Arcaea reaches a crescendo with its ‘momentous finale’

With the story of Arcaea reaching its crescendo soon, we sat down with lowiro's studio head Anton Prydatko to discuss the game's melodious journey

Arcaea interview; Hikari and Tairitsu

lowiro’s Arcaea is an anime-infused, arcade-style rhythm game with a twist. This unique experience not only introduces a new form of three-dimensional rhythm gameplay, it also explores its own unique world through a cast of beautifully illustrated characters, narratives, and side stories, all enhanced through a huge and varied tracklist full of brilliant songs, many of which` were written specifically for the game.

There’s just something magical about Arcaea. From the clear, aesthetically cohesive UI, to the tight gameplay and responsive controls, it truly excels as a rhythm game, and with the addition of the multiple, interweaving story arcs, it’s no wonder that this title has earned a place in so many of your hearts.

With the overarching plot soon drawing to a close after nearly five years of hard work from lowiro, we were lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with studio head and game creator, Anton Prydatko, to discuss the long and eventful journey the game and the studio has been on over the last half-decade – and, amazingly, it’s just as interesting as the tales of Hikari and Tairitsu themselves.

To begin with, the team at lowiro is scattered across the globe, but is mostly based in the UK – a rarity for a rhythm game with such strong anime/manga vibes and so many Japanese tracks. When we asked what made lowiro decide to break into this genre, Anton explained that ‘Arcaea started as a small, independent game project developed primarily only by [him]self’ and that it was ‘more a personal desire than a business decision, shared with a select few others that helped in the early days of the game’.

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Anton personally lived and worked in Japan for a number of years, stating that his ‘experience and enjoyment of arcade music games at that time really made [him] passionate to bring that same experience to everyone across the world’. He goes on to say that ‘rather than an influence from Japan, Arcaea is much more about bringing that experience to mobile game players the world over’.

When it comes to the widespread dynamic of the team, Anton explains that, in the early days, ‘the team started off very small’ consisting primarily of a ‘number of acquaintances and volunteers that wanted to be a part of working on a new rhythm game project’ that allowed them to ‘experiment with interesting new ideas’. Since then, lowiro has ‘grown both through people going full-time on Arcaea and by employing new team members as the need and standards for the game have grown’.

Anton expresses that they’re ‘still a small team’ and have their ‘fair share of troubles across over three time zones’ including the US, Europe, and Asia, but they ‘do their best by having regular catch-ups and working asynchronously via instant-messaging and project management tools’. He goes on to say that ‘it’s tough but a necessity sometimes when you wish to find rare, like-minded people to work passionately on a project like Arcaea’.

Arcaea story screenshot

Of course, another of Arcaea’s most unique and defining features is the gripping narrative and stories told throughout. When asked what made Anton want to add a narrative to a rhythm game as opposed to making something more traditionally narrative-driven like an RPG or a visual novel, he explained that ‘first and foremost, Arcaea is a rhythm game through-and-through’, and ‘this was the original concept and the game that [he] set out to make’. Instead, ‘adding a story alongside the gameplay was somewhat a late decision and a way to expand the world setting’ that you were all so interested in from the get go.

As both Anton and Terrence – lowiro’s scenario writer – have experience working on independent visual novels in the past, they ‘wanted to bring this skill set and ideology to another game genre’, and, as such, the tale of Hikari and Tairitsu was born. When writing the narrative, Anton claims that ‘instead of drawing any direct inspiration, Arcaea’s very early design was to make a very flexible and open-ended story’.

Throughout the process, the team ‘didn’t know where Arcaea would go and whether it would even succeed [or] be sustainable to work on’, with Anton referring to it as a ‘small project with high hopes, rather than a grand story with an overarching plan’. As a result, ‘it took a lot of twists and turns in its early days’, though the team still had ‘ideas and things [they] wanted to see happen later on’.

Arcaea character artwork

Throughout the years spent working on the title, Anton says that they’ve ‘really honed what the story means’, ‘what [they] want to tell through it’, and ‘how to connect that to the gameplay and playerbase’, stating that he thinks ‘this has really been a driving factor that has led [them] up to a momentous finale’.

When discussing the beautiful artwork seen throughout the game, Anton states that ‘a lot of the credit for Arcaea’s character designs goes to [their] key visual illustrator Cierra, who works with [them] from Japan’. He explains that ‘Cierra has really helped to craft a very consistent and creative set of main characters and environments for the game over the years’, and that, while the team has had ‘a lot of input into the personalities, themes, and directions [they] want to take the side stories’, Cierra has ‘still taken a key role in unifying the character visuals’.

As for the process of creating other characters, such as limited characters, those in the short stories, and the others featured less prominently throughout, it was ‘mainly led within the team instead’. Anton states that they ‘focused on keeping the setting intact through careful directing’ and consideration of ‘what personalities characters would expect to have and how they would look in the Arcaea world’. He adds that they also focused on ‘an overall attention to detail in making sure that every character [they] add serves a purpose and fits a role in the story’.

Arcaea home screen

Each section of the story told throughout Arcaea is tied to and unlocked by completing certain tracks. When asked about the specific process followed for selecting tracks for each of the individual characters, Anton explains that this is something they ‘developed much further in the newer Arcaea content over the past years, but the songs that carry the story of the characters associated with them are typically original songs created specifically for Arcaea’ and are usually written ‘specifically with the character and story themes in mind’.

Anton states that lowiro ‘carefully selects musicians and artists to work on’ each pack after the character and story theme is already established, highlighting that ‘this process of unifying together art, music, and story is really what [they] think is [their] specialty’. Naturally, each pack ‘does contain some variety and songs to fit a broader range of tastes and preferences’, however, the individual packs still ‘carry a concept throughout them’.

Arcaea features over 160 songs from more than 100 creators around the world. Anton details that ‘the outreach to artists and musicians is somewhat a fundamental part of running a live service game, especially one that receives frequent updates’, and ‘this is something that [lowiro] has improved over the years’.

Arcaea track announcement

As lowiro came from ‘very humble beginnings’, it was unfortunately ‘never granted a strong name or reputation that other larger companies may have when starting on a new project’, and Anton expresses that the team is ‘extremely grateful to musicians and artists that worked with [them] in the early days’. Of course, as the game grew and gained so much notoriety, this is something that has certainly become a lot easier over the years, as the recognition has provided them with opportunities to ‘work with higher profile artists’.

Of course, we had to ask Anton if he has a personal favourite character from Arcaea, and he firmly ‘stands by [his] official stance that all Arcaea characters are his favourite’, as ‘they wouldn’t be in the game if [the team] didn’t love them all equally’. However, when asked if he has a favourite track, he says he’d ‘be inclined to say that those with vocals and tied to the main story such as Solitary Dream [and] Lost Desire’ are ‘the most memorable to [him] as [he] often has a lot of input into the direction of the lyrics, their contents, and their connection to Arcaea’s story’.

Now that the overarching story of Arcaea is drawing to its end through the new update, we wanted to know what’s on the cards for the future of Arcaea, and whether there will be any further content or additions to the game. Anton explains that ‘the overall ‘full story’ of Arcaea is now complete’ and they ‘don’t plan on releasing any further main story packs with Hikari and Tairitsu’.

Arcaea story art

However, this doesn’t mean the end of the road, as ‘Arcaea will definitely continue to receive updates and some of the side stories featuring other characters are still to be concluded’, and lowiro would ‘like to give them their own time in the future’. Anton goes on to explain that ‘players still love Arcaea’, and that they’ll ‘still continue to give [you] new songs, contents, collaborations, and features while the team has the capacity’.

In regards to the future of lowiro, Anton shares that after having ‘worked flat-out on [Arcaea] for almost five years’ they’re ‘exhausted’, with the ‘continuous update cycle meaning that finishing every update, including major updates’ ensured they ‘always had something in the works’, even beyond what they were already toiling away on. The studio head also states that ‘first and foremost, lowiro needs a break’ and that they’re ‘looking forward to some hard-earned time off after the release of 4.0’. He does go on to say that ‘what lies beyond that is still, however, a secret for now’.

With the evident passion shown by the team at lowiro, and the years they’ve spent working on Arcaea, there are bound to be plenty of memorable experiences they have shared throughout the process. When we asked Anton if he has any specific highlights or favourite moments from the time he spent working on the game, he expresses that he thinks both ‘[him]self and many other members of the team would share the same answer’, that ‘speaking to players at conventions is truly the most motivating and enjoyable [experience] as a game developer’.

Arcaea gameplay screenshot

He goes on to say that they ‘often release updates to a huge number of excited players’, enjoying the opportunity to ‘read their feedback and delight online’, but ‘meeting them in person and talking about what they like about the game, what they find the most memorable, [and] what they are looking forward to the most’ is a an experience that ‘truly gives [the team] a reality check and makes [them] the happiest, keeping [them] going through the years’. He goes on to state that the Tokyo Game Show and Arcaea’s offline fan event in 2019 are among their ‘most treasured’ moments, and he’s ‘sure that [they]’ll get to experience many more of these in the future’.

Having been given the chance to talk to Anton about all of this, it’s clear to us that what makes Arcaea special goes far beyond its unique origins, brilliant tracklist, fast-paced gameplay, and wonderful story. The passion shown by lowiro and Anton himself, along with the enthusiastic community that has supported the game throughout its lifetime, and all the wonderful artists and musicians that have come together to contribute to the project, truly enhances the magic of this outlier in the arcade rhythm genre.

Arcaea story art

Though the overarching story of Hikari and Tairitsu may be coming to an end, Arcaea will undoubtedly live on through its attentive creators and adoring fanbase, and we truly can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for the future of lowiro.