Treachery never looked so cool...

I’m playing at my local gaming convention this Sunday, and there’s a risk that I’ll be invited into a Japanese-made role-playing game, so against this risk I thought I’d read one of the more popular (and cheaper) Japanese-made games, both to get an introduction to the feeling of Japanese games and to learn some language; and also in the hope that this actual game is being played. The game is called Double Cross, 3rd edition, and in this post I aim to give some outline information on it. So far I’ve only read up to the beginning of character creation, because I’m using my standard translation technique, which I’ve become better at in the past year but which is still slow. And I have computer games to play, so nothing is happening fast at the moment…

For more background information, the website for Double Cross 3 (entirely in Japanese) outlines the main products available, and the J-RPG webpage has an outline of some of the basic elements of the game, including background on the origins of the character class names. The “Download” section of the Double Cross 3 website contains some example character sheets, and the J-RPG group also has a link to some of the character class concept sketches, which look very cool. The English writing in the background of each picture gives a rough idea of the character concept behind the picture: the first character, for example, translates roughly as something like “Fighter to protect dreams,” (yume no mamorishu) and is written in English as “Dream Fighter.” If you download the firefox add-on called “rikaichan” you can translate individual words in some websites, but sadly not in the character pictures. Anyway, the first picture contains all the information you need to know about this game: it includes schoolgirls. Can’t go wrong there.

So here is the outline of what I’ve read so far.

Presentation

The book is a B5 hand-held book, purchased for 840 yen (5 pounds, or $AUS10, or $US8) new, and it contains everything you need to play – player guide, GM guide, world information, character sheet, sample characters, example of play, and scenarios. Eat that, WOTC! It starts with an outline of the world, and then has a short comic strip involving some demon-summoning school children (de rigeuer, I think we can all agree). Then it goes into the standard RPG stuff – what an RPG is, guidance for using the book, glossary of terms, character creation, etc. It’s all black and white, and the B5 format means some stuff (e.g. pictures of the character sheet on the page) is very small. The sample characters have pictures just like those in the link above, in black and white. I think a benefit of the Japanese language is that you can stuff an enormous amount of information into a very small physical space using the pictograms, and this shows here. The language is simple and business-like, which is a bonus for me, but it has occasional slang/crime language (in the comic, for example) and some lyrical introduction language that is completely wasted on me (see the translation on the J-RPG page above). I think Western game designers really need to consider this game book format, because it’s a really good idea to present the whole game in a $10 package. I think they have a proper A4 size colour version for ¥3000 (20 pounds, $AUS35, $US30) but the separation of the game into luxury and practical versions is I think an excellent plan.

Game idea

The game is set in a modern world, everyday Japan, which has been beset by a virus called renegade which corrupts people and gives them superpowers. The PCs are people with these superpowers who stand “in the space between human and superhero” and fight the evil forces unleashed by the virus. These powers are essentially dangerous, because the renegade virus “erodes the human sense” and every use increases the risk that a person will go mad, becoming a germ, a human overcome by some evil trait who is not considered human anymore. In the game, people with powers from the renegade virus are referred to as what has been transliterated as overed, though I wonder if it is actually meant to be transliterated as overawed (it’s hard to tell). So you start the game as an overed person, and have to manage your powers carefully lest you transform into a germ and have to be hunted down like a dog by your friends. The characters also all start with important personal connections called Lois, and if they lose these connections the connections become a Titus, which is some kind of evil bastard, at least according to Shakespeare.  The PCs also are supposed to have a cover, and may or may not work for UGN, a company or government organisation in the classic Anime style, which hunts down the bad guys (I haven’t read that far yet).

Character classes

Characters are chosen entirely on the basis of their mutation, or syndrome, of which there are 12. These give different types of powers, and the PC can be a pure breed (with powers in one syndrome only) or a cross-breed, with two syndromes.For example, our happy school-girl dream fighter is a cross-breed combining the syndromes of “Angel Halo” (controlling light) and “Salamander” (controlling fire). Mmmm, dreamy… I haven’t read the syndrome descriptions yet but judging by the TRPG translation they look very cool. Each syndrome comes with a brace of powers, maybe 15, of different levels, some combat, some investigative. This means that in total there are… 66 possible character classes (if my calculation of “12 choose 2″ in my head is correct). For example, our schoolgirl (whose picture in the book, btw, has her sucking a lollipop, wearing a short skirt, and pointing a big gun) can choose the level 1 power Eyes of God, which increases perception, from her Angel Halo syndrome; or Wrath of the Fire God, which wreathes her in fire and increases her attack power, from her Salamander syndrome. That’s the kind of girl you want in your high school hostess club, or your high school basketball team. I haven’t read this far yet, but it seems like the syndromes control your starting ability scores, of which there are four: physical, sense, mind and charm. There’s also a section for choosing life path. I get the impression that character development is simple, but we’ll come back to that when I’ve read it. It seems to involve a lot of choices from tables using the mechanic they call “Roll or Choice,” wherein you roll on the table or choose, according to your preference. Some tables are choice only. So you can randomly roll your cover, or choose it.

Some similarities

I was struck by the inherent similarities of the introductory sections about what a role-playing game is. The explanation was very familiar to anyone who has read a few Western-style games. There was also a section called “Golden Rule” which is just what one expects: a brief paragraph on how the game is for fun and you only use the rules you want to use, with final judgement on anything resting on the GM, who is responsible for coming up with appropriate rulings in consultation with the players. Sound familiar? Also in common with a lot of Western games, there was a brief section on “The Third Person,” in which the authors state that they will use “he” or “several hes” as the third person singular/plural, and this is done to preserve readability[1] and not for any reasons of discrimination. The glossary also contains the usual definitions of GM, Player, etc. and the layout of the book is very similar – introduction, faffy bits, character development, player guide, world guide, GM guide, scenario section. This is yet more proof that the RPG world is actually really similar across the cultural divide.

Differences

The main differences in the game will probably lie further on, in its development of the world, but a few that were immediately evident were the heavy manga focus, with all the illustrations being done in a manga style and the inclusion of small manga strips at crucial stages in the book. Obviously, the world setting is very consistent with a lot of Anime and Manga ideas, with a secret organisation using superheroes to hunt down superheroes. Witch Hunter Robin springs to mind immediately. The book itself is set out in a more formalised style, which is very useful, with for example a page giving a flowchart to explain the character development process, an initial page with a picture of all the items you need to play, and so on. This is consistent with a Japanese style of presenting information that can be much clearer and more ordered (in print) than in the West. My local town’s onsen guide, for example, has a scatter plot of every onsen in Beppu, plotting its water mineral content against some other water property, so you can immediately find the onsen that suits you. The magazine Tokyo Graffiti[2] has some really interesting examples of graphical presentation of information for the lay reader (about hair style choices, or shoes!) that shows a much more ordered and advanced approach to information than in the West. This gamebook follows in that style.

The system seems to be heavily focussed around powers, rather than spells and class-specific abilities, but I think there is a skill system as well. More on this later, when I’ve read it. It also seems to be low complexity, aimed at starting quickly and resolving actions quickly. Also, it has the phenomenon of erosion, in which using your own powers increases the risk of losing your PC, so there’s a type of insanity-check based resource management system which is not too common in western games, I think.

A few other notes

The JRPG site translation of the powers also includes references to the original source of the power’s name, and as can be seen, there is a lot of reference to classical western and ancient literature, as well as Chinese and Japanese history. The use of the word Titus to describe vengeful ex-associates is a very cool touch, and apparently there’s a supplement set in an Eastern European country in the throes of a civil war. This kind of Western-influenced anime style reminds me of Full Metal Alchemist or any of the famous Miyazaki Hayao movies, and I think it’s a really impressive and interesting style. It’s also classically Japanese, to merge Shakespeare, ancient fallen Japanese Gods, and a reference to a Stanislaw Lem novel.

The book also includes an example of a “Play Report,” which is written like a play, with the actors being the GM and the players. Apparently there are whole novels written in this style, and play reports are very popular here. I will at some point try reading one, but I suspect there’ll be too much casual Japanese for my skills, at least for a while.

In my next update on this game, I’ll talk about character creation and the game mechanics.

Oh, and the name of the game is taken from the idea that the characters are traitors to those with superpowers caused by the virus, I think. So there’s a sense of their being in hiding, looking out for evil virus-infected superheroes to kill.

fn1: “Readability” was a classic moment of Japanese-language obstinacy. I can read all three characters in “readability”: 可(ka),読(doku) and 性(sei) which mean, in sequence, “ability,” “reading,” and “essence,” and from their combination I could guess what the word meant. But when I put these characters together and search them in my electronic dictionary, they don’t exist. I also couldn’t find them in my mobile phone dictionary, which is slightly more convenient for finding words with unusual readings. I had to email a friend and ask her! She’s Japanese, she read it instantly, but she said she’s never seen it before. This is classic – not only does the character system throw a physical barrier in front of you when you try to read, but the word for “readability” doesn’t exist in simple dictionaries.

fn2: I really really recommend this magazine, btw. My other blog has some examples of its contents.

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