Many Video Game franchises die off. Whether from poor sales of a title, to a company shutting down, or just the shifting winds of fortune, they are relegated merely to their places history. Fear Effect was one of those franchises, a successful PlayStation series by Kronos and Eidos with two games released, a film option by Uwe Boll (which thankfully never went anywhere), and a canceled third game.
Fear Effect Inferno was that canceled third game in the series, and it was set to bring the game to the new PlayStation 2. Relatively little was released on Inferno beyond some early trailers, which showed a continuation of the style of the first two games with some tweaks and refinements. Kronos’ third entry to the series would run into publisher Eidos’ new stringent quality assurance program, and while they would be given the greenlight to shop around for another publisher, none would ever be found. This cancellation would directly lead to the closure of Kronos Studios, the creators of Fear Effect and Fear Effect: Retro Helix.
What we do know of Fear Effect Inferno largely remains from dedicated efforts of archivists like Unseen64. This contains information based on what was said by the developers, trailers, screenshots, and cutscene demo reels that were released years after the fact. While this isn’t the story of Fear Effect Inferno, its story is important to that of Fear Effect Sedna, as it is considered the canonical third game in the series and the official continuation of the story.
Fear Effect Sedna is set after the events of Fear Effect Inferno, and one of the things I was interested in when talking with the developers at Sushee was why they felt that Sedna wasn’t the third game in the series. Overall, they felt they had to create an engaging story that didn’t require past knowledge already due to it having been over a decade and a half since the last entry in the series. On the question of Fear Effect Inferno in particular, they shared with us, “We felt like the series didn’t belong to us so we didn’t want to decide the fate of Inferno and we can hope that one day we’ll get to ‘reinvent’ Inferno too. So the story of Sedna takes place after and the original writer, John Zuur Platten helped with maintaining the tone of the characters and story.“
Fear Effect Sedna was the first result of the Square Enix Collective accepting pitches for Eidos IPs, which started in 2015. They opened up first with 3 IPs—Anachronox, Fear Effect and Gex—but the only one we’ve heard any movement on to date is Fear Effect. Sushee had already worked with the Collective on their adventure game Goetia, which would go on to be the Collective’s first published title, and decided to pitch what would become Fear Effect Sedna. Interestingly, the Square Enix Collective also specified they were not necessarily looking for straight-up sequels, but also different ways to interpret an IP. One example the Collective threw out there to make their point was that of using the Gex IP to make a turn-based strategy game.
The opportunity to work with an old IP while bringing a fresh perspective was something that excited the folks at Sushee. Sushee looking at it, opted to take a different look at Fear Effect. While isolating core aspects, they decided to change the gameplay to a tactical action game using an isometric perspective that let up to five characters be on screen at once that you could direct to take actions at any time. This change also helped highlight a large part of what Sushee thought was the reason that the Fear Effect franchise resonated with people—the characters.
“The characters are the most important part of the game, who are as appealing today, as they were 18 years ago. Which made it challenging to add our own new character but we’re really proud of what how he fits with the Fear Effect crew. Lots of fans played when they were younger, most likely younger than the age rating on the box, which has made an impression on them and years later has that nostalgic excitement to play a new chapter in the story.”
Of course, when you’re shaking up the gameplay, including shifting perspectives from fixed cinematic angles to an isometric tactical view, it is also important to work out what the core elements of the IP are. To Sushee, the core of Fear Effect was about those characters and the cinematic experience that mixed cutscenes and gameplay, which was in many ways ahead of its time. Beyond that, core themes included sex and violence, something Sushee wants to bring in a modern and intelligent way, while also mixing sci-fi, cyberpunk, horror, and mythology.
While mythology remains a key theme in Fear Effect Sedna, fans of the earlier games may be surprised to find out that Chinese mythology is not. With the earlier entries having come to a conclusion regarding that mythology, it prompted Sushee to look in new directions. Inuit Mythology caught their eye and Sushee explains a bit about that choice:
“Due to the fact that we were not experts in mythology, in general, we would require doing research so starting from the beginning we would start exploring what mythologies were out there and Inuit mythology seemed new and unexplored as a genre. On top of that, it had a lot of interesting and harsh tales and characters within it that would work really well in the Fear Effect universe.”
One area where they tried to minimize change was the art style. The original Fear Effects used a sort of proto-cell shading approach – the technology wasn’t there yet, but you can definitely see a similar style. Mixing that with a photo-realistic direction gave the team the direction to take the art in to match the technically limited spirit of the originals. That said, when taking something like art direction (especially technically limited art choices) from the past, it’s important to realize when things have moved on, thus they assured us that they’ll be “having more modern shapes in the faces and the models,” which should avoid issues of it feeling like art out of time.
While Sushee had plenty of ideas, they still had to bring the project to life—a process that would require pitching it to Square Enix and then to the public on Kickstarter. When talking with Sushee, one of the questions that invariably came to mind was how working on Fear Effect compared to what they had done with Goetia and what was working with Square Enix Collective was like. According to Sushee, major differences had a lot to do with the fact that they were working with an established IP that Square Enix owned. This meant that the now larger Square Enix Collective was more involved with going over details and working with them to ensure it fit the Fear Effect IP. Sushee explained, “the main difference was the processes that were more demanding, whether that be legal requirements, console versions or testing phases, but in the end, we’ve always worked well together and it’s gone really smoothly.”
The Kickstarter campaign was the final litmus test–could they raise the funds and was there the interest in Fear Effect after so long a sleep for the series? The answer was yes, with over 2500 people helping raise over €100k for the project. Feedback from the Kickstarter and the first demo led to them making some changes, as after they got feedback from the release of the demo to backers Sushee, “moved to have a stronger focus on action style of gameplay” to work better for what people wanted.
That wasn’t the only thing that came from feedback, though. Square and Sushee were listening to the ones who weren’t happy about the new isometric perspective or some of the other decisions as well. The strong relationship between the Square Enix Collective and Sushee, along with fan demand, led to the announcement of another Fear Effect game – Fear Effect Reinvented, a remake of the first game that is expected to come later this year.
But that’s a story for another time. For now, Fear Effect Sedna is nearly here and it resurrects a series that had died off in the early 2000s with a new take on the series, while trying to retain what they believe was the core of the Fear Effect franchise.