Friday, March 25, 2011

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei

The digi-comic genre had a limited lifespan in the early 1990's, and that really only in Japan, but many of the properties adapted to the format are familiar to Western audiences who experienced the early, limited years of anime in the US.  One such title is Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei, which I believe roughly translates as Devil Hunter Yohko -- Exchange Students From Hell.  This was the first of two such digital comics released for the PC Engine CD-ROM format, published in 1992 courtesy of NCS / Masaya, based on the Toho/Madhouse anime series which was released in North America by A.D. Video.

The game opens with a simple title screen and a CD-quality rendition of the series' opening song:

It's Mamono Hunter Youko, all right -- this still screenshot looks pretty good, but it's preceded by a rather clunky bit of cross-cutting between the logo and various barely-animated images of our heroine.

There's also not a lot of actual demon-slaying action to be had here; we spend most of our time with Yohko and her friends attending school, shopping, and exploring various environments.  Production values are also limited compared to other digital comics on the PC Engine -- while the cutscenes are fully-voiced, many of the conversation/action interactive menu sections that dominate the gameplay are text-only.  And while I suffered through it on the Magic Engine emulator to capture these screen shots, something about the audio code appears to be non-standard -- there's a lot of static obscuring the music when it's played on an emulator.

There aren't any of the usual "extras" on the Mamono Hunter Youko disc either -- no encyclopedia or sound samples, just the comic itself with a no-frills presentation.  The story eventually gets moving as the day at school is interrupted, and Yohko and her friends are sucked into some sort of magical vortex:

And much pain and embarrassment ensues after the crash-landing in a faraway place:

And our heroes set off to find a way to get back home.  This alternate dimension, if it is meant to be Hell, comes off as surprisingly mundane -- there are shops and shopkeepers to talk to, spicy food to eat, and outfits to try on.  Eventually our heroes meet a wise old witch who gives Yohko a familiar-looking amulet.

There's even a brief dungeon-crawl included, though the menu-driven navigation means it's not really a pleasure to play.

Eventually we encounter a tiger-like beast, and must collect what looks like a red ball to distract it so we can get past.

Then we arrive at a large room filled with sarcophagi, where we discover a mystical sphere and fight a tall demon who transforms into a giant serpent.  Yohko destroys it with the force of her mystical powers, as it screams and shatters into fleshy fragments:

Then we reach the edge of a crater lake, where we fight a giant fish/serpent creature.  And ride another giant creature, briefly.  And make a fire in a small cabin to stay warm for the night, where the boy Yohko apparently has a crush on lends her his jacket.  Then we discover a village, where the local powers-that-be challenge Yohko to prove herself, and we must explore the local roads to meet and converse with a few characters to continue our journey.  This woman apparently sits in a ramshackle shed all day, just waiting for adventurers to wander in and talk to her:

And I actually got stuck at this point -- I explored all three roads leading out of town, talked to the characters I encountered, and tried to poke methodically through all of the available menu options.  But this game is less linear than most digi-comics, and for clueless gaijin like myself it ultimately proved impenetrable.  I'm sure I could have gotten through it, but twenty minutes of going in circles seemed like enough.

So I declared my exploration done, and put Mamono Hunter Youko - Makai Kara no Tenkousei away.  There are some rather nice watercolor illustrations in the manual, but they seem to be there mostly to pad it out and make it seem more substantial.

That's a fitting metaphor for the whole digital comic genre, actually.

Digital comics don't provide a lot of play value, but they are generally inexpensive to collect and may be of interest to anime fans. You might be able to find a copy of this PC Engine Mamono Hunter Yohko adventure for sale here.

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