Our Man in Japan -- Fe Bu Ru
DeanRaker - Columns - Comments - 10/04/04

Ever heard the legend about how when Ken Kutaragi, Mr. PSX himself, bought a Famicom, he opened it up, studied it and then tweaked the hardware to remove all the defects? Prophetic. I got the impression Peter Molyneaux tried to do something similar with RPGs and Fable, except he ran out of time half-through, stuck all the pieces together with crazy-glue and bug-tested it.

Now I'm going to make another far-flung comparison. Ready? The Tokyo Tower, of course, can't compare to the its big brother, the Eiffel Tower, no matter how much you hate the French. Its one of the most striking cases of Japanese wannabe impulses I know, but I've been there several times and its a really charming place, the aquarium is astoundingly lovely, and I have a good few memories of it. That's how I might end up thinking about Fable.

Understanding and frequenting English message boards has made me quite familiar with the type of reactions Japanese games provoke when their joys and pains are translated for the rest of the world to partake in. You don't often see much written about how Japanese encounter games translated for them. This is not exactly one of those times: Fable isn't out here yet, but you do have the super hardcore who import the notable games, especially for the Xbox, on this side of the pacific as well. And its really me translating for my best friend, whose copy arrived this weekend.

We were at a place in some marshland with ethereally lit mushrooms and strikingly Fable-esque oversaturated sunsets when I got smacked for the first time. For play sessions with me and my friend, this is not odd, as he hates anyone who suggests he do anything within the game. Well, I was doing him the favor of helping him out and getting sick and tired of him dying when he approaches the exploding fauna, so I just said, 'Why don't you just aim at them with the bow and take them out from afar?' And smack! Red welt on my face.

So after a little bout of wrestling in which I doubt my friend's ankle will stop smarting anytime soon, it was back to trying to understand what the travelers we're escorting were trying to stay. Both of us absolutely love how much random speech is scattered around the game, and indeed, the brimming cups of personality that spill out of it to flood the gameworld. But when you're thinking in Japanese, but having to read in English, continuing to parse and comprehend the content of menus, conversations and descriptions that slide into the speech overlapped on top ... it made our heads hurt.

Indeed, how about those travelers? Neat design there! Lots of folks in Fable seem to be dressed for the fantasy world fashion show. Both me and my friend, Tatsuhito, couldn't be more pleased. Even better are the 2D emblematic cutscenes that mark major transitions, as it can clearly be seen that the game's graphics are designed to be more like the 3D pop-up of these scenes. The slightly warped and exaggerated dimensions of the world and characters are even better thought out: everyone seems slightly too small for the world they inhabit and this seems like a superbly subtle way of reinforcing Fable's conceit of one man with lots of choices in a dynamic world. Tatsu couldn't see it, but I still think too many people look like their hair is a helmet. That's the only criticism I could find in what is probably the year's most striking visuals I've experienced, both technically and artistically.

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