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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Generation of Chaos "Double Feature": Prologue to Somethings(?)

I remember when seemingly everyone hated Idea Factory... Less than ten years ago, many RPG fans outside of Japan loved calling them horrible developers who made nothing but "shovelware"-esque crap, and seemingly were ready to rip apart anyone who actually liked their games. Now, Idea Factory has seemingly been able to "redeem" themselves through titles like the Record of Agarest War & Hyperdimension Neptunia series, and the North American release of Hakuoki has shown people that they definitely know their visual novels. Personally, though, I've always been a fan of Idea Factory, even when everyone else hit them like a piñata.

Idea Factory was founded in late-1994 by ex-Data East employee Shingo Kuywana, & would enter the video game business proper with early 1996's adventure game Yaku: Yuujou Dangi, but they didn't really make their mark in the industry until late 1997's Spectral Force, the debut title in Idea Factory's IF Neverland series (not to be confused with the Peter Pan world). Neverland is a world that is in seemingly-continual war & the most expansive of Idea Factory's creations, featuring numerous games, stories, characters, lore, & backstory. Spectral Force's main appeal was that it was the spiritual successor to 1996's Sega Saturn cult-classic Dragon Force by J-Force, a tactical RPG where the player commanded full-on armies into battle (IF was able to get some of the people from J-Force at this point, hence the similarities between games). Long story short, the IF Neverland series was IF's main money maker in their first few years, but IF wasn't content with just making games... They wanted to make their company a multimedia force.

And now we finally get to the point of this post: Idea Factory anime. In late-1998, Idea Factory released their first anime production, a two-episode OVA based on Spectral Force, which ADV actually licensed & released in North America in the early-00s on VHS & DVD. IF would continue making their own anime up through 2005, with almost all of them being made simply for the sake of promoting their games. With the advent of digital fansubbing, most of these Idea Factory anime have been subbed, and with the IF/Sting collaboration PSP game Generation of Chaos (6): Pandora's Reflection being released in North America this week I think it's a good time to take a look at some of these titles, starting with a "Double Feature"!

In 2001, Idea Factory brought Neverland to the Playstation 2 with a new series, Generation of Chaos. To go with that, IF made a DVD called Generation of Chaos Prologue, which told two short stories that would act as an intro for people who would be interested in the new game. The first story is about Chiffon, a young man who was once the legendary champion at monster fighting (a Pokémon-eqsue tournament), but once he hit 14 he started to become unable to talk to & command his monsters. Now he's down to just one, a gigantic hiyoko bug, and instead of putting it down he wants to take it to a forest where it can roam free. Taking a break in a large town outside of the forest, Chiffon decides to get his hiyoko a snack, but when it goes crazy it's up to Chiffon to stop it. The second story is about Roze, young female demon who lives with her little human sister Emilia and works in the local town as a seamstress. While working one day she notices smoke coming from her house, and when she hurries home she sees nothing but a massive fire, and Emilia is dead inside. An armored demon named Ashley Roff tells Roze that humans who fear demons did this to her home & that in order to stop any more suffering she must rise up & fight.

As prologue stories go, Generation of Chaos' two aren't too bad. Chiffon's story is a little simple & silly, but it works as a story of maturing & starting a new page in one's life; the idea that only kids can command monsters also makes for an interesting jab at Pokémon. Roze's story is also simple but it does a good-enough job at getting her involvement in the GOC story out there. Unfortunately, these two stories are in no way properly balanced, with Chiffon's taking up most of the ~25 minute runtime, and Roze's barely covers a third of the total time. The even odder thing is that, for those who don't know, Chiffon is a major player in Spectral Force's story, as he is the warrior who defeats the Demon Overlord Janus & starts the First Neverland War, which is what the Spectral Force series covers. GOC, on the other hand, covers the Second Neverland War that happens roughly 20 years after the first war ended, so seeing a story about a young Chiffon here is a little odd, especially since it overshadows the story of the actual "main character" of GOC, Roze.

Another thing to bring up is that, since Idea Factory is a game company first & foremost, the animation itself isn't the most ideal. Chiffon's story is made up of nothing but foreground animation in front of CG backgrounds, and the CG itself looks like how one would think early-PS2 CG would look, i.e. it doesn't age all to well. Roze's story is all traditional animation, though, and holds up somewhat better, but this OVA wasn't exactly made to be a looker. Overall, Generation of Chaos Prologue is okay, but I do wish that it actually focused more on the actual main character of the game rather than put more focus on a character that wouldn't even be as young as he is shown in his story.

Like most of the IF Neverland games, Generation of Chaos was a success, so in 2002 Idea Factory released a sequel, the number-less Generation of Chaos Next. Though it is technically a sequel to the original GOC, Next stars a brand-new cast & tells a new story rather than simply continue off of where Roze's story left off. Erile is a young knight-in-training in the Fredbarn Empire in the northern part of the New Neverland Continent, and he has a nice friendship with Rozy, the princess. Erile & Rozy's feelings turn into love for each other, which means that Erile would end up becoming king if the two marry, but Rifire, the captain of the guard, disapproves of this relationship. Rifire feels that Erile is too weak & inexperienced to become king, and he encourages Erile to stop their relationship. Erile, in response, abandons his post & runs off to find a stronger reason to fight.

GOC Next's prologue, subtitled Chikai no Pendant/The Pendant of Promise, is nice in that it's all about one story, which allows it to actually develop slightly before ending, but overall the story just isn't as good. Erile & Rozy being in love isn't a problem, but the idea of Erile becoming king isn't even brought up until Rifire mentions it to Rozy, and her answer is essentially a non-answer. When Rifire brings up being king to Erile, he just gives a very simple, "I'll learn alongside Rozy", which isn't exactly a good answer to warrant one becoming king. It all comes to a head when an invading army comes to Fredbarn, and with Erile realizing that he still has a way to go before being worthy of Rozy, he tells her that it's just not going to work right now before heading into battle. Unfortunately, Erile's mind is still on Rozy during battle, and when Rifire tells Erile to leave, that's exactly what Erile does! Really, the idea of a main character running away from his problems isn't exactly encouraging one to play the game. Interspersed within the OVA are a trio of flash-like shorts called Poro & Saemon, which revolve around a girl named Poro & her robot doing nothing much outside of being blown up; my guess is that Poro is in Next's game story, but these shorts are useless.

As for the animation, GOC Next is an odd duck, featuring another mix of traditional animation in front of CG backgrounds, but while the original GOC OVA looked like older-style animation, Next definitely is all digital, resulting in the OVA looking sharper but not quite as "natural". The fact that the animation also cheapens out more than in the first OVA, or at least it doesn't hide it quite as well, doesn't help either. Overall, GOC Next isn't quite as good as the first GOC OVA, both in animation quality as well as actual prologue story.

In terms of music, the two are very similar in that they both sound like Toru Kobayashi's game soundtrack; nothing really bad, & it is fitting, but nothing really memorable. At the very least, both OVAs feature great opening & ending themes. GOC's OP, "The Place of Happiness" by Nana Mizuki, & ED, "Kono Sora no Mukou" by Mami Kingetsu, are both memorable songs, with the opener being a fast-paced J-Pop song worthy of repeat listens & the ending being a nice slow piece. GOC Next's OP, "Love & History" by Nana Mizuki, is similar to Mizuki's previous song by being another fast-paced production, though not quite as good as GOC's, & the ending, "We Will ~Bokutachi no Eien~" by Junko Noda, being a somewhat more generic J-Pop song, but it works well enough. Rounding out the cast across both OVAs are the likes of Yuka Imai (Chiffon), Mami Kingetsu (Roze), Junko Noda (Erile), Nana Mizuki (Roji), & Hiroshi Kamiya (Lifile).

It's easy to see why I put these two Generation of Chaos OVAs into a single "Double Feature" post, and that's because neither of them are really worth reviewing on their own. I can't really say anything about the games themselves, because I've never played either of them due to a lack of English translation, but these prologue OVAs aren't exactly anything amazing. GOC was able to get my interest slightly, but that's because the stories told in its OVA do a nice job at focusing on "less is more", whereas GOC Next's prologue really didn't do much in making me care about its story. A shame, too, because I enjoyed playing Idea Factory's fighting game Spectral vs. Generation (co-developed with Chinese developer IGS), and that game shows off some nice bits of extra character. For example, Rifire becomes a spirit-like being that helps Erile in battle, similar to a Stand in JoJo or a Soul in Shaman King, and the Next OVA gives no indication of that ever happening. The games sound way more interesting than these OVAs, with their mixture of traditional RPG (complete with a Valkyrie Profile-esque battle system) & a more menu-driven war simulation, so I'm not sure if I can call these "successes" in their goal of getting people interested in playing these games.

Like I said, I've been a fan of Idea Factory for a number of years, and before NIS America released the PSP port of GOC IV in 2006 I had been interested in playing some of their games strictly because of these two OVAs, especially after seeing the very nice character designs & serious fantasy world. Yeah, seeing them again, these two OVAs aren't anything great (in fact, GOC Next's is pretty below-average), but they did get me interested in this company, and all these years later I'm still a fan, having purchased, and enjoyed, games like Chaos Wars, Generation of Chaos (IV), Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos (V), & Spectral Force 3, among others. That's not say that I'm done with looking at Idea Factory anime, though... Not by a long shot, especially since there is one more Generation of Chaos OVA out there. Luckily, though, this next one is two episodes, allowing for an actual story to be told.

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