|Hmmm, this isn't the 3DO most people think of, now is it?|
Releasing in March of 1994 at an MSRP of 79,800 yen, though most places actually sold it for 54,800, the 3DO actually had a moderately successful launch, shipping about 70,000 units to 10,000 stores, & it was promoted alongside the image of Alfred Einstein, interestingly enough; the fact that it was a Western system did give it a slight stigma, though. While the console didn't last long in the country, with the last game being Capcom's Ide Yusuke Meijin no Shin Jissen Mahjong in mid-1996, would you believe that there may have been more potential interest in the 3DO in Japan than anywhere else in the world? For example, over the three years of life the console had, about 286 games saw release, but only 162 of those, or roughly 57%, were released in North America, with only 65 of those being exclusive to the region. In comparison, the Japanese 3DO saw 214 games released, and 139 of those were only ever released in Japan. Yes, nearly 50% of the 3DO's entire lineup of games was Japan-exclusive; in fact, ~75% of the entire library saw a Japanese release, in general. It wasn't just games that Japan had more of, either, as the country also saw two region-exclusive machines: Panasonic's "ROBO" CD Changer, a modified FZ-1 that had a five-CD tray, & Sanyo's TRY, which saw release in March of 1995 (see above). South Korea even had its own exclusive unit, GoldStar's Alive II, which looked like a round-edged PlayStation; the Alive I is the model most people associate with GoldStar's 3DO.
There was also a Japan-exclusive Memory Expansion Unit that added another 256 KB of save space to utilize; like (most of) the games, though, it is region-free. Another Japan-exclusive accessory was one that plugged into the console's (otherwise never utilized) expansion port that allowed the console to play Video CDs, similar to how the Sega Saturn could be given that capability through plug-in cards. Finally, in the past year or so people have found out that a later, Japan-only revision of the FZ-1 included a "Mode A-B" switch on the back, replacing the RF output, which allows the user to have the console display at the original 240p video resolution, instead of the 480i upscale that the 3DO usually does. This results in games looking much crisper than usual, and there can even be some improved performance, since the console now has extra power to use, as it's no longer up-converting the signal; some games, like Another World or Escape from Monster Manor, do run too fast by using Mode B, however.
Sure, a number of the more notable Japanese-developed 3DO games did see release around the word, like Guardian War/Powers Kingdom, both Iron Angel of the Apocalypse/Tetsujin games, Burning Soldier, Lucienne's Quest/Sword & Sorcery, Starblade, Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble, & Strahl. Still, what about those other 139 Japan-exclusive games that comprise nearly half of the console's entire library? Therefore, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the 3DO's launch in Japan, here are 14 of the most notable Japan-exclusive releases (plus one special bonus) that I feel you should know about.
The late Kenji Eno was always known to be one who never wanted to follow the curve, & when he decided upon a console, he was dedicated to it completely. Case in point was when he founded his second game company, WARP. Unlike his first company EIM, which solely developed for the Famicom/NES, WARP made its debut on the 3DO with late 1994's Totsugeki Karakuri Megadasu!!, would also develop over the years a trio of puzzle games under the Flopon name (the last of which, Flopon World, saw release internationally as 1995's Trip'd), & stuck with the console until its death by releasing a collection of mini-games titled Short Warp in 1996. However, easily the most notable 3DO game developed by WARP was D, an interactive movie/horror game that first came out in Japan in April of 1995. It would also see ports to the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, & MS-DOS-compatible PCs, with the PS1 port's American release in particular getting screwed over by Sony, which made Eno never want to work with the company ever again (see: Enemy Zero's public unveiling). Still, the reason this is being included is because of a Japan-exclusive version that came out in January of 1996, D's Diner: The Director's Cut; the name uses the original mistranslation that people gave the Japanese title, D no Shokutaku/D's Dinner Table.
Overall, there isn't much added in terms of gameplay content, with only a scant few extra scenes & voice clips that Eno wanted to originally include but didn't, but it does feature extras that were never released elsewhere. Fun Fact: Fumito Ueda, who would go on to create Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, & The Last Guardian, actually worked on one of these new scenes as his first ever job in video games. Amusingly enough, "Disc A" isn't actually the first half of the game, but rather a gallery, including an original sound novel explaining the backstory; the game itself is on Discs B & C. Also, getting the best ending shows an early trailer for the original M2 version of D2, & Eno's complete soundtrack for the game (as small as it was) is included on a mini-disc. In fact, in true Eno fashion, the mini-disc is a bit of a troll, as the three listed songs make up Tracks 1-3, but then you get 95 tracks of nothing but silence, each of which lasts six seconds; should you make it through 9.5 minutes of silence, you're rewarded with Track 99, which is a bonus song. Today, D's Diner: The Director's Cut is a mainly a collector's item for fans of Kenji Eno, but still well worth starting this list of notable Japan-exclusive releases.
That being said, there is one other notable 3DO game by Kenji Eno & WARP, and it might be their most bizarre game ever... which is saying a lot. Released in July of 1995, Oyaji Hunter Mahjong is very much what it says on the jewel case. In short, you play as Oyaji Hunter, a superhero who protects the young women of Japan from lecherous older men by combating them in games of 1-on-1 riichi mahjong! While the game itself doesn't really innovate in any way in terms of gameplay, it is your standard mahjong video game, it's obvious that the concept is meant to parody the sub-genre of strip mahjong games that can be popular in Japan, by instead playing as a character that wants to protect women from being stripped. Add in bizarre & kinetic animation directed by anime legend Ichiro Itano, and Oyaji Hunter Mahjong is truly a game that only Kenji Eno would have made, because who else would poke fun at strip mahjong, & only via The 3DO Company's notoriously loose licensing restrictions & royalty rates would a game like this even be allowed to see official release.
Konami only ever released a single game for the 3DO in Japan, but at least it's a game made by Hideo Kojima! Originally released on the NEC PC-9821 in mid-1994, Policenauts was a graphic adventure game that acted as a spiritual successor to Snatcher, Kojima's previous entry into the genre. Similar to that first game, Policenauts has gone on to cult acclaim, and today is known most for its later enhanced ports on the PlayStation & Saturn from 1996; in fact, both of those versions even have complete English fan translations today. However, the first console port of Policenauts was actually for the 3DO, released in September of 1995. It's from this port that the later PS1 & Saturn versions get most of their extra content compared to the PC original, like mouse support (there was even a bundle that included the mouse), voice work, redone music, & fully animated cutscenes done by AIC & directed by Akio Kawamura. That being said, however, the 3DO version does still have something different to offer, and it's in those very anime cutscenes. Aside from playing at 24 frames per second compared to the PS1 version's 15, though the Saturn version matches it, the 3DO version is also 100% cel-animated. In comparison, the later ports saw AIC replace certain elements, like the robot suits characters used, with CG. Also, some of the stills that AIC drew to replace the PC version's sprite artwork were redrawn for the later ports, making the 3DO version an interesting middle ground release. There was also a Pilot Disk demo that came out a few months prior that included a glossary, making-of information, interviews, & a BGM player; the glossary would be included in the later ports, but not the behind-the-scenes content. Is the 3DO version of Policenauts the best? No, because the Saturn version plays the same, & even includes light-gun support for the few shooting segments that are in the game. Still, it remains an interesting port of the game in general, & no 3DO owner should be without it... Even if the fan translation sadly never sees release for this specific port.
In comparison to a giant like Konami, the now-defunct Riverhillsoft was a relatively minor company, but it still had its relevancy. The J.B. Harold series of murder mystery games got its start with the company, its Japanese distribution of the Prince of Persia series in the 90s gave the eponymous Prince the "turban & vest" outfit he'd become synonymous with until the Sands of Time reboot, & Riverhillsoft was an early innovator of the survival horror genre, two years before Capcom's Resident Evil. Really, it's that last point that makes 1994's Doctor Hauzer such an important Japan-exclusive 3DO title. You play as Adam Adler, a newspaper reporter who has a scheduled interview with the eponymous archaeologist Dr. Hauzer, but upon arriving you find an empty mansion & decide to investigate. Unlike most survival horror games, there are no actual enemies to survive against, but rather the mansion itself is filled with deadly traps. Also, unlike Alone in the Dark before it, Doctor Hauzer is done in a completely polygonal world, complete with an early implementation of cel-shading to help make the game look better & three different camera views (fixed, overhead, & first-person). Unfortunately, this fully polygonal world comes at a price, namely the framerate. While certainly not unplayable, & the lack of enemies certainly helps, the game just chugs along at all points once you start playing. It's obvious that the game pushes the 3DO hardware to its limit, & is proof why Capcom stuck to pre-rendered environments for Resident Evil, but today emulators like 4DO let you do some virtual overclocking, through which the game plays much smoother. Regardless, Doctor Hauzer is an ambitious game & well worth owning, and if you're a fan of game studio Level-5 then know that its founder, Akihiro Hino, actually got his start with Riverhillsoft, with this game actually being one of the ones he did programming for.
Okay, how about games based on anime & manga? Just about any console released in Japan ever since the 80s had some, and the 3DO was no different. There were games based on Doraemon, Sailor Moon S, Crayon Shin-chan, Hello Kitty, Konpeki no Kantai, Montana Jones, & even Ultraman Powered (yeah, that's a tokusatsu, but I'll count it here). Amongst those, Tomy & Hudson Soft/TOSE's Yu Yu Hakusho for the 3DO from 1994 isn't much different from the norm, being a 1-on-1 2D fighter, based primarily around the Dark Tournament & Chapter Black story arcs, featuring 15 characters in total. The main attraction is the Story Mode, which handles things like The King of Fighters (i.e. team-based, with the winner staying & getting back a little health for the next match), and even includes scenes from the anime, something which wouldn't happen again until a decade later with the Western-developed Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament for PS2. Apparently, the sprites themselves were even digitized from actual animation cels, though the end result is a bit messy in some ways. Overall, this Yu Yu Hakusho game is a mixed bag, with great presentation but simplistic combat (it's a two-button fighter, after all), but for fans of the series it's still worth having, if only for the novelty of it.
The other anime game I've chosen to mention is easily the most curious of them all, though. In Japan, & especially during the 90s, there would occasionally be released for consoles that technically weren't really "games", & I don't even mean in the vein of titles that purposefully made people question the definition of the word, like SimCity or Gone Home. Rather, I'm talking about things like database releases for consoles, which were definitely a thing during the 90s. Rather than be a "game" in any normal way, these were instead simply catalogs of information & images for specific series, sometimes not even gaming related; they were like releasing laser-focused versions of Encarta for consoles. Virtua Fighter had the 11-volume(!) CG Portrait Series for the Saturn, Kamen Rider had similar releases during that time, & for the 3DO there was 1995's Future Boy Conan Digital Library by Emotion Digital Software. It was based on the 1978 anime classic, based on Alexander Key's novel The Incredible Tide, that remains the only TV anime that Hayao Miyazaki ever directed the entirety of. As the title says, this is primarily meant to be a database of information about the anime, detailing the plot, characters, locations, etc.; there were a few mini-games included, however, which at least makes this somewhat of a "game". What's all the more bizarre is that there are other Future Boy Conan games out there, for the PC-Engine & even PS2, that are actually "games", so the fact that the 3DO received a database release, of all things, is really odd, but I guess if you're a Conan superfan, then you may already own this.
Up next is kind of tangentially related to the previous two, as it's a game based on a manga done by Buichi Terasawa, the creator of Space Adventure Cobra. Originally debuting in 1992, Buichi Terasawa's Takeru followed Takeru Ichimonji, a bounty hunter/ninja who fought alongside his buxom partner Bumbuku against the evil Kaganju, who wished to resurrect Queen Himiko... Or, in simpler terms, "Cobra in Cyber-Nippon". What made Takeru different from other manga, though, was that it was produced primarily using computer graphics, instead of via hand-drawn artwork. A side-effect of this was that it allowed for the manga to be converted into a digital format easily, and that eventually lead to Matsushita (a.k.a. Panasonic) releasing a graphic adventure version of Takeru for the 3DO in 1994. Now, to be fair, there might be a scant few people who are already familiar with this game, because it did eventually get ported for English release to Windows & Mac in 1996, where it would be titled Takeru: Letter of the Law. Still, the 3DO version came first, is the only console version of the game, & remained Japan-exclusive. Is it necessarily a "good" game? I can't say for sure, though the PC versions did receive very mixed reviews, but it is still an interesting little curio for fans of Cobra to look out for.
As indicated earlier on, one aspect of Trip Hawkins' plan to make the 3DO a success was to institute very lenient licensing guidelines & royalty rates for companies that wanted to develop & publish on the console, as he felt that companies like Sega & Nintendo were way too harsh & expensive; The 3DO Company infamously only charged $3/disc for royalties. Unfortunately, a side-effect of this was that it welcomed pretty much any type of content to be released on the 3DO, the most notorious of all being adult video games. In fact, even to this day, some people still associate the console primarily with adult-focused games like NeuroDancer: Journey Into the Neuronet!, The Coven, Blonde Justice, Love Bites, Sex (no subtlety there, right?), Endlessly, Snow Job &, of course, Plumbers Don't Wear Ties, almost all of which weren't even good games in the first place (except for Snow Job, which was decently received). Naturally, these games were North American exclusives, and some of them may not even technically be official releases(?), but there are a scant few Japan-exclusive ones, & probably the most bizarre of all would be early 1995's The Supermodel Gail McKenna (or Gail McKenna: The Super Angel, according to the in-game title splash) by Digital Production. From the little I can find about this release it's nothing special, simply being a collection of scantily-clad & nude images & videos of a buxom model, but it's the very model featured that makes this bizarre. You see, Gail McKenna is a former Page 3 girl & glamour model who became big during the mid-to-late 80s, even appearing in Playboy in 1988. However, she retired from topless & nude modelling in 1990, after becoming a born-again Christian, but this game didn't come out until five years after her retirement. In fact, just a year later she became a British sports broadcaster, followed by working on children's television; maybe she just couldn't say "No" to easy money, & I guess the Lord was OK with it, too. I'm not saying that you should go after this by any means, but considering how adult "games" like this were primarily made for Americans, the fact that there's a Japan-exclusive one based around a British ex-model that came out years after she retired from the industry is... Odd.
Speaking of real-life people who aren't Japanese having a 3DO game that's exclusive to Japan, how did I not know of this release until recently?! Yes, you are not seeing things, because there is a Japan-only 3DO game based on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the 1955-1965 TV anthology series (& 1985-1989 revival) hosted & produced by "The Master of Suspense" himself. Amusingly enough, this should not be confused with Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Final Cut, a 2001 action/adventure PC game; yes, there are two games based (somewhat) on Alfred Hitchcock. Anyway, the 3DO game isn't really a traditional game release, as it was never sold in stores. Instead, it was a promotional product that Toyota handed out at some point during the 90s; it may have been related to Toyota's Toyopet promotional discs for the 3DO. Regardless, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is technically more of a game than The Supermodel Gail McKenna, since it actually gives players two mini-games to choose from: A simple variant of Concentration, where you have limited time to match all of the hidden pairs together, or a game of Roulette. These are both introduced by re-purposed footage of Hitchcock, complete with voice work done by the late Kazuo Kumakura, the official Japanese dub voice of Hitchcock. Today, this is really nothing more than a collectible novelty than anything else, but it definitely has to be a bit of a rarity, due to it only being available as a limited-time giveaway by Toyota. At the very least, I'll be keeping an eye out for this online, if only to see if it goes for anything outrageous today.
Meanwhile, we're back Riverhillsoft for another interesting release, and it's one that seems to have a tangential relation to a more known retro game. Released at the very end of 1994, Insector War (no, not "Insect War", as stated online; the katakana reads "Insector") is a first-person arena shooter where your only goal is to be the last space insect standing by way of shooting energy bullets at each other. To be honest, this is a game that I've seen the cover of online & thought, "Well, that certainly looks like something," but it wasn't until a really decided to look it up a bit more & see a video of it online, in what looks to be literally the only one of any actual length on the internet, that I feel that this is actually worth a spot on this article. The speed looks to be good, the action constant, and there's even apparently support for up to four-players via split-screen, which is cool. However, looking more into Riverhillsoft's history makes me realize that Insector War may actually be a spiritual successor to a game that the studio had released just a year prior, 1993's Faceball for the PC-Engine CD. Yes, there was a port of Xanth Software F/X's influential first-person shooter MIDI Maze, though best known as Faceball 2000 on the Game Boy & SNES, for the PC-Engine in Japan, and it has a similar feel as Insector War, not to mention that it also supports up to four players; beats the SNES version, at least. If I had to guess, the people at Riverhillsoft were possibly interested in making another Faceball game, but since Bulletproof Software owned the license, they likely decided to simply make their own original game with an improved engine. Regardless, I'm definitely going to try to get a copy of Insector War for myself one day now, because it definitely looks to be more than what you'd imagine.
Naturally, a lot of these Japan-exclusive games aren't exactly going to be amazing titles, so let's include one notoriously poor title, just for the fun of it. Developed by Sanai Enterprise & published by Panasonic, late 1995's AutoBahn Tokio is a street racer that sees you take on another car in both lap-based & point-to-point competition. Really, though, what makes the game notable is just how poorly done the entire thing is. Controls are stiff, though at least workable, making the racing itself more of a chore than it should be. In terms of content, there really aren't that many courses, and the cars are nameless fakes of actual cars, rather than utilizing any real licenses. Similarly, your only modes are Championship & Time Attack, due to there being no multiplayer. Finally, & most notably, the game is simply riddled with glitches galore. You can find examples of these online, but there's not just pop-in of the usual sort, but of the literal background in at least one stage, on another stage the skybox's texture can change simply by shifting your position on the track, getting too close to the edges of tracks can result in the texture of the ground below disappearing (& maybe even shift the self-imposed letterbox bars!), accidentally ramming your opponent can result in the two of you fusing together slightly & making it hard to escape. Easily the trippiest of them, though, comes in one specific stage, where there's a tunnel that can result in an example of the wagon-wheel effect so powerful that you feel as though you're being shot out of the tunnel at super-speed when exiting. Really, it's kind of shocking that AutoBahn Tokio came out so late in the 3DO's life, but it's one to not be forgotten of, simply because it's so poorly done.
There are some pieces of Western animation that are popular in Japan, like Tom & Jerry, but easily the most interesting of all is Japan's love of Wacky Races, Hanna-Barbera's 1968 racing series. Known there under the name Chiki Chiki Machine Mou Race, or "Heart-Throbbing Machine Fierce Race", the series would become a notable influence on the populace, and there have been numerous anime references to the series in the decades since it first aired in the country in 1970. For example, the first episode of Tatsunoko's 90s OVA Time Bokan: Royal Revival was literally just Wacky Races, but with all of the racers being the various villainous trios from the entire Time Bokan franchise. In terms of video games, those actually become more of a thing in the past two decades, with the 2000 racing game for PS1, Dreamcast, & PC being the most notable (& best, in general). However, before those more recent adaptations, there were actually two games released exclusively for the 3DO in Japan. There really isn't much different between 1994's Chiki Chiki Machine Mou Race: Kenken & Black Devil's Great Coward's Strategy (Kenken & Black Devil are the Japanese names for fan-favorite characters Muttley & Dick Dastardly) & 1995's Chiki Chiki Machine Mou Race 2: In Space, as both were released by Future Pictures & headed up by filmmaker/writer/actor/DJ Tsuyoshi Takashiro, utilized highly stylized 3D CG in place of 2D animation, & aren't actually racing games; the first game was a launch title, though. Instead, you simply watch videos of the races themselves, and you make bets as to who will will the race, which makes sense as the covers call them "Digital Films"; also, the second game sends everyone to space, because of course. Really, these games are only worth owning for the most hardcore of Wacky Races enthusiasts, but they are a perfect example of how popular that series is in Japan.
Originally released in mid-1993, the Pioneer LaserActive is a curious product, combining together a laserdisc player with a video game console. In particular, owners could buy two different "PACs" that plugged into the bottom corner, which allowed the machine to play either Sega Genesis/Mega Drive cartridges or TurboGrafx/PC-Engine HuCards, as well as Sega/Mega CD & Turbo/PC-Engine CD games. Most interesting of all, though, was that there were games made specifically for the LaserActive that came on LDs & required these PACs; these were called Mega LDs & LD-Rom²s. While some LD games for the LaserActive were simply ports of older LD arcade games (Road Blaster, Time Gal, etc.) or upgraded versions of older games (J.B. Harold: Manhattan Requiem), most wound up being exclusive to the machine, with few ports to other systems. 1995's Pyramid Intruder is one of those, being a port of 1993's Pyramid Patrol, an FMV shooter in the vein of something like Silpheed, i.e. the player, enemies, & obstacles are sprite-based, while the background is completely full-motion video. Yeah, similar to fellow LaserActive-to-3DO port Strahl, which was Triad Stone on Pioneer's machine (& was originally going to be Catching Stone for the arcades, before being canceled), Pyramid Intruder oddly has a (ever-so-slightly) different name for its 3DO release, but the games are effectively the same, with the only real difference being the video quality for the FMV itself; naturally, an LD is going to have better video than a CD. That being said, Pyramid Intruder is much cheaper to get a hold of today than Pyramid Patrol, even if you remove the costs of buying their respective machines.
For the final game I'll be bringing up, I am admittedly cheating, because this isn't actually a Japan-exclusive 3DO game... It's a South Korea-exclusive! In fact, this game ties back to an old deal that helped bring SNK's Neo Geo to the country, working with developer Viccom; in return, Fatal Fury character Kim Kaphwan was actually named after Viccom's chairman of the same name. As part of the deal, SNK would give Viccom a development kit for the Neo Geo, and the studio produced 1994's Wang Jung Wang/The King of Kings, a 1-on-1 fighter that would see (highly limited) international release under the name Fight Fever. After that game, Viccom started work on a sequel, Geugcho Hogwon, even showing it running on the Neo Geo at the AOU Show in early 1996. For whatever reason, however, the game wound up never releasing on SNK's hardware (& maybe this would also explain why Kim eventually lost his surname in later Fatal Fury & King of Fighters games), but instead saw release later that year on MS-DOS (yeah, not even Windows) & the 3DO, this time under the name The Eye of Typhoon, with LG (a.k.a. GoldStar) handling the console release. While Fight Fever is generally looked down upon (& I doubt it'll end up being added to Hamster's ACA Neo Geo line), Viccom's second fighting game looks to be better received, though its status as an exclusive in a tertiary market makes it not as well known, in terms of mechanics & whatnot. As for any difference between the versions, the 3DO game apparently has more animation, more visual effects (like screen zooming), and overall is the better product. Unfortunately, being a South Korea-exclusive has also made The Eye of Typhoon the rarest 3DO game in the entire world, with it almost never going for sale online, and whenever it does it's not for cheap; I think I only ever saw it on eBay once in my entire life, & I quickly gave up any hope of winning the auction.
Without a doubt, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer will go down in video game history as a failure, but to ignore its existence would be a disservice. For example, Sony made similar mistakes with the PlayStation 3's launch in 2006, showing that the company didn't really learn from the mistakes of The 3DO Company, and the sheer deluge of games that see release on services like Steam (or even the Nintendo Swtich eShop, admittedly) because of more relaxed policies feels somewhat like what happened with the 3DO's looser licensing & royalties. At the same time, while the console was primarily marketed to North American audiences, it really is astounding at just how many Japanese companies tried giving it a go with the 3DO, even though it really only stayed around for a little over two years. If anything, the fact that Japan had so many titles released was likely due to the cheaper licensing & royalties, which encouraged companies to simply release products. Again, the 15 titles I brought up in this article don't even account for a solid 10%(!) of the Japan-exclusives the console had, so I'm sure there are probably a few that I "missed".
So start hunting, I say, & find more of these oddities that deserve recognition!