“In my life, and the lives of many of my friends, humor has been crucial to holding us together during hard times, hard times which often feel like all the time,” says Lulu Blue, designer of Fantastic Witch Collective, a playful RPG demo she plans to develop into an episodically released adventure. “Reality is pretty dark, pretty scary, and that’s our light through the tunnel: coming together and having a laugh. Making light of our troubles brings us together, it’s kind of a communal ritual of relief.”
By releasing short, 15-20 minute narrative quests every month, Lulu hopes her game world can serve something of that function for players. “My big inspiration here is Saturday morning cartoons, and I’d like them to more or less have the snappiness and levity of those cartoons as well,” she says. And in fact one of the first jokes in the Adventure demo is a pair of twins, one with red hair and one with blue, calling themselves “trouble,” with the other requesting to “make it double,” before starting a duel. There wasn’t a talking mutant cat following the them around this time, but Team Rocket’s cameo in Fantastic Witch Collective still warmed my heart instantly, like a big warm hug from good old nostalgia.
Currently, Fantastic Witch Collective is only two short demos long, split up by Adventure and Battle modes. By paying $9.99 now, players can support the game’s development and simultaneously sign up to receive the monthly updates, with new builds that will eventually turn into episodically released quests.
A lot of the demo feels like being a kid again, shooting the shit with your friends in the bus line at school. One friend says something cheesy about Pokemon, another chimes in with a mocking rendition of the Team Rocket mantra. Another friend notes how bored they are of the same old boss battle structure in RPGs, and everyone starts imagining the most lame, anti-climactic final boss fight imaginable.
“For my childhood, RPGs hold about as many cherished memories as they do anguishing ones. I hope to do a lot of subverting and poking fun at RPG tropes throughout,” Lulu says, specifically pointing to the fact that “I loathe how RPG stories are so over-complex, drawn out, and easy to lose your place in. [The game] in part is my answer to that.”
But short, pithy quests doesn’t mean the Fantastic Witch Collective won’t tackle serious issues. By adding an element of decisionmaking to every episode, Lulu hopes to capture “the duality of a tough reality with a silly surface level.” And, “each episode will focus on real life problems people from various backgrounds have, from exploitative labour to not knowing what you want to make for dinner.” Because, as Lulu explains—preaching to the Kill Screen choir: “I’m very bored of escapism.”
What she (and KS) is looking for is a little more applicability. “At this point in my life where I’m a grown ass adult. I feel starved of things that connect to me, my life, my world in interesting, entertaining, relieving ways.” The world of Fantastic Witch Collective, with all the deliberate camp and cutesiness, is also a place that invites identity exploration, since “by virtue of being a magical society, you can change your appearance, name, pronouns at any time, and people will respect that.” The transitive sense of identity in the game, explored through the lens of an innocuously accepting atmosphere, removes the sense of threat and allows players to discover potentially personal things in a safe space. Basically, by “constructing a world where queerness is normal and pervasive,” Lulu hopes people will see identity exploration as something fruitful for everyone.
But while Fantastic Witch Collective’s demo nails the tone, Lulu’s loftier goals still remain to be seen. Though of course understandable as a very early demo of the complete project, the avatar customization seems literally and figuratively skin deep—and I sometimes find myself doubting the assumption that avatar customization inherently invites identity exploration. One aspect that I’d love to see develop more is the customization of each witches’ element (sky, sea, land, core and cosmos.) A symbolical exploration of an avatar’s makeup reads as a much more suggestive as a form of self-exploration, in this case, rather than fussing with which length of pixelated nose to choose.
But I’m most excited to see how this episodic-style release will develop in combination with the focus on emergent gameplay. The short monthly side quests, as the game’s main narrative tool, will presumably require more decisionmaking. Decisionmaking that affects the open world permanently. But to what extent? In the Adventure demo, a Skeleton named Tabia asks for your help because she hates the only job she has as Halloween decoration. If you work hard enough with your good witch powers, raising money with dueling, chores, and other form of income, you help Tabia find her way to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And, being grateful, Tabia feels the need to make positive changes to the world herself, since “small acts of support can have a large ripple effect throughout a community… Maybe Tabia’s will even make a broom lane now,” Lulu jokes.