Hoa wears her Ghibli inspirations in her tiny, sunlight-speckled manga

Ghibli vibe games are getting more and more prevalent these days, but so far, the closest I’ve come to feeling like a Ghibli protagonist floating on a summer grassy field has been with Hoa, a new platformer from the game. Vietnamese study Skrollcat.

Hoa’s inspiration is clear by the time the game begins, with a little protagonist dreamingly floating towards an island on a single sheet before beginning to explore without words. With no exposure, incumbent Hoa begins exploring a world of sunlight filtered through soft green friends of insects, hanging flowers and vines, glowing cave systems, and soft, natural beauty. It’s all done in a hand-painted style that clearly nods to his upbeat inspirations, and underlined by a cute, fully orchestrated soundtrack that, yes, hears directly the musical vibes of Joe Hisaishi.

Creators Son Tung Cao and Son Tra Le tell me how Hoa was inspired by their own personal experiences together. The two met in 2017 at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, where Son Tung was working in the university’s game lab and Son Tra was finishing her animation studies.

At that time, Son Tung was already passionate about beautiful platform games. Inspired by the likes of Trine and Limbo, he approached Son Tra with a simple idea: a girl and a close bond with nature. Son Tra started to draw.

After a series of concepts of girls with little leaves on their heads, they finally came to the design of the character Hoa and began to expand their exploration to the world in which she could live and the creatures that could inhabit it. Fortunately, inspiration was not far away, the two of them were surrounded at all times by nature.

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“Hoa and his journey reflect the experience and life we ​​have been living, especially during our time in Singapore,” says Son Tung. “The university where we study and work is in the middle of a forest, so we had trees and nature everywhere. Every morning when we went to school, we would see a lot of animals running around. We spent a lot of time in nature there. .. take our sketchbook outside and look at the trees, make sketches and breathe in the fresh air. The game is about taking a walk in the woods, enjoying the mood, being very carefree, relaxed and fun. “

And just as Hoa’s environment and world were inspired by their own, Son Tung and Son Tra tell me that their character and game themes were inspired by each other’s kind and caring natures.

As we speak, Son Tra congratulates her colleague: “Tung is very caring, always positive and tolerant and makes others feel good.”

But Son Tung has a specific story that he likes to tell that he believes ultimately influenced Hoa’s tone, one that he believes he will remember for the rest of his life.

Hoa is about the little things … being observant and being loving.

“Not long after meeting me [Son Tra] for the first time, we were walking through school, “he says.” And in our school there are a lot of snails crawling on the road, and people just step on them because they are not paying attention. So Tra, when we were walking, saw a snail, tried to pick it up and put it on the grass by the roadside so they wouldn’t step on it. And this didn’t happen just once, but every time he saw a snail, he did. And I realized that he is a very loving person. When we create the characters [in Hoa], all those memories we pour them unconsciously “.

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Son Tra adds, “That’s why Hoa has a lot to do with the little things too. Appreciating the little things, being observant, and being loving.”

For Son Tra and Son Tung, Hoa has been a challenge, a pleasant one, but a challenge nonetheless. It’s their first game together as Skrollcat, and as Son Tung points out, the animation studios that inspired the game have authors who have 20, 30 years of experience. The two were not only trying to recreate the themes of movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, they also wanted the feelings that those worlds visually conveyed. But to do that, they had to learn to recreate the art style in just a few months of careful study and practice. It was difficult, says Son Tung, but he feels like they’ve achieved a look that they can be proud of.

“Hoa is our first adventure,” he continues. “Like Hoa, we decided to go into something that we really didn’t know very clearly. But it’s because we didn’t know a lot about it, we had the courage to go, do it, and find a solution along the way. We’ve been very lucky to have so many friends, caring, kind and gentle friends, who will support us and guide us on the way. “

Hoa is a very short journey, not much longer than the films that inspired it, with a message of harmony with nature and, as Son Trung emphasizes, the “joy of pure discovery.” They both want to re-evoke the feeling of being a child, experiencing the world with curiosity and fresh eyes. Floating on a ladybug’s back or tiptoeing along a cobweb with the protagonist’s cute little feet, at least they’ve succeeded for me (and, apparently, for our reviewer.)

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Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @Patovalentino.