While Dragon Fantasy Book I wasn't the best game I played on PSN the year it was released, but I was hopeful that the praiseworthy mechanics introduced throughout would be included in the sequel and would make for something truly special. I got a chance to play Book II at E3 this year and talked to the Creative Director Adam Rippon briefly, but with the release getting closer and closer it seemed like a good time to sit down again with Adam and PR and Social media Director Anna Marie Privitere for an interview about this interesting throwback RPG and some more general RPG talk.
Karl Koebke: Anna mentioned that you've re-announced multiplayer for Book II recently. What I recall from E3 was decidedly turn based, though, so I'm curious how that would work. Admittedly I only got a chance to play as a one member party.
Adam Rippon: Yeah, it's a mystery to everyone. So, multiplayer in DF2 is fairly simple. Basically at any point after the intro dream sequence where it's just Ogden you can invite a friend to join your game as one of your party members. Even in parts of the game where you only have one main character, you can always recruit monsters. So, for multiplayer, each additional player can control one of your party members. You can walk around on the map fully independently of the other player, explore separately, even get into battles separately. But if you walk up to your friend who is in battle, you will join that battle. Or vice versa. Similar to how monsters that walk up to battles can join in even in single player mode.
Karl Koebke: When you're by yourself with a party do you control just Ogden or do you control every party member?
Adam Rippon: You control every party member. Similarly, when you're in multiplayer, the second player only commands one person, and you command all the rest. We're only supporting 2 player right now, but if the demand for 3 or 4 player is high, we'll likely add it in a patch.
Karl Koebke: So you can't decide to give your buddy half the party and divide and conquer?
Adam Rippon: Not at launch, at least.
Anna Marie Privitere: We're also about to announce it'll be cross-platform PS3/PS Vita multiplayer. It's also totally online.
Karl Koebke: When we talked at E3  you mentioned that you were trying to get all the unique mechanics from the chapters of Book I like monster recruiting and item synthesis into Book II, but that theft was so far difficult to include. Have you had any luck with that?
Adam Rippon: Theft is the only one not included, but primarily because it doesn't make sense from a story perspective. Jerald is the only true thief, and he's not playable in Book II.
Karl Koebke: Fair point, his niece wasn't a thief. Hope I'm remembering her relation correctly.
Adam Rippon: Jerald will be back in a big way in Book III, but he's AWOL the whole time in Book II, so yeah. Yeah, she's his niece, and she doesn't yet have her guild card. But she's more interested in training as an assassin to be like her friend Serpent Diablo, who was also in Chapter 2 and 3 of Book I, and plays a bigger role in Book II, and especially in Book III.
Anna Marie Privitere: He was actually easy to miss, so his role may come as a surprise to players who weren't explorers.
Karl Koebke: As you move the series from one era of RPGs to the next have you noticed an increase in production costs as well? Does making a SNES quality game take a noticeable amount more money and manpower than a NES quality one?
Adam Rippon: Absolutely. DF1 took about 6 months to build the first chapter, and I think it was like 12 months total to do all four. And DF1 was made entirely part time while working on other projects at least 50% of the time. DF2 on the other hand, we've been working on that since January last year, and it's been nearly full time for at least half of that time. So like, 19 months so far? The amount of animation is way more time consuming. And the level design in Book 1 was strictly one layer of tiles, whereas Book 2 is almost always at least 8, if not closer to 20 layers. Not to mention the multiplayer and all that jazz. If Sony hadn't picked us up, we could never have done this game in a million years.
Anna Marie Privitere: In addition, Chapter 4 was made almost totally on a plane to MineCon, I believe?
Adam Rippon: Yeah, Chapter 4 was mostly made on the plane to MineCon.
Karl Koebke: That was a brilliant chapter (the Minecraft one). I thought the item synthesis added a lot. In previous chapters it seemed like all you had to do was get enough money to buy the next equipment and you're set.
Adam Rippon: Yeah, that was definitely the case in the first three chapters. Those were definitely intended to mimic Dragon Quests 1, 2 and 3. Very simple, straightforward games where you grind until you can kill things. Book II is a much more modern design, and we skipped over the early SNES generation stuff in order to make it all one big story instead of three chapters. We made the monster catching and the item creation more important in Book II, 'cause yeah, it was some of the most fun parts of Book I. Plus we added bounty hunting. By and large, the human characters in Book II get their items from treasure chests and item shops, but most of the monster equipment can only be made through crafting.
Karl Koebke: You've also added ship to ship combat?
Adam Rippon: Yes
Anna Marie Privitere: Ship combat is awesome.
Adam Rippon: It's basically a meta-battle situation, where you pick up your enemies after you defeat them and you toss them at the other ships. It adds a timed element that amps up the stress a good bit.
Karl Koebke: So you have multiplayer, ship combat, bounty hunting. Are there any other major gameplay additions to Book II that were not in Book I?
Adam Rippon: I think that covers it. AM [Anna], am I forgetting anything? Basically we took everything we liked from Book I (minus the theft) and did a lot more of it, but we did it a lot bigger and better.
Karl Koebke: What resulted in this idea of making a RPG series that spanned the NES through the N64 in scope?
Adam Rippon: Well, Bryan and I started designing this series as one massive game when we were 14. Chrono Trigger had just come out, so 16 bit RPGs were where it was at. And then the N64 came out and I was expecting some bad ass Final Fantasy game to come out, much to my eventual disappointment.
Karl Koebke: I remember those hard times, waiting for Earthbound 64 I saw in a Nintendo Power.
Adam Rippon: And then years passed and I got a job in the game industry and I never made my RPG. But when my Dad passed away, I wanted to get something out, so I decided to shoot for a retro RPG. This was before I'd heard about Cthulu Saves The World… if I'd heard about it earlier, I might not have made DF1 8-bit. But building an 8-bit game let me get something done and out comparatively quickly. And it set the stage well for continuing the game with a 16-bit sequel.
Adam Rippon: And then I just figure I pretty much have to do an N64-style RPG next to complete the circle. Also, the engine runs on our old SGI Octane, so it just seems appropriate to do something similar to that Final Fantasy SGI demo from back in the day.
Karl Koebke: That leads well into some of my RPG fan to RPG fan questions: What is your favorite game of all time? I'd go for Earthbound, but that's probably all nostalgia talking.
Anna Marie Privitere: There are actually a couple homages to Earthbound in Book II.
Adam Rippon: I honestly can't answer that, but I can tell you my favorite game playing moment of all time. Christmas 2002 or so. Give or take a year. My Dad and I played through Neill Corlett's fan translation of Seiken Densetsu 3. We played the whole thing, start to finish. It was amazing. I'd been involved in RPG translation before I started making my own games, and Seiken Densetsu 3 was one of the last ones I had any direct involvement with. I think all I did was beta test, but that game means a lot to me as a result.
Adam Rippon: Seiken Densetsu 3 is also known as Secret of Mana 2 if you or your readers aren't familiar.
Karl Koebke: I was not, but I was just going to edit the interview to make it look like I was.
Adam Rippon: *laughs* Of course
Karl Koebke: The internet can be so mean to the ignorant.
Adam Rippon: The internet can be so mean. Full stop.
Karl Koebke: As an RPG fan you probably know about the divide between what are commonly thought of as WRPGs and JRPGs.
Adam Rippon: Yes, very much.
Karl Koebke: As a guy in California making a game that emulates classic JRPGs, what do you consider your game to be?
Adam Rippon: I have to give credit to Tim Rogers for this one. AJRPG, pronounced AJERAPAGE or American-Japanese RPG. I've always been a JRPG player personally, WRPGs just aren't really my bag. No disrespect to them, just not really my thing. I tend to be attracted to bright colors and goofy things, which are much more prevalent in JRPGs. So DF is a JRPG series in spirit, if not in legitimate geographic location.
Karl Koebke: Geographical location seems like a random way to define a sub genre anyway.
Adam Rippon: Right?
Karl Koebke: But what makes a JRPG a JRPG is tough to quantify.
Adam Rippon: It's true, I was on a panel about that at PAX East with Alexa from Polygon and Jason Schreier from Kotaku and Dale North from Destructoid. I can't remember if we came to a hard definition or not.
Anna Marie Privitere: For me, it's about the development style, presentation. Wizardry, a WRPG series, was adopted by Japan a number of entries ago, and it still plays/looks/feels like a "WRPG" does, if that makes sense.
Karl Koebke: Dark Souls is another series that throws that hard geographical definition for a loop.
Anna Marie Privitere: Definitely. I know a lot of JRPG fanatics who shun Elder Scrolls, yet have spent hours screaming at their TVs in DS hahaha.
Adam Rippon: For me, a JRPG is a story about one or more heroes who have to save the world, and in order to do so they have to become more powerful through battle and creating alliances with other people. Also, the grass has to be green and the water has to be blue, and poison has to be indicated by purple. And something has to have big eyes and a wagging tongue.
Adam Rippon: And a world map is extremely important to me.
Karl Koebke: Even that's tough though, since it doesn't include something like Atelier Rorona or Recettear.
Adam Rippon: Yeah, and those I would definitely include. Likewise, FFX and up. Even though they usually forgo the world map and the wagging tongues. It's hard to define. But the JRPGs I love the most have all those things.
Karl Koebke: On that note: You're a big retro RPG fan, but I'm curious if you have any favorite RPGs from the last generation of games?
Adam Rippon: Sure. I used to say Skies of Arcadia until I realized it was more than a decade old too. Which blows my frakking mind.
Karl Koebke: Yeah, we're all getting old
Adam Rippon: I love Skies. But it's pretty retro now too. Dragon Quest IX isn't that old, I loved that. I dig the Mario and Luigi games, they're fairly JRPGish. I know I'm forgetting something. I know I played something recently... Fire Emblem and Ni no Kuni!
Karl Koebke: Ah yeah, Ni no Kuni was a great, classically inspired JRPG; it had a world map and everything.
Adam Rippon: Yup! Although I couldn't beat it. It dragged towards the end.
Anna Marie Privitere: Do Persona 3 and 4 count? Those would be mine.
Karl Koebke: No worries Anna, I count Persona 3 and 4.
Karl Koebke: Alright, thanks a lot for talking to me today guys, I know things are probably super busy so close to release.
Adam Rippon: You don't know the half of it. Our office is stuffed to the gills with beta testers right now.
Dragon Fantasy Book II is slated to release near the end of Summer, which is obviously getting closer and closer. Anna let me know after the interview that anyone going to PAX Prime can look forward to trying out a fully playable version of the sequel. Here's hoping that Dragon Fantasy Book II will live up to its source material because if we get a game even 10% as good as things like Chrono Trigger or Earthbound then we are in for something truly impressive.