A few years ago, British journalist and author John Szczepaniak launched a Kickstarter campaign with a grand vision – to document the memories of some of Japan's most influential yet underappreciated games developers.
The result was an extensive three-volume series (and accompanying DVD) which, in our opinion, is essential reading for anyone even the slightest bit interested in the crazy world of Japanese game development. However, by Szczepaniak's own admission, sales of each book were less than expected and despite hitting his initial Kickstarter goal, he had to use some of his own money to finish the trilogy.
Thankfully, The Untold Story of Japanese Games Developers project lives on via another book entitled Japansoft: An Oral History. Published by UK firm Read-Only Memory – which produced a similar book relating to the UK development industry a while back – this scaled-down edition pulls together selected interviews from Szczepaniak's series and presents them in a gloriously text-dense format, complete with unseen photos from the period as well as box artwork and illustrations by Yu Nagaba.
Like Britsoft: An Oral History, Japansoft is mainly text-based and lacks the screenshots and often crude doodles that peppered the pages of Szczepaniak's trilogy. While this might be hard to swallow if you're a fan of image-heavy coffee-table tomes, it offers us a wonderfully detailed and content-rich book which is bursting with quotes, anecdotes and much more besides (as well as using Szczepaniak's material, Read-Only Memory editor Alex Wiltshire has included entirely new interviews with the likes of Dylan Cuthbert, Manami Matsumae and Keiji Yamagishi).
While you could never for a second question the passion of Szczepaniak's original three-book series, it was abundantly clear that he was doing much of the design work on his own; it was a passion project and it showed. While Japansoft lacks that ‘fanzine’ look that made Szczepaniak's series so unique and raw, it's arguably a better way to present this information; interviews have been cherry-picked and edited down, with the book more cleanly divided into companies rather than individual people. It's also presented in hardback on gorgeous, high-quality paper stock, making it something you're going to treasure for years. We do miss the anarchic nature of Szczepaniak's originals, though, so it's tempting to suggest you seek out both, if at all possible.
While we’re a little torn between the dense and captivating Szczepaniak originals and this compact and gorgeously-presented update, one thing is for sure: we’re glad this project exists and Szczepaniak should be applauded for his efforts to chronicle the fortunes of some of the most underrated developers in gaming history – just as Read-Only Memory should be thanked for giving the venture a second shot at critical and commercial success.
Thanks to Read-Only Memory for supplying a copy of Japansoft for this review.
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