Posts Tagged ‘Ranma’
I first heard about Kaeru no tame ni kane wa naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls) during my stay in Kyoto in 2002. A female Japanese student named Minori I met at Kyoto University brought it up as a favorite game she had played when she was younger. This Gameboy classic from 1992 was never officially localized for the West and if it weren’t for the fan translation it would be still completely unknown to non Japanese gamers. The Gameboy Zelda game Link’s Awakening on the other hand, which reuses Kaeru‘s engine, is widely appreciated over here as well.
Unfortunately my exposure to this game which forms the base for one of my favorite games ever (Link’s Awakening) remained limited to what I heard from Minori, who also recommended Yami no purple eye to me, since I told her I liked Chie SHINOHARA’s manga, and the Momojiri musume series of books by Osamu HASHIMOTO. I bought and read the latter two recommendations but Kaeru escaped me until very recently when it was re-released on the Japanese 3DS virtual console.
It is a short and easy but very entertaining take on the RPG genre, using the classic Ernest Hemingway novel For Whom the Bell Tolls as a loose base to tell its parody fairy-tale story. It may not be immediately apparent but despite the change in setting, game and novel really share a wealth of motifs and themes and reading and comparing the original novel with the game further enhances understanding and enjoyment of the game’s scenario written by Yoshio SAKAMOTO (known in the West for his work on Metroid and Wario).
Hemingway’s novel is set during the time of the Spanish civil war in the 1930ies and describes the three days Robert Jordan, an American dynamiter, spends with a band of Spanish guerillas preparing for an important attack on a bridge, which could turn the tides of war in favor of the partisans. The planned attack remains central throughout the novel but the outsider Jordan also sheds light on the country Spain and its people in his interaction with the other characters. For this the author draws upon his experiences as a journalist in Spain covering the civil war as it happened.
In the last chapter when the bombing of the bridge finally happens, one of the characters becomes impatient and says, “Is he building a bridge or blowing one?” And this is exactly the point, for a non Spanish reader the novel becomes a window into Spanish culture as seen by Hemingway. It bridges cultures and ethnicities. Language becomes a bridge as well, a theme echoed in the Nintendo game where transforming into animals will also enable the player to speak the language of that animal.
The hero of the Nintendo game, a prince out of a European fairy-tale inspired fantasy and named by the player, also travels to a foreign land, to save a kidnapped princess or so he is lead to believe. His rival, Prince Richard, which our hero just never seems to be able to beat at fencing, turns the saving of the princess into yet another contest which in his opinion obviously only he can win. This rivalry is a central theme in Kaeru and one can easily get the impression that the game has nothing in common with Hemingway’s novel at all since this rivalry seems to have no counterpart in the similarly named Hemingway novel.
I will come back to this seeming disconnect between the two works later. Let’s just turn our attention to the more obvious references to Hemingway that also abound in the game. Jordan has to destroy a bridge and the whole narrative is a build up to this crucial event. The Gameboy hero, the Prince of Sable, on the other hand has to restore a bridge to even set foot into Mille-Feuille and travel to its first town, Alamode (wordplay on French à la mode meaning fashionable). The thief Jam tells the prince how to do this: the bridge is controlled by the Geronian invaders from Ecclere Shrine at the center of Mille-Feuille, which the invaders turned into their fortress.1 The player has to return to this temple several time to explore more and more of it. A similar design mechanic was later used in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS. The prince, who unlike Jam cannot swim, succeeds in finding the switch to close the draw bridge and makes his way to Alamode.
- The player has to return to this temple several time to explore more and more of it. A similar design mechanic was later used in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the DS. [↩]