|Title: Oz no Mahoutsukai ~Another World~ RungRung
Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment (US)
Console: PS3/PSP/PS Vita (PS1 Classic)
Release Date: March 12, 2013 (US)
Rating: CERO A, ESRB N/A
The Wizard of Oz is a literary classic and has spawned three films as of late, but its treatment on the video game front has been pretty lacking. Joining the ranks of a mediocre SNES platformer, the pretty cool Nintendo DS JRPG RIZ-ZOAWD (known as Beyond the Yellow Brick Road in XSEED/WB’s US release) and the LucasArts-esque Emerald City Confidential is Oz no Mahoutsukai ~Another World~ RungRung. Since this item-crafting RPG’s title is quite a mouthful, I’ll take a cue from the opening cutscene and 2ch boards and call it RungRung from here on out. When it was first released in Japan in 2000, a full 100 years after L. Frank Baum’s original novel, the PS1 was nearing the end of its life cycle. Because of this, it went under the radar in its home country.
Now it has gained new life from GungHo Online Entertainment USA as an untranslated import on the PS Store, joining several other such titles released on the service. RungRung might not necessarily reach the storytelling heights of a typical RPG of the time period, and it hasn’t aged all that well, with some occasionally repetitive item-seeking and item-finding gameplay that sometimes makes it feel like a second-rate Gust game without the combat. All things considered, however, RungRung still offers a fairly enjoyable and colorful excursion into the land of Oz for people who can understand about a second/third-grade level of Japanese.
The game opens with the Engrish phrase “One day, things happen at OZ world…” Indeed they do. This time, the culprit isn’t Margaret Hamilton in green face paint. It’s an evil wizard named Ugu who saps the color and time out of Oz. Then the usual stuff happens: Dorothy and Toto get sucked into a tornado at her aunt’s house in Kansas, and suddenly they’re not in Kansas anymore. The Good Witch of the North, named Norte in this version, compliments Dorothy on inadvertently killing the evil Wicked Witch of the East. But since she wants to get back to Kansas, Norte blesses her not with ruby slippers, but with magic that allows her to find special items.
Dorothy goes to the Emerald City and meets the wizard and his daughter, Princess Ozma, with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Princess Ozma has turned to stone. Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who has turned into an adorable little bird, explains that the magical Rung Book has been ripped up and stolen. This is important, because this book controls both of the things that are out of whack in Oz right now. Each page of the Rung Book is enclosed in different-colored crystals scattered across Oz, and so Dorothy must stop Ugu at his own game, bring Princess Ozma back to life, restore Oz to its natural splendor…and, of course, get back to Kansas.
RungRung‘s adorable version of Oz benefits from its colorful presentation. For the era, the graphics are very good. Although the polygon count is pretty low, the different worlds Dorothy explores are quite vibrant. The cute, anime-esque character designs are especially worth noting. Odds are you won’t find another game with things such as a scarecrow making a cat grin and Glinda as a bird, but you can certainly try. The music is mostly a slightly bland collection of upbeat MIDI tunes without any nods to the film, but it does its job well for the atmosphere and sounds on par with other games from the time period. Heck, there are a few earworms in the bunch as well, such as the overworld theme for Emerald City. The sound effects are decent enough, but they’re overused at times and can get a little annoying. Conversely, the voice acting is especially great, with the most well-known actors being Sakura Tange (otherwise known as Sakura Kinomoto from the anime series Cardcaptor Sakura) as Dorothy and Kikuko Inoue (who’s appeared in more anime than you could count) as Norte.
It’s a bit of a shame then that RungRung‘s expert storytelling is matched with well-done but repetitive gameplay. As Dorothy, you explore the country of Oz in its entirety and search for items that will help you in your quest. Dorothy starts out with 30 life points, but several items can increase this number. Environmental hazards and the occasional enemy can take them away, and you can recover them by sleeping. With that said, a press of the triangle button lets you use one life point to check the field for items around you. But you don’t go at all of this alone. When you find an item you don’t know anything about, you can simply go up to an NPC and show it to them, but only after you give them an item in return. They can even give you information about special items if you ask. Of course, you are highly encouraged to do so. These musings are all collected in an item encyclopedia, which splits items up in five different categories.
And that proves very useful. Even before you meet the other three main heroes in Oz, you meet Goccha. This talking clay pot is a strange little fellow who is given to Dorothy by Norte, and his purpose is to assist her by combining the items she finds and creating new ones with recipes described in the encyclopedia. A typical (and extremely common) example of this: Dorothy collects some colored grass and powdered seeds, which Goccha combines to form a fine colored powder. Goccha then mixes this into mysterious water to form magical paint, which is used to break the crystals that hold pages of the Rung Book.
But there’s more. If you already know the basic ingredients of another recipe for an item, such as these paint colors, you can also use the “Gocchamaze” (Goccha-mix) function to create the best approximation of said item. This does not work when you don’t know the right combination of ingredients. However, when you do and it works, it certainly saves you some time. Toto can assist you when you’re looking for items, as can the other three main characters in their own different ways. For instance, Toto can help you search for items, the Tin Man can keep you safe from harm, and the Cowardly Lion can help you move around difficult areas such as Mombi’s Forest. (Forgot to mention: in this version of the Oz story, Mombi is the Wicked Witch of the West, but that ends up being a misnomer. She’s actually quite nice.)
In an attempt to keep things fresh when you’re looking for stuff, there are also some status ailments and environmental hazards to be aware of. Heavy items like the Corundum will slow you down. Similar to the poppies in the Oz movie, gases spewing out of mushrooms can alter your consciousness. Spiders can shoot poisonous venom at you. There are four different days in Oz, each named after a portion of the land: Gillikin, Munchkin, Quadling and Winkie. Different events in the game occur on each of these days, and this is yet another touch that makes RungRung serve as a love letter to L. Frank Baum’s original work. Still, it would have been nice if the game’s day system was less rudimentary.
There are several minigames that you have to play when you’re gathering certain items or advancing through certain parts of the story. The fishing minigame you encounter in Chapter 3 is particularly infuriating, since it involves rapid pressing of the circle button, but said presses have to be controlled in an extremely rigid state. It took me several tries, not to mention lots of backtracking to make new fish hooks, to finally reel it in correctly. Then, in Chapter 5, you have to choose different adjectives in order to rescue the soul of Princess Ozma, as well as avoid soldiers who are trying to chase you. You also get to fight off gnomes, and in the final segment you do battle with Ugu. There isn’t much in the way of battling in these segments: just press the O button to attack and avoid whatever enemy it turns out to be. While these segments are alright (with the exception of the fishing one), they don’t do a whole lot to break up the typical item-making gameplay.
To put it in terms of the things desired by the main characters in Oz, RungRung has lots of courage in adapting the story for a new audience, and it does so with much heart. But the brain, that is to say, the gameplay, leaves a bit to be desired. Again, aside from the aforementioned minigames and a couple of battles, the bulk of the game revolves around a cycle: search for an item, show it to an NPC, ask NPC about an item, take it to Goccha, create a new item, add another item to the mix, create a better item, use it, repeat. While there is some challenge and skill involved in the battles and minigames, the difficulty level remains rather low. And the lack of an overall combat system, aside from the few action-RPG segments, made me wonder who I was making these items for aside from the NPCs. Fans of item crafting could easily get lost into this game at first, but might balk at the system’s overly streamlined nature.
Finally, I need to note that while RungRung is text-heavy, it doesn’t have much in the way of extremely complicated Japanese. The names of the items you find do have to be remembered, but there’s a relatively low amount of kanji (or Chinese characters, an important part of the Japanese language) compared to most games of the genre, and there’s also quite a bit of voice acting, as well as simple and straightforward menus that only use hiragana. So while the import barrier for RungRung is still a bit high, it’s nowhere near the level of the other Japanese imports I’ve reviewed as of late. At least two years’ worth of Japanese knowledge is recommended before playing.
Despite its gameplay flaws and age, Oz no Mahoutsukai ~Another World~ RungRung is an adorable, quirky and heartwarming little RPG for those who want to unwind a bit. It’s also a great introduction for people new to the genre or source material. Its simplicity is, in essence, a double-edged sword: while I had a lot of fun with the top-notch, too-cute storytelling and atmosphere, the core gameplay aspects could have been more fleshed out. Even so, if you know some Japanese and want a relaxing little game, RungRung is hard to beat for its $5.99 price tag. Despite my mixed feelings on RungRung, I must once again give a huge thumbs-up to GungHo for capitalizing on what might be gaming’s smallest niche with their excellent taste in PS1 imports.
Check out RungRung‘s opening cutscene below:
Review copy for the PS3 system was provided by publisher.