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Electric Pinocchio II: The Game

Super Play #28, pages 14-15

Super Play #28, pages 14-15: Fantasy Quest article by Nic de Costanzo and Zy Nicholson

The point of this series of articles is to show the influence the novel Pinocchio had on Japanese popular culture and the robot hero type common in manga and games. The examples in the last installment feature strong parallels with Pinocchio but it could be argued that these might be purely coincidental. This time I will showcase a much more obvious example of Pinocchio being reworked for a Japanese audience. The Wonder Project J games by Enix for SNES and N64 also have an original setting but the key characters inspired by Pinocchio retain the same or similar names as in the source work: the creator is named Geppetto and his puppet looking robot creation is named Pino.

The dancer Jichael

The dancer Jichael

I didn’t play the first game, Wonder Project J: Mechanical Boy Pino, at all but it got some coverage in UK magazine Super Play in its column presenting Japanese games, many of which were never localized. The N64 sequel, Wonder Project J2: Josetto of the Corlo Forest, also never officially localized, I bought used but also hardly played back then. In this sequel Pino is succeeded by another robot, this time a girl named Josetto (rhyming with her creator’s name). In both games the player takes the place of Geppetto as a substitute parent for Pino and Josetto. The games are adventures with a strong emphasis on raising simulation elements.1 The major game to start this genre would be Princess Maker by Gainax for Japanese home computers in the 80ies. A better known example would be the later Tamagotchi portable pet raising sim games. The player cannot influence the game world directly but uses a personalized cursor to try and teach the main character how to advance in the game world.

forced director

„But we have to make these movies. Otherwise who knows what they’ll do to us.““

In Wonder Project J2 this is done by giving the character items to use. Josetto will try and use these items to her best understanding and it’s up to the player to approve or scorn her actions. For example, she might eat non-edible items which were supposed to be used as tools or to be read. Or she might kick things or throw them away which isn’t completely without benefit though, as she becomes stronger this way. When she balances books or other items on her head this might also not be what the player wants her to do but in fact her improved balance does help to cross bridges in certain places. In this way Josetto learns from the player but the player also learns not to discourage everything just because it might not seem immediately useful, or well behaved.

Working in 3D

One of the many jobs takes Josetto to mine corridors rendered in old school 3D

Josetto also has to work to raise funds and buy more items which are needed to teach her. The more she learns the more varied the jobs she can take and the higher the payment. In this way progress of learning, by trial and error or studying with books is interdependent with work and career. Communication is limited to yes/no or good/bad comments by the player following Josetto’s actions or questions she addresses to the player. These have to be carefully considered as Josetto will react with a wide range of emotions which affect how well she will receive the player’s attempts of teaching her.

Orders

„This feels like being ordered around, which I don’t like but I guess it can’t be helped.“

In Pinocchio and works inspired by it the recipient is usually supposed to identify with the protagonist who serves as their avatar but this being a raising game they have to take the role of the parent. The distance between player character Josetto and the player themselves is accentuated by how Josetto and the player interact and communicate with each other, and Josetto knowing that the player is in another world which she cannot see.2 Fußnotenauszug: The player was first addressed and recognized as a person outside the game world in Mother for the Nintendo Famicom (NES) in 1989. In this game the absent father, who saved the game for his son Ninten whenever Ninten called him on the phone, asked the player for his name near the end of the game and thanked them for taking care of his son for him. The hero Ninten was also to be named by the player... She keeps running up to the screen as if to close the distance between herself and the player yet both remain trapped on their respective sides of the screen that separates the anime styled game world and the reality which the player inhabits.

3D flying into the 2D world

3D flying into the 2D world

The game came out on the N64 in a hardware generation which marked the shift from 2D to 3D graphics, yet it uses a very low amount of 3D elements in its mostly 2D anime world, thus ignoring its new hardware’s 3D capabilities for the most part, instead using the increased storage for more (and more detailed) animations but keeping the style of the earlier SNES generation predecessor. When polygonal 3D graphics are used they stick out, like a touch of realism that invades the hand drawn fantasy. On the other hand, when Josetto runs up to the player instead of left and right on the 2D game stage the hand drawn graphics are used for 3 dimensional movement that targets the player’s reality.

Siliconian the 13th

Siliconian the 13th

In this way the lines between real parent and imagined child become blurred, and the player might notice that in a way they they are teaching themselves, even if the roles are inverted. This furthers mutual understanding of parent and child side but there’s also a common enemy which is a oppressive authority, an evil villain version of the parent role. The Siliconians are occupying Blueland, the island the story takes place on, and the Siliconian leader is rendered in polygonal 3D, invading the 2D game world both in action and in visual representation.

invader movies

„If you’re interested in martial arts, go watch some of our Siliconian movies!“

Same as the player decides what books Josetto should read and what movies she should watch the Siliconians also tell the occupied Bluelanders what movies to watch and even to produce. This is a key element in the cut scenes early in the narrative. The Siliconian invaders are of course a distorted version of something from the game makers‘ reality and even though it’s exaggerated it does express an aversion against a perceived evil, an interpretation rooted in childhood as much as the visuals of the game. To escape being trapped in a child’s world the player has to become a parent and walk in the villain’s shoes, even if he will still seem rather heroic compared with the other fantasy invaders, the over the top evil Siliconians.

  1. The major game to start this genre would be Princess Maker by Gainax for Japanese home computers in the 80ies. A better known example would be the later Tamagotchi portable pet raising sim games. []
  2. The player was first addressed and recognized as a person outside the game world in Mother for the Nintendo Famicom (NES) in 1989. In this game the absent father, who saved the game for his son Ninten whenever Ninten called him on the phone, asked the player for his name near the end of the game and thanked them for taking care of his son for him. The hero Ninten was also to be named by the player and might even have had the same name as the player but at that moment they are clearly distinguished. This distinction reflects the menu style of selecting what the character should do rather than triggering their actions directly by dedicated buttons or movements. Added on 02/16/2012. []
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