Review by Otaku84 returnsDonate directly to the author of this contribution

Reviewed: 07/31/04

Impenetrable Japanese DC launch title that is an interactive book

Imagine a selection of beer mats. All different shapes and sizes, with beautiful small paintings on them accompanied by columns of baffling Japanese text. Now imagine them affixed to each other, with staples, string and even viscous food materials such as mashed potatoes or rancid cheese. Picture these in a smoke filled bar, with great guitar music in the background and people grubbily rifling through said beer mats. Some possibly in a state of undress, but all of them enjoying the experience of viewing these small cardboard oddities. While such an activity could be regarded as enjoyable in a slightly depraved social situation, such as the one mentioned above, it does not always translate so well into a videogame.

After viewing the intriguing cabalistic intro, the player is confronted by having to choose between "playing" one of two characters opening chapters. A clever idea that allows the player to weave in between two separate yet connected narratives, seeing each event from a different perspective. Once a protagonist has been chosen, a map showing pre-allowed access areas presents itself. Though few areas are able to be explored at first, the grid opens up rapidly as the game progresses.

July, one of the Dreamcast's Japanese launch titles, can be loosely categorised as a graphic adventure game sacrilegiously sitting alongside such classics as Snatcher, Policenauts and Deja-Vu. Unlike its distant brethren though, July is devoid of any actual gameplay. Beyond the map screen, the actual game consists of reading several paragraphs of Kanji heavy text overlayed onto a single static image. Sometimes there is a choice at the bottom (with no more than three options), where more often than not the game will progress regardless of what you choose. Sometimes the player is also given a choice of where to go in each map grid, such as different rooms in a house, but it's purely a cosmetic touch, since there is no investigating option for any area and no usage of items. Everything is done automatically, making the whole experience so painfully linear as to be more like reading a book.

An interactive book is by no means an intrinsically bad thing though, provided the narrative is exciting and grips the player. Sadly since July is purely a Japanese-text only game, with no voice acting to back it up, what narrative there is will be entirely incomprehensible to all non-Japanese. A pity, since it shows some promise, with genetic experiments gone wrong and a sinister plot involving gender-less beings trying to take over the world.

Options chosen in the game affect the final ending, with multiple endings to find. Music is excellent, sometimes being the only thing that keeps the player occupied, and the static images are admittedly delicate and ornate in their design. Regrettably though that is the be all and end all of July. Were it a gambler, it would not be a case of having no cards up its sleeve, rather of not wearing shirt to the table at all. Overall production quality is low, with repeated, albeit excellent music tracks, no graphical animation, and only a small handful of low quality FMV thrown in.

Boredom soon inevitably sets in at a rate of knots, with only the most dedicated staunch completest playing through to the end. By then, most players will resort to simply clicking the A-button ad-infinitum, choosing the first available option for each encountered scene, whilst utilising their free hand to engage in something more amusing, such as poking oneself in the eye. Repeatedly.

Not surprisingly, the actually game cover reveals nothing of its true nature. The blurb on the back is minimal, and the screens show no actual in-game footage, only concept art. Coupled with a rock-bottom price even in its country of origin, the unwary importer could easily be fooled in making a purchase. July is akin to viewing a series of food smeared beer mats containing ornate picture and text, with background music.

It is a game whose only saving grace is being the launch title to one of the worlds greatest systems, and is therefor of some historical value. Perhaps a translation would have helped it to fair slightly better, a short but sweet narrative-only game to breeze through whilst waiting for something more worthwhile to arrive in the mornings post, but in its original form it's an oddity that can only be appreciated by a fluent Japanese speaker, or the most obsessive of Dreamcast collectors.

Rating: 3

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