The story of Megatech Software is a strange chapter in the history of computer games, even in the tight context of foreign ports of Japanese home computer games. Similar to Seika’s Railroad Empire, it was a hardware company’s experiment in computer games. Megatech Software was a division of Liberty International Components, a distributor of passive electronic components with numerous partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Whether the division was seen as a serious business venture, or just as a way to have some tax-deductible fun, I cannot tell, though some circumstantial evidence points to the latter.
It lasted about five years and published four games. A lot has been written about these games, they are famous alone for being the first eroge ever to be released outside Japan, but rarely with a view on the Japanese originals. That’s what I’ll try to do here, one game at a time, in chronological order.
Megatech’s first release was in a way also their masterpiece, though it remained the only one that never got a CD-ROM version with voice acting. The original is very obscure, it was published a year earlier under the label Inos, a label never used again for another game. In the intro, it has detailed credits, something very uncommon in Japanese games, suggesting that Inos was a sort of authors’ label. Here they are, in all their Engrish glory:
- Program: Rikizo
- Derection: Inoue.H.Dairi
- Art Derection: Takuya Yamazaki
- Ceef CG Editer: Space Tubura
- Character Design:
- Seiichi Chikamura
- Toshihiro Tanaka
- Natuki Egami
Cobra Mission is a sort of detective story. The protagonist is a private eye, and a good part of the gameplay is walking around and talking to people, gathering clues. Key locations only become accessible once you have learned enough about them. This is the only mechanic that ensures you have leveled up enough when you meet the boss.
Somehow Cobra Mission can’t decide whether it wants to be Japanese or American. A lot of things point to the latter. The whole detective genre is very American. The intro is very American, and all the text is in English (“Coution: Next mission in COBRA city. You get back the city’s peace and save girls. Hurry, hurry, hurry!”), the names in the credits are written in Romaji. The label Inos was nearly always written in Romaji, and is supposed to be pronounced like an English word:
It is common for a Japanese game to have an English title, but usually the box and/or title screen have an additional transcription (compare, for example, the Final Fantasy logo). Cobra City does not:
But on the other hand, most of the characters are definitely Japanese. The hero is named Satoru, his sidekick Midori, the agency he works for Fujii, and the buildings have Japanese signs and in one case even a Japanese flag:
The houses that you enter are definitely Japanese, complete with genkan, chabudai, and zabutons:
With the people you talk to, I’m not so sure, many look definitely Japanese, some may be supposed to be American types:
But of course, Cobra Mission was made by Japanese, for Japanese, who will hardly have known a lot about American everyday life, nor cared. Similarly, I’ve seen American movies where people round the world have American-style mail boxes. It especially cracks me up how American developers tend to research historic weapons and armor very carefully for their games, but rarely hesitate to give their medieval fantasy worlds the economic and social structures of 20th century America. In Siege of Avalon, there is a library in the village!
In any case, here’s the background story, which fills only a single screen. Maybe someone who reads Japanese will translate it:
When I say that Cobra Mission may have been Megatech’s masterpiece, I don’t necessarily mean that it was their best game. Many people consider Knights of Xentar the better game, and the interest in this latter game is in general greater. I tend to disagree, but that’s not my point.
My point is that Knights of Xentar was not in any way Megatech’s work, it was a fairly faithful translation of Dragon Knight III, the few things that Megatech added or changed were mostly pointless. But the English version of Cobra Mission is very much Megatech’s product, it is a very different game from the original, and, I dare say, a better game.
For one thing, they tilted the balance of the setting towards American, though it still remains somewhat hybrid. The Japanese-looking Midori was replaced with Faythe, a blonde similar to the girl in the logo, though her hair is shorter and she wears a suit instead of a dress. And she’s not just the hero’s sidekick, but his high school sweetheart, who called him to Cobra City to investigate the case of the disappearing girls.
Then there are numerous additional cut scenes and story elements. We get a glimpse of East Cobra, which will be out of reach for most of the game, when the hero arrives at the beginning. The destruction of the bridge is explained, albeit not very plausibly. Trying to cross the locked railroad gate to West Cobra will trigger a lengthy cut scene as well.
But all this pales compared to the changes and additions in gameplay. The simple turn-based battle system of the original gave way to a unique point and click ATB sytem with energy bars. Hit the enemies when they are weakest (directly after they attack you) and you are strongest (basically, the longer you wait), and try to find their weak spot. The English version has more enemies as well.
And then, the side quests! Work for a delivery service. Mow somebody’s lawn. Volunteer for medical experiments. Find female underwear in the houses and swap it for sexy photos. The original focused mainly on dialog, there is nothing to find on the main maps or in the houses. In the translation, lots, from the aforementioned underwear over magazines (more sexy pics for your collection) to standard RPG items like weapons and ammo. Most likely a lot of graphics were added in the translation.
As an afterthought, it might have been the better idea if Megatech had changed the setting to definitely Japanese, left Midori as the sidekick, left the house interiors as they were, and made the hero an American P.I. called on a case in Japan. This was, after all, the time when Maiko Covington became a minor Internet celebrity because she chatted about her everyday school life on Usenet. The interest in Japan was immense, and there was little to satisfy it. The demographic interested in Japan was the one most likely to buy a Japanese game anyway, the more Japanese the better.
Still, Cobra Mission is a good game. It gets a lot less credit than it deserves.