Friday, October 9, 2009

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Yawara!

Japanese videogamers take amazingly good care of their games -- I know the titles I import from overseas are pre-owned, but they always seem to be in mint condition.  Fortunately, since they are used, I have no qualms about opening the re-shrinkwrap to see what the games inside have to offer.  Yes, it's time to dig into my stack of import PC-Engine titles again and see if I can figure out what the heck I'm doing, speaking nary a word of Japanese.

This time, we take a look at another digital comic, a very popular choose-your-own-adventure-style genre on the PC-Engine -- it's Yawara!, published by Sofix Corporation.  To quote the CD's cover text, written in slightly awkward English:

YAWARA! a super famous character in comic books and on TV, will finally show up Win front of you Win DIGITAL COMICS on PC-ENGINE.  On her heart soon!  It's you who play the role of a hot sports journalist Matsuda!

The original manga and anime series is also known as Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl, and tells the story of young Yawara Inokuma, a talented judo combatant training hard with her grandfather, aiming for a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  In this 1992 game, the player takes on the role of Kosaku Matsuda, a sports reporter and semi-lovestruck Yawara fan, accompanied by his friend and photographer, Kamoda.

The game opens with a CD-audio rendition of the anime's catchy J-Pop theme song, Miracle Girl, with some nice artwork that captures the character well.


The game seems to be a fairly straight adaptation of the story presented in the manga and anime series.  The voice performances are compressed to fit more content onto the disc, and the animation is limited -- most images are fairly static, with occasional movement inset portraits for dialogue and facial expression detail.  But dynamic use of scrolling and panel layout keeps the experience visually interesting:

The story is told from the perspective of reporter Matsuda -- after seeing Yawara take down a fleeing criminal with a casually skillful judo throw, he begins his quest to discover the identity of this mysterious girl.  Either that, or his editor is pushing for more fan service photos like this one, which graces the newspaper's front page:

Unlike other digital comics I've played, Yawara!'s design is extremely restrictive -- it's not so much an adventure as a story stored on a CD and displayed on a videogame system.  The menu system for choosing options can run several layers deep, but most of the time, there's only one choice to make at each level.  The interactivity is rendered moot by this approach -- the player is simply required to push the I button as many times as necessary to get the story to move forward.

At least there are cute little "intermission" displays and other visual distractions - here, our heroes have tracked down Yawara's grandfather:

At least the simple design meant I was able to make progress without understanding exactly what options I was choosing.  And I was able to follow the story, more or less, with help from the English text occasionally thrown into Yawara's lines.  Here, Matsuda attempts to interview Yawara on the train, but she misunderstands his motives:

But in the end, Yawara! gets to be repetitive, and it's not much of a game.  To be fair, it doesn't claim to be one -- the packaging calls it a Digital Comic, and a Story, which is accurate.  The audiovisuals are nicely handled, and there's a lot of content crammed onto the disc -- but it's easy to see why this genre largely disappeared from the videogame market after DVD came along.

I am curious about why Sofix Corporation didn't release more games for the PC Engine -- from a technical standpoint, this title is competently executed, yet they only released Yawara! and Yawara! 2.  It's almost as if somebody...

I knew I liked that girl!

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