When you imagine the sort of games that influence Deus Ex/Epic Mickey creator Warren Spector, you probably wouldn’t have expected a Japanese RPG from the PlayStation to be among them.
During a playthrough of Deus Ex with the folks at Game Informer, it was revealed by Spector that the Konami-developed Suikoden remains a highly-influential game for him.
A few of us at Pixelitis got the chance to discuss this a bit more at a roundtable discussion regarding the upcoming November dual release of Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion and Power of Two at this year’s New York Comic Con. Spector didn’t mind sharing a few more details regarding that key influence and how it’s managed to peek its head out over the past decade or so.
While talking about the 3DS’ Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, Spector said the tie to the seminal RPG could be seen directly in the new “Fortress Mode.”
“There’s also a fortress mode [in Power of Illusion]; I’ve wanted to do this in every game I’ve done since I’ve played – There’s a game called Suikoden many years ago on the PS1, and I have written a customizable fortress into every design document I’ve worked on since then, and I’ve [had to] cut it from [each one] I’ve written since then. This time, it didn’t get cut.”
In Suikoden, main character Tir McDohl could explore the entire game world and find 108 characters that can join his army. When recruited, these characters are sent to your personal fortress, where they can potentially expand upon the structure with an extra room, shop or repair. Similarly, in Power of Illusion, Mickey can rescue Disney characters hidden throughout a level and have them inhabit his own fortress. The characters he rescues can change what items are available for purchase and what quests can open up.
Spector gave the example of recruiting his favorite Disney character, Scrooge McDuck, and how the more Mickey does for him, the prettier his part of the fortress becomes and the more akin it will be to Duckburg.
Suikoden’s influence can be traced as far back as the development of Deus Ex, which championed the concept of open-ended gameplay. Spector shared two experiences he had while playing Suikoden that seemingly showed qualities of that open-ended aspect (spoilers for Suikoden ahead).
“Without going into too much geeky detail, there are two moments in Suikoden where you are confronted with a choice. You are in the game world, and then a little box shows up in the corner that gives you a Yes/No choice. It’s ‘Do you leave your friend here to die or do you help him?’ And then at the end there is a ‘Do you fight your father? Yes/No.’ And, the thing was, in both cases it was a false choice.
But I remember how powerful it was. I remember playing Suikoden, putting the controller down and going ‘Holy Cow, this has nothing to do with what the character would do, or the story, it’s who am I as a human being? Me? If that was a real choice, it would be the most amazing moment in the history of videogames, and I said ‘I’m going to make a game that has the most amazing moment in the history of videogames!'”
He went on to say that every game he has worked on is all about players expressing their creativity through play and solving their problems the way they want to. Choice and consequence gameplay is integral to his design philosophy.
Suikoden, and in turn, Spector’s past games like Deus Ex, Ultima and System Shock weren’t the only things that influenced his work on the Epic Mickey series. The Mario and Zelda games proved highly influential too, with Spector believing that Epic Mickey was as much about honoring Disney’s creative legacy as it was honoring the Mario and Zelda games.
“The difference is,” he explains, “how you use paint and thinner determines whether the game feels like a platform-y experience or an adventure-y experience so you get to decide whether you’re playing a Zelda game or a Mario game, based on how you use your tools.”
It’s fascinating to see how a 1996 JRPG can influence a developer so heavily even today. Sure, on the surface level, games like Epic Mickey and Deus Ex may not seem to have much to do with each other or Suikoden, but when you look at specific features, like fortress building and multiple choice, it all starts to make a whole lot of sense.