Teenagers are weird and scary creatures, and that’s before the planet-hopping aliens take up residence in the bodies and give them superpowers fueled by their volatile psyche. A new in-development tabletop RPG called Empty Cycle centres on the lives of miserable teens in a small town, and it proudly wears its anime inspirations on its sleeves.
Designed by Rookie Jet Studio, Empty Cycle draws heavily on anime series FLCL for its setting, tone and mechanical core of playing an angsty person on the cusp of adulthood who seems stuck in their boring, sleepy hometown. Things change drastically when two different alien species, Parasites and Reapers, make their way to Earth alongside a growing host of other weird occurrences.
The Parasites cajole their way into melding with the player characters and grant them access to weird and wondrous abilities that can be used in physical conflicts, awkward social interactions or an inopportune moment of spiking hormones. Reapers, on the other hand, relentlessly hunt down Parasites and anybody providing them safe harbour. Towns don’t feel so sleepy when giant hands fall from the sky and angelic aliens blaze across rooftops, weapons drawn.
The designer doesn’t want Empty Cycle, which currently exists as a 20-page preview, to hem and haw about its intentions. Instead, they’ve decided on a Garth Marenghi-style approach to subtext: “Parasites represent the Characters maturity or desire for maturity while Reapers and other elements may represent the things these Characters suppress within themselves. EMPTY CYCLE is a short but deep seated game that aims to incorporate symbolism in every turn and action,” the game’s text states.
Reading through the description of stats and rules, this seems to the game’s benefit. FLCL released in Japan in 2000 (getting a US release in 2003) and introduced the world to Kazuya Tsurumaki and Yōji Enokido’s weird, manic and often horny coming-of-age story set against robots, aliens and a deep yearning for life to mean something, anything. Like its inspiration, Empty Cycle feels like a tabletop RPG full of teens - nothing really matters except how you feel, how much you’re feeling it and finding someone who understands that.
Both the character and the Parasite embody three of six total stats: Physical, Mind and Soul for the former; and Complex, Desire and Emotion for the latter. Players and the Game Master may decide to have the control of one or both switch hands depending on the situation, as the Parasite will be called forth and manifested by strong upwellings of emotion. This often looks like mortal harm or anger at a foe but can also happen when the host is deeply embarrassed or, ahem… excited by something they see.
Spills are defined as a heightened form of the symbiosis between the Parasite and Host, and they sound like the stuff of climactic battles and end-of-arc clashes. Both sides of the character meld into something wholly new and become magnitudes more powerful than before. Unfortunately, it’s hard to control the Spill state and could lead to more destruction - physical and otherwise - than the player counted on.
As previously mentioned, Empty Cycle is currently in development, and the brief rundown is available as a pay-what-you-want download on Rookie Jet Studio’s Itch.io page. They mention that the full game is coming sometime this year but don’t provide a more specific date. The designer has previously worked on other anime-esque TTRPGs such as JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Persona-inspired Over Arms.