I had more or less forgotten completely that the PS1 RPG Jade Cocoon existed until a recent cblog post from Dtoid community member Ckarasu. One look at the cover, and a literal flood of memories came spilling back about how much time I spent on this game. I also played it long before I ever saw a Hayao Miyazaki film, and I remember later recognizing Katsuya Kondō's work in Kiki's Delivery Service and thinking "That reminds me of those characters from Jade Cocoon..."
It wasn't only the art I found memorable, though. Jade Cocoon also presented a very unique story, placing you in the role of a Cocoon Master with the task of capturing creatures and purifying them to put them to good use. With its lush setting of overgrown forests, it quickly captured my attention when it was released back in 1999, but would this one be worth going back to? Hit the jump and I'll tell you what I think.
Title: Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu
Publisher: Ubisoft, Crave
Platform: PlayStation 1
Speaking of Miyazaki films, if you've ever seen either of his eco-classics, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind or Princess Mononoke, the feel of Jade Cocoon will seem familiar to you. The story takes place in a world closely packed with forests, and within them dwell monsters call Minions. You play the role of Levant, a young man training to become a Cocoon Master, whose job it is to capture and "purify" these Minions. By doing so, you can use the Minions for a variety of purposes, including training them to fight for you, fusing them to form stronger Minions, or spinning them into silk for money (doing the last thing always made me feel a bit guilty).
You are introduced to Levant in the start of the game as he meets and is defeated by a mysterious man in a dream world. Soon after, the village that Levant lives in is attacked by a swarm of insects called Onibubu. They leave the residents of the village under a sleeping spell. As the Cocoon Master, it is Levant's job to protect the village, so he must venture out into the forest and try to find the source of the trouble in hopes of undoing this curse.
After being wed to Mahbu (and talk about bad timing for a wedding -- hey honey, I love you, now I'm off to the forest to be mauled by bugs), Levant heads into the Beetle Forest, which is the first of four surrounding forests that you will explore during the course of the game. There is a blue Cocoon Master in this forest named Koris that will teach Levant the basics of fighting and capturing Minions. Koris will help you out more later too, but he wants you to prove yourself by exploring the forest a bit first and trying out your handy new skills. Eventually he'll tell you about an herb that can sure the sleeping villagers called the Calabas Herb, and from here on out it'll be your job to locate it.
Fighting and capturing monsters is probably going to feel a little bit like a Pokemon game to you if you've ever played one. Of course, Jade Cocoon presents the mechanic in a much more mature setting. The possibilites of what you can create with the Minions you capture seems endless (there are about 150 Minions to find!), and much like the Persona and Devil Summoner games, there's a lot of fun just mashing together random beasties and seeing what you come up with.
Now, I won't ruin any more of the story for you, but I will tell you that once you complete the game, you unlock a special feature called The Eternal Corridor. The corridor is comprised of a series of randomly generated rooms that each split into two paths. Only one of these two paths leads to the end of the room, which will either sound to you like a challenge or an exercise in maddening futility. You will also meet wild Minions as you go, which can be captured and may also drop "skins" which you can use when fusing Minions to alter their appearances. Also, new items become available in the shop once you are able to set foot in the Eternal Corridor, such as the ridiculously expensive Icicle sword.
Jade Cocoon's pre-rendered backgrounds were gorgeous by 1999's standards, and even though they look dated now, it's still easy to see the reason why this game was stunningly gorgeous in it's prime. The soundtrack, composed by Kimitaka Matsumae, also perfectly fit the dark and mysterious aura of the cloaked world Levant explores (and I highly recommend it for any fan of game soundtracks).
Of course, once you get away from the lovely backdrops and into actual battles, Jade Cocoon suffers the same fate as many PS one games did -- it just looks kind of blocky and ugly, especially in comparison to the PS2 sequel that came along a few years later. On the other hand, the sequel is a LOT less dark, so if it's atmosphere you're looking for you may want to just suck up the blocky graphics and give the original a try.
Jade Cocoon was really different in comparison to the other RPGs around it at the time of its release, and I still think there's a lot to be said for it's interesting story and gameplay. On the other hand, having to repeat some of the dungeons and the fairly straightforward turn based battles can get a little repetitive. Also, the controls suffer from that sticky feeling that titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill also suffered from. It's one of those RPGs that holds a fond place in my memory, but may not be something everyone will enjoy going back to.
>Attack: If an innovative story and lovely art far trumps the ability to control your character in an easy-to-move manner.
>Parry: If you stopped playing Resident Evil because the controls made you want to bash your head against the TV screen.