Saturday, May 21, 2011
I’ve been meaning to make a post like this since the fourth game in this disaster survival series was cancelled by Irem, soon after the disaster in Japan. I’ve had ZZT3 for PSP on my shelf for years now, and with the fourth game likely to never arrive, I thought it time to play it – especially since I already love the first two entries in the series. The first was known as Disaster Report in the US, SOS: The Final Escape in Europe and 絶体絶命都市 in Japan. The sequel was known as Raw Danger in both the US and Europe and 絶体絶命都市2 -凍てついた記憶たち- in Japan. The third game (絶体絶命都市３ - 壊れゆく街と彼女の歌) on PSP never left Japan.
Along with cancelling Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4: Summer Memories for PS3, Irem also put a halt to sales of earlier releases. Which really only constitutes the PSP game, since I doubt they were still printing the PS2 versions. Most people couldn’t understand this, and neither did I, until I started the game.
Note with tragic irony that Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 3: Kowareyuku Machi to Kanojo no Uta takes place during the actual time the real disaster occurred in Japan (March 2011). Seeing the above opening screen it’s perhaps unsurprising Irem doesn’t want further sales of the PSP game. In addition ZZT3, like all the ZZT games, places the blame for the loss of life during natural disasters on corrupt government and unscrupulous corporations. So not only does ZZT3 take place during a time when Japan was really hit with a natural disaster, the poor rescue attempts are caused by bureaucratic red-tape and the destruction of the city itself the result of a greedy construction company not following building laws (I'm talking in-game here). Again, tragically ironic considering the criticism some parts of the media made of the messages given out and the Fukushima plant's resulting problems. Taking these factors into account - the time the game takes places and its political commentary - it's plain to see that ZZT3 could ignite emotions if viewed out of context. Hell, I feel uncomfortable even typing this blog entry, such is its razor-like controversy. As for ZZT4, I have no idea, I've not played it.
And yet in spite of all the tragedy and awkward parallels, I still feel that cancelling this series was a bad idea (and I have Japanese friends who actually live in Fukushima, so I don’t want accusations of insensitivity).
Apart from the fact that all three are fantastic games in their own right, conveying an exciting action adventure dynamic mixed with survival elements while being devoid of aggression on the player’s part, they also act as guides for real disaster events. ZZT3 actually has survival information provided by the Japan Disaster Information Support Network. This isn’t the kind of game you hide away and cancel, almost as if Irem were ashamed of it, it’s something people should embrace with acceptance and understanding. Edutainment has such a bad stigma, but if this is portraying real possible situations, with information from a know respected organisations, then it’s not too far to imagine that a Zettai Zetsumei Toshi game could save someone’s life one day.
In addition they also contain a great examination of human nature in a multiple-choice environment. In all games you’re regularly posed questions by fellow survivors, and you can either act like a jerk, jeopardising other people’s safety, or you can work together. And while you can still be a jerk and survive, those who behave like decent human beings always end up better for it. The multiple choice nature of the games is something exemplary, considering that Japanese games are criticised for never providing real choices, when for example compared to western games like Mass Effect.
If you’ve never played one of these games by Irem, then you should. The first two are available in English, and while the localisation was poor, and the games are inherently clunky, they’re still something unique and worth experiencing. There was a disaster game by a different developer on Wii, but it focused too much on gunplay and placing you in a series of action-film situations. The ZZT series is more thoughtful in its approach. I’m going to try to complete ZZT3, whereupon I should have a 100 or so screens for an HG101 article. Discoalucard I believe has the first two (I sold my copies years ago), and there are screens and videos of the 4th online. So together there’s probably a big feature for sometime in the future. MAYBE.
ZZT3 was never localised and there’s no fan translations that I know of (but damn I hope someone is working on it somewhere), but there is THIS GUIDE online, complete with translations for every dialogue section in the game. I actually printed it off and am playing with it by my side. Heck, maybe hackers could hook up with the guy to create a translation patch. My only other hope is that Irem comes to their senses. ZZT4 was almost complete, surely a more logical solution would be to publish it and donate profits to relief aid for victims of Japan’s tsunami? As it is they’ve essentially thrown away the hard works of countless staff over several years, taken a financial loss that could bankrupt them (Irem is a small company), and without actually benefiting anyone affected by the tsunami.