April 30, 2006 10:27 PM | Simon Carless
["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita from Sony. It was released in late 1998 for the PlayStation in Japan.]
The Pleasure of My Text
I’ve been hooked on interactive fiction for quite a while, and by extension adventure games. There are several of my unspellchecked text adventures haunting the net (which I won’t reveal, due to intense shame.) My bookshelf houses the Oulipo Reader, Cortazar’s Hopscotch and the excellent Twisty Little Passages, and I feel in every fiber of my being that Fahrenheit, er, I mean, The Indigo Prophecy is an excellent, evolutionary return to form, using the semantics of cinema to deepen the experience of narrative. But, my humble beginnings come from my A+ book report from the 2nd grade on Seaside Mystery, or its complete title: Choose Your Own Adventure #67: Seaside Adventure. This was the gateway drug to Infocom, to Sierra, and eventually Half-Life and beyond.
Choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA henceforth) is an interesting, not quite missing link in interactive fiction. Often pegged as juvenile, it’s true that CYOAs do often cater to the kinder-crowd, but its simplicity and influence often creep into new media. Laser discs (with a modicum of twitch), DVDs and even CDs got into the act (with special mention to a vinyl record by one Ken Nordine: Colors, which came with obfuscated directions for random access playing.) I digress; I blog. This weeks little gem from the East is Yarudora Series Vol. 3: Sampaguita. The former part of the title is a concatenation which expands and translates to “Drama that You Do.” The latter, Sampaguita, is a Sri Lankan flower. The game is an anime CYOA for the PlayStation 1. That drama and that adventure owe it all to their preceding pronouns.
Dark And Stormy Nights
The game casts you as generic, nice if a bit lonely, salary-man everyman. Walking home one dark and stormy night, the area is bristled in an eerie tension. Police patrol, the wind blows, and black puddles glower light, and an alleyway hides away a crying girl in beautiful pink dress. She has amnesia. You do the noble thing and take her home and tend to her wounds. From here on, anything can happen to cut this story short.
There are 20 bad endings, 5 normal and a scant 3 good to strive for. The whole game is animated in a queer letterbox frame, pushed to the top of the screen, and peppered with stills when the action slows down. Periodically the choices pop up, and here is where the game becomes fiendishly unfriendly for friends of imports: it randomizes the selections. You can’t map a flowchart of progression without memorizing the actual kanji, hiragana and katakana, with some options looking identical to the untrained eye. A lone walkthrough Romanizes some choices, allowing one to go syllable hunting for a good, or even a normal ending, though finding all the bad endings is by no means easy.
There’s a charm to the game regardless. It reminds me of watching the person to the left’s in-flight movie, with a glaring angle, crap resolution and no sound, (your PSP battery is dead, and you’ve already read this month’s Edge 4 times over) and trying to bend the movie to your will.
The plot is filled with action, snuggling, mysteries recovered, trips to arcades and a man named boy. Eventually a halo of flowers shows up, which I can only assume is the sampaguitas. Probably highly charged with mimetic energy. But to recall my cryptic and grammatically awkward mention of pronouns from above, it’s how the game handles you that is remarkable. Your choices may be few, but you only speak what you select. Your head is always cut off, or only the mouth is visible. The only time your eyes are revealed, is at the climax of the plot. And even then, your mouth is covered. This leads to interesting blocking and opens an interesting angle for those interested in inoculating the reader/viewer into the story. If any of this interests you, it seems Sony has ported it over to the PSP, so you can explore Maria’s dark past on your bullet train commute past Mt. Fuji.
[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]