Welcome to Random.access, home of a wide variety of video game reviews for both extremely popular games, as well as ones obscure enough to be forgotten the instant they are released. For every major-league hit like Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed, there's a "LifeScape: Seimei 40 Okunen Haruka na Tabi" hidden in the erupting mist. For every Super Mario Bros., there's a "Gegege no Kitarou 2: Youkai Gundan no Chousen" stashed in the darkness. And, on the Game Boy Advance, for every Pokémon Emerald, there's a "Black Black". We continue to be dedicated to shedding some light on these otherwise unknown and unsung heroes of the video game universe. It's our sworn duty!
Black Black is one of those games where, unless you're particularly fluent in written Japanese, you're going to have a bit of a rough adventure. But here's the basic story: you will take on the role of four youthful individuals — Woods, Honey, Karma, and Heiyo — who have been tasked with the quest of locating a magical flute. For whatever reason, this flute has the power to rid the world of an impending evil presence. And that's pretty much it. When you start a new game, you're just an innocent bystander loafing in the woods when all of a sudden, some strange topless muscle man with licorice hair, sanguine lips, and an apparent runny nose gets in your grill and shouts, "HEY!"
And then he will likely use the word "YO" in every sentence he ever says again ever. (Yes, that's one of the few things written in English.) I have no idea who this diva is, but I can assure you, he's probably the closest thing to the voice of reason you're going to meet for a while.
After talking to Captain Superfly for a brief period, you end up inside of his house. (How did he lure you there? Candy? Money? Promises of a Vitamin C compilation album?) You're allowed into his basement — I don't like where this is going — and beneath there, you find that's practically Antarctica! Everything is covered in ice! Does he really need to keep his air conditioning so low? Once down there, you get to explore his dungeonesque cellar, looking for treasures and the like. The dungeon, like all of them in this game, have randomly generated layouts, so forget creating those pen-and-paper maps because it'll be useless in five minutes. Or, make one up, and then sacrifice your work to be used as toilet paper for the family dog.
Of course, what dungeon isn't complete without monster battles? Yes, monsters will come up and try to gnaw your face off like a steak-starved coyote, and in typical RPG fashion, you'll need to fend them off using either some good old-fashioned stabbing attack in the eye and neck region or by using a more advanced tech move that costs points (TP, as in Tech Points). There's also the option to defend yourself, use an item, or run away from the fight. And, sometimes, there's a chat icon available as well. THAT'S a little different than most RPGs. I'll talk about that in a bit.
Now here's the main problem. You can leave the dungeon and return to the hipster's house by stepping on the warp Star of David symbol, whether you've completely sniffed out the area or not. But when you go back and speak to Superfly, he'll just ramble and then not let you leave the house even more. This is where the issue of language barriers comes to light. You will have NO idea what to do. But here's what you NEED to do to escape: using a combination of offering alluring items and actual conversation skills, you'll need to invite/trap a penguin. It's like a Pokémon game, except less exciting and more opaque in its execution. When you engage an enemy in battle, it starts out with a certain number of FP or "Friendship Points". By chatting it up and giving gifts like you're Father Christmas preparing to get blotto and start a one-night stand, you will (with a little — or a lot — of luck) get it to join you. (For some reason, however, I accidentally hit a wrong button and ended up taming it by pure good fortune. Don't ask how it happened.) The purpose of all this is to enhance your own skills by befriending others, or, as the original Capcom press release states, "mating". After taming the wild penguin and returning to the Grandmaster Flunk in his home, he let me out. Oh, but the penguin was nowhere to be found. I must have quickly mated with it then tossed it aside like an unwanted chew toy.
Despite some linguistic setbacks, you can still experience cuteness.
My freedom outside of his home was refreshing. I felt trapped, scared, hungry. But I was able to explore the town a bit — with little result — and ended up at a weird castle in the south. Inside, more dungeons with multiple floors lay before me, and I battled my way to...well, death, actually. Healing items weren't common down there. I should've shopped prior, had I actually possessed money. But the strange thing is, the castle floors had no rhyme or reason to their appearance. One floor was a dusty dirt cavern, then the next was ice again, followed by the internals of a Medieval castle... which is what I expected in the first place!
And what's with the game's name? "Black Black"? If you say it enough times in public, passersby will think you genuinely believe you are transforming into poultry! Actually, Black Black is the name of a brand of Japanese chewing gum with caffeine in it. Sounds absolutely delicious... like a root canal.
Visually, the game is appealing, especially since it's on the small screen. Environments outside of the dungeons are rather well-detailed, though once you're down in the depths, things become far more basic. Characters designs are a bit odd: most people have tiny beady eyes on their bulbous heads, except for that one Superfly fellow, who's as bizarre as humanly possible. I wish enemy design was a little more exciting; I think they channeled Pokémon, and then toned it down significantly so it didn't look like they were ripping off the franchise. As for the music, it's...weird. Just listening to the title screen alone is a strange experience. It sounds like the noises coming from a jungle asylum! Let's just say your ears are in for a wild ride.
Sadly, Black Black never left Japan, so the gaming community at large never was able to experience this one due of language constraints, although its focus on melding with characters could have appealed to the Pokémon crowd as the series rose in popularity. Beyond its wacky chocolate exterior, however, lies a very simple and straightforward RPG that fails to rise above its brethren in the genre. Aaaaaaaand fade to Black... Black...