Game Center CX is an interesting Japanese TV show that started back in 2003. It stars middle-aged Japanese man Shinya Arino, one half of comedy duo Yoiko and tasks him with playing old video games and trying to clear them. The catch is..he’s quite bad at them. He’s forgetful and awful at pattern recognition, both important skills for older, unforgiving games, but his upbeat attitude turns that into fun and more often than not he eventually meets his goal. The series got a small cult following in the west, largely thanks to the efforts of a subtitling translation team based on the Something Awful forums.
It doesn’t take much thinking to come to the conclusion that a tie-in game based on a show about games would be a good idea, but there was an issue – the games that Arino plays all belong to the license holders. They couldn’t well put out a compilation of games from different publishing entities. Instead, a creative route was taken.
Year: 2006 Genre: Adventure Developer: Irem Software Engineering Publisher: Atlus USA, 505 Games Platform: PlayStation 2
Freedom in video games is an interesting concept. Intriguing, often expansive worlds and environments are made for games and quite often you want to just run around and explore. However, there is a big divide between how ‘Eastern’ (generally Japanese) and ‘Western’ (generally American) games show freedom. That is to say, Eastern games are generally very linear, with the designers wanting you to play a specific way and follow what they’ve scripted out – such as Final Fantasy XIII, which doesn’t have any sidequests until fairly late in the game. Western games have a tendency to be very ‘open’ and let you do what you want – The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto series being prime examples of this.
Steambot Chronicles, interestingly enough, decides to ride the line between the two in a steam-powered mech.
Year: 2002 Genre: Visual Novel Developer: Kindle Imagine Develop (KID) Publisher: Hirameki International Platform: PC/Windows Also on: Dreamcast/PlayStation 2/PlayStation Portable/Xbox 360
‘Visual novels’ long since struggled to find a foothold in the international market, and even with the niche but relatively popular releases of several games in the west, such as Phoenix Wright, Zero Escape and Danganronpa, they never truly caught on in the mainstream. For the uninitiated, a visual novel is basically a cross between a choose-your-own-adventure book and the Infocom interactive fiction games of the 80’s. Sometimes visual novel-like structures are used to tell the story in games with other gameplay, such as in Sega‘s Sakura Wars
In a nutshell, a visual novel tells you a story, shows you some graphics and music (sometimes voice acting, too) to illustrate the scene, and then gives you some choices. Some of these can be quite complex (such as Ever17) or quite long (Fate/stay night is often said to be three times the length of all three Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit combined).
With that in mind, you can understand that it’s quite tough to write or talk about a specific visual novel without completely spoiling it, given that ninety percent of what makes it special is its plot.