ReCore wears its Japanese-ness on its sleeve. On a sand-swept planet, a hardy survivor makes her way across the desolate surface accompanied by a robot canine companion that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pixar film. The human, Joule, has sci-fi boosters on her boots, complementing a stylishly utilitarian getup. From a visual design standpoint, she’s a good middle ground between Samus Aran and Mega Man, albeit with a more makeshift sense of fashion.
It’s all very anime, which is appropriate since the game is a collaboration between former Metroid Prime vets Armature and Keiji Inafune’s studio, Comcept. Although ReCore is Inafune’s conceptual brainchild — and, considering it’s about humanity’s relationship with robots, what an Inafune-esque premise it is — what may not be immediately noticeable is that its script comes primarily from veteran Halo writer Joe Staten.
While I’ve yet to play much of ReCore, its personality is evident right away. The subject matter of its premise, a terrible plague wiping out most of humanity, is foregrounded by a tone strikingly different than the often self-serious Halo; it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Japanese cartoon for kids. (This is as it should be — as Staten reassures me, sci-fi’s tropes typically only tell half the story).
Despite Joule’s status as of the last survivors of the human race, she’s often quite chipper, even in the midst of necessary-for-survival activities. Mac, Joule’s cheerful CoreBot pup, will run after power cores Joule throws toward doors to unlock them; it’s a shame there’s no command to pet him. The robots in the game all speak their own cute gibberish language, too.
Staten says personality was always a key tenet of ReCore.
“Inafune-san had this wonderful idea about each Core having a distinct signature personality, which I sort of interpreted as a kind of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story,” he says. “[Each dwarf was] unique from everyone else, and the same should be true of the CoreBots — the idea was always there that the human character would be the head of this little family.”
With neither Comcept nor Armature equipped for a full-time writer, Staten joined the project early on, fleshing out Inafune’s ideas for the characters and the premise through conversations with both studios. Armature’s Mark Pacini already knew Inafune, who served as a conduit between Staten and Inafune. A typical iterative process began, lasting throughout the project, though early discussions revolved around the setting being the Moon or Mars.
Yet just as was originally the case with Halo — you can thank Staten for Master Chief’s wry sense of humor — writing ReCore was really more about the characters than anything else.
“ReCore really is more unapologetically charming,” Staten says. “[But] you don’t have a story without characters, and you want characters to collide into each other in interesting ways and create drama. And I love it when those sparks come off characters, but the sparks I like the most are maybe a little bit funny and maybe a little bit sad — those are the kinds of things I like to write.”
Those ideas manifest itself here with a more cuddly message than you often see in sci-fi, though one not all that uncommon in Japanese games.
“We decided early on that this was really a story about — if it was about any idea at all — it was family and companionship,” Staten says. “And how in a family or a set of friends it’s really our differences that make us stronger.”
It’s an interesting, if subtle, kind of approach for any modern triple-A game, particularly one that also encompasses the loneliness of non-linear “Metroidvania”-style design, so named for Koji Igarishi’s open-ended work on Castlevania as well as Metroid itself. And while it doesn’t revolutionize the subject matter, the difference in tone is refreshing. It’s also, obviously, intended for a universal appeal.
“That same story — you know, it could be told anywhere. Sci-fi is just the wrapper,” Staten says. “Back in the Halo days, we didn’t hit it from that angle. We wanted to make a first-person shooter about space marines. Who the Master Chief was and the themes that would go with the story came later.”
Interestingly, Staten points to a few other unexpected inspirations among the Wall-Es and Star Wars droids: Red Dead Redemption (for its frontier feel), The Jungle Book, and even Lassie.
“I was channel surfing late one night, and I happened to run into this clip [of the show],” he says. “Lassie would come up and bark, and the humans would be able to intuit a very complicated thing that she was trying to tell them. And something clicked — the CoreBots shouldn’t speak any recognizable language. They should speak their own little language.”
That eventually led to a CoreBot alphabet designed by Inafunes team at Comcept, which Staten says follows suit with the rest of the game.
“Even if you look at the characters for the alphanumeric symbols, they have little charm and personality,” he says. “Each character has a little face in it. And a funny little pose. So even at that really granular level, it has that same [feel].”
It’s just one more example of what can come out of a fun cooperative partnership.
“Any one studio, any one person couldn’t have made ReCore the special little creation it was,” Staten says. “And I really took that feeling we had working together as a group and let that bleed into the story as I wrote. It was motivation for me in terms of writing the little team spirit story of Joule and her CoreBots.”
Staten is well aware of how all of that sounds. “There’s your Barbara Walters moment,” he laughs. “But it’s true, games are collaborations between really fun groups of people that collide together. Those are precious days — you’ve got to enjoy them while they last.”