First Impressions: Discipline (WiiWare - Japan)
Posted by Sean Aaron
Art-house gaming comes to WiiWare.
Discipline is a WiiWare game long-rumoured and only recently revealed. As possibly the most unusual game to yet grace the service, it game centres around a prison called Discipline, wherein you control a character apparently posing as an inmate. It's difficult to tell what exactly is happening because text plays a huge part in the game, with a lot of written exposition setting the scene against a series of still images that are inspired more by French bandes dessinees than the usual manga or anime styles you'd expect to see in a Japanese title. The text onslaught continues throughout the game as the purpose of your presence in the prison seems to be to free your cellmates from whatever psychological issues are trapping them with conversation being a cornerstone to your progress.
The game is broken up into 15-minute-long days: every morning you and your cell mate get a wake-up call and rise from your flat bunks which then fold into the wall. After you both partake of ablutions at the sink the game begins. From the outset, you will notice everything is presented in shades of blue-grey and charcoal with the aforementioned hand-drawn French comic book look. All the characters are articulated 2D paper cut-outs living in a world of other 2D objects; all existing in a 3D space. You can move back towards the cell wall or forward towards the bars. You'll need to do the latter frequently to watch for guards since taking actions to help your cell mates gets a rebuke; if you're spotted three times you get put into solitary confinement for a couple of real-time minutes.
Your instrument of liberation is a multi-coloured talking worm called a "you-con" which sprays "you-fluid" – it's like something right out of a David Cronenberg film and just as disturbing to watch. After charging the you-con with you-fluid by holding for a few seconds followed by an overhand swing of the Remote, you're placed into a first-person view where the pointer moves the camera and releasing sprays the green goo. Your goal is to spray you-fluid at an item to meet your cell mate's most pressing needs – indicated by several metres in a display in the lower right corner that gradually fill and change colour from green, through yellow and finally red. The ones that can be addressed by the you-con are toilet, sleep, food, washing up and entertainment – all of which are represented by items in the room you can spray the fluid on; flashing when your cursor moves over them in the first-person view. The main thing the other inmates need -- and what keeps this game from being worthwhile for people unable to read Japanese – is conversation. You frequently need to talk to your cellmate, presumably to unburden them. This is not simply a one-way conversation, as you’ll often be asked questions that have two or three different answers – presumably influencing what is said in reply. These conversations tend to be quite lengthy and clearly impart a good deal of the atmosphere and story of the game and its inhabitants, so they're not something that can casually be ignored whilst enjoying the rest of the game.
Conversation with the "you-con" takes place too, whenever you're put in solitary. Again, it's not clear what is being asked of you when it poses a question – unless you can read Japanese, that is. The first time you have a chat (following your cell mate pissing themselves because they're apparently unable to lift the lid on the toilet without your help, and the you-con is not initially available to you to perform this function) there's a bit of a tutorial which can be progressed through via trial-and-error as the worm asks you to point it at various things and spray fluid on them [o.O – Editor]. If you end up in solitary later, you can find yourself in a situation where one of the answers you give to a query from it results in the you-con rotating on screen; pressing any button on the remote results in it coughing. This continues for a minute or so before stopping without any idea what is actually happening… beyond possibly freaking you out!
After a few days broken up by lunch (a colourful soup for everyone in the prison which you mix with the you-con by moving the pointer about; changing its colour by sprinkling different coloured grains from the you-con by pressing different directions on and shaking the Remote) and an end of day score display, you can break down your cell mate to reveal a token of their past. You'll know you're making progress in meeting their needs not only by having their need-metres stay in the green, but by an icon in the metre box which changes as progress is made. Initially, it resembles a concrete block with their face on it; this eventually cracks to reveal a heart with knives through it and then finally a heart with no knives. At this point you spray the you-fluid on them and they literally fall to pieces to reveal a photo or other memento. Apparently these can be viewed in more detail by spraying fluid on pigeons that may appear at your cell window, but in my time with the game this didn't happen.
After the first prisoner, you get two new cellmates, one of them appearing to be a child. The increased frequency of the guards' rounds and having two prisoner needs to attend to becomes quite a challenge; these needs appear to change as the game progresses, as indicated by a scorecard of sorts that can be viewed by pressing or buttons. Fingerprints indicating when certain milestones have been reached will appear at the time of their accomplishment on screen and in a box on the scorecard.
As of this writing, Xseed in North America has apparently expressed some interest in translating the title, but management at Marvelous isn't convinced Discipline has the potential overseas audience to make it worth localising. Hopefully this won't end up staying in Japan, because it's nice to see an arty game that isn't concerned with violence for a change. Without being able to fully experience Discipline, it's simply impossible to determine if there's a truly brilliant game here or not, and it sadly ends up feeling little more than a jumped-up Tamagotchi, due the text-heavy nature of this Japanese title.