Game Description: Try to save your village from a swarm of giant insects in Jade Cocoon: The Story of Tamamayu. Your goal is simple: you must travel through the forests surrounding your town and capture over 150 different monsters. When you capture a monster, you can either sell it for cash or train it to fight for you. If you want to combine the elements of particular monsters, breed them and create the ultimate weapon. Only you can save your village in Jade Cocoon: The Story of Tamamayu.
If you innovate, they will copy. This take on the famous line from Field Of Dreams is one of life's universal truths. Whenever something new or special is released onto the market, there will always be someone leaping at the chance to capitalize on it with his or her own incarnation. At times, a copy or, rather, a derivative idea can wind up taking on a life of its own and spawning even more clones. A case in point is Virtua Fighter. It took its cue from Capcom's Street Fighter and became the first 3D fighting game on the market at a time when no one believed gamers wanted one. Now it is the standard by which all 3D fighting games are and will be judged. In our case, shortly after the phenomenon known as Pokémon hit the market, developers locked themselves away trying to create a Pokémon of their own. The developers at Genki were no different in that thinking except that they focused on releasing a more ambitious product centering more on the RPG aspect of Pokémon that their peers ignored. Instead of a straight copy, they strove for a game that could stand on its own.
As successful as Pokémon was, it has always lacked a compelling story or the sophisticated graphics to hold the interest of older players. Genki took notice and when they produced Jade Cocoon (JC), they intended to come through in a big way. Genki abandons Pokémon's large sprawling story line (with a multitude of side stories) for one that could best be described as quaint. The entire games takes place within the vicinity of the village that the main character, Levant, starts from. There is no dire world crisis that must be averted here and the focus is certainly not of the science fiction variety found in, say, the Final Fantasy series. It's a simple story of a young man trying to find a cure for a sleep curse that has afflicted his village's people.
Another break from the norm is the "backdrop." As I said, the story takes place near his village and never loses its inviting, old-world feel. There are no vehicles or high-tech weapons to deal with here, as the Syrian people haven't yet moved past the Bronze Age. And there is an extraordinary amount of folklore and myth mixed into the game. JC pulls the player in with some of the most intricate folklore I've come across and the best thing about it is its believability. This one aspect of the game could warrant a review all by itself, but I'm going to have to leave it at applauding Genki's effort to make it effective for the player. Their use of deep narration and stellar voice-acting made real all their myths and customs. My favorite characters, the elder Gavai, and the gravekeeper told their stories so wonderfully that I was always entertained as I sat through a tale or two. It was certainly one of the finest parts of the game.
But creating such a believable "history" for a world wouldn't mean anything if the final product doesn't look the part. JC jumps ahead of the pretenders with superb graphics. The artists at Genki managed to create some of the most beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds I've seen in a video game. Everything reflects the time and care that's gone into it. From the detailed villages and homes to the exotic forest foliage and landscape. I couldn't help but marvel at some of the screens I was in because of the remarkable detail. I'm not exaggerating when I say it graphically rivals the works of bigger RPG developers like Square and Enix. Worthy of note is that Genki abandoned the 2D bitmap characters as well as the super-deformed look that I've been used to seeing in RPGs these days. Instead, they have embraced realistically-scaled 3D models that fit in with their environments and move around it seamlessly. It's a welcome change from what I saw in Star Ocean and Final Fantasy VII.
As with any innovation, there are some remnants of the familiar and JC is no different. JC couldn't hide from its Pokémon roots and didn't always build on them either. I wasn't fooled when I learned that the little monsters I would collect were called minions and that their pokeballs were called cocoons. But it really was something to try the new technique indigenous to JC. I'm talking about the ability to create new minions through merging. That means I could take any two minions, merge them together, and wind up with a brand new minion that has the strengths and hopefully not the same weaknesses of the previous two. It seemed like a minor addition at first, but once I tried it I was hooked. Any monster I found, I merged with another monster in my collection. The combinations were wild and I really got caught up in creating the ultimate creatures to kick butt with.
However, JC fails to exploit the minion angle. First off, the minions can be pretty ugly. That's a realistic direction they took but it doesn't matter to the kids who would have snapped it up if the minions were all as cute as Pikachu and his Pokémon buddies. Also, their names aren't nearly as creative and easy to remember. Again, this just serves to keep the kids away. Maybe they were trying to it distance themselves from being a total Pokémon clone, but Genki failed to take advantage of one of Pokémon strengths: battling monsters. As I said before, I loved merging minions but the simple two-player tournament mode was just lacking. And it was really a let down when I realized I couldn't trade minion data. I was dying to try my hand at one of Chi's merged minions, but alas I couldn't do anything to facilitate that.
In the end, Jade Cocoon could have been more. Not a whole lot more, to be honest, but it was not very well polished in the minion area and that reduced its score. But there is truly something to be said for even faint originality and by taking a genre in another direction, Genki is an excellent example of a developer taking that route. JC is a successful hybrid, it's RPG and monster collecting bundled into a beautiful package. It holds the charm and old-world feel that has been lacking in contemporary RPGs and mixes them quite well with the popular Pokémon craze. I think that JC should be awarded more credit for what it is: an innovative twist on an innovative idea that stands up pretty well all on its own.
I agree with most of what Dale said, but I think he doesn't give enough credit to JC where it really shines, which is the incredible craftsmanship that was devoted to it. The graphics and animation are well executed, between the rendered 3D polygon images (real-time and pre-rendered) and the hand-rendered anime distinct character designs that feel more Miyazaki-esque (rather than the typically over sexed goo-goo dolls that normally populate Japanese games). The sound and music also retain the primitive backwaters village style set forth in graphics, making for a much more cohesive presentation unlike the visually muddled Star Ocean: The Second Story. JC, in terms of its visual and aural aesthetics, is clearly on par with any recent RPG entry.
The background plot is very complex and richly detailed, yet logically silly the way folklore typically is. I could tell that much careful attention was given to the setting and story. This, in turn, not only made me gravitate more toward the game, but my devotion to the story didn't seem cheaply spent either. It's also brilliant the way historical myths were unfolded to me via the elders of the village in a verbal storytelling session. The story elements are only furthered enhanced by some of the finest voice acting in a game that quickly garnered my attention.
In terms of actual gameplay, JC isn't quite the sprawling trek that most RPGs represent. Instead, traveling is minimized through menus and plot devices that enable quick entry to particular areas. There is some exploration, but the main focus still resides on combating and capturing monsters (as Dale already mentioned, unoriginally dubbed Minions). Combining various monsters in order to reach higher peaks of combat prowess is a fun and often addictive experience. And while the Minions don't have nearly as much personality as Pokémon do, I still found myself engaged in the process of training and evolving my Minions. This is definitely not a shameless rip-off of the Pokémon concept and it takes only a few combinations of Minions to realize that serious detail in the process was not sacrificed.
It's too bad that the JC's focus largely remains on a single village which makes for a well streamlined and efficient design, but comes up feeling positively underwhelming. Add to that the fact that Crave Entertainment didn't devote much marketing resource (the game barely registered on my radar when it was released), the game was released rather uneventfully and, hence, destined to be a sleeper hit. It's too bad that such a well-crafted game gets largely done in by not being hyped and thrust into the forefront of public conscious the way I feel it richly deserves.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence, Mild Language
Jade Cocoon: The Story of Tamamayu is a hybrid RPG. There is the RPG element for some gamers and the monster-collecting/training side for Pokémon fans. But you must know that the RPG is of the short variety; we're talking about 15 hours of gameplay. It's sort of RPG-lite and I can't stress enough that it gives a good show, but it's not filling. It may be just enough for fans still waiting for Final Fantasy VIII and Legend of Mana. For Pokémon fans, the minion angle in Jade Cocoon: The Story of Tamamayu is not as exploitative of the monster-collecting as Pokémon is.