All the greatest adventures start in the mind. An idea, an impulse, an imagined goal: from there, it bleeds out into the world around you, and colours it to match. And this particular adventure, conceived many years ago by creative director Kody Lee, captures that reality perfectly. Set in a mysterious – but not magical – world, it spans muddy swamps and vast deserts, murky ocean depths and shivering mountainous heights, foggy forests and icy tundras that crack and echo underfoot. But its creators take great pains to explain to us that this semi-open world is actually quite compact. "We did not set out to make a game with an epic scope," Lee says, "and we still don't think it is, compared to many triple-A games out there." The sheer and wondrous variety of Little Devil Inside's locales simply allows an active imagination to run wild.
In fact, the game has been designed with that goal in mind from the very beginning. "There was a time," says Neostream business development director John Choi, "when before buying a game at your local game shop, there was little or nothing to go on except for a little cover art. The cover art often just had characters and the world at a glance, but somehow encouraged the player to picture the game in their imagination. This nostalgic essence is what we wanted to recreate with Little Devil Inside, hence our main design concept – minimalism."
Game Little Devil Inside
Platforms PC, PS4, PS5
It's a smart and considered play for a debut game: this is Neostream's first title, having operated mainly as a hugely successful multimedia company since 1998. Why branch out into making games? It's a tough business, after all. "Our passion has always been in video games," Choi tells us, explaining that the team has experimented with various ideas for games over the years, but that the pace of daily business (including running two studios simultaneously in two different countries) mean that focusing on games was next to impossible. "In the end, our hearts got the better of us, and we decided to go all-in to try and realise our true passion and purpose. So I guess it wasn't a branch, but a new seed. And yes! We're just finding out now that it's definitely not an easy industry to be in. At least we're having a hell of a ride so far."
We'd say so. Neostream launched a Kickstarter for the game back in 2015, hoping to secure funding for a very alternative kind of RPG adventure. "This game is not just about killing arch-demons and saving the world," the description reads – although there's plenty of that going on, with all kinds of monsters, from giant grinning cats to deerheaded spirits, yetis to cockatrices, kraken and dragons (and, formerly, some uncomfortably stereotypical 'jungle savage' enemies, the design of which Neostream has apologised for and is now working to alter). "This is a game that tells stories about people with 'unusual' jobs such as hunting monsters, and what happens in their everyday life [while] doing so."
As beleaguered protagonist and half-decent swordsman Billy, you find yourself part of Professor Vincent and Dr Oliver's research team, leading expeditions to explore the surreal wilds and hunt beasties. The ultimate goal? To aid your contractors in building a comprehensive encyclopedia of all phenomenal existence. (Humorously, this often seems to involve you getting cold, wet, dirty, sunburned, lost or nearly eaten alive, while your more academically-inclined colleagues direct from further back.) In the process, you'll find yourself stumbling across "influential figures and various organisational bodies with discreet and secretive interests," Lee tells us. You'll undertake requests for them – which leads to you uncovering a number of ancient secrets and clues.
The idea caught the attention of over 5,000 backers – and also, rather unexpectedly for Neostream, of Sony, who got in touch "very soon after Kickstarter". They were shocked, Choi tells us: so much so that they felt it was too early to make a commitment. But when rumours of a next-generation PlayStation began to circulate, they received "a louder knock at the door" and knew it was time to take up the company's offer of support. The partnership was finally set in stone just before the PS5 reveal event last June.
Sony's support has been invaluable to a new team some way into its own long journey, Neostream tells us. But that guiding star of minimalist design has also worked wonders for Little Devil Inside. And not just via the art style (a delightfully muted, slightly blocky, toy-town aesthetic that manages to be at once endearing and foreboding). "On the surface, it may look over-ambitious," Lee says. "But the mechanics we are bringing in from multiple genres are just the core essence of its parent."
Although the game combines action, exploration, survival and RPG elements, then, they are all treated with a lighter touch. "For example, we don't intend to make survival gameplay that becomes a repetitive chore that gets in the way of overall progression," he continues, "and we certainly don't intend to go too far with RPG features to be compared with other hardcore, grinding hack-and-slash RPG games. We wish to express more with less, and leave some room for the players to fill in for themselves."
It's all about the journey
It makes sense for an adventure that's about fully taking in every moment, whether it's an encounter with a new monster or land. The UI is kept deliberately clean for this purpose, with Neostream paying particular attention to sound and character design to convey incoming threats or survival needs. There is no fast travel, only a train to travel between different regions on the world map – and you may find you experience curious or dangerous events while riding to your next research destination.
And your town serves as a place of preparation: in a routine that recalls both the Persona and Monster Hunter series, you'll get ready for expeditions by gathering intel about regions and potential foes, packing weather-resistant gear and choosing the most appropriate weapons before setting off, and this will determine your level of success. And so will you: "The game is not designed in a way where we expect you to break and demolish every box you see, seek that ultimate gem or rune, run into all corners of a level or [get addicted] to creating the most powerful sword," Lee says. "It's more about the journey."
Slow and steady wins the race, in other words –a maxim that can be applied to the development process of Little Devil Inside itself, now several years in the making. It's taken much longer than they'd expected, Choi admits, due to difficulty finding local talent in a country where the market is still driven largely by online and mobile games. But we're closer than ever to seeing what's inside the minds at Neostream become a reality – not just in the game, but in our own heads, too.
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