Here at Hardcore Gaming 101 we usually try to research all the obscure little facts about a game, such as who composed the music, which strange home computer ports were made, differences in localisation, and so on. Sometimes we have developer interviews, and sometimes they've even been translated from Japanese. We love documenting the undocumented. In some cases though, a game is so obscure, so unknown, that trying to find any information at all, even in its native Japanese, is almost impossible. Is it even feasible to write a feature when all you have are some grainy box scans and a few computer disk images, for games which are universally regarded as awful and are almost unplayable?
Some games, irrespective of how little we know, absolutely need to be written about, if only to disprove what we think we know.
The Nausicaä computer games, based on the eponymous creation of Hayao Miyazaki, are prime examples. For those who have not seen it, the Nausicaä film was based on a series of manga penned by Hayao Miyazaki, before Ghibli Studios was founded, and is regarded as one of the all time best anime films ever produced. This isn't hyperbole; if you've not seen it, you must. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world where mankind has poisoned the world to the point of his own extinction. A thousand years since the Seven of Days of Fire the world is covered by acid lakes and the "Sea of Corruption", a continuously spreading toxic jungle of deadly spores and mutated creatures, including the enormous Ohmu insects. The story involves young Princess Nausicaä from the Valley of the Wind, as she fights to protect her small colony of survivors from other rival groups, one of which is intent on resurrecting the weapons used during the cataclysmic war. The general theme is that conflict only brings misery and more conflict, and that you need to work with the flow of nature rather than against it. There's action and some tension filled scenes, but this is a much deeper and more philosophical film than many other animes. Although originally brought out in the West under the name Warriors of Wind, this version was heavily edited (losing around 21 minutes), had parts of the story rewritten, and is not only regarded as one of the worst anime localisations of all time, but also infuriated Hayao Miyazaki when he found out. Since then it's been re-localised into English.
But anyway, how many games were released? Many places online, including fansites and Wikipedia, say two, even though their source is dodgy at best, basing their facts on further third-party sources which no longer exist. One fansite lists two games, but claims there may be another two out there. I've only been able to acquire three games, and no amount of furious Japanese Googling has produced a fourth. When were they released? Nobody knows! There's very few reliable sources, though most places say 1984 (this site lists the PC-88 release as being in June 1984). You can't even rely on Copyright notices, because only one of the three games bothers with it on the title screen.
So then, what sources do we have regarding the Nausicaä games? In the Western press, not much. Since Ghibli Studio's involvement with Level 5 for the Ni no Kuni games, there have been several interviews making reference to Hayao Miyazaki being displeased with the Nausicaä games, but only in vague terms. The general view is that Nausicaä was the first such film-to-game adaptation, the film of course being made before Ghibli Studio officially existed. Miyazaki-san saw the results and promptly developed a hatred for all video games. Magazines like GamesTM and websites such as 1UP, among many others, have alluded to these otherwise seldom documented Nausicaä titles in their coverage. Generally one or two titles are referenced, and the usual description is of them being shmups where the goal is to gun down and kill Ohmu - which obviously goes against the spirit of the Nausicaä manga and films.
As I'll demonstrate, though, such descriptions are entirely incorrect. In fairness to the multiple English language publications which describe them as such, the primary source appears possibly to have been the Japanese Wikipedia page on Nausicaä, specifically the section describing the gameplay of the PC-6001 version. This is not such a bad idea, since usually the Japanese Wikipedia pages on games tend to be well moderated, containing the kind of factual minutiae absent from its Western equivalents. HG101 uses it on occasion, to point us in the right direction, so no criticism there. Except as pointed out by THIS passionate fansite, the Japanese Wikipedia page regurgitates an urban myth about the games without any sources (the current Wikipedia entry seems to have been edited to reflect this, possibly by the author of the web page). Said Japanese author then goes to great lengths to prove that the MSX release is nothing like its description, providing neat little cut-outs and control explanations. He adds though that he can't get hold of the PC-6001 to test.
All of this confusion would go away if people just played the games, which they're unlikely to given their obscurity. The MSX cartridge ROM is easily available online, but you'll struggle to find the PC-6001 and PC-8801 releases. Even then, they're difficult to set up and rather obtuse to play. Without interviewing him we'll never know if Hayao Miyazaki ever played or even disliked the games. Chances are he would not like them - however, in their own warped way, they are all strangely faithful to Miyazaki's original work. Certainly there is no indiscriminate shooting of Ohmu, in any of them.
Join us as we see what they offer, and also make available the PC-8801 and PC-6001 disk images. Dates for all of them are presumably sometime in 1984, the same year as the Japanese theatrical release.
If you have any further information, or corrections, please let us know. If you're a publication wanting to document the games, I hope the information provided here, along with screenshots and emulators, will help you in your task.
Let's cover this one first, since it's probably the rarest of all three. Very few Japanese fan-sites mention it, despite coverage of the PC-88 and MSX versions, though there are a couple of NicoNico videos for the intro online. While the PC-88's back catalogue is reasonably well shared among fans, the PC-6001 is much harder to source. The P6 tape file was acquired courtesy of Tokugawa Forums: "Long ago someone asked me about this game. I didn't have it. Years after he contacted me again. He had found it. Never heard from him again since. True story."
There appears to be only one emulator for Windows computers, available on Zophar's Domain as "pc6001vw303". After setting up the BIOS and the tape file, there's a whole series of confusing menus to navigate, selecting Mode type, and Page numbers, and then manually typing in CLOAD"GAME" requests. After this you have an excruciatingly long wait as it emulates the loading of 56 kilobytes of data from an audio cassette. Even if you boost the speed to over 1000% of normal, it still takes several real world minutes - you can imagine how long it took in 1984.
Once loaded you're presented with a low-resolution title screen and prompted to press Space or the Fire button. The emulator supports controllers with two action buttons, though Nausicaä only requires directions and one to shoot. It's a 2D horizontal shmup and, while it does take artistic license, certainly appears to attempt to follow the film's latter scenes with the rescue of the baby Ohmu. Levels are divided between Acts and Scenes. A rather entomological gunship proceeds to the right, towards a brown slope, and you need to press up to make it ascend otherwise it crashes. Once airborne it constantly drifts towards the ground requiring you to pull up, which is actually really cool, differentiating it from other hori-shmups since it's more like flying an aeroplane. Space bar fires. Once on a level plane you're attacked by Pejite Flying Jars, called Flying Turtles in the Japanese original, three at a time. It's blatantly obvious that as a Flying Jar is destroyed or goes offscreen it immediately appears on the far right again. They can travel the full vertical of the screen, whereas if you touch the ground you die.
Dozens of these later and you descend down a brown slope and land near a settlement to then begin Scene 2. Some ways later into this an enormous white attack ship ascends from the ground to attack - acting as a sort of boss. After a few hits it catches fire and goes down, cue the descent slope. Scene 3 is pretty cool, since it culminates with the Flying Jar from the movie, carrying the baby Ohmu. At this point the fire button causes Nausicaä to fly from her Gunship, aboard her glider Mehve, and travel outwards as long as it's pressed. Let go and she starts to return. Pressing up and down moves both Mehve and her Gunship. The task is to send her towards the baby Ohmu to cut the ropes, while simultaneously avoiding the Gunship or Mehve hitting the oncoming Jars. Do so and the baby falls to earth safely. Unfortunately it's not obvious what's supposed to happen next, since the game seems to get stuck. Even after rescuing the Ohmu and returning to the Gunship you still can't shoot, nor can you in any way damage the oncoming Jars or the one which carried the Ohmu. Pressing fire just sends Nausicaä out again. Is it possible to go beyond Scene 3? I never did, despite stoic determination.
What's bizarre though, is that during my first attempt at loading the game I glitched my way into an alternate game, one where the Scene ## was replaced with a strange symbol. Instead of Flying Jars there were insects, four at a time, which couldn't be killed and attacked incessantly. Through prodigious use of save states I managed to survive around six or so scenes of this, with no let up or change to the game. Some kind of early DRM against people who copied tapes, or simply weird fluke? Whatever the case, we made a save file for this emulator package. Start the emulator, load the "nausica(6601_Mode5, Page 1).P6" tape file, which is in the DISK folder, and click Run Emulation. Then to avoid all the loading crap, press F8 and select DokoLoad, then File, then in the SAVE folder there's NAUSICAA_A, which is the normal game, and NAUSICAA_B which is the mysterious glitched insect game.
Based on the above, it's clearly an awful game. Or is it? Keep in mind the context of 1984. In the preceding four years in arcades - the technological vanguard of gaming - there had been Defender, Scramble, Zaxxon and the vector-based Star Wars. All various, excellent flavours of shmup. Home computer games by comparison sucked pretty damn hard. Popular games around the time included Manic Miner and Rare's single-screen shooter Jetpac. Japan's popular and accomplished Thexder wouldn't be out for another year still. While this adaptation of Nausicaä is nowhere near the quality of arcade hori-shmups Defender or Scramble, it is better than other home computer shooters at that time. It features a 160x200 resolution (the horizontal is stretched to appear 320) with around 12-14 colours, and reasonable speaker music, though it doesn't play during the game itself. There's multiple smooth moving enemies, and based on the emulator's use of USB controllers, your gunship controls very tightly. Plus it offers diversity wrapped up in a story, with an attack ship boss to be destroyed, and then a baby Ohmu to be rescued. At absolutely no point do you attack Ohmu.
It's not even remotely fun to play today, but in 1984 owners of a PC-6001 computer probably got really excited by it. Possibly...
Of the three games covered this is the most widely distributed online, and any ROM site which features the MSX should have it. If the PC-6001 could be criticised for its simplicity, then the MSX release suffers from being too complicated. There's so much to keep track of it's difficult to know where to begin. As mentioned, this fan-site does an excellent job describing the game, its controls, plus various features and characters in extreme detail. The game is less a hori-shmup, and more akin to some kind of simplified side-scrolling adventure/RPG.
You start the game in Nausicaä s white gunship, just outside her village. There are three pink barges nearby which, if you move up to slowly, you can hook onto and tow using F3. You can take off without one, but you'll eventually run out of fuel. You can detach the barge by pressing F4. When airborne you'll start to use up fuel, and pushing to the right will increase your speed and fuel usage, while holding left will decrease both until eventually the engine stalls and you crash. The controls similar to an aeroplane, though you can set the Gunship to fly in a perfectly straight horizontal line. Alternatively tap up or down to alter the angle, and it will climb or descend accordingly. The ship is surprisingly manoeuvrable, able to pull off little loops and flying in multiple directions. Unfortunately touching the top of the screen hits an invisible barrier which drops your speed, so make sure there's plenty of room if you try a loop (and do so without a barge attached). Touch the tree line though and you'll crash.
At any point you can press F1 and Nausicaä will leave the Gunship aboard her little turquoise Mehve glider. The Gunship meanwhile will drift towards the next open field to land safely and later be recovered. Mehve controls extremely smoothly, even more so than the Gunship, and is able to pull off some tight acrobatics. It also doesn't use up any fuel, making it good for emergencies when out. Here's an animated gif (745kb) showing control over the Gunship and Mehve, taken from a random fan-site.
After flying over several valleys and Sea of Corruption jungles, having encountered nothing, you'll eventually come across Pejite Flying Jars which are heading towards your village, to be either shot down or avoided. You'll also come across an enormous floating attack ship, though this has to be avoided to begin with. When in the Gunship you can fire your guns with space bar, though you seldom if ever need them - it's actually easier just to avoid later enemies. Mehve doesn't have any weapons, but she can fly below the tree line without crashing, whereas the enemy cannot - if you're having trouble, it's sometimes worth deploying out of your Gunship and travelling for a time at low altitude. When in either vehicle you can also release Strobe Grenades with F2, like the ones used in the film. During the first loop of the game there's only a single Ohmu you encounter (the Japanese fan-site claims more show up in subsequent loops), and his eyes start off friendly blue. If he's angered, either by you or the Pejites attacking him, you need to calm him with a Strobe Grenade.
The game has a day/night cycle, with various states which affect the presence of... what is presumably flying insects or spores, from the Sea of Corruption. These can't be killed and, if in the Gunship, need to be avoided otherwise they decrease your score and eventually make you crash. Mehve is immune to them though. This miasma only exists during navy-blue dawns and hazy yellow sunsets. During the hot turquoise noon they're not there. Likewise during a black moonlit night. If you like you can shoot the moon, which makes him angry and he ceases casting light on the trees below, for a time.
The object of the game appears to be reaching the end of the game world to the far right, hundreds of screens over. Each time you come across a clear valley you need to land and then press F4 to refuel from the barge, before carrying on. Eventually, after passing the Flying Jars, enemy dreadnaught, and single Ohmu below, you'll eventually reach what is possibly a city on the edge of the Sea of Corruption. Here things get interesting since you need to get close and then press F5 to initiate "negotiations". It would appear that Nausicaä is making some kind of peace deal with the Pejites. Afterwards you need to speed off in the opposite direction, to the left, to meet up with dreadnaught again - before it reaches your village. Then use Mehve to come aboard and initiate negotiations again. After this you get a little congratulatory message and do it again, albeit with more enemies and Ohmu.
At least that's what the fan-sites and online videos show - actually pulling off this Herculean exercise in banality is another matter. The play area is extremely long and boring, with most of your time spent sitting idly by holding the right keyboard key to speed up, only to overshoot a landing valley. If you crash you restart the whole thing from the beginning, except the enemy Flying Jars are even closer to your village now. If they reach it before you've finished negotiations it's Game Over. You also can't do negotiations aboard Mehve, you have to reach the town inside the Gunship.
As said for the previous game, for something which supposedly came out in 1984, this was probably really impressive. It's complicated, features a whole bunch of things from the film, and also tries to adhere to the themes of the film, in that attacking Ohmu angers them, and you need to calm them with Strobe Grenades. It also features things like the Gunship barge and skeletons of the God Warriors emerging from the overgrowth below. Plus there's a cool day/night cycle. It's certainly not the worst thing that could result from a film adaptation, and assuming it was released in 1984, was possibly well regarded at the time. It's just not something you'll want to play today.
The Japanese name is the same as the theatrical release, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the title screen however simply has Nausicaä Adventure Game in English. It is also, without question, one of the ugliest games ever to be released on the PC-88. This can't be emphasised enough: there were a ton of adventure games for NEC's computer, but only the cheapest and nastiest, usually hentai and doujin titles, come anywhere close to this level of ugly. Quite honestly, you will find high school student efforts on the PC-88, done in BASIC, which are more impressive. It's quite obvious whichever unlucky bastard was tasked with rushing this out, drew a few houses for the background and then simply enlarged them for the foreground. Everything about it is lazy. The sprite for Nausicaä doesn't even turn around, if you try walking to the right she walks backwards!
The game itself seems to be your standard adventure, except it's borderline unplayable. Correction: there's nothing actually to play. Nausicaä wanders around and, if you press "A" near a doorway, will pick up random items. A sword and shield, various kinds of foliage, the small yellow pet she carries around, and worst of all, a death skull. Items received are completely random, and it's quite possible to randomly pick up three death skulls and receive game over in quick succession. This kind of random item collection barely constitutes what most would define as gameplay - items do nothing, you can't access an inventory, and sooner or later you'll get three skulls and die. What makes this worse is that by 1984 the PC-88 already had some excellent adventure games. Yuji Horii's Portopia came out in 1983 - it was slick, used quick-keys, and functioned very nicely as a game. Nausicaä on the other hand utterly fails not only as a game, but as a copy of those that came before. It is ludicrously bad, more so than words can ever describe.
Intriguingly though, there appears to be more to it beneath the surface. The back of the box shows a strange picture of a hand-glider level, and the opening instructions in-game also describe how you control it (and here's further instructions, entirely in Katakana and almost unreadable). How you're actually supposed to access this action mini-game is a mystery. Googling for Japanese fan-sites all bring up the same images: one of the intro, and a couple of the walkabout areas. They're so repetitive a single screenshot showcases all it has to offer, and it's impossible - in the most literal sense of the word - to navigate. As for the hand-glider stages, they probably don't event exist. Still, if you're going to adapt a film into a game, an adventure is the easiest way to keep it authentic... There certainly doesn't seem to be random Ohmu shooting in this.
If you're actually crazy enough to want to play this aberration, here's the disk image.