Good video games are like good anime. The best video games have cool (and cute) characters, intriguing plots, memorable background music, pretty pictures, and something not quite found in anime: you have control over the action. Since all of the major game systems are Japanese, it is no wonder that the games have a style similar to anime and that the best games are to be found first in Japan. This summer, I had the pleasure of playing a fantastically fun Gundam game on the Saturn, the Gundam Wing fighting game on Super Nintendo, and Bushido Blade on the Playstation. I even got to watch HaVoC play Final Fantasy 7. I would have played, but it was in Japanese and of the two of us in the apartment, only HaVoC knew Japanese well enough to play. The Japanese game makers really put thought into their work. On Thursday night, I spent several hours reading the supremely complicated Tekken history, and it was great! Storylines for such games as Street Fighter and The King of Fighters are just as complex and enjoyable as some of the best anime stories (and are sometimes translated to anime form with varying results). The best and most absorbing game I played this summer, though, was Tokimeki Memorial: Forever With You by Konami for the Playstation.
Tokimeki Memorial (a.k.a. TokiMemo) was one of the most popular video games in Japan this last year. It even made the pages of the New York Times. Basically, it's a high school dating simulation, and it's totally addictive! The premise of the game is that you are a Japanese high school student who has the typical concerns of getting into college, playing sports, hanging out with friends, relaxing, having fun, and (especially in this game) being liked and getting dates! It's not easy. In the game, you have to budget your time between study, making yourself presentable, working out, playing sports, being in one of several school clubs, and still have time for a social life! Don't worry, though, the main point of the game is dating, and if you work hard to get smart, athletic, and cool-looking, you start meeting the many girls of the game and getting dates with them. The goal of the game is to have one of the girls like you enough such that they declare their love for you right before graduation. (Don't worry, this is a wholesome family game). Does the gameplay sound easy enough? But wait, each girl is different and likes different qualities in men, so you have to figure those out or you won't end up with the girl you like. You think Orange Road and Marmalade Boy get wacky? They're nothing compared to what the game designers make you deal with when you have to say just the right thing to each girl and give them the right presents for birthdays and stuff... or else BAD things happen. As you get more popular, the female characters in the game all want to become your friend, and if you lead them on too much, they'll get possessive (so don't be too nice). So you have to be OK friends with lots of girls and not get too close to them while making sure that they don't hate your guts. Hah! Good luck! When one girl gets really mad at you (and they do because you will make mistakes), she'll "bomb" you and spread rumors about you at school, and then the other girls will start disliking you as well, and then you need damage control or it's all over! Intense, huh?
Actually, the game is a lot of fun, just like being in a high school drama anime. It has cool music, awesome art, an easy-to-use and snazzy-looking interface, and most importantly, GREAT CHARACTERS! Not only are they drawn well, each girl has a unique and interesting personality, and it is easy to become attached to them while playing the game. When I played with HaVoC, we couldn't decide which girl we liked best, so we consistently dated and hung out with two of the characters to see which one would declare her love at the end of the game. I liked Yumi Saotome the best, whereas HaVoC liked Saki Nijiino best. At the end of the game, we were basically at each others' throats because we didn't want each others' picks to win. Lawrence: "Hey, we've gone out with Saki three times this month! No fair! What about Yumi?!" HaVoC: "What? We're already on the basketball team with Yumi. What more could you want!?"
For an all new simulation experience, and for more fun than you can imagine (we played a lot over two days, and the game has many different endings), try out Tokimeki Memorial. The absurd situations you are faced with in the game (i.e. six high school girls hate you and you have to do something about it!) and the fact that it's all rather humorous (no angst) make it a blast. Other prominent anime-like games out there include Sakura Taisen, which features character designs by Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess), and Lunar: The Silver Star Story.
By the way, we got to see Yumi's ending first. HaVoC was quite displeased. =)
[12/2/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]