NAIRI: Tower Of Shirin is an adorable-looking yet deceptively complex puzzle-adventure game coming to Nintendo Switch from Dutch developer Homebear Studios - an indie duo made up of Joshua van Kuilenburg and You Miichi. Delicately mixing an engaging story with the exploration of mature themes in the gorgeously realised world, players will interact with both human and anthropomorphic characters, explore dungeons and uncover the dark mystery within the city. We talked exclusively to Joshua about the upcoming project, his influences and what you can expect from the game...

Nintendo Life: Congratulations on announcing Nairi for Nintendo Switch.

Joshua van Kuilenburg: Thank you!

How did the development team come together?

You (pronounced 'yo') and I have been together for a good while now. While she is a digital artist, I’m a jack-of-all-trades with a tendency of leaning towards programming. So, when we decided to develop a game, the team was assembled right from the get-go!

What is the team's background?

I, as well as You, graduated in game architecture and design, so we have plenty experience with game production concepts, programming, art and game design. We also worked at an applied games company for a while… but as far as our actual track-record goes, this is our first commercial game.

It's been stated that the setting of Shirin is as much a character in the game as the humans or animals. What influenced its inception and realisation?

We wanted the setting to be unique, and we felt that a desert oasis was pretty rare as far as settings for games go (imagine our surprise when Ever Oasis was announced). After we made that decision, getting a feel for how it would like was really mostly our imagination and a lot of web searching for historical places, people and inventions.

Shirin being the stage of all events in the game, naturally we took its conception very seriously. We actually built a rough 3D model of the entire city, as to provide You with camera angles to make sure all background art would make sense. While we eased up a bit on achieving hardcore accuracy during development, it’s just to say Shirin was fleshed out before anything else in the game. We made sure it had a sense of history and meaning before we dealt with any of the main characters.

The game visually is adorable, but the narrative continually alludes to dark secrets and mystery - how is the balance in tone dealt with? 

It’s an iterative process. I write the characters, backstories and plot - then You comes in, and we talk about how we can visualize all this. Sometimes, the subject matter and the whimsical art-style feel just right. Sometimes, it’s a bit jarring, so we change the character to look a bit more, say, menacing, or we tweak the dialogue a bit. We go back and forth like that. I mainly focus on making sure all character development stays on-course, narratively speaking. And You makes sure the art-style stays coherent throughout development. It all feels pretty natural, really.
 
As mentioned, the art style is adorable. What influenced it?

Thank you for the compliment! You is Japanese, so it’s not hard to see why there’s a bit of, say, Studio Ghibli influence there. She also takes a lot of inspiration from other sources – she’s got a ton of books ranging from Disney to color and light studies. Disney and Pixar are definitely fantastic resources when it comes to ‘endearingly cute’, rather than ‘childishly cute.’ But, in all honesty, I think You uses this inspiration to fuel a style that’s very much her own.

How much do the dialog choices change the characters interaction/ story? 

Now, we had some fairly impactful choices planned at first.  Although we’ve always said these choices wouldn’t impact character development, we thought it’d be cool to influence the plot in one way or another. However, plot-altering choices were scrapped as the game developed over time. It ended up feeling unnatural to lock players out of areas, characters and dialogue based on these player choices. 

There’s also the fact that we had to maintain a realistic scope. The more we worked on the game, the pickier we got when it comes to finalizing dialogue and art assets. Everything just takes a ton of time to finalize. So we took the best parts of all these choices – the coolest characters, areas, and so forth- and wrote them all into one continuous storyline. That’s not to say there aren’t any choices to make, but these are now used for dialogue branches, paying merchants, activating certain events… that sort of thing.

Could you outline the story?

Sure! Nairi is a young woman from the rich district of Shirin, the oasis city where the game takes place. When a sudden incident forces her to abandon her rich, sheltered life, she ends up in the seedy lower district of the city ruled by gangs. 

Of course, things get a bit more complicated than this.  Nairi meets a gangster-turned-scholar rat, who will help her quest to find her way back home. The poor district is plagued by The White Mask, a criminal who seemingly brainwashes people. And then there’s a conflict which goes way beyond Nairi’s initial plight of simply returning home. There’s an ominous mystery surrounding the titular Tower of Shirin, after all!

How important is the theme of class in the game? 

Within the larger narrative of NAIRI, the theme of class is rather important. The three separate districts are very starkly divided, and wealth trickles down from the top. Actually, throughout the game, you can see water falling from aqueducts that originate from the rich district.

However, our narrative for the game has really grown since our original concept in 2016. Everything has grown larger and more involved than we anticipated before the Kickstarter. A few months ago, we had to make a choice – keep things simple and small or delay the game and set up for a sequel. We opted for the latter, so in Tower of Shirin the player will only progress through a fully fleshed-out poor district. Due to this, we can’t show contrasts between classes as much as we would have liked. Future installments will directly follow up on Tower of Shirin, however, and will definitely expand upon the premise of class difference that this game sets up.

Any other themes the team felt were important to focus on?

We touch upon multiple themes, but I’d say the ‘political system’ in Shirin is the most important and fleshed-out one. There is this two-party system that teams up logical thought as well as Shirin’s religion in order to keep everything running smoothly. However, friction has been growing between the two parties, and this will become increasingly important throughout the narrative of NAIRI. In Tower of Shirin, the player will learn plenty about this ‘Council’ system, as well as the ‘Soluna Faith’, and how they impact the lives of the people in Shirin.

How did the relationship between humans and animals come about?

When we started thinking about how humans fit might fit our cute world of anthropomorphised animals, we realized humans are animals as much as any other – why differentiate?  This decision was made really early on, to make humans entirely equal to all the other animals. While this doesn’t influence the characters or plot very much, we do hope players will enjoy talking to the different animal species on an equal basis.

What games influenced you?

Not too many, actually. We are going for a fairly unique blend between a visual novel and a classic point & click adventure, which makes it difficult to draw direct inspiration from games of either genre.  That said… before we had any solid game concept in mind, I believe it was Freddi Fish, a 1994 adventure game by Ron Gilbert, that convinced us that an adventure-type game would be a perfect fit to tell NAIRI’s story within an acceptable development scope.

Is there any influence from other works of popular culture?

We wanted NAIRI: Tower of Shirin to be family-friendly and enforce ourselves to tell an impactful story while keeping the tone light and colorful. So, with the soul of NAIRI: Tower of Shirin being a blend between serious themes and a whimsical art style, we looked a lot at works like Spirited Away from Ghibli, The Last Airbender from Nickelodeon, as well as a number of Pixar movies. I especially feel that The Last Airbender does a great job at presenting adult themes in a ‘for-all-ages’ package.

How does NAIRI add a twist to the point and click genre? 

Honestly, I wouldn’t say we’re really innovating on the point & click genre. As a matter of fact, we’ve been calling NAIRI: Tower of Shirin a graphic adventure game for a while now. But I do feel we fuse visual novel traits with the point & click puzzle genre in a fairly unique way - I have a hard time finding games like NAIRI: Tower of Shirin. In that sense, also taking its tone and style into account, I feel the package as a whole is fairly novel.

When can we expect to see NAIRI: Tower Of Shirin on Switch?

We are working really hard towards a tentative release date for fall of 2018!

We'd like to thank Joshua for his time. NAIRI: Tower of Shirin will be heading to Nintendo Switch in late 2018. Let us know what you make of the game below...