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Making Strange Allies… From Digital Devils to Electric Wave People

In 1987 a game changed the way we interact with opponents in JRPG battles: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei allowed the player to talk to and even befriend the enemies in addition to the option of fighting them. In the sequel from 1990 the player could even spare a boss’s life, capture him in a jar after his defeat and transformation into a measly frog. This act of mercy ultimately lead to the player being able to side with the demons against an absolutist god who would condemn all demons as evil. In Japan Megami Tensei II was considered one of the four great RPGs of its time, the other three being Dragon Quest IV, Final Fantasy III and Wizardry III.1 http://www.geocities.jp/dobiniq/4RPG-1.htm Two years later in 1992, the series reached its peak with Shin Megami Tensei for SNES:

Dragon Quest V, releasing the same year one month before this reboot of one of the few series that was considered its equal, also followed the earlier Megami Tensei installments‘ example and allowed to have the opponent monsters join the player’s party, although this wasn’t negotiated but achieved by fighting the monsters with love instead of hate2 , which would in some cases convince them to join the player after their defeat. Kind of like the previously mentioned boss shown mercy from Megami Tensei II.

These games introduced social interaction into JRPGs and it were demons and monsters rather than human NPCs that were the target of this social component. Four years later in 1996 Pokémon for Gameboy expanded on the monster ally concept and cultivated social interaction between players by allowing them to trade their caught monsters with each other. Catch, collect, trade. The first two actions were already included in Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest V, but Pokémon was published in two editions which each only contained a partial number of catchable pocket monster, the remaining ones requiring to be traded from a player owning the other edition. Virtual enemies became friends and real friends became ‚rival enemies‘, in a sporting context. The pokémon themselves being imprisoned in poké balls:

Virtual reality as a mirror of actual reality and both being influenced by each other… but where do those virtual monsters come from? In the above examples they are designed by human creators but even before Dragon Quest V and Pokémon there was a more powerfully generative method of creating virtual battlers. In 1991 the first Barcode Battler handheld device was released in Japan:

This device could turn any barcode (usually used to encode retail prices of goods) into stats for virtual fighters that could be matched up with other barcodes to see which was stronger. So instead of looking for strong monsters in a virtual world players would look for actual commercial goods in the real world and hope their barcode data would translate into a powerful fighter. Their representation was crude and all numbers but soon more sophisticated consoles like the ones by Nintendo would become front ends for the barcode battlers and have games that interfaced with the handheld device to depict the barcode battlers in onscreen representation not unlike the games shown above.

Fast forward to 2012 and to Denpa Ningen no RPG (Electric Wave People RPG), which uses augmented reality and WLAN reception to catch little flying creatures generated from data transmitted by radio waves from wireless devices. Similar to how the barcodes decided the stats for the barcode battlers, data used in wireless communications decides the color (magical element), shape, antenna/special abilities and general stats of the electric wave people. The player can catch them by aiming and firing a net at them and then lead a party of them into Dragon Quest style dungeons. Here’s a presentation from the 02/20/2012 Nintendo Direct web broadcast:

The developer of this new downloadable game for the 3DS, Genius Sonority, previously worked on several Pokémon games and Dragon Quest Sword for Wii, hence the similarities. Compared to earlier games of this type, a new link between virtual and actual reality is created by different electric wave people inhabiting different space in actual reality, generated by actual conditions found in real places. So traveling in actual space will be beneficial to the virtual dungeon exploring, as more powerful party members might be discovered anywhere. Players can also copy their leveled up electric wave people and give them to friends via QR codes, retaining the outward social component. But if they die in battle they can only be revived on the 3DS system they were originally caught on, granting the catcher sovereignity of replication.

  1. http://www.geocities.jp/dobiniq/4RPG-1.htm []
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