Why Haven't There Been More Indie Monster-taming RPGs?

With only a few in progress and the prevalence of indie games, shouldn't we be seeing more of these after the continuing success of Pokémon?

Over the past few years, there have been a number of successful indie games inspired by the higher-budget, well-known games which came before them. The Harvest Moon series inspired the addictive Stardew Valley, Mega Man and the lack of new entries inspired 20XX (and another rather infamous game), and The Legend of Zelda series has inspired numerous indie games from The Binding of Isaac and Oceanhorn to the more recent Hob and Yono and the Celestial Elephants. But not all well-known games have inspired successful indie counterparts, or at least if they have, the games are still currently in development. One subgenre in particular, despite its popularity, has seen little to none in terms of inspired indie games until recently. The subgenre in question is the monster-taming RPG, first introduced by Mail Order Monsters and Shin Megami Tensei, and later popularized by the Pokémon franchise.

Not counting series like Digimon and Monster Rancher, which were concepts created around the same time but distinct enough to differentiate themselves other than the "Mon" name, Pokémon has had plenty of shameless imitators since release. This trend still continues to this day, mostly with mobile games. As the years went on, many of these games grew to become less like carbon copies and developed their own identities, evolving into an entire subgenre of role-playing games that we know today, eventually bringing us games such as Ni No Kuni, World of Final Fantasy, and Monster Hunter Stories, as well as plenty of others.

While indie games in the subgenre aren't completely nonexistent, there are fewer noteworthy titles than one might think. Currently, there are two rather similar indie games backed by bigger companies planned for release in 2018: Re: Legend, created by Magnus Games and supported by the Square Enix Collective, and Ooblets, created by Rebecca Cordingley and Ben Wasser, and supported by Microsoft and Double Fine Presents. Both games are heavily inspired by Pokémon and Harvest Moon, while each takes inspiration from other games to feel more distinct. Two other known games flying more under the radar are Rainbow Skies, published by eastasiasoft and developed by SideQuest Studios, and Crowns. While at least three of these games are expected to release as soon as next year, it's still rather shocking that there have been no notable indie games inspired by the subgenre sooner. However, there are a few important reasons as to why we haven't seen many of these types of games yet.

Fans Needed to Grow Up

One significant reason indie monster-taming RPGs are only starting to appear now is because those who grew up with Pokémon and similar games are just now in a position where they can contribute to making a game as a homage to the subgenre. It took years before numerous indie counterparts of The Legend of Zelda series were made, but now they're a dime a dozen, with a few new ones releasing every year. It takes time for fans to develop their passion, and after that, even more time to develop a game. Most fans of Pokémon and similar games were in elementary or middle school in the late 90's, and now that they're possibly finished with their educations and have the careers they were seeking, they can finally start paying tribute to the games which helped them get there.

Creating a More Unique Experience Requires Multiple Inspirations

Another reason may be because it's difficult to rival the amount of success and brand recognition of a phenomenon like Pokémon. Having similar catching and battling mechanics with only some minor differences is likely not enough to interest players on a worldwide scale. This may be a reason why both Ooblets and Re: Legend decided to take inspiration from farming simulation games like Harvest Moon in addition to monster-taming RPGs. Furthermore, each game has more unique inspirations, with Ooblets being partially inspired by Pikmin, and Re: Legend being partially inspired by Rune Factory and Monster Rancher. These amalgamations of preexisting ideas help create new, more unique games which will pique player interest due to feeling new yet familiar at the same time, without feeling like a shameless copy.

Making Games Always Costs Money

While Ooblets is being supported by Microsoft and published by Double Fine Presents, Re: Legend had to be voted for through the Square Enix Collective and have a successful Kickstarter campaign before obtaining a guaranteed release. After the Kickstarter campaign ended, the studio had their equipment stolen, but luckily they were able to move their location and replace what they had lost. Ooblets may not have had the exact same development obstacles as Re:Legend, but it does still have a Patreon to give the developers an extra boost and help speed up development of the game. 

There Are Likely More in Development and TBA

Just because there are only a small number which we're aware of doesn't mean that there aren't more in development. Developers may be having trouble finding someone to publish their game, or maybe they just don't feel ready to announce it yet. Ooblets, Re: Legend, and Rainbow Skies are all expected to be released in 2018, while the release date for Crowns is still yet to be determined, but they have all been in development for a few years. There may be more people who want to make these types of games in the right position, but making games still takes time, and it's not always certain how long it will take for a finished product to be made.

More to Come

In the coming years, we're bound to see a number of indie games similar to Ooblets and Re: Legend, but players may have to wait a while before there are as many as there are Legend of Zelda- or Metroidvania-inspired indie games. For now, we just have to wait for those we know will release next year and anticipate those which haven't yet been announced.

Which of the games mentioned are you excited for? Let us know in the comments!

Correspondent

Writer pursuing a career in Games & Entertainment media. Specialties include cross examination of positive psychology with games and other media, coverage of non-Pokémon monster taming RPGs, indie game coverage, and coverage of various Japanese games.

Published Dec. 8th 2017

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