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Matters Of Import: Wonder Project J2 Brings Masterful 2D To The N64

Posted by Kerry Brunskill

Making cute robots girls cry

The N64 never did get much 2D love when it was around, but games like Wonder Project J2 — as well as Treasure’s Bangai-O — show that other developers were missing a trick by ignoring the untapped potential of this side of Nintendo’s hardware. First published by Enix in 1996, Josette’s adventures on Blueland Island remain a memorable experience for anyone brave enough to explore the N64’s import library.

Life on the island is a distinctly Miyazaki-like (My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, Laputa, etc.) mix of low-fi technology wrapped up with a fantasy bow. The main character in the game is Josette, a humanoid robot who finds herself learning how to integrate into human society with nobody to guide her other than her robotic bird, Bird (not the most imaginative name), and you.

Wonder Project J2 goes out of its way to integrate the player seamlessly into the game, and it largely does this by breaking the fourth wall and making the player a central part of the story. You, the player, can see and hear Josette via your TV screen, although the only way you can interact with her is through Bird – pointing out objects of interest, handing her books and other items to learn or practise with, and by giving yes or no responses to her frequent questions. So when Josette runs up to the screen to ask a question, it isn't because the animators wanted to give you a good view of her face, but because she is directly addressing you, the mysterious person on the other side of the glass, and she wants to know what you think. It’s a simple technique, but a powerful one.

You can respond (via Bird) to Josette’s puzzlement about the world in which she lives in a few ways depending on the situation; questions can be given a straight yes/no reply, or if she needs to do something you can buy her the relevant book to read from the shop on board her submarine home (although it’s unlikely she’ll understand it the first time through), or you can point out objects of interest that you want her to notice or interact with. Being such a cute character, your first instinct will be to agree with everything she says and load her up with her favourite pudding, but as with real people the response that makes them happy and the response that helps them learn aren't always the same thing.

The first part of the game is pretty free form, allowing you to help Josette grow in a natural way as she learns both from you and the people she meets on the island. This starts off simple enough with actions such as greeting people in an appropriate way or learning the importance of cleanliness, but as she becomes more human she starts to ask about more complex issues such as emotions, life, and death. Some of these scenes can be truly heartbreaking as you watch this cheerful and innocent character, one who comes to you for answers and advice, break down in tears once she starts to comprehend the enormity of these events in other people’s lives – and her own.

The second part of the game is much shorter and has virtually no player interaction whatsoever, but it is also where the story comes to a head and both you and Josette discover exactly what’s been going on and why the Siliconian Empire’s crawling all over the island. It would be a shame to spoil the climax, so we'll say this instead – do you remember how we mentioned Miyazaki at the start? Well, just like Studio Ghibli’s best work, Wonder Project J2 is a powerful story where evil empires are toppled by the most unlikely people – but it’s a personal story too, and every character Josette’s befriended on her journey is important in the way that all normal people are to those that rely on them. Your time with Josette may come to an end but it’s clear that her adventure has just begun, and you leave her not as a humanoid robot that struggles to walk without falling flat on her face but as a brave and kind person in her own right, even without your guidance.

Some games only stand out because they're a little bit different on a system starved for such titles (in this case, 2D games), but Wonder Project J2 remains an excellent title that would have been praised on any console, and an underappreciated highlight in the N64’s generally well-trodden library.

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User Comments (30)

3dcaleb

#1

3dcaleb said:

huh. very strange game for n64. would be worth a try if it wasnt so text heavy. would be cool if someone dubbed it in english somehow.

gurtifus

#2

gurtifus said:

Mmmmhh.. Interresting ! I would try it but is there any fan translation for this game ?

Sanqet

#3

Sanqet said:

Both the n64 and playstation back then were all about 3d if it was in 2d the public did not want to know only the Saturn back then had a lot of 2d games

DamoAdmin

#4

Damo said:

I recall seeing this in issues of GameFan back in the day and thinking that it looked amazing! Thanks for the write-up, Kerry!

sinalefa

#6

sinalefa said:

@Damo

GameFan was the first gaming website I frequented, thanks for reminding me where I saw this back in the day.

DamoAdmin

#7

Damo said:

@sinalefa I used to get the magazine every month, which was easier said than done here in the UK. Such a fantastic publication - Gamer's Republic was great, too.

gurtifus

#8

gurtifus said:

Ok, I answer myself : there is, indeed, an english patch for WP J2 and even for WP J on SNES !

StarDust4Ever

#9

StarDust4Ever said:

@Sanqet Don't forget the Atari Jaguar also had 2d games available for it, and we all know how hard it flopped. Didn't help matters that the 3D graphics on the jag was only marginally better than the Genesis/SNES expansion chips (FX, 32X).

unrandomsam

#10

unrandomsam said:

@Sanqet Symphony of the Night should have been 2D and made for the Saturn not ported badly. Castlevania Chronicles should have been on the Saturn as well. (Or the N64 anything other than the Playstation) it sucks.

Windy

#11

Windy said:

I had always thought had more 2d games come out on the N64 in North America the system would have blown away its competition. Not that it did so bad. But the system was and could have been a 2d power house at the time. Same for the Atari Jaguar. They also could have made a real nice 2d machine but chose to run and Re-run this crappy 3d game engine. 2d gaming will never be over. I think it was just a time where the 3d wars were on. Who was going to do the best 3d on their machine! Well Ocarina of Time wasn't too shabby

ariwl1

#12

ariwl1 said:

I remember reading about this in Nintendo Power way back when. After becoming a Miyazaki fan I'd be interested in playing this.

Pod

#13

Pod said:

That visible tiling happening on all the 2D graphics...
This was why ALL 2D productions moved to the PlayStation at the time. Not only did CDs hold ten times the data, but the PS didn't have the ridiculous 4 kilobyte bottleneck on textures, which was the reasons N64 developers had to chop large sprites, like title pictures or other full screen images, into 32x32 chunks if they wanted any decent color palette.
The lines between the tiles are not obvious on the actual console, but on emulators you see quite clearly how the tiles are being filtered(smoothed) individually and then assembled to a bigger picture.

Sorry for the gross digression, this game does look very interesting. :)

MussakkuLaden

#15

MussakkuLaden said:

Wow, it doesn't happen everyday that I come across an N64-game I have never heard even the smallest bit of information about!
Doesn't appeal to me, though.

tanasten

#16

tanasten said:

Got it, played it, and loved it even with the language barrier. Would pay for it again with a localizated release!

Kaze_Memaryu

#17

Kaze_Memaryu said:

This might be the first N64 game I actually want to play! The whole idea of a character learning through the player teaching is really interesting - I'll try to look up if there's a fandub of it!

AlbertoC

#20

AlbertoC said:

『ワンダープロジェクトJ2 コルロの森のジョゼット』と言うN64のゲームは知りませんでした。

可愛くて楽しそうですが、日本から海外への発送で沢山な金を費やすので遊ぶの為に大変ですよ。それに、N64を点けられるかどうか分かりません。

(Or in other words, I didn't knew about this game. I can't play it since shipping might cost a lot. Besides, i don't know if my N64 still works.)

JustinH

#21

JustinH said:

Beat an import copy back in the '90s reading out of a FAQ since I barely knew any Japanese then (don't know that much more now, really) I would never do that but I liked the game that much. Could've bought that copy but I didn't, and I'm still kicking myself for it. Still have my save file on my memory pak, though!

This game is tempermental and it's not always clear what to do but it's sooooo good and I haven't seen a game like it since, sadly.

SahashraLA

#24

SahashraLA said:

My fondest N64 2D moments involved Paper Mario (even the more 3D sections are quite flat in comparison to 7 Stars), Yoshi's Story and Tetris (always fun multiplayer).
This looks great, but everytime I see these style graphics, I think back to Lunar 2 and Silver Star Story Complete and think.. Why has no one brought these games (or Lunar in general) to HD??
The PSP re-release was great, but the fact Lunar Legend hit the GBA gives me hope that, should this idea ever come to fruition, we may yet see this Silver Star rise again!

Manaphy2007

#25

Manaphy2007 said:

i say we tell nintendo to bring this game to the wii u vc and translated or an hd remake and translated

chiefeagle02

#28

chiefeagle02 said:

Wow. I remember reading about this in Nintendo Power a few months before the N64 launched in North America. Kind of a shame it never made it to the US. But I digress, nice write-up. :)

ValentineMeikin

#29

ValentineMeikin said:

Wonder Project J and J2 getting a Wii U or 3DS remastering would be great, considering that the controls for both relied heavily on point-and-click, which translates easily to tap-and-drag.

It's similar to how Natural Ultimate Digital Experiment was used to test a similar concept using solely voice control. However, without Kinect, it was far too novelty to work.

Both games, done now, would get a much more accepting customer base, and be able to sell so so much easier.

JebbyDeringer

#30

JebbyDeringer said:

I bought a Playstation after owning an N64 mainly due to the abundance of 2D games and Resident Evil 2.

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