Kindred Fates: A Mature Monster Taming RPG From Skymill Studios

When Skymill Studios started their Kickstarter for Kindred Fates, they had a fairly humble goal of $50,000. Within 5 days they had reached an astounding total of $685,769. When I spoke to Andrew Cravens, the co-creator and community manager for Skymill, he said that the most surprising thing about this explosion of support was that it came within the last few days of the campaign. He and his brother, Rob, along with the 20 or so other staff members at Skymill, had barely expected the game to reach its initial goal of $50,000.

The game had started as a way to combine many of the elements they had felt were lacking in other games under the umbrella of ‘monster battling RPGs’. Pokémon has had a fairly tight hold on the reins of the genre for over two and a half decades, and while the franchise still maintains its status as a worldwide phenomenon, there is certainly a subset of fans who are looking for more.     

This is where Kindred Fates comes in.

Choices and Consequences 

While the original Kickstarter does indeed describe Kindred Fates as a monster battling RPG, more recently, the game has been described as a monster taming RPG. This is a subtle difference, but in this difference, there is a glimpse into the maturity with which the themes of the genre are being handled by Skymill.

kindred singleplayer1

Kinfolk, the game’s equivalent to Pokémon, aren’t just pets that you capture and battle with, they are sentient beings, who can communicate with you and who have their own culture and personality. This notion of sentience is something that the development team has worked hard to integrate into all aspects of the game. Andrew pointed out, for instance, that they had to somehow “sidestep the breeding aspect” that other games in the genre use as a mechanic to access more characters. Instead, Kindred Fates uses a system of recruitment, where Kinfolk will seek out other, similar Kinfolk, and bring them back to join your team. Kindred Fates' developers are taking a lot of special care to ensure that the player sees Kinfolk as willing members of a partnership between them and their trainer, as opposed to being a domestic pet or trading commodity.

You can’t just treat your Kinfolk badly and expect them to stick around, either. If you are constantly losing battles or making poor choices in the game’s story mode, then the bond you have with your Kinfolk will deteriorate and they might just “up and leave,” as Andrew puts it. While everyone is likely intrigued by the game’s open-world single-player, Andrew was coy with the details for the main story, suggesting that many of Kindred Fates' developers weren’t even privy to aspects of the game’s plot. What we do know is that choices, in general, will be a large part of the game’s story, with moral ambiguity and consequences for your actions being central aspects to Kindred Fates’ single-player campaign.

Kindred-Evolve-GIF

On top of that, the game will feature branching evolutions, where each time a Kinfolk reaches the point of evolving, you will be able to choose which path you would like to take them down. Some will simply require you to level up your Kinfolk, while other evolutions will require specific actions to be taken to become accessible. Importantly, the Kinfolk itself is seen to be evolving itself, rather than being coaxed into it by their trainer. 

“A lot of game design decisions revolved around having consequences and making sure you deal with those consequences.”    

This was a topic that came up frequently throughout my discussion with Andrew. In answering the question of why it was important to have your Kinfolk die in the game, rather than just faint as they do in Pokémon, he pointed to the XCOM franchise to explain. He suggested that when you have a character who you have spent numerous hours with, getting them stronger and watching them survive the ordeals the game puts you through, when they finally do die “it just hurts, it hurts your soul.” Andrew points out that this helps to make the player “much more invested,” because if “they died because you did something dumb” then you are forced to acknowledge that mistake and become better because of it.

Having your Kinfolk die may seem like some form of strange cruelty on the developers’ part, but coupled with the bonding system, and the sentience of the creatures you are taming, it feels like a way to strengthen the ties that a player will have with their Kinfolk, and make the game more rewarding in the long run. The memorial in town for those that have fallen will also allow you to remember your lost allies and relive your foolish mistakes eternally. This might make you think twice before entering that new area that the NPCs warned you not to go to yet, huh?

Kindred-Memorial-GIF

You can still retrieve their soul from the place they fell and revive them that way. There is also an item you will receive at the start of the game that you can assign to one Kinfolk, allowing them to always be revived —likely so that if you have a ‘main’ team member, your progress isn’t slowed too much by their death. In this regard, the game certainly doesn’t feel like it is trying to punish you, rather it wants you to appreciate the Kinfolk you have spent so much time leveling.

While there are no plans for an ‘easy mode’ where your Kinfolk can’t die, Andrew has suggested an alternative:

“We do plan on supporting mods as much as we can, so that's something that I'm sure will be modded in pretty quick.”

This kind of open-minded solution is indicative of the design philosophy behind Kindred Fates. The team has recently released an Alpha build of their PVP mode, currently available on Steam for those with an Alpha key, and they have been utilising their Discord to get feedback from the community. I was recently given a chance to test out the Alpha build and there is a lot to unpack.

PVP Alpha First Impressions

The first thing you are going to notice in Kindred Fates’ PVP mode, is that you are not playing as your Kinfolk’s trainer. Instead, you will be taking on a 3rd-person perspective of each Kinfolk in your team, controlling their movement and casting their abilities in real-time. The battles will take on the same format in the single-player, and once again, all of this amounts to you having a much stronger connection with your Kinfolk.

Currently, there is only a 1v1 mode available, although the final release will also allow for 2v2 matchmaking. The user interface is relatively simple for now, but the sounds and music of the main menu are fairly charming. The music, composed by co-creator Rob, is reminiscent of 16-bit JRPGS on the Super Nintendo, and, having had it playing in another tab while writing this article, it works as a perfectly pleasant backdrop.  

kindred alpha 6

Arena Environments

While many of the assets are likely to change over the course of Kindred Fates’ development, much of what is there already feels fleshed out and purposeful. The environments are, in their current form, somewhat basic, but the layouts have been carefully constructed around keeping the mode competitive.

Both Andrew and Rob have a varied gaming history, with influences including the Super Smash Bros. series and League of Legends, along with Rob’s experience with competitive Pokémon, and these influences are present in many different forms. Andrew describes the Alpha’s Tower Forest map as being Kindred Fates' answer to Smash’s Final Destination, a stage that has become iconic in competitive spheres for its simplicity. The basic arena forces players to win battles using only their raw skill, as opposed to using the environment to their advantage in any way.

kindred forest

This will likely be in strong contrast with other maps once the final release is out. Thanks to reaching their $250,000 stretch goal, the Kindred Fates team will be implementing “enhanced environment interactions,” which will include setting fire to trees, lifting boulders, and other ways to directly affect the world around you. With how intensive the PVP gameplay feels already, the introduction of these features will add another layer of depth and satisfaction that many have been waiting for in this genre for a long time.

The ability to alter the environment will likely allow for some surprising tactics. Andrew suggested that more defensive players hiding behind boulders could be rooted out by their cover being completely removed. Perhaps a player could use a full fire type line-up to entirely destroy an entire patch of trees and open their opponent up to the area of effect damage that the fire type playstyle promotes.

As someone who loves mind-gaming their opponents in competitive games, the huge amount of possibilities that environmental interactions like these open the game up for is extremely exciting.

Combat and Abilities

Knowing that I was going into an Alpha build of Kindred Fates' PVP mode, I tempered my expectations a bit before stepping into a game against Andrew. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. While it took me a bit of time to get used to the controls and to learn what my abilities did, the gameplay is fluid and intuitive enough that I never felt overwhelmed.

Having said that, the ability system is heavily influenced by MOBAs, and therefore has a fair amount of complexity to it. My ungodly number of hours in Dota 2 certainly helped me get to grips with the game’s mechanics fairly quickly, but those coming directly from Pokémon, with its simple turn-based battles, might find Kindred Fates’ systems a lot to unpack.

Andrew went fairly easy on me in our little bouts (ok, extremely easy) and after hopping around the game’s meadows and riverbanks for a while, I started to feel like I was getting the hang of things. Abilities in Kindred Fates are very satisfying to use, with sounds and animations already having a flair and impact that a lot of full releases are missing.

There are also a large number of targeting styles, from ground-targeted to click and release and abilities that follow a set trajectory you have to predict. For a MOBA fan, this kind of variance in gameplay made combat much more engaging.  

Much like in a MOBA, you also have a standard attack that you can use constantly to slowly chip away at your opponent while your abilities are on cooldown. This breaks up the combat a bit while players attempt to find openings to chain their abilities together into combos. Once you get the hang of switching between your Kinfolk at opportune moments, the game really opens up, allowing you to transition from one combo to the next with ease.

kindred alpha 7

This doesn’t mean that the game is purely about reaction times, your team composition can be just as important as your gameplay, as having a good mixture of defensive and offensive playstyles can help you offset some of your opponent’s advantages. This includes the way your team is structured. Having your Lumala come out first, rather than last can have a big impact on a match, as you can place a healing aura on the ground that your other Kinfolk can benefit from even when Lumala has been switched out.  

The developers have already started running tournaments, viewable on their Twitch channel, and starting with a Lumala to buff up their other Kinfolk was a common strategy. These tournaments are being used for balancing purposes as well as showing off the game, and seeing how a skilled player moves around the battlefield and presses advantages is truly impressive. Balance changes are already being considered based on these tournaments. Andrew pointed out that they had noticed how quickly high-level players were switching between their Kinfolk, something that will likely see changes now in order to avoid ‘spammy’ gameplay.

The number of considerations that are being made in early development is heartening to see, with a heavy focus on creating core gameplay mechanics that are tightly tuned and well-balanced.  

The Kinfolk

kindred kinfolk

The Alpha lets you select a team of up to four Kinfolk from a list of seven possible choices. This is a tiny portion of what will be available in the full release, which has a planned Kinfolk count of 159.  As with everything in Kindred Fates, this is an incredibly ambitious number to aim for. Not only does each Kinfolk have five individual abilities, but you can switch them out for a variety of other skills in order to customise your characters for battle.

Each Kinfolk also has an item equipped, which can do various things. Some items, like Coffee Bean and Aloe, will cure status effects, while other items can heal your Kinfolk, and some are buffs to their damage. These items add another layer to combat, where factoring in their impact will no doubt be necessary to defeat stronger opponents.

With all of these different variables, along with the sheer number of Kinfolk that will be in the final release, the number of team compositions available to you will be mind-boggling, and with Andrew stating that Skymill’s goal is to have “every Kinfolk be viable,” the task of balancing will likely be a monumental one.

Even with only seven Kinfolk available, there is quite a bit of variety in Kindred Fates’ PVP mode. Shovlet is an earth type and offers you crowd control, Mechid is called a tank/bruiser, and a fire type like Embear fits into the category of Hit and Run. These playstyle descriptors are important to learn, because Kindred Fates has its own unique take on the way different elemental types interact with one another.

Elemental Types

As is the case in Pokémon, each Kinfolk has a corresponding element, however, unlike Pokémon, the elemental type of your Kinfolk doesn’t simply give you a damage buff or nerf against its opposing element. Instead, as the Kickstarter page informs us: "You can think of types in Kindred Fates like fighting styles, or playstyles."

When pressed further on this, Andrew gave me a more concrete example, pointing to the matchup between a fire type like Embear and a Kinfolk called Kodoki who falls under the Gaia element. In this case, Kodoki’s playstyle revolves around setting up a series of defensive minions in order to control a certain area, but Embear’s AOE fire attacks can easily clear out Kodoki’s defenses and deal with his barrage of Stunner Flies.

kindred alpha 3

Andrew is quick to point out that this doesn’t mean that one type necessarily hard-counters another. The developers have made a big effort to ensure that even if you are playing an unfavourable matchup, skill should always win out over elemental advantage:

"It came from the frustration of, as a kid, going to different gym battles, and the gym leader has all Pokémon of a certain type, so you bring a Pokémon of the opposing type and press A over and over again until you win"

This decision to emphasise skill stems not just from Andrew and Rob’s desire to create a more competitive game for a genre they love, it’s more than that.

Skymill has taken on a lot with this game. Some could say that for a small development team it is too much. There is a planned 159 Kinfolk to implement, a complex story with an expansive open-world map, countless mechanics, and two PVP modes to balance. Kindred Fates certainly feels like a huge undertaking for a small studio.

With Pokémon Legends, Game Freak's venture into the open-world RPG space, arriving a full year before Kindred Fates is to release, in 2023, there are further concerns. When I brought it up, Andrew stated that this was a question they were getting a lot, and while the initial announcement of Legends was “a gut punch,” the team has started to see it as a positive thing. Comparisons between the two are sure to happen, and there is the distinct possibility that Kindred Fates will have more to offer those who are seeking a more challenging experience. 

Kindred Fates seeks to be the game that grew up with its demographic. Where Game Freak has focused on keeping the genre child-friendly –with newer games in the Pokémon franchise going as far as to tell you which moves are Super Effective against your opponents– Kindred Fates demands things of you. It wants you to learn your matchups, build a well-rounded team composition, and work on your fundamental skills. It also wants you to care more about your Kinfolk, to invest yourself in its story, and to explore an open world of possibilities and choices. 

Kindred Fates is certainly an incredibly ambitious task for Skymill’s small development team. But for those of us who have grown up with Pokémon, there is a sense that the franchise hasn't grown up with us, and you can't help but wonder if ambition is exactly what the genre needs.     


Kindred Fates releases on Steam and Nintendo Switch in 2023. If you want to pre-order the game, you can do so HERE.

A big thank you to Andrew and Niamh from the Kindred Fates team for being so generous with their time!


 

Are you excited for Kindred Fates, or any other crowdfunded games? What are your thoughts on the Pokémon Legends trailer? Let us know in the comments below, or over on our Twitter! If you’re looking for more Games Atlas content, check out articles on a variety of genres and topics in our Games section.  

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