JRPG Revival Project Phoenix Rises On Kickstarter

By Nathan Grayson on August 13th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

I wanted the headline subtitle to be 'Nobuo Oooooo-ematsu,' but it wouldn't fit :(

The opening to Project Phoenix‘s Kickstarter video is kind of like a summoning scene from the very sort of JRPG it’s hoping to bring back. Big, handsomely stylish, and full of Gregorian chanting. Difference is, instead of beloved names like Bahamut, Ifrit, and Shiva, it raises a staff toward the heavens and calls upon the immortal prowess of developers who worked on Final Fantasy, Diablo, Metal Gear, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Halo, Valkyria Chronicles, and the like/unlike. It quite proudly boasts “creators from the East and West” and “visionaries young and old,” which could make for a fascinating thematic melting pot. Or a confused disaster. That said, music’s coming from none other than Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu himself, and the combat is actually more RTS than traditional JRPG. I am intrigued. More below.

Here’s the basic pitch, which does indeed sound like a Japanese role-playing game:

“Project Phoenix is a fantasy themed squad-based real-time strategy game combined with Japanese RPG design influences.  The game draws you in with its breathtaking fantasy world, deep storyline, Japanese character designs, and a memorable cast, most notably, the band of heroes under your command.  Furthermore, its intuitive real-time tactical combat is dynamic, fluid, and streamlined, allowing you to experience the strategic options without being bogged down by overwhelming archaic battle systems.”

“Throughout the adventure, players will piece together the mysteries of an angel with amnesia and travel through the land of Azuregard with an unusual band of heroes searching for answers.”

The plot, meanwhile, includes all the hallmarks of the genre’s sometimes formulaic past: elves, orcs, divine beings, amnesia, a crumbling Empire, a globe-trotting adventure to discover The Truth, etc. Here’s hoping it ends up less predictable in practice than it sounds on paper.

Combat sound impressively interesting, though. For one, random battles are entirely optional, prying the fangs from the mouth of a painfully obnoxious JRPG trope. Once you’re actually on the field, there’s fog of war, mouse-based controls, various types/heights of terrain (some of which is destructible), and even a mechanic that sounds kind of like aggro management. The developers promise plenty of ludicrously gigantic bosses, though, so combat hasn’t entirely abandoned its JRPG roots.

Problem is, there’s not really much to show for it. This all sounds very nice, but without any gameplay footage or even much in the way of art, I have no real concept for how it’ll all come together. Just a bunch of buzzword-friendly features. Project Phoenix is still very much in pre-production, so it’s tough to say where it’ll end up. As someone who went through a (brief!) console JRPG phase, I’m pulling for this with a tiny, gigantic hairsword-wielding portion of my soul, but that’s all I really feel comfortable doing at this point. On the upside, it’s already nearly doubled its $100,000 goal, so it’ll be a-okay with or without my support. How are you feeling about it?

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63 Comments »

  1. Chris D says:

    Motion: This house proposes that in order to avoid any more confusion between the aforementioned JRPG revival Project Phoenix and the City of Heroes reboot Phoenix Project anyone attempting to get away with abbreviating either as PP should be suspended head-first in a tank of hungry guppies.

    I know no one has tried to do that yet but it pays to be vigilant with these things.

  2. Fox89 says:

    Looks like an interesting project, though I wont be backing it unless I see anything a bit more concrete. Although as a huge Uematsu fan that’s a big draw on its own and, let’s face it, is probably responsible for about $100,000 of their pledges so far.

    On another note, I wish I could see an article about this somewhere on the internet that was less negative about ‘JRPGs’ in general though. Random battles haven’t been common in a decade, so I’m not sure it really counts as an obnoxious JRPG trope these days. Dark Souls is a Japanese RPG. There’s a world of difference between the ‘Traditional JRPG combat’ of Final Fantasy and Tales/Star Ocean.

    In short: in a world of terrible genre labels, ‘JRPG’ is the worst of them all and I kinda resent such a diverse group of games all being lumped into one genre. FF =/= Valkyria Chronicles =/= Dragon’s Crown.

    • Schiraman says:

      Yeah, seeing Uematsu on board pretty much set me to ‘instabuy!’ right away – but then reading below the line cooled my ardour a little.

    • RedViv says:

      That. Too little actual game material.
      Also, that. JRPG is a really weird term that has become even more meaningless with the Great Genre Line Blurring of the 2000s.

    • Orageon says:

      I’d call Dragon’s Crown a ‘Beat’em All’ with RPG elements. It’s not because a game is made in japan that suddenly it belongs to a J-genre either…
      I’d say that FF and the likes are JRPG (with the most typical trait being the “in line and each his turn to strike” battles), while Seiken Densetsu and the like are J-ARPG (action & real time), and then you got Tactics RPG although I don’t know if it was born in Japan as a genre…

    • Ringwraith says:

      Well this is why I prefer to use JRPG as a genre descriptor than a label of origin.
      Valkyria Chronicles is a Turn-Based Third-Person Shooter Strategy… thing? So it’s difficult enough on its own to describe. Dragon’s Dogma for example is a great example of a WRPG, and Dark Souls falls into a western style more than anything as well.
      Whereas something like Cthulhu Saves the World (and any of Zeboyd’s games in fact) is obviously a JRPG, as it clearly structured like one, despite not being made in Japan.

      • Fox89 says:

        The trouble with that is it’s just completely misleading at this points. So we have Japanese WRPGs and Western JRPGs??

        That doesn’t do anyone any favours, so I don’t like to use ‘JRPG’ as a genre label at all, as it is completely inadequate. At least if you call something an action RPG or a strategy RPG… that might still be a bit vague but at least it doesn’t reinforce stereotypes because of it’s national origins or make people think “Oh, so it’s like Final Fantasy VII then…”

        • Ringwraith says:

          Well, thing is, both regions had a very distinct style with their RPGs, hence the difference.
          As we’ve gotten the internet and stuff, there’s been some crossover, so it is more of a style than a regional description now.
          Something can be named something based on where the concept originated, even though it might not be made there anymore.

          • Emeraude says:

            I am not even convinced of that. Dragon Quest is basically classic Wizardry with a paint job.

            “jRPG” seemes to describe a very narrow subset of games that are part of the ill-named RPG genre, and whose main defining aspect seem to be to have been created in a certain place during a certain period. If anything it’s more a tool for historiography than game criticism.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Well sometimes they cross over entirely, and some subgenres are somewhat shared (like dungeon crawlers and roguelikes) but if you play a random smattering of RPGs from both places, it is very clear they often have an entirely different feel to them (this excepting the cases where the other style is purposefully emulated).

      • thelongshot says:

        Valkyria Chronicles is an SRPG very much like Fire Emblem, except for the real-time movement instead of grid movement.

  3. Rao Dao Zao says:

    It actually sounds like a classic Warcraft III singleplayer RPG map made flesh, and I’d far rather that than endless AoS clones. I may or may not be biased.

  4. Lars Westergren says:

    Like you Nathan, I had a brief fling with JRPGs. They felt fresh to me, for about two games. Still, it will be fun to see what Japanese devs can do when allowed more creative freedom and don’t have to put 95% of budgets into cinematics.

    I’m not pledging to this yet, but I’m going to keep an eye on it.

  5. golem09 says:

    No turn based battles, no pledge. Uematsu sadly doesn’t mean anything for game design, and as a composer he isn’t even in the japan top 5. Not getting very excited about this.

  6. ChrisGWaine says:

    Not much concrete, lots generic aspirations (it’s a small “indie” team, but “AAA” quality and with scope never attempted before? That’s not really encouraging), playing on the usual things-were-better-in-my-day sentiment and the staff they are able to announce seems heavy on music.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      “Generic”?

      You don’t understand how amazing Japanese developers circumventing the Studio’s is. That alone makes it worth a back.

      Furthermore, these are the people that CREATED the “generic” standard you’re judging them by.

  7. jrodman says:

    I like JRPGs. I even like the sort of overly tired ones somewhat.

    I don’t like RTS games. They have too much frantic energy.

    I think this is an unlikely crossover appeal.

  8. Teovald says:

    Pretty hyped to see a game with Uematsu on board but almost everything else is unknown or underwhelming and a good music is not enough to sell the project for me.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      Underwhelming?

      Final Fantasy 3, Tenchu, Valkyria Chronicles… Lord of the Rings, Metal Gear Solid V

      Just what the hell does it take to impress you people?

      Also the 3 unknowns are anonymous because this could hurt their careers to be involved, because of Japanese culture and the studio system

  9. Yosharian says:

    Haha, the kickstarter video is endearingly rubbish, I love it. Uematsu alone is enough to justify this one, love that guy’s music.

  10. Liudeius says:

    Damn, that’s quite a qualifications list. (Though I always hold those suspect, for all I know, the person working on the game they reference was the reason it wasn’t the best game ever.)

    Well, I can’t afford to spend money on Kickstarter for games which come out years from now, but I’ll definitely watch this.

    I’ve long wanted a (good) return to JRPG’s, and if indies can pull it off as well as they have other games, it will be awesome.

    On a side note GIVE ME DARK CLOUD 3.
    Imagine how much new tech could do for that game. (Less mashy combat, better georama which isn’t deceptively restrictive, and better visuals.)

  11. Moraven says:

    I would feel more comfortable with a tactical turn based JRPG than a RTS.

    Won’t back it but will keep an eye on it for the normal release.

  12. fdisk says:

    I’m going to pass on this one. I mean, I love JRPGs (The turn-based kind…) and Uematsu’s music is still amazing. However, and setting aside that I can’t stand RTS games, a $20 minimum pledge is a ridiculous amount for a game hoping to raise just $100K

    I’m glad that they reached their goal, but man, that pitch video is one of the worst I’ve seen. It’s just a bunch of people patting themselves on the back for previous projects. They come off a little snobbish and full of themselves. Plus, they have a beautiful concept “in-game” screenshot, but they don’t show a second of alpha or prototype gameplay in the video.

    I expect a lot more than that if you want me to pledge $20 to your “indie” game.

  13. Keyrock says:

    I’m still trying to decipher how this is going to play, but what I’m envisioning tentatively is something along the lines of Fire Emblem or Valkyria Chronicles, except real-time instead of turn-based. If so, **** yeah! If nothing else, there is a glaring lack of jRPGs on the PC, so it’s cool to see something like this being made.

    • equatorian says:

      I’m thinking more along the lines of Growlanser (which, if you haven’t played it, features a rather good dynamic/branching story system that responds to your decisions long before we started asking for it. Think Ogre Battle), without the neckbeard-bait character designs. Whether it’s more like that or Valkyria, though, it should still be interesting!

      • Emeraude says:

        Growlanser was basically what Dragon Age 2 hoped it could have been.

        Game did some really, really nice things for its time (story changing/continuing if you lost a battle, or depending on the conditions in which you won for example).

  14. equatorian says:

    I’m only mildly interested in the project itself, to be honest, but I backed it anyway out of principle : The Japanese game industry people are notoriously conservative business-wise, so they’ll only try more of this if a Japanese project succeeds. And I think Japan, moreso than the West, needs Kickstarter-like things to pull it out of the creative ghetto right now. I think Japan’s got plenty of devs with interesting ideas that just aren’t supported at all by their industry, moreso than the West. And maybe it’ll give their indie scene the push it needs to move out of the hobbyist/otaku culture it’s mostly mired in. The sheer bulk of quirky, mid-budget, quasi-indie (in the way they’re made, anyway) confident-in-their-vision titles of the PS and PS2 era was part of the reason why Japan did so well in those days, I feel, and if they can bring back that quirkiness again instead of ‘play-it-safe, try what the West did’, we might have those days back, albeit in evolved form.

    And even if that doesn’t happen, we’ll probably still get a decent game out of it and show that there is goodwill. Win-win situation. Aside from that hole in my wallet, that is.

    • Ringwraith says:

      There is a similarly-significant anime kickstarter going on right now, as it shows they have actually noticed people outside Japan really enjoy this stuff and want to see more of it.

    • Emeraude says:

      The sheer bulk of quirky, mid-budget, quasi-indie (in the way they’re made, anyway) confident-in-their-vision titles of the PS and PS2 era was part of the reason why Japan did so well in those days

      Was replaying Tori no Hoshi last week, and I kept thinking that there was no way a game like this would be made out of the indie scene nowadays.
      The erosion and destruction of the small/middle-sized studio have been a plight on the industry these past 10 years or so, and the indie scene is barely starting to make up for it in my opinion (but now that it has its gears in place, it is doing so beautifully).

      • equatorian says:

        OMIGOD SOMEONE ELSE KNOWS TORI NO HOSHI.

        I still wish someone else has used the idea again on more capable machines. It’s just wonderful. And it makes me gnash my teeth that the game never made it out of Japan……there were so MUCH brilliant stuff exclusive to Japan back then, that Western players didn’t know about when they pigeonholed Japan as a ‘no innovation, cut-scene, cut-scene’ gaming industry. I also love Growlanser, btw…….

        And all else aside, I still think that the Gakuen Denki semi-series has a better dialogue wheel than Mass Effect. Probably not a better game, but I loved that wheel.

        • Emeraude says:

          Tori no Hoshi’s still one of my favorite games to point out to people who think games can only be about some form of violence. Beautiful, beautiful thing. There’s just something magic in figuring the migration patterns of some of the birds and help them/accompany them toward the next island.

          That being said, I don’t know if conservative is the way I would describe the Japanese. They have (had?) that weird mix of very stern conservatism and free-for-all risk taking entrepreneurship that is very distinctive.

  15. Voronwer says:

    I might have pledged until I saw the first female character design. I make it a point now of not backing any kickstarters where female ‘armour’ has to have cleavage, bare thighs and high heels.

    Pass.

    ETA: Yes, I realise that for Japanese media this is mild.

    • Ringwraith says:

      I reserve judgement until the male designs also come out, if they are similarly impractical-looking, I give them a pass.
      Only fair if everyone is getting treated the same after all.

      • Voronwer says:

        Hahaha! That’s not a bad way to look at it. There’s already some male art up, though, and it’s the usual big armour thing. Granted, it seems more like a mood piece than a full design.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Seeing as they seem to have some (or at least, the noted female character) specific character designs, might have to wait until you get more easily equivalent outfits.
          For all we know the heavy armour styles could just all be like that. Difficult to tell when you have just odds and ends for concept art. (Though this does quickly remind me of the warriors in Disgaea; the female ones are only wearing a pair of belts on their upper half, and the male ones have but a bandanna).

      • The Random One says:

        If only women are dressed like that I won’t back because it’s sexist, and if everyone is dressed like that I won’t back because it’s not JRPG. I demand improbable fashion statements covered in zippers!

        • Keyrock says:

          Also, since this is a jRPG (at least in part) they must have characters wielding swords twice as large as their entire body.

        • darkChozo says:

          The obvious solution is to co-opt the JRPG trend of asymmetrical clothing. One half will be made entirely of belts, zippers, safety pins and metal bits. The other side will be a thong.

          Not that you’ll be able to see any of it under the hair.

      • Keyrock says:

        Assless chaps for the male characters.

  16. TsunamiWombat says:

    Just the fact this is a Japanese crew going in on an indie kickstarter is a huge departure for the Japanese development culture and one i’d be glad to support. Even if you don’t like JRPG’s, this could have implications for future games of different genre’s.

  17. awwnuts07 says:

    I backed it, but I look at any Kickstarter project I back as “money lost”. I realize some of these could fail miserably, but so far, I’ve picked projects that have succeeded (more or less).

  18. Emeraude says:

    “Azuregard” reads like a portmanteau of “Azure” and “Regard” (‘Blue Gaze”) to my French ear…

    Doesn’t help.

  19. Emeraude says:

    That first update left me rather wondering and unsatisfied on the DRM-front.

    • equatorian says:

      Japan’s probably too afraid of not using DRM. If their ebook DRMs are any judge, they still think the more draconian, the better to protect their interests. And that DRM actually works. *roll eyes* It’s why I still buy physical books from Japan in this day and age, bah. Makes Amazon look lenient by comparison.

      They probably just have to start somewhere, and this might improve for later projects once people start to take a hint. I’m not too happy with it, but I guess it’s reasonable enough and more honest about what they want to do than Shadowrun Returns, at least.

      • Emeraude says:

        Yes, on many fronts Japan’s still is sadly pretty much in support of more draconian measures.

        What I find interesting in that update is how the spokesperson seems struggling to understand the issue(s) at hand and as such failing to deliver a satisfying answer (by which I mean not necessarily ones that gives way favorably to my hopes, but one that leaves little to no ambiguity in its wording).

        Just look at that chain:

        – Offline Play – no internet connection required

        - After entering the activation key, the game will be able to play in Offline Playwithout requiring an internet connection or you to login.

        [...]

        - We hope we have answered our backer’s calls for a DRM free version of the game!

        The person just doesn’t seem to *get* what DRM-free entails.

  20. S Jay says:

    I would like something like Final Fantasy Tactics, not real time stuff.

    • Ringwraith says:

      There’s still quite a lot of those out there, not on PC that much, often on handhelds, but the SRPG genre is still going with the likes of Fire Emblem on one end of the scale and Disgaea on the other.
      If I recall The Last Remant is an SRPG (albeit not quite like FFT) that got a PC release. Can’t personally vouch for it though.

  21. Ahtaps says:

    I wonder if it’s going to be like the SpellForce series, only as a JRPG rather than GRPG (German RPG). I’d be more interested if it is because it sounds a bit too much like things that already exist in numbers.

  22. Don Reba says:

    I understand their choice of music for the trailer, with the Final Fantasy composer on their team, and all that, but it made it seem just over-the-top pretentious.

  23. Keyrock says:

    If you read through the page then the stretch goals sort of make sense. The tl;dr version is this: This project is being made whether they meet the minimum funding or not, all these people have regular full-time jobs at other studios making big ol’ behemoth games and such and they are doing this project in their spare time with zero compensation right now (they will get a percentage of the profit from the game). This is basically a project of passion for them. The initial 100k is to hire a top notch 3D modeler, even if they don’t meet that figure (a moot point as they’ve already more than doubled the funding goal) the game will still be made, just with crappier 3D modeling. The stretch goals are there in case they wildly exceed their goal and can do a lot more with the game then initially envisioned, and the way it’s looking right now, they will likely make all their stretch goals except maybe the last one, and they may even make that one.

  24. Fiatil says:

    Easy there! In order for the 20, 25, and 35 tiers to be “gone by tonight” they would have to raise about $500,000 with just those three tiers. The 50 is in no way the de facto minimum pledge.

  25. fdisk says:

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said; however, it is very possible to make a great game in your spare time if you are using Unity or UDK (Which I hope/assume they are) since that cuts your development time significantly by not having the need to write a whole engine.

    Having said that, I agree; they are trying to Kickstart a AAA game, not an indie Kickstarter is meant for. A lot of the stuff on their pitch contradicts the spirit of indie games, even though this is by all means an independent game. Like you, I might pick this up when it’s ridiculously discounted on Steam because the art style at least is really appealing to me.

  26. Emeraude says:

    they are trying to Kickstart a AAA game, not an indie Kickstarter is meant for.

    Let’s frame it that way: they are trying to deliver a game for the sake of the promotion and advancement of the craft of game-making rather than for monetary profit.

    Which seems to be exactly part of what Kickstarter was made for.

  27. TsunamiWombat says:

    They’re doing it for creative control, of which there is none in the Japanese studio system. So yes, they are donating their time.

  28. Yosharian says:

    If you read the kickstarter page they answer that question

  29. Emeraude says:

    I find it interesting that apart from the 1/50/70$ tiers, everything is a limited tier though.

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