Welcome to Import Horizons at GameCritics.com. Savvy gamers are aware of the gaming scene in Japan, but language, access and playability have been the bane of those looking for diverse titles from the East. Some games are so culturally idiosyncratic that players often give up in frustration. This semi-regular feature will bridge that gap with advice for those looking to import, and those curious to the world of gaming in Japan.
GameCritics.com will view both the import-friendly titles and those obscure "only-in-Japan" creations. Since we're just warming up I'll go easy on you with the very accessible, Capcom's PN.03 for the Nintendo GameCube.
Some import games don't need much in way of translation. Take Capcom's shooter, PN.03. No complex set up needed, no epic story to follow, just turn it on and you're ready. You flash in like Terminator on a barren planet and find yourself in trouble from the word, "iku". ("go")
Let's talk about the controls. Many import game sites and Japan's Famitsu reviews have deemed the control in PN.03 as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
But the control isn't "bad...just not fully intuitive. In other words, Vanessa Z. Schneider (your sexy guide through this shooting madness) needs to dance. She must dance or little kittens will die. Whatever the reason, Vanessa must dance. Thus, the controls are built for...wait for it now...Vanessa to dance.
This is where the other three horsemen arrive. Movement and view are done via the same control scheme. You run forward with the analog stick (you don't walk in PN.03), but let's say, god forbid, you want to view around (since being shot in the back isn't the best way to figure that out), you will need to stop, then use the same direction analog stick to pivot your view.
The result; Vanessa has a small but noticeable pause between maneuvers. You're mission is to master this control scheme of character first, gamer second. The camera is fixed behind Vanessa, so you're always facing the enemy. Not bad until you discover nobody is interested in standing around like a shooting gallery.
Early in the game you can follow the incoming laser fire as your guide—since the enemy will spot you first. But the learning curve is quick, and when it clicks together you will dance to their beat. Fighting will look like ballet and flashing lasers become part of the music video. Gamers need to master timing their attacks to Vanessa's dance routines, which can linger a bit after her special attacks.
But this is a shooter, so stop your whining. Let's view PN.03 from that perspective.
No field maps. The only HUD is your health and "specials" gauge. Yet the game is basically a dungeon crawl in this semi-labyrinth consisting of 6 to 21 rooms per level. At least the enemy doesn't resurrect each time you prance through the same area, but an overhead map would have made navigation a breeze.
No enemy radar. Your score is tallied when you clear the room of evil robots (called CAMS = Computerized Armed Machine System). Scoring is based on the number of kills and the time getting to the exit door. But without radar, or even a simple counter, you have no idea if you're done. Thus, your bonus ticks away in a sea of confusion. Fortunately, each level offers a "trial mode" where you can optimize your battle plan before the "real" mission.
The target system kicks in automatically when enemies are near. A green icon with a health gauge appears over the opponent. Toast that enemy and a small timer ticks down (about 6 seconds, or so). Kill more targets within that time and you can create "combo" points for a bonus. Use points to buy, upgrades, continues, and new armor called, Aegis suits. Each suit is color themed with a unique attack.
Vanessa has no melee attacks. Just like Samus, in Metroid Prime, this girl is all about the shooting. And don't be prissy about it, because a few one-hit kill machines are floating around. These weapons use a GIANT laser (looks like a freakin' spotlight!) step into that and its lights out for your swinging hips. The game begins simple but turns brutal, so learn the attack patterns or memorize the "game over" screen. Game time will be short in "easy" mode, but "normal" will separate the men from the boys.
So what's the word from Japan? Can I import this? Yes, this is very import friendly. If you're waiting for a thumb burner like Gunvalkyrie, or Gungrave, then PN.03 is looking for space on your shelf. Language is not an issue since all the menus are in English. Nothing will interfere with the play mechanics, or your mission goal. Voice acting is minimal and also in English. Catch it cheap, rent, or wait for the US version, but don't miss it. Nobody swings it like Vanessa Z. Schneider. Even when she dies she tumbles to the floor with more style than Space Channel 5's, Ulala.