When fighting games pull cultural inspiration for characters, often the byproduct is merely skin deep. It’s true that some classic franchises have based characters off real-world fighters, but the influences hardly encourage a second thought. A small studio in the Philippines hopes to change that, with a fighting game that remixes the personalities and histories of some of the country’s greatest heroes.
Bayani, currently on Kickstarter, is a project by the Ranida Studios games division, which pulls inspiration directly from the nation’s most notable figures. Those figures include Filipino revolutionary leaders, politicians or explorers mostly from the country’s Spanish colonial era.
The hope is to not only to develop a cast of characters that displays the rich culture of the Philippines, but also teach players about the history of the Philippines itself. In fact, a lack of knowledge about Filipino history was one of the catalysts for the game’s creation.
The first spark of inspiration came in 2015, when the biopic Heneral Luna made waves across the country. The historical drama detailed the life of a Philippine Revolutionary Army leader during the Philippine–American War. One of the key aspects of the film was the portrayal of the first independent prime minister of the Philippines, Apolinario Mabini. The actor who played him is seen sitting in a chair throughout most of the film, to depict the effects of the leader’s polio. A post on social media that gained attention questioned this portrayal, ignorant of the Prime Minister’s very real disease.
“This brought upon a sad realization that the younger generation had little awareness with the country’s history and national heroes,” said Ranida Studios head of games, Ben Joseph P. Banta, in an interview with Polygon.
Around the same time, a Facebook user caught the attention of the team at Ranida. That person was Anthony Dacayo, a Filipino artist who started mocking up designs for an imaginary fighting game based on historical figures from the Philippines. Ranida contacted the artist and worked with him to develop what would later become the characters for Bayani.
While the the developers could’ve taken any route to explore the history of the Philippines through a game, they felt that a fighting game would be the best choice. In fighting games, “all characters are given a fair chance to be selected and played,” Banta said. “With this genre, character representation is more focused, players can easily pick the character they want to play and becomes emotionally invested.”
Those characters, eight of whom will be available when the game first launches, are all inspired by the actual lives and personalities of their real-life counterparts. The original storyline of Bayani doesn’t mimic actual history or reinforce any political ideas, instead taking place in an alternate universe set in the far future. The characters and plot differ enough from the historical past to buffer problems or concerns that might arise from its premise. While players engage with characters similar to actual political figures, they are neither emblematic nor identical to their real-life counterparts.
The hope however is that personalities of Bayani’s cast might encourage players to look into the real histories of each character’s inspiration.
Bayani isn’t the first game to feature Filipino characters. However, when they do appear in other games, the representation of their heritage is often lacking. Most recently, Tekken 7 introduced Josie Rizal, a Filipino kickboxer. While her name is inspired by the national hero José Rizal and her outfit has several Filipino motifs, the rest of her design and personality hardly speaks to the culture that inspired her creation. Talim from the Soul Calibur series fares a bit better, as she pulls from pre-colonial natives in the Visayas region of the Philippines. However, the list ends there.
Bayani is Ranida’s attempt to introduce more nuanced Filipino characters in video games than these more mainstream depictions. At IndieCade 2018 in Santa Monica, California, the developers showed off their game and were thrilled with the positive response from Filipino-American players thus far.
“What struck us the most was the experience of being acknowledged and appreciated by Filipino-Americans and being appreciated for having Philippine content in-game that gives them a glimpse of our culture and history through the game,” Banta explained.
A lack of knowledge of their history will always be a sore spot for some Filipino-Americans who don’t always have the luxury of returning “home” and learning about their culture. But perhaps Bayani can change that.
“This is also our own way of showcasing that Filipinos are capable of creating games at par with the best, and hoping that this may open more opportunities for us and to our fellow Filipino game developers.”
Bayani has a modest ask of approximately $15,000 on Kickstarter. Backers can get access to an early version of the game for as little as $10. The campaign runs through Dec. 30.