Today marks the worldwide launch of SinoAlice, a mobile RPG from Pokelabo and Square Enix, directed by Taro Yoko of Nier and Drakengard fame. They're about "the effect of society's cognitive dissonance on human nature," Yoko says. But wait, just kidding—they're actually about love. ...Or hold up, maybe not. He says he's kidding on that too. SinoAlice may be a mobile RPG, but it clearly revels in that playful Yoko vibe.
Yoko has been a long time figure in the games industry. He rose to prominence in 2003 with the inception of the Drakengard series, which was followed up by 2010's Nier: Replicant and Nier: Gestalt. The latter was the only one to ship westward, but became a cult hit on the PlayStation 3 nonetheless. In 2017, it was followed up by the critically acclaimed Nier: Automata—a game that nearly beat out Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for our own Game of the Year. In that same year, Yoko released SinoAlice in Japan. Most recently, he collaborated with the Final Fantasy 14 team for a special Nier-themed raid, YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse.
Yoko, Square Enix Producer Yoshinari Fujimoto, and Pokelabo Producer Shogo Maeda fill USgamer in over email on what to expect from the worldwide release of SinoAlice, which is styled as SINoALICE. "In any market, SINoALICE is a title that provides a uniquely unmatched experience," says Fujimoto. "Yoko-san has created the settings and 'flavor,' [artist] Jino-san has designed the characters, and [composer Keiichi] Okabe-san has composed the music that surpasses the mobile genre. These are the core of the game."
A gacha-style RPG, SinoAlice is focused on collecting unique weapons, which all have their own story, according to Maeda. However, the true stars of SinoAlice's journey are its exquisitely sketched heroes, who are familiar fairy tale characters like Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood. While the names are the same, it's readily clear that these aren't the characters we grew up reading and watching: They must "kill to live," and in their macabre pursuit, resurrect their long dead authors. Cinderella is literally touting a gun in her character art.
"People are drawn to things they've heard of. Famous fairy tales, famous brands, famous YouTubers. They go to see them because they've heard of them. What I mean is, I chose the fairy tales from a business standpoint," says Yoko. On the subject of his personal favorite stories, he points to the darker tellings of classics. "[O]ld fairy tales are all interesting. Hansel and Gretel and others tell stories of abandoning children from back when famine was widespread, and in one variant of Snow White, the twelve dwarfs have a vote to decide which step sister to fry in the frying pan, very invoking of Netflix shows. It's on a whole different level that an average person like me could never think of."
For how dour SinoAlice looks on the surface, it still has touches of humor that Yoko's work (and his interviews with press) have come to be known for. The gacha screen, Maeda points out, has "a comical effect and comical music." Perhaps it's to lighten the mood for when players get the "feelings of frustration from not being able to pull the characters they want from the gacha," as Yoko puts how he wants players of SinoAlice to feel.
Both Maeda and Fujimoto sing praise for Yoko's creative vision in shaping SinoAlice. Yet for Yoko, it was important to make SinoAlice's story purely optional. "I made a strict order to the SinoAlice dev team—that the scenario should be skippable with one tap," he says. "Instead of everyone having to endure my lazy scenario, I made an infinitely generous consideration so you could skip the story and play comfortably...!!!"
Initially, SinoAlice wasn't even planned by the developers to have a release beyond Japan. For years, it seemed like it would never cross seas, as fans utilized VPNs to play it as they do with other Japan-exclusives. Accordingly, the characters selected for the gruesome gacha RPG were chosen in accordance to their popularity in Japan, despite largely being European in origin. "I'm not sure why fairy tales from the West are popular in Japan, but I have a feeling that a certain mouse with a high-pitched voice has to do with it," says Yoko.
SinoAlice, with a star-studded creative team behind it, is vying to set itself apart from the typical gacha mobile game. In writing its story, it's something Yoko took especially to heart. "Many mobile games did not have an ending, so I started with writing an ending," he says. "But because the game has been successful, the story hasn't come to the ending yet, so I feel a little frustrated. I don't enjoy developing console games, nor mobile games. What I enjoy far more is drinking and watching food shows." On the subject of reading, in regards to SinoAlice's fairy tale focus, Yoko tells me he is currently reading a "ramen gourmet map."
On July 16, in just a couple weeks time, SinoAlice will already have its first worldwide limited time events, themed after the Nier series. The new scenarios, set in the worlds of both Nier: Automata and Nier: Replicant, were also written and supervised by Yoko. Characters like 2B, 9S, Emil, Kaine, Devola, Popola, and more will appear in the event, all drawn in the SinoAlice art style. Fujimoto also teases that there will be additional surprise characters within the Replicant collaboration.
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, developers across Square Enix and Pokelabo are now working remotely on SinoAlice in preparation for its global launch. "Life in Japan has completely changed because of corona, and the Pokelabo team has shifted to remote work," says Maeda. "It's not an environment we're used to, but we're working hard to make sure the global version's development doesn't get delayed."
The collaboration between both Pokelabo and Square Enix, though, was remote from early on in the mobile game's development, according to Fujimoto. "Also, the game is in its third year and we have smooth internal communication, so there hasn't been a big effect," he adds. As for how the pandemic is affecting Yoko, he says he's been staying home longer, cooking more vegetables, and is generally healthier. Oh, and he's late for deadlines, "same as before."
Apart from SinoAlice's worldwide launch, a remake of Nier: Replicant and a new mobile game in the Nier universe called Nier Reincarnation are in development. Nier: Replicant is in development for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam, but with the next generation of consoles on the horizon, it's natural to wonder if it will grace next-gen platforms as well. Yoko, expectedly, doesn't have an answer now though.
"Information about next-gen consoles don't get passed down to people on the periphery like me, so I don't have any particular opinion," says Yoko on what he anticipates from the new hardware. "Oh wait. Sometimes the PlayStation 4 makes a beeping noise and the disc comes out for no reason, so I hope they fix that."
Hear that, Sony? Regardless, SinoAlice is available today on iOS and Android.