Thursday, June 20, 2024

Exclusive: Meet The Three Brothers Making Their Dream ‘Secret Of Mana’-Inspired RPG

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Image: Timesea Studio

Couch co-op and JRPG are two genres you don’t often see together. Secret of Mana is one of the earliest examples of the genre, with most of the Tales of series also allowing fans to play together while sitting side-by-side. But outside of those examples, playing JRPGs with your friends in the same room isn’t a common experience.

Fortunately, Timesea Studio — made up of three brothers — is changing that. Nintendo Life can exclusively reveal that the developer’s first game, Infinity Knights: Xross, is coming to Switch (and other platforms) in late 2025.

It’s a three-player couch co-op RPG inspired by the Mana series, first and foremost. But it’s clear that the trio behind the title — Saxon, Michael, and Tyrone Goodrick — have a wealth of knowledge about the genre. Dark Cloud, infamously called the “Zelda Killer” by PlayStation Magazine back in the day, and the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI (which is still going after 22 years) are both name-dropped. Plus, the brothers have managed to make “a dream come true” and have brought Secret and Trials of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta on board.

Infinity Knights: Xross is centred around the titular Infinity Knights, who serve the king. They wield The Armaments, magical weapons with the power to revive the dead — including, enemies you’ve just slain. You’ll be playing as Xross, the newest Infinity Knight, and you and two others (this is where that co-op comes in) will get to explore the world, scout static and randomly generated dungeons, engage in a huge variety of minigames and quests and plenty of active combat with puzzles to solve. And like any good RPG harking back to the SNES days, there’s some lovely pixel art on show, too.

We had a chance to send Timesea Studio a bunch of questions and dig deep into the game’s inspirations, mechanics, and world. From working together as brothers to implementing quests from an MMORPG, and making quality-of-life enhancements inspired by childhood frustrations, this is clearly a labour of love.

Infinity Knights: Xross 6
Image: Timesea Studio

Nintendo Life: Could you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea for Infinity Knights: Xross, particularly around creating a couch co-op RPG and working together as siblings?

Michael Goodrick, Lead Boss Design & Area/Experience Development: We always knew one day we would make a game. We have all these ideas swirling around – ideas about quality of life, intriguing stories, and engaging gameplay. As RPGs are one of our favourite genres, and with old-school games being close to our hearts, we decided to make Infinity Knights: Xross pay homage to that. But specifically making it cooperative comes from a long-shared passion of playing video games – we’ve played in the same house together since we were kids. It was never really a question. Working together on a video game was just the next step!

we’ve played in the same house together since we were kids. It was never really a question.

Saxon Goodrick – Lead Programmer & Story/Event Planner: We also noticed that there is a distinct lack of good cooperative experiences in the gaming world. We wanted to fill that gap by creating a game together, as some of our fondest memories are playing games in the same room, on the same couch. Games like Secret of Mana, Crash Bash, Halo 3, etc.

Tyrone Goodrick – Lead Combat Design & Minigame Design: Being brothers makes working together on the game easy. When it comes to discussing ideas, mechanics, bosses, and stories, we are all on the same wavelength. New ideas are usually met with a “That’s awesome!” Working together as siblings is a blast and a lot of fun.

Infinity Knights: Xross 13
Image: Timesea Studio

We’ve got game titles with Cross, or with X (sometimes pronounced cross, sometimes the
letter ‘X’). So why ‘Xross’?

Saxon: There are quite a few reasons.

Infinity Knights is a collection of stories experienced from the viewpoints of certain characters. This game is the first story, and it features the titular character ‘Xross’, hence, Infinity Knights: Xross.

Using the ‘X’ instead of the ‘C’ in ‘Xross’ is very symbolic concerning the story. The name is… regionally unique. It’s a different dialect compared to most other names in this chapter of Infinity Knights. Xross himself is also an integral part of the Infinity Knights – he is a very significant person. ‘X’ marks the spot, as they say.

It’s also an ode to many things. To Final Fantasy XI, to the Organization XIII members in Kingdom Hearts, and X (Mega Man X) to name a few. Infinity Knights: Xross is the cumulative influence of gaming generations combined with our own new and unique ideas. An intersection of two directions. A cross!

You’ve been inspired by a range of classic (and sometimes overlooked) RPGs, with Dark Cloud, the Mana series, and Final Fantasy XI singled out. What is it about these games/franchises that struck you, and what inspirations have you taken from them?

We’d say that the strong point of those games is deep immersion. Each game brought something new to the table that hadn’t been seen in a game before – at least to us. They still feel like fresh experiences that haven’t been replicated since. We love questions like this because we could talk about these games for hours.

Infinity Knights: Xross is the cumulative influence of gaming generations combined with our own new and unique ideas.

Dark Cloud is so unique in its worldbuilding and atmosphere. The combination of dungeon diving, slaying monsters, and building up the towns via Georama… the whole experience is fantastic. It’s got an unusual (brilliant) soundtrack, fun drawings, and a wicked weapon customisation/progression system. Great game. We’re combining this weapon system with some inspiration from Final Fantasy XI’s ‘Trial of the Magians’ system, allowing players to customise their stats and abilities present on both weapons and abilities. Xross also looks after a sector of the Kingdom as part of his Infinity Knight duties, and we have been inspired by elements of the Georama system.

In Dark Cloud, you would explore dungeons and use Atlamillia to rebuild a town before moving on to help others. We take a similar approach, where on adventures you collect all kinds of things on the overworld and dungeons before bringing them back to bolster shops, equipment, sector resources, and so on. Ultimately, it helps your character’s progression and the story.

Final Fantasy XI has this incredible sense of adventure and wonder. It really captures immersion well. It’s the kind of game where you can just run around the world map for hours, talking to NPCs, discovering secret areas, and fighting cool enemies. We have loads of memories in Vana’diel. Those who’ve played the game know the feeling. We wanted adventures outside our kingdom sector to hit home in a similar way. In Infinity Knights: Xross, you team up and venture out to undiscovered lands, secret areas leading to dungeons, and tough enemies to fight. That sort of thing. We’re also structuring part of the character progression in the same way [as] job classes in Final Fantasy XI. Some sharp-eyed fans have noticed that you wield a variety of different weapons – and these sort of act like job classes. Each weapon comes with a set of abilities unique to it that augment the way you fight when combined with the elements you’re harnessing.

Secret of Mana was ahead of its time for RPG console co-ops. You could play the whole game together, or you could drop in and drop out! How awesome! Co-op experiences are a lot of fun, and we were inspired by Secret of Mana from a young age. It’s also got an awesome soundtrack. We’re very encouraged by the co-op legacy that Secret of Mana left, and that’s especially evident in a later Mana release on the Nintendo DS called Children of Mana. A lot of inspiration is taken from these games in the way that pixel and sprite games can be just as enjoyable, sometimes even more so than AAA games. There is a lot to be said for the immersive qualities of a top-down sprite J/RPG.

We think that these games have effectively constructed this immersive feeling through their unique graphics, story content, gameplay systems, and sound. It’s a delicate balance to create experiences like these games do. That’s what’s inspired us. We want to create an amazing experience for gamers through every medium we can. Engaging gameplay, great scenes and story, fun… and we’re going to do it cooperatively too.

What kind of modern qualities of life have you considered for Xross? Are they inspired by any frustrations you’ve had when playing and replaying older JRPGs?

Michael: This is an excellent question and something we are very passionate about. We’ve kept a list for a long time regarding the features we would love to have seen in the games we’ve played — JRPGs and other genres — and it is a BIG list. As such, many quality-of-life features have made their way into our game, and will continue to do so. Some of these already exist, but a lot are unique!

Secret of Mana was ahead of its time for RPG console co-ops

Tyrone: Things like accessibility for disabilities, being able to customise the UI, and rearranging things. It amazes us that many games do not allow you to customise button inputs. No drop rates that don’t respect players’ interest or time. Making sure cutscenes are skippable and tutorials are optional and non-repetitive. Preset modes for speedrunning and randomization. The list goes on.

We’re keeping a lot of our unique features a secret, but hopefully, these can get you into our mindset of how we’re enabling players to enjoy themselves most. There are a few things we’re willing to share now though.

Saxon: We’re developing an automatic reaction timer (that can be turned on or off). If the game senses you need a bit more time to parry correctly, then it will adjust to challenge you appropriately. We’re hoping that features like this will encourage people to try some of the more challenging mechanics in video games, as well as increase the immersion felt by players.

We’re also looking at changing the way ‘difficulty’ works in this game, so that the experience is more customised for your enjoyment, instead of just having preset modes with scaled stats, etc. You’ll be able to combine different levels of ‘difficulty’ for yourself, granting the best experience for you.

We could go on to list more features, but what really matters is our intention. We want to make a game that respects players’ time and doesn’t feature punishing statistics, missables, penalties, and so on. We have every intention to make sure players enjoy their time in the world of the Infinity Knights. You can be sure that we will try our utmost to reduce all frustrations players have to zero through a lot of personal playthroughs, testing, and player feedback. We want to make one of the most accessible and playable RPGs of all time.

What can you tell us about the Armament System? How does it affect combat and gameplay, and can you give us examples of side quests that involve this mechanic?

Saxon: The Armament System is the Infinity Knights’ bread and butter, and we can split that into two sections: gameplay and story.

The Armament System is our weapon upgrade system. You can select enhancements you’d like to apply to the weapons you want to wield, strengthening them as you use them more. This will also augment your abilities. You can also combine them with elements! You might like a giant scythe with a hefty chance to teleport and deal double damage, or maybe you’re more of an archer who likes to use magic lightning arrows that bind opponents while reducing your ability cooldowns. We want players to know they can use whatever weapon they want combined with many different enhancements, which will drastically change the way each individual plays the game.

We want to make a game that respects players’ time

Michael: In addition to that, if you and your allies combine attacks, you ALL get the enhancements from each other. We’re hoping that by blending these abilities cooperatively, you’ll create a truly unique strategy for taking down foes. It’ll be something just you and your cooperators share. We have lots of mechanics that promote teaming up with your allies, be it CPUs, friends, or family.

Saxon: The Armaments themselves are summonable weapons that the King bestows on his Infinity Knights. They’re strange blades that only the King can create, and every day, he performs a ceremony called ‘The King’s Rite’ that seems to revive anyone slain by an Armament… The Infinity Knights rely heavily on this, using the weapons on themselves or allies to save themselves in the heat of combat, traversing another realm to be called back to the Kingdom. The Infinity Knights also use the Armaments on their enemies, isolating foes within the Kingdom at the discretion of the King’s power.

Infinity Knights: Xross 3
Image: Timesea Studio

Almost all quests involve the mechanics of the Armaments, and many of them will provoke players into questioning the morality of the blades’ power, of what is right and what is wrong. How are the Armaments made? Do they have a cost? Should they be used on the guilty? The innocent? Why does only the King have them? Are there others?

As a brief example, there is a quest where Xross throws himself off a cliff in pursuit of an enemy, by using his Armament on himself before he plummets to his death.

We’re really trying not to spoil the game, but we’re hoping that the people who read this can start to imagine what they might do if they could cheat death for themselves and others, and how that might change depending on the type of immortality a person has. Through this avenue, we can engage those who love the story, morality, and philosophy behind some of the great RPGs of the past.

Hiroki Kikuta has worked on a few notable indie titles such as Indivisible, YIIK, and Tangledeep. What’s it been like working with Kikuta-san, and what do you love about his music?

Michael: It has been like… a dream come true. If you told us 20 years ago that we’d be working with Kikuta-san, it would have left us gobsmacked. Kikuta-san is an incredible artist – his passion, experience, and musical talent we just have so much respect for.

If you told us 20 years ago that we’d be working with Kikuta-san, it would have left us gobsmacked.

Tyrone: He is a legendary composer that made a massive impact on how a game’s sound can be. We feel that while the story, characters, and visuals are a massive part of a game, the music direction is equally as important. Many games wouldn’t be what they are today without the talents of their respective composers and we believe Secret of Mana (among others) is one such game. Kikuta-san creates songs that can transport you into that world. He manages to capture the atmosphere of the moment – running around, fighting a dangerous boss, saying farewell, etc. You can listen to the soundtrack decades later and remember your own feelings playing that game, something he has achieved time and again. The main track for Infinity Knights: Xross – ‘Going to the Eternal’ – is a great example of how he took the story and the questions it poses, and transformed it into a song. Incredible. Also. We love Kikuta’s drum tracks and beats, they’re so good.

We’re amazed by him, to put it simply, and we’re very much looking forward to all our future
work together.

Infinity Knights: Xross 11
Image: Timesea Studio

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Thank you to Saxon, Michael, and Tyrone for taking the time to answer our questions. Infinity Knights: Xross is set to release in late 2025 on Switch, and you can find even more details about the game on its official website.

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