So youíre in a store one day and find yourself in front of something youíve really wanted to buy for a long time, but right now its just that little bit out of your price range. You pace about in front of the item for several minutes, wondering how to tackle this tricky situation. Do you:
a) Toss a coin.
b) Leave and wait for it to come down in price.
c) Take off all your clothes in front of the manager and attempt to tease him into selling you the item for a discount with one of your hypnotic dances.
If you chose the last option, then youíre probably Ebisumaru (formerly Dr.Yang); the legendary campy co-star of the Mystical Ninja for Nintendo 64. Youíre also one of the greatest characters ever to rise in videogames, and more than a little creepy. Seriously, creepier than thirty-five year old man wearing tights and pretending heís a fairy creepy. Like Goemon says, sometimes I worry about you. And please, stop doing that thing where you lie down on your back, but just crawl like a normal person. You look like youíre trying to hump the air in front of you. Lets get on with the piece.
Some things are better off not knowing. Like what he's going to do with that paddle.
Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of influences that led me to Japan. Pokťmon was the overpowering force which introduced me to animť, and of course, an unwavering passion for Nintendo consoles taught me that the Mecca from which all my desires were realized resided somewhere in the east. The Mystical Ninja however, was the first thing which made me really get close enough to touch that true feel of Japan as Iíd always perceived it. From the cherry blossoms to tatami rugs; from music to the overall wackiness of it all, the game positively radiated with an overriding sense of the orient, one that Iíd been looking for since those early days of Pikachu and Mario. It was a young japanophiles dream come true, and it will always be a mystery as to how on earth this game ever got granted a release outside of its native territory, especially considering the western Super Nintendo only got one of the four Mystical Ninja games that were developed.
If I were to put it to anything, Iíd say that Konami were hoping to have their 3D adventure make worthy competition for Nintendoís Super Mario 64. The similarities between the two were obvious: both were old franchises played out for the first time in three dimensions, and both stood out from the rest of the pack as being very brightly coloured. And then, well, thatís about it as far as comparisons can be made, these games are entirely different beasts. Mario is all about flicking your virtual counterpart around open worlds with total freedom in mind; try doing that to Goemon and heíll probably end up vomiting just off screen from where the dodgy camera will allow you to see. Want to make Mario jump into a giant robot on roller skates and crush all your enemies in one mighty assault though, and, well yeah you canít do that. This is not a platform game, but an RPG, more in the vein of Zelda than anything Nintendo had out on their 64 bit machine at the time. Its about settings, and getting into the role of your characters as they journey on through trial and peril to save their world. What a journey it was.
The plot goes as follows. There is this *evil* group of alien Japanese warlords who want to use their stage to turn the entire of Nippon into one gigantic musical number. It is up to Goemon and his friends to travel across the world and stop them from doing this. Oh, and also the stage is in a gigantic floating peach.
Iíll let you take that in for just a second.
Spring Breeze Dancin' and Kitty Lily. Want to descent the world into turmoil and suffereing by... dancing?
Okay, so thereís one main thing that strikes me as odd with this gameís plot, and that is, why on earth, would anybody in the right mind, want to actually stop the world from becoming the biggest musical ever made? If that were to happen, it would possibly be the greatest thing to have come to pass in all of history ever! If Jesus were to have made everyone singing and dancing instead of showing-off walking on water it would have probably brought world peace in an instant! Itís the answer to this question that leads up to the games hilarious ending, and itís the follow-up which crafted some of the best songs to ever be heard in a game. My fifteen year old mind was blown when I bore witness to Glorious My Stage for the first time. A Japanese lyrical song in an English game? No way, isnít this stuff supposed to get translated? But no, everything remains authentic from the sounds you hear to its surrealist humour. Thereís even a joke thrown in there about Goemonís fashionable pipe: Iíve no idea why that one didnít catch on. If you wanted a taste of the land of the rising sun back in 1998 without actually going there, this was your cheapest ticket.
Goemon and the disturbingly awesome Ebisumaru make up only half of the main playable characters across this game, the other two being lady ninja (or kunoichi for those in the know) Yae, and the robotic Sasuke, who also help you to save the world from peace and awesomeness. As action RPG lore dictates, each of these characters must have different abilities which can be manipulated in varying ways to reach the end of the game. All except Ebisumaru really, whose just a bit funny to look at.
The mystical ninja of the title can clock enemies on the head with his pipe, while his campy friend flails around with a mallet, bashing whatever comes his way. Itís a bit wimpy at the beginning, but before long youíll get to the real good weapons which make combat much more generous. After recharging Sasukeís batteries youíll get to fight with his kunai and grenade attacks, but my personal favourite has to be Yaeís ninja sword. That thing cuts enemies clean in two, accompanied by the most satisfying of shing sounds. Instead of watching the bad guys explode into a cloud of dust and stars, heads will separate from bodies in quite a violent fashion, and youíll find yourself more and more actively seeking out monsters that you can do it to. Once youíve had Yae, you wont go back. Her special ability to turn into a mermaid is pretty cool, but the cherry on top is her magic flute, which summons a blue dragon to take you to anywhere you want to go on the map. She would be the real star of this game, if it wasnít for one other.
That is, the ever smiling, ever cheerful, ever utterly destructive Goemon Impact. An Evangelion sized monster in the form of our spiky haired hero, who will occasionally be summoned upon to do battle with other, more evil giant robots. Why? Because everyone in Japan who wants to take over the world has an unnecessarily large mechanical effigy by their side. Its just sense. Stomping over cities doesnít even take much effort, all the player has to do in these sequences is hit the attack button and occasionally jump over random holes. Then its bye-bye pagodas and lovely Japanese houses. The end of the run is the real treat though, as youíre given a first person view from the cockpit and have to defeat another mech, using missiles, your powerful left and right hook, as well as your hookshot like chain pipe to reel them closer to you. Its like a boxing game, but in the future. But not really, because its set in Edo Japan. And with robots.
You have to wonder, why didn't he just summon Impact closer to that guy. At least then he wouldn't have crushed half the city.
As satisfying as it is to punch the mechanical daylights out of your enemies machine, the best thing about Impact was its theme song. When Goemon is transported inside the beast, the same epic Japanese man sings the same epic theme music, every single time. True to the animť fashion its trying to invoke, this time is taken to show off the creation in every aspect from every angle, complete with searing orange-yellow bright rotating sun shot with Impact in front at the end. Short of some speed lines, the scene is delivered perfectly. It really has to be seen and heard.
Iíve touched upon the music a little bit with the theme songs, but now Iíd like to really gush about the stuff thatís actually in the main bulk of the game. Its simply marvelous, and a perfect accompaniment to the geography youíll travel across. The bouncy tunes first heard as you begin in Oedo Town bring quite the lovely introduction, where my personal favourite, the mellow melody played high in the snowy peaks of Festival Village really bring the sense of something deeper. Itís a more powerful feeling as the music fits the scene, when the scene is set in the regions of Japan itself. Finding out youíre actually wandering along Kyushu reinforces the hold into its amazing world, for now, you know that this is real. You can get lost in its tracks, and its visuals, and its mythology, as you find yourself immersed in a world of tall mountains, dragons and beautiful temples to occupy. A sense of adventure, waiting to happen.
So those darn Peach Mountain boys and their nefarious schemes to turn the world into one big performance, how you gonna beat them? Travel the world with a band of heroes, collecting the miracle items that will save the day? Or you could just bribe an old sage to build you a super weapon with car magazines, hey, it worked for the bad guys! Just make sure that your antagonist, Spring Breeze Danciní wont be danciní for much longer. Give that old laugh track of his a good kick, and make sure he never serenades us with one of his enchanting melodies ever again. Then the world will be at peace once more, right? Thatís what you want isnít it?
This is a great game to play for anyone who loves Japanese culture. As a young kid who hadnít been exposed to much of it before, this game really had a great impact on me, and pushed my desire to learn about the countryís language and traditions. Even without that push though, its still a brilliant videogame; one which is far too surreal to miss out on experiencing. It started me on a learning journey, and to the day I continue to learn about the beautiful land which surrounded its creation. Play it, I guarantee youíll find something worth having out of this game.
Well, thereís a limited edition copy of Killzone 2 in town thatís a little overpriced for me; time to employ some hypnotic tactics, courtesy of my good friend Ebi. I hope I donít get arrested.
Oh, and birthday wishes to resident japanophile Collete! Have a good one and stuff!