Author: John Legendoffzelda
From the autumn of 2011 onward, my favorite anime series has been the Japanese version of Sailor Moon – and I’ve kept that fact a close secret. I understand that in these times having a favorite anime series is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s only now that I feel comfortable in publicly saying any of this. In spite of all the derision, all the cliches and superficial images that are its legacy, my appreciation of the original series runs deep and I consider it a work of real substance. At least I feel comfortable now, and that’s what matters. I feel really fortunate to have found the series in the first place, as through it I’ve learned about both Angel’s Super Famicom-exclusive RPG Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon: Another Story and its English-translation ROM file, the latter of which has allowed me to enjoy the game in full. Before the existence of these bridges made by modern-day technology, it turns out the English-speaking world was simply kept away from something special; this game is excellent, a SquareSoft riff that’s clean and engaging whatever your familiarity with the source material is. For initiated fans it turns into a rewarding cornucopia of an adaptation, one that draws from many details established by dozens of TV episodes and hundreds of pages of manga. For those willing, there’s something here for everyone.
True to the subtitle, the game really is “another story” – an alternate continuity set after the show’s third season. The Sailor Senshi, a team of empowered young women named after celestial bodies that are destined to defend Earth, has expanded to eleven characters: the nine main Senshi, the future daughter of Usagi, Chibiusa, and Usagi’s older boyfriend Mamoru, aka the Senshi’s perennial ally Tuxedo Mask. It is established that in the future Usagi and Mamoru will be the queen and king of an advanced and peaceful society, but in this timeline there is unrest in the present and also the distant future.
The opening sequence shows a strange comet rocketing toward 30th century Earth, while the queen’s cherished item, the Ginzuishou, vibrates uneasily. It is the work of a mysterious sorceress, recruiting a group of five cronies to travel to the present and alter both history and destiny in her favor, and their repercussions are cropping up in several ways. Old monsters are reappearing throughout town, some even attacking the same people and locations as before. Hotaru, the young Sailor Saturn, has de-aged into a child again. An old nemesis from long ago has possibly returned. Naturally, Sailor Moon and the rest of her allies take action, and after a tense meeting with these five hooligans that critically injures Tuxedo Mask, the real fight begins.
The plot here is expansive, stretching across three continents and hundreds of years of time, but the action within doesn’t make that seem readily evident. It’s serialized, divided into six chapters as opposed to blurred into one whole, rambling epic. There’s also a slow build to the primary conflict, where in that time the player gets an intimate and thorough introduction to the show’s world. In Usagi’s neighborhood alone there’s an abundance of animated details recreated with meticulous precision, from the floor plan of her entire house to the proximity between the local video arcade and the jewelry store; more than that, these places all feature a strong feeling of space and construction, enough so that the player has a clear sense of where they’re going after walking around a bit. While these locations aren’t bustling with people, they do feature a measured amount of folks inhabiting the streets and buildings. There’s just enough to convey a sense of activity and common life. Even the locations made up entirely for this game hold these qualities, and they could have even come from the same canon. There isn’t any main overworld that connects these areas, just barren sections with monsters and people-inhabited sections. Encounters with monsters are randomized, and when they happen that’s when the action shifts to familiar turn-based fighting. The Senshi can do plain physical attacks, or they can use their more famous abilities – utilizing their tiaras as weapons, or casting beams of fire and lightning. Some important parts of the action are streamlined, such as the magic points used for said abilities that replenish themselves after each fight, and two extra speeds at which the player can move around each area; but there’s a purpose behind these design choices, and it reveals itself in a graceful and timely fashion.
Enemy encounter rates are high, notably so for an RPG, but the routine of fighting these monsters gets comfortable quickly. The characters level up at a moderate pace – winning all of these battles and earning the experience points that go with them is initially an uphill battle, but the Senshi do get stronger and the minute that happens the challenge spreads out evenly. Since certain elements have been taken out of the engagement that comes with turn-based strategy, the game makes up for it by giving the proceedings some enjoyable tweaks; certain Senshi can unite their powers to either deliver a devastating blow or aide their teammates and the combinations are plentiful. Sailor Moon and Chibi-Moon in particular have extra abilities that turn them into super-versions of themselves, which give them more elaborate outfits and access to even more powerful attacks. When wandering around the overworlds, the player can also engage in a sort of treasure hunt, the most valuable prizes being accessories for specific Senshi that increase their battle statistics. These items match up with the characters’ gemstones, pieces of personal information that can be found in the menu and act as little hints toward the game’s shape overall.
Another Story is a real story. More than a licensed game, this is an adaptation of the Sailor Moon story to an entirely different medium – something like Promise of the Rose crossed with Final Fantasy 5-and-a-Half. The gameplay elements are done well, but they also mean to push the narrative along, to help the player become involved with the story. And the story is a good one. It’s about love and loss, danger and disrupted peace and a struggle for power. It’s told with richly defined settings and characters grown from lengthy amounts of source material about whom the player is invited to learn a great deal. The overworld menu presents some basic trivia about the Senshi as people, showing their gemstones and also their birthdays, astrological signs and even blood types; after that, there are certain self-contained parts of the narrative that stick the player with a single character, where details about their lives bubble up as they take in the events around them. Makoto, Sailor Jupiter, reminisces about her ex-boyfriend as she watches two lovers whose love cannot be; Minako, Sailor Venus, returns to an all-male village that she learns had much to do with her past life. Bit by bit, these moments imbue the proceedings with steady emotional involvement, and when the player gets that far the satisfaction is theirs.
This game is a serious adaptation, and as such the presentation value is absolutely crazy. For a 16-bit licensed game it’s a total extravagance to recruit the original voice actors to contribute soundbites, except that’s just what happens here – Kotono Mitsuishi and the entire gang appear, if only to present new battle cries for moves from both the manga and the anime, but the audio still comes out clear and alert. The music has the same level of audio quality, and is entirely likable; some compositions are from Angel’s previous Sailor Moon titles and some compositions are taken from the TV show, and they present just the right atmosphere when used. The graphical detail gets pretty much everything right: all the little intricacies of Usagi’s neighborhood, the sprite images of the character’s faces that appear during speaking parts, and even the sprites of the various monsters that appear in battle. The Senshi’s attacks run the gamut of visual appeal, going from pretty flashes of light to spectacular explosions in proportion to their magnitude. The color palettes are used with professional form, and they round out the game’s attention to recreation by giving everything the sheen that’s most naturally found in good animation.
I guess some RPG fans won’t be too enthused by this game; they may find combat too slick, or they may find the action too linear, or whatever. I’m okay with that, because Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon: Another Story earns my enthusiasm mostly because of my status as a fan. What I see in it isn’t a triple-A masterpiece, but instead the joy of fandom – the sort of finding that strong appreciation of a creative work gives you access to. This game may not be for those RPG fans, or even for the people who love the original anime as much as I do. But at the very least, it’s for me.
Five out of five stars.
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