Strange Japanese games, part 3

On a less bizarre note, Ben Carter mentioned a fascinating Japanese game on a mailing list some time ago, and graciously allowed me to quote his description verbatim:

I thought I’d mention an interesting game I haven’t heard much about but picked up when I was in Japan recently.

Called “Operator’s Side”, it’s a “voice action adventure” for the PS2, the idea being that (almost) all your interaction with the game is through a voice headset. The game itself is a survival horror-type adventure, set on a space station, where you play the “operator”, who is trapped in the control room and must talk a woman called “Rio” through the process of escaping. I believe, incidentally, that some of the team who worked on ICO were involved in it.

It works surprisingly well – the voice recognition can cope with my (poor) accent, and accepts remarkably complex sentences. It’s context-sensitive, but there seems to be a pretty big vocabulary of accepted words and phrases. There’s even quite a bit of intelligence with regards to referring to objects and places – you can, for example, say “migi no koto wa nan desu ka?” (“what is that thing on your right?”), and the character will tell you (also, conveniently highlighting it so you can see the name).

They’ve used the voice system in some quite clever ways, too – in combat you give orders in realtime (eg – “dodge left, shoot it in the right eye and reload!”), and you can also hold simple conversations with the characters to find out information.

There are definitely flaws in the system – it has a tendency to misrecognise words it doesn’t know as ones it does, and sometimes it degenerates into text-adventure “guess the noun/verb” exercises (occasionally deliberately – one puzzle sees the central character unable to remember the name of a weapon, which leads to you sat there
reeling off the names of everything you can think of to try and find it!). It’s also quite simplistic gameplay – Resident Evil-style “find key to open door” puzzles form the majority of the game (as far as I’ve seen), and the combat is only difficult because of the control system.

Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating and genuinely novel game in many ways – and great Japanese language practice, since it hasn’t been translated (and, I’d guess, probably never will be, sadly)…

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