World of Demons is the new Apple Arcade exclusive title from PlatinumGames, the revered studio behind Bayonetta, NieR: Automata and The Wonderful 101. As the studio’s first mobile game and only their second self-published title, its production was rich with new challenges. IGN Japan spoke with PlatinumGames Studio Head Atsushi Inaba and World of Demons producer Koji Tanaka to find out more about the game and its fascinating development.
If the name World of Demons sounds familiar, that’s because the game was previously announced in April 2018 as a free-to-play title to be published by Japanese mobile game company DeNA. It has a gorgeous ukiyo-e art style that is broadly reminiscent of Hideki Kamiya’s pre-Platinum classic Okami, and tells the tale of a samurai named Onimaru who fights yokai (Japanese folklore creatures) and liberates them from the evil subjugation of Shuten Doji, the demon king who seeks to take over the world. While the basics of the concept remain the same, the game that was released yesterday on Apple Arcade is very different to the one announced in 2018 – it has been redesigned from the ground up for Apple’s subscription service.
“The graphics style, the design of the main character and the concept of including yokai inspired by traditional legends are all the same as before,” says Inaba. “Apart from that, it is a completely different game. We had the opportunity to release the game for Apple Arcade, and instead of just making a few small adjustments for the new platform, we decided to take this opportunity to rebuild the game from the ground up.
One of the first things to go was microtransactions. As a free-to-play game, the original incarnation of World of Demons offered various ways to spend money, such as paying for better item drop rates. The game had been designed with this in mind, but Apple Arcade does not allow microtransactions at all – a condition that has undoubtedly benefited World of Demons. Don’t let the mobile platform scare you off – this is unmistakably a PlatinumGames joint, albeit one that was designed to make the most of the mobile platform.
“Obviously it’s an action game, and in that respect it’s similar to what we’ve always made,” says Tanaka. “But we were unsure whether we could create the same kind of experience on mobile – and indeed, when we tried to do that early on it didn’t feel quite right. We realized that with touch control, the way we approached things like very fine control, camera movement and so on could not be implemented in exactly the same way. It was a difficult challenge at first, but as time went on it became a fun problem to solve, so we feel like it was a successful attempt.”
World of Demons tasks the player with dispatching yokai in bite-size skirmishes that are well suited to playing on the move, but strung together in linear stages that allow for longer play sessions, with a boss battle at the end of each. As you’d expect from a Platinum title, the combat involves pulling off ever-cooler combos, rewarding split-second timing with powerful counterattacks and, of course, a grade at the end of each fight.
Tanaka explains, “What makes this a typical Platinum game is that we make it easy for an inexperienced player to understand the game through the tutorials and to easily pull off actions that look cool and are fun to do, while quickly leading them through fight after fight. So it’s easy to get into. But if you want to put in the time, there’s a lot you can do – there are multiple playable characters with unique weapons and abilities, and each one feels different to control. There’s a lot of depth but it’s easy to get into. And of course, the controls feel good, which is something we put a lot of care into.”
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World of Demons is a linear, story-driven game that offers about 10-15 hours of gameplay, but players are encouraged to explore to find hidden areas, acquire new weapons and loot items, play with different characters and try new yokai combinations, with multiple side missions available for each stage that the player can tackle in any order. Tanaka says that aiming for 100% completion will double the total play time. And then there are multiple difficulty levels to try – Tanaka describes the highest setting as “very hard to beat, unless you deal with the enemies’ attacks very carefully,” to which Inaba jokes, “That’s Platinum’s vice! I wouldn’t recommend it.”
The more than 100 yokai in the game are mostly based on supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore. The critters you encounter in the game are not inherently evil: Their will has been twisted by the evil demon Shuten Doji to serve his bidding, and as you beat each new type along your journey, you will shatter the curse and befriend them, unlocking them as a support character. You are then able to build up their stats and equip your choice of two yokai on each mission, to unleash their powers in battle.
Tanaka says that the team were inspired by the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons, which is a famous piece of Japanese folklore that depicts a horde of yokai attacking Japan. (Recently, Monster Hunter Rise’s Rampage mode was also based on the same source.) The tale’s rich setting allows for a wide variety of gameplay options as well as some eye-catching creature design. Players outside of Japan don’t need to be familiar with any of this background to enjoy the game, of course, but the team hope it will be an opportunity to introduce Japanese culture to Apple Arcade subscribers around the world.
“Apple Arcade reaches a very wide global audience, far greater than our fan base,” says Tanaka. “It’s bigger than we could have ever imagined – so many types of people are playing on that platform. Within that, we are presenting a very traditional Japanese setting that features yokai, which are deeply ingrained in Japanese folklore. This is something that a Japanese studio like us can do well, and on top of that, PlatinumGames can add our own unique style. It was a motivating factor to know that we could present this concept to the world.”
“I’m very curious to know what the global audience will make of it,” adds Inaba. “Yokai are perceived a certain way in Japan, but overseas it might be very different. It’s the same with ninjas – our image of a ninja in Japan is different than that overseas, but ninjas have attained an iconic presence. This will be a good opportunity for us to gauge how yokai are perceived, and I think it will have an interesting effect on the way we at PlatinumGames make games.”
By all accounts, World of Demons seems to have been a labor of love for PlatinumGames, and one they have iterated on over time. Then, in 2019, shortly after Apple Arcade was announced, the opportunity to release the game on Apple’s subscription service encouraged the studio to knuckle down for an April 2021 release on iOS, Apple TV and Mac OS.
“Lots of us in the studio use iPhones, and iOS is a major platform in its own right,” says Inaba. “It was a challenge to also support Mac OS and Apple TV, and to design for both touch controls and controller support. But it was fun to develop for Apple devices, and it’s a platform with a lot of users.”
Inaba and Tanaka acknowledge that Android users might feel left out in the cold. Inaba likens the situation to console platform exclusivity, while Tanaka explains that the benefit of targeting one specific service was that it helped them to focus the development. The team grew from roughly 40 people to roughly 60 over the course of development, with action-game specialists coming in and out from other development teams at Platinum. It seems that for this veteran console game studio, developing for mobile was a challenge unto itself.
“We haven’t even built up enough experience yet to tell you how publishing on mobile is different than on console,” says Inaba. “The development staff never knew what tomorrow would bring, and every day was exciting. There’s no doubt that it would be easier to release title after title on the same platforms every time, and we would build up knowhow that way. But PlatinumGames is a company that likes to try new things, and to be uncertain about what’s coming next. We were also interested in having a proper crack at the mobile game market, so this has been a good opportunity. It’s been tough, though!”
When asked for his opinion on Apple Arcade, Inaba says that he considers it a “fantastic service” and extols the virtues of a subscription service for mobile games. He adds that “the key to success on any platform is the quality of the content available on it, and in the case of Apple Arcade, I hope World of Demons can be a part of that. I hope that our game can be a catalyst to get the service into more gamers’ hands.”
Apple Arcade’s admirable stance on microtransactions seems to be another point of attraction for Inaba – games on the service are not allowed to include them at all. While World of Demons originated as a free-to-play title with in-game purchases, hewing to a more traditional form seems to be a better fit for PlatinumGames. “I think it’s OK if a game has been properly designed to accommodate microtransactions, but it’s just a different way of making games,” says Inaba. “I love that Apple is aiming to build a collection of games that are safe for kids to play, too.”
Big in China
Of course, we expect to see more mobile titles from PlatinumGames soon, in a somewhat different form. When Tencent invested an undisclosed amount of capital in PlatinumGames in 2019, part of the deal of the alliance was that Tencent would develop and publish mobile games for the Chinese market based on Platinum’s growing collection of original IP. Inaba says that no titles are yet confirmed, but that the idea is that as China’s biggest game company, Tencent will be perfectly placed to develop titles for that market so that Platinum can focus on the games they are good at making.
“We know that mobile games in China are thriving, but I don’t think we would know how to make a game for that market,” admits Inaba. “For us, we were very keen to be able to create our own IP and to publish games ourselves. For China, my hope is that we can build a situation where our business partner Tencent perhaps can make games based on that IP.”
He says that the Tencent deal has resulted in new possibilities for PlatinumGames – not only in monetary terms, but because Tencent has partners and investments all over the world, from notable publishers like Supercell and Marvelous Entertainment to industry monsters such as Riot Games and Epic Games.
“Tencent don’t tell us what to do at all, and our creative philosophy hasn’t changed at all,” says Inaba. “Tencent doesn’t seek to aggressively control its partners or subsidies, but to encourage them to connect with each other. So our options have increased.
“Also, one thing we’re happy about is that they seem to only work with companies that are in some way unique, and it’s flattering that they view Platinum in that way.”
World of Demons is out now for iOS, Apple TV and Mac OS, exclusively on the Apple Arcade subscription service. Check out our hands-on impressions of the first chapter, and a gameplay video of the first stage.