You’re playing what?

 

Gamestyle Archive intro: in a collection of files from 2001 a mysterious ‘article 1’ resided but what is it? This was a journey into a uniquely Japanese gaming experience in the form of Sentimental Graffiti on the Sega Saturn. At Gamestyle we were fans of games no matter the genre or language barrier – completing Shenmue in Japanese is a memorable example. As for Sentimental Graffiti, well, enjoy.

Sentimental Graffiti

Welcome to the part in our new feature “You’re Playing What? “  Where we will be looking into the weird and wonderful world of extreme Japanese games.   We felt that it was about time someone acknowledged and provided an insight into some of these far out titles that we will never see.   In recent years some unusual games have made their way across to the UK – Beatmania and Samba De Amigo being good examples.  Neither may have sold in vast quantities or been popular with the press but it gave us an opportunity at least to try something different.

Throughout the series we will be covering the whole spectrum of Japanese titles from the unusual simulations (dating, girlfriend, horses, train driving, buses) to just plain wacky Japanese madness i.e. Godzilla games.   No doubt the majority deserve to be kept inside Japan but we may just be missing out on that new experience we all crave.   Here at Gamestyle we pride ourselves on going the full distance and if that means playing a 100% Japanese text and audio game to sample something different to bring it to you, then so be it.   Call us mad, call us crazy, call us any name under the sun – you might just learn something.

The first game we’ve gone for is the daddy of the girlfriend/dating/love simulations, Sentimental Graffiti, a long established series in Japan with many teenage, adolescent and no doubt adult fans.   The game was designed by Marcus and published by NEC for the Sega Saturn in 1997 and came as a two disk set.   It is unusual in this genre as it involves travelling and budgeting.   The team at Marcus has apparently researched and created all twelve girls as each one has their own personality, statistics, preferences, zodiac sign, appearance and theme song.

The booklet that accompanies the game is very detailed and each girl is described by the following categories: height, size, birth date, blood type, likes, dislikes, city, school, seat, year, colour, hobbies, work, school club, skills, subjects and semester dates.   Its quite obvious that each girl fits a particular stereotype to attract a certain kind of male for instance Miyuki is your artistic type, Wakana is more traditional, Kaho is sporty, Chie is a rock chick and so on.   No doubt anyone playing the game should be able to pick a personal favourite as all the possible bases and tastes are covered.   It is worthwhile to do this early, as soon enough you won’t be able to cope with all the phone calls and requests for dates.   There are few gaming characters that offer such a wealth of information and although it’s serious to the fans, looking at four examples listed below its hard not to laugh.

Asuka Hoshino

Likes: parades, crowds.

Dislikes: sedate activities.

Hobbies: checking out the latest trends in magazines and on television.

 

Chie Matsuoka

Likes: 70s to 80s British Rock and Baroque style music.

Dislikes: popular music.

Hobbies: performing Baroque music and British Rock live.

Emiru Nagakura

Likes: Occult books and related stories.

Dislikes: real Occult phenomena.

Hobbies: Fortune telling, visiting spiritual places and pc communication.

 

Manaimi Sugihara

Likes: quiet beaches, birds, poetry collections.

Dislikes: noise.

Hobbies: bathing in forests, bird watching, reading poetry.

Skills: communicating with animals.

The story unfolds as you during the spring break of your final high school year receive a letter that does not contain the senders name or address.   The letter contains the following:

“ Do you still remember the first day we met?  The time we spent together? The memories that we shared?   The  promise unforgotten?   I want to see you again.”

It turns out that our character in the game has moved across Japan throughout his high school years and met twelve girls during this time.   The game involves you travelling across Japan, locating the girls, reminiscing, falling in love and trying to identify the sender of the letter.   As it states on the cd “You may open the twelve doors of sweet loneliness.”

Static and blurred photographs (no doubt real life) act as the background to the text as you explore the various cities on Japan.   With all the work that has gone into the girls I think that they forgot about the gameplay and locations.  It doesn’t take that long to find your girl in each location and it does seem fairly linear at first.   The girls themselves are animated and express all types of emotions with the help of specially recorded audio; god knows what they are saying though!    As you meet each girl you take notes on the experience before moving onto the next location.   Travelling between the actual cities is done by various methods of transportation – air, hitch hiking, bus, boat, various types of trains etc. however all you see is an actual photograph i.e. bus and appropriate sound effect.   The game has an inbuilt clock and calendar with the night and day scenario affecting your chances of meeting a girl.   If you arrive in a city overnight you can walk the streets however it is best to arrange lodgings and you can choose from the campsite (free), Japanese equivalent of B&B (2000) or a hotel (5000).   As you only have a certain amount of yen it is worth considering your options and work takes up valuable time but sleeping rough (campsite) doesn’t seem to affect your chances of pulling the next day.   The information on each girl, lists the dates of her school year and you must therefore plan your travelling within the budget while meeting all the girls.   The trick is apparently not to force the issue with repeat visits as the girls will think of you by not seeing them via the memory system which Marcus has programmed into the game.  I wish it were like that in real life.

I’ve included my notes and thoughts from an evenings play to give you the some insight into the game below.

It’s late at night in Sendai when I load up my last saving point, decide to hitch hike back home and catch a lift from a kind lorry driver.   At home the following morning I telephone Emiru and we chat and joke for a while.   We make a date to meet the next day but I’m not sure which city she lives in, so that will probably be missed – unless I’m lucky.   Referring back to my character notes and character map (in the game) it turns out she lives in Sendai, so I promptly turn around and head back north or I would have if I had any money left.   Instead I hitch hike (same lorry driver) to Yokohama, looks like I’ll be in Emiru’s bad books!   Anyway there are 11 other girls out there!   I drop by the tearoom where Yuu works; she seems embarrassed and blushes when she talks to me.   Sleep at a campsite and in the morning visit the amusement park, nothing happening in this town so I return home.   Hitch hike (yes same lorry driver) and find myself in the traditional town of Takamatsu late at night, campsite again.   I meet Manami who is in the park feeding the birds, she is very happy to see me but she’s not my type.   Even though I’ve got some cash I decide to hitch hike and end up in Osaka.   I really want Sendai to apologise to Emiru, perhaps later then.   I’ve been here previously and meet up with Rurika once again in the restaurant she cooks at.   We get on well and she seems happy to see me once again, perhaps she wrote this bloody letter?   The next day I travel to Kyoto and visit Wakana then catch the bus home.   Message from a girl on my answering machine but don’t know what she said or whom it was from, good excuse – I only speak English!   I phone Kaho and make a date for 5th April, then phone Manami and make a date for 19th April – a man likes to keep busy!   I then speak with Emiru and no doubt feed her some story, getting me off the hook.   I visit her the next day, 8 days after I should have – got a reputation for lateness to uphold.  I meet her in the park and move onto a restaurant, and then she gets angry with me.   After more chitchat I have to options to give her (don’t know what they are) we then go shopping (this is just like real life) and out for the evening.

As you can see the game involves planning, budgets, and time keeping, saying and doing the right things.   While the language is a very big barrier I have found the game to be enjoyable and funny, perhaps because I’ve never played anything like it before.   Of course if this was a review I would slate it for graphics and audio but there is no doubt some depth on offer here.

The series is very popular in Japan spawning sequels, television and radio shows, fan clubs and events, music cd’s, figures and other merchandising.   It seems that each fan has their own favourite girl and spend vast amounts of time and money collecting everything they can.   Concerts and handshake events have been held in Japan attracting large numbers and devotees mob the actresses who put their voices to the characters.

Would a game such as this work in the West?   In its current form no, most gamers in the west prefer 3d graphics and Sentimental Graffiti looks like an 8-bit title in this regard.   With the promise of a new version on a 128bit console we can perhaps look forward to an improvement but the games’ strongest point (the girls) would have to be altered considerably for a Western release.   The only way to experience this game at the present time is to have a Saturn that can play imports and of course a copy of the game – if you can find one.   It was ported over to the pc in Japan soon after the Saturn release but in both cases it is rarely seen.

Gamestyle are offering you the chance to win a mint copy of the game.   All you need to do is email us with your reason why you would want to play such a game – best or funniest wins Sentimental Graffiti!   Remember you do need to have a Saturn that is chipped for imports or own a converter cartridge.   Winner will be announced at the end of April. (competition now closed)

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