Interview

How River City Girls Brings Both Freshness and Familiarity to the Kunio-Kun Series — An Interview With Director Adam Tierney

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Misako from River City Girls

With only a month left before a very different entry makes its way into the River City series, Adam Tierney, director at WayForward, had a chat with OnlySP about River City Girls.

WayForward is known for giving female protagonists a big spotlight, and, as the name suggests, River City Girls will follow suit. For a quick preview of what’s to come in this new River City beat ’em up, check out our coverage of the River City Girls trailer from last month.


OnlySP: Although developed by Technōs Japan, the first River City title, River City Ransom, underwent heavy localization that made it look and feel very Western. From what we’ve seen, even the North American version of River City Girls adopts plenty of elements from Japanese culture. I’ve seen YouTube comments refer to it as an “anime schoolgirl beat ’em up,” and Kyoko and Misako are very different from Alex and Ryan. Is there a heavy Japanese influence on the characters and theme of River City Girls, and, if so, could you talk about it?

Tierney: Oh, definitely. There are historically two versions of the brand—there is the “Kunio-kun” game series in Japan, with around 50 different games developed over the past 30 years, and there is the “River City” game series in the US, which localizes the Kunio-kun games, but has only brought over a fraction of the titles. And, because the Kunio-kun games are very Japanese in tone and content, they tend to get pretty heavily localized and Americanized when being adapted for US audiences.

River City Girls sort of intentionally has one foot in each series. Our “River City” looks like a blend of Tokyo and Santa Monica, with signage in both Japanese and English. I remember asking Arc System Works (our publishing partner and brand-owners of both series) their opinion during development, whether Girls was more of a Kunio-kun or a River City game, and they said, “If there was a Venn diagram of both series, River City Girls would be the one game in both circles.” I like that response.

“In terms of naming, everyone in this game has their Japanese names (so Kunio and Riki, not Alex and Ryan) although everyone’s also speaking English, so it’s a unique mix, to say the least.”

OnlySP: Can you elaborate on the RPG mechanics of River City Girls? River City Ransom hooked so many players by bringing in elements from both RPGs and beat ’em ups—will River City Girls feature any type of weapons, upgrades, or statistics that we’ve yet to see in a River City title?

Tierney: Yup, our game has pretty much all the previous River City Ransom gameplay systems—leveling up, stats, items, weapons, shops, food, unlockable attacks, etc.—as well as some brand-new systems, such as accessories (which are permanent, swappable stat-boosters) and recruits (the ability to call in a defeated enemy as a jump-in attack). Fans of the previous games should appreciate everything we were able to carry over from the previous games, and people unfamiliar with the series will find a lot to chew on (especially books and toys, because any River City Ransom fan knows you can literally eat that stuff, too).

As far as items, weapons, and attacks that are new to this game, yeah, it’s a LOT. We tried to find a good blend of the nostalgic stuff from previous entries and all-new stuff that matched the tone and style of this game. The attacks, in particular, are really fun—they are unique per character and really play up the characters’ personalities and humor in each move.

OnlySP: One of the most interesting features of River City Girls is the ability to recruit new characters along your journey. Can you explain how this works and how many characters can we expect to be able to recruit?

Tierney: In previous Kunio-kun games, you could sometimes play as many different characters. But since this game has such a heavy story component, that wasn’t really an option. Our game is all about Misako and Kyoko’s journey. So, Bannon Rudis, our assistant director (who designed all our combat systems) came up with the recruit system to make up for that difference.

The way it works is that the last enemy onscreen, when they have low health and have been knocked down, will sometimes beg for mercy. When this happens, it’s up to the players whether to keep attacking them or allow them to join the player, thus “recruiting” the enemy. A recruited enemy will then be featured in the player’s HUD and can be called on to do a quick jump-in attack, before leaping away again. It’s similar to the strikers system in Marvel vs. Capcom.

What’s special about the recruit system in this game, though, is that it’s also got a Pokémon-like character-collection aspect to it. Including color variations, there are over 50 enemies in the game, and each of them gets their own profile unlocked when recruited by the player. So, that adds incentive for the player to find and recruit every individual enemy in the game.

OnlySP: The current Novice world-record speedrun for River City Ransom is just 6m 38s. I’ve heard that River City Girls will feature some awesome manga-style intermissions. With those in consideration, do you think River City Girls will be a positive experience for speedrunners?

Tierney: Well, one of the things we added to this game to ensure it wouldn’t be so quick to beat is screenlocks. These are very common in brawlers, but less so in Kunio-kun games (which is why River City Ransom could be beaten so quickly). You can still get around the game world in Girls pretty quickly once you’ve completed the main objective in an area, and even more quickly as you unlock bus stops for quick-travel, but it’ll still take a long while for most folks to beat the game (even when speedrunning).

OnlySP: Speaking of those intermissions and cutscenes, do you have a rough estimation of how many cutscenes are featured in River City Girls (by count or time)? When can we expect to see the majority of these—after boss battles, when entering a new area, or at some other time? Are these cutscenes voiced?

Tierney: There are quite a few different storytelling methods in the game. We have fully animated sequences, like you’ve seen in the game’s debut trailer. We also have manga-style story sequences, typically used for flashbacks or special story sequences. We have the usual, WayForward-style, slide-in portrait scenes, like you’ve seen in the Shantae series. And, we’ve also got passive VO between the characters that plays during gameplay. Each of those systems is 100% voiced, as are our 20+ shop owners in the game.

However, we understand that even in a story-heavy game like this one, some players just want to focus on the gameplay. So, any sequences that halt the action can be skipped by either player holding down any button for a few seconds.

OnlySP: River City Ransom: Underground featured Provie and Chris, but River City Girls is pushing an all-female cast of protagonists. Other than the characters themselves, how else has this approach separated River City Girls from other River City titles?

Tierney: Well, Misako and Kyoko were previously playable in the Super Famicom game “Shin Nekketsu Kōha: Kunio-tachi no Banka“, which, of all the Kunio-kun titles, was the biggest influence on this one. So, this isn’t the girls’ first rodeo, so to speak, although it is their first game without Kunio and Riki by their side (as the boys have been kidnapped this time).

But yeah, speaking broadly, I think putting more focus on the female characters in this game—not just with Misako and Kyoko, but with enemies and bosses as well—gives it a unique feel that’s different from all previous Kunio-kun games.

“Most WayForward games have either a female lead or co-lead, so I think this change actually makes River City Girls feel even more like a WayForward experience than if it had starred Kunio and Riki as usual.”

OnlySP: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in developing River City Girls?

Tierney: Probably just the amount of systems that needed to be implemented. As we discussed earlier, the Kunio-kun games have a LOT of RPG and stat-driven systems, and we didn’t want to get rid of any of that or our title would feel like a shallow imitation of those games. All the story and personality elements came together pretty easily, so, I’d say, yeah, it was mostly just the massive amount of unique gameplay systems and content that needed to be coded and implemented that was our team’s toughest challenge.

OnlySP: Lastly, I have to ask: One of River City Ransom‘s most iconic and memorable scenes takes place in the sauna at Pop’s Health Club. River City Ransom: Underground took it a step further with the group sauna scene at Wanna Sauna. Does River City Girls intend to follow tradition?

Tierney: It wouldn’t be a River City game without a sauna, would it?


River City Girls is set to release on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One for USD$29.99 on September 5. Limited Run Games will release physical copies at a later date.

For more on River City Girls, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

Craig Snyder
Craig fell in love with video games after being spoiled with all of the NES games he could ever want as a kid, and his passion for gaming continues decades later. After discovering a knack for writing in grade school, the two have come together nicely for him. River City Ransom and Final Fantasy VII are his jams.

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