Written by Morpheus Kitami
There haven't been a lot of Japanese games on TAG. There haven't been any, actually. This is not necessarily due to a lack of them translated into English, but the only big ones released in English by '93 are Murder Club and L-Zone. Why Trickster never covered Murder Club isn't a mystery, it wasn't on Wikipedia's list of graphic adventure games when he started. I don't know why L-Zone got missed in '92 or '93.
|Thrilling gameplay in Mystery House|
|A typical Japanese adventure game|
In 1983 The Portopia Serial Murder Case was released, the first major Japanese-style adventure game, where instead of doing actions on things or typing it out, you select from a list of options. For some reason that will become clear as you read, this was unimaginably popular in Japan and a good chunk of Japanese games were inspired in some way by it. As a result, actual text adventures never really took off in Japan, though there would be a few titles per year up until the early '90s. (this was all helped by Japanese computers tending towards smut than entertainment) Western graphical adventures would have a distinct niche, but usually ported to consoles and there are very few Japanese attempts at the genre.
|The sum total of my knowledge on this company|
This was published by Starcraft. While a few companies ported western titles to Japan, Starcraft was the biggest porting adventure and RPGs in the '80s. Originating as a developer for Broderbund on Apple II software, which was relatively popular in the days when native computers required you to build it yourself. After a couple years of developing games for Broderbund they shifted gears and started publishing western made adventure and RPGs games, starting with Mystery House and ending with Legend of Kyrandia 2. Why did they do this? I don't know. I just don't have any information on the subject. Even the Japanese don't seem too interested in saying anything about it. However, I did find something interesting. At least some Japanese versions of these were designed from the ground up. Might and Magic 2 for instance was developed alongside the English versions. I suspect that The Count is original, since looking through the game reveals it doesn't usual the typical Adams three-letter parser.
So, The Count. Scott Adams seems a natural fit to translate into another language. Simple language, simple commands, simple input. Unfortunately, it's 1984 and memory is at a premium. That means that you can't use Kanji, or the most important aspect of the Japanese written language. I know for the MSX you had to purchase a module, and generally speaking games before 1988 were limited in this fashion.
|It seems at the very least these pictures are based on the American ones, though they are higher quality, for whatever that's worth|
Allow me to explain this screenshot. The bottom line says my location, I'm currently in the bedroom. You'll notice that it's the same as the one three lines above it, because it's also the bedroom. Except it isn't, its when I was in bed, the line above it is rise. The second from bottom line is telling me what's in the room, a bed and window. And the top is telling me I've taken the sheet. You now know everything here. Can you figure out what's missing?
|Love the toilet just hanging out in the background|
If you guessed directions, you'd be right. The second screen of the game doesn't mention which directions you can go in. The third screen does, but by that point, you probably already know roughly what you're doing. I haven't read any out-of-game materials for these versions, but it seems to me that this was exactly the wrong way to go about it. I didn't show a screenshot of it, but all the English versions have a little screen telling you what you can do in these games, something this doesn't have. Or a help function. And I don't have a stake, just the sheets.
|Note the dumb-waiter on the left, its open|
The kitchen...cool, cool. I don't understand a word of this, which is also cool. Big oven here. Maybe wall...maybe. Nothing for dumb-waiter, which is unfortunate, since that's how I go through this. No, the word they're using is lift. And you don't go to it here, you just go west. I don't figure out they're using lift until I'm inside the lift. I can't enter the oven yet. I don't know why, it gives me a generic message. The elevator is much simpler, I just go up or down. I wonder if this means I can't lock myself out of the game this way?
|What, your pantry doesn't look like this?|
The pantry proceeds about as much as I expected, though it is worth pointing out there are two variations on the word garlic, one based on our own, and one native to Japan. They're using the native version.
|Hang on a minute, the left wall is exactly the same as on the other floors! I've been cheated!|
Ah...I see. I can see mallet, down and closet door, but I don't see vent anywhere. Might be there, might not, not important. Big question...the door, can I enter it yet? No, but it gives me a unique message. I'ts starting to shape up that it's the actual game, which is good. Not looking forward to picking the lock to be honest though. I'm also wondering about that item limit.
|I wonder if the reason for the text is that this room is so empty?|
Oh, good, more text. This is original. Dracula catches humans and puts him in his dungeon. Iron something and the floor. Let me explain the issue here with reading this. Japanese usually works without spaces and tries to use as many kanji as possible. They do this for reasons I won't explain. This doesn't, because space is very expensive in 1984 and using all those kanji requires space. So this game does what usually doesn't happen and puts spaces between words. Except that the particles, your "the" "is" and so forth, are attached at the end of words. This is tricky if you know a word, if you don't, it's not fun.
|Note the area to the right of the sheet, where it covers the wall, which has changed, undoubtedly thanks to technical limitations|
Okay, to get down to the pit, I need to tie the sheet to the iron rings. Except that I don't quite get what here I'm supposed to type at first. I see something called "tetsunowa" which I assume means iron something, so I type tetsunowa wa. This seems to me quite stupid, but eventually I find out that "wa" in addition to being a particle, also means ring. I wonder how many other objects that are causing me trouble are like this.
|You really did this, huh?|
Wait, what? Talk about making an already pointless screen more pointless. Anyway, this particular screen proves very difficult, mostly thanks to minor incompetence on my part, and incredible incompetence on the porters part. I don't usually type Japanese symbols, and I kept getting mo and ma confused. Since this is very much a guess the verb kind of day, that's not good. Nothing I do seems to shed some light here. Well, I know that there's a torch here and even lighting the match seems to do nothing. Light it, nothing happens, and leave.
"Dang ! The torch has burned the skin of the sheets !
Consequently, you have burnt to death dang..."
Let's recap this puzzle, if I were a Japanese man in 1984 without any knowledge of text adventures, I would have to assume I could tie the sheets to the iron rings, go in the pit, assume that there's a torch in the pit, take that torch, NOT light the torch, and then go back up. I don't see any way you could legitimately figure out how to do this. Light and burn seem to be treated as different words. Light isn't working while burn seems to be a success. And it is a success, there's no question about that.
|It's not something you would notice during normal gameplay, but the bottom line goes a few pixels up from left to right|
Going back up to the gate, there's the postcard, the door...and I guess the bell and the crest factor in somehow. Not really important, since we know that Dracula does horrible things in the dungeon. The postcard seems to have missed the joke in the English version, and Yorga might be in here assuming "youga" is supposed to be him. Taking the postcard automatically gives me the clip. Time to unlock that door.
|That vent looks more like a window than a vent|
"Regrettable, nevertheless, you lack the tools to pick the lock"
It takes me some time before I figure out some combinations of words that get me any response. Trying to open the door, the game asks me which one. I also have to extensively search through a dictionary just to find the right word for lock and picking a lock. Okay, I guess I have to drop the postcard. No, that drops the clip too. I can't remove the clip from the postcard, either. I have to take the clip when I have the postcard in my inventory. I'm starting to feel like I need to end every paragraph with "no, I'm not kidding you."
|Middle line after the last command, big word? The medicine vial, and yes, I had to type that|
I almost quit trying to open the door. However, this time it isn't the developers fault, it's definitely me and the dictionary I'm using. I should know how to say open by now and my (physical) dictionary should include verbs under open, but silly me, I don't, and it doesn't. You can't do any of the tricks you could in the original, the clip needs to be precisely in my inventory. Unfortunately, inventory limits are in play, and it's far more brutal here. When I get inside I can't get the vial, which is something I should be able to do, since I don't have the stake. The medicine works straight from the bottle, which is as little a plus as I'm ever going to get.
|You know I couldn't leave without going for the lowest form of entertainment|
Since I have some time before nightfall, I decided to check out the rest of the rooms. From a returning player's perspective there's nothing much interesting here. I can't get a response from trying to go into the gate or the toilet. And just using the directions didn't help much either. Oh, well. The burning torch allows me to see at night, so clearly something funny is going on in the pit.
|Not sure why they bothered with the lens since they never bothered with mentioning the sunlight|
One of the issues I had with the door downstairs is that when I try to open a door, it asks me which one. As there was only one door in the original game, this perplexed me. Eventually, I figured out you could close the dumb-waiter's door...if you wanted to. You also have to open the door to the oven, which doesn't work before nightfall. There's nothing telling you that sunlight or heat is inside the oven or anything. With the metal file, the first day and thus most of the gameplay is complete.
|Those are some nice mountains|
The sheets are returned, but that's the only good news. After opening the window I have to go window, whereas everywhere else was move commands. That's about as far as I can get. I can tie the sheets to the bed, but that's it. There's no new noun in the room, and looking at the sheets just tells me they're tied to the bed. I try writing a lot of things it could be, but none of them work. I briefly look through the file with a hex editor again, but at this point I haven't the slightest bit of enthusiasm for the game.
This was not a good port of the game, but it is interesting in terms of game design. Usually, we only get to see what happens if a game is good or if it's bad. Remakes usually change puzzles enough to make it a less direct comparison, or just change around the graphics. Ports, when they're failures, don't change gameplay around. To see something that does is a unique opportunity. To see how the state a great game reaches is more fragile than we think.
Take, for instance, the verbs. While the original wasn't perfect, in most cases it had a pretty solid selection of words it understood. This...doesn't. Now admittedly, this is a language barrier issue, maybe there's a reason why only one variation of burn or open works. While both the originals and these ports were released close to the others in the series, there's a sense that the original had quite a bit of testing, while this does not. I have good reasons for this.
In the original there's only one door. There is no confusion with the phrase open door, because there is only one door. In this version, there are 3 or 5, depending on if you count the lift doors multiple times. It's just busywork. There's no reason for it, since you're never going to want to close the lift doors. You even have to open the gates outside if you want to get killed by the crowd, which just feels like a strange change.
But take aside the language barrier and you still have issues. The game doesn't give information out very well. Obviously there's the issue with the sheets and directions, but the graphical images are used as a sort of crutch for the latter. Except that only applies sometimes. Without knowledge of the original game I probably would have gotten lost. Compare that to even the graphical remake of the original, where you could always see any directions you could go in.
In some cases, these issues could just be me being dumb, but it is worth pointing out that I spent some time looking this game up in Japanese and got nothing. Now, we lack most period magazines, so that isn't fair to bring up. But I've seen a bunch of Japanese sites, and they talk about other games. A lot of other games. Including contemporaries of this game, other text adventures, other foreign text adventures and even a few references to Adams other games. Not The Count, not at all. I think that's most danging evidence of all about this game.
Puzzles and Solvability
It was obvious going in this was going to suffer considerably compared to the original, because while it has the same puzzles, its so much worse trying to solve them. The game gives you so little to work with, it's maddening. Even looking at objects offers little help.
Still, it's the same game I fell in love with, it's just that without the way the game presented the information to you it feels so much worse.
Interface and Inventory
Everything about this was incredibly frustrating to use. Five lines of text and that's all you get, no looking back either. It takes a good 10 seconds for a picture to load in, and it doesn't go away if you type. Given how much more important the pictures are compared to the text, I question why they didn't leave out the location name.
Story and Setting
The original tried to be show, don't tell in its story-telling, where the plot is never actually told to you, just heavily implied. This mostly goes for the same thing, but at times randomly starts talking about how Dracula is kidnapping people and putting them in his dungeon. It feels oddly forced.
Sound and Graphics
The only sound is an error sound whenever I hit backspace on nothing.
Okay, I sort of glossed over the images, but they're basically just the original images you might find in the Atari or Apple II version. Certainly, they're higher res, and in some cases that's very helpful. However, they're still showing something incredibly bland to look at. These all use a heavy dithering to imply shades of colors the machine didn't have. You can see this most easily in bricks, no dithering for the parts that are supposed to be bright, dithered for the rest.
In some rooms dropping items causes them to pop up in strange places.
Environment and Atmosphere
It's about the same as last time, though I must admit the atmosphere is a collection of strange, strange things. From that unique feeling of playing a Japanese text adventure, to having to guess the verb in Japanese, to getting incredibly frustrated in Japanese.
Dialog and Acting
4+3+2+2+1/0.6 = 20
Let's just take a point off there, for making a bad show of it, making the final tally 19.
I don't really know if I'm going to cover any more Japanese text adventures. This was not fun. This isn't an experience I'm keen to repeat. I've sampled a few random Japanese titles over the past month, just briefly checked them out, and the parsers ones were usually in English. Curiously enough, Starcraft, the company porting western games into Japanese, is the only one who bothered with that. Though I have a small sample size, one of them even got translated into English. Whether or not I do play any more of these, I'm going to stick to something in a language I fully understand for the foreseeable future.