--------SOME MAGICAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT--------
As a lot of gamers know, even many westerners, Japan is the home for video games of nearly every shape, size, and kind imaginable. You want a traditional sports game? No problem. You want loads of flashy old-school vertical and horizontal SHMUPS that require split second precision just to survive a level, let alone beat the game? No problem. You want a young man to enter a dungeon fighting goons with other potential allies in a Rogue-RPG fashion and going against a twisted villain who's sentiments echo that of the people Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley fabricated throughout their books? No problem. The Japanese game market is nearly as diverse as the Japanese culture itself and while some concepts garner more popularity than others, one thing that is obvious even to gamers in the states and throughout the world is that few genres of games have even a margin of importance in Japan as their simulation and graphic novel games. This genre of game is HEAVILY saturated in Japan and typically has a very specific appeal. For instance, many graphic novels are made for fans of a particular manga and anime, while others are created from the ground up to reach out to different constituencies. What many won't argue is that you usually have to like reading...A LOT, in order to fully enjoy most of the games in the genre, because the imagery can only take the game but so far.
Many Japanese developers have tried for years to widen the appeal of the graphic novel and dating sim genres and breathe new life into them, and many have tried with mixed results. Games like the widely popular cult classic, Snatcher, gave gamers the graphic novel experience with a great plot and occasional action segments to break up the ad naseum that a lot of games of its kind can inflict. You also have dating sims like the popular Doukyuusei series and the famous Tokimeki Memorial that are fairly conventional, but executed very well. Others however, like the Can Can Bunny series, take a very tried and true approach to a graphic novel and a dating sim but offered a relatively thin plot to follow and little substance outside of the select peek-a-boo moments, leaving much to be desired. While they have major distinctions, graphic novel games and dating sims typically have one thing in common, a story to tell and characters to follow and watch as they develop...but sometimes, people can take a drastically different approach and actually succeed. One such example is the game up for discussion, Magical Date.
During the mid nineties, Taito made a game that showed me that they were going to throw nearly all the conventional wisdom behind the two genres I've discussed out the window, but you probably wouldn't think so by the title...you'd just think it was another generic graphic novel game or dating simulation. Since many gamers know that Taito's track record for arcade style games is pretty good, it should almost come as no surprise that Magical Date originated in Japanese Arcades, under the name of Magical Date - Doki Doki Kokuhaku Dai Sakusen. Wha...a dating sim in an arcade? You heard right folks. It was a competitive dating sim that didn't focus on long and sometimes unbearable question and answer sessions, but mini-games that allowed you to compete for any of three girls affection. In addition to that, you'd learn more about the gals through a series of short question and answer sessions and numerous events and locations you visited. To sum it up, the game more or less kicked ass, and it had a less than stellar sequel a year later that didn't hit home consoles.
Somehow, the Playstation was gracious enough to get a port of the first game which was dubbed Magical Date in English on the spine of the case for all intents and purposes, though it still bears the full name in context everywhere else. The subtitle in the case of Magical Date - Doki Doki Kokuhaku Dai Sakusen literally means "Large (or great) Confession Strategy", which is appropriate since you'll need to pour your heart out to the girls and compete fiercely to make the most of your date. In the case of its Arcade "sequel", it's "Large (or great) Graduation Confession Strategy". There are sources on the net that point out things like "Cruel Graduation Tactics" and such, but I have to say for the sake of clarity that such info is incorrect. The kanji characters don't quite match such an implication, so I want to set the record straight, not tear down peoples' reputation. At any rate...
--------ARE YOU READY?--------
Magical Date is a nice looking game for an early Playstation title. The ladies' models are pretty typical of the time with pretty jaggy 3D models, but the thing that surprises me is that Taito took time to flesh out the most important graphical elements of the game - the girls. They wear a number of costumes, can dance around and even "sing" songs. The dancing is slightly painful to watch in this day and age, but given the time the game was released, it was a very commendable effort and most animations are fairly convincing. The game presents numerous graphical elements as well and most mini-games surprisingly run at sixty frames per second. Everything about this game is fast paced. Heck, the slowest aspect of this game is probably the load times, which I should say aren't anything out of the ordinary.
The music and sound effects are probably this games' only real cause for concern. A lot of the sound effects sound straight out of Arcade Taito games from the eighties and some early console based games from the 16-bit era...it's not all too flattering for a system that uses CD-based media. It's a little more surprising when you consider that the music is done by one of Taito fans' favorite groups, Zuntata. The audio as a whole however is quite nice with a few Japanese songs sung throughout the game like the girls' themes, "Teen's Night", "Aidoru Nikki/Idol Diary", "Monochrome Season" and "I'll Sing My Song" that help define the characters and the way they feel.
--------LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT? SECOND? THIRD?--------
Let's discuss the actual happenings in a little more detail. For starters, it should be stated that the Playstation version is a very good conversion from its Arcade counterpart, if not better. You'll be winning over three young and beautiful girls as you travel the map in a board game style that leads you to where you ultimately need to be. Will you choose the compassionate eighteen year old Ayumi Ichijouji who's longing for a guy who's a lot like her father? Maybe you'll choose the shy and soft-spoken seventeen year old Kasumi Fuyuno who likes to take things slow. If they're too "old" for your taste, might I suggest the spunky fifteen year old Rin Modirikawa who likes her guys as amusing and pleasant as herself? Whoever you choose, you'll have access to a number of things, but most of these things can all be found compiled into the Arcade Mode and most of the things in this mode are fun and challenging.
From high speed mini-games like punching stone faces, blasting UFOs with a giant head sporting laser beam eyes, grabbing stars and jumping over meteors in outer space with a rocket ship, having one-on-one fights with frogs, bumping foes out of a ring-shaped arena in a way many people familiar with Beyblade and spinning tops can relate, flying birds through rings over the ocean and more, you'll have a lot to do. There are over a dozen mini-games to play with varying degrees of difficulty that test you on certain areas such as memory, reflexes, and so on. In fact, the game is so generous, you can adjust each mini-games' difficulty individually so if you aren't good at certain mini-games, you can give yourself leeway and get as much benefit out of this game as possible. If that somehow isn't enough, you can hit select to give yourself additional continues at anytime so you can play the game at your own pace and build up your skills, allowing you to alter each experience many times over. It's like Taito tried to take as many ideas as they could and just cram it in this game!
Still, the main objective of the game is to win the hearts of the ladies, and you need to do a little more than play some mini-games. You need to know what the girls like, and while they all go through similar circumstances, you can't choose the same answers for the same ladies. You have to answer questions from the ladies at regular intervals in the game and, just like all the mini-games, the sessions are timed, so you have to choose quickly or risk giving off the impression that you don't know what girls want in the slightest...which is how I think it should always be, since it is, I don't know, a little more realistic. You'll be given approximately one year to satisfy the girls, which is broken down into four stages that you'll choose through the course of the game that will take you through Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Besides hanging with the ladies and answering questions, you can watch them dance in a variety of outfits, take photos of them doing various things such as singing karaoke and lounging around and even add pictures to your photo album. Finally, you can even take a stab at another one of Taito's popular Japan-only releases, Densha De Go! In this game, you take the role of a train conductor who needs to learn to shift gears and follow directions in order to make professional stops around the land. It's actually a little more interesting than it sounds, trust me.
--------DANCING QUEENS AND SWEET MEMORIES--------
I can't speak for you and tell you how much you like dating sims, graphic novels, action games, and what have you, but I'll speak for myself here. I don't like sounding particularly biased, but I think Magical Date is a shining example of doing something different and passing with flying colors. It's almost flawless and a refreshing take on the whole dating sim franchise. Its got lots of mini-games, is loads of fun, looks great, and has just a light touch of the stuff that mundane graphic novels revel in, but fortunately, this game doesn't. Also, if you haven't noticed already, the game is even two players, so you can fight for those girls with a friend. Magical Date is a terrific game that, like many Japan-only games, should have been released OUTSIDE Japan. If you find this game out there after reading this article and love it, I hope you'll say "Bel Cain sent ya!". That would make my day.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -