Once more into the trenches, fellow Retromaniacs! This week, the studlier, more ruggedly handsome, infinitely cooler Michael (aka MichaelBtheGameGenie) raised a new topic which requires our input. Today’s video, which you should absolutely go and watch before you get any further into this column, requests his legions to choose and explain their Top 3 Import Games. His actual question is more along the lines of, “What are the top three games you like but were never made available in your home country for some reason, forcing you to get them from other outside sources?”, but that’s the sort of title YouTube likes to truncate, so I get why he went with his version. Me being born, raised, and trained for text-based combat through the repeated application of Infocom adventures in the middle of the continental United States, my choices are limited to pretty much “everything Japan never bothered to bring over here”, which means combing my library for the cream of the non-North-American crop. I present the end results to you here in an amazing low-bandwidth version out of respect for all of those men and women who have smartphones without unlimited data plans.
1) Mizzurna Falls (PS1)
Its full title might be Mizzurna Falls: Country of the Woods and Repose, but all it takes is a few minutes spent in its world and you’ll swear you’re playing David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Television Show: The Video Game on your PlayStation. If you couldn’t get enough of Deadly Premonition, then there’s no doubt this diamond-in-the-rough will be your personal nicotine patch until the new TV series starts up on Showtime later this year. Built by the same maniacs responsible for Clock Tower, Human Entertainment’s love letter to small-town USA is a surprisingly beautiful, if brutally difficult, open-world sandbox mystery adventure made all the more impossible by the fact it never received a US localization. Despite taking place in Colorado, everybody’s perfectly fluent in Japanese except for the voice-over narrator in the opening cinematic, who struggles to gargle out a rough approximation of the plot in an American patois that probably sounds exotic to foreign ears. The long and short of it is that one of Matthew’s classmates has died, another one has gone missing, and with the local police at an impasse (and the prodding of a good friend), he sets out to solve the mystery which has paralyzed the quiet little mountain community. But here’s the rub: unlike most other adventure games, Mizzurna Falls behaves exactly like real life. Every character in the game is a fully-realized NPC with lives and interests of their own. They don’t just stand around in one place waiting for Matthew to come talk to them so they can advance the plot–the clock starts ticking as soon as Matthew wakes up on the first day, and the only way to successfully complete the game and earn the best ending is to follow up on clues and be where the game needs you to be precisely when you’re supposed to be there. If somebody you want to spy on is meeting someone else at 6pm, then you’d better be there by 6 o’clock to eavesdrop on the conversation, or it happens without your presence and you lose the chance to acquire information that might help you figure out where else to check, who to talk to, or what item might be the key to unlocking one of your current puzzles. You don’t need to follow every trail of crumbs perfectly, but the more mistakes you make and the more you miss important information, the harder it will become for Matthew (and thus the player) to put the pieces together. It features a full day/night cycle, Matthew has to sleep like a normal person, the weather changes dynamically, you get a car to drive but have to keep an eye on your gas gauge, and every character in the game has a ‘script’ defining what he or she does for every minute over the course of the one week period the game takes place. Keep in mind Mizzurna Falls did all of this in 1998, years before the likes of Shenmue, Grand Theft Auto III, or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion were touted for “pioneering” similar aspects of their open-world gameplay elements. I cannot tell you how mind-blowing it is to see something this complex unfolding on hardware from the 1990s when even today’s titles struggle with implementing these concepts fully and correctly.
Mizzurna Falls is the epitome of the ‘hidden gem’, but nearly twenty years after its original release, all that’s changing thanks largely to the efforts of the one-woman army of expat British badassery that is Resident Evie. Not only has she released a complete playthrough of the game on her YouTube channel, where she translates everything the game throws up on the screen in real time, but she’s also written up the most comprehensive FAQ imaginable so even the most gaijin of gaijin can play the game from start to finish without being able to decipher a single kanji. Then, because apparently she hadn’t given enough of her free time away, she released a complete line-by-line translation of the entire game’s script…which clocks in at over forty-thousand words and is being used by at least one ROM hacker in an effort to create a full English patch, the initial results of which you can see here. Mizzurna Falls is so absurdly awesome that I’m tempted to just write “See #1” for the next two entries, but that would be taking the lazy way out and I also need to stall for time before I empty the dishwasher and throw the laundry in the dryer, so you’ll just have to suffer through the next two entries along with me.
2) Michigan: Report From Hell (PS2)
Goichi Suda, aka Suda51, has a reputation for creating some of the most outlandish and off-the-wall games never to see release outside of his home country. This is a guy for whom design is an art, and his personal vision will not be denied. He cut his teeth on game design at Human Entertainment where he served as a scenario writer for some of the Fire Pro Wrestling titles before taking the helm for his own series of visual novel-style PlayStation games that were light on action but dense as uranium with story elements. After Human Entertainment closed up shop, he created his own studio, Grasshopper Manufacture, because the world would not be denied his insanity for long. Look, the guy made the transition from undertaker to game designer, so it’s not surprising that most of his work involves characters with a few screws loose and ideas other people wouldn’t have until they were on their tenth or eleventh glass of sake. One of those games is a survival horror title known as Michigan in Japan, or Michigan: Report From Hell in the UK, and if you’re a fan of some of his more well-known works like Lollipop Chainsaw, Killer7, or No More Heroes, you’re going to want this one in your collection for sure.
Michigan: Report From Hell takes place in Chicago, because of course it does. It casts the player as a cameraman for the action news team at ZaKa TV, a group unafraid to broadcast the seedy, bizarre, and disturbing news other mainstream outlets balk at showing. You’ve been sent, along with sound engineer Brisco and reporter chick Pamela, to cover the outbreak of a mysterious fog rolling in from Lake Michigan. What makes this game unique to the survival horror genre is that your character has no weapons and must rely on the reporter to do all of the fighting. Your job is to film everything, direct the reporter’s attention to anything interesting, strange, or that requires interaction, and get the scoop before your camera battery dies. Above all else, the cardinal rule is the camera never stops rolling, especially when things get sleazy, suspenseful, or immoral. The game actually keeps track of what you as the cameraman choose to focus on, and the ending you get is determined by which of these three tracks ‘wins out’. ZaKa TV also cares less about their television personalities than they do ratings, so if your unfortunate reporter suffers hideous death at the hands of some mutated fog beast, it’s not a problem (so long as you caught the whole thing on tape, of course) — they’ll give you a new partner for the next story they expect you to cover. Clearly this one is best experienced with your tongue drilled so far into your cheek as to pop out the other side. The good news is that if you can’t understand Japanese, you can import the UK version and experience the game’s story in hilariously over-acted English. Unfortunately this version has a couple of bugs and some cut content, so if you want the full experience you’ll need to brush up on your kanji and pay for cross-Pacific shipping. It’s a horror game utterly unlike any other franchise, and it belongs in every fear-monger’s library if only to show your friends you own a game which makes Resident Evil‘s voice acting look positively Shakespearean by contrast.
3) Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (DS)
Did you play Elite Beat Agents? Did you ever wish there were more games like it? Well, wish granted, gamer. Welcome to the world of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, (Go! Fight! Cheer Squad!). I picked the sequel Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (Let’s Go! Hot-Blooded Rhythm Spirit: Go! Fight! Cheer Squad 2) just as an excuse to type out that absurdly long title several times, but really you can consider both of these games to be excellent import choices. If you can play Elite Beat Agents, then you can play both of these without knowing a smidgen of Japanese and still laugh your ass off, something I can’t really say about the previous two entries.
The premise is the same as EBA: in Japan, when people get into trouble and need a little morale boost, the Cheer Squad is there offering encouraging words of wisdom, terrible puns, and killer dance moves to save the day. The second game in the series introduces a rival Cheer Squad into the mixture, four-player competitive play, Rumble Pak support, and (of course) a bunch of new problems to solve via the power of music and positive thinking, but both it and the original are well worth importing if you enjoy rhythm-style games and are relatively inexpensive to add to your library. They’re simple carts with tons of replay value, something every gamer should agree is worth at least taking a chance upon.
Well, that’s my list. Now it’s time to do your part: subscribe to MichaelB’s channel, and post your response videos and comments about which three import titles you think belong in everybody’s library. We’ll be back next week with another Top 3 Tuesday–until then, remember to keep those cameras rolling and always fight for justice so that a winner is you!!