With only 4 days to go to the Ruined Empire Kickstarter, we interviewed the author, Anna Kreider. As of this writing, the campaign needs barely over 700 $ CAD to reach its goal and publish this setting-neutral, Final Fantasy-esque campaign – so if you are on the fence, we hope this interview will give you the motivation you need!
Melody: What inspired you to write this setting in the first place and what themes do you think are focused in it?
Anna Kreider: I was intrigued when Andy Kitkowski approached me with an offer to write a setting for Tenra Bansho Zero, because I was part of some early conversations about Tenra’s art back when he started translating it and he knew that there were things in the art that I was not a fan of. Ultimately, I wound up accepting the offer, because I do love anime and because I thought it would be great to write a setting that addressed some of the stuff that bugged me about the default Tenra setting.
Thematically, I also wanted to tone down the “hundreds of nations at war always” aspect of the default setting to make room for a more serious take on war and warfare. And along the way, it kind of turned into my love letter to Final Fantasy XII – or at least the world-building and the parts of the story that weren’t about weird god-things and robo-angels.
The overarching theme is definitely about the clash of empires, with neither one of the two major empires being the definitive “bad guy”. Or rather, they’re both the bad guys, since they’re causing so much upheaval. But each of the sub-realms has its own social issues baked into the setup, from income inequality to human trafficking to imperialism.
M: How would you compare and contrast your setting to similar ones? Like, which settings would you say it’s closest to and where does it overlap, and where are the differences most important to note?
A: Some comparisons I’ve seen floating around are that The Ruined Empire setting is similar to The Shadow of Yesterday or Anima Prime. And that’s pretty fair.
With TSOY, the inciting incident of the setting is the impact of a giant comet that caused widespread death and devastation, and humanity is just beginning to recover from that. And there’s certainly echoes of that in parts of the Ruined Empire setting, like in Nil – which was similarly destroyed by a calamity that has shattered society. TSOY is also interesting because choosing a culture is part of character creation, which makes it an interesting comparison since The Ruined Empire assumes that characters will have drastically different viewpoints depending on which culture they’re from.
Anima Prime is a bit more of an “obvious” comparison, since it’s also inspired by anime and Final Fantasy. And certainly there are a lot of similarities – both settings can reasonably accommodate a very wide variety of character archetypes based on popular anime tropes. But where the difference lies is that the Anima Prime system is focused on high-action stories about battles and crazy powers. And The Ruined Empire certainly accommodates that style of play, but it also provides room for lots of other different play experiences.
M: While I know you mentioned Final Fantasy XII, are there any others you’d compare it to in that series. I don’t want to tilt your answer, but it strikes me that a few of the older examples (mostly VI, but a bit of IV and V even) have that sort of lack of focus on just high-action. It’s there, and takes the main seat sometimes, but other times the story is about different things… about loss, about hope, about the conflict of ideals (or lack thereof) and how people try and do their best to see what they believe in advanced.
Focusing on the setting itself, if you had any one hope that people would take away something from your setting after playing it, what would it be?
A: That might be the case? Unfortunately, I’ve only really played VII and onward. But certainly I think that conflict of ideals and differing visions for the future is a theme common to pretty much all of the Final Fantasy games, whether it’s Yuna’s optimism versus the Spira death cult in X, or Garnet opposing her mother’s reckless expansionism in IX, or Barrett and his band of eco-terrorists trying to dismantle the industry that was killing the planet in VII.
As for the setting itself, if there was only one thing someone took away from playing it, I hope that they’d maybe be willing to examine games and game settings a bit more critically in the future. I hope that The Ruined Empire serves as a counter-example to the common argument that writing non-stereotyped games will result in less creativity.
M: Well, VI started with a woman who was mind controlled into being a weapon for an empire by an evil clown (who to this day has one of the more terrifying transformations from joke into horror) who is freed and is on a journey to learn her past while helping others battle the expansion of the Empire with it’s magitek. And Kefka (the evil clown) is like the love child of The Joker in The Dark Knight and Red Skull… his personality has mirrors to that Joker, while he’s an enhanced super solider who was broken by the process.
IV starts out with you being one of the bad guys… literally. You’re helping to destroy the world. You took up the sword of darkness, a literal weapon of evil, so that you could help your nation grow. When you simply ask WHY, you’re sent basically on a suicidal genocide mission. This is in the first half hour of play. It deals with the concept of being so into nationalism that you ignore the harm you’re enabling, of anyone questioning the “party line” even slightly, even just for clarification being outcast for their questions.
Which isn’t to say IV didn’t have HUGE problematic parts. It had an amazing female character (I say that because she starts as a little girl and later is a teen woman), but also has one who is pretty much JUST a damsel in distress and the main protagonist’s girlfriend.
But, that’s part of criticism, right? That to really be able to look at it critically, good and bad, you have to love it, just not unconditionally. Love it “warts and all”.
On that, has this project brought up any things that, in retrospect, you’d like to deal with the next time you’re involved in working on a setting or whole game? Things that you don’t think you can address properly in The Ruined Empire.
A: I’m really pleased to say that for the most part, I think this holds up really well, which isn’t always the case with things I’ve written 2-3 years ago. (There are things that I definitely look back on and cringe over.)
However, there are definitely things that I didn’t get to touch on in Ruined Empire that I will visit in future projects. Ultimately, it’s impossible to make any one creative endeavor, especially a relatively small one, contain all the social justice. As for future projects, it’s hard for me to say with any great deal of specificity? I tend to start with a concept and develop with an eye to social issues from there. But I know definitely in the future I’d like to do some more trans-inclusive stuff.
M: Is there anything you’d like to say that I haven’t asked specifically?
A: Not really? I feel like we’ve covered a lot of good ground here. Thanks for taking the time to do this!