The World of Asian RPGs

Tengai Makyou

Tengai Makyou, roughly translated as "magical border outside of heaven", also known as Far East of Eden, is considered the fourth most important RPG franchise in Japan. The main attraction of Tengai Makyou games have always been the comedy element and the high production values of nearly all its games. Even though the story lines of Tengai Makyou games were for the most part very basic, the characterization lacked depth and insight so typical for Asian RPGs, and the gameplay was hardly innovative, the series became very popular in Japan thanks to its humor. Until now Tengai Makyou remains the only series of humorous Asian RPGs. Although those games had a good deal of serious and even tragic themes, the light comedy element was always present in them, and in some of the installments even turned to parody and grotesque. Most of those games were set in a medieval world called Jipang, a parody on feudal Japan, with many cultural references and anachronisms. Tengai Makyou games were also famous for their distinct animé style and the high quality of voice acting. But because of the abundance of language-based humor and the Japanese setting, Tengai Makyou games were never translated from Japanese. Of all Japanese RPG franchises, it remaines the most unknown one in the West.

The first Tengai Makyou games were developed for PC Engine (Turbo CD) console. Tengai Makyou: Ziria was one of the most remarkable early Japanese RPGs, establishing several records. It was the first RPG ever that was released on a CD-ROM and featured animated cut scenes and voice acting. Unlike in many other ground-breaking games, all these invonations were of a high quality in "Ziria", particularly the surprisingly good voices. The story was very simple, but the unique Japanese setting, interesting additions to traditional gameplay such as searching the game world for magic spells, and the first touches of comedy, evident in the writing as well as in the graphical design of the characters, made "Ziria" a very original game for its time.

The next game, Tengai Makyou II: Manjimaru, was the most popular of all Tengai Makyou games. It was a very large game, set a huge land with nearly twenty different provinces with several cities in each. It developed and expanded all the tendencies started by "Ziria", resulting in a long quest full of grotesque encounters and countless characters with unique dialogue lines. The quality of orchestrated music, animé-style cut scenes and voice acting was unrivaled by any other game of the time.

One of the characters from "Manjimaru" became so popular that Red Company, the creators of the series, dedicated to him a side-story, Tengai Makyou: Fuun Kabuki Den. The comedy direction became even more evident in this game, dominating over the usual epic medieval themes. Unlike the previous games, the protagonist had a distinct personality and was in some ways an anti-hero. Even though the main setting was still medieval Japan, some of the game's events took place in London.

Tengai Makyou Zero was released for the SNES console and was a prequel of sorts to the series. Although it had animé-style graphics, typical for the series, the limitations of the console didn't allow the characteristic usage of voice acting or animated cut scenes. The humorous content was also somewhat toned down in this installment.

Tengai Makyou: Daiyon no Mokushiroku: The Apocalypse IV for Saturn had a special position in the series thanks to its unusual setting. Instead of feudal Japan it took us to United States of the late 19th century, filled with anachronisms of all kinds, including various references to American pop-culture, cinema, TV, etc. The humor in this game was decidedly more grotesque and parody-oriented than in the previous ones, sometimes rising to the level of satire. The game retained the traditional gameplay system of Tengai Makyou, but random battles were replaced by visible enemies. The quality of voice actings and cut scenes was higher than ever before. The unique setting and the satiric direction made "The Apocalypse IV" the most original of all Tengai Makyou games.

The actual third game in the series, Tengai Makyou III: Namida, was delayed several times and finally released for the Playstation 2, about ten years later than originally intended. Due to this delay the game failed to bring any true innovation to the series and was very old-fashioned in most aspects, particularly because of its slowly developing and simple plot. Production values were also hardly ground-breaking this time. However, some interesting gameplay additions such as learning special abilities and improving magic spells through continuous usage, a story that had some quite emotional moments, and a large, colorful character cast made "Namida" a worthy addition to the series. The game also retained the charm of the setting and had many humorous dialogues and grotesque characters.

Continued: Phantasy Star

Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs