Hey Hey Blerdy Tribe, I’m back with another Behind the Games post! For those of you just joining the party, Behind the Games is a segment where I interview the folks ‘behind the games’ I review. Giving you guys a chance to get to know the developers that spend so much time carefully crafting the games you enjoy.
Last time, I spoke with members of Perfect Garbage—the studio working on the upcoming cyberpunk visual novel, Love Shore. This time around, I had the chance to chat with the founder of Ai Collective, the team behind the the yuri romance game, Mizuchi—which is loosely based on the Chinese folk tale, Legend of the White Snake.
We are a small team of secret romantics who wanted to create visual novels together. The origin of our studio name is “ai ai gasa” – the concept of sharing an umbrella with someone you care about. We hope to show all types of love, the ups and downs of friendships and relationships.
I sat down with Roxie, the co-founder of Aikasa Collective, to talk about their debut game, Mizuchi and the ups and downs of being an indie game studio and a sneak peek at their upcoming release Red Rebellion! There are a lot of great things coming from the team in the future, and I am so excited to have gotten the chance to get this exclusive with Roxie!
The Aikasa Collective team also provided a copy of their first game, Mizuchi for a very special giveaway!! Read till the end for details!
Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me, I am so excited to be talking with you! I want to give my readers a better feel of who you are as a team. Could you tell me a bit about yourselves?
Roxie: Hello Naja! I’m Roxie and the creator and writer of Mizuchi. Several of my teammates were friends that I worked with prior when I was volunteering as an animation inker for our sister brand, Altabe Studio. I was extremely fortunate to have their continual help on my own personal projects in the design, art, music and testing field. I was also incredibly lucky to have worked with both my line editor and colorist, who were first timers in their roles. The other freelancers that worked on Mizuchi are known and respected as professionals in the EVN dev community.
Before I dive into your work with Aikasa Collective, tell me a bit about when your love of games developed. What were the titles that sparked your love of games?
Roxie: I remember the first game I played was Tetris on the Gameboy, followed with Tiny Toon Adventures. Then there were edutainment computer games like Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (1997). I think what brought my attention to narrative style video games were the Ace Attorney series and Hotel Dusk. It really grew to the point where I was consuming a massive number of Japanese adventure games, and it made me want to make my own. Mizuchi is my 2nd personal project, as my first (adventure) game is currently still on hiatus.
Mizuchi is based on the Legend of the White Serpent folktale. What inspired your team to use this particular story as the backdrop for your visual novel? What about this story resonated with you most?
Roxie: I realized at one point that making an adventure game is a huge money drain. I wanted to work on a more “lightweight” (puzzle-less) game that could “help” generate money for my first game. It did not work out that way in hindsight lol. Also, I wanted to challenge myself by working on themes and topics that made me uncomfortable. After thinking through a few of my ideas, a yuri story inspired by the Legend of White Snake seemed like a unique twist and perfect fit for western and eastern VN fans. As a bi/pansexual woman, I also really wanted to have another go at writing a WLW story. What I remember most about the folktale was the deep love between the male and female leads, and I wanted my story to capture that level of romantic longing.
Your game features a blend of folklore and characters that are representative of several Asian cultures. Why was it important for your team to create a narrative that incorporates so many different cultures?
Roxie: First, I have a soft spot for traditional Asian dresses, so I wanted to create a game where we can see characters wearing multiple kinds of them lol. (Ironically, I do not like to wear dresses myself.) The legend itself is considered one of the top four classical Chinese tales, and I personally felt I could not do a proper xianxia story as it was not a genre I consumed growing up. (Westerns on the other hand…) To avoid comparison to the many, many tv, film, and book renditions, I pretty much only relied on Wikipedia and went off from there. I believe it is important to create a story only I could create, so I tried to incorporate a lot of my own understanding of the world, as well as my Asian diaspora experience growing up. I placed in as many Asian childhood folktales I knew of, which were known in multiple cultures, and researched the other legends as some were perfect matches for what I was looking for.
I also believe most people tend to lump multiple Asian ethnicities together, so I wanted the extra challenge of putting my own understanding and knowledge of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese culture into one story and show them to be of distinct entities. I was happy to hear this was reasonably accomplished from players with personal multi-cultural Asian experiences. Lastly, I did consume several Legend of White Snake works after I finished making Mizuchi. The similarity in various plot points were a pure, wonderful, and almost uncanny coincidence. It told me that some story themes really are universal, which is why the legend has so much appeal and is so well known in many Asian countries.
There is a tendency for the media to fetishize same sex relationships, particularly in narratives focusing on relationships between women. How do you feel about that hyper sexualization of WLW romances? How does Mizuchi subvert those tropes?
Roxie: I think it is a shame how the hypersexualized works tend to be better known than the other WLW titles. One example in film media would be Blue is the Warmest Color, which has overwhelming critical acclaim and several awards, but the original comic creator stated the film set was missing lesbians and felt the sex scenes were porn. After being a yuri fan for over a decade, you find yourself relying heavily on lesbian reviewers or fans spoiling works in order to judge and decide what you are getting yourself into. But I do feel happy that there has been massive progress through the years in more popular WLW works with a female gaze such as Carol, and most recently, Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
In the case of Mizuchi, I mostly just followed along with my own personal tastes or tried to twist known scenes into something less sexual. Hot spring scenes tend to be extremely popular in VNs but based on my own experience, it is a very casual bathing event or family-oriented thing in Asia. I did not want to create an eroge, so I made sure there was no overt nudity. I also told the artists that the characters in the love scenes would never face towards us, the viewer, as I felt that would have made them “perform for us” and take us out of their story. I also feel sexy does not always require clothes to be off lol.
Mizuchi takes place in a much more traditional setting, where gender roles are much more restrictive—especially for women. Why did you choose this setting for your game?
Roxie: Honestly… I picked the time period that the clothes were most likely to exist as common wear lol. The Vietnamese áo dài that Linh is wearing was a decade or so early in design though. I was intentionally vague in order to allow myself around 300 years of wiggle room in the history area, but a lot of things were perfect coincidences that did exist within that time frame. Also, while there is a lot of historical bits within the story and setup, the “fantasy” portion is where I merged a variety of modern cultures into their world. Linh’s village is an amalgamation: Jeju island of snake worship, curfews for women, and dichotomy of husband/wife household roles do still exist to this day and age. Also, a lot of women were inspirations for the story. Linh’s family is my mother’s side of the family. Several things that happened to Linh, did happen to my mother, including naming herself. Majority of things that happened to Jinhai is exactly how it happened to a female monk I knew. And sadly, women, children, and sex trafficking are still a worldwide issue. I did try to show that patriarchy sucks for both men and women, as Anh was that male stand-in. I felt it was most important to show women working together and trusting each other in order to survive in their own individual ways. Mizuchi was sort of my own coming of age experience in understanding society, my Asian identity, and the women around me.
In the game, there are two love interests for Linh, Jinhai and Ai—each of whom have very different outlooks on life, which are often at odds with the more traditional upbringing of Linh. Why was it important to include these different perspectives in your game?
Roxie: I treated the story as a coming of age, reflecting off my own experience. So, I needed Linh to undergo that similar process. I know it is difficult to see outside our own upbringing within our family and society, but plenty of us also has that ah-ha moment, where we realize things are quite different elsewhere, and that there is nothing wrong with it. Ai is, of course, extremely brash about it, and represents all that I have learned about how society works and differs from one another. It is easier to retreat to what is most comfortable and familiar to us, like how Linh wants to return to a not-so great place just to stay with family. Then there is Jinhai, who gently eases Linh into trying new things, and reminds us that there is no right or wrong when we are just trying to be ourselves. In this case, traditional is a stand-in for limited cultural and life experience. While with time and age, we can embrace new ideas if we just explore outside our comfort zone. It can help us grow as a person and allow us to become more comfortable with ourselves. At least, that is what I hope some players got out of the story.
Mizuchi is your team’s first release. What were some of your favorite parts of the development process? What were somethings you didn’t like?
Roxie: I was happy to be able to write about my Vietnamese culture and do a lot of research on all sorts of topics. I’m also glad I was allowed to indulge myself with writing all “happy” endings, which did not seem to be a common thing for large multi-endings VNs. The best part was seeing all the sprites, background art, programming, and music come together and see the characters come to life. I did not enjoy scripting all the expressions as it was a bit tedious. When each sprite has roughly 5 eyebrows, 8 eyes, and 12 mouth expressions that work independently, it gave a crazy number of potential combinations. Programming faces every few dialogue lines was a real challenge! My effort was fortunately not in vain when players told me the characters were very expressive as a result. Lots of credit to Helia for programming all the character movements and helping them avoid looking static. I do wish I had more budget to add more food photos and CGs to the story lol. Limited budget is no fun when I only want more art to bring them to life more.
Your team just teased a brand-new title, Red Rebellion. On twitter your team mentioned that it’s a Robin Hood themed story. Is there anything you can share with my readers about this upcoming release?
Roxie: Red Rebellion is a similar flavor to Mizuchi as it comes across as a historical fiction with mix of fairy tales and legends with a yuri twist. With Robin Hood as the basis, instead of being set in the typical 12th century with Prince John and King Richard, we will have Red Rebellion set in mid-15th century England, nearing the end of the Hundred Years’ War. There are a lot of themes and ideas I would like to explore during this unique time period, and we hope it also resonates with players. We have a much larger and diverse cast of characters with 10 sprites already completed, which can be seen on our Patreon. This time around, we only have one romantic love interest for the main couple, as we wanted to focus more on an action-adventure type of story. We are working on two art styles for this game, which below is a clear tribute of my love for Utena. We hope you enjoy the sneak preview image of our game!
Bonus Question: Since food plays a big role in the game. What is your favorite food dish?
Roxie: That’s a tricky question! Some of the mushroom dishes in the story requires mushrooms only found in Yunnan, China, which has over 320 wild edible mushroom species in the region alone. From the dishes I have eaten before, I would pick zha jiang mian for my favorite mushroom (pork) dish, and onsen tamago for the egg dish. If you cannot eat raw eggs, I’d definitely recommend trying a chawanmushi (steamed egg custard)!
I want to give a huge THANK YOU to Roxie for taking the time to do this Q&A with me on behalf of the Aikasa Collective team!
Below are some links to the Aikasa Collective social media pages and game related sites. I highly recommend subscribing to their pages for the most up to date news on their current and future projects.
Hey Blerdy Tribe, the folks at Aikasa Collective were kind enough to give me a Steam Code for Mizuchi and I wanted to pass on the goodness to you dear readers! One lucky reader will have the chance to win a free digital copy of the game for Steam! The giveaway is open to everyone who wants to enter, but there are a few rules~
Enter the Giveaway
The giveaway will run until March 2, 2021 at 11:59PM EST. Huge Thank You to the Aikasa Collective team and Good Luck everyone!
Wanna learn more about Mizuchi, check out my review: Mizuchi Game Review – Slow Burn Yuri Romance