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Reimagining the Classics: ‘Bug Fables’ Developer Talks Inspiration, Innovation, and Paper Mario

We talked to the developer of Bug Fables about modernizing the classic roleplaying formula and carrying on the Paper Mario legacy.

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Bug Fables

Moonsprout Games Talks Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling

While the RPG genre constantly marches towards the future, some might feel that it’s too quick to abandon what made it great in the first place. The Paper Mario series exemplifies this belief perfectly. After winning over RPG players with its iconic early entries like The Thousand-Year Door, the series began to stray away from that roleplaying standard as time went on, often frustrating and alienating longtime fans. It thus comes as no surprise that indie titles like Moonsprout GamesBug Fables should arise to try and fill that gap.

“…we personally wanted to play a game like that again.”

Bug Fables is a charming RPG that features lovable characters, action-infused turn-based combat, light puzzle-solving and platforming, and a paper cutout world populated entirely by bugs. Given this description, it’s understandable that the Paper Mario community has welcomed this title with open arms. Just take a look at its Steam page reviews and you’ll see dozens of players hailing it as the Paper Mario game they always wished for. But for its developer, the game’s ambitions weren’t nearly as lofty as this reception might suggest.

“Well… We never thought it’d get that big at the time!” says Moonsprout Games’ Jose Fernando Gracia. “We did it just because we personally wanted to play a game like that again. I guess we were lucky that a lot of people felt and feel the same way!”

And although Paper Mario seems to be the primary influence for Bug Fables, it’s far from the only one. Gracia drew from plenty of other classics when developing his own game. “Pretty much every RPG has some awesome feature or part of it that one can really take to heart. Chrono Trigger, Tales Of, Persona (and Shin Megami Tensei in general)… Really, it’s got a bit of everything if you look close enough!”

With such a background, it might be surprising that Bug Fables wasn’t even conceived as a game in the first place. “Bug Fables was born as a comic,” Gracia says. “My friends and I used to draw new ideas on the weekends (each person drew a page then it was the next person’s turn). Almost all of Chapter 1 [of Bug Fables] is based on that comic, with a few major changes…!”

As for why this comic was developed into a full-blown game, Gracia says it was a simple matter of appearances: “Why did we pick that comic? It was just really cute, I guess! We wanted to make an RPG around 2016 and needed a plot, and that comic just ended up getting used as the base. It’s been a long 4 years since then!”

If there’s anything about the game that seems to denote its classic inspirations, it has to be its paper cutout visual style, which bears more than a few similarities to classic Paper Mario. But according to Gracia, it also represents how the game set itself apart at the same time. “At first it was just plain going with what we were inspired by,” he says regarding the graphics. “There was this weird moment where, despite being inspired by Paper Mario, we stopped treating the characters as made out of paper. Instead, we treated their appearance as just an art style. Although it doesn’t seem like much, it really changed how we approached environment design, the humor and the puzzles.”

While taking inspiration from so many classic games, Gracia says that the writing is where Bug Fables stands on its own. “What really sets apart Bug Fables is the characters,” he clarifies. “Everything revolves around them and their teamwork. Being able to combine their abilities on the field, depending on each other in every battle and passing their turns around… You really feel like a group of friends who can only triumph if they’re together. We also made sure to make everywhere feel alive, so every [one of the] NPCs got their own little story going on!”

Such characterization goes deep in Bug Fables. Many players love RPGs primarily for their extensive dialogue, world-building, and character development, and that’s something that Gracia and the Bug Fables team sought to maintain. Gracia highlights that “Having been able to come up with banter/tattles for every single NPC and area, with more or less a consistent quality to them,” is one of his proudest achievements with the game. “It’s a buffet of flavor text I’d love to find in a lot of other games. I’m just proud that I managed to pull it off!”

Beyond the writing, Gracia has also endeavored to ensure that the game itself represents something new or streamlined for the genre. There’s no denying that as wonderful as the classic RPGs can be, they aren’t always the most player friendly. They can be sullied by excessive grinding, unfair difficulty spikes, and unbalanced leveling. These are all imperfections that Gracia and the Bug Fables team sought to address.

“I’m a big fan of convenience and quality of life, although there’s still a lot of stuff that we could do better. I’m not a fan of individual EXP, since it punishes you for trying out new things after letting some side characters be underleveled. I’m even less of a fan of clutching out a tough boss fight down to the last HP…only to feel like you should reset the game because half the party gained no EXP! For the inventory, we really wanted to encourage people to use items and cook them instead of hoarding them. There’s a lot of goodies thrown around and items are pretty cheap. It’s kinda hard to beat ‘hold onto the Elixir’ syndrome… But I hope players feel like using good items isn’t such a big loss.”

Bug Fables

“I hope those that try [Bug Fables] out remember the characters 15 years from now!”

If the enthusiastic fanbase and reception is anything to go by, Bug Fables has managed to achieve the delicate balance between remaining true to the classics while still retaining its own distinct identity. How can developers manage to strike this balance between classic and modern?

“It’s something you love very much, so if you remember what made it great you’re on the right track!” Gracia says to developers striving to recreate the classics. “But don’t stick too close to it. Be critical and try to remember what parts of it frustrated you… It’s up to you to innovate! At least that’s what the difference between a homage and a clone feels like.”

By this point, it’s easy to see just how much work has gone into Bug Fables. By their very nature, games are labors of love, and that’s especially true for titles like Bug Fables that pay tribute to the classics of its genre. “I think the real challenge was being consistent,” Gracia admits. “Games take years to make, so it’s really easy to get discouraged when there’s still so much to be done. Motivation comes and goes, but you’ve gotta train that work ethic!”

And now, with the game’s impending console release, all that work seems to have paid off. The great roleplaying classics of yesteryear can foster passionate communities based around nostalgia and shared memories, and it’s just such a message of community that Gracia wants to leave with readers. “Thank you so much for reading this. We did our best to make Bug Fables a fun journey from beginning to end. I hope those that try it out remember the characters 15 years from now! Then we’d really have succeeded in creating a fantastic RPG!”

Bug Fables is available now on PC, with a release on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One coming May 28.

Campbell divides his time between editing Goomba Stomp’s indie games coverage and obsessing over dusty old English literature. Drawn to storytelling from a young age, there are few things he loves as much as interviewing indie developers and sharing their stories.

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