“In a sense, it all started with Undertale,” Chris Nordgren, a VFX artist and co-founder of Foreign Gnomes, tells me of music battler RPG Everhood.

It’s kind of the elephant in the room (or email, in this case) when I interview him about the game, which shares obvious, immediate visual similarities with Toby Fox’s 2015 indie darling. That’s on purpose. It’s also not where the similarities end.

“[Undertale is] a game that I’ve very much admired,” Nordgren says. “But before I first played it, I admit that I looked down on Undertale because of its minimalist art direction. As a visual effects artist, it worked against my interests at the time, but that perception completely shattered when I actually started playing Undertale!

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“We’re not afraid to say what’s inspired us. It was a deliberate choice to make our game share some aesthetic similarities with Undertale. Some people might say we did that too much—and maybe they’re right in a few instances—but we wouldn’t want to change anything.

“The entire game is really compressed into great moments from other games. If you really scour every scene in Everhood, you’ll likely find a reference to another game, even if it looks completely different.”

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It would do Everhood a massive disservice, however, to accuse it of being some kind of copy of Undertale. Having played it through to one of its multiple endings, it’s more appropriate to call Everhood a response to Undertale, especially with regards to how the player interacts with the beings they encounter throughout the titular world.

Without spoiling Everhood: you play as a puppet-like character who simply goes by Red. In the opening of the game, your arm is stolen from you by Blue Thief, and delivered to a greedy villain named Gold Pig. The first half of the game consists of you meeting the game’s cast and seeing the sights while you try to get your arm back.

The second half of Everhood gives you a very different goal — one some players may not want to carry out. There are multiple possible ways to approach the second half of the game, and while they may be challenging to find, there are routes available for those who don’t want to embrace the quest given to them. Nordgren says the team leaned heavily on playtesting to make sure people didn’t feel entirely stuck.

“But if a player decided to stop playing the game at that point, I think it creates a unique gaming experience in its own right,” Nordgren continues. “That decision says a lot about the person who made it, and that’s really powerful.”

Another absolutely critical difference between Everhood and just about anything else is its battles. They take place on a screen not unlike a Guitar Hero song, with the enemy dancing along to the music just like they’re playing a rhythm game. But the player is on the receiving end of those notes, and must dodge them in order to survive the encounter.

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“It’s a musical game that isn’t outright tied to rhythm, it’s more like being in an interactive music video,” Norgren describes, saying that making the battle system for Everhood was actually fairly easy.

“Every time I listened to music, I would imagine it as a music video. I would make a mockup, send it to Jordi, and see if he could get the battle working.”

In fact, Everhood’s music was composed before any of its game locations were designed, and he and fellow Foreign Gnomes co-founder Jordi Rocca pieced together the context of these fights once the music was done.

“The amazing artists that collaborated with us for Everhood usually created a certain piece of music that was planned to capture a theme or feeling and from there it was a matter of trying to fit it into the game.

“When it came to a lot of the final battles, I took a different approach than the more freewheeling method I mentioned before. For the pivotal battles, the music was carefully composed and orchestrated to really deliver on specific story beats and twists!”

Everhood is the first game that Nordgren and Rocca have worked on together, and according to Nordgren (who also works at Mojang on games like Minecraft Dungeons), it came together in a bit of an unusual way. The story, he says, was largely improvised as he and Rocca went along, for instance.

“We just tried to create interesting scenes with the hope that we’d find the overarching story along the way. Sometimes it felt like I was being contacted by something divine that guided me towards what felt right. I’m sure a lot of creatives can relate to that feeling.

“Everhood’s main theme became obvious to me somewhere during the middle of production. Once I had a sense of what everything was really about, I started to adjust details and point towards the bigger picture.”

Everhood is a strange, thoughtful experience. It asks players to consider carefully what it means to live, die, and kill within an RPG framework, and frequently interrupts the story with strange sequences where unseen beings ask the player to contemplate immortality and humanity. Though multiple sequences seem to call to mind specific philosophical traditions or schools of thought, Norgren says he had no specific ones in mind when he was making Everhood. Rather, he was very focused on the idea of an endless journey or quest. He says he wishes he was more educated on some of the individual schools of thought, but then counters, “That would also defeat the purpose somehow, wouldn’t it?”

“I think of it more like a journey to find what works for you. Everhood is a collage of ideas and in the end, it’s more in the eye of the beholder. Everhood’s message is that I am convinced the journey is something we should cherish.”

Everhood is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch, though having played it I recommend players with any photosensitivity issues heed the warnings in the opening. Norgren confirms he and Rocca are sending the game for photosensitivity tests, though, and plan to incorporate options to turn off certain effects. “Making sure that everyone can safely experience Everhood is a primary focus for us right now,” he says.

Beyond that, Norgren says he feels there may be more to explore in the world of Everhood, though he and Rocca will need to experiment more before they can confirm anything new — and if they make anything more, it will of course take time.

For now, Norgren hopes those interested will play Everhood at their own pace. “I recommend not rushing through the game. Make sure to play Everhood when you feel ready!”

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Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.
Source: IGN Video Games All
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