Anodyne 2 - an interview with Sean Han Tani & Marina Kittaka

February 17, 2019

Anodyne 2 is a game about a lot of things. On the lighter side of things, it’s about meeting people and collecting things, but it’s very quickly made clear that this is also a game about the deeper sides of human relationships. It’s about how we recognize problems within ourselves, and how people relate to their own issues- whether that means solving them yourself, or needing help from another.

And, then, it’s also about the pressure some people put on themselves as “bear the burden” of helping those around them. How exhausting it can be, and in some ways I felt it was about how people deal with commitment and burn-out.

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on in the demo build of Anodyne 2 I got to play, so I reached out to Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka to ask a few questions. What I learned was a bit surprising- the game’s influences come from unexpected places and Sean and Marina aren’t people to shy away from the melancholy and often outright sad depths the themes they’re weaving into Anodyne 2, though they do their best to balance it.

With regards to direct influences, Sean Han Tani pointed to his own games, Anodyne and All Our Asias, as well as “Kirby for the enemy design. For 3D visuals, there are tons of inspirations, but generally any 90s or 00s 3D adventure game has been useful to reference,” NieR Gestalt, the Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shin Megami Tensei all also took a spot on the list of inspirations.

Marina Kittaka’s list was where most of the surprises came from, citing The Magic School Bus, Steven Universe, Princess Remedy, Final Fantasy 9, and again the Panzer Dragoon saga- but really, the one that seems most surprising, at least until you start to think about it, was the Holy Bible.

Looking at it, the writing in Anodyne 2- dialogue or otherwise- really does have a bit of a biblical tone to it. I don’t mean that as in there are fourteen paragraphs dedicated to lineage, but the diction used feels ancient and like it comes from scripture, and the strange, somber music mixes with the writing to create this sad, alien atmosphere that fits the world and adventure you go on.

That said, the writing isn’t all prophecies and strange dialects- there’s plenty of charm and joy found in small touches peppered into interactions and things that are meant to be Nova’s own thoughts, like this charming moment right as you first meet Nova’s guides, Palisade and C. Psalmist:

This is fully intentional- I asked Marina specifically about the biblical inspirations, and she clarified some of the extent for me:

“There is stylistic influence on the text (mostly from the NIV and NKJV translations). Notably, the character C Psalmist draws influence from the book of Psalms. And then overall, the character of The Center, the creator of Anodyne 2's world, draws on the Bible's depiction of God (although I wouldn't call it an exact parallel or allegory). Anodyne 2 explores the complicated relationship between progenitor and progeny, both in a grander religious sense and a more intimate parental sense. What, if anything, do we owe each other based on how we are related?”

That last statement, for me, is extremely powerful, and from the demo is very clearly at the center of all of the themes at play in Anodyne 2’s writing. It’s not uncommon for family to expect things of you- myself, and many of my friends, and I’m sure many of you reading this, have had to deal with family imposing expectations on us at some point, if not many points, in our lives.

In Anodyne 2, the work that Nova, the player-character, is doing takes a large toll on her. Nova is a being created for the soul purpose of fighting back against the Dust, a strange and violent thing that infects beings and brings out the worst of them. When you find people infected with Dust, you shrink down and swim into their bodies to clean up and remove the infection.

Developing a game where you explore in 3D and go through “dungeons” in 2D hasn’t really been done before- at least, not in this way- so I was curious about the process behind it. Sean informed me they had the idea very early on, “but there are no games that do that, so it took a while for us to figure out exactly what happens in each dimension and how they interplay,” and went on to detail that this was the hard part- figuring out what happens in 2D vs what was going to happen in 3D, so they set some limitations from the beginning:

“In 3D: Minimal animations! No dungeon mechanics! No combat! Minimal platforming! If we did any of these things, the game will never come out. If someone is reading this and going "NO DUNGEON MECHANICS???" well, sorry! This game is influenced by Ocarina, but more Hyrule Field than Forest Temple. But if you buy lots of copies of Anodyne 2, maybe there will be a dungeon in Anodyne 3.”

After you finish up one of these cleanings, you’re presented with a paragraph or two about not just how the entity you helped feels better rand is so thankful for your help, but also how the venture is affecting Nova herself- she’s a bit tired after the first, exhausted after the second, and falls over after the third. Despite this, she pushes herself forward, and at one point there’s a dialogue between your guardians, C. Psalmist and Palisade, about how they’re “expecting too much of Nova”, but that “she’s the only one who can do this.”

It mirrors some of the experiences I’ve heard of, and a couple I’ve had myself. Though it’s not intended in a malicious way, family has expectations of us, and how we perceive those expectations pushes us- sometimes in directions we’re not too comfortable with, or that are difficult, or that may not be the best for us, and if this is as prominent a theme as it seems it’s going to be in Anodyne 2, I feel like it’s going to be a very profound game.

There’s a lot going on in the Anodyne 2 demo, and I’m extremely excited to see how it all builds into the final game. For now, though, I’ll have to wait and ponder these questions of obligation the demo’s left me with.

You can find Anodyne 2 on Itch.IO, Steam, and Kartridge.

Here’s a link to the Analgesic Productions website.

Here’s a link to Sean’s Twitter.

And here's a link to Marina's Twitter.

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