Friday, December 31, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Cosmic Fantasy 3: Hoken Shonen Rei

One of my favorite TurboGrafx-CD games back in the early 1990s was the sci-fi RPG Cosmic Fantasy 2, brought to the US with a witty translation by Victor Ireland's Working Designs, at a time when the anime style was fresh and new on our shores.  So I had to pick up the PC Engine sequel Cosmic Fantasy 3: Hoken Shonen Rei, which continues the story but never saw an English translation.

There were actually 5 or 6 Cosmic Fantasy games in Japan, if one counts Cosmic Fantasy 4 (Chapters 1 & 2) as two separate games and Cosmic Fantasy Stories as a game; there were also a number of offshoot titles and related projects in other media, detailed at the very dedicated Fred Duck's Cosmic Fantasy Home Page

The game series was published by Nihon Telenet's Laser Soft label in Japan.  In an unusual legal touch, we see that the copyright is shared by the game's creator, Kazuhiro Ochi:

Since I don't understand much Japanese beyond what I've picked up from anime and import games, and don't read the language at all, I don't expect to have much luck playing Cosmic Fantasy 3.  But I'll see what I can glean from it, as a follow-on to CF2.

The story opens with our cat friend Nyan from chapter 2 crash-landing on an inhabited planet, after his chicken-shaped spacecraft is shot down by some other spacefaring cats.  There's some nice, expressive animation here, with the additional memory of the Super CD-ROM card allowing for more dynamic content than the 1.0 CD format original.  All of the music seems to be CD-based this time, as well, perhaps because the system can now hold all the necessary game content in memory -- even the in-town themes are quite pleasant to listen to.

We won't see Nyan again for a while, as the story cuts to our apparent hero, a young man with long blonde hair, as we wander around a bucolic village that seems to focus on agriculture, but for some reason I never fathomed has hidden tunnels connecting all the buildings.  We can talk to the pigs and chickens, and trail several of them along with us.  I'm having a pleasant visit, despite my inability to understand what anyone is so earnestly telling me.  But as soon as I dive into the menus, I remember how cumbersome Cosmic Fantasy 2's system was -- and at least those were in English:

I continue talking to random villagers, and one of these conversations generates a little digitized chime sound, so that must have accomplished something worthwhile.  Finally I wander outside town to face some rather comical monsters -- unfortunately, I have to battle these bird creatures on my own, as my animal "friends" vamoosed as soon as I hit the village limits.

I can't quite make sense of the battle menus, so I deal and take damage more or less at random for a while.  I do notice that when we level up, our hit points are increased and fully restored, so that's convenient during these early battles.  And I figure out that the option below the main "fight" option is the "flee" option, and that the second item within the fight menu accesses the healing spells.  I ultimately manage to make it to a neighboring town, where I can again pick up a trailing party of livestock while the local denizens wonder what this strange-smelling kid is up to.

Unlike the village where we started out, this town has a few useful shops.  There is an Inn where we can rest up in the traditional fashion, if we have the 20 GP required:

The town is no metropolis, but has a potions shop, and a weapons dealer, with an armor forgery upstairs.  But once again, I find myself floundering -- I can tell that the price of whatever I'm looking at here is 56 GP, but I have no clue as to whether it's a valuable or useful whatchamacallit.  And once I purchase a random item, I have a tough time figuring out how to equip or use it.  The language barrier is rapidly becoming a challenge.

I do manage to wander out of town again and encounter some different, highly fanciful enemies in the new area of the map -- snake harps wearing bowties, and what seem to be armed, bejeweled vegetables.  But I didn't get too much more out of the gameplay -- without an understandable story to keep my interest, I start remembering all the things that were not so great about Cosmic Fantasy 2.  The menus are cumbersome, there's very little animation in the battle scenes (and no backgrounds to speak of), the maps are full of maze-like dead-end passages, and the journey to the next animated intermission is looking long indeed.

But before I wrap this one up, the game's packaging is worth discussing in some detail.  Cosmic Fantasy 3 comes in a double-thick, two-compartment CD case -- there's only one game disc, but the case includes some additional goodies.  We get a full-color 24-page manual (with an ad for a strategy guide on the back cover), and a full-color fold-out map with full weapon and item statistics charts (though, of course, it's in Japanese, so it's not as handy a reference as I might like).  Best of all, there's a 44-page Cosmic Fantasy Official Guide Book, which includes character profiles, making-of sketches for the cutscenes, photos of the voice actors and game programmers at work, even sheet music for the title theme song.

So I will not likely be able to finish Cosmic Fantasy 3, and that's okay.  It's still been fun to revisit the series' world for a little while, if only for nostalgia's sake.  RPG technology has moved on, even in the somewhat more genre-bound world of the JRPG, and there's no shame in doing so myself.  I'll probably pick up some of the other CF games eventually, but I'm not in any rush.

If you're interested, Cosmic Fantasy 3: Hoken Shonen Rei appears to be less in demand than some of the other games in the series.  You may be able to find a copy for purchase at a reasonable price here or here:

Cosmic Fantasy 3 Bouken Shonen Rei PC-Engine SCD

1 comment:

  1. It was fun to read you, but it is very sad that we non-japanese will never have access to some of these awesome games. It's life and you have to go with it, but still a little bit frustrating.