INTERVIEW: Lock & Key

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

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Lock & Key | Promotional Image

A year with visual novels aplenty is not complete unless we talk about Studio Élan and Lock & Key! The team that took the prize of visual of the year for Heart of the Woods is still hard at work on their next project. An incredibly beautiful magical girl adventure that will tug at the heartstrings of those who watched Sailor Moon in their childhood. After celebrating the year since the release of their masterpiece, this passionate website writer invited the kind development team to another interview regarding the newest endeavor. Let’s meet the new director together. Please enjoy the interview.


Before we begin, congratulations are due to everyone at the studio for the amazing year. Heart of the Woods is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience that a lot of people love. It certainly put the team on the map, and we can’t wait to see what you’ll bring this year. This includes the exciting project by the name of Lock & Key. For the readers at home, who exactly is the person leading the charge on this next project?

Hello! My name’s Rachel Gruber, and I’m the director of Lock & Key. I co-wrote Heart of the Woods last year, but this will be my first time directing a full game myself! As for who I am exactly, hmmm…well, I’m 25, I live with my wonderful partner of 7 years and our lovely cat, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about 8 years old. I’m currently obsessed with the Soulsborne series and my favorite magical girl anime is Sailor Moon! You can find me on twitter @cybirdpunk!

Lock & Key | Nina

We certainly have a variety of stories revolving around magical girls in the market. Some are bright and happy, others are darker and depressing. However, little-to-none talk about the life after the fight for these brave girls. What inspired taking this perspective in Lock & Key?

The magical girl genre has been a part of my life ever since I was a little girl watching the god-awful Sailor Moon dub on VHS (looking at you, “cousins”). As I grew up and experienced the struggles of adult life, my perception of the genre changed as much as my own self-perception did. That examination of the genre as an adult who grew up with it served as the real inspiration for tackling this kind of story. Just as we can look back at the past, so can they. It’s honestly pretty cathartic.

Suddenly, a here-we-go-again moment. The gang gets together to solve one last mystery. Speaking of the group, were there any inspirations for each of the characters? How about their outfits?

Sherri and Kealey were very much inspired by my own experience with lesbian culture, with each one embodying the spirit of a butch/femme relationship. Nina was mostly inspired by the desire to stay young even when you get older, hence her youthful design and cutesy appearance. As for Ruby…she’s very much inspired by that one edgy phase we all went through at 15.

For their outfits, each one took inspiration from a particular series: Sherri’s was inspired by Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kealey’s was inspired by Sailor Moon, Nina’s was inspired by Madoka’s outfit from PMMM, and Ruby’s crown was inspired by Gwyndolin from the Dark Souls series!

Lock & Key | Ruby

We must talk about this wonderful art direction you’ve gone with for this project. It certainly takes me back to my personal introduction to the genre of magical girls. What was the decision-making process like before you ended up with this wonderful art? Furthermore, what’s it like to see your thoughts on the canvas?

Given that Lock & Key is a love letter to the magical girl renaissance of the 90s, we strove to emulate the shoujo style of that era; long legs, soft features, all that good stuff. Our incredibly talented artist Milkgrrl (@milkgrrl on twitter) did a great job portraying that style, and I’m really happy with the results. As for seeing my thoughts on the canvas, it’s one of the most incredible things about writing a VN. I’m truly honored every time I get to see it.

Now onto storytelling, there’s one thing that stands out within the premise of Lock & Key – “The player shapes their path”. It seems we’re going to have some crucial decision-making of our own. Each director has their own way for creating important moments through the narrative’s choices. May I ask what’s yours? Will you tug at our hearts once more? Will our actions have consequences?

I don’t want to give away too many of our secrets, as figuring out the shape of things is always a fun part of any VN. However, I can reveal that there will be a number of choices with very real consequences. As for tugging on your heartstrings…I think we’ve got plenty in store for you.

Lock & Key | Kealey

The Studio Élan socials are very active. There’s a plentiful variety of humor, teasers and the like. One thing that stood out to me, back when Heart of the Woods was coming out, was the marketing versus the actual project and how that contrast surprised many readers. With Lock & Key hopefully coming out soon, how do you plan to lure potential readers?

In my opinion, the most important part of any VN is the characters. Given the story’s status as a mystery, we’re going to try keeping most of the story under wraps until release, but we’re planning to reveal a lot more about the characters themselves. Sherri, Kealey, Nina, and Ruby are all super fun characters with a lot of depth to them, so we’re hopeful that getting to know the characters will make people excited to see them in action!

I think we can both agree on the fact that team chemistry is important for all types of projects. May I ask about all the team members working alongside you and what’s working with everyone been like?

Most of our team is folks coming over from Heart of the Woods and bringing their immense level of talent with them! Minute (@minutekiwi) will be returning as programmer and editor, Adirosa (@adirosette) will be returning as GUI designer, and Sarah Manusco (@esselfortium) will be handling the music! We’ve also got one brand new arrival: Jaime Milne (@aloneatsea) will be joining me as co-author! They’re a very talented writer and Lock & Key wouldn’t be what it is without them!

Working with everyone has been a real treat; the whole team has a very passionate love for the magical girl genre that really shows in their work! I’m overjoyed to have them all on board.

Lock & Key | Sherri

Some hard-hitting questions to round out the interview if you don’t mind. A follow up about chemistry. With Heart of the Woods being the marvelous story of last year, on the day-by-day basis is there a sense of pressure in the room when working on the next game after? Or does the love previously received instill confidence?

Honestly, Heart of the Woods’ reception has been my number one source of confidence going into Lock & Key! I was super nervous when HotW first released; it was my first published work, after all. But the incredible response from critics and fans made me believe I could really succeed as a director. It’s thanks to all of you that Lock & Key is able to exist at all.

With the days of development coming and going, and the project becoming more complete, does any of it feel real yet? Or will it finally sink in when the game hits the digital shelves? How do you summarize your directorial experience?

Lock & Key is still fairly early in development, so it’ll be a while before it really sinks in. Heart of the Woods took months to sink in, and even a year later it still doesn’t quite feel real. Who knows how long a project I have full control over will take to feel real? Certainly not me.

I have asked a ton of questions and I hope you had a lot of fun answering them. My last question to you is what message would you like to send to all the Studio Élan fans and potential new readers out there clicking on this piece? Is there something you’d like to reveal to the world about the game?

Thank you so much for all the fun questions! I was so excited to get to do my first interview, and I had a blast!

And to all the readers out there: thank you for your interest in Lock & Key. This project has been a long time coming, and it’s an opportunity for me to really bare my soul through my work. I sincerely hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear all of your thoughts when it’s finally released! Until then, please remember to keep a bit of magic in your heart. <3


Interview complete, thank you to Rachel and Studio Élan for the time and opportunity. I’m certainly looking forward to all the new information regarding Lock & Key and you should be too!

About Diego Hernandez

Diego is an incredibly passionate visual novel enthusiast from an island within the Caribbean. He intends on working alongside Operation Rainfall to inform the masses about the vast library of breathtaking visual literature. As well as spreading awareness of the amazingly talented individuals hard at work on said breathtaking projects.