If there’s one thing we’re never going to get tired of, it’s a good Metroidvania, and indie team Code Wakers’ upcoming Akatori certainly looks like it has the potential to fit that description. With its gorgeous pixel art style, its promise of a rich and varied setting, and its focus on combat, traversal, and exploration mechanics, the promises that Akatori has made so far have turned a fair few heads. To learn more about the game and what’ll make it tick, we recently sent across a few of our questions to its development team, and below, you can read our interview with Vladimir (Game Designer, Tech Artist, Gameplay Programmer), Will (Game Designer, Level Designer), and Alina (Narrative Designer).
"Pixel art is all about intent, and with great artists we have on our team, we want to make visuals really pop."
Akatori sports a gorgeous and striking art style. Can you tell us about how you settled on this look for the game, and the biggest challenges you’ve faced in implementing it?
Vladimir (Game Designer, Tech Artist, Gameplay Programmer): To be honest, developing a 2.5D pixel art game is simply fun. With roughly half a century of experience behind our art team’s backs, pixel art, by itself, was already done down to a science, and we decided that, instead of retreading old ground, we would rather work on something that has more room for experimentation. There are a lot of challenges (which is why this kind of art style is fun to work with), the most important of which is keeping the look of the game consistent between 2D and 3D visuals. Pixel art is all about intent, and with great artists we have on our team, we want to make visuals really pop. Technically, nothing stops us from adding photorealistic physics-based rendering and raytracing everywhere, but we aim for a specific art style which is more hand-crafted, personal and stylized, while still leveraging extra freedom and fidelity that 3D provides.
How does Akatori’s world leverage it art style in terms of how varied the design and aesthetics of its environments will be?
Vladimir: The structure of the game gives us a lot of freedom in terms of world design. On a macro scale, every individual zone is it’s own independent world with it’s own inhabitants, culture, ecosystem, etc, and we are committed to make them as varied as possible, while keeping the whole game tied together with interconnected lore and narrative themes. On micro, level-to-level scale, the 2.5D art style allows us to break free from restrictions of tile-based art, which is common in pixel art games of this scale, and treat each individual room as a small hand-crafted diorama. Navigation is an important part of any Metroidvania, and this approach will allow us to create more varied levels with memorable landmarks, so you always got your bearings.
What can you tell us about Akatori’s combat system? Specifically, how much variation does the action offer when switching back and forth between the staff and your firsts, and how much does the game emphasizes using them together in different combos?
Vladimir: Easy to pick up, hard to master would be a fitting term for what I strive for in combat design, it’s kind of my specialty. The whole game was born out of an old prototype of mine in which I toyed with idea of using a throwable staff for platforming. In Akatori, we doubled down on this idea, making it the key component of the game. The further you go into the game, the more fists/staff movesets will differentiate with new abilities, but the key roles will stay the same – your fists is a no-nonsense fast damage dealer, while staff serves more of a utility function – it’s your primary platforming tool, way to cancel out of recovery animations, long-range projectile, source of magic spells, not to mention slow, but hard-hitting long-reaching weapon. And knowing how to utilize both parts of your toolkit effectively in any single combat encounter is the key to success.
"The structure of the game gives us a lot of freedom in terms of world design. On a macro scale, every individual zone is it’s own independent world with it’s own inhabitants, culture, ecosystem, etc, and we are committed to make them as varied as possible, while keeping the whole game tied together with interconnected lore and narrative themes."
What should players expect from Akatori in terms of enemy variety and boss designs? How does the game approach balancing between approachability and difficulty?
Will (Game Designer, Level Designer): There are several enemies and bosses in the game. Each enemy has a unique pattern and design that encourages the player to use your abilities to overcome the challenge. Keeping the flow of exploration it’s very important in a Metroidvania game, so not every enemy in the game will be a real challenge. It’s a mix of easy and tough ones. The difficulty is progressive, but in such a non linear game, an area of the map can be harder than another.
Alina (Narrative Designer): There are multiple enemies and bosses in the game, several of which will be present in the upcoming demo. Each enemy has a unique pattern and design that encourages players to be creative and use available abilities to beat them. However, maintaining the flow of exploration is very important in a Metroidvania game, so not every enemy in the game will pose a real challenge. For the sake of balance, it’s a mix of easy and tough ones. The difficulty is progressive, but in such a non-linear game, one area of the map can obviously be more challenging than another.
How large is Akatori’s world? Given its nature as a Metroidvania game, how intricate and layered can players expect its level and world design to be?
Vladimir: We don’t want to spoil too much yet, but in terms of raw numbers, we aim for 10+ distinct worlds and 20+ hours of gameplay. And speaking of interconnectivity, we are cooking something really special there, and hopefully we’ll be able to talk about it pretty soon.
How does the Void fit into Akatori’s setting? How much will the gameplay experience differ from the rest of the game when players are in the Void?
Alina: First of all, it’s probably worth mentioning that the name of this location is actually Kohakujō – Void is just a working title that kind of accidentally leaked into the public. Second, the setting of Akatori is a pretty hard thing to define, as what you might be referring to as setting is just the very first in-game world that we won’t actually spend much time in. So in a way, Kohakujō may be Akatori’s setting itself. Anyway, boring clarifications aside, Kohakujō is the initial and ‘main’ world of the game lore wise: it’s been there since the beginning of time, and its energy in the form of amber resin has given birth to all other worlds, including the homeworld of our protagonist. Once a prosperous place, it now acts as a huge container for the rest of the worlds and the energy core of the in-game universe that allows it to function. Apart from enemies and bosses unique to Kohakujō, players will also have to deal with its very special mechanic. The more time you spend in this place, the harder it gets to actually stay there: there’s an invisible timer causing levels to change and enemies to become more and more aggressive. To reset the timer, you have to either save the game or hit one of the special bells scattered across the location. But more challenges also mean more rewards, so it’s always a matter of whether a risk is worth taking at a given time.
"In terms of raw numbers, we aim for 10+ distinct worlds and 20+ hours of gameplay."
What can you tell us about the traversal and combat abilities players will encounter throughout the game, and how they’ll change up the moment-to-moment gameplay?
Will: It’s a key element. A Metroidvania is essentially a game about exploration, so the players are always expecting to find something special in each corner of the map or after defeating a boss. The abilities come to increase the potential of exploration, allowing the player to reach new areas on the map, but not only that, the same abilities can be used in combat too. Some abilities can be necessary to defeat some enemies or bosses, at least, decrease the challenge, giving new combat tools for the players. The players can expect this kind of synergy.
Alina: Apart from their primary function, what’s great about the abilities in Akatori is how enjoyable they are. It’s very satisfying to use some of them, not only in combat but also just to have fun and play around in moments of calm.
Do you have any plans to bring Akatori to PlayStation and Xbox after it launches?
Vladimir: Not at the moment, no. Right now we’re aiming for PC and Switch.