Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Top o Nerae! Gunbuster Vol. 2

My wife has thoughtfully provided a new bookshelf in the living room, where stuff I have been meaning to get to now visibly accumulates until I take a look at it and then store it in the basement or pass it on.  The top shelf currently includes a number of Japanese games imported earlier in the summer; I continue to add to my PCE/Turbografx-16 collection every now and then, even though I speak nary a word of Japanese and thus have to muddle my way through these titles as best I can.  The games that were never released here often would have required extensive translation and voice-over investment, for questionable return in the US market, so the very reason these games never came to the States makes them quite a challenge for a gaijin like myself to play.  Usually I have to settle for a taste of the action, which is often enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Anyway, I sat down to spend a little time with Top o Nerae! Gunbuster Vol. 2 over the weekend. 

The shiny CD-ROM disc contains an adventure style game based on the Gunbuster anime series, with very nice animated graphics and quality voice acting by the original cast (they are pictured in the instruction manual.)  The disc seems pretty packed with data -- the voiceover tracks are compressed to fit more content onto the disc, with synthesized music playing in the background to enable streaming of artwork and voice data as needed.  The animation plays in a small window, but is often quite detailed -- moreso than the cut scenes in most CD-ROM games of the era -- and there's a lot of it. 

I've seen the series, back when it was one of the first anime titles released on VHS video in the US -- it tells the story of a young girl named Noriko who is striving to be one of the best mech pilots on our side in an Earth-vs.-Extraterrestrials battle situation (Top o Nerae! translates as Aim for the top!)  Noriko is a determined young woman who lost her father in this same conflict when she was just eight years old, and her story is emotionally engaging between the action-packed space/mech battle scenes, complicated by her rival Kazumi and enriched by her friend Amano.

The game opens with the series' theme song in CD-quality redbook audio, illustrated by limited animation and colorful artwork:

It's been a while, and there is of course a language barrier here, but I believe the story in this game is an offshoot of the animated series rather than a direct adaptation.  Some artwork and animation appears reused from the series, translated nicely into pixel art, but the plotline didn't ring a bell.

The adventure game portion of the disc is in the form of a digital comic -- there's a small display screen within the interface window which presents the story, and (very) occasionally there's a branch point where some dialogue or narration is presented as text, and then the player is asked to choose from two to four options.  It's a choose-your-own-adventure approach -- these branch points lead to additional content which may or may not flow back to the core storyline.  Even though I understood little of what was being said, I was able to follow the plotline.

Beyond the game itself, there's plenty of Gunbuster fan service on hand in the additional features.  There's an on-disc encyclopedia with menus hosted by cute super-deformed versions of the characters, and all manner of vital statistics.  There's also a sound effects library, a great resource for anyone with an interest in the series.

When the player exits the game, there's a cute ending screen.  And I was even able to understand the final farewell: Bai bai!

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