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You know cyberpunk. Now let Nine Sols introduce you to ‘Taopunk’

Nines Sols main character, Yi
Red Candle Games

A studio known for creating horror games pivoting to a new genre isn’t unheard of. After all, Tango Gameworks shifted from creating games such as The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo to the goofy and colorful Hi-Fi Rush. The Taiwan-based studio Red Candle Games followed a similar trajectory on the way to its newest game, Nine Sols.

Red Candle Games was founded in 2015 and debuted with the side-scrolling horror game Detention in 2017. In 2019, the studio released Devotion, a psychological horror game that received quite a bit of attention after it was banned from digital PC storefronts like GOG and Steam for containing an easter egg referencing Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Now, five years after that incident, Red Candle Games is getting ready to release Nine Sols. It was first announced in March 2022 and blew past its fundraising goal of three million Taiwanese dollars (approximately $93,000) within the first 24 hours. As an Asian fantasy action platformer, Nine Sols couldn’t be any further in tone from the horror-tinged Detention and Devotion. To create something fresh, the studio would bring in tons of inspiration and adopt a unique aesthetic: Taopunk.

Myth becomes sci-fi

Producer Vincent Yang tells Digital Trends that there were several reasons why Red Candle Games wanted to create something different. The first was that after creating two consecutive horror titles, the development team felt burnt out from developing similar experiences. The second was that Nine Sols gave Red Candle Games the freedom to experiment with different topics, genres, and gameplay style. The studio also believed that it would help rejuvenate creativity.

“We wanted to leverage this versatility and explore new possibilities,” Yang explains. “We aimed to reach the Western market with Nine Sols, designing it to break language barriers through intuitive and enjoyable game mechanics. By doing so, we hope to find greater success in overseas markets.”

Nine Sols follows a hero named Yi, who aims to defeat and overthrow the nine Sols, who are tyrannical rulers in the New Kunlun realm. During the prototyping stage, the team discussed various ideas for the game’s story. A concept stood out to them: the story of Chinese archer Hou Yi.

Nine Sols dialogue
Red Candle Games

In Chinese mythology, there were originally 10 suns that would cross the sky, one at a time. One day, all 10 suns came out at the same time and scorched the earth. Hou Yi was tasked to rein them in, but when the suns refused to go away peacefully, Hou Yi was forced to take more drastic measures, including shooting them down with his arrows.

“We wondered, what if we were to use Hou Yi’s story and turn it into science fiction?” Yang says. “As we discussed this idea further in our meetings, it gradually expanded into a complete story and then into a feasible game direction.” The idea of making the different suns as Soulslike bosses feels like a match made in heaven.

Pioneering Taopunk

The gameplay in Nine Sols is heavily inspired by specific games such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The vision was to recreate the same deflection-focused combat experience in a 2D platformer, along with the exploration and atmospheric worldbuilding found in games like Hollow Knight. Additionally, the game’s intense action sequences were inspired by Katana Zero. While Nine Sols borrows heavily from its contemporaries, a big way it stands out is with its aesthetic. The game adopts a unique “Taopunk” aesthetic, combining futuristic cyberpunk elements with Eastern fantasy and mythology.

The art team drew inspiration from traditional Chinese art, Taoist symbolism, and cyberpunk visuals to craft a distinctive style. The hand-drawn 2D art also allowed for a high level of detail and personality, making New Kunlun feel rich and immersive.

Many in the studio grew up watching a lot of great Japanese animations and many Japanese games from the 1980s and ’90s. They were amazed by how well these artists blended traditional Japanese elements with futuristic settings. Works like Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Shin Megami Tensei contained traces of Japanese culture and religion, and the former two particularly influenced the cyberpunk elements in Nine Sols. This inspired Red Candle Games to explore a similar fusion.

“During early development, we started combining Taoism and cyberpunk elements,” Yang says. “As the setting and aesthetic began to take shape, we realized that these two seemingly contrasting elements could coexist harmoniously, creating a unique and a compelling world.”

Nine Sols gameplay
Red Candle Games

The inspirations don’t end there. Blade Runner was another influence for its dystopian and cyberpunk aesthetic, as was Princess Mononoke for its exploration of the nature versus technology concept. Works such as Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and Perfect Blue were looked at for their unique storytelling techniques, as was Neon Genesis Evangelion for its deep philosophical themes and complex character development.

Developing Nine Sols was difficult, especially since it was so different from the studio’s previous work. Transitioning from the 2D Detention to the 3D Devotion already presented obstacles. However, it was a challenge that Red Candle Games overcame with flying colors. Nine Sols required the studio to tackle new design and technical challenges, but the team’s determination and resilience helped them across the finish line once again.

“This project has been a huge leap for our studio, taking more than four years of hard work and dedication,” says Yang. “We really hope that players will enjoy the game and appreciate the unique blend of elements we’ve brought together. We’re excited to share this journey through the world of Nine Sols with everyone.”

Nine Sols is available now on PC.

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George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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