Review Fix Exclusive: Inside ‘Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark’

Review Fix chats with ‘Fell Seal’ developer Pierre Leclerc who lets us know what inspired the game and his goals for it moving forward. A love letter to classic tactical RPGs of the past, it’s an intriguing experience with an awesome score.

Review Fix: How was this game born?

Pierre Leclerc: My wife and I have always wanted to have our own game company, and we both love RPGs above all other styles. A few years after we moved to Florida, my wife started preliminary work on the game on a full-time basis and I joined her part-time as soon as I was legally allowed (my job at EA had an agreement that didn’t allow me to work on any “competing products”, so I had to switch jobs before I could join in). We’d been thinking about creating a tactics JRPG ever since we’d met some years before and we noticed the market was still lacking in the genre, so it seemed like the perfect fit!

Review Fix: What has development been like so far?

Leclerc: It’s actually been mainly quiet and steady. I have worked in the gaming industry for over 15 years, so it’s not exactly new territory at this point. We’ve been following an aggressive schedule and keeping to it. A little less than a year ago, I left my job to join in full-time and we’ve started accelerating the pace by employing multiple talented contracted artists. We also recently successfully ran our Kickstarter… So you could say it’s been going very well so far.

Review Fix: What makes this game special?

Leclerc: I’d say there’s a lot to set us apart, starting with the fact we’re a team of 2, husband and wife, putting their all into this game: that’s got to be a fairly rare setup!

But more seriously, I think our unique art style, with its all hand-drawn lush environment maps and high-res pixel part definitely stands out. And let’s not forget we’re creating a game for a genre that hasn’t seen much action for over a decade, which definitely sets us apart. As far as an indie title is concerned, the fact we’re going with hand-crafted, thoughtfully designed maps and levels stands out in the current era of procedurally generated designs.

Review Fix: What games influenced this one the most?

Leclerc: We’ve each been gaming for about 30 years, so we’ve seen a game or two in our days! There’s probably inspiration from titles we don’t even realize have influenced us, but if we had to pick those that had the biggest impact, I’d start with Final Fantasy Tactics. The original FFT, along with the GBA and NDS follow ups (FFTA, FFTA2) definitely have the largest influence on our systems and gameplay. Then I’d say Tactics Ogre has a lot of influence on the way the story is told and the way we want it to unfold.

Review Fix: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?

Leclerc: I’d say the biggest difference is the incredible passion we bring to the table. Big studios are staffed with a lot of people and most view the project they’re on as “just work”. This game is a labor of love and passion for us! I think this brings a different outlook to the way we design, interact with the fans and how the final experience will play out.
I think big studios also have plenty of passionate people, but at the same time, these passionate people are only a fraction of the team, rather than 100% of it. I think this different perspective and drive will show itself in the final product.

Review Fix: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?

Leclerc: Nothing too extravagant, as we both work from home together, which greatly reduces chances of miscommunication or conflict.

One thing of note that happened is how I personally switched from part-time to full-time. I was working at the Orlando Topps studio on a temporary work visa (I’m Canadian). I had applied for a green card about a year ago and the process ended up clashing with my temporary work visa, which eventually invalidated it and preventing me from working at Topps anymore.
Rather than panicking, my wife and I decided to use that as the signal for me to switch to full-time work on Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark and things worked out great! Hurray for bureaucracy helping us out with big life decisions!

Review Fix: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics like the ones in Classic games in new games is important?

Leclerc: I think the easiest parallel to draw here is learning from history. Older gameplay encompasses the accumulated knowledge from the games that came before us, and they themselves built their title on knowledge from other previous titles. Not all of that knowledge is necessarily useful, but sifting through it and keeping the best concepts is going to help build a strong foundation for any title, as well as limit the amount of problems and issues encountered with our systems.

At the end of the day, I don’t think what’s important is to preserve older gameplay, but to make sure to deliver a fun and compelling experience to your fans, and learning from past games is a great tool to reach that goal.

Review Fix: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?

Leclerc: That’s a tough one, as I’ve been gaming for a very long time. Overall, probably playing Final Fantasy 6 back in the day when it just came out as FF3 in the US. The sense of wonderment and discovery was amazing. A friend of mine had lent me his cartridge right after a big loss we’d suffered on our High School Basketball team. That day, I was the only person on the team that was in a great mood, so excited I was to finally get to play it!

Review Fix: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?

Leclerc: Our main plan is to present the player with an experience that’s very reminiscent to classics like FFT, while adding new elements, modernized UI and many twists of our own. Hence you could say we’re not exactly out to cause a ruckus. At the same time, tactical JRPGs have been mostly missing from action (barring Disgaea) for more than a decade, so you could say we’re aiming at resurrecting the genre, and that could have a lasting impact on the video game landscape for certain!

Review Fix: Who will enjoy this game the most?

Leclerc: I would say that fans of games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Vandal Hearts should definitely have a great time playing our game and finally reconnect with an experience they’ve likely been unable to recreate for a long time. At the same time, we’re adding some tutorials and cleaning up a lot of the UI, in an effort to make the game accessible to more people. We’re hoping anyone with a penchant for character customization and strategy will find our work captivating.

Review Fix: How do you want this game to be remembered?

Leclerc: A tall order, but we’re allowed to dream, it’d be awesome to be remembered as the game that finally took down Final Fantasy Tactics’ throne for the genre! But we’ll settle for the game that revived the genre or even “the best tactical JRPG in decades” really.

Review Fix: What are your goals for the game?

Leclerc: A fairly broad question! I’d say overall we want to create a fun community around the game, with people exchanging tips, strategies, builds and experiences. Mainly, we want a fun game that makes the fans happy and results in a stable business that we can keep pursuing for many years, as we quite enjoy making our own games!

Review Fix: What’s next?

Leclerc: With almost a year left of development, it’s still a bit early to worry about our next move we think. That being said, after the game is released, we’ll consult with the fans, see if they would be interested in some kind of expansion DLC or if we should start on our next game right away (probably Fell Seal 2). We’d also love to deliver a Hard Mode and some local co-op multiplayer in a free update if possible, as we don’t think those features will make it to the core game otherwise.

 

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Patrick Hickey Jr.

Editor-in-Chief, Founder at Review Fix
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.
About Patrick Hickey Jr. 6851 Articles

Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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