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Showing posts with label Visual Novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Visual Novel. Show all posts

Bounty Hunter Sarah: The Capcom Dreamcast Game You Never Knew About

Ask any Dreamcast fan about Capcom's legacy on the console and you'll be told that good old Cappy are probably as synonymous with the box of dreams as even Sega themselves. Then, if you asked those same fans what kind of games they'd associate Capcom's mighty stint on the Dreamcast with, they'd most likely tell you "fighters", maybe even shoot-em-ups or survival horror. No one, and I repeat, no one would respond: "a text-based near future crime thriller featuring a digitised actress".

Bounty Hunter Sarah: Holy Mountain no Teiō was released onto the Dreamcast and PlayStation on the 24th of May 2001. Published by Capcom, this Japanese-exclusive "sound novel" (more on that in a moment) was developed by Flagship, a fresh-faced independent studio founded by ex-Capcom developer Yoshiki Okamoto. With funding from Capcom, Nintendo and Sega, Flagship would develop or assist with the development of games from huge franchises such as Resident Evil, Kirby and The Legend of Zelda, before sadly closing its doors in 2007. Bounty Hunter Sarah was Flagship’s first and only original IP, with its big selling point being that its plot was written by the same scenario writer as Resident Evil 2, Noboru Sugimura, who had also left Capcom to be part of Flagship.

The staff of Flagship at a 2001 presentation

The game's plot takes place in the year 2060, and revolves around Sarah Fitzgerald, a bounty hunter who roams the crime-ridden Neo Tokyo with the goal of assassinating a notorious mafia boss known as the "Lord of the Holy Mountain". The game's action-packed opening cinematic sets this all up really well, with plenty of flashy stop-motion spy stuff and enough explosions to make Michael Bay blush. But then when you start a new game, all that energy witnessed in the intro suddenly takes a turn as you soon realise that Sugimura's plot is told in the form of a "sound novel," a type of game fairly similar to a visual novel. For those not in the know, visual novels are...well, novels that are visual

Some would argue that they aren’t really games due to them essentially being flashy reading exercises, with little interaction required from the player other than to progress countless paragraphs of text with a single button and, in the case of the most common type of visual novel, have them occasionally select a choice. Despite their text heavy nature, they still include plenty of varying background scenery and colourful characters (usually anime-style) to accompany the stories being told, and often feature plot lines that can devolve down branching paths to multiple endings, leading some to liken visual novels to interactive choose your own adventure books. Sound novels, on the other hand, while still including a decent helping of artwork, often have it serve as a backdrop to screens filled with text, with the game instead relying more on sound effects and music to immerse the player into the plot taking place (source). 

Sakura Wars Returns with Flying Colours (PS4 Review)

The Sakura Wars (aka Sakura Taisen) series is possibly Sega's worst-kept secret, at least for us in the West. Most Dreamcast fans have probably encountered it at some point, but without the ability to understand the Japanese language, most have not proceeded further. This Japanese steampunk-themed tactical RPG series was a massive hit in its country of origin, spawning sequels and spin-offs, as well as crossing into other forms of media. As I'm writing this, the Sakura Wars multi-media franchise has surpassed over 4 million units shipped in Japan.

Despite the series' massive success, Sakura Wars was probably deemed too culturally-different for Western gamers, probably due to its heavy use of unfamilar (at least, back in the late '90s and early 00's), visual novel/dating simulation-style gameplay. The only Sakura Wars game from the original batch to be localised into English was the fifth game in the franchise, Sakura Wars V: So Long, My Love (released on the Wii and PS2). Most would probably agree that it wasn't the best entry the series had to offer, but hey, at least it was something. The series would then remain untouched for many years.
This was no small franchise. A big thanks to our very own Mike for the pics.
But Sakura Wars has stepped back onto the stage and into the limelight once again. Sega have blessed us with a worldwide (albeit, staggered) release of a flashy modern-gen reboot of Sakura Wars, exclusively for PlayStation 4. Developed by Sega's CS2 R&D department, Sakura Wars saw involvement from new and returning staff; including veteran Sega producer Tetsu Katano, director Tetsuya Otsubo and music composer Kohei Tanaka. Tite Kubo, the creator of manga ultra-hit Bleach was responsible for the designs of the main cast of characters. There was also guest artists like BUNBUN (Sword Art Online), Ken Sugimori (Pokémon) and Shigenori Soejima (Persona), who contributed their talents towards the designs of various supporting characters. It's clear from such star studded pedigree that Sega really pulled out all the stops for this one, and as an owner of a pre-order copy that turned up three days too early, I'm happy to confirm that it resulted in a big success. If you're a fan of Sakura Wars, you'll be happy to know Sega have done the franchise the justice it deserves. If you're new to Sakura Wars, this is the perfect entry point.

So What Exactly Are Those Weird Anime Games In Your Dreamcast Collection?

Avid fans of the Dreamcast are most likely already aware that the console enjoyed a much longer life in its home country of Japan (the last officially licensed Dreamcast game, Karous, was released in 2007). For this reason, as well as the fact 90s console developers had a track record of thinking Western gamers were frightened of anything even slightly unconventional, there is an extensive list of Japan-only Dreamcast games just waiting for fans to import. The best part is that so many are playable without knowledge of the Japanese language. All you need is a boot disc or a modded Dreamcast and voilà! you've unlocked another section of the Dreamcast library. Check out our A to Z of Dreamcast Games if you want to know the best Japan-exclusives to get your mitts on.

However, for every playable game, there are just as many that are unplayable for anyone who isn't fluent in Japanese. Anyone who is insane enough to try and collect a full Japanese set will soon realise that there is plenty of "filler" - the kind of stuff you only buy for the sake of checking another game off the list and not because you are actually going to be able to play it. You know, those games with the anime girls on the front. Crap like this:
 
Some might mistakenly call these things "dating simulators", but that's a different kettle of fish entirely. No, these are "visual novels", and they do exactly what they say on the tin, they are novels with visual elements. Boot any of these up and you'll be greeted with nothing more than walls of Japanese text and images of anime characters making various expressions. They are a very niché style of game that have never had a big following outside of Japan, especially back in the early 2000s (hence their Japanese exclusivity). Some may debate whether or not they are actually games at all, but they're still something I'd recommend to keen readers and anime fans alike. 

Their "gameplay" more or less consists of reading text and occasionally answering a multiple choice question on how the main character should react or respond in a certain situation. That might not sound all that interesting to some, but I like to look at visual novels as a more visual version of a choose your own adventure book, and being a fan of anime, the artwork contained within is something I'm familiar with. A lot of the stories are enjoyable, and believe it or not, the plots aren't always romantic; there are visual novels that focus on genres like sci-fi and mystery, for example. I'm such an advocate for these anime-centric pieces of flashy reading material that I even wrote a whole article on my website Alt:Mag defending their case.