Have you ever wanted to play a 90s anime with turn-based RPG mechanics? And do you like matching words together? Well, Wander Stars might be the game for you. As Paper Castle Games prepares to launch the game’s KickStarter, we talked to Paper Castle co-founder, lead artist, and game designer Alvaro Dominguez (Kay) and lead writer and 2D artist Andrea Gallo (Andie) about the RPG and what we can expect.
RetroWare: What is your elevator pitch for Wander Stars?
Andie: Wander Stars is a 90s anime RPG where you make your own attacks by combining words!
RW: Wander Stars is a turn-based RPG. What are the pros and cons of the genre, and how does this game’s combat system stand out among the rest?
Kay: One of the biggest pros is how you can feel like you’re getting better the longer you play. It really fits with the theme of growing stronger present in most shonen anime (Editor’s Note: shows like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, My Hero Academia, etc), and since we’re making a game structured as an anime series, it really helps sell that fantasy. The biggest cons are the numbers; there are so many numbers that have to be fine-tuned and tweaked until the game feels fair and fun.
Our combat system stands out thanks to the main mechanic of combining words to improve your actions! We’re big fans of RPGs that let you customize your powers to your liking and really let loose however you want. There’s also an element of experimentation involved in order to adapt to any encounter with the hand you’ve been dealt that run.
RW: In Wander Stars, you can create special moves by matching different words together. How many words are there in the game and how many different variations come from this mechanic?
Kay: So far we have designed about 250+ words that can be combined with each other, not to mention that certain values change depending on the order you arrange your sentence basically. So the amount of combinations is a bit insane at first glance, but we have placed certain limitations to keep balancing manageable for us. For example, you can only use one action per sentence, but you can act many times per turn as long as you have SP (spirit points). Another limitation is that you can’t combine elements with each other (which we thought about, but the ramifications of that idea were sadly out of our scope).
Either way, we’re always thinking of adding new words/mechanics since we designed the system to be easy to expand under the hood!
RW: Can you save your favorite word combinations for later?
Kay: Not precisely, since the rogue-lite nature of the game means you will have different combinations of words that will be lost after every run is complete. When not playing an episode, you will be able to spend your collected resources on training your stats and even earning permanent words that you will be able to equip at the start of any episode.
That said, you will be able to favorite words and sort by favorite words in battle if you want!
RW: What 90s anime shows were you inspired by for the art style of Wander Stars?
Andie: Dragon Ball was our main inspiration, but we also wanted the art style to look like its own thing, so we borrowed from other anime series from that time like Sailor Moon and One Piece to come up with something that looks different enough but still feels familiar somehow.
I think it’s really neat that when you say 90’s anime, you have a broad range of styles to pick from. All the shows I mentioned have very unique styles, and ultimately our goal is to internalize this visual language to make Wander Stars stand out on its own as well. We actually grew up in the 90s and we watched a lot more anime than cartoons, so this process has been very intuitive.
RW: With a roguelike, it’s hard to tell a nuanced story as you have to play through the game over and over. The structure is tough to figure out for any writer. How does Wander Stars take this format into account with its narrative?
Andie: The story of the game is structured like a series, and each run is an episode with its own story beats. I think the roguelike elements actually benefit the narrative because when you’re done with the main story after completing all the episodes, you can actually go back and replay episodes for special events and little adventures that are basically like anime filler episodes. I think it’s really cool because as much as I love high-stakes adventures and mystery, sometimes you just want to see the characters hang out you know?
RW: What is the Wanderstar Map that the two protagonists are trying to find pieces of?
Andie: It’s the deepest secret nobody knows… Well, I know, but everyone else will have to play the game to find out haha.
RW: Can you please tell us more about Ringo and Wolfe? What are their aspirations and goals?
Andie: Ringo is a young martial artist who lives and trains with her grandmother Anzu. Her older brother Nashi used to live with them as well, but he decided to go on his own one day, and she wants to go after him. There seems to be a connection between Nashi and the Wanderstar map, so Ringo is looking for the map pieces to be able to find him. She also loves fighting, chicken nuggets, and hates apples with a passion.
Wolfe is a bit of a mystery because he’s not very straightforward about what he wants (or anything else), but he’s willing to partner up with Ringo to look for the map pieces because a) she can totally kick his ass and b) it’s his only option, really. He likes black coffee, hates sweets, and his favorite thing in the world is doing nothing.
RW: In the game, there are permanent upgrades you can find. What are they and how do you collect them? Do you level up?
Kay: The progression system is something we’re still tweaking, but the gist of it is that by fighting honorably (avoiding KOs) you earn honor points that can be spent after episodes to train your character stats and even learn permanent words for you and your party members. Another permanent upgrade you can earn is special techniques, which are super flashy moves that are taught by master NPCs during an episode.
RW: Will there be voice acting in Wander Stars?
Kay: Very limited and only used in battle attacks and such. We thought hard about it and ultimately we decided it was outside of our expertise to have full voice acting. We’d like to think that people will enjoy imagining their favorite voice actors voicing the characters of the game, and this can apply to any language we end up localizing!
RW: What goes into preparing a KickStarter? Is it more than writing a description and uploading a few images? What is your process to make sure that the rewards are worthwhile for backers?
Andie: Kickstarter is a full-time job! While we were working on the campaign, we spent three whole months working on the trailer alone and we weren’t able to work on the actual game at all. It was a little frustrating because all we want is to work on the game, but this is how we get it done.
For the rewards, we just tried to come up with things we would actually want. We have the usual rewards like getting a copy of the game, soundtrack, and artbook, but we also have some fun creative rewards that will let people be a part of the game, like having your own NPC or creating your own special technique.
RW: When are you planning to start the KickStarter campaign for Wander Stars?
Andie: Early next year, hopefully! We don’t have an official date just yet, so we decided to wait until we feel ready.
RW: What platforms are you expecting to release Wander Stars on?
Kay: PC (Windows, Linux, Mac) and Nintendo Switch.
RW: Is there anything you think we missed?
Kay: Follow our Kickstarter campaign to get notified when it goes live, and you can already follow and wishlist Wander Stars on Steam! We’re super ultra mega excited to release this game but there’s still lots of work to do. Hopefully, you won’t have to wait too long to get a taste of the game!