One of the things I really enjoy about import gaming is its sheer unpredictability -- half the time I don't know what a game I'm buying is actually about, and even when I can't make head or tail of the story it's fun to speculate about what's going on. Some games travel well across the ocean, with minimal language barriers, while others are so specific to Japanese culture that they're almost impenetrable to Western eyes.
Hudson Soft's Mitsubachi Gakuen is a simple adventure game that falls into the latter category. It's set up like a digital comic, with simple menu-based conversation and actions, and its most striking characteristic is its heavy use of digitized photos. The PC Engine's CD-ROM technology was new and exciting, and this game pulls out all the stops -- backgrounds are shot on location, and the characters are played by actors. Bland, cheery chiptune music accompanies the visuals, freeing up the CD access for image data and keeping the story moving along at a good pace. There are even some bits of motion video during the game's intro, though these are VERY brief, consisting of just a few frames.
The story purportedly has something to do with reaching fame as a pop idol, with segments spread through the different seasons of the year, but my brief sampling of the Summer segment consisted mostly of wandering around the beach:
Chatting up girls:
Hanging around the local restaurant:
And flipping through the onscreen yearbook/encyclopedia and watching the game's intro, in a vain attempt to understand who all these competing girls are (they are apparently divided into four or five teams of several girls each):
It's not much of a game, but I have to admit that its down-to-earth approach is endearing. The idol hopefuls even look like real people, instead of the idolized stereotypes that populate the PC Engine's mahjong library:
And the supporting characters are funny and sometimes comically grotesque:
Unfortunately, I ran out of patience before I made much progress in the story; my Western, non-Japanese-reading eyes were unable to make progressive choices much of the time. So this is not a game I'm ever going to finish, but it's certainly something different. Mitsubachi Gakuen marches to the beat of a very different Eastern drummer, reflecting American pop music ideals through the Japanese pop idol model of disposable stardom.
This isn't one I'm going to recommend, but I wouldn't dissuade anyone from picking it up if the above sounds appealing. You might be able to find it for sale here.