One of the most challenging aspects of Seventh Cross has been finding the role that Associates would play in the game.
Like any good Metroidvania game, you're going to meet NPCs throughout the adventure. These NPCs will provide you with hints, story development, and new skills. They will act as shopkeepers, and some may even join you in battle.
Of course, given the tone of the game, each of them has a darker side as well, and making the wrong story decisions can cause them to turn against you, unleashing their monstrous natures as bonus bosses.
In every castle, the hunters have a home base called Sanctuary–a makeshift altar with a safe place for allies to gather, and where you can recover your life and energy after the deadly boss encounters. When you meet new Associates through exploration or combat events, they will return to Sanctuary and start providing services for you.
Sanctuary can be accessed at any time between monster fights. Gold you acquire from finishing fights with a high score and from making good exploration decisions can be spent to make use of these Associates' services.
Each Associate provides 4 main opportunities.
They will sell you skill training, items, and weapons. Just about every Associate has a 'shop deck' that they can draw from to sell you things. The gear and skills you acquire from Associates are often of a higher quality than other gear and skills.
They offer a unique service. Each Associate has some advantage they can offer beyond just items. This may come in the form of additional stat cards, curse removal, improving weapons, or providing information.
They can be interacted with. In a previous post, I talked about Key Items, and how the story is an optional part of Seventh Cross that players can explore if they want to. Interaction is another part of that self-directed storytelling. Hunters can chat with associates and show them Key Items in order to learn what they know or to gain help.
They can join you in combat. Through conversations with Associates, it is possible to convince them to leave Sanctuary and join you in the next Combat stage. However, this comes with its own risks. If you fall in battle, the Associate is permanently killed and will not be available for the rest of the adventure.
How much is too much?
In some of the early experiments with Associates, we made them fully-fledged hunters who tracked their own life, curses, aggro, and had their own miniature decks to battle with.
While interesting for solo play, this added a few too many components to the game. The complexity of basically adding a fifth player to the game made things slow, while at the same time taking away from the focus on the hunters being the stars of the show.
Instead, we moved towards a simpler Associate setup. The new Associates link into the Stat System, and provide consistent bonus actions which can be used when you have the right stats. They also gain a few Action Tokens of their own each time you run through your deck, which let them activate their own abilities without wasting your cards.
With these changes, Associates are exceptionally useful, but they come at a cost. Their flexibility enhances the hunter they're paired with, but doesn't overshadow them. Mostly, Associates in combat will be there to support when your hunter doesn't have the right tool or save you when you are about to get smashed to bits by a monster.
Permadeath - but only for a little while…
One of the harder parts of designing Associates came from the legacy nature of the game. If Associates could die, and they could die very early on in a campaign, then it was difficult to design any kind of story around them. As far as content, it wouldn't do to create a great deal of content around a character that might only have a few moments of screen time.
A big innovation to Associates came when we decided that each castle was going to be its own campaign. If an Associate died in the second fight of Wilshire Village, they could just come back in Clockwork Castle and be a part of the game again.
This change let us build smaller but more focused stories for the Associates in certain castles, and not worrying that an important character might die in a previous, unrelated conflict. An ally that you've been working with for two or three castles might have their real history come out in a later adventure, and then suddenly turn on you as an enemy.
Additionally, with the legacy aspect of the game, this provides us with some interesting opportunities. For example, defeating an Associate's monster form might provide you with new cards in their shop pool. Saving a final boss from their monstrous nature via certain story paths might provide a new Associate that can show up in future castles!
Thanks for taking the time to read about updates to Seventh Cross, and how we’re bringing Associates to life as allies to aid you in your adventures! Feel free to post questions, and look out for more updates next week!