[INTERVIEW] French game company takes inspiration from Joseon Dynasty
Korean culture is receiving more recognition in a sea of content with Chinese and Japanese influences — and there’s a game to prove that.
Titled Suhoshin, the game hit global platform Steam on April 14. "Suhoshin" means guardian god in Korean.
A young Joseon era (1392-1910) man named Yuri has just passed the national Gwageo exam to become a public official. He honorably returns to his hometown in the countryside, where he is asked to investigate a series of mysterious deaths taking place in his village. He must find clues and put a stop to whatever evil is causing the deaths.
In this visual novel game, users' actions unravel the story and lead to a variety of different endings.
The surprise twist — this game was not developed by a Korean company, but independent French game studio, No More 500.
“I have been fond of Korea for more than 15 years,” said Alan Menant, CEO of No More 500, in an email interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.
“For foreigners, or non-Koreans, there are many games with Japanese cultural elements, but I wanted to bring something fresh and show another side of Asia.”
True to Menant’s words, historical elements of Asia have been the source of inspiration for many Western creations, but seldom is Korean culture used.
Famous works like “Madame Butterfly” (1898) by John Luther Long and “Memoirs of a Geisha” (1997) by Arthur Golden were inspired by Japan while “Turandot” (1926) by Giacomo Puccini and Franco Alfano and “Mulan” (1998) took inspiration from China.
Fascinated by Korean culture, especially the Joseon era, Menant felt he could bring it to a wider audience to enjoy through his games.
“In my opinion, the Joseon era is a period with some of the most beautiful costumes in the world,” he said. “There are a lot of cultural elements that I thought could fit well in a game.”
The team of less than 10 had a Korean director who oversaw the research into the Joseon era. He paid meticulous attention to the details of the graphics, especially the costumes and background landscape. He studied the Korean social hierarchy to see what clothes different classes wore, such as sangmin (the peasant class) and yangban (aristocrats).
The project started with many months of research about Korean folklore and legends, with a “focus on how legends could impact foreigners and create a mystery,” according to Menant.
“For example, we had to precisely describe textures for costumes and materials for houses,” he said.
“I remember one designer painting a Japanese style floor for Yuri's house but we had to explain to them that in Korea, floors are different. The same applies for sitting poses. We had to constantly provide such explanations and reference documents. It can seem natural and easy for Koreans but it was really difficult, especially for foreigners.”
Menant chose to develop a novel-style genre because he wanted players to take in the details and the beauty of Korean culture. He wanted to make an impactful story that would leave a strong impression on the players’ hearts.
“I wanted to create characters that people could remember for a long time,” he said. “With action-based games, people may focus more on gameplay but with a novel, in my opinion, there's more room to focus on character's development and emotions.”
Less than a month after the release, the game has received “very positive” reviews from users on Steam.
“Games set in Joseon Korea don't come around too often, so of course I had to give this a try,” read one review posted on April 15, which recommended the game to others. “The absolute best thing about this game is its technicalities — the character designs are very good, the background designs are great, and the music is incredible,” read another, posted on April 17.
“It’s still too early to make a conclusion at this point in time, but we got feedback that the Korean theme was fresh and interesting,” Menant said. “They [non-Koreans] discovered a culture that was new to them and in that sense, the feedback was good.”
The company does not have any clear plans for its next move, as it’s only been a month since the release of Suhoshin.
“For sure, I want to continue working on games related to Korea, but it's too soon to tell whether this will happen or not,” Menant said.
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]