Dreams From Our Wildest Hearts: Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia Dual Developer Interview

Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia Interview

Many of us will remember the early 2000s as a very fond era of gaming: HD didn’t exist yet, voice acting was uncommon, and many RPG series were thriving on Sony consoles. Unfortunately, this magical time would not last forever, and sadly we said goodbye to many wonderful series.

However, following the boon of crowdfunding in more recent years, we are seeing somewhat of a renaissance among some of our favourite older series. Today we are treated with the announcement of not one, but two new games: Yukikaze’s Penny Blood, and Wild Bunch’s Armed Fantasia. I am overjoyed not only that these fresh titles will be spiritual successors to the Shadow Hearts and Wild ARMs series respectively, but also that we’ve had the opportunity to interview their developers.

As I previously inferred, Yukikaze and Wild Bunch have launched a Kickstarter to help fund these ambitious projects. But of course, extraordinary games deserve an extraordinary Kickstarter campaign, and Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia are running a Double Kickstarter! While our news coverage provides details of the campaign, we’ve also had a wonderful chat with the development teams of both Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia — namely, Matsuzo Machida, Miyako Kato, Yoshitaka Hirota, and Akifumi Kaneko — to find out exactly how things came to be. Sharing is caring, so read on for some fascinating insight straight from the source.

RPGFan: Our warmest greetings to both teams, Yukikaze and Wild Bunch! On behalf of the staff at RPGFan, and our readers, I’d like to say how excited we are for your Kickstarter campaign and the development of your games. Despite being newly established studios, you’ve both already brought us some truly cherished titles. Please tell us a bit about your past projects!

Machida, Yukikaze: Executive Director and Scenario Writer Machida here, along with Character Designer and Art Director Kato. First things first, we’re both very honored to be speaking with everyone at RPGFan.

After we sent the Shadow Hearts series out into the world, we became freelance game creators. After working on several titles, we started STUDIO WILDROSE in 2019. In January of this year, we started YUKIKAZE, a company made to create PENNY BLOOD.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: My career as a game creator began in the ’90s with the PC Engine (Turbografx-16). While my most recognizable works are probably the Wild ARMs titles that were on PS1, PS2 and PSP, I’ve created games in other genres as well, like action games. 

I’ve also worked in anime, creating the Symphogear series and writing the scripts for it.

I’ve got plenty of my friends from both my time working on Wild ARMs and Symphogear working on this new project with me.

RPGFan: In a first for a Kickstarter campaign, both Yukikaze and Wild Bunch will be joining together to raise funds for your upcoming titles; Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia respectively. Your combined teams have some beloved past titles to their credits, such as Shadow Hearts, Wild ARMs and Breath of Fire III. It’s wonderful that you are using modern crowdfunding to launch new games, but what led to this collaboration?

Machida, Yukikaze: I always wanted to create another console RPG, but never thought the chance would come again so soon. It all started when I met Kaneko-san, an amazing game creator, along with some other people who have been cheering us on. I was really surprised, and thought: “I guess miracles do happen in real life sometimes.” In that moment, I truly felt the wheels of fate spinning.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: I met Shadow Hearts creator Machida-san through a mutual friend. We started talking about our hobbies and other things we had in common. Along the way, the groundbreaking idea of a Double Kickstarter came up. It happened at right around the time when an anime job I was working on ended, so it seemed that my dreams weren’t going to stay dreams. We were going to make a plan to bring them to life.

RPGFan: Anyone who has played your previous works will have been immediately excited to hear about your upcoming titles, but for players who are new to your games, please tell us a little bit about what we can expect from them!

Machida, Yukikaze: Compared to the series I worked on before, I’m embarking on a lot of new challenges with PENNY BLOOD. That should be clear from the fact that it’s targeted at adults (18 and up). It’s a game set in modern times, with a story made for adults, and also has a dark horror atmosphere… I think all these elements are rare for a JRPG. It’ll be bizarre, ominous, and memorable for all who play it.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: Our new game is a JRPG set in the wilderness that is on the brink of destruction. Just like my past works, it has elements of my favorite spaghetti Westerns in it, with fantasy and sci-fi elements mixed in. However, Armed Fantasia won’t have any settings or story elements from my previous works, and everything in it is brand new. Players new to my work should have no problem picking it up and playing it.

RPGFan: It’s been quite some time since the last releases in the Shadow Hearts and Wild ARMs series; while your Kickstarter campaign is just getting started, how long have Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia been in development?

Machida, Yukikaze: The ideas for PENNY BLOOD have been in my head for a while. When we decided to go forth with this campaign, my biggest challenge was figuring out how to properly explain all the great things about the game to people. After thinking about it for a while, I ranked the different aspects I wanted to focus on, such as the mature atmosphere, the horror elements, the grotesque visuals, the themes of the story, and so on. Then I created a promotional video based on those things. 

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: The development began just about a year ago. The first thing we did wasn’t writing the story or thinking up game systems, but rather studying up on how Kickstarter works. I’ve put out many games and anime during my career, but Kickstarter was a brand new adventure for me. Thus, my staff and I spent plenty of time studying and preparing so that we could do this right.

After that we moved into planning, asking around for staff or other companies to help with the project and such. And thus, here we are today.

RPGFan: Kickstarter can be a very useful platform to raise funds, and with it comes Stretch Goals! As they pass these milestones, what kind of extra content can your supporters look forward to?

Yukikaze: With stretch goals is a very delicate balancing act because you have to think of the total game budget you’d need as well as the amount of time it would take to add those features. We’ve seen several campaigns over-promise and under-deliver so we went back and forth on these for several months. We think there will be some fan-favorites as well as some new content that will help modernize the gameplay too. And of course there are “combo stretch goals” which we hope will excite the fans.

RPGFan: Within your Kickstarter campaign you’ll also be implementing a shared Combo Meter, which will unlock content for both Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia as it fills. This seems to benefit everyone, especially supporters who perhaps can only contribute to one game. Will each game have their own separate Stretch Goals alongside the Combo Meter?

Yukikaze: That is correct. Each game has its own individual stretch goals that will add content to that game only. But the combo stretch goals will add content to both games. It does mean 3 different stretch goal bars (one for Armed Fantasia, one for Penny Blood, and the combo meter) so we hope it’s not too confusing!

RPGFan: The narrative is always the driving force behind an RPG, moving the protagonist from one area to the next and progressing the gameplay. Can you give us an overview of how your stories currently get started?

Machida, Yukikaze: The story begins when a private detective named Matthew (the main character) takes a job from the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) and visits a location where an otherworldly monster has appeared. After fighting it and narrowly escaping death, Matthew’s adventure begins. While centered around 1923 America, his journey will take him across Europe and Asia as well.

During the campaign, I will also be releasing side stories that take place within the same world. One could call them prologues or subplots to the main story. Hopefully they will interest you and you’ll give them a read — if you do, I’m sure they’ll help you enjoy PENNY BLOOD even more.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: I can’t tell you all of the details but the game starts with novice adventurer Ingram reuniting with his childhood friend and meeting an agent from an organization that is trying to control the world.

At first, they wind up getting involved in something big, and get sort of led around. But eventually they grow and decide to take fate into their own hands and solve the big riddle of why the world has become the wasteland that it is.

RPGFan: Looking at the information you’ve released so far about Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia, they really do seem to be faithful spiritual successors to the Shadow Hearts and Wild ARMs games. What are some of the concepts or themes you’ll be bringing forward to the new games?

Machida, Yukikaze: The theme of PENNY BLOOD is: “No matter how hard things get, we still need to survive.” The theme of my most representative work, Shadow Hearts 2, was “happiness.” Just like with that game, I intend to express this theme in great detail throughout the game. Drama will be peppered throughout the story to symbolize the “no matter what happens” part of the theme.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: If our new game really looks like a spiritual successor to the previous games, then we just might be doing things right.

One of the concepts for this game is that while this game is brand new, we want that old showy JRPG flavor. Despite the fact that we’ve got better graphics and whatnot with modern tech, we hope to bring back that old-fashioned JRPG feeling.

RPGFan: The battle system is a very important part of any RPG. What are your current plans for how combat will work?

Machida, Yukikaze: This game’s battles will be centered around the Psycho Sigil, which is a new timed input system. It’ll feel similar to action games, which should make the battles very exciting. At times, you’ll also want to purposefully drop your characters’ sanity in order to earn the attack boosts yielded from their madness. Once a player masters the Psycho Sigil system, they’ll be able to unleash dynamic combos.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: We’re planning on having a turn-based command battle system. I know some younger players, especially those outside of Japan, might shirk a bit upon hearing that. Which is why we decided to focus on adding more strategic elements to it as well.

At the same time, you can change your strategy at any time to fit any situation, like if your enemy breaks through your strategy, you can change it in real time. We decided to add that action element to the battle system as well.

So the system has a strategic side, but also requires a bit of timing reading from the player because of the action elements. If we can get the right balance of this, we feel like we might get a new type of fun out of the battle system.

RPGFan: There are many new possibilities that modern technology brings to games, and perhaps the most recognisable one are the visuals. Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia have very distinct art styles; what are some of the key influences behind their direction?

Kato, Yukikaze: When mist and darkness obscures people’s vision, they start to feel uneasy, and I want this game to give players that same feeling of fear and unrest. “Obscurity” has been an important keyword for designing how PENNY BLOOD will look.

I also spent a lot of time deciding what the essence of PENNY BLOOD’s character model designs would be. In the end, I went more for a “mature American comic” look by using strong pen-based hatching and low saturation, watercolor-esque, shaded color tones.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: It’s been 16 years since Wild ARMs 5 was released for the PS2. The specs of machines now are much higher. Our Art Director is taking very good care with the illustrations our Character Designer Sasaki-san has been making. I believe we’re able to more accurately produce high quality 3D models now.

That said, the art that you’ve seen so far was simply prepared for the Kickstarter. So we plan on increasing the quality of it as time goes on. We hope you look forward to seeing the final product!

RPGFan: Music and sound design can really help give a game its own identity, and looking at the talent you have on your teams, we should be in for a treat. As composers, can fans expect soundtracks similar to your previous works, or will you be moving in a new direction for Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia?

Hirota, Yukikaze: The musical spirit of my past creations has always lived on in my heart. Even I’m surprised by how powerfully they remain inside me, and my new work has inherited their fundamental spirit. I also plan to utilize the wealth of experiences and wisdom I’ve gained since then to create even deeper, more powerful music through trial and error.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: I believe what makes Armed Fantasia‘s music special is that it takes Western music and uses it as a base while combining elements from other music genres, allowing for a plethora of variations.

Right now we’re working hard so that once the Kickstarter begins you’ll be able to hear a few tracks from the game. We hope you’ll give them a listen.

I am personally pretty confident that I can also say that you can expect plenty more than that as well.

RPGFan: I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to interview both Yukikaze and Wild Bunch, thank you both for your time! I wish you all the very best, both with the Kickstarter campaign and the development process for Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Machida & Kato, Yukikaze: After meeting an amazing fellow creator and assembling a team of allies, we now get to reunite with all our incredible fans. As we send out this message to the world, we understand that there are many challenges ahead. The road we walk is long and perilous. But we know we will never falter in the pursuit of our unique flavor — the concept of an RPG filled with love, tears, and comedy… We only hope that everyone’s just as excited as we are to experience PENNY BLOOD.

Kaneko, Wild Bunch: The staff for Penny Blood and the staff for Armed Fantasia are both working very hard to make this Kickstarter a success. Personally, I’m hoping that not only will both titles succeed, but that this unprecedented Double Kickstarter system will be a success as well.

If it does, this project might prove that titles that have trouble getting funded on their own might be able to make it on Kickstarter.

As a game fan myself, it feels like the potential within the game industry is still growing stronger. So please, consider lending your support to our project!

And thank you to everyone for reading my long responses!

RPGFan would like to thank Matsuzo Machida, Miyako Kato, Yoshitaka Hirota, and Akifumi Kaneko for their in-depth and heartfelt contributions to this interview. We have many vocal fans of their works among our staff, and it has truly been a privilege. We collectively wish everyone involved with this project all the success they can dream of, as it’s definitely a dream come true for us! Stay tuned for further coverage on both Penny Blood and Armed Fantasia, check out our news covering the announcement, and visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Sam-James Gordon

Sam-James Gordon

Sam-James, AKA Sam, has been a fan of RPGs since childhood. He grew up on games like Final Fantasy VIII, Legend of Dragoon, Grandia and the Breath of Fire series. The PS2 was a golden era of gaming for Sam, before many of his favourite series became dormant, and is loving the modern resurgence with games like Eiyuden Chronicle, Penny Blood, and Armed Fantasia.