Throwback to February 1998 Having Great Japanese Games, Perfect Blue, & the Winter Olympicson February 8, 2018 by Oscar TK
All sorts of things happened in February 1998. Mostly terrible. From several crisis situations, to me not realising I’d been the only person in class to not get invited to Gary’s birthday party until the following Monday. But for Japan, it was actually pretty great.
The 1998 Winter Olympics Were Held in Nagano, Japan
72 nations made the trek to compete in the 1998 Winter Olympics which were held in Nagano, Japan. Nagano is the capital of Nagano prefecture, and this Winter Olympics actually kickstarted a lot of growth for the city.
Later in 1999 it became a core city in Japan, and would also go on to be the first city to have hosted a combination of a Winter Olypmics, a Paralympics, and a Special Olympics — which is pretty cool.
The 1998 Winter Olympics were pretty landmark themselves, seeing the introduction of some really core sports to the pantheon: curling, snowboarding, and women’s ice hockey.
Viewers of the latest season of Terrace House should be especially interested in two of those three (or all three if my prediction that Yuudai will take up professional curling comes to pass). It also marked the first time NHL players were able to compete in the men’s ice hockey. Hooray!
Video game wise the west received the nostalgic-yet-sort-of-terrible Gex: Enter the Gecko on PS1 and the massively disappointing RTS, Star Wars: Rebellion. Unlike these, Japan had a couple of real huge, game-changing releases…
That’s right, this is the year that Xenogears released, which kickstarted the whole loosely connected Xeno franchise. It was followed on by Xenosaga, and then Xenoblade Chronicles — the latter of which has become its own brand identity.
At one point Xenogears was pitched as an idea for Final Fantasy VII, and then entered production as a sequel to Chrono Trigger, before emerging as its own thing. While there are nods and similarities to these other JRPG series, Xenogears is also super unique.
It has an excellent combo based fighting system that encouraged experimentation and meant that random battles avoided feeling too similar; and a fantastic mech fighting mode that changes the way combat works for some intense fights.
While it might lose the plot a little bit when it gets to the second disc, it’s an enrapturing sci-fi story with plenty of 90-era Japanese biblical references, and a distinctly anime feel.
The sprite-work mixed with low-poly beautiful designs has made it stand the test of the time better than some of its peers; and the way the 3D camera worked combined with the feeling of freedom (your main character Fei could jump around to explore), make it almost timeless, and still a joy to go back to even today.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (PS1)
While undeniably a very good game, and one that many later stealth games would owe such a debt towards, time has not been as kind to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins as it was to Xenogears, that’s for sure.
Before Tenchu most ninja games were action-focused, but Tenchu added in some great stealth elements. Most of this came from the game’s excellent sense of verticality, which allowed for movement that you didn’t get so much back then, as you could use a grappling hook to reach high areas.
An ambitious game, Tenchu had to have a (very) low draw distance to keep everything working (which is why every mission is set at night). This makes it pretty hard to go back to, especially in the wide open areas, though it still holds up okay in areas with buildings.
Perfect Blue released to the public, Satoshi Kon’s directorial debut
The 1998 Winter Season of anime wasn’t particularly exciting, but was under full swing by the time February rolled around — with mainly Outlaw Star kicking ass on Japanese TV.
But in February 1998 Studio Madhouse released a seminal movie: Perfect Blue. It’s still one of the best anime films ever made, and was the directorial debut of Satoshi Kon — also known for the brilliant Paprika, and Paranoia Agent. Originally it was screened in 1997 at Fantasia Festival, but this is the month it saw full release to the Japanese public.
Perfect Blue is a psychological thriller that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, and explores some pretty dark topics. It follows a retired idol after she’s retired to pursue acting, and is being stalked by a fan.
It’s a fantastically made movie, and has some big things to say. It might haunting and at times uncomfortable, but it’s unmissable for any anime fan. Occasionally small cinemas screen it when they do anime events, so keep an eye out!
20 years ago feels a little much for some of these releases! Perfect Blue definitely still holds up, and Xenogears is a game I love to revisit all the time. Ah, the memories.