So what do they all have in common? well they all have worked w/ Production I.G. (my fave anime company) and they're all character designers for this series of games that was released 9 years ago. Those games would be the Yarudora series. The name comes from the contraction of "yaru" and "drama/dorama". Thus, it's known as a 'do it yourself drama' or 'acting your own drama' game. Basically, it's like a Choose your Own Adventure book (man i loved those books as a kid). A good comparison here would actually be Dragon's Lair. You make a choice and watch anime scenes play out. However, there's much more story and choices than Dragon's Lair, thus, making it seem like a movie than an half hour TV episode (it'll take you at least an hour if you make all the decent choices and get a normal/good ending). The main character for the 4 main Yarudora games is yourself, ususally a faceless guy (sorry girls) who isn't voiced for half of the games, but voiced in the Fall & Winter Yarudora games (games #3 & 4). The 4 main games always have you start out meeting some girl who has lost her memory and things go on from there. Dating sim fans will definitely like as all 4 main games have you making choices to court the main girl(s). All the other characters in the game are fully voiced and mostly be well known seiyuus. Each game contains multiple endings (each one has about 20+), therefore, increasing the replay value a lot, so you can explore different paths. You can also skip all the scenes that you've seen previously making it somewhat easier to get the rest of the endings. For those who remember, my post on Love & Destroy (post NSFW) was a foreshadow to this.
The Yarudora games were first released on PSX in 1998. I never heard of these games until I first saw a preview on Impress Game Watch in 2005. However, seeing that I didn't have plans to get a PSP at the time, I didn't care much for it, plus i couldn't read JPN that well (not that i can now, but i can sorta get around), nevertheless i found it interesting. However, I totally forgot about ti until February of this year when Play-Asia was having their Chinese New Year's Sale. Saw these PSP ports for 5 bucks US (yes only 5 bucks) and decided to pick them up. They've also become rare now. Of course, i'm talking about the Hong Kong version and not the JPN version which is still easily available. The Hong Kong version has JPN audio w/ traditional CHN subtitles, so that was puuurrrfect for me as i can't read simplified (stupid mainland :P). Thus, I was able to pick up 3 of the 5 HK version PSP ports. I then went on a crazy rush and bought the remaining Yarudora games by Production I.G. & Sugar & Rockets/Sony. I also scoured the Internet for a few paraphenilia.
So here it is, a shot of the Yarudora stuff I currently own. I plan to get some of the guides for the games that are in Japanese, cuz it's a bitch to get all the endings, and i want 'em for the art ^^.
So going from top left to right: Kisetsu wo Dakishimete (PSP), Double Cast (PSP), Blood The Last Vampire (PSP), Sampaguita (PSX), Yukiwari no Hana (PSX), Yarudora Settei Box Memories of Four Seasons Artbook (ULTRA RARE), Scandal Visual Guide, Scandal (PS2) and Surveillance (PS2). I got these all brand new ('cept Scandal) and cheap (each item cost me 5-20 bucks US).
The GAMES & Stuff
Now I haven't finished all of them but I will make a few comments on each as I played through most of 'em.
The first of the 4 main Yarudora games w/ designs by Keiji Gotoh. It is considered the Spring title of the 4 main Yarudora games. I haven't totally finished this game (have a few normal endings) but it's quite intriguing as the story seems like happy fluff but the story is actually darker than what it seems to be. It's a mix of a lot of genres (romance, comedy, action, horror). Yuki Kajiura does the music for this one and it's not bad. I have the OST for this and all i gotta say is that it hints some of her future works (namely .hack), it's good and fitting for the game. Though it's still not really strong and you wouldn't want to listen outside of the game. For more information, you can read the review at the (now dead) online anime mag site, Ex. Since this game combines a lot of story elements, great art & animation (some sweet action and fanservice) and terrific music, it is really a great intro for beginning Yarudora fans, hence why it was the first one.
Kisetsu wo Dakishimete
The 2nd of the 4 main Yarudora games and released as the Spring title, though it was released AFTER Double Cast and released in JPN during the summer (strange yes). It is considered the least popular of the Yarudora games due to the it being slow and the story being somewhat plain. However, it is probably my fave one of them all. I have played through this game a lot and i'm about 80% complete (u don't know how hard this is w/out a guide). Dating sim fans will most likely enjoy this game the most, though i dare not call myself a dating sim fan as i've only really played 2-3 of 'em. I also find the dating aspects in RPGs a chore :P. KwD basically has gives you the chance to choose between 3 chicks that you could end up w/. U got your hot friend, your super sexy hot neighbour and the irrestibly cute and pretty mystery girl. It sorta plays out like your usual teen drama (ie. Dawson's Creek, The OC etc.) but how it's executed is so fun. I enjoy these slice of life anime games like a I do w/ some slice of life animes. I love the character designs by Kaori Higuchi. Though, they're simple the girls are attractive and pretty. The seiyuus for this is stellar w/ Imai Yuka and Mitsuishi Kotono (wuv both seiyuu's charas) playing the main female leads. Being a slice of life anime game, the animation is good but nothing too spectacular since there isn't much action (there's some decent late 90's CG work). Lastly, I just want to mention the music, while it's not as good as some of the others, the main theme song will definitely stick w/ you after the game. This game was also reviewed @ Ex.
The most popular of the main 4 and I consider it my 2nd fave. It was the 3rd one released and considered the Autumn title. The reason for it's popularity is no doubt the involvement of Masamune Shirow as original character designer. Not only that, it's the most action heavy of the 4, thus, giving it a even more theatrical feel. Not only that, you got two top seiyuus in this game, JPN's fave Megumi Hayashibara and Akio Ohtsuka (note this foreshadow ;)). This is the first game where you, the main character possess a voice. Some may not like as it takes away that personal feel that it's "you" in the story. I personally welcome it and Matsumoto Yasunori does a great job. I highly recommend this game first if you're undecided on where to start. It's a little linear but offers great action and a bit of romance. Plus Shirow's Maria is damn fine & Hayashibara kicks major ass (and still continues to kick all the 'noobies' asses, yes that includes you Kano & Hirano :P). Again, here's Ex's take.
Yukiwari no Hana
The one I played the least. Not cuz I don't like it but just haven't gotten around to it. While some may not like the pastel, simple art, i think it's great, as this style tends to lead to very good animation and YnH doesn't disappoint despite being pretty slow w/ no action. Like Sampaguita the main character "you" is once again voiced, and this time be well-known Hiyama Nobuyuki. Opposite of you is the neighbour that you lust for, Kaori Sakuragi (voiced by veteran seiyuu star Hidaka Noriko). Yukiwari no hana is slow going, which is another reason why I haven't been that motivated to get back to it. It can be a little boring at times too. It basically has you taking care (or trying to take advantage) of Kaori after she loses here memory. The thing is, she's engaged before the memory loss and you, the main chara knows this but you still want to mack her. So yeah, it sorta plays like your slow-going & boring Korean TV dramas but a little more interesting cuz you make the choices. The music is decent but i hate the theme song. Definitely the last one to pick up IMO.
Blood the Last Vampire
First released on the PS2 in 2 volumes (and was hella expensive), it's been ported and combined into one UMD for the PSP. Not part of the main Yarudora series obviously and thus, no usual formula (ie. amnesiac girl, you as main chara). So, if you've heard about this game, you know that it's a sequel for sorts to the Blood the Last Vampire movie and takes place in Tokyo year 2000. I remember reading a preview of this game in an old issue of EGM, there were hints to bring it over but ultimately, deemed to Japanese (and it was always delayed). You play as some boy (fully voiced and fully 'faced) who meets up w/ 2 hot chicks, who you follow will lead to different paths. I haven't really played this game much due to being so busy at the time (ie. exams) and now i'm busy w/ work. i'll finish it someday (before YnH for sure). Saya bascially shows up every once in a while to help the boy out from Chiropterans, as well as revealing more about the plot and the boy's identity. The game adds a "blood flow" meter throughout scenes which can effect your rating and ending you get. It's kinda pointless IMO but does give it more interactivity. Being a 'sequel' to the groundbreaking in japanese digital animation, you can expect awesome animation and art (u can't compare it w/ the previous yarudora games cuz it's digital from here on out). Katsuya Terada once again returns for chara designs and Youki Kudoh reprises her rare anime role of Saya again. Instead of Ike, Kajiura returns to the Yarudora scene and is in charge of the music here. Like Double Cast, i possess this game's OST (unlike the others though, where i only possess the theme song singles). The OST doesn't contain much of Kajiura's style and most won't be able to recognize it if they hadn't known. It's fitting and very dramatic but nothing to write home about, just like most of Kajiura's work on the Xenosaga series. I recommend this game if you're a Blood fan.
Scandal & Scandal Visual Book
Scandal is the 5th and final Yarudora game released by developer Sugar & Rockets (Blood was developed by most staff from S&R but wasn't considered or labelled as part of the Yarudora series until the PSP port, renamed "Yaruodra Portable"). Now Scandal was a game I was looking forward to when I read about it in an issue of EGM as well as Gamer's Republic. This was before the JPN PS2 launch as the game was relased a couple of months after the JPN PS2 launch (and before the US PS2 launch in which i also got on launch day). It looked cool, due to being an anime game but then i realized i wasn't gonna every play it on these shores until 7 years later, where i managed to get my hands on this sort-of rare game. Since this game was the first Yarudora game on a DVD medium, they packed a lot into this. Production values equals that of a anime movie. Art, animation, music was awesome. Story was long too and there's like 30+ endings. It was the definitive yarudora game. Like the yarudora games of the 21st century, "you" are not the hero, instead you control the heroine Saki, and you'll be deciding her fate. With so many endings, i needed to get a guide since this game isn't available w/ CHN subs obviously. I also wanted the guide for the awesome Akiharu Ishii art. I haven't played through all of this, but expect a lot of action, mystery, drama, plot twists and a bit of horror.
Created after the 'end' of Sugar & Rockets. It still contained members of the team and Production I.G. was once again in charge of animation. This game was a big departure from the usual Yarudora games. You play as Yusuke Sakaki, the team leader of a special forces team called Shadow Sword (the sole JPN guy on the team :P). As team leader you operate the latest high-tech surveillance camera system that can lead your team to defeat the terrorists. What makes this game different from the other Yarudora games is that you don't really "watch" a movie (u still do), but act as a operator (ouuu...ala operator's side/lifeline...i enjoyed that game btw). Basically, you're given 6 cameras running simultaneously and what you have to do is monitor all the cameras if and when they're available. In these cameras are anime scenes running in real time. Each camera that you access on to your main screen occasionally has a glowing icon. You have to click on this icon to reveal further information that will relay your team who is going in to stop the bad guys. failing to click on some of the important icons can result in death and failure of the mission. So, there is a little strategy as you gotta juggle between angles and be careful to watch which camera/anime scene when appropriate. Thus, for each mission, you won't be able to watch all the anime scenes on your first playthrough. However, if you succeed in the mission, you can go immediately back, play the mission again and dedicate watching one camera/anime scene. You can also get a different anime scene at the end of the mission when you replay. So, the game isn't really hard but it still contains a bit of the yarudora feel. Animation is really top-notch this time around since it's an action anime and you get up to 6 camera angles of one anime scene. The music is okay and does it's job w/ upbeat pulse pounding techno when the action heats up. Some talented seiyuus this time around include Satsuki Yuka, Junko Noda and once again Yuka Imai. I still haven't finish this game, but will try to tackle it over the course of the summer. I'll probably get the guide to as i dig Kaiya's art.
Yarudora Settei Box Memories of Four Seasons Official Artbook
A totally rare and awesome artbook that i managed to snag for only 8 bucks US! It originally cost 3200 yen when it was released in 1999. The book is A4 size and contains 280 pages. The book contains production artwork for all characters, main and minor. There's also a boatload of background art as well. The art for each game is separated in their own 'season'. It also includes some comments and interviews by the developers, a little making of section, and short story synopsis for each game. Lastly, there's a promo artwork section.
Triangle Again series
Now the only game that i'm missing from the Yarudora games is Triangle Again and Triangle Again 2. Both of these games were released on Xbox first and was later ported to PS2. I'm reluctant to get them cuz they're not really considered part of the Yarudora games as most important key staff didn't participate in this (not talking about chara designers and composers). I also find them expensive (it's not that expensive but for my budget for a 5 year old game...yes it is), the story doesn't interest me (i'll touch upon that) much and chara designs are meh imo. I'll probably get them (for collections sake) whenever i'm in JPN. That's if i happen to see them (or remember) as they're not high on the want list. The story might interest some ppl though as it was sorta the first Idolmaster game afaik (so yeah, iM@S isn't that original :P ^^). Basically you're a manager of some pop idol and you make choices in order for her to succeed in her concerts and whatnot. Drama and other plot developments will probably pop up to make it play like an anime.
So are these games worth your money? Well, if you call yourself a hardcore fan of anime & games (or some of the chara designers), you should definitely try and pick these games up. However, If you don't have much grasp and knowledge of the JPN language or CHN language (that's if you happen to get your hands on the rare HK versions), you might have to give these games a 2nd thought. Not understanding most of the content will take away some of the enjoyable stories and experience. Though, I still recommend the casual anime & game fans to try 1 or 2 Yarudora games (ie. Sampaguita & Double Cast, as there's faqs for them) to experience a "TRUE" anime game. Anyways, I hope those you who are interested in the Yarudora games found this interesting as there isn't much information on net for these games. There was a CHN site that i came across that had some great info and media. If you're looking for faqs, there isn't much. Gamefaqs has faqs for Double Cast, Sampaguita and Blood (PS2 version, basically the same). If you're deciding on which to get (PSX or PSP), i'll just say that the PSX contains rumble and you can choose the screen size that you want to watch it on (:P). There's also subtitle display option. However, unlocking the gallery is harder than the PSP versions. Other than that, not much else.
Only Famitsu score that interests me this week is Bleach Heat the Soul 4. It got a 29 (8/6/7/8), pretty decent. see, toldja the bleach pic was related. Now that's a wrap, now go do yourself.