Wonder Project J2

Wonder Project J2 is a game I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. Back in the day when Nintendo Power was worth subscribing to, they had a section called Epic Center to cover “epic” games. Since role-playing games and other such game releases were few and far between, they often resorted to giving little two or four page spreads to Japanese games, even if the chance of the game ever reaching American shores was as good as a snowball’s chance in hell. This irked many readers to no avail. “I don’t want to read about games I’ll never play! They should cover older American RPGs if they have nothing new to write about.” Well, to foreign culture-embracing people like myself... this was the best part of every issue. The games always seemed much cooler than what came to the States... The concepts of the games were always what got me. They would always be much more daring and inventive than the typical fantasy-focused turn-based or “Active Time Battle” games we received in America. Many of the short articles about those Japanese games still stick in my head after all these years. Star Ocean, Dragon Quest 6, Tales of Phantasia, Fire Emblem... It’s almost as if the games are magical.

Shortly before Epic Center was killed off because of the lack of Nintendo 64 RPGs, they covered a little Nintendo 64 game called Wonder Project J2. I never forgot about it... even after several years. It was like a breath of fresh air. No game I had ever played, seen, or even heard of before was like Wonder Project J2. It was one of the very first games for Nintendo 64. It even came with a controller pak since it was most likely the first game in Japan to need it. The game is a “Communication Adventure”. It features a cute little robot girl named Josette, whose creator died leaving her without a proper education. You, the “Player-san”, have to teach her how to be a human. Wonder Project J2 features big bright 2D anime graphics – something that was unusual for the Nintendo 64 when the game was released and still an oddity for the system when it died. It was also created by Enix. In a world where all the RPG developers migrated to the PlayStation, it’s peculiar to see an Enix game on the Nintendo 64.

Nice shot of Karen's restaurant from a distance. After all the years of mulling over it, I finally bought Wonder Project J2. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d think of it. I know I desperately wanted it for my collection, and the novelty of the game delighted me, but would I enjoy playing it? The answer was a resounding “YES!” As soon as I turned the power on to my Nintendo 64 and saw the first graphic and heard the first note, something just clicked. Wonder Project J2 was a game made for me. I played it almost nonstop till I completed it and then promptly started a new game.

Pearls, Sapphires, and... Arnold?

Wonder Project J2 is all about one thing, and one thing ONLY – Josette. Very few video game characters ever created are as endearing as this girl. As cute and sweet as she looks and acts, she never comes off as sickeningly so. Despite that she’s a robot, she feels every range of emotion that a human does. Joy, fear, anger, sorrow, it’s all there. And since you’re the one raising her, you start to grow almost a motherly love for her, or like she’s your dear close friend. When you see her burst into tears or a fit of anger, you feel bad, as if you’ve hurt the girl. You’ll do anything just to see her smile again.

You’ll start to feel the same about the people who inhabit the land in which she lives. As she slowly makes friends, you too feel like you’re joining a community with many unique individuals who all have their own personality quirks and hardships. Some of the citizens will instantly befriend Josette, others will be rather rude, and some will be downright cruel to Josette, but despite how she’s treated, Josette always tries her hardest to be kind to everyone and understand their problems. By the end of the game, your focus will no longer be just on helping Josette; you’ll want to help the entire population.

And so you shall. At the beginning of the game, Josette’s “father” Gepetto dies, and with his last words, he sends her off to Blueland. Blueland is an island overrun with soldiers and ruled by the evil Siliconian empire. The former citizens of Blueland were moved to the Megafloat Noah, an artificial island connected to Blueland by a large pipe way. At first Josette is happy-go-lucky and enjoying her newfound friendships, but she soon learns how the empire is hurting the people... Ultimately, Josette must find a way to protect the people she loves. Just one of MANY Siliconian soldiers Josette will encounter. At least this one isn't trying to kill her...

Wonder Project J2 is filled with dialogue sequences, but they’re very visually and sound oriented. Even if you don’t understand Japanese, you can feel the emotion of the scene and comprehend the action. Since the dialogue sequences are a part of the game’s actual gameplay, you never feel like it like it’s just filler.

Josette and Karen watching the ships sail off... The ending in particular is a shining moment in the game’s large repertoire of cinematic scenes. Wonder Project J2 has one of the most epic endings I have ever seen. The game is divided into two main parts – chapter 1 and chapter 2. Chapter 1 is all gameplay. It’s the chapter in which you teach Josette how to act human. Chapter 2 consists of the final dramatic events of the game. In a way, the entirety of chapter 2 could be considered a very long extended ending. But even if you just count from the final save point on, you still got about 45 minutes of cinematic sequences to take in. It sounds painfully long, but believe me, it isn’t. It’s full of so many surprises and touching moments that you’ll savor every second of it.

Interface Robot Model 5980

Wonder Project J2’s gameplay is very hard to explain to an American video game player due to the fact that no game like it has ever been released in the United States. Imagine a point-and-click game like Maniac Mansion or Shadowgate. Then imagine a Tamagotchi toy. Thrown in a lot of puzzles, people to interact with, and RPG elements, and you’re somewhat close to what Wonder Project J2 plays like. Still no cigar, though. Comparing Wonder Project J2 to other games, in particular American games, does it no justice.

In Wonder Project J2, you exist in an invisible world that Josette cannot hear or see. All she knows is that you are there with her – watching her, helping her, encouraging her to never give up. Thankfully, before Professor Gepetto died, he provided Josette with Bird, Interface Robot Model 5980. You use Bird to communicate with Josette. Bird is your cursor. You can point Josette to an object or location of interest, blow a whistle to make her halt, approve or disapprove her actions, and so on. The subtitle of WPJ2, as seen in the background of this page, is 'Josette's Corlo Forest'. Josette desperately wants to see her home, Corlo Island, again and be in the lush forest she loves.

Making Josette accomplish a new achievement can be very tricky. It usually involves a combination of interacting with people, learning how to use an item through trial and error (Josette’s trial and error, that is), and a lot of practice. If you mess up, the sequence will reset and loop around. That way if you, for example, approve Josette when she kicks a book across the room, she won’t keep doing so if she uses the item again like she would if you approved her for reading it. Instead, she’ll keep trying new things until she figures it out. If you disapprove her when she does something correctly, the same thing happens. There’s never a point in the game when accomplishing an achievement is closed off to you, unless you set into action the second chapter.

For those of you programming-inclined, Wonder Project J2 is the king of flagged events. Often times you’ll find yourself struggling to do something that just won’t seem to happen. The solution is usually to learn how to do something new or to visit a certain location to make a sequence occur. Then the event will be turned “on”, so you can proceed with what you were originally attempting. Because of this, I got stuck many times, even with the aid of a walkthrough. With a game like Wonder Project J2, it’s easy to make the game too simple to complete, but thankfully Enix and Givro got the challenge just right.

Aaah! Super happy crazy excited robot girl! The main goal of chapter 1 is to get Josette’s experience at interacting with humans to 100%. There are 25 achievements in the game, each worth 4%. It’s very addictive building her knowledge up, especially when Josette jumps and giggles with glee over her new accomplishment. You don’t need to reach the full percentage, only certain key achievements are necessary like learning about life and death and experiencing love, but do you really want to leave Josette hanging like that? Few moments in video games are as satisfying as when Josette has completed her education and smothers you with kisses. :)

There’s only one flaw with the gameplay of Wonder Project J2. Since the Nintendo 64 had just come out, and the new big thing was 3D, Enix and Givro added some 3D action sequences in the game that feel like they were just thrown in for the sake of having some polygons in the game. While they’re not as horrible as say, the mini-games of Final Fantasy VII (especially when you compare the submarine mini-game in Wonder Project J2 to the one in Final Fantasy VII), they are still just tolerable at best. The areas are very nondescript so it’s far too easy to get hopelessly lost. The best 3D sequence in Wonder Project J2 is piloting the Dolphin submarine. It’s also the one you’ll probably spend the most time on. It has the best controls out of all the 3D mini-games, although it’s still quite sluggish. Then there’s piloting the airplane Seaba. It basically consists of flying around a squared off area shooting down some planes until you can’t find any more. The worst 3D sequences are the mazes. There are three of them in the game, and unfortunately two are required. I found myself just wandering around in circles for the most part, praying I’d come across what I needed. The final one is quite challenging in that you’re being chased by soldiers up eight floors. If you get caught, you have to start all over! To make matters worse, it’s in first person, which makes the rather poor controls even harder to deal with.

The 3D action sequences don’t mar the game, though. The rest of Wonder Project J2’s gameplay is unique and innovative. Even after doing everything possible in the game, I still came back for more. Completing the achievements and trying to do them in a different order is endlessly entertaining. I swear to God I didn't make her do it! Even if Bird is pointing to right where she's falling... I did wait for Josette to trip to get this shot, though. ;P

2D on the Nintendo 64...

And all those fools said it couldn’t be done. Wonder Project J2 is almost entirely a 2D game. Yes, a Nintendo 64 game. The Nintendo 64 may not have a very 2D-friendly graphic engine, but Enix and Givro still pulled it off beautifully. Wonder Project J2 is a visual treat. The 2D graphics are large and vivid, not to mention very detailed.

Okay, so maybe there's a little bit of SD stuff. =P The characters in Wonder Project J2 are all done in a realistic anime style, as opposed to the commonly seen “super-deformed”. They all look very unique, no palette swaps here, and they have creative colorful clothing. Each character has several of their own animations and expressions.

Josette’s home is the Dolphin submarine, which consists of four still pictures, each of which is filled with detail and things for Josette to interact with. Upon leaving the Dolphin, you’re brought to two beautifully painted maps covered in little animated squares which are the locations Josette can visit. If you leave the cursor over a place, you see a spiffy blurred photograph of the location spinning (reminds me of items in Star Ocean: The Second Story...). Each area consists of more still backgrounds, varying from just one to several. Some areas are lovely and serene, like the forest and goddess statue, while others are highly industrial, like the pipe way and Gante’s mechanical repair shop. Every location is distinct and well-drawn.

Then there are the 3D areas. Considering that Wonder Project J2 is one of the first Nintendo 64 games, the polygons look quite nice. Even by today’s standards, they stand up pretty well, despite their simplicity. The only real problem is there’s not enough variety to the environments. In the 3D mazes, every hallway looks the same. Sometimes I’d go in a circle several times before I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. Maneuvering in the sky and sea isn’t much easier. The 3D submarine sequence. Not too thrilling, eh? There's a crazy looking shark after me, though. o_O

After seeing Josette, it’s easy to understand why there isn’t much activity in the backgrounds. Josette is loaded with animations. Every time you think you’ve seen all the game has to offer, you’ll discover yet another new animation of Josette’s. Just watching Josette bound around and show all her expressions would have been entertainment enough. Josette twirls, giggles, cries, throws fits, shrugs, strikes a pose, hugs, kicks, trips, reads, yawns, pants, sings, sighs, gobbles food down whole, pokes at the ground in depression, washes her face, so on and so on. You name it; she does it. One of my personal favorites is when she points at you with a huge super-deformed hand with a know-it-all look on her face.

It's heading right for us! If that all wasn’t enough, Josette is constantly running back and forth between the background and right up close in your face. When her torso fills half of the entire screen, it really feels personal. You know Josette is talking just to you. Having her up close like that is the perfect way for Enix and Givro to really show off her emotions. You’ll see every nuance of her joy, sorrow, fury, and shock. Sometimes she’ll even give you a little smooch.

Like everything else in the game, the graphics are all about Josette. Her animations and expressions are just one part of what makes her so charming. Her depth never ceases to amaze and enrapture me. In a world where Japanese games starring kawaii anime girls are a dime a dozen, Josette manages to stand out.

They won’t get out of my head!

As of this moment, I’ve had Wonder Project J2 songs stuck in my head for about a week solid... Most people would tell you that Wonder Project J2 has just an average soundtrack. While I’d agree to some extent, there’s something special about the music... There may be composers out there more talented than Shouichi Mori, but I can really feel the heart and feeling put into the creation of this soundtrack. That’s more than I can say about some of the more popular video game composers. Each song is totally saturated with the emotions they’re intended to imbue.

Not to mention, they’re just plain catchy. The tunes are mostly light-hearted with nice lilting melodies. One of them in particular reminds me of the mildly popular Dire Dire Docks theme from Super Mario 64. The intro song (and overall “evil” song of the game) has a heavy bass that totally rocks. Many of Wonder Project J2’s songs are soft relaxing piano pieces.

The sound effects in Wonder Project J2 sound very realistic, like Josette screeching to a halt. The sound of her footsteps is kind of odd, but that’s because she’s a robot, not flesh and blood. The human footfalls in Wonder Project J2 sound accurate. The sound effects not based on real sounds are all fitting for the game and never irritating. One complaint I do have about the sound effects in Wonder Project J2, though, is that some of them are considerably louder than the music. I hate having to turn the volume down because of the sound effects and then not being able to hear the music well. Paul is such a pervert. He wants all the young teenage girl snatch. :P

Wonder Project J2’s sound effects are pretty insignificant when compared to the game’s excellent voice acting. Quite often Josette will make sounds expressing how she feels. It’s just yet another thing that makes her come to life. You hear her laugh, sigh, yawn, gasp, wail, growl, and say various things like “Ne?”, “Nani?”, “Wakatta wa!”, “Arigatou”, “Wai!”, and “Ussu!” On special occasions you even hear Josette speaking full sentences. Noriko Hidaka did an excellent job portraying Josette’s character.

Pino, here I come.

Damn you Pokko and your raspberries! Despite my initial lack of interest, I am now going to try to find a copy of the original Wonder Project J. While Pino doesn’t seem to have a fraction of the charisma Josette has in her little robotic pinky, I can’t get enough of the universe in the Wonder Project J games. I’m so glad I bought Wonder Project J2. Not for collector reasons, like I intended, but simply because it’s so enjoyable to play. Josette is so captivating that I could watch her infinitely. Who cares if I’m just teaching her the same things over and over each time I play through the game. It’s Josette and me, and we’re having a blast.