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Published by Elijah Beahm on Role Play

Lionheart: Tactics took the mobile gaming world by storm with its blend of Final Fantasy Tactics and modern gameplay innovation. Now the series strides forward towards a new turn in the RPG genre, bringing fresh gameplay and the universe of Lionheart to team-based strategy that fans of games such as Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes are sure to love. We sat down with developer Emerald City Games’ CEO Derek Day to talk about the latest entry in the Lionheart saga.

Appolicious: To start, what was the inspiration for Lionheart: Dark Moon? It almost brings to mind Final Fantasy XIII-2 or Lord of the Rings: The Third Age between the pets and the team-based strategizing.

Derek Day: I’m excited to chat about this! Dark Moon was inspired by a lot of things along the way.

The original idea was stemmed from classic console RPGs we played as kids, games like early Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem. We wanted to take the strategy and essence of what made those fun, and make our own version for mobile today. We tried to learn from what was already out there, but not be too influenced either. You’ll notice there are a lot of elements and mechanics in Dark Moon that are unique to our game.

Visually we took inspiration from some of our favorite studios like Disney and also more niche styles, like Castle Crashers from Behemoth. In the end it was really important that we put our own stamp on the visuals and story so they felt distinctly Emerald City Games. We were also very excited to dive further into the Lionheart universe.

Appolicious: Dark Moon has a strong emphasis on team play, but also streamlines the turn-based RPG combat formula. How did you temper the balance so the game remained deep yet accessible?

DD: Well this was a huge iteration process for us. Dark Moon was in development for over two years, and a big reason for that is we constantly were ripping stuff out and revising. It was all about getting things to feel good in game. We wanted to make something we ourselves would play, and with those standards set, it’s just a matter of executing.

The strategy really has a number of different levels to get right. First is designing a system that is fun. We took tons of inspiration from all of our favorite games. We tried to create mechanics that had a lot of counters, and different ways to do things. We love seeing that player teams vary so much during the campaign. There are so many ways to build a team and be successful.

Then there are the characters themselves. The characters are such a crucial part to this game, and it wasn’t just a matter of creating beautiful art and animation. We wanted the characters themselves to feel more role-based in their design, plus tie into the lore. So we spent countless hours designing and re-designing the characters to get them to feel right.

Also, we wanted the combat system to feel deep and strategic, but not bombard the player with information. Which is why you’ll notice it appears simple and intuitive at first, but has great depth. Statuses are visual FX and not icons. Damage is predictive on the HP bar. Numbers are smaller, and easier to process, especially early on, etc. Then we wanted to add things that are less strategic but just fun like cinematic skills, friendship combos and boss intros.

The crowning achievement for me has been seeing so many people within our studio turn into genuine fans and players of the game.

Appolicious: Unlike a lot of mobile games, especially free to play ones, you highlight your story as a key element. What helps Lionheart‘s story break out from the pack, and how does it play into the game?
 

DD: Story and lore has always been a huge, huge focus of our studio. I want all our games to have substance, and you can’t do that without fully fleshing out a world first. You may not be able to tell, or maybe you can lol, but there are mountains of lore for Lionheart. We have an amazing writer, and the universe we’ve created is so rich and cool, we really want to be able to find a way to share that with the player.

In this case, it was actually really difficult creating a story because the gameplay is collection based. There aren’t any heroes to build a story around, since players can build their teams so many different ways. We ended up creating a fun adventure that you follow as you progress through the game, almost like a storybook. And you do get to collect these characters still. We spent a lot of time writing it, and were really happy with how it all turned out.

We also don’t feel like you need to have walls of text to have a great story. A lot of Lionheart is told through visuals. And I can assure you every little detail has a reason to be there. We probably spend TOO much time debating things because we want it to honour our lore as best as possible.

Appolicious: Similarly, a great deal of effort clearly went into the game’s visuals. How did Lionheart‘s aesthetics evolve? What were the key goals to capturing its style?

DD: I think with all our games, we are looking to create a style that is memorable and unique to our studio. We also consider out platform. In this case, the phone is somewhat of a small screen, so it’s important to have more cartoony proportions that play up to that.

In the case of Dark Moon, we experimented with a number of different looks to get a style that we were really happy with. The Trelis Barbarian was actually the very first character we worked on. He kind of set the tone for the rest of the way. We have a secret weapon in our writer too, who really lays the foundation and provides our artists with amazing ideas that are uniquely Lionheart, and you just won’t see in any other game.

Appolicious: What changes in Dark Moon were influenced by the original Lionheart? Any particular fan feedback, or surprising discovery on your team’s end?

DD: Lionheart: Tactics was such a great game for us, and it is something we hold dear to our heart. I think with Dark Moon, we really wanted to raise the production values across the board. It was something we were really excited for.

We knew players appreciated the strategy, and a bit more of the ‘old-school’ approach to our design, but it was also our first mobile game. We wanted to try and make this next iteration respect that platform better in terms of play-style.

Appolicious: How do balance an energy charge system for a game like Lionheart: Dark Moon? What’s your philosophy with keeping players engaged -without- burning through too much content in one go?

DD: Well, we balance it by removing it, lol.

This is a case where when we started the design two years ago, it seemed like a good idea to have. However, as things progressed it started feeling more and more archaic. After the game launched, and it was clear majority of the players did not like it we took a step back and asked ourselves if we can do better? We want to be a forward thinking studio, and we want our game to have systems players enjoy. I feel what we have now is a version that we are much more proud of, and players seem to be appreciating it too.

Appolicious: What goes into marketing Lionheart: Dark Moon? What’s your edge in the mobile marketplace? What’s worked best for you?

DD: Our edge in marketing has always been our visuals. We own a unique style with amazing animation that has always made our marketing very successful.

Appolicious: What are some of the team’s favorite parts of Dark Moon?

DD: Well, let me ask them…

  • Bears.
  • The artwork is ridiculously awesome.
  • Boss Intros.
  • Animations and all their personality.
  • Soon to be Guilds!
  • Depth of battles.
  • Setting up awesome combos to beat enemies more powerful than my team.
  • Cool skills.

Personally, I have a lot of favorite parts. But I do love the friendship combos. It’s an element we want to build up more in the future, but it’s always so satisfying pulling them off and it’s something unique to our game. It’s something I wanted in from the very beginning of combat design.

Appolicious: Why do you think turn-based strategy games are becoming so popular on mobile, even as they’re kind of dwindling on traditional gaming platforms? Is it convenience? Different audiences?

DD: That’s a good question. I know for me, a game is all about its gameplay. I want to play a game that is well designed, and has a deep combat system that is fun. I think this may be easier in turn-based games, since players have more time to think about their moves. However, it can still be done in real-time as evidenced by Clash Royale, which I think is one of the all-time best designed games.

Appolicious: What’s something players can look forward to in the future with Lionheart: Dark Moon?

DD: We have a ton of cool things on the horizon. As a player myself, I’m stoked for what’s to come. As alluded to earlier, Guilds will be ready shortly. Players will get to choose between one of five Titans to represent their guild, and in a couple more months you’ll see Titan Wars make an appearance. We also have a really cool feature being added in December called a ‘Draft Dungeon’, which will essentially require you to go through your entire roster to make it as far down a dungeon as possible in kind of an unique way. Past that you can look forward to a lot more cool characters, events and maybe even story expansions.

Lionheart: Dark Moon RPG
Lionheart: Dark Moon RPG
Lionheart: Dark Moon RPG
Lionheart: Dark Moon RPG