My friend Rob lived at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill. We’d walk down the hill after school and I’d stop off at Rob’s place for about an hour before leaving to grab a Big Mac on the way home. Good times.
That’s the short version of the story. The long version involves having to admit that we as teenage boys sometimes spent that hour watching episodes of kid’s anime shows. The longer version involves admitting that one of the kid’s anime shows we sometimes watched was for girls. That show was Sailor Moon.
If you’ve never seen it, Sailor Moon is vapid, sexist, fucked-up madness of the nth kind. It’s probably most famous for its transformation sequence (see below) in which Serena (14 years old) transforms into her hyper-sexualized superhero form, Sailor Moon, complete with extended will-it-won’t-it fluttering of pleated miniskirt. Sick, sick, sick… and the rest of the show didn’t exactly shine a light for feminism either. And yet as vapid, sexist, fucked-up madness goes, Sailor Moon was pretty harmless if only because it was funny without knowing it was. How does a girl with two giant pigtails pull the Clark Kent disguise sans glasses? What kind of superhero calls himself Tuxedo Mask and sleeps well at night?
Sailor Moon may have been as simple as Paris Hilton, but its 1995 spin-off RPG for the Super Nintendo, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon: Another Story, was as deep as Deep Blue – if Deep Blue had been smoking crack. But really, Another Story is the best licensed J-RPG you’ve never played.
In case you’re wondering which recess of my brain the thought to write about a Sailor Moon RPG sprang from, I was reminded of Another Story after reading what’s got to be an early contender for the most barmy gaming-related news of the year, namely that there’ll be a new Italian-exclusive Sailor Moon game next spring. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.
I digress – let’s go back to the 90s. The reason why I found the game in the first place was because my SNES died. After a winter of discontent and mourning, I figured I was well within my rights to download a SNES emulator. That eventually led to me ever extending ‘my own rights’ to the point where I had near-infinite collection of ROMs. Finding the Sailor Moon game was only an inevitability.
What I wasn’t expecting was Another Story to be so bloody fantastic. Yes, the story was mental drudgery and the rampant femininity was as sickly as a Barbie doll covered in honey, but all that was more than made up for by the game’s astonishingly engrossing battle mechanics. Very much in the vein of Chrono Trigger but with turn-based combat, Another Story revolved around combination moves between different sailor girls. Two, three, or all five girls in your party could combine to form devastating attack and defence moves, but which moves you could perform depended on the girls within your party. These moves ate up actions points (or whatever they were called) for everyone involved, though, so deciding between using the big-ass moves or playing coy with smaller attacks to preserve possible healing moves was always a tricky balancing act. And battles were rarely easy.
In the endgame you had something like nine or ten girls to choose a party of five from. With the endgame being ridiculously difficult (as was the trend for J-RPGs of that generation), especially considering the surprisingly variable way different enemies handled different attacks in Another Story, that choice was laced with danger.
Yes, we’re still talking about a Sailor Moon game here. Yes, it really was rock hard. The game never let up on you. If you weren’t levelling up each sailor girl equally, a specific battle where your weakest party members were left to fend for themselves would most likely prove a shitstorm. It was long too, pretty much as epically long as any of the mainstream J-RPGs of the time.
Let me put it this way: if it had been Final Fantasy game with a semi-decent story and a bit less focus on being a game for girls, people would be talking about Another Story and not instead make fun of its feminine healing items like ‘toilette’ and ‘fragrance’… oh shit, I’m part of the problem.
But people don’t talk about Another Story, or at least I don’t think they do. I was pleasantly surprised to see a few Twitter folk jump for nostalgic joy when I mentioned the game earlier today, but I do have some total utter fruits on my Twitter feed so this was only to be expected. But so what? The way I see it, not everyone was cool enough to spend their teenage summers plunging hours into an RPG based on a Japanese show that embodied the country’s paedophilia problem. Well done me.