Where is: My Nausicaä game?

Stephanie Woor July 11, 2011 3
Where is: My Nausicaä game?

In a new series of features, our crack team of unemployable graduates wonder why they don’t have a rubbish interactive version of some intellectual property, theme or concept. This time: Steph Woor dodges references to dirty hippy flatulence.

The Cover of the fourth volume of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus in the truest sense of the term. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the best of his works (and it’s perhaps not even my favourite), but in terms of scale and time devoted, it certainly fits the bill. And because my mind works in very simple ways, I’ve been craving a Studio Ghibli game ever since Spirited Away taught me to love cinema again. To me, it’s clear that Nausicaä is our best bet for a Ghibli video game adaptation, and so I ask, where the heck is my Nausicaä game?

The Property

There are two Nausicaäs. Firstly, there’s the animated one and undoubtedly the better known. This is the Nausicaä that made Studio Ghibli possible and infamously got cut to ribbons in the eighties back when anime was considered too obscure to screen un-tampered with in North America.

And then there’s the manga one, or the Nausicaä that’s actually quite good.

I know, I know. ‘Book versus movie’ debates are very, very tedious. But this is a Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings objection rather than a Peter Jackson one. Or to put it another way: ‘that’s nice, but where are the other five volumes?’, rather than the indignant screams of the anti-revisionist. ‘Elves? In my helm’s deep?! It’s more likely than you’d think’. All the major themes survive intact in the movie, but the real meat of the fiction – warring nations, mass extinction and a looming apocalypse – are missing or at least toned down. Leave Nausicaä to its beatnik themes, and it’s an emaciated husk trying to live off tofu.

Name checking The Lord of the Rings, in relation to Nausicaä isn’t just down to fashion either. In Manga form, Nausicaä is a not dissimilar world of fortresses and fantastical war-beasts. The third volume is particularly crammed with the kind of action a budget-concious animated film inevitably shys away from: hundreds of knights bearing down on each other on bizarre mounts, all rendered in the cross-hatched, black-line-only style of the medium and the fine detail of its best known master. Next to these images, the anime’s dull colour palette and clean linework look rather lifeless, even when you consider their faithful recreation of the Ohmu stampede, or the early work of Evangelion creator Hideki Anno, in rendering the oozing, half reborn, twenty foot tall god warrior.

There are no real villains in Nausicaä, just people in positions of power fighting over the last scraps of decent land in a world already too polluted to sustain human life. The film ends on a simple shot of a lone plant growing in the sands of the Sea of Corruption (a forest of alien-looking plants that purifies the land). By contrast, the final volume of the manga is bitter-sweet and not entirely clear: the purified world is in fact even more toxic to humanity. Humans are just as unwelcome in the new world forming, and though they may adapt, there’s more than suggestion that they probably ought to step aside and stop fucking things up.

Heavy stuff. With plenty of kickass explosions.

So Where Are The Games?

None of this makes Nausicaä a foregone conclusion for adaptation into videogame form, but it certainly has potential. What form would such a game take? Technically, it’d be a good starting point for anything. Diving straight into the deeper, less travelled paths through gaming, the whole thing is freakishly analogous to Alpha Centauri: humanity warring over limited resources, attempting to bend the will of a hostile, apparently sentient forest whilst ensuring that some small clique of humanity might survive in some form or other? It’s uncanny, and even some of that game’s factions make a nice fit for the warlike Torumekians (Spartans), zealotish Dorok (Believers) and eco-freaky forest people (Gaians).

But whilst a Nausicaä game could be anything, the most surprising thing is that it isn’t already a Japanese console RPG. I’m sure many would make the ‘obvious’ link by virtue of nothing more than the property being Japanese, but that wouldn’t be doing anyone justice. Instead, Nausicaä‘s themes, settings, characters and scenarios just seem very typical of the JRPG. Thematically, there’s a strong ecological message: people fighting against the earth and for it (which most lazily is reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII). Character wise, Nausicaä is both the thoughtful, capable princess type and the kid from the small village who saves the world. Then there’s Yupa, the wandering knight and mentor, Kushana, the woman knight who has rejected her femininity as a coping mechanism… and this probably goes on, in equally reductive ways. To round it off, there’s a whole lot of globe-trotting, (via flightless avian cavalry and airships no less) visits to quirky towns (like one built within a crashed spaceship, or as a parasite city of an ancient skyscraper). Even the’final boss’ is a sentient geometric shape with a lot to say for itself.

The fascinating thing here, is questioning whether we did in fact already get our Nausicaä game. I cannot reliably comment on just how influential Nausicaä, like the rest of Ghibli’s work, has been in its native Japan. Any fan could be guilty of overestimation on that point, but it’s undeniable that, in constructing our idea of Japanese creativity, Miyazaki is afforded one hell of a lot of agency. Ghibli is indisputably our idea of the archetypical Japanese creative company, so it’s tempting to assume that anything they came up with may have been picked apart by the always derivative world of game development.

Oh, how I’d love to state here that Nausicaä is responsible for creating the JRPG… but I think even I’m going to be sensible enough to not make that mistake. I’m not a heavy fantasy reader, but I can recognise typical fantasy themes when they occur. Whilst all of Nausicaä‘s factions are human, they’re abstracted in ways that fall into the typical Tolkien paradigm. Still, as a twelve year project that would have doubtlessly been consumed by some of the JRPG’s biggest names in the genre’s formative years, Nausicaä must have influenced something. Even if it was only those damned Chocobos.

What we got Anyway

Ok, so this article has been something of a red-herring. The truth is the world got at least two Nausicaä games (and I’ve seen references that may suggest at least two others), but they’re primarily interesting because they tell us very clearly why we can’t have nice things. Miyazaki is a well known technophobe anyway – he has been quoted as living without not just the Internet, but computers, fax, DVD players, email and most of the comforts of the 20th Century.

But playing the MSX Nausicaä (Nausicaä Kiki Ippatsu or ‘Nausicaä Just in Time‘), with its six pixel high Mehve sprite and early Shumup gameplay, you can easily see why Miyazaki has always specifically despised video games. This game was guiltier even than western dubbing hackjob Warriors of the Wind at completely missing the point of the mythos. Whilst the PC-88 Adventure game at least looks like Nausicaä (through a hideous 8-bit lens) and it has a more appropriately pacifistic mode of play, it will have done little to counterbalance the insult of the MSX version

So that was it: no games based on Studio Ghibli properties. You can buy My Neighbour Totoro plush toys, Kiki’s Delivery Service wallets and Grave of the Fireflies candy tins (no, really), but you can’t play a tie-in game of any of the Ghibli properties.

Good things come to those who wait, or so we’re told. In September 2008, Studio Ghibli relented, announcing a partnership with Level 5, developers of the last two Dragon Quest games and the brilliant Professor Layton series. Ghibli would animate cutscenes for an innovative RPG called Ni no Kuni, which in theory, sounds like all the after-lifes of all the world’s religion collided in a cartridge. Never mind that it was on the DS. That just meant that you could take electronic bliss wherever you went.

Ni no Kuni released in Japan on December 9th 2010.

Wait. That was eight months ago. We’ve just had an E3 where Japan got a sound dressing down for having absolutely nothing of note to show the world. Why on earth have we heard nothing for a year about a western release? The glacially slow arrivals of the professor Layton games give us reason to hope, and Level 5 is probably holding back some announcements for a pre-TGS conference, but this is still deeply concerning. The DS is a closing bulkhead of opportunity that few seem prepared to dive under these days, and nobody seems to be covering the aftermath of Ni no Kuni‘s Japanese release.

Looking to the Future

A successful Japanese release should be enough to convince Studio Ghibli that it’s worth hopping into bed with Level-5 once again (and the recent move of RPG designer legend Yasumi Matsuno to the developer boggles the mind with possibilities. Nausicaä Tactics anyone?). But Studio Ghibli must be swayed by the world view as well – As humble a picture of Miyazaki as we’d like the paint, isn’t it just a little coincidental that each time he declared a film his last (from Princess Mononoke onwards), he returned, as if rejuvenated by the increasing recognition outside of Japan that had alluded him for decades?

True, Ghibli is not Miyazaki, and Miyazaki is not Ghibli. But the future of Studio Ghibli projects in gaming will be informed by how successfully their western releases are handled. Perhaps that’s one reason for the delay (after all, they won’t have the might of Disney-Pixar behind their voice casting and distribution as they do with the movies). So let’s hope that Ni no Kuni appears soon, before Ghibli has a chance to regard gaming as a fad for another twenty five years.

3 Comments »

  1. Jakkar July 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I’ll admit to skipping parts of this article to preserve my as-yet unexperienced first viewing of watching Nausicaa, but appreciate the overall perspective, and the thoughtful analysis.

    Many Ghibli works could make beautiful adaptions to some form of game – from classic art-driven point and click adventures to some kind of passive RPG, trade, economy and escape-driven based upon Howl’s Moving Castle. The battles of Princess Mononoke offer an obvious, if crude appeal to more popular gaming principles.

    We can hope. But I’d rather see the Ghibli spirit oneday just move into full game development, creating original interactive projects. I can dream. We saw Square move into cinema. Spirits Within deserved far better reception than it received.

  2. Sylvester Ink July 11, 2011 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Nausicaa (both the anime and the manga) is one of my favorite literary/cinematic works, but I do NOT think it should me made into a videogame. I feel that doing so would be watering down the essence of the story, and really, it’s unnecessary. It’s much better to create a world from scratch specifically suited for a game than to try to adapt a fantastic work like this to a medium that could only lessen it.

  3. kupocake July 12, 2011 at 11:11 am - Reply

    2,000 odd words and I forgot to mention the issue that video-game adaptations of basically everything end up terrible.

    Hopefully there’ll be more of these (this is a call to action to other writers too!), but it’s less about games that would be fantastic, more about filling niches and needs. Can’t say I even disagree with Sylvester that a Nausicaa game would be ‘unnecessary’. But then, games are just unnecessary by default :P

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