Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon -- The Sort-of-Game

The Monster Maker saga continues: Our heroine managed to make it to another town and add a third member to her party, a pink-haired warrior girl who seems fairly capable in battle. They made it to the top of a mountain, where they fought a cute orange dragon, who for its part happily incinerated all three members of the party, one per round of combat. I think maybe the group needs to gain some experience elsewhere on the map. Or I need to break down and dissect the kana characters so I can figure out how the interface works, at least.

As an alternative, I worked through a round of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, another PC Engine CD game, based on the popular manga/anime series. I was expecting an action game, but it's actually a digital adventure/comic of sorts, with minimally animated illustrations and extensive, well-acted voice-over by what I assume is the original Japanese cast. It's not tremendously interactive -- there are occasional dialogue/option trees presented, and between chapters there are branch points where the viewer can choose one of two options, but it's not really a game. I played through Sailor Mercury's version of the story (all five of the original Sailor Scouts are represented), and the only videogame-esque action consisted of two simple maze-chase events, in which Ami-chan has to pick up five power icons while avoiding A) a boy wearing a headband and B) one of Queen Beryl's minions. These were more puzzle than game, as the enemy AI is easily fooled and trapped behind obstacles. And the player gets infinite retries, with no randomization, so it's not hard to figure out a successful pattern by trial and error if need be.

Since I've seen the original anime series in both its US and subtitled Japanese incarnations, I was familiar with the story enough to follow it without being able to really read or speak the language. My impression is that the player's initial selection causes the version presented to focus on his/her favorite Sailor Scout, but that all of the separate story threads come together at the end; there aren't a range of different endings, just different ways of getting there. But I like the idea of experiencing the same story from multiple character perspectives.

It's pretty nicely done for what it is, and takes good early advantage of the CD-ROM medium -- there's way too much artwork to fit on a HuCard (the PC Engine's non-disc format), and the designers compressed the voice-over audio and relied primarily on chip-based music to maximize content. I wish there were more animation, but what's there works pretty well given the limitations of the technology. I can see why this title never came to the US -- there's nothing objectionable in it, but there's a LOT of dialogue to translate and re-record, and the series did not air here until after the TurboGrafx-16 was dead and buried.

At any rate, this one's an interesting pop-culture artifact. I wonder if these types of titles are still being produced in Japan? I would think that a standard DVD player could handle the level of interactivity employed here, if the wholly unnecessary maze games were left out.

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