In the run up to the launch of their brand new Kickstarter, I spoke to Joshua Hurd (@qkjosh), the head of Sparrow House Games (who are based in Canada) and lead developer on Miyamori.
Miyamori is a 2D side-scrolling adventure game about a young woman (Suzume) and a fox (Izuna), who team up in order to save their respective worlds. Its premise is based on a collection of Japanese folktales, with game play that combines the traditional sensibilities of classic SNES action, and the modern aspects of dialogue driven narrative.
So Miyamori is a game based on the various folk tales you discovered whilst visiting a rural part of Japan. Would you like to expand on those inspirations?
So before my trip I didn’t really have any idea of these stories they have in Japan. There’s this whole mythos around foxes; kitsune, the tricksters.
When looking for a topic to do my project on, I found this local festival going on. They hold it in the fall; it’s kind of like a harvest festival, giving thanks for crops etc… But it’s a very recent festival, and you always think of folk tales as being based on things that have happened a long time ago. It’s like they’ve taken their existing stories and shaped them to fit the modern day.
That’s kind of what we’re doing with Miyamori. It’s set in modern day Japan, but I wanted to take the older sensibilities of tales passed down. But I’m obviously not Japanese, so want to be respectful about these things.
It’s got some interesting inspirations, like the Phoenix Wright series, where you’re presented with serious cases but it’s silly.
It reminds me a lot of Okami, the concept of re-inventing Japanese folklore for gaming audiences who might not be familiar with it.
Well it’s one part roleplaying through a folk tale, so I guess that yeah, Okami does come to mind. Though that was obviously more based on Shinto mythology then general folklore.
So what’s the story with Miyamori?
Basically, there are these gates appearing all over your home town. People are going missing, things are going missing, Suzume gets involved when her little brother goes missing. So that’s how it starts.
What gameplay element does Miyamori have to tell this folk tale with?
The game’s adventure elements are really important, but the other thing we wanted to capture is the feeling of exploring the countryside. When I was visiting Japan, I used to go out and explore the local area, and you’d find little shrines tucked away that made you want to learn more.
This is expressed in the game by you talking to people and hearing their stories. The game is broken up into two main parts. So you’ve got Suzume’s sections; her gameplay is really less action focused and more like a visual novel.
You’ll be getting to know people; their routines and lives. You progress by unravelling these mysteries or strange events that occur. It’s a bit like how in Majora’s Mask you have the Bomber’s notebook, well Miyamori has a similar mechanic; you’ll be taking notes on the people and creatures you meet to help you solve those mysteries.
As for the conversations, there’s not just yes and no answers. You can present items, steer the conversation different ways. There are context sensitive items; you’ll find things in the overworld as Suzume, but also in the action based segments as the fox.
What are the main mechanics that players can expect to experience in Miyamori?
So there are the context sensitive conversations which can be affected by items you bring, or the time of day. We’ve built a compact and dense world, that isn’t necessarily large in terms of scale, but there’s plenty to do. We kind of based the world on the fact that these Japanese towns are small, and close-knit communities, so that inspired the scale. We wanted to make it as immersive as possible, so you can just ignore the main story and fool around.
You can experience a lot of different scenarios depending on where you are in time and what you’ve accomplished. None of the game’s sections need to be completed in any specific order, it’s very freeform, there’s not a lot of hand holding. When you’re in the human world, you’ll mostly be playing as Suzume, but you’ll be switching over to the fox: Izuna, when you’re in the otherworld. The otherworld, which is where the bulk of the actual gameplay takes place; it’s much bigger, and it’s broken up between stages.
So what’s the connection between the two main characters?
You’ll hear about people’s problems as Suzume, but you’ll need to solve them as Izuna in the otherworld, with combat and platforming. You’ll be fighting different enemies, but as you hear more people’s stories, you’ll be able to actually eventually transform into those creatures.
Also, Suzume’s actions in the real world will actually change the layout of Izuna levels, depending on the conversation paths you decide to take. There’s a metaphorical link between the conversations you have and how the underworld manifests itself. Like how folk tales can be used to explain social scenarios or history, or things about the real world that’s hard to explain, how people make sense of that.
So depending on what you do in one world will affect what will happen and what you can do in the other. You won’t be able switch between the characters freely, but they do work in tandem.
Is there a morality system to Miyamori?
Well there are no wrong decisions per se. It’s not like how in a visual novel, if you pick certain responses, you’ll receive the bad ending. But it will affect how people interact with you and how the underworld manifests itself.
We were actually inspired by how The Witcher series handles player choice; how the consequences of your actions might not seem apparent at first, but later down the line, things are going to play out differently. Obviously, Miyamori won’t be anywhere near that level of complexity but, there’s a lot of room for trying different things out on different playthroughs.
The game’s art style is very pretty and rather unique. What inspired that?
I grew up playing way too much Super Nintendo. I was instantly hooked on Yoshi’s Island, so it’s got a lot of that. I wanted something charming and upbeat, as the story isn’t terribly serious. We wanted to promote and enhance the game’s whimsical elements. I wanted to bring a storybook element to the game, like how Yoshi’s Island is designed to look like crayon drawings. Our artists, Kevin Hong (@Taijuey) and Lachlan Cartland (@AlcopopStar) have both done a really good job.
Well obviously the funding element was a key motivation, but it was also the community aspect as well. Putting it out there and getting people’s reactions, so far it’s been pretty positive. The social aspect is important to get people talking about their experiences, it’s something we really want with Miyamori.
You can learn more about Miyamori by visiting the game’s official site.