8-Bit Adventures 2 is an upcoming turn-based JRPG coming this year. While the game has a demo out that we were able to play and talk about. When it comes to the full game, there’s so much to learn about. Luckily we were able to reach out to Joshua Hallaran from Critical games to learn more about 8-Bit Aventures 2.
Due to time zone differences and his busy schedule developing the game, he wasn’t available for a one-on-one over video or audio chat. But he still took the time to answer some questions about the upcoming title.
Let’s break the ice! When did “Critical Games” form as a studio, and how many developers are on the team?
Not to break the illusion, but Critical Games is actually just the trading name for my business, so I’m the only one who works under that name. But that doesn’t mean I work alone! For projects like 8-Bit Adventures 2, I reach out to fellow freelance developers and ask them to be involved.
So for 8-Bit Adventures 2, our team has consisted of Sebastian Cruz (a composer from Chile who also scored 8-Bit Adventures 1), Jerram Fahey (a pixel artist and fellow Australian who previously did character sprites in 8-Bit Adventures 1), Sufyan Noor (a programmer from Indonesia), and myself (I handle game design, writing, balance, and generally put the game together).
This game is very impressive for a team of 4, was it like this for 8-Bit Adventures 1 as well? Or was that all you?
Thank you! Things were a little different with 8-Bit Adventures 1. Sebastian did the soundtrack, so that was the same, but Sufyan wasn’t involved, and Jerram only drew the character sprites as I didn’t have the budget to hire him for the full game. Instead, I drew a lot of the assets for 8-Bit Adventures 1 myself (supplemented with some edited open-source artwork) – which is why that game looks so rough!
The first game was also subject to a lot more improvisation, so things were much more fluid. It wasn’t completely foreign, but definitely a different and more isolated development experience; as well as a more amateur one.
How long has 8-Bit Adventures 2 been in development? Have there been any problems caused by the various platforms you’re porting the game to?
“Too long” is the simple – albeit slightly cheeky – answer! 8-Bit Adventures 2 began pre-production in mid-2015, and then went into full development in mid-2016 (I made a short, experimental RPG called Tales Across Time in-between). So we’ve been working on the game for over 6 years now – a LOT longer than I originally anticipated. As long as it’s been, that time’s allowed the game to grow and reach its full potential – including the opportunity to release on all major console platforms.
No specific platform has caused any direct problems, but there’s been a lot to learn! Luckily, partnering with porting company Ratalaika Games has taken most of the technical concerns out of my hands and ensures the console releases are a relatively smooth process.
The pandemic has affected almost every studio out there. Has it impacted you and your team? If so, how?
For me, I was already working at home all the time, so the pandemic didn’t make *that* much of a difference. Although it was certainly a mental drain for everyone, and the increased isolation was felt at times – as I’m sure it was for all of us. Without giving the details, a couple of team members were very directly affected by COVID, and so I know it was an extremely tough time for them. This also had an impact on development, but the main thing was that everyone is okay and got through it.
Let’s get into talking about the game. When you started working on the sequel for 8-Bit Adventures, has the idea always been the same? Or were there drastic changes made during its development?
In the past I’ve flown by the seat of my pants, but this is the first game I’ve worked on where I tried to plan out every single detail right at the start of development. That’s because it was important for everyone on the team to have a clear sense of what was going to be required – if one of us had a question, it needed to have an answer.
However, it was also important for the game to be able to grow if new or better ideas came about. While 8-Bit Adventures 2 has largely stuck to the original plan, there have been plenty of changes. For example, the villain was originally going to be much more abstract – more like an ever-present force of nature hindering your progress, rather than a proper character.
There was also a sequence where a giant monster – like the Behemoose from Dragon Quest V – was going to be attacking a town, while a possessed Queen tried to hinder the player from stopping it; which sounded cool but didn’t really fit. It ended up becoming a Chrono Trigger-esque courtroom trial instead. There was also a boss enemy who ended up becoming a playable character!
The characters in this game are very unique, there’s obviously the RPG standard Warrior, Thief, and Mage. But there are other characters like Charlie and the Robot. Which one would you say you and the team had the most fun creating?
Great question! Honestly, it was probably those last two you mentioned – Charlie and the Robot were both a ton of fun, because they’re both really expressive in cutscenes and have some unusual attacks (for example, Charlie’s Lucky Shot where he whacks the enemy with a giant mallet, or Robot’s Refrigerate where he turns into a refrigerator and freezes the battlefield).
On a side-note, the hardest character to create visually was Emma. For some reason, we just couldn’t get her hair looking right, so Jerram and I went back and forth on it several times (sorry Jerram!).
The gameplay and presentation reminded me of the old-school Dragon Quest games. Were they a key inspiration for the game? Or were there other game series that inspired the game and how so?
You’re spot on! Dragon Quest was definitely an inspiration. In fact, the early game Sewer boss was inspired by the gameplay design of the Sentry boss in Guardsbane Tower from Dragon Quest VI – as it does a great job of teaching the player about the utility of the Defend command. There are also some enemies that are a bit of an homage to Akira Toriyama’s monster designs, like our giant rock enemy CRUSH inspired by the Rockbombs, or our Self-Obsessed Squid which took notes from the King Squid.
But honestly, there are so many RPG inspirations that went into 8-Bit Adventures 2 – in terms of narrative, aesthetic, and gameplay. I’m a massive Final Fantasy fan so that influences my design and writing constantly, but then Chrono Trigger’s pacing and characters are a big inspiration.
The early Wild Arms games made me think about side-quests/end-game content and World Map design, there are some enemy inspirations from Phantasy Star, Earthbound’s surreal tone influenced some NPC dialogue and monster designs (as well as attack descriptions), Mother 3’s combat UI helped define the look of our own battle system, and so on. I’ve tried to play as many RPGs as I can, so we drew influences from all over!
That’s so awesome to see even some of the biggest JRPGs make an impact like that. But a quick question, if I may: you mentioned side quests and end-game content. Are they impactful to the main story, or are they going to be a mix of “go here and kill a thing”?
The side-quests in 8-Bit Adventures 2 aren’t essential to the main story, but they are complementary to it – and very much recommended. For example, most of the endgame side-quests focus on a particular character in your party (like Charlie facing his past in a time-hopping mansion, or the Robot descending into an abandoned prison to put an old friend to rest) and contribute new information to the overall narrative. But even outside of the endgame, every side-quest is story-driven in some way.
Some of them you find by exploring the world (like getting caught up in the exploits of the notorious Bandit Bros., or discovering the hidden Arena where you can challenge foes old and new), while others are started by talking to your party members on the deck of your Airship.
Every side-quest exists for a reason, and most of them feature original dungeons and challenging boss fights – some of which are the most unique in the game. In a very literal sense, you could describe that experience as “go here and kill a thing”, but in this case “here” means a new and interesting dungeon with cutscenes, and “kill a thing” means battle a complex and challenging boss. Not that every side-quest involves combat, though. But all of that’s just a really roundabout way to say that there are no simple kill quests or repetitive objectives in 8-Bit Adventures 2.
If you can answer this without spoilers, the story of the game from what I played in the demo was very interesting. Is there a ton of moments that you feel are going to really “wow” the player?
Absolutely! I think there are several moments that will get players feeling really amped up and excited about the story. Obviously it’ll be up to players to let us know if we succeeded, but there are plenty of set-pieces, revelations, twists, and poignant character moments. To give a few less spoiler-y examples, that means things like arguing your innocence in a courtroom trial, blowing up an Airship during a city siege, solving a grisly robot murder mystery, battling your way up a tower controlled by an undead samurai, and experiencing your characters’ memories in a world amongst the clouds.
But like any classic Japanese-style RPG, the heart of the game is its characters. The goal was to create an expressive, lovable cast who form relationships, make mistakes, and struggle with their past, but still work to save the world and overcome their demons. I think this is what players will really connect with and enjoy.
Also in the demo, I experienced my first boss and I was impressed by how the fight was from a mechanical standpoint. Are all of the bosses going to be like this and can you give an estimate on how many bosses there are going to be?
I’m really glad to hear that, thank you! The goal was to make every boss fight feel fresh – either through unique mechanics, special abilities, or carefully designed patterns. When you pair this with the player’s own expansive customisation options, there’s a lot of opportunity for creative strategies and satisfying victories!
There are approximately 35 unique boss battles in the game, including optional and end-game encounters. That might sound like a lot – and it is – but I tried to pace the game so that players would never burn out on the combat. Because there are no random encounters, you don’t get overloaded by constant normal battles; and then regular boss fights help to keep things interesting and varied.
I haven’t played much of the first game personally, but do you think players should know the story of 8-Bit Adventures 1 to enjoy 8-Bit Adventures 2?
Anyone can jump into 8-Bit Adventures 2 and enjoy the full story; you don’t need to have ever played the first game. While there are plenty of references to the past, anything the player needs to know is explained, and those connections aren’t the focus of the narrative.
The hope has always been that 8-Bit Adventures 2 would reach a much larger audience than the original (which was held back by several factors), so it’s been designed from day one to be both a faithful follow-up and an effortless jumping on point.
This is partly achieved through the game’s characters. Three of the seven playable characters return from 8-Bit Adventures 1, and they serve as the more experienced heroes. But then the four remaining characters are brand new, and so they bring a fresh perspective to the story – much like that of a new player.
How long is 8-Bit Adventures 2 going to be overall? I saw a varied open world after finishing the “Town” segment of the demo.
It depends on the player, but generally 8-Bit Adventures 2 takes 30+ hours to do everything (and there is quite a bit of optional content).
Just to clarify, though, that 30+ hour estimate doesn’t include any grinding or repetitive filler. Our game was designed with Chrono Trigger’s approach to pacing in mind, so the experience is wall-to-wall content – the goal being that if you sit down to play 8-Bit Adventures 2, you’ll always be doing something fun and meaningful; not just killing time or trying to get to the next interesting part.
The game is slated to release this year, but I don’t wanna ask for a specific day or week, or month. Would you say the game is releasing in the middle of this year? Or late in the year?
Haha, thanks for the understanding! Due to certain obligations I can’t give any specific timing, but we’re definitely within a few months of a release. Testing aside (which I’ll be doing right up until release), I’ve only got about two weeks of work left on the game’s content myself, so that’s a good sign. We’re getting very close now!
Well Joshua, that seems to be all the questions I had for you. Thank you very much for your time, and before we finish. Is there anything else you’d like to say about 8-Bit Adventures 2?
Thank you so much for your time as well! I really appreciate this opportunity. In the game’s marketing, I say that ‘8-Bit Adventures 2 is everything players love about NES, SNES and PS1-era JRPGs – with all of the charm, heart and soul, but none of the inconvenience.’ And I really do believe that.
It’s not just going through the motions, or parodying old games; and it’s not about retreading the classics. 8-Bit Adventures 2 is an earnest attempt to create a brand new Japanese-style RPG in the classic style, and to tell a compelling story with lovable characters and satisfying turn-based battles.
I truly believe we’ve created something special with 8-Bit Adventures 2, and I sincerely hope that players agree when it launches soon on Steam, GOG, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
If you play on PC, there is a demo for this game available to try on Steam. It even runs perfectly well on the non-gaming laptop I’m writing these very words with. Please give it a try if you’re interested.