Posted on June 15th, 2010 9 comments
Release Date: 6/30/89
Price: 7200 yen
Media: CD-ROM² (141.58MB + 3 audio tracks)
PC Engine FAN Score: 25.68 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A sort of Eastern charm pervades the story, which features fire-tribe child Ziria as he faces off against the 13 members of the Great Gate sect with his friends Tsunade and Orochimaru. An RPG with a flashy team behind it, including director Hiroi Ohji and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.”
This, along with the later Ys I/II, established the PC Engine CD-ROM² System as a truly viable game platform in Japan. It’s the first RPG ever released on the CD-ROM format (I’m not going to count No-Ri-Ko as an RPG), and it’s also the first installment in the Tengai Makyō series, one which never really came out here but has stayed alive in Japan since its inception, most recently in a 2008 compilation released on the PSP. In my opinion, though, Ziria is important for another reason — it’s the first real “mega-RPG” project, a JRPG where the graphics were a main sell right alongside the gameplay, and in that way it had the same effect on Japanese gamers in 1989 that Final Fantasy VII had on the worldwide audience in 1997.
It’s interesting that Ziria wound up doing all this for the PCE, because the game wasn’t even a game at all in the beginning. Instead it was a movie script, or at least the outline of one, penned in 1986 by Teruhisa Hiroi (better known as Hiroi Ōji these days) for media outfit Red Company. Hiroi had an idea for a non-samurai samurai flick — a dramedy that took all the samurai/ninja/shogun legends of Japanese folklore and bunched them all together Alice in Wonderland-style — and he figured it’d work best as a live-action feature film.
Hiroi’s pitch was turned down by movie studio Daiei in the summer of ’86, but he got a connection via Daiei to animation firm Tokyo Movie Shinsha soon afterward. Hiroi and Red Company then restructured the script to work as an anime series instead, a project that occupied the remainder of the year for them. Torajiro Tsujino, who worked for TMS as an animator back then, went on board as art designer for the project, creating the colorful, exaggerated samurai-era “Jipang” you can still see in the series today — “a foreign observer’s skewed view of old Japan,” as Hiroi put it. (This world-view has stayed constant through the whole series except in Daiyon no Mokushiroku, which turns the tables and portrays 1890s-era America as imagined by Japanese people without the benefit of a world-history textbook.)