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ARISE Interview delves into game inspiration, development challenges, and more

Solo Leveling Manhwa Cover

Ahead of the global release of Solo Leveling: ARISE on May 8, 2024, GamingonPhone had the opportunity to interview the amazing team at Netmarble, the South Korea-based developers behind the game. We spoke with Jin Seong-Keon, the game’s Executive Project Director, and Inho Kim, the Art Director, discussing the development challenges they faced and more. Read below for our exclusive interview.

Seong-Keon Jin began his career in the gaming industry at Nexon’s Arcade, showcasing versatility across genres like FPS, Racing, and CCG over 20 years. He joined Netmarble and led projects like The King of Fighters ALLSTAR before taking on Solo Leveling: ARISE as Executive Project Director.

Inho Kim, with a background in character modeling and team leadership since 2004, worked at companies like L&K Logic Korea, Wemade, and Nexon GT. Joining Netmarble Neo in 2019 as Art Director, he contributed to RPGs like Red Stone and The King of Fighters ALLSTAR before focusing on Solo Leveling: ARISE.

1. What inspired the decision to develop Solo Leveling: ARISE as a mobile action RPG, considering the popularity of the original webtoon?

Seong-Keon Jin, the Executive Project Director, shared insights into the decision-making process: “When we decided to adapt Solo Leveling into a game, we had numerous discussions to select the appropriate genre. Many readers wanted to see Jinwoo’s action in an animated form when the original webtoon series was released, we concluded by creating the game with flashy visuals and enjoyable action mechanics.

Solo Leveling Manhwa Cover
Image via Kakao Entertainment

We also thought that the best way to capture the franchise’s charm was to let users experience Sung Jinwoo’s journey within the universe of Solo Leveling from Sung Jinwoo’s perspective. That’s how we decided to develop a single-player action game where Sung Jinwoo can grow stronger in various ways.

The original series had many game-like elements, and the story progressed in a way that made Sung Jinwoo’s actions more spectacular as he acquired skills or changed his job. We thought that incorporating these features would make it very enjoyable as an action game.”

2. How did you capture the essence of Solo Leveling while introducing fresh elements in the game’s adaptation?

Inho Kim stated that Solo Leveling: ARISE stays true to the original series while expanding its universe with additional story content. Our goal is to provide a refreshing experience for fans by incorporating scenes from the webtoon and crafting unique narratives that capture the game’s essence.

For instance, characters like Song Chiyul, who may not have been prominent in the original story, now have their compelling arcs in the game. We’ve collaborated closely with Chugong, the original author, to create these new stories and ensure they fit seamlessly into the Solo Leveling universe.

By offering both familiar elements and new content, we aim to delight fans with an immersive exploration of the universe and provide an enjoyable experience for newcomers as well.

3. How were the playable hunters chosen from the Solo Leveling manhwa for Solo Leveling: ARISE, and how did you enhance their combat abilities while maintaining creativity in their abilities?

Inho Kim, the Art Director, discussed our approach to designing the combat abilities of playable hunters for Solo Leveling: ARISE. We focused on characters whose battles were less detailed in the original series, crafting unique skills and movements like Hwang Dongsoo‘s concrete pillar slams and Seo Jiwoo‘s Water Dragon Strikes to give each character a distinct combat style.

Solo Leveling ARISE Lim Tae GyuSolo Leveling ARISE Lim Tae Gyu
Image via Netmarble

Each hunter’s moves and actions were carefully crafted to avoid overlap, ensuring a thrilling experience for players. Park Beom-Shik posed a challenge, especially in designing his Ultimate Skill to reflect his survival narrative. While Park Beom-Shik may not be as popular as others, I recommend trying his Ultimate Skill if you’re a Solo Leveling fan

4. What were the biggest hurdles faced during Solo Leveling: ARISE’s development, and how were they overcome?

The greatest challenge was how to create a game that could satisfy a wide range of players around the globe in the current global market, which is overflowing with numerous titles.

As we are working with the global IP of Solo Leveling, we are continuously checking and testing the following:

  • Does the game fully reflect the immersive story of the original series?
  • Does the game feature visually stunning graphics and cutscenes?
  • Is the game ready to be presented to users as an action game, offering a fun gaming experience?

5. What was your approach to assigning elemental attributes to characters in Solo Leveling: ARISE, given the unclear nature of the elemental system in the manhwa?

Seong-Keon Jin, the Executive Project Director, explained the approach to the elemental attribute system in Solo Leveling: ARISE. We debated between the “system of opposing attributes” and the “system to attack the weakness” and chose the latter for its suitability. In implementing the system, we included five elemental attributes: fire, water, wind, light, and darkness. We then assigned weak/strong attributes to monsters and suitable attributes to Hunters.

For Hunters with distinctive attributes in the original series, like Choi Jong-in and Song Chi-yul, assigning elemental attributes was straightforward. However, it was more challenging for characters like Hwang Dongsoo or Kim Chul. We carefully assigned attributes that best fit their characteristics. Sung Jinwoo stands out as a special character capable of using all attributes.

He doesn’t have a designated attribute but can change his attributes through weapons or Rune Skills. This design allows users to explore various playstyles with Sung Jinwoo, and our team is pleased with the versatility he offers in the game.

6. How did your past experiences in game development, such as with The King of Fighters ALLSTAR, influence your approach to leading the development of Solo Leveling: ARISE?

According to Seong-Keon Jin: My extensive experience in developing stylish action games has been instrumental in shaping Solo Leveling: ARISE. I firmly believe that the quality of the action, impactful combat sequences, and immersive narrative have all reached their zenith. Additionally, we will be able to deliver attractive characters with a nice combat balance.

7. How do you balance creating a challenging gameplay experience with ensuring accessibility for a wide range of players, including both fans of the webtoon and newcomers to the franchise?

Seong-Keon Jin stated: In developing Solo Leveling: ARISE, we aimed to make it accessible to a wide range of players, especially fans of the original webtoon. Our controls offer both simplicity, with timing-based actions like QTEs and counterattacks, and depth, allowing players to create stylish combos with weapons, Runes, and Hunters.

Solo Leveling Arise gameplaySolo Leveling Arise gameplay
Image via Netmarble

To keep gameplay engaging and prevent fatigue, we included automatic play features for frequent content. This helps with navigation and general attacks. We also added systems to ease clearing completed stages or simpler areas.

Through thorough R&D and collaboration, we optimized controls across platforms, ensuring players can enjoy challenging top records in familiar environments.

Seong-Keon Jin stated: I was impressed by the global popularity of the original work, with a remarkable 14.3 billion views worldwide. The interest in Solo Leveling: ARISE from fans across all regions has been phenomenal, evident in the game reaching one million pre-registrations in just three days, and over 12 million global users have pre-registered to date – all achieved in less than one month since pre-registration began.

Additionally, the game has secured top ranks in both popularity and revenue during Early Access in Thailand. We are currently focused on enhancing the game’s quality and adding finishing touches to meet the escalating interest shown worldwide. Please look forward to the launch; we’re excited to share the game with you soon!

9. With Solo Leveling: ARISE currently available in Canada and Thailand, what advantages or enhancements do you anticipate for the game’s global release?

Seong-Keon Jin believes that ensuring an equal level of enjoyment across both PC and mobile platforms, particularly in action games where control is crucial, requires extensive testing from actual users rather than focusing solely on numerical figures or system balances.

To achieve this, we conducted pre-launch Closed Beta Testing (CBT) and various internal tests within Netmarble. The Early Access stages in Thailand and Canada served as the final phase to gather feedback from actual users in these regions and assess the game’s playability.

Thailand, known for its high popularity of Solo Leveling and acceptance of games, provided valuable insights from fans of the IP. Conversely, Canada, with its sizable PC action game user base, offered perspectives from Western gamers.

By evaluating the game’s acceptance among fans of the IP and action game enthusiasts in Thailand and Canada, respectively, we are ensuring the final balance and stability of Solo Leveling: ARISE before the global release of the unified version.

10. Have you encountered any criticism or feedback from fans of the Solo Leveling manhwa during the development of Solo Leveling: ARISE? If so, how did you address or incorporate that feedback into the game?

When developing an IP based on an existing original work, we often encounter criticisms from various directions. Some fans may question the need for a game if it closely mirrors the original, while others may feel that straying too far from the original undermines its essence.

We understand the passionate feelings and opinions of fans who love the original series. As Solo Leveling has a definitive ending, it’s natural that the game will diverge from the original story and introduce unique narratives. Solo Leveling: ARISE aims to expand the universe of the original series without deviating from its core IP.

Solo Leveling Arise game modesSolo Leveling Arise game modes
Image via Netmarble

We strive to reflect the original story in the game while also incorporating scenes from the webtoon. Our team has worked on various narratives that capture the unique mood of the series, offering a refreshing experience for fans familiar with the original work.

For fans of the franchise, Solo Leveling: ARISE will provide the joy of exploring the universe and discovering new information. Additionally, newcomers will find various content to enjoy in Solo Leveling’s expansive universe.

11. What has been the most rewarding aspect of developing Solo Leveling: ARISE, both personally and professionally, for you and your team?

As Seong-Keon Jin stated: Solo Leveling: ARISE is my passion project, aiming to create a game that’s not only fun to play but also rewarding for players and developers alike. Collaborating with a fantastic team has been a fulfilling experience. We address improvements promptly, ensuring progress in a positive direction.

The ongoing Early Access in Canada and Thailand has brought positive feedback from users, validating our efforts to faithfully reproduce the original story. Working closely with Chugong, the author of the series, has been a valuable collaboration, ensuring the game’s authenticity and receiving positive feedback on our content proposals.

12. What do you hope players will remember most about their time playing Solo Leveling: ARISE, and what makes this game stand out within the Solo Leveling universe?

Users can enjoy the first-hand experience of iconic scenes and moments from the original series as they play Sung Jinwoo Mode. It allows users to battle against villains such as Kang Tae-shik and Hwang Dong-suk or to clear Dungeons by scouting Hunters like Yoo Jinho, Song Chi-yul, Choi Jong-in, and Baek Yoonho. I believe what users expect the most from Solo Leveling: ARISE is the extraction of shadows.

How did solo leveling start as a webtoon into a gameHow did solo leveling start as a webtoon into a game
Image via Netmarble

Please look forward to the part where you get to extract Igris’ shadow and enjoy playing the game. The extracted Shadows belong to Sung Jinwoo’s team and fight alongside Jinwoo in Dungeons. They will be supporters of Jinwoo in battles, defending their allies or damage dealt to enemies. These Shadow Soldiers can level up as Jinwoo becomes the Monarch of Shadows and grows stronger.

We also considered how to provide users with the enjoyable game experience of the original IP, as it gained popularity worldwide. That is why we introduced the game’s original stories, which were never seen in the original series, and to allow fans of the IP to experience new content while playing.

1. Will the game chapter progress with the anime series? If not, how will it be taken care of to make sure it goes well with the original anime?

Seong-Keon Jin explains that both the game and anime of Solo Leveling are rooted in the original IP, ensuring similarities between them as they follow the original story. The game’s Story Mode will align with pivotal scenes seen in the anime, such as Igris’ appearance.

To maintain harmony with the original anime, the game will receive regular updates reflecting the ongoing story of the series. These updates will include new Dungeons and Raid content tailored for an action-packed gaming experience, all while focusing on Sung Jinwoo’s evolution as a formidable Hunter. Expect immersive cinematic cutscenes and engaging narratives throughout.

Solo Leveling Arise roadmap 2024Solo Leveling Arise roadmap 2024
Image via Netmarble

Furthermore, Solo Leveling: ARISE introduces original Hunters, Shadows, and strategic skills not seen in the original series. These new characters and abilities add depth to the game’s universe, offering diverse gameplay options and enriching the overall experience.

Acknowledging the anime’s impact and popularity, Seong-Keon Jin expresses admiration for its quality and emotional resonance with Sung Jinwoo’s character. There’s also mention of a potential collaboration event with the anime, which will be shared with fans if it comes to fruition. Stay tuned for updates!

2. Will there be a visual update roadmap in English after the global launch like it was announced during the Korean media showcase?

When we had the media showcase in Korea, many were interested in the update roadmap. We have a lot of upcoming content planned for the year, so please look forward to it. We will announce them through Solo Leveling: ARISE’s official global channels shortly.

3. Will there be controller support in the global launch?

We believe the best approach is to also launch the game for console platforms, and we are currently working on it. However, we believe that there are common preparations needed for Solo Leveling: ARISE to be serviced on both Steam and console platforms. We are currently looking into launching on Steam first as a preliminary step before the console release.

The game will be first launched on a PC platform, and we believe we could release it on additional platforms as early as next year if we base the work on the PC version. We will work hard to meet the needs of global users by rapidly expanding the platforms.

The team has several anime properties that are being considered internally, but for now, we will focus on Solo Leveling: ARISE for the time being. 

Read our other Interviews here:

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