The Princess Maker series is one of those uniquely Japanese games -- it's a virtual life sim combined with a role-playing game. More recent entries in the series have seen limited US release, but the first game, Princess Maker 1, was only released in Japan and China, according to Wikipedia. The game debuted on Japanese personal computers including the MSX series; here, I'm playing the version ported to the PC Engine Super CD-ROM format.
The concept is sort of like a virtual pet, but potentially more disturbing as the "pet" in question is the player's adopted virtual daughter. We must make sure she is trained and educated through several stages of life, arm her for combat when necessary, and hope that we have raised her right and she finds a satisfying destiny. There are reportedly 74 different occupations she can end up with, ranging from princess to prostitute. The double-wide CD case includes two thick manuals -- basic instructions, plus a guidebook documenting the details of armor, weaponry and items. There's also a mini-disc music CD, featuring two songs and a twelve-minute audio drama based on the game.
Famed Japanese animation/design house Gainax created the game's graphics, and they are uniformly excellent. Even the title screen has a degree of character missing from most videogames of the era:
Of course, since I don't have any real Japanese skills, once I'm past the title screen, I am immediately at sea, as I am asked to define a Family Name and First Name for my virtual daughter. I've picked some random characters, and hope that they translate as something nonsensical like "XVDFC DDFAVJD" and not as "Trampy Little Nosefarmer" or some such:
The game's storyline is traditional RPG material -- even with no reading or listening comprehension, we can gather that an evil warlord is at large, or, less probably, that our little Princess is a big Molly Hatchet fan:
Her family and everyone else in her village are killed by the evil forces, she flees the Big Bad, and ends up in our potentially less dangerous care. And now we must start raising our little sweetheart to be something of value to society. As we consider our available options, she looks on with big eyes full of... I wish I could say trust and hope, but doubt and concern spring more readily to mind:
I can't make any sense of most of these menus, but the manual, some illustrations and the odd word of in-game English helped me figure out that we can schedule her time for combat training, education, and the little lady refinements of finishing school.
She can't quite hold her own in battle at this tender age, it seems -- perhaps I should have enrolled her in a less advanced class, as it seems her instructor has nearly killed her here. Does this school perhaps offer a "no blood" level for younger children?
In an attempt to make up for the whole mortal danger thing, I assigned her some time at finishing school to help her recover, but she eventually got tired or bored and started complaining. Infants are one thing -- you can basically guess that they need food, water, changing, or mommy/daddy time -- but little girls have more complex social and emotional needs, and I can't make out WHAT she's talking about in her adorable high-pitched Japanese voice. The instructor seems nice enough, anyway, and delighted with her progress (or her tuition) as we mold her to be a perfect stereotype of poise and balance:
I'm not entirely comfortable with this, however; princess or no, I'd rather she be her own person and learn to think for herself. So I'm considering assigning her less time at Miss Hathaway's School for Stepford Wives and more time elsewhere, when it becomes woefully apparent that I've overworked her and failed to balance her schedule properly. One year under my bumbling tutelage, and she hasn't really gained anything, nor does she seem to be very happy with her lot in life. I've also managed to blow most of the 500GP with which she arrived at my doorstep, and appear to have dressed her in random castoffs from the Goodwill bargain bin:
It's very possible that one of these other screens or menus might have helped me to meet her needs more effectively:
But I don't know what most of these statistics are meant to tell me. At least she's still alive. Oh, and she had a very nice day on her birthday, thanks to a sudden invasion of giant butterflies:
I'd been putting off sampling Princess Maker 1 for a while, and I'm greatly relieved to report that the game is not in the least bit salacious or creepy. It's rather a sweet little game -- I'm just not making enough headway to keep at it. It's just not possible to raise a child effectively when one can't read the accompanying manuals. (Yes, I know that's not how it is in the real world either. But at least there are manuals in this case.)
Oh, and I was able to import the mini-CD into my iTunes library -- and to my surprise, the iTunes CD database actually recognized this disc and labeled the tracks correctly; usually my PCE discs import only on a "Track N" basis. Thanks to somebody's foresight out there, I can say without reservation that [Pce]プリンセスメーカー1 オリジナルドラマCd rocks!
Given the game's popularity in Japan, combined with the difficulty of playing it in the US, this one's almost always available and inexpensive to boot. Try looking for it here or here: