Grounding cofounder Yukio Futatsugi's latest project — a card-based mobile tactical game called Beat Legion — doesn't much resemble his previous work at first glance. A simple game featuring cartoonish graphics and pick-up-and-play design, it would seem to be miles from the games that put him on the map: The original Panzer Dragoon trilogy, Phantom Dust, and Crimson Dragon.
And yet, at heart, you can see hints and connections to those titles if you know where to look. The core mechanic of Beat Legion involves placing and flipping cards that represent combat units on a battlefield as enemy formations advance. Player actions have to match up to the beat of the background music, and your units gain statistical or tactical advantages based on how effectively you hit the underlying rhythm. Once you get into the action, the flow — its timing and rhythms — begins to resemble the feel of Panzer Dragoon's combat... though in a totally different context, of course. And, as Futatsugi explained when we spoke at BitSummit, it's even more overtly connected to another of his back catalogue creations.
USgamer: Can you tell me about the origins and inspiration behind Beat Legion?
Yukio Futatsugi: This is kind of based on a similar idea to Phantom Dust. That was a card game that also had an action component to it. So this is taking a card game and adding a different kind of component, a musical component.
One of the interesting things is, if you look at how people play mobile phone titles, they typically have short play sessions. So the nice thing about this is that each stage is only a couple of minutes long — we've fit the entire experience into a short time, with a challenge that seems to be pretty well-suited to cell phone users.
USG: So, you've combined tactical gameplay and rhythm action. How can those genres work together, exactly?
YF: If you think about it, with a rhythm game, you'd just be tapping along to a beat, right? In terms of an action game, you'd think about what sort of meaning you want to give to that tap — what action does it result in? In a card game, you're swiping cards, you're turning them, you're laying them out in front of you, staging them somewhere. The idea was to make each tap bring up a card or flip them over — that's the action that's associated with the rhythm-based tap.
The interesting thing is that card games typically involve a lot of thinking about the next thing you want to do. There's a lot of waiting time in between actions. But in a rhythm game, there's not a lot of time in between actions. Part of the idea was to prevent people from thinking too much about what cards they were going to play and how they were going to play them, because there's only so much time. If you miss a beat, you miss your turn.
I have a lot of ideas for it, and there's a long way to go. The game's only been in development for two months. And there are only two other people working on it at the moment. I just recently brought on a designer within the past couple of weeks. It's something we've been working on with a really small team.
USG: Is there more to the game than what we see on the show floor, or is that it so far?
YF: Right now a lot of the room for expansion is in the number of cards. Right now there are only 15 cards you can play with, but we'd want to have 200-300. So having a lot of different cards and working with them in different combinations will give you more gameplay, but that would be the core of the game.
USG: Do you worry the constant rhythm will limit the potential depth of the strategy in favor of action?
YF: Well, think about Tetris. If you had all the time in the world to position your pieces, yeah, I guess you could technically make better decisions. But the interesting part of Tetris is that you only have a limited amount of time to move them. So that time pressure and the limits on your time are what give the character its excitement. It doesn't make anything less strategic, it's simply introducing pressure and forcing you to make a choice. There's precedent for games that combine strategy and action... not necessarily an RPG, but something like a real-time strategy game.
USG: Yeah, my thought was that adding the timing element does make this like an RTS, but turn-based. Maybe like the way Final Fantasy's ATB combat system added a real-time component to turn-based combat.
YF: Yeah, it's like a turn-based game, but with really, really short turns.
USG: Now that we bring RTS into this, you can have extremely complex gameplay there, including shifting your focus between different areas of the map...
YF: We probably won't have a larger map just because this is a mobile game and a large map tends to lend itself more toward a PC game. But also because the depth of the strategy with this game isn't just about the rhythm — it's not just which cards you're tapping out, but also where you put them. You can arrange multiple cards on your screen, so you can decide either to put them out all at once or save them for later. So there is kind of an element of strategy there beyond just reacting to the timing.
USG: As a rhythm game, music will be important. Do you have any thoughts on who will be composing or the type of music you'll use?
YF: Right now, I have a friend from Sony who's helping out with the music for the game. But going forward, what I'd like to do is allow people to choose their own songs to play with. Because the important thing is to have a certain beats-per-minute rating. As long as your song falls within that sweet spot, you should be able to play with it. This might involve licensing the song, but ideally that would be the way we'd go forward.
USG: Would it be possible for the game to detect the beat of your songs and adjust the pace to match, with slow songs being an easy mode and something fast being hard mode?
YF: We could do that... it might be possible. Higher-level players would use fast songs, beginners would use slow ones.
The current track we're demoing with is slower, so it gives people more time to think. But different beats would make it possible to adjust the gameplay.
USG: Have you given any thought to an overseas localization?
YF: Yes, when we release it, we definitely want a localization. I think the game may be a lot more popular overseas than in Japan. So I really want it to come out worldwide with an English release.