Why do I subject myself to Japanese trivia games, when I don't read enough Japanese to make sense of the framework, let alone answer specific questions within a time limit? Well, in the case of IGS' IQ Panic, published for the PC Engine CD-ROM system in 1992, at least I got to see this great opening image (it scrolls vertically, I've pasted together a couple of screenshots here):
This fanciful almond-eyed version of Lady Liberty is actually holding a PC Engine Duo, a later model with the CD-ROM drive and Super System Card built-in. But the game itself is simple and runs fine within the memory constraints of the original 1.0 CD-ROM system card.
The opening menu offers three modes -- IQ Panic, the game's primary mode, combines an RPG storyline with trivia quizzes that pop up in the dungeons. There are also a couple of multiplayer modes, pitting 2-5 human players against each other to answer questions quickly and correctly. According to the packaging, the game features 15,000 trivia questions, so it's making good use of the CD-ROM storage capacity to avoid the familiarity problem that plagues most console efforts in this vein.
The RPG's opening cartoon establishes that some kind of gray-haired, wiggly-red-nosed Japanese muscleman is marauding through the land, kidnapping beautiful young maidens and overpowering all those who would defend them, apparently by bouncing them into the ocean with his remarkable pectoral muscles:
And so a young hero sets out to stop this fiend, beginning with a little village exploration in the grand JRPG tradition. The animation here is quite nice, with detailed sprites and more frames of animation than the norm, and the music is friendly, cheerfully percussive pop/rock rendered in full Redbook CD audio quality. There are people to talk to, of course, though I couldn't really understand what they were saying, and handy inns for saving the game and resting up, though I didn't encounter any weapon or armor shops.
Once we leave town, of course, we must dive into the dungeons -- there are treasure chests to open, containing the usual healing potions and escape devices, but instead of battling fierce monsters, we are faced with human opponents bearing trivia questions.
We can choose whether or not to engage these random opponents, although sometimes we're not actually allowed to refuse the challenge; clearly it's in our hero's interest to answer the questions, and do so correctly. The game shifts to chiptune audio during these matches, presumably to free up the CD-ROM access for reading questions into memory. I had hoped to brave the trivia contest with a Japanese-English dictionary in hand, but as it turns out, there's a time constraint. Clueless Westerners like me have little hope of answering these questions in the available ten seconds or less -- some answers are in English, but all the questions are in Japanese. As each incorrect answer costs one of our measly 5 Life Points, it's hard to make much progress:
If we are clever or lucky enough, we can make it to the first dungeon's boss, who at first looks more like a potential rescuee:
But she also has some trivia questions to ask us, and we must answer three questions correctly to clear her formidable challenge. I was not able to do so, in keeping with statistical probability, and so I found myself at the save and continue or quit screen, where the sympathetic innkeeper does the needful:
I did discover that continuing allows us to pick up right where we left off with a fresh supply of Life Points, even if we were in the middle of a boss challenge, so it IS possible to make some progress without knowing the language. In this case, our opponent is a gracious loser, and sends us on our way with a commendation and a smile:
I hope the dungeon's mistress has an escape route, because she seems nice enough, and the dungeon crumbles to the ground in our wake as we proceed to explore more of the land:
Returning to the first village and speaking to the elderly dojo owner wins us a boat ride to the next island, and the story proceeds from there, with yet more dungeons and bosses to take down. Most of the key characters are nicely voice-acted and funny -- for example, this boastful but incompetent baseball player:
The dungeons get more complicated as we go, with hidden pitfalls and more frequent challenges, and it's possible the questions get harder, though that's not really apparent when one is guessing at random like yours truly. I also got the impression that some of the questions are themed -- at least, one dungeon populated by scientists and doctors seemed to feature more questions about measurements, calculations, and fundamentals like the planets of our solar system and the primary colors, so I had a better shot at answering these when I guessed the nature of the question correctly.
IQ Panic is very nicely presented, with colorful graphics and a whimsical tone that make for an appealing package. But obviously it's not much fun to play by guessing at the questions and the answers, hoping to hit one out of four more often than random chance would allow. So this one's on the shelf as an entertaining oddity that I will probably never try to finish.
I can't recommend this one for non-Japanese speakers, but it's an inexpensive game if you're collecting for the PC Engine. You may be able to find a copy for sale here or here: