We’ve all played our share of games about rescuing princesses or saving entire fantasy kingdoms from shadowy villains. But what about an adventure where you’re fighting to establish your own identity? That’s at least part of the premise in FROGSONG, an upcoming action-RPG that’s as much about the internal struggle of its central character as it is about a larger external quest.
“Chorus is a frog who’s trying to fight for the right to be who they are,” says the solo developer behind it, Canada’s Brandon Braun. “They want to be a warrior, but everyone else just wants them to be a holy scholar like all the other tree frogs. A lot of other frogs have really negative reactions to this – confusion, anger, dismissal – and they have to put up with it all.”
Not that FROGSONG isn’t also a traditional action-RPG in the Zelda mould: there’s plenty of exploration and combat, as Chorus hones their fighting skills in an effort to join a legendary band of warriors called the Defense Guild. But for Braun, it’s the personal story that truly drives FROGSONG. “As a non-binary person myself, I find it really important to have non-binary characters in media,” Braun tells us. “A lot of mainstream media completely lacks any trans or non-binary characters, and when they are present, they’re usually just a side character or don’t appear very often. There’s no reason at all that the main character can’t be non-binary!
“FROGSONG was also largely written at a time when I was discovering my own gender identity. Writing a non-binary character and writing a story about identity and self-love was a very important thing for me to do. The story’s themes about fighting to be who you are, struggling to be brave enough to live your truth, and just [being] allowed to be yourself without having to justify [it]… these are all themes that are very personal to me.”
The deeper aspects of FROGSONG’s story didn’t emerge immediately, however: back when Braun first started the project, it was, they say, “a goofy comedy game about a frog that just likes stabbing things” (which, let’s face it, is a perfectly solid basis for an action-RPG all by itself). Nor had Braun attempted to make a game of this scale before – although they’d dabbled in the likes of RPG Maker and Clickteam Fusion in school, this is their first true commercial video game.
“Learning how to program and code has been incredibly challenging,” Braun concedes. “I’m not a very technically minded person, so it took me a long time to really wrap my head around how to make things work. I’ve been drawing and telling stories for years, so I’m already pretty confident in my abilities there. But this is the first time I’ve done any sort of coding.”
The project has also changed a fair bit since development began; inspired by Breath of the Wild, Braun initially saw FROGSONG as an open-world 3D game, before they sensibly decided to opt for a less labour-intensive, two-dimensional perspective.
Still, Braun has had to design an entire fantasy world for Chorus to hop around in – and it was here that their background in art, animation, and storytelling properly came into play.
“I want to make Salia feel like a real, functioning world full of living creatures,” Braun says. “There’s a lot of history present in the land – there are ruins all over the place, and mentions of previous civilisations living there. Some of these ruins will play an important role in the story, but most of them don’t. I know what every single stone arch and old statue used to be a part of, even if there’s no way for a player to know just by playing the game.”
Building such a detailed world takes time, of course, and having to fit FROGSONG around other work has added another layer of challenge. “For most of FROGSONG’s first year of development, I was working a part-time job,” Braun explains. “For most of its second year, I was in college. And then for the first half of its third year, I was working a full-time job. Thankfully, my Kickstarter has allowed me to spend more time on the game, and only work three days a week at my job.”
Thanks to that bout of crowdfunding, Braun’s deeply personal adventure is gradually hopping towards the finish line. “FROGSONG is very close to being done, and is right on track for an autumn 2022 release,” they tell us. “I still need to finalise all the chapters of the story, make a few more levels, and program a couple of bosses. I’m hoping to get the game in a fully playable state by the end of summer, so I can have a few months to polish things up and do some important testing.”