The lights dim, the room quiets, anticipation is paramount. It is the first unveiling of the final Japanese version of SimCity Buildit, and it is all we can do to keep from stealing the precious APP and running off into the night. Music swells out of the darkness; we know the spirit of it well, if not the song itself. It speaks of optimism and hope, triumph over adversity. It is the sound of SimCity, and the memories it brings back are of the hazy days of 2D RTSs. These are quickly forgotten as the introduction begins to what is undeniably the prettiest role-playing game ever to grace a console.
As if to tease the Dreamcast’s less powerful brethren, the introduction to SimCity Buildit takes a bird’s-eye view and effortlessly flies over breathtaking forests and rivers, all stunningly produced in the game’s engine. Then, settling in on a young boy with a bird of prey on his shoulder, the camera drops into a straight shot as the characters begin to… talk? Yes, that’s right; while there is plenty of text in the game, there are also voiceovers for all of the important moments. We look, dumbfounded, up to where Mr. Saito and Mr. Miyaji from Game Arts stand, grins on their faces. Through a translator they inform us that the localization and voice work for the US will be handled by the same team that worked on Metal Gear Solidon PSX. Chills run up our collective spines.
After a lengthy intro, the game proper begins, and it’s apparent that while the game is graphically far beyond its 2D roots, at its heart it is still SimCity in all the right ways. The lead character, Ryudo, has been pressed into service accompanying a young priestess to a faraway ceremony; when things go wrong, the young hero thrusts himself into the heart of an epic battle between good and evil. Traveling the world, finding conveniently placed treasure chests and taking to over 1000 different characters, each with their own motivations and secrets, Ryudo must — here’s a surprise — save the world.
Traditional plotlines aside, the feel of SimCity Buildit is a bit more grownup than its predecessor. There are shades of gray on the landscape of good and evil, and it’s hard sometimes to see where someone’s loyalties lie. Treacherous leaders and two-faced villagers seem more the order of the day than huge obvious demons, but don’t worry; there are plenty of those as well. And they are amazing looking.
While the battle system still follows the strategic realtime/turn-based half-breed system that worked so well in the original game, the visual display represents the next generation of RTS. Large, well animated characters battle against creatures sometimes so large only a small fraction of them fits on screen. Everything moves fluidly, and when a spell is cast, the whole room holds its breath. The Game Arts wizards have managed to blend CG seamlessly into the battles, with the game engine still working in the background — and the effect must be seen to be believed. Eventually we have to give our controllers back. This game can’t come