Is she weird, is she white?
And then it all ends rather abruptly. We're herded off into little darkened booths off the side of the auditorium, and afforded the chance to 'play' this game for a few minutes. What transpires is we're given the choice to play what appears to be mini scenarios in the game - either A, B or C. What then follows is a series of text descriptions, all in Kanji, of what we can only speculate. Some of the same images we've just seen appear, along with the same type of rather manic sounds to accompany them. More text. More multiple choice options. Is this just an introduction to a more mainstream game or is this an interactive novel, like an advanced version of 'choose your own adventure' with real-life photo-realism layered on top, and heart-stopping audio. Whatever it is, it's nothing like anything you've ever seen.
The official press release (mercifully in Engrish) sheds a bit more light on Imabiksou, detailing that the game goes "back to the original concept of Otogirisou" and has "elements of Japanese horror like The Ring and Grudge". Apparently we can expect a "voice effect system" which synchronises live voices with the "realistic and vivid texts, stimulating the player from both senses of vision and sound" . The press release adds: "This innovative effect [is] brought to life by the refined skills of Chunsoft [and] will allow players to taste fear like he's never experienced before. The player will feel the character breathing as if he's actually right there with you, and sense that chill of the scene with the greatest terror ever." OoooOOOooh.
Further investigation on Chunsoft's own website reveals that each line of text are "converted to voices" hence the 'sound novel' nature of the game. The translation says "you call the background", whatever that means, "It is new, it acquires!" says the jolly Japlish translation. Elsewhere we managed to glean that the 'Imabikisou' of the game's title actually refers to a flower, which, we reckon, has become the ingredient for the drug of choice among local students.
The official website lists these (bloody) students here. All aged about 20, we've established that the main protagonist is a man called Maki trying to prevent the (drug related) death of his girfriend Rapid Manami. The game also features Masato Watanabe, while we should also watch out for "occult maniac" Nakamori Ken, the "leader of everyone" Izumi Asuka, and his "sweetheart" Kazuko Matsushita. We can expect multiple scenarios and multiple endings, as was the case with previous sound novels. You choose your path through the storyline to figure out all possible endings and permutations along the way, with hidden scenarios also featured.
Ok, so this feature doesn't actually offer much in the way of concrete answers as to the gameplay, or even what a 'sound novel' actually is, but maybe one of our learned Japanese readers can fill us in on that. In some small sense, we're just sharing the bewildered - but excited - sense of confusion of coming across something so utterly at odds with all the dayglo pink neon and happy animé on show elsewhere. Whether Sega has any plans to translate Chunsoft's Imabikisou for the West remains to be seen, but it's certainly a world away from what Sega's normally associated with, and for that reason alone it's something worth paying attention to. More news on Imabikisou when we get it, as they say. Who's 'they'? Me.
For the time being, check out the official video and screenshots and see if you can watch it without being just a little bit scared.