A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games – Bitmap Books – 2021
If you’re a fan of books and games, like me, you’ll probably love books about games especially. But print media on the subject of video games is usually reserved to magazines, and the lions share of content is actually online. Or at least so I thought until I discovered the proverbial gold mine that is Bitmap Books.
Bitmap Books is an award-winning independent publisher of retro gaming books. Each of their high-quality products is a celebration of the software, hardware, or developers who have shaped the gaming industry of today. I already have The Art of Point-and-Click Adventure Games and The CRPG Book: A Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games on my shelf. These books are incredible and the bar has been set high for anything else they create.
Their latest publication, A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games, is another exceptional addition to their bespoke library. Passing the Ronseal test with flying colours, this book focuses on role-playing games from Japan; think Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Persona. But it doesn’t limit itself to mainstream titles. This is an encyclopaedic exploration of the genre and includes over 600 titles and roughly 370,000 words.
The weird of this wonderful genre
Oddities and obscurities are now revealed to me. Take Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken for example. I’d never heard of this 1986 retelling (of which there are many) of the classic tale Journey to the West. The game is described as one of the worst RPGs on the Famicom/NES. And it looks that way from the write-up; 700 screens of pure incoherent hell await the player who must make a tediously slow journey across the pixelated world. I’d have just kept flicking through the book if my eye hadn’t been drawn to the text detailing a hidden message found in the ROM. This message was left by one of the programmers who, in a moment of desperate horniness, typed “I want a perverted girl. I love vagina! I love clitoris!”. Yeesh, think somebody needed to get out more, and to probably stay away from girls altogether. But little nuggets like that bring new life to these games, which range from 1982 all the way to 2020.
The book also features pages dedicated to defining the genre, it’s history, soundtracks, localisation, anime, key themes and remakes.
You should judge this book by it’s cover
In terms of the physical product itself, A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games is gorgeous. It’s flipping massive, weighing in at over 5kg with 652 glossy pages. And is adorned with stunning artwork by Stephanie Sybydlo of two children playing a retro JRPG – above them the action on screen is turned into incredible detail by their imaginations. The artwork is worthy of hanging on any wall. A thick red boarder wraps across the spine and includes the books title in both English and Japanese. The back cover features an airship, because of course it does, soaring towards an archaic crystalline city. The blurb reads:
Welcome to the world of Japanese Role-Playing Games!
Video role-playing games, adapted for computers from their pen-and-paper forebears, have been around since the earliest days of digital gaming. Despite initial similarities to Western games, Japan’s output began diverging in dramatic ways, inspired by it’s own culture and art, producing a style of game that’s often wildly different from its Western counterpart. From Dragon Quest to Final Fantasy, from Megami Tensei to Pokémon, this tome explores the expansive history of Japanese role-playing games, beginning on 8-bit microcomputers, and following them all the way up to the heavy hitters of the modern era. Included are reviews of over 600 games, covering a wide range of sub-genres, including strategy RPGs like Fire Emblem, Rogue-likes such as Mystery Dungeon, and first-person dungeon crawlers like Etrian Odyssey, as well as articles on the genre, its music and art. Let the adventure commence!
So to put it simply; this is the essential resource for fans of the JRPG genre, or anyone with an interest in video game history. It is exceptional. Everyone involved should receive a victory tune, huge amounts of XP, and some top-tier gear for their efforts!
The price tag of £34.99 seems like a typo as the premium finish and first-rate content could command a higher value. But I’ve got to commend Bitmap Books for delivering another stellar title at an affordable price.
I am highly recommending this to anyone and everyone.
A footnote on packaging
This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the packaging Bitmap Books uses for it’s products. If you’ve every ordered a book from Amazon you’ll know they can often come with little dinks. The oversized boxes used to transport them just aren’t up to the job unfortunately. Not so when ordering from BB. Each book comes in a protective bag to save the cover getting scratched up. Plus there’s foam covers added to each corner. And all of that is placed into a sturdy cardboard box. A howitzer could take a shot at it and your copy would still arrive very much unharmed. It’s that care and attention that marks Bitmap Books as the go to place for retro gaming enthusiasts.
You can find out more, and order your copy, at bitmapbooks.co.uk
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