Re:Legend is what happens when Pokemon meets Monster Hunter meets Stardew Valley. It’s a role-playing game with an emphasis on training monsters called Magnus, co-operative gameplay for upto four players, and life-simulation elements such as farming. The game will be available on the PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
While it wears its inspiration on its sleeve, it also happens to be one of more successful gaming Kickstarter projects out of Asia in recent memory, hitting all its stretch goals and getting 900 percent more funding than initially requested. Gadgets 360 caught up with the studio behind it - Magnus Games in Kuala Lumpur - to find out more.
"I think our first game was called Zombie Shooter on the App Store. I don't want to remember. It was really bad,” says Dong Chee Gan who co-founded Magnus along with his brother Welson. That was over a decade ago when the duo were just students. My brother came up with an idea to make a game. I'd do the music, he'd write the code, so we made our first game almost 10 years ago. It's a zombie game, and it's no longer on the App Store. There wasn't many games during that time so we started making that and we did a few more different games.”
If you were expecting a rags to riches indie success story though, think again.
“We failed as we didn't know what should be done as game developer," he says. "The quality was not good. We decided to pursue our education to learn more about the industry, play more games, and meet better people.” Armed with degrees in music production and game development respectively, the two brothers decided to come back to Malaysia from the US to work on a smartphone game. That also didn’t last for long.
“We were following the trend," says Gan. "Everyone has phones. But we forgot that every household there must be a computer. No matter how many phones you have, there's at least one computer. Even though you have 10 million phones in a market, that doesn't mean you have 10 million people who are gamers, which we had forgotten. With computers, normally they game.”
Even then, making money hasn't been a priority for the brothers - rather, they seem out to make a game that people will love. “We're familiar with premium and not free-to-play games, our mentality is not about getting money. In fact, we're definitely going to lose money because we want to put good value into the game,” Gan adds. “Sometimes we feel free-to-play games ask of too much money from people so we want to give people a good gaming experience, that is why we started to make premium games and planned out Legend of Lumina [which would go on to become Re:Legend]."
This thought process is why Gan emphatically denies Re:Legend will get any microtransactions in the future. “We don't want more money from people. What we want is to deliver a good game," says Gan. "An experience that you can share with your friends. For our vision, only a game that you put in passion will generate income for us to survive. If we have microtransactions in mind that we're still charging people for that, that might be too much.”
From Legend of Lumina to Re:Legend
Legend of Lumina was what Re:Legend was initially known as. At the time, Magnus also operated under a different name - Apex Frontier. After a year in development, it was shown off on the Square Enix Collective - the company’s indie platform where fledgling developers can gain feedback for their upcoming titles from the Square Enix fan community. Initially garnering a 94 percent approval rating, the game had more in common with Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy, in addition to the Pokemon and Digimon influences it exhibits today. But that had to change.
That's because Apex Frontier’s investor, who owned the rights to the game, decided to pull out. This left the team without either funding, or a game.
“We were thinking of giving up to be honest. A year's hard work was just gone overnight. No hope. No funding. Nothing. We were left alone without any help,” Gan tells us. “We borrowed money from relatives, friends, family who believed in us and we were thinking that would be too much risk. We were thinking of giving up and just dismissing the team. But the team came back to us and said, 'hey why don't we try to do something from scratch?’”
Buoyed by the tenacity of his colleagues, Apex Frontier was renamed as Magnus Games, and Legend of Lumina as Re:Legend. The game received more than a title change though. Story, progression mechanics, and classes were reworked, as well as the art style and environments. This time around it received a 99 percent positive vote from the Square Enix Collective, and was followed up by a Kickstarter campaign that met its SGD 70,000 (approximately Rs. 33.2 lakh) goal in a day and ended up with close to half a million dollars after 30 days on Kickstarter.
“We didn't know it would end up like this. Even before the campaign we thought, to just put 30,000 [Singapore] dollars. We were not confident to hit 70,000 [Singapore] dollars," says Gan. "But we hit it in a day. That is when we thought that people are interested in our game. This is the problem with indie developers. We don't know how the community would accept us.”
The challenge of Re:Legend's Kickstarter success
With Re:Legend proving to resonate with a large number of backers, Magnus doubled down on the campaign, with daily updates, stretch goals and the like, which it found to be more challenging than simply making a game.
“We’re not established and have no track record. This is the transition period for us that's really hard, the challenging part is getting the PR done, getting the marketing done," Gan explains. "We're a small team and we don't have professional teams like big game developers that have PR and marketing departments and localisation. They're huge teams. We have to do everything ourself. Just like the whole campaign throughout Kickstarter, we had to brainstorm what to update every day we don't have a team to do that for us. We as founders of the company had to do everything on our own.”
In the past we’ve seen the likes of Mighty No. 9 and Project Phoenix deliver far less than what was promised. We had to ask if, despite getting 900 percent more than what was asked for, is it enough for Re:Legend to see the light of day?
“We definitely will try our best to deliver what we promised on Kickstarter," says Gan. "But hopefully if there's anything that goes wrong, we will have some backup because we do have MDEC - Malaysia’s government agency helping local indies like us so we are quite happy with that. We also have been approached by different publishers which is going to help in organising the whole structure of the project and also evaluating it. From a financial standpoint, I don't think its an issue."
With Magnus evaluating publisher deals, Gan was tight-lipped on what to expect, saying nothing more than “it will be revealed when the time is right.” It made us wonder why the company isn’t taking the self-publishing route that many indies take today.
“Many people ask us this question. For us, we don't want to screw things up. We're new. A lot of indie developers they fail because of the process and procedures," says Gan. "They mess up something, they're not too organised. We don't want to go in that direction,” he adds, referring to the protocol required to get games on platforms such as the PS Store, Xbox Store, and the Nintendo eShop. “We want to know how to publish and how to market a game. Instead of us wasting time to learn it, why not we learn with someone who is in the industry for so many years? That is the most important reason why.”
“For now we're not sure yet to work with which publisher yet. We haven't had any deals with publishers before Kickstarter. If they're willing to guide us, that will make sure we have the capability to start Re:Legend 2, 3, and 4 without fail. That is the main interest in having a publisher.” Furthermore, the scope of Re:Legend has increased drastically since the original pitch, what with meeting all of its stretch goals. The team at Magnus is all of seven. With similar titles having much larger teams, Gan tells us a larger team will be needed “to deliver a product that fans are expecting.”
Re:Legend - gameplay and music
Unlike some modern RPGs like Mass Effect: Andromeda, Re:Legend won’t have procedurally generated areas - locations that are generated by the game based on algorithms. “We want it to be handcrafted. There are a lot of hidden treasures, hidden areas, hidden biomes, and there a lot of things and puzzles we want people to find themselves, we want to make sure its clear," says Gan. "If we go for random generation, things might go off. This is not an open-world, so we want to make sure the area and space we've hand-crafted is going to be special for everyone.”
According to Gan, Re:Legend’s overworld will be similar to Digimon World and Rune Factory - wherein your village is a hub that allows you to go to and from other locales in the game. What’s more, you won’t be able to explore the entire game world from the beginning.
“We don't want to open up the entire game from the beginning because players may wander into higher level areas and die. It won't be fun because some areas may be too hard for players who are just starting," he says. "We're going to make sure as you progress its going to be fast and you won't be locked out for too long. You will eventually unlock new areas and biomes but that doesn't effect your simulation aspects of the game.”
Gan adds that unlike most Japanese role-playing games, the combat in Re:Legend is real-time. Since the initial reveal, more weapon types have been added too, a total of eight to be precise. These are the bow, staff, great sword, dual sword, knuckles, great shield, prism, and shuriken. At the moment, Magnus is trying to get the combat balance right. With the game allowing for upto four players to take on its many enemies, and multiple weapon and character types, there’s a fair bit to juggle.
“We’re thinking of increasing the level or health of the boss so you won't feel its too easy when playing in a group,” says Gan. “For weapons, the difference is going to be each of their pros and cons. For example the great sword - the pro is higher damage output, cons is it's slow. Dual sword has low damage output and but speed is higher. We're trying to balance it so people find their own play style.”
Re:Legend is also taking cues from action-oriented games. “We're trying to do something like Monster Hunter - where you can dodge attacks by pressing a button but we want to make sure that players feel comfortable while dodging enemy skills," says Gan. "There are a lot of things we’re still adjusting. We want a dodging system because of real-time combat but in the mean time, the team is really focussed on finishing the attack mechanics, then only we know how we add in dodging. This is because we need to finish animation and downtime from each attack then we can plan for dodging - how long, fast, slow and the rate, we have to finish off the main animation for every weapon and class and then see how we slot it in.”
Gan adds that skills, whether for abilities like farming, or for combat, improve over time; characters get better at things by doing them more often. He adds that character classes can be switched out, ensuring you’re not locked in to one choice for the duration of your playthrough, though this is given a tactical element by allowing switching only in villages and safe zones.
Interestingly, Re:Legend appears to be the first game in the world to feature underwater farming. Gan teased what to expect. “You have to swim while you farm and you have to plan what kind of farm you want. The crops will differ obviously. Choices include algae, corals, and pearls or even magical crops we’ve added to the game," he says. "There will be fish around you swimming freely too. There are going to be different things you can do underwater because you don't have to water the plants. But we're adding in some special things to ensure you'll be busy but for now we're not going to touch that. Maybe after TGS [Tokyo Game Show] we're going reveal that. And oh we have a fish farm as well. You can grow your fish and they have different sizes.”
The conversation turns to Re:Legend’s signature feature - tameable monsters, also known as Magnus. Gan and his team have outlined that they can evolve much like Pokemon and Digimon, and aid in the game’s many tasks. They don't completely take over from the player though. "If they replace you, there's no meaning to the game. They exist to ease your tasks so you free up more time to do more things that you want to do,” he says. “For now we want players to be engaged in each activity. We want the Magnus to be like a tool to help you. Instead of you farming for one or two crops, it can help you get three, five, six or even nine at the same time. They can do more than what you can do.”
Re:Legend is also doing interesting things with music, which comes from the likes of Shota Nakama, composer of Final Fantasy XV; Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ Yoshitaka Suzuki; and Falk Au Yeong, who contributed to Sonic Mania and Final Fantasy XV. A chance meeting at the Casual Connect video game conference made this collaboration possible.
“We want to bring in what they implemented in Final Fantasy. So that kind of dynamic music will be implemented in our indie game. You will have different music involvements when you're indoor, outdoor, seasons, day and night, and transitions from normal music to battle music and back to normal music, and progression of your village. The more NPCs you recruit the music changes dramatically too,” says Gan. “For us, we want people to have a really strong emotional attachment during story parts and want them to have really strong memories and experience when they play the game. “
Could Re:Legend get cross-platform co-op and a physical edition?
While Re:Legend will be available on multiple platforms, would there be cross-platform co-op? It’s been a hot-button topic in recent memory as Sony has played spoilsport on cross platform play between consoles, despite interest for titles such as Rocket League and Minecraft.
“So far as everyone knows, other than Sony it should be able to be done. But that is still something we're working on. As we know Steam, MS, Nintendo, cross-platform should not be an issue. Our team is working on that as well,” Gan confirms.
Finally we had to ask if Re:Legend could get a physical edition. While you can buy physical items in the form of plush toys for its Magnus, could we see it on disc? Gan left us with this:
“We do want a physical release because we definitely want to see our game in shops and some collector's editions as well. And something for fans to collect. That's really something that we want. Even we ourselves, looking at the plushies that we have, those are something we're really happy about. So, in future we have plans for that. But it all depends on how well people accept our game. If people want it, we'll find a way to do it for the community.”
We discuss Re:Legend on Transition - Gadgets 360's pop culture and gaming podcast. You can subscribe to Transition via Apple Podcasts or RSS or just listen to this episode by hitting the play button below.