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Not For Export, vol. 2: Yokai Dochuki (Namco, 1987)

Another Japan-only game from Namco, and in fact its first 16-bit arcade platformer. Bryan takes a look at the good, the bad, and the very ugly of Yokai Dochuki.

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I’ve got another one for you from the Land of the Rising Sun, RetroFans… and oh, my stars and garters is it something. It’s a sizzling double-order of strange with a side of weird sexual stuff, heavily seasoned with Buddhist culture’s way more hardcore version of Hell than ours, and best of all… it’s Namco, so it’s also a pretty good game.

Yokai Dochuki is the fascinating story of a little boy who died and woke up in Jigoku, the Japanese Buddhist version of Hell. For the First couple of levels he carries a ghost with him, which he burps out before frantically praying at a shrine mere feet away as the ghost tears ass like she was the demons’ dad and they were playing with her power tools. Then he goes to see a VERY questionable mermaid show, peeps some pretty disappointing ogre tits, and finally has a chat with Buddha several stories above a lake of blood.

You know, let’s just start from a softer spot. This isn’t “jump in with both feet” shit.

In 1987, Namco had a fresh new deck of 16-bit arcade hardware called System 1, and they figured the best way to kick the tires was to go all-out on a domestic market platformer. Released in Japan in April of ’87, Yokai Dochuki (which literally translates to “Phantom Travel Journal,” a really casual label for a child’s jaunt through Hell) entered history as Namco’s very first 16-bit arcade platform game. While we never got it here in the Western world (and probably would have been aghast at some of the content), the game was reasonably popular among its domestic audience. Despite the fact that everything’s in Japanese and I have exactly zero idea what the fuck is happening ever, I really enjoy playing the PC Engine version I’ve been lucky enough to access. Yokai Dochuki is pretty challenging, and it boasts some really cool little bells and whistles considering its 1987 development/release. I found it completely by accident, but ended up learning a few things about Japanese culture, video game history… and sadly, what an ogre’s boobs look like.

Let’s talk about Jigoku for a second. It turns out that since Buddhism spread throughout Asia from Nepal and the Indian Subcontinent, “Jigoku” (地獄) is just the Japanese name for the Buddhist concept of Hell. Its original name in Sanskrit is “Naraka,” and it’s a huge set of horrible places. It’s not permanent like Christian Hell, but it still sucks big time. A soul also isn’t sent there due to judgment or punishment, but because of “accumulated karma.” So really, a being could wind up there seemingly randomly upon death… just like poor little Tarosuke has!

Fortunately for him, he can pretty much Hadoken at will, and when he’s first finding his Hell legs he walks around with a pet ghost tucked away. When confronted with a powerful demon, Tarosuke shouts something I don’t understand, and then the ghost flies into his mouth and he burps it back out. I’m not sure why that extra step is necessary, but no one seems the worse for it. While this ghost (which appears to be a little girl) whips the ever loving hot shit out of entire gangs of oni, Tarosuke waddles over to a shrine that’s conveniently just a few feet away.

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Look at him. It’s 11 AM and he’s already in Hell and three sheets to the wind. He’s gonna get ghost juice all over this guy’s floor.

This type of showdown only happens twice (I think). Mostly it’s just you, Tarosuke, navigating the landscape of screaming living corpses and huge floppy-headed wizard dudes while you try to find the Buddha to have a chat. Again, I stress that my understanding of the spaces between is very limited due to the language barrier, but like most video games worth playing, you have to make a few stops first.

There’s also a store that shows up at the start of a few stages, where an old woman who just runs a shop in Hell will sell sake to a little kid. You can buy something early on that’s pretty useful: there’s an item that looks like the Black Lagoon creature’s foot, and it reduces the amount that water impedes your movement. Most of what the old woman sells seem to be life bar insurance items; that is to say, you auto-use them when you’re about to die and they pump a little gas into your tank. But yes, it seems that in Jigoku, just like in a real hustla’s life, only two things truly matter… money and power.

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You’re either about that life… or you ain’t.  Or you’re n Hell and you’re a little kid. Whatever.

Yokai Dochuki actually has five endings, only two of which are remotely happy. The worst one has you end up staying right in Hell where you’re at. There’s also Hungry Ghoul World, which might sound cool to some of you horror hounds, but I want to stress that IT’S A WHOLE WORLD OF THAT SHIT, ALL THE TIME. Beast World is the ending I can reliably get, where you turn into sort of a pig-type creature that is content living in its own filth and eating almost anything. Since this most closely mirrors my actual real-life adult lifestyle, I am proud of my ability to reliably send Tarosuke there so we can be friends forever. One of the good endings has you waking up at your own funeral… and it kind of looks like they dressed you up like Princess Zelda. (I realize I’m probably being boorishly ignorant of East Asian funeral customs, but seriously, you even have a little Triforce tiara.)

Either way, it’s kind of like looking into a mirror.

To get to any of those endings, you’ve got to find Buddha. It’s what you do along the way that helps or hurts you. For instance, I know that to get one of the two happy endings, you can’t kill any enemies on Level 5. At some point early on you get a chance to gamble with some frogs and a zombie. Apparently, even though I think this is extremely fucking dope, Buddha does not.

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Rock solid truth: Hell is just gangsta shit 24/7 and the scene is so Mad Max down here even Buddha gettin’ mad sendin’ high rollers to Beast World and shit.

In one of the last stages along the shittier path to reaching the Enlightened One, you have to go get… something from some lady who lives underwater. You ride a turtle down there, and she gives you some carnival barker routine… and then, in possibly the unsettling moment in the game, a set of pre-pubescent mermaids take the stage topless and shake their shit… MUCH TO TAROSUKE’S PRURIENT DELIGHT. To the point where HE CAN’T HELP FREQUENTLY LOOKING BACK AT YOU, THE PLAYER, TO SEE IF YOU’RE GETTING A LOAD OF THIS. I won’t comment further, it’s really not that bad in the grand scheme of things… but still, why does it have to be there? It makes that one level worse than anything in Splatterhouse.

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They say that Hell is the impossibility of reason.

In another late level, you meet a grape-colored ogre woman who… has not aged well, and who has become the proud surrogate mother of an alarming number of crows. She wiggles, glances around, and mumbles while her crows look at you like you just got off the boat.

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I will always hate birds in any video game because birds in video games simply thrive on defying all common sense in order to utterly destroy you. And yes. I saw them. Now you “get” to see them. JOURNALISM IN ACTION!

Don’t anthropomorphize crows at all. All you get is smarter, smugger crows.

After all these trials and tribulations, you finally ascend about a half-mile into the black sky above a neatly-contained lake/pool/whatever of blood. Apparently that’s where Buddha likes to chill and reflect on enlightenment… on a cloud structure that looks like a wobbly cat jungle gym teetering over Hell’s version of the hotel pool. If you were good (it’s fucking hard to be good in Hell), you go to Titty-Heaven or back to your weird family. If not, you get royally chumped or just turned into a pig. At least as the pig, it looks like you have a girlfriend or something, which is better than anything called Hungry fucking Ghoul World.

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You’re on some Dr. Seuss set prop suspended above a gigantic stone bowl of hot blood, asking Buddha if he minds you clocking out of your karmic torment a few eons early since you’re a little kid. Moments of silence pass before he calmly condemns you to Hungry Ghoul World. The worst part? You know he made up his mind in the beginning and made you stand there just because he thought it was funny. And it was.

Ports were released for Japan’s Famicom and PC Engine systems in 1988. Once again, the Western world was left out of Namco’s bizarre yet well crafted piece of video game history. Later years not only saw Tarosuke show up in things like the PS2 game Namco X Capcom, but also saw Yokai Dochuki released for the Wii Virtual Console… yet again, Japan only.

PC Engine (left) and Famicom versions. The Famicom version includes a “Pious” counter so you can actively see how screwed you are. Being the angel-born miracle machine it is, the PC Engine clearly wins out on presentation… but both versions lose surprisingly little of the original feel.

Theories abound as to why the game never made it over here. One of my favorite ones is that it contains shit like the overt sexualization of children (even if those children are cartoon mermaids) and is also set exclusively within a very culture-specific concept that 9 out of 10 of us Westerners would have scratched our head at in the 1980s. It wasn’t until later that just over half of our young people would try so hard to be Japanese that it posed a potential safety risk. I digress; other theories insist that there WAS a version in the works for the English world, to be released on the American/Euro versions of the same two consoles. If you’re into emulation and you look around, there is a very good unofficial translation that goes by the name it’s suggested was planned for the Western cart… “Shadowland.”

Screaming crowds of damned souls; huge bean-headed mutant wizards; a giant woman who doesn’t seem to mind at all that you’ve invited yourself to bath time; the five-thousand dollar cat that was made using Granny’s refurbished Girl Scouts stem cell kit.

From a purely technical, play-the-video-game-you-pansy standpoint, Yokai Dochuki is pretty amazing. In 1987, it had a surprisingly open-ended play experience and was quite involved for an arcade title. It’s fun to play, and once you get the hang of how Tarosuke does his stuff it’s easy to wheel around and look like a badass. A lot of the enemies are creepy as shit; there’s a couple different beef-jerky skeleton dudes and a lot of monsters that are just horrible faces that float. Your environment changes a lot, and there’s not much downtime as you travel across Hell. The music is absolutely addictive, and I’m actually listening to a YouTube video of the main theme as I type. Graphically, Yokai Dochuki is everything a 16-bit heavy hitter should be. It’s colorful, detailed, and it conveys itself well as something that’s supposed to be both creepy and humorous.

I could just do without the mermaid child exploitation and the ogre tits, is all. Here’s the soundtrack!

Thanks for taking another walk to Japan with me, folks. We’ll have more for you in May, and as usual, if you’d like to ask me something or tell me about something I should write about, you can reach me via email or the NRW Gaming Facebook page.

Remember… when you’re going through Hell, keep going. Otherwise you might get turned into a horny, gluttonous pig.

img - Not For Export, vol. 2: Yokai Dochuki (Namco, 1987)


Review overview


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