer). As Aponi, you can choose to fight physically, or use your RPG class abilities to make your opponent back down. The RPG class you choose at the start unlocks new content and changes Aponi’s personality, and it also doubles as a difficulty setting.
Like in TTYD, and Paper Mario 64, you acquire partners on your journey who help you “in the field” and in battle. The player gets to choose Aponi’s dialogue and actions during slow moments and is capable of buying and selling with not just shop owners, but nearly half the people you meet. Trading goods (whether items useful in battle, food ingredients, or valuables) is a larger focus in our game than it was in TTYD. Just like TTYD, the world is broken up into a bunch of tiny sections as a way to curb our ambition. Lastly, our game features a textlog, which allows the player to see how Aponi’s thoughts and feelings. In battle it records information, like how much damage an attack did. Our game is expected to have systems nearly identical to TTYD leveling up, badges, and Flower Points.
Ah, that makes a bit more sense now. The willpower mechanic sounds like a really unique mechanic.
However, does it let you play the game as a pacifist, like Undertale?
That’s an excellent question. The team and I have pretty diverse and intense feelings towards both Undertale and pacifism. Believe it or not, the original concept for Paper Soul Theater back in mid-late 2015 was very similar to what Undertale turned out to be.
At the time, that was only a demo and a recently successful Kickstarter, so I and everyone I told about my concept had never even heard of Undertale at the time. Both games coincidentally star young girls in fantasy interactive-turn-based RPGS in which you can, as that character, choose to be nonviolent or violent to get your way. When Undertale was first released, I was extremely bitter but eventually I looked closer and started deeply appreciating what was new and excellent about it.
Regarding pacifism, I would say Paper Soul Theatre is a response to Undertale, rather than an echo. I’m going to leave it at that as to not spoil anything.
Onto another question now. Can you tell us a bit more about the game’s cast? Who does the game focus on?
Paper Soul Theater centers around Aponi, a troubled 14-year-old girl, and three friends that she makes on her journey back home. At the start of the game, she already found a friend in a nonhuman named Tuari. He follows Aponi at first because he’s deeply concerned about her safety, and the two of them are about the same age. Aponi’s land is governed by a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, as well as the souls of the not-currently living, known to humans as paper souls. Two of these paper souls play a significant role in the story, but how is a spoiler. There are many species (races) living on Aponi’s planet who live desegregated. Any of these people can choose obedience to one of the many gods, and in that way, the gods play a significant indirect role.
One thing we haven’t seen much of with Paper Soul Theatre is the art style. What kind of style are you going for here? Is it cel shaded? Paper Mario style sprites in a 3D environment? Something else?
It’s true that much of the art we’ve shown is of different styles, since we’ve been more loose about how we make concept art. Our game has two art styles. Environmental graphics (like the ground and sky), and stationary things (like trees and houses) all have a watercolor, soft, detailed art style, while everything else (like people and animals) have an art style similar to The Thousand Year Door, but with flat colors.
So it’s basically a bit like Skyward Sword’s backgrounds meet Paper Mario’s characters?
That’s a good comparison. We’re aiming for a mixure of Paper Mario’s cute simplicity, and a bit of realism/ detail.
And what interesting looking locations are you going to have in this game? Because one of the biggest things people like about Paper Mario is how each chapter has a unique style to it. Like Twilight Town or the Boggly Woods in the Thousand Year Door…
The imaginative places of TTYD are undoubtedly memorable, so I doubt Paper Soul Theatre will be able to match such an incredible accomplishment, but our plan is to maintain that each place is atmospherically distinct, and filled with interesting sights.
There is one point in which your party ventures through a forest beneath the surface of the planet filled with glowing life, strange stalagmites and albino creatures. I got that idea both from Iroquois Mythology and also the indie RPG Space Funeral.
The locales of TTYD have left a huge impression on all of us, but unlike for that game, the locations in ours will need to look as though they could exist near each other; Thousand Year Door was more of a story anthology than a single narrative.
At one point, PST was going have the entire art style change depending on where you are, but that was immediately scrapped.