Short Peace: Tsukigime Ranko No Ichiban Nagai Hi is quite the collaboration. It is the fifth and final part in a new omnibus series conceived by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo; while parts one to four were short anime films, Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day, as its title translates in English, is a videogame, with a scenario by Grasshopper Manufacture’s Goichi “Suda 51” Suda, direction and design by Tokyo Jungle director Yohei Kataoka at Crispy’s, and a soundtrack by Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.
The game was released by Bandai Namco on PS3 last Thursday, on a single Blu-ray that also contains the anime. “It’s a very weird game,” Kataoka explained to us during an interview in October, when the game was close to completion. “It’s all based on art by Otomo, as part of his Short Peace series, which is aimed at taking Japanese pop culture to the world. He thought that games were an important part of that, so he approached us.”
Kataoka and Suda 51, along with Bandai Namco producer Naoto Tani, appeared on Japanese Ustream TV show Play Community Cafe last Friday for a lengthy chat about the game, with Kataoka playing live through several stages. And it really is quite a sight to behold.
As you’ll have come to expect by now from a Suda 51 game, the heroine, Ranko, is a schoolgirl by day and an unstoppable hit-woman by night. Its heavily stylised visuals are a nod to Otomo’s anime sections, which themselves are rendered with such high-quality animation that the first instalment, Tsukumo, has been nominated for a best animated short film Oscar.
“Three years ago I was drinking in Shinjuku, and I saw a group of really cool young girls sitting outside the Marui department store with eyepatches on,” Suda 51 told the hosts of Play Community Cafe when asked where the character design had come from. “I decided to use them as inspiration for a game someday.”
Monsters in the game are based on youkai, traditional Japanese spirits and mythical creatures, lending a creepy but classic look alongside the more sci-fi design elements.
The game itself is a side-scrolling 2D action explosion. As Ranko runs across the screen, monsters encroach from the left-hand side; if they catch up with her, it’s game over. So the emphasis is on constant movement, with “special effect” attacks that clear the path ahead of bad guys with shocking bursts of colour and light.
Kataoka told us that the gameplay actually has its roots in the early version of his previous game. “Tokyo Jungle was originally a side-scrolling 2D game, and after we remade it in a 3D perspective we wanted to one day go back to that 2D action game style, so that’s what we’ve done here,” he said.
Other nods to Tokyo Jungle include the near-future post-apocalyptic setting, with recognisable Tokyo streets wrecked and rumpled after some disaster. The game starts out in Shinjuku, with Ranko traversing a chaos of warped tarmac and desolate subway stations that must be navigated with agile leaps. And in one surreal stage shown by Kataoka during the Play Community Cafe broadcast, Ranko’s pursuer is a giant version of Tokyo Jungle’s trademark Pomeranian, panting and yapping tirelessly after her with comic effect.
“We set out to make a game that even someone who had only bought the [Short Peace] set for the anime part could play,” Kataoka told us. “We also had to nail the visual side too, since it’s part of an anime set. So it’s a 2D action game that anyone can play, and where you can trigger cool visual effects regardless of your skill level.”
It’s a fast-moving game. From the moment Ranko crosses a start line at the beginning of each stage, she must keep moving. The effects moves allow her to dash ahead, affording more time for negotiating obstacles, while a chain counter tracks attack combos and a special ability triggered with L1 fires behind Ranko, temporarily subduing the ever-impeding monsters.
At the end of each bite-size stage, a clear time is displayed, reinforcing the impulse to forge ahead as quickly as possible. In this way it’s as much Sonic The Hedgehog as it is Canabalt, with the combat and wall-jumping resembling a simplified Strider.
In other parts of the game, Ranko moves up the screen and carefully times her attacks on gun-wielding bad guys who reload quickly between spraying the screen with bullets, as giant spinning blades approach menacingly from below. And then suddenly another stage is a space shooter, “just because”.
An overseas release is in the works, though no release date has yet been set. On Play Community Cafe, Suda 51 explained that the team are still working on the localisation, and pondered how gamers overseas would react to the game’s very Japanese stylings.
Since Crispy’s has a core team of just five people, yet another company was called in to help with development – Digital Works – with Kataoka and Suda 51 guiding the production. But while this multi-level collaboration could have resulted in a reminder about what too many cooks do to a perfectly good broth, the game appears to be a triumph of simple, satisfying design.