Exploring Rice Digital – Japan’s indie game wonderland
Localisation specialist Zen United and publisher PQube’s indie portal venture, Rice Digital, launched last week. It offers up a variety show of Japanese indie, or ‘doujin’ PC games, a segment of the game industry both relatively unknown to international audiences and unfairly maligned. As our look at the first fully localised titles released through Rice Digital reveals, the doujin scene is one well worth your time and attention.
Cherry Tree High Comedy Club!
“Laugh and the world laughs with you” is this anime adventure’s tagline. Well, it’s better than being laughed at, which is what may be the initial response to this quirky slice of Japanese culture with its tale of a petition for a school comedy club. You’re tasked with recruiting members for the club by spending time with the denizens of Cherry Tree Town. Reading and interacting with the world skills-up your personality on specific topics and therefore your chatting knowledge and dialogue trees, which is the key to a successful recruiting drive with your charm offensive before the deadline (it’s a race against the clock, too, as the game features day/night cycles). The closest touchstone to CTHCC for a western player is Atlus’ seminal Persona 4, with its varied map that still feels intimate and cohesive. With Capcom’s name attached, the visuals are decidedly and joyously colourful and bombastic, too, making this a worthy, memorable timesink. That so text-heavy a game can be so engaging is testament to the localisation efforts that have gone into Rice Digital’s first wave.
This action platformer, that sees you take on the role of pink-haired Eryi on a quest to seek and destroy none other than Farta The Troll for the crime of stealing a… melon, is the weak link in Rice Digital’s chain. It’s a slow, clunky side-scrolling platformer with none of the elegant mechanics or visual charm of the games from which it takes such obvious inspiration. There’s some redemption in a knowing localisation that extends even to the game’s PDF manual (its system specs recommend you have a “PC that can do internet”) but overall Eryi’s derivative design and clumsy execution makes it a turn-off for any PC players even remotely in-tune with the indie game scene that has myriad superior treasures in this genre. Eryi’s Action is a reminder that though Rice Digital looks to be a valuable gateway to another world of indie games, not everything in that untapped landscape is going to be worth examining.
Ether Vapor Remaster
Available for some time in localised form, indie shoot ‘em up Ether Vapor gets another rollout courtesy of Rice Digital. And as well as adding variety to the portal’s launch line-up, it’s a fine game: a shooter that’s brimming with style and visual polish as you traverse the backdrops both vertically and horizontally, observing the game’s unique rhythm and keeping pace with its often delirious shifts in perspective. The intricacy of the game’s environments and the wealth of on-screen activity, however, can also be its undoing, as a information overload over-burdens your crusade of lasers and rockets. The inputs are kept simple, alleviating the stress of the game’s more intense moments, but there’s little truly invigorating about the game’s attempts at innovation.