The world of Japanese games is a mystery for many, and for every game that eventually gets a localization in the west, there are quite a few that most of us never even get to hear about.
The purpose of this column, that you’ll be able to read every week on DualShockers, is to bridge that gap, at least partly, showing you some of the most interesting weekly releases in the land of the Raising Sun. Of course I won’t talk just about obscure games that will never be released on this side of the Pacific Ocean, but also about what you may get to play in English in the future.
While it would be impossible (and probably boring) to list them all, since Japan sees the release of a very large amount of games (mostly dating sims and eroge) and accessories each week, I’ll try to pick up a nice selection for your reading and viewing pleasure.
The choice of name for this colum is quite self-explanatory for anyone that has the smallest knowledge of Japanese gaming or anime. Akihabara, the electric town, is the mecca of all things geek in Tokyo, and if you want to shop for gaming gems in Japan, that’s probably where you’d go.
The first game this week is the PSP version of the visual novel Ryu-Koku (龍刻), that was originally released on PS2 five years ago. In Japan PSP re-releases of older games previously launched on PS2 or PC are definitely popular, as you probably will notice this week and in the future in this column. We get a glimpse of both the future and the past of Japanese gaming, taking two birds with one stone.
To be more specific, Ryu-Koku was the last game released by Kid (the creators of the popular Memories Off series, that spawned a popular anime) before it went bankruptcy, but thanks to the acquisition by Cyber Front, we can now play it again.
There are few changes from the PS2 version, the most notable of which is the new 16:9 resolution. The game is a classic visual novel, a genre of adventure games based mainly on dialogue, that allow the player to chose different paths, often matching different heroines that can be chosen as a love interest for the main character. You could basically define them a form of interactive anime. You might want to get accustomed with this genre, because we’ll see a whole lot of them.
By the way, contrary to popular belief, a large percentage (including the most popular) Japanese visual novels are totally safe for work, even if not everyone would dare to be seen at work playing a game featuring underage-looking, even if dressed, anime girls, but that’s a different pair of sleeves.
As most visual novels Ryu-Koku (the title can be translated as Dragon Brand) has a quite deep story, made of a lot of character interaction and plot twists, revolving around the adventures of Tsukasa Mizuuchi, an high schooler and kendo practitioner, that sees a girl named Miru in his dreams. She tells him that she’s his cousin even if he never met her before. Of course this is just the beginning of a complex intrigue based on Japnese legends and folklore, that starts when Miru actually shows in the flesh in front of Tsukasa.
Ryu-Koku will be released on October the 13th in two editions, standard and special. The special edition will include a soundtrack CD. Below you can see the trailer of the original PS2 version.
The second game for this week is Hakugin no Karu to Soku no Joo (白銀のカルと蒼空の女王) that can be translated as Cal of Silver And The Queen of The Azure Sky. Like Ryu-Koku it’s a port, this time of the PC version released in 2010. It’s the 4th installment of the Deep Blue series and it will be released on October the 13th. There will be a limited edition available, including an artbook and a sountrack CD. The PSP version will include new events never seen on PC.
If you live in the US you may actually have gotten a taste of the series, as the anime Tristia of the Deep Blue Sea, based on the first of the Deep Blue games, has actually been published stateside a few years ago.
Cal of Silver And The Queen of The Azure Sky is a science-fiction/fantasy visual novel with card battle elements, focusing on the popular “mecha & girls” theme. The Imperial City Expo is being held in the capital of the Fulcum Empire, but a series of terrorist attacks are disturbing the peace of the event. The main character Toara Lavoakin will be tasked with unraveling the mistery behind them. Add to the picture the entrance on the scene of a mysterious humanoid weapon named Garakushia, and you get a true recipe for trouble.
It should be noted that the game is a little less safe for work than the average of PSP visual novels, but there’s nothing hardcore and only very mild nudity is included. You can see the opening below.
We’re still in the realm of visual novels with CLOCK ZERO ~Shuuen no Ichibyou~ Portable (CLOCK ZERO ～終焉の一秒～ Portable. The subtitle can be translated as End of Second), but there’s a difference with the previous two: Clock Zero is an Otome Game, or a visual novel targeted primarily to a female audience (yes, even ladies play visual novels in Japan), where the protagonist is normally a girl and the love interests are usually attractive boys.
Even for this game a special edition will be available, featuring a bonus drama CD. As you can easily assume from the “portable” part in the title, Clock Zero is the PSP version of a PS2 game released in 2010.
Similar to the standard of a lot of Otome games, the story of Clock Zero is a veritable mess, almost beyond reasonable levels of complexity. The plot is centered around Kaoru Nadeshiko, the young daughter of a wealthy family that has a recurring dream in which she sees herself several years older in a world in ruins. Her life goes on normally until a young genius named Kaido Takato transfers to her class and she joins the “Clock Zero” club. Then things will steer radically towards the strange as her “past” will be revealed bit by bit.
The game definitely has a lovely art style, predictably resembling that of the Shojo Manga (manga for girls) genre. Again, you can see a trailer below:
Moving to the last game of this week (last but not least, I’d say), we change genre completely with a PC MMORPG: Wizardry Online: Act 1. The game is currently in open beta and will be launched officially in Japan on October the 14th. It’s developed by Headlock Games and published by Gamepot. This one may actually interest even the least japanophile among us, since Gamepot has a branch in the United States and the game is scheduled for international launch sometimes in 2012.
The name of the game probably rang a whole lot of bells in the brain of those between our readers with a few more springs weighing on their shoulders, and that’s because Wizardry is one of the oldest Dungeon-crawling RPG franchises in the industry. The series actually started it’s story in the US, published by the now defunct Sir-Tech, until the eight installment. It was also extremely popular in Japan, so much that it spawned a whole plethora of manga, anime and novels there.
After the eight installment of the series and the demise of Sir-Tech, multiple Japanese developers like Natsume and Acquire kept Wizardry alive with several new games (Labyrinth of Lost Souls, the latest of the series, is available on PS3 in the US published bu XSEED. Bless them, as always) and now Gamepot is turning it into a MMORPG, and a quite peculiar one at that.
Wizardry has always been seen as an hardcore franchise, and Wizardry Online is no exception. Headlock intentionally catered to the most hardcore between gamers, as they introduced a concept that has never been really attempted in any major MMORPG: permadeath.
You read it well, if you die in a dungeon in Wizardry Online you get turned into a ghost, and you can attempt to run to your corpse and recover it. If you fail, you’re dead, forever. You’re then forced to create a new character or ragequit in shame. In addition to that, there’s full fledged, unrestricted player killing and corpse looting, and the dungeons are supposed to be much more difficult and terrifying than in the current class of MMORPGs.
If you want a MMO that should be extremely different from the bunch of WoW-clones floating around nowadays and if you tink Ultima Online and Eve Online are for carebears, Wizardry Online might just prove to be the game for you.
The Japanese open beta is reportedly going quite well, with more than 100,000 players registered during the first day (and that’s a pretty high number for Japan). We’ll have to see if the game doesn’t prove too harsh to keep a reasonably sizable playerbase. Hardcore gamers are very fast to dream and talk about permadeath and similar extremely harsh concepts, but I’m quite curious to see how many will stay when they’ll actually feel the sting.
In the meanwhile, to conclude the first episode of Akihabara Shopping, you can enjoy Wizardry Online‘s trailer, as shown at E3, featuring music by the popular Japanese metal band Dir En Grey (that will take care of part of the soundtrack of the game). See you next week!