'I often find myself drawn towards the weird, obscure and even virtually unknown when it comes to gaming. The problem with liking obscure games, is that sometimes annoying circumstances prop up that hold me back from being able to play some of them. The biggest obstacle of all though is when a game was never released to English-speaking countries and has no available English translation, whether it be fan or official. Being a man of only one language, the only choice I have then is to ponder longingly on what it might be like to actually play these games. This is where a new series I came up with comes in, titled "Lost Games" where I will research and explore those games that we may never get a chance to play.'
Despite being declared bankrupt only days into the millennium, Human Entertainment are a company who still remain revered by those in the know (AKA weirdo hipster editors of online magazines), 14 years after their demise. They brought us the popular Fire Pro Wrestling series, one of the earliest home console rhythm games, Dance Aerobics, as well as the cult classic, and one of my all-time favourites, Clock Tower. But it isn't these games that I want to talk about today. I am here to talk about a very little known game titled Mizzurna Falls. It was released onto the PlayStation in 1998, exclusively in Japan. Unfortunately, due to my inability to speak (and be bothered to learn) the Japanese language, being able to play and understand this game is pretty much impossible until somebody comes out with a translation patch for the game. Unfortunately the likeness of a patch at this moment in time seems highly unlikely due to the obscure nature of the game. Because of this I will just have to discuss what I have seen in gameplay videos and read in articles, and why this mysterious game has truly piqued my interest.
As frequent readers may know, I am a big fan of artistic, thoughtful, intricate plot-driven games like Shenmue and D2 on the Sega Dreamcast, so it wasn't a surprise that Mizzurna Falls drew me in after only watching a minute or so of gameplay footage on YouTube. After the opening credits rolled (which includes a spoken introduction to the game's storyline in rather amusing 'engrish' which discusses how two girls went missing) I observed as the gameplay started. A teenager called Matthew wakes up to a phone call (which I couldn't understand because I can't read Japanese) and then he takes a second to look at a photograph of him and two other friends, one of which I assume to be one of the girls that went missing. He then gets up off his bed and the player takes control, controlling Matthew. He can walk around his bedroom and interact with objects in there. The first thing that came to mind when seeing this gameplay was how similar it felt to the first moments of gameplay in Shenmue. The inclusion of such a mundane everyday task like waking up and moving around within your sleeping quarters was obviously something that went through the minds of the creators of both games when striving to create a sense of realism. Despite being such a small, irrelevant part to the gameplay, it brings a sense of humanity to the characters of Matthew and Ryo from Shenmue, because they, like you, start out as normal guys living normal everyday lives and it is from here that they can begin their day and seize the opportunities that are placed before them. Simple yet perhaps pointless things like this can really grab my attention because I am a real fan of realism in games and this is why Mizzuna Falls appealed to me so quickly. With so many larger than life characters in series like Final Fantasy it is refreshing to play as a character like Matthew who is so ordinary.
It is from here that the player leads Matthew down to the snowy streets where he can enter his car and drive around the world of Mizzuna Falls. With the context already in place within my mind that this game is a product of 1998, I instantly found myself astounded by the vast amount of freedom and space available to explore. Despite this, the game isn't without its flaws, a particularly noticeable one being the way objects in the distance appear out of thin air as you get closer, which comes as a result of the PlayStation's hardware. But these flaws are easily excusable when we remind ourselves of how Human Entertainment went all out to push that trusty little grey box to its maximum potential. The level of depth to Mizzuna Falls is truly incredible. It features a full day to night cycle, a weather system, and the town's inhabitants have daily routines. This game was doing vast 3D open world gameplay a year before even Shenmue, the game considered the originator of such gameplay was even released! I am not taking away the glory of Shenmue, as it is one of my all-time favourite games, but how did Mizzurna Falls get lost to time like it has, despite pushing the boundaries of video games in a similar way to Shenmue, and on less powerful hardware? Another thought that comes to mind is, why didn't Sony push this game more? It was never even released in the west. This was during a time in gaming where consoles didn't have things like built-in DVD players, social media sharing and other such irrelevant gimmicks to push their consoles, they competed on the quality of their games and how well they could push the limits of the technology they were made for. With Shenmue being the trick up Sega's sleeve around this time, Sony could have embraced this game as a direct (albiet a much more graphically lacking) competitor, beating Sega to this revolutionary style of gameplay first. It is quite apparent that the potential of Human Entertainment's Mizzurna Falls has gone unrecognised, and criminally so.
After doing some research, I came across this terrific blog called Eastern Mind (R.I.P.) that discusses the game in very intricate detail. Quoting the blog, 'the sheer magnitude of this project increases when considering the modest scale of the remaining Human studio productions from the time' and 'Mizzurna Falls becomes an intriguing and unmatched display of ambition.' It is sad that this game never got to be seen by the rest of the world, but like most great works of media, they go vastly unrecognised, unless there is a big budget behind them, and in the case of Mizzurna Falls, it had such a limited budget that it didn't even make it outside of Japan. So all us English speaks can do is watch videos and wonder what it'd be like to enjoy this game deeper than what is available to us, but on the surface, it is quite clear that Mizzurna Falls was astounding for its time.