Monday, June 10, 2019

The inspirations of Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm - Part 3

For this last installment of our Inspirations series, we had the chance to sit down with Heikki Repo, Creative Director of Cornfox & Brothers. Heikki, one of the founders of the company, is responsible for the overall vision and story of the Oceanhorn saga.

“When talking about influences, we need to differentiate between the inspiration for the whole series, and those specific to Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm,” he says.

Upon the release of the first iPhone, the whole studio was excited to know everyone will have a powerful gaming machine in their pockets. At the time, the only RPGs on the device where some fairly obscure Korean-style action games – no RPGs in the vein of Zelda or Secret of Mana were available.

“Some of the games I hold most dear from my childhood were portable,” says Heikki, “two of my favorites are Link’s Awakening and Mystic Quest – Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu). I love them because they could combine the portable experience with extremely high-quality content. Mystic Quest, for example, uses a real myth (think Excalibur) and builds its story upon it. It also has a lot more drama than Zelda – a quite peculiar trait for those years.”

Oceanhorn, since the beginning, was planned as Cornfox’s own RPG franchise: an homage to the classics with its own personality. Versatility and gameplay experimentation were the keywords the company used as a guiding principle during the development of the first chapter.

“The first Oceanhorn is undeniably a Zelda-like, but we have XPs, and the story becomes increasingly dramatic towards the end – that’s not something you’d expect, for instance, from a Zelda game. These ambitions carry on to the second game as well. When it comes to the actual plot, I think I’ve been deeply influenced by Final Fantasy VI, VII, and IX: they never take shortcuts, and everything that happens there is the outcome of very thoughtfully laid out worlds and events. What actually goes down in the games is the natural consequence of what already had happened before.”

The story told in Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is the background story of the first Oceanhorn: an opportunity to lay strong foundations for the saga, add more details, and create a universe that will keep making sense for potential new projects as well. “The production phase of Oceanhorn 2 brought everything into focus. Certain story elements were a bit vague, and I think we managed to handle them quite well in Oceanhorn 2.”

Visually, Oceanhorn 2 will be an inviting, colorful game. Here the references are, again, Zelda and the Mana series: while its approach is console-style, the game will feature some dark undertones.
“Oceanhorn was developed by three people”, says Heikki, “me, Antti, and Jukka. It was a 15-20 hours game, so it was a huge undertaking for so few people, but we managed to squeeze in cinematics and most of what you’d expect from an RPG. At the time I was playing The Last Story, Hironobu Sakaguchi’s game for Wii.” Sakaguchi had previously delivered Lost Odyssey, Xbox 360’s own ‘Final Fantasy’. The Last Story, developed in collaboration with Nintendo, wasn’t destined, for obvious reasons, to set a new graphical standard, but the gameplay was something truly inspiring. “I saw that game as Sakaguchi’s idea of where to take the genre’s next: he focused on the feeling of presence, with party members talking to each other during gameplay, and an unprecedented possibility to use the environment to your advantage. The story wasn’t limited to cinematics, but brought directly to the levels.”

Energized by The Last Story, Heikki decided Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm would be a third person experience, with multiple party members.  

“I don’t mind when people make comparisons with Skyward’s Sword or Breath of the Wild, it means we’re giving out the right vibes. If you compare screenshots from Call of Duty and Battlefield it might not always be obvious which one is which, but when you get to play, these games feel quite different. The same is true if you compare Oceanhorn to Zelda or Xenoblade Chronicles – they provide similar experiences but each in its own unique way.”

One more saga that had an impact on Oceanhorn 2: Mass Effect. “After I played the Mass Effect Trilogy, I realized how the characters companionship and the way they explore the planets made those games great. I think that that, combined with the Zelda-like heritage of the first Oceanhorn, is what makes Knights of the Lost Realm special”, Heikki concludes.


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