2022 saw the release of many Souls-like games, but that year also saw the release of Thymesia, one of the more impressive soul-like games developed by Taiwanese studio OverBorder. The game has you play as a plague doctor slicing up enemies with a sword, parrying knife, and a magical plague claw, uncovering the stories and enemies locked behind his memories.
We got to talk to Ross Huang, Lead Game Designer for Thymesia to get an inside look at what development was like for Thymesia. We talked about what challenges they’ve encountered and lessons learned during development, and how some of the game’s most unique mechanics came to be from just a studio of 7 people.
If you’re interested in learning more about one of the best Souls-like games from 2022, read on to see what makes Thymesia truly distinguish from the sea of Souls clones, while keeping true to the core tenants of the genre.
▍Memories of Thymesia’s Influence
Q. Thymesia’s story is one about memories, and exploring them plays a key part in the many levels and story segments. What was the inspiration behind telling the story, and presenting the levels in this way?
A: This project was named Thymesia very early on. Thymesia means “memory” in Greek. We chose it because we liked the concept of memory and it sounded cool However, at that time, we didn’t know how to tie the concept of memory into the story or gameplay.
At one of our design meetings, we realized the process of recalling memories is actually very similar to the playthrough of a souls game. You piece together a result through trial and error. This concept soon became the main theme of the game. It also answers why the protagonist can revive over and over again in the game. That’s because Corvus didn’t actually die. He just keeps recalling different memories.
Q. Thymesia is clearly inspired by Souls-likes and features parrying as a main form of defense, yet it feels very different from something like Sekiro. How did the team land on this specific control scheme, and what challenges came from developing a move that can deflect practically anything?
A: Our game director is always a big fan of FromSoftware and Souls-like games. So from the beginning of the project, we decided we were going to make a souls-like game with a fluid combat system(At that time, Sekiro wasn’t even announced yet.).
The biggest advantage of our final combat system is there’s always something you can do during combat. Unlike most Souls-like games, the player can only wait and dodge when the enemy is attacking. On top of that, all the defensive moves (deflect, dodge, and feather) are optional. You can choose to use any combination of them and still beat the game.
The biggest challenge we encountered was actually how to explain the combat system to the player. Because our combat system borrows a lot from Souls-likes and action games, but we put them together in a different way. People unconsciously bring past experiences into Thymesia and expect different things. In order to solve this problem, we updated the tutorial level several times to make it better.
Q. Where’d the idea come from to have 2 separate health bars, one that needs to be taken down with a weapon, and one with the claw?
A: At first, we simply didn’t want the player to finish the game by spamming just one single attack button. The white and green enemy health system was inspired by the medieval act of bloodletting practiced by plague doctors. In the past, people believe when the blood flows out, the virus also flows out. That’s why whenever Corvus deals damage to any enemy, he leaves wounds on them and the enemy emits some of their plague energy into the air. He can also use his claw to harvest the plague energy.
▍On The Game’s Reception From Fans
Q. Now that Thymesia has been released, is the team at OverBorder happy with the reception?
A: Overall we are very happy with the result. That’s because Thymesia is our first project and we had to release it after Elden Ring. Even though the two games have very different budgets, we were prepared for the inevitable comparisons. After release, the reviews were mostly very positive. Some players even say Thymesia has the best combat system in the souls-like genre except for the Nioh series. Those are the best remarks we could ask for.
Q. Speaking of reception, the Demo for Thymesia was released in early May, then the game was released in August. What kind of feedback did the game receive that made the team have to rethink parts of it or was the feedback all positive and as expected?
A: Most of the feedback we got was about the responsiveness of the main character and the timing and hitbox of enemy attacks. We can tweak these numbers very easily, but they could make a world of difference. Many players and streamers were very surprised that we could make the game much better in such a short amount of time.
Q. After a game’s release, it’s not uncommon for players to find ways to break a game or push it to its limit. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever seen or heard from a player who picked up the game for the first time?
A: Maybe because the playtime isn’t that long for Thymesia, we didn’t notice that many surprising things. One of the more impressive ones is a twitch streamer who just refused to use the claw attacks for some reason. When he faced the second boss, the hanged queen because she can regenerate health during some moves. That fight lasted almost half an hour. After he finally beat the hanged queen, we were all relieved because we were afraid he would just quit the game.
Other than that, some of our favorite content creators also played our game and liked it. That all made us very happy and proud. (The developers then shared some of their favorite gameplay clips from fans).
▍On The Game’s Reception From Fans
Q. It’s been mentioned in interviews the game started off as a tech demo for two years, then another two to finally nail a decent combat system. Was there a specific mechanic or encounter that just didn’t “click”?
A: The enemy health system probably took us the longest to design, implement, and polish. We always wanted to make the combat easy to learn, and hard to master. So, we needed to introduce some more mechanics other than attack and dodge.
However, that usually also meant we had to put more UI elements on the screen but we really wanted to keep the HUD as clean as possible. The final white and green enemy health system took us more than a year to build with multiple remakes and countless updates. It not only displays two important values in the same health bar but also provides gameplay and storytelling functions. The blinking green health bar reminds the player to attack aggressively. The color, green, also represents plague energy in the game.
Q. In game development, it’s common for a feature or idea to not make it into release. What Mechanic or story element did your team feel strongly about at one point, but had to be cut from the game?
A: There was a system we called “Plague Vision”. We all liked it very much, but we had to cut it because we ran out of time. When Corvus is not in combat, the player can press a button to activate plague vision. It would have let the player see how the plague is spreading in the air in order to track enemies or uncover secrets.
Q. I quite liked the plague weapon design philosophy using Energy and needing to take it from your enemy, particularly Miasma. Which weapons are the favorite among the dev team?
A: Plague weapons are meant to provide extra functionalities outside our the player’s basic actions. That’s why each plague weapon is best suited for different playstyles or situations. We’re very happy to see people enjoying using different plague weapons. Here are the plague weapons we like:
2D/Environment Artist: Knife, because the upgraded version and be cast without animation right after a successful deflect. It’s a great way to empty wounds on the enemy.
Game director: Greatsword, because it has super armor and can CC (crowd control) the enemy. It can really turn things around when you’re in a pinch.
Game Designer: Flying Daggers, because the flying daggers act as the feathers Corvus throws. They can stop the enemy from regenerating and can also counter enemy critical attacks. The updated version can even deal a ton of damage in the blink of an eye.
Administrative Assistant: Whip, because it can damage the enemy from a distance.
▍How To Make a Plague Doctor Still Cool
Q. In early development footage of Thymesia, the game’s character and special effects were colored a deep blue, but in the final release, it’s green. At what point in development did the team decide to change the color and why?
A: We didn’t have a full-time special effect artist on the team, so the blue special effects were just placeholders. They would have been replaced at some point. During the development, we hired professional special effects artists to replace almost all the placeholder effects. The green color represents plague energy. That’s why the plague weapons and enemy health bar are both green.
Q. Thymesia’s character for as long as it’s been developed. Has always been Corvus with the plague doctor outfit. Where did this design come from?
A: In the early stages of development, our game director decided that the story took place during the Black Death era. Therefore, the image of a plague doctor came in very early. We then tried many different combinations of weapons and appearances and finally landed on the mixture of plague doctor and assassin.
Q.How has Thymesia affected the growth of OverBorder? Should we expect a new project from the studio or some kind of content update? And is there anything you’d like to share with the readers and fans?
A. Thymesia is our first game as a studio. We all made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot during the development process. After the release, we had several meetings to review the development process and the game. We hope to avoid the same problems in the future so that the development will be smoother and our next project will be more polished.
On updates for Thymesia, we’re still in discussion with our publisher. Because the game has been released on so many platforms. Any updates will require a lot of testing and porting, so we can’t guarantee it. However, OverBorder Studio will definitely continue to make new games and we hope people can continue to support us!
Thymesia is available now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, and Amazon Luna.