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Secret of Grindea – Beta Impressions and Dev Q&A
If there’s anything that the changing landscape of games development is showing us, it’s that fans have power. Enthusiasts are no longer a niche, they are a driving force behind the kinds of games that are getting developed. Fan enthusiasm is bringing gamers everything from Broken Age and Tesla Effect to bigger sequels like Mirror’s Edge 2. Arguably, gaming enthusiasts have become part of the development process itself – either they are the chorus calling for these games to be made by willing developers developers or they are willing to step up and develop these games themselves.
Secret of Grindea is a great example of this kind of game. The Pixel Ferret-developed action-RPG was born out a passion for the SNES classic Secret of Mana. On one hand it’s a parody of a classic, but on the other it’s a clever re-imagining of an older style of action-RPG for a today’s gamers.
I spent some time with the game’s beta and sat down for a Q&A session with one of the game’s developers to see what all the fuss is about.
Secret of Grindea is definitely in its early stages, but given the polish and detail in the game already, it’s hard to not get excited about the potential it showcases.
It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into Secret of Grindea’s visual and the game runs gorgeously. Pixel-Ferret are nailing that pixel-by-pixel crafted look and the game runs with the kind of smoothness their inspirations could only dream of.
A major highlight of my time with Secret of Grindea was the ease of which I could start up and play the game. There’s barely any loading times to speak of and the game’s early stages are cleverly designed to teach you what you need to know to continue. Something that I found particularly refreshing to see given the sometimes nebulous difficulty curves that have plagued many a Secret of Mana-wannabe.
Combat is fun and responsive and I really liked the thought that had gone into giving each type of enemy a different style of threat. Like Dark Souls, it’s always obvious that any damage or death you sustain in the game was the result of your own actions. The beta shows off a pretty fun boss fight and I very eager to see what else the game has to offer in this regard.
Given the sprawling nature of its inspiration, I was a bit surprised to find Secret of Grindea a bit small in this regard. That said, it’s still early and I would not be surprised if the RPG ended up as 10+ hour romp. Especially given the notable number of side-quests I came across during my playthrough of the beta.
The writing of Secret of Grindea so far is, to be frank, hilarious. It put a fun meta-twist on classic JRPG tropes with the protagonist finding themselves as the chosen one (or Collector) of a fantasy world obsessed with loot-gathering. While I look forward to seeing what kinds of fun companions the full version will offer, the dialogue exchanges with the protagonist’s personified inventory bode well.
My personal favorite thing about Secret of Grindea so far is the amount of potential it shows. All the skill, crafting and weapon systems are a far cry from completion, but the content that is there is already super compelling. It makes me really excited to see what Secret of Grindea will throws at players who reach its endgame. As I said before, the story of the game is literally about finding epic loot and I can’t even begin to imagine the insane and over the top things the weapon and ability system may offer later on.
Although Secret of Grindea still feels a lot more like a demo than a beta at this point, it definitely feels like something RPG fans will want to check out. It looks fantastic, plays well and is positively oozing with the potential for greatness.
Leviathyn: Who are you and what is your role on Secret of Grindea?
Vilya: I’m Vilya, a 24 year old swede working as a graphic artist for Secrets of Grindea. My job is to do all the background art, UI art and portraits – basically all art that isn’t animated! Since we’re only three people on the team and tend to discuss design elements as a group, I usually end up doing a bunch of the general gameplay design as well.
As reverent of a fanbase as Secret of Mana has, there aren’t all that many modern games that take on that same style of RPG. What drove you to start working on Secret of Grindea?
When we came up with the idea behind Secrets of Grindea, we basically sat down and talked about what our dream game would be. It soon turned out we had pretty similar ideas: we all wished to play more of those old school style action-RPGs in pixel art that we loved playing while growing up. Like you say, there aren’t many modern came that take that approach, so we figured we’d have to make it ourselves!
What’s the current state of the game’s development?
Most of the systems are in place now, so what’s remaining is really to expand on the world, adding more areas, dungeons and story elements along the way.
What I’ve played of it seems great but how big in scope can we expect the final game to be?
We aim to have 5 dungeons and 6 different types of areas (each with 3-4 maps of their own) once the game is complete. Total game time for Story Mode should end up being around 8 hours if you rush through the main story and around 30 hours if you aim to get full completion (which includes finding all secrets, collecting all items and completing the mini-games). In Arcade Mode there will be 24 floors to battle through, but due to its randomized and hardcore nature it’s hard to tell how long it’ll take to finish!
The skill tree system in the game works really well but a lot of the abilities on it are not yet implemented. Can you give us a hint at some of the big abilities you’re planning to add to it?
We recently finished most of the active skills, but some of the support skills and the passive boosts are still to be implemented. When it comes to the support skills our main concern is to make sure players who enjoy playing a supporting role get to make a big impact as well, without getting overshadowed by pure damage dealers.
We’re still discussing how to handle the passive boosts, but as we want to encourage different playstyles the current plan is to make them boost your typical stats (such as HP, Defense, Cast Speed, etc) so you can build the character type you prefer. We’re also planning to add a couple of special abilities for the shield, but we’re not sure when we get to actually implement that!
The writing in Secret of Grindea is genuinely pretty funny, how are you striking a balance between parodying classic SNES RPGs and creating your own quirky flavor for the game?
We try to tone down the parodic humour and limit how often we use it, something I believe gives a better result than if we went all out and joked about everything. It’s easy to go overboard with references and parodic elements when making a game like this because of all the different IPs you can draw inspiration from, but if you don’t care about the world or the characters, you won’t find things funny anymore. Therefore I think it’s important that the game should still feel like a standalone, serious piece of its own and not just a mish-mash of what’s found in previous games.
The combat mechanics in the beta are fun and easy to grasp – how are you approaching adding more depth to it the further the player gets into the game?
Our vision for how the combat will evolve is focused more around the enemies you fight and how you fight them, rather than giving players new buttons to press. When playing around with enemy compositions of multiple types you can create pretty interesting scenarios, and our goal as the game progresses is to introduce more and more enemies with strengths and weaknesses that complement each other to create interesting and challenging encounters.
Secret of Grindea has an arcade mode, something not usually seen in long story-focused genres like RPGs. Where did the idea for this come from?
While it was a pretty huge decision to actually create the Arcade Mode, the idea grew forth quite naturally. There has been an explosion of “roguelikes” in the indie scene the past couple of years, and a core strength of the genre is massive replayability, which at the same time happens to be a glaring weakness for most RPGs. By adding the Arcade Mode, we could vastly extend the game time by putting the existing combat mechanics, environments and enemies to work in a randomized setting!
Originally, we were going to release this mode as a post-release update, but with the decision to launch pre-orders came a sudden need for more replayability. We decided to take a break from Story Mode development to create said mode. It was a big move, but it was definitely worth it.
Do you have a target for the game’s final release? When do you expect to finish Secret of Grindea and do you have any ideas for where the team wants to go once you do?
We don’t really have a target for the game’s final release. Of course we want to release it as quickly as possible – each of us already put way more than the regular 40 hours workweek on the development, and given we don’t really have another income it would sure be nice to sell it properly. With that said, setting a target date would be mostly guesswork and would be bad for the game in the long run. It’s hard to estimate exactly how long things will take – we’d have to be psychic to know how many bugs will appear, how hard they will be to solve or if any of the coming dungeons, areas or story elements will require more work than we initially thought.
Then that leaves us with two options: either we have to release the game prematurely in order to stay true to the targeted release, which will undoubtedly result in unpolished and possibly buggy content. The other option is to disappoint the fans and simply postpone the release which would result in people not believing our estimates anyway. Therefore it’s unlikely that we’ll announce a release date until the game is more or less done already.
As for what we’ll do after Secrets of Grindea… It’s pretty much too early to tell at this point. We have a bunch of ideas we’ve been throwing around, but we don’t really want to get ourselves too hooked on any of them at this point. Right now we just want to focus all our energies on this project, because it really lets us do everything we love.