Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A series of eroge topics yields something worthwhile

Many events occurred recently which encouraged me finally to play Princess Maker 2. Pleasantly I’ve discovered it’s not at all perverse as some might think. Most of this blog post though probably is, so don’t read further if you’re at work. WARNING: there is discussion of mechanical beards within.
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Somewhere in my memory it seems I was browsing SelectButton’s forum around the time I felt disenchanted with E3 coverage - despite Japan having several interesting pieces of work it could showcase, the offerings in America seemed very much geared solely towards Western tastes (with the exception of El Shaddai, which looks astounding and universal). Even Platinum’s next game was full of space marines. But anyway, this Americanisation of software the Japanese wish to show us was covered far more interestingly in the latest WAHP podcast, which if you’re interested in Japanese games is essential listening.
So inside my mind, the feelings of alienation at Sony’s obsession with Killzone and that stupid neon-balled magic wand, plus my brain-baulk at Kevin Butler’s vapid speech, all curdled together with a strong desire to play something unashamedly Japanese. I still dig the style of Japanese things, games or otherwise - and damned be the Neo-Jaffe heretics who criticises me for that. Now, either before or after this desire for Nippon, I discovered the recently bumped topic of TORUMASUTA’s, regarding Sengoku Rance.

I’m going to quote forum user Chevluh, since he explains he succinctly.
Rance is a series of porn games, actual games with gameplay (and interesting, too) and not just VNs or groping simulators, about a chaotic rapist warrior in a med-fan world, who ends up repeatedly saving the world even though he's really just trying to f**k everything female in existence. The series stands at the zenith of eroge, and the protagonist was constantly voted the best eroge character until they made the competition female-only. Usually the games are RPGs, but two of them are strategy games, including this one, Sengoku Rance, which is a parody of the warring states era (ie if you've played Dynasty Warriors you're gonna recognize a few names). If you haven't got anything against porn games and can palate the set-up, it's well worth a try, as the whole thing got a translation patch recently.

I’ve sometimes said to myself: if I win millions on the lottery, along with funding the development of a mechanical beard attachment to enable world conquest, I would use my new-found ability to waste time in my life to cover eroge / hentai-soft / h-games and put the hardcore back in Hardcore Gaming 101. Because whenever I’ve stumbled across titles in the genre, such as with Night Slave (pictured above), they surprisingly have solid gameplay behind the aesthetics - much as was said with Sengoku Rance. A lot of such games would work really well without the perversions, but it’s an easy way to boost sales I presume, hence why it happens. In the meantime though I’d rather spend my limited leisure time reading the research of other such pioneers.
The Sengoku Rance topic, and TORUMASTA’s in-depth playing, reminded me of another fascinating foray into the world of digital erotica - namely Takashi’s topic on PC eroge management sim, MxS Combat de Reines, where he used Anime Games Text Hooker along with a machine translator from Toshiba called ATLAS to play through it. It was an ingenious set-up as he attempted to work his way through the game with regular postings. I salute the man’s effort to document such a thing.
I’ll quote him directly:
MxS is a shop simulation game by Abogado powers, a bit like Pia Carrot series. Except instead of serving sweets you serve whipping. And get some. Here's the thing. Abopa was known for its pretty high end bondage stuff, they did Pigeon Blood and D+Vine Luv and you can check around for that. MxS however, is a bit different. Unlike those games, it's really, really happy. Both slaves and mistresses are people that accept their sexual tastes without being kindaped/lost their mind and everybody has his own personality (that reflects or not into their ‘stance’) in the game. Yes, you will see bondage. For most of the game you maybe get some boob, maybe a funny CG and some underwear shots. Most of the game will make you scheme how to make the girls happy (some more than others) and balance the customer satisfaction rating. Only in the end you get some bondage action, and you still have to [play a fairly difficult management section with satisfaction bars] beforehand.

Both were examples in the grand pantheon of Japan-exclusive games, specifically adult titles, which I wouldn't have the chance to play in a convenient manner, but could live vicariously through the words of those who document them - and both should be applauded for doing so, because such titles seldom are written about in the west.
Of course these weren’t at first the types of games I was thinking of when yearning for something Japanese. Truth be told I’ve been playing Folklore (PS3) and Fragile Dreams Farewell to the Moon (Wii - expect a write up sometime, maybe), so I could have just focused more on those after my E3 disenchantment. Except they’re a little too neat and clean. Niche and underloved, certainly, but not because they're in a maligned genre. Though separated by nearly half a decade, they’re both Japanese highlights for this generation with extremely high production values.

At the same time as all of the above was fermenting in my sub-conscience, I was reading commentary on the recent US release of Deathsmiles on 360, a game in a genre I love (shmups) which I will never play unless either ported to PS3, or I have that mechanical beard implant mentioned earlier (thus implying I have money to waste on a 360 purchase). Deathsmiles has been receiving some criticism aimed at the art direction - a style which I thought was fine, to be honest, it's no worse than a lot of stuff you find floating around in public view. But it made me think, there’s still a feeling of embarrassment among self-conscious gamers when it comes to some styles of design, especially anything risqué and anime. (for those interested, the latest WAHP has commentary on the sequel, Deathsmiles 2)

I absolutely fail to understand the hostility some have to the aesthetic - what I personally found uncomfortable in comparatively sane non-gaming circles was the pile of Marie-Claire et al magazines in my ex’s bathroom (and many, many other women’s bathrooms, for that matter). If a woman who is classified as ‘socially normal’ can be preoccupied over pointless beauty products and the FRANKLY STRANGE things covered in those mags, which I don’t even think Kurt would allow me to repeat on this blog, plus have cupboards which seem destined to eclipse Imelda Marcos’, and yet she won't become a pariah - then you can damn well play decent 2D shooters with goth-lolitas and not feel awkward about it.

And then I thought to myself: I need to play something which mainstream gamers regard as trashy / unacceptable / too strange. If only for a day. Something to make people put palms to faces and decry that I had finally taken my obsession with anything obscure, weird or niche too far - that I was one step away from creating a fire-fighting simulator using ticker-tape and punch-cards where the final stage actually involves setting the paper alight, just to say I’d explored the outer limits of gaming esotericism. I needed to find that edge.

I didn’t feel like a strategy game though - especially one with a Nobunaga setting such as Sengoku Rance. At least not now. And I lacked the motivation to attempt Takashi’s technical wizardry with a computer and try a graphic adventure. I was initially tempted by the English release of Sakura Wars on Wii and PS2, which was an easy option for something Japanese and quirky - especially after reading some posts in this topic. But unwilling to go down the Wii route, and preferring to have the original Japanese voices available in the PS2, I was concerned at the fact that it was dual-layered and my PS2s were all PAL. Disc-swapping wouldn’t work, and my Messiah FATSYSTEM was like a shaky old dog waiting to die. I also didn't feel like buying an NTSC slim.
But then I was reminded of another quirky Japanese game, one labelled as perverse by so many people, many brandishing images of bondage queens. And I recalled it ran on DOSBOX.
Yes, I was reminded of Princess Maker 2, which was localised for US release on DOS but never materialised.

The thing is, contrary to what little I’d heard about it, Princess Maker 2 is not trashy. It’s actually narratively quite elegant and, furthermore, is a rock solid and extremely good GAME. If you enjoy menu-based management simulations, such as Football Manager, or anything where you need to look after a virtual creature, such as Nintendogs, Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and so on, then Princess Maker 2 is one of the best such titles available.
As a demon-slaying hero you’re given a divine being to raise as your daughter, with you needing to decide what she learns at school, what part-time jobs she takes, and which kind of monster hunting adventures she goes on. Think Wonder Project J2 crossed with Dungeons & Dragons and you’re maybe there (I’ve only seen videos of WPJ2 - but with translation patches available for both, you should check 'em out). It all culminates in one of over 70 endings. Admittedly your daughter can end up in unsavoury professions such as the aforementioned bondage queen, or a cabaret dancer, but this would only be a reflection of the person playing. It’s actually a very sweet story overall, and I think a game which could appeal to a lot of women - if you want your daughter to eschew fighting orcs, she can read books and work in a salon. It's an everyman game.

Contentious content aside, the game itself is a joy to play, since it can be approached from innumerable angles. Although there are RPG overworld maps (which yield exclusive rare items) for you to explore and battle turn-based enemies on, these can be avoided entirely for a more pacifist approach which relies solely on menu-management.

Hard to believe, but the simple act of menu clicking to watch tiny animations as a series of numbered bars go up and down, is SUPREMELY SATISFYING, especially with such a well-balanced and inter-connected system. Working on a farm builds constitution, strength and pays well, but reduces her beauty level (called charisma in-game). Sending her to science classes meanwhile raises intelligence but reduces her faith in God. Everything affects something else and it encourages tinkering with the options to see what kind of results you get. Also, the elimination-round coliseum contests are AWESOME.

The game was sadly never released in the US, and the painful saga is recounted HERE, with the guy behind it (Tim Trzepacz) making comments about press headlines which unfairly deemed it sexist. As I said, anything negative pertaining to the game would be a reflection of the person playing it or commenting on it. On my initial playthrough, my daughter ended up an eloquent, highly intelligent artist, aptly mirroring the person who (virtually) raised her.

Interestingly, Tim Trzepacz later went on to work for Working Designs, a company renowned for bringing cool Japanese games to masses. On his SoftEgg website he asks for people to stop pirating the game, and I can understand why - despite good intentions he saw no rewards for his hard efforts, which culminated with a rather touching scene where he gave a specialised English copy of the game to the Japanese creator, as way of apology. Whether you trawl abandonware websites to try the game or not, there is a (slim) chance I’ll be giving this game the full HG101 treatment in the future. Because a game of such quality, and such tremendous fun, and which wasn’t even officially released, doesn’t deserve the added burden of risqué controversy.

All images stolen from various internet people.

11 comments:

  1. You should make a feature on Tamagotchi.

    Best toy ever.

    ~Bobby

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  2. The reason why E3 was mostly american was simply because it is in america... Quirky japanese games would just go unseen and ridiculed.

    The Tokyo gameshow (or whatever the things called) should be mostly japanese stuff as it's in japan. also that's where alot of the really good stuff is shown (though sometimes it's just a repeat of what has gone before at e3).

    As for the rest f your fine article, princess making games have a long history and their american/other regional versions are terrible.

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  3. DO you recommend I try Princess Maker 2? Because it sounds like a pretty interesting game. Out of curiosity, if you ever did an HG101 entry on that game, would you cover the first Princess Maker? And if you did recommend this game, would I get the game on an abandonwarez site, or is there some way for me to get it legally? Thanks in advance :)

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  4. I feel secure enough in my masculinity to say that Princess Maker 2 rocks. I raised two daughters in that game. One turned out to be a good housewife. The other (when I cheated by hacking my stats) became the Queen of Hell. Overall it is a very interesting sim that should not be overlooked by serious gamers.

    BTW...the new GameFan magazine actually has articles on many hardcore games at the moment like Deathsmiles and Record of Agarest War. It is worth a read.

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  5. @anon:
    An intelligent reply to my unfortunately ineloquent statement. My feeling regarding E3 is that Japan had some pretty cool games to showcase, but apart from El Shaddai, they weren't really featured. And those Japanese games which are shown have been made with the intention of trying to appeal to the west - it all goes back to what Jeremy Blaustein has said: Japan has lost confidence in her abilities and is clutching at some nebulous idea of the western ideal, instead of simply making "good games". The best games from Japan have never had an agenda of "let's try to compete with American titles".

    @Refa:
    Yes, I totally do recommend PM2. If you have any interest in management sims, it's excellent. As for an HG101 article, I'd like to do one, but covering the prequel and sequels is rather daunting. Also, PM2 alone was released on something like 5 different systems, and I don't have easy access to a lot of the more obscure releases, like the FM-Towns release, for comparison shots. I should really make the effort, since HG101 was founded on being comprehensive, but it's not always easy.

    There is no legal way to play the English version - it was unreleased and the one floating around was a leaked copy of the localisation. I got it off Abandonia and loaded it with D-fend and DOXbos. Googling should bring up abandonware links for PM2, though as the guy who organised the translation says: it's not abandonware, and he doesn't want people continuing to pirate it.

    @Lee:
    It is? Damn! And I went and subscribed to EGM (maybe I shouldn't have - what with that absurd David Jaffe interview). Unfortunately GameFAN is extremely difficult to get over here in Europe.

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  6. RE:Sketcz
    I forget who said it (it was recently, may of been the head of nintendo) but japan doesn't do big budget blockbusters. When you look back at japan's catalogue you'll see that most of the games are usualy low budget and high concept. these games rarely make it outside japan and when they do they always do poorly simply because they are not blockbusters.
    Even when you look at the british gaming scene you'll notice that the few compaies left are now all americanized in order to expand the audience. Dispite britain housing alot of the talent and big names of yore, most all either retired, given up on games or just gone.

    In the gaming industry, it's either go american or go broke. Sadly this means that any good japanese quirkyness and british creativeness simply goes into crappy americanized blockbuster games.

    rant over :p

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  7. @Lee: I have a feeling that GameFAN's got the same reviewers or bias from Play Magazine. I just don't trust reviewers who give games like Sonic 2006 or Golden Axe Beast Rider high marks.

    I like my games to have a Japanese flavor... as long as they don't veer into the stupid territory. Games that come to mind are Star Ocean 4, Sands of Destruction, and others. These games tend feature annoying anime and JRPG cliches and stupid pandering(though for games like Record of Agarest War and Ar Tonelico, I can forgive since they probably aren't as cliched as the previous examples).
    And it seems nowadays that instead of hiring fresh talent, Japanese developers think that they need their games to be Western in order to be good. The independent/doujin scene is where all kinds of fresh talent is.
    Pixel, ZUN, Kikiyama, Kenta Cho, you name it!

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  8. PM2 was the first game of it's type to captivate me. I <3 it.

    I don't think Japanese design and asthetic is losing to American design and asthetic, rather both are so complacent that no real innovation comes from either, the pond is stagnant with the waste of those who fear change yet love money.

    Pretty soon the US and Japan will both lose to the old idea of European 80's home computing: Users can make some awesome games.

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  9. Hey, how dirty is PM2?

    I want to play it, I think...

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  10. i loved your review of sengoku rance. but im still not yet halfway of finishing it because the game is damn hard.

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  11. hmm. i played the princess maker 2 for dos some years ago.

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