In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
It’s an unproven (though entirely possible) fact that I must be one of only a handful of people who has ever played Koukai Sarena Katta Shuki: The Note and likely one of an even fewer number of people who own an original copy. That should make me one smug, self-indulgent, smiley faced bunny.
Well, except it really doesn’t.
You see, The Note was released by everyone’s favourite...Sunsoft! The same people who brought you Hard Edge!
Yes, that game.
The Note has everything going for it on paper and yet that’s where all the ideas stay. There’s a brilliant back-story that never gets told, some FPS/adventure hybrid that never fleshes out its influences and an intriguing lighting mechanic that becomes one of the most annoying ‘quirks’ I have ever had the displeasure of playing.
I should have seen the warning signs after Sunsoft’s usual tactic of printing three tiny screenshots and a ton of multi-language blurbs on the back of the box.
The story goes that three teenagers go to a spooky European mansion. After sending pictures back of wandering ghouls to one girl’s mother, they promptly disappear. The mother hires an occult journalist called Akira, who is apparently just a successful hoaxer. So he, along with his assistant Angela, travel all the way to the spooky mansion in a vague European territory (thanks for the specifics, Sunsoft) to rescue the kids.
On arrival, they’re tricked into acquiring a ‘soul stone’ for a creature called Necromeda. Paulo, the mansion’s owner, shows up and tells the journalists that he’s trying to trap the spirits there; though it must be hell on his home insurance when you think about it. So Akira and Angela have to rescue the kids while helping Paulo for reasons that get lost in translation. They don’t even fight the main bad guy in the end; that’s how muddled it gets.
The Note has so many events that have happened or happening off-screen, that you’re seemingly coasting along on the leftovers. Personally, the idea of the main protagonist being a fraudster who finally redeems himself with real encounters is ripe for exploration.
In the game however, Akira sees a woman change into a ghost thing and he just shrugs it off. Even his assistant is more concerned about the “weird”, yet friendly, mansion owner than the aggressive paranormal floating monster doling out death threats.
Yes, Angela is a character who sets the Women’s Rights Movement back about a hundred years.
As far as Sunsoft are concerned, if you want characterisation, go and read a book; which probably explains why the manual has more text than the bloody game. Then again, with witty dialogue like this:
Akira: !?... Her soul stone…? Do you mean the red stone? Paulo: Yes, the red stone you found. The stone contains her soul.
It completely reminds me of this:
The Note is a rare cross between an adventure game and a crude FPS shooter. You move around the mansion and a nearby castle in a first person view, looking for keys and solving puzzles. The areas you enter are ridiculously dark, so you have to open window curtains and light candles. This way you can search for items that were hidden in darkness and to keep monsters at bay.
While the idea of using repellent light wouldn’t be used again until years later (ObsCure, Alone in the Dark and Alan Wake), it’s not exactly well implemented here. The Note goes by a pseudo-real time clock (every ten minutes equals an hour) and every six hours you have to relight certain areas to stop creatures re-spawning. You don’t have to light every lamp you come across, but you’ll find yourself constantly juggling the fixtures as you perform numerous back tracking tasks.
Hey Sunsoft, why don’t you give me some plates to spin while you’re at it?
The only way you can stock up on supplies is by leaving the mansion area through the front door and buy items from the local town; as represented by one static pre-rendered screen. You gain extra cash from selling items found on your kills. There’s also a hotel you can stay at, but it’s completely pointless; especially in a videogame where urgency is a priority.
It becomes really annoying later on when you have to give oil to Angela every few hours and you spend precious time running back into town to pick up extra cans before you can even think about exploring.
Yes, this game tests your patience.
Even the controls become needlessly fiddly to the point where you need to tattoo the ever changing commands on your arms every two minutes like you were Guy Pearce in Memento.
You see, there are more commands and items than buttons and you constantly have to use menus to assign short cuts. The essentials will always be ‘shotgun’, ‘match’, ‘check’ and ‘open’, so why they didn’t just incorporate specific actions within examinations or reloading automatically with a gun is beyond me.
Oh, want to shoot that bird with a man’s face?
Okay, well don’t forget that triangle and cross is to look up and down, while the centre of the screen is probably where the non-existent reticule is aiming. Oh too late, since you move like a tank, you’re now dead.
I don’t even know where to start with the fact that your eyelids close up when you take more hits. So if you’re not quick enough, you can spend one simple battle looking through a third of the whole screen.
How was this even a good idea in the first place?!
I have to admit, this game is tough.
It’s like literally throwing a baby into the deep end of a swimming pool. It never tells you what to do, where to go or how to solve a certain puzzle. If you don’t go through the right door at the very beginning, you’ll miss the shotgun and end up dead within minutes. Unless you read up beforehand, you don’t really know why light is so important in this game.
At least with Hard Edge, Sunsoft put their name to a game that knew it was a cheap cash-in on survival horror’s zeitgeist. With Unpronounceable Forgettable Bit: The Note, there was obviously a better game in pre-production before it was all cut, along with Akira’s suspiciously missing cigarette in the PAL version. As it stands, the game is only memorable when it frustrates the hell out of you.