If Ryoji Kaji can raise an Angel, so can you!
The Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise is no stranger to video games—everything from mahjong, to visual novels, to combat simulators has been done with Shinji and company. Surprisingly, Evangelion didn’t make its handheld debut until 1999 (two years after End of Evangelion debuted), well after the birth of Nintendo’s Gameboy. Enter the WonderSwan, the brainchild of former Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi, and creator of the original “brick” Gameboy model. Produced through Bandai and posthumously released after Yokois’ passing in 1997, the WonderSwan has the honor of being the very first handheld to host an Evangelion title, along with dozens of other anime-based games. This is the first entry in a two-part post about the WonderSwan, and the niche pool of anime games in its library that sadly never arrived to English-speaking audiences.
A Novel Approach
Neon Genesis Evangelion Shito Ikusei, or “Angel Raising” is not your typical Evangelion game, if such a thing even exists. Instead of playing as Shinji or taking a seat in an Eva cockpit, you play as everyone’s favorite loveable character—Ryoji Kaji. And what does Kaji do? Well, take care and raise everyone’s other favorite loveable baby Angel clone... that Gendo somehow had lying around. Think of Tamagotchi or Digimon but more horrifying and with the possibility of launching Third Impact. Yeah.
Shito Ikusei isn’t that abnormal within the context of the Bandai WonderSwan library, however. Bandai, of course, is known for Digimon, which had its own line of role-playing games with similar pet raising features on the WonderSwan. The first Digimon pet raising device was released in 1997, as a “masculine” alternative for the popular, but still relatively cutsey Tamagotchi toy. Shito Ikusei follows the basic blueprint of Digimon, in that once the pet is raised, it can be used to “fight” monsters in a special unlockable mode. With a mix of role-playing and pet-raising, the player gets to interact with NERV employees, collect items, and manipulate the LCL levels in the baby Angel’s vat. It’s definitely not Evangelion gaming at its finest, or even weirdest, but this Angel raising sim does demonstrate how exactly the WonderSwan excelled in its niche of anime-licensed titles.
Gainax has previously experimented with the “raising simulator” with games such as Princess Maker in 1991. Although Shito Ikusei is technically a Bandai game, another Evangelion raising sim called Evangelion: Ayanami Raising Project was released by Gainax in 2001, which was followed by Evangelion: Shinji Ikari Raising Project in 2004. Needless to say, this obscure WonderSwan title might be considered the starting point for all the Evangelion-inspired raising sims following it. Maybe we should all collectively ask for "Pen Pen Raising Project" next?
A Day In The Limelight
For some reason, the Evangelion fanbase really, really wants to raise characters, max out their stats, and shower them in virtual gifts. Ironically, Shito Ikusei is the only Evangelion raising sim which involes the player taking control of an actual character in the show—although I highly doubt Kaji is anyone’s first choice. Although the main objective is to raise your Angel fetus into a "adult" Angel, Kaji has plenty to do around the NERV base, which leads to some interesting adventures.
Some iconic scenes from the original series are recreated on the Wonderswan’s limited monochrome pixel screen—such as Kaji and Misato in the elevator. You even have the decision to pick an “assistant” from the NERV bridge bunny trio aka Maya, Makota, or Shigeru. Although the story isn’t completely linear, there is plenty of appeal to die-hard Evangelion fans who want a story that isn’t entirely about Shinji, Asuka, or Rei. Just the idea of role-playing as a NERV employee seems to be enough for some eager fans.
Shito Ikusei is a weirdly utopian anomaly when it comes to Evangelion spin-offs. It promises a gimmicky pet raising mechanic with the story-telling fans expect from this franchise. But nothing too dramatic happens. The Angel you raise eventually assumes the form of one of the Angels seen in the series, if everything goes well. The player is supposedly meant to empathize with the little creature, nurture it, hope it grows up to be a healthy and productive member of society. Like most Angels from Evangelion, remember?
If Digimon and Tamagotchi truly were the bread and butter of Bandai handhelds, then this Eva-branded virtual pet definitely hits all the sweet spots. This story takes place in a weird bubble in the middle of the series plot, roughly around when Shinji and Asuka are practicing their synchronized fighting. But Shito Ikusei is a low-conflict portrayal of the NERV workplace, for sure. After a certain point, I realized that this niche WonderSwan title was a clever experiment in what genres worked for the Evangelion brand—and thankfully, this one succeeded.
Thankfully, the world of Evangelion lends itself well to “day in the limelight” story-telling. Also in summer of 1999, Neon Genesis Evangelion for the Nintendo 64 was released, an action-adventure title radically different from the WonderSwan game. With its series of visual novels and endless spin-offs, Evangelion has proven itself a dynamic license with no strict story-telling limits. With Bandai announcing a new wave of Tamagotchi called “Tamagotchi On” earlier this year, it might even be possible for another bizarre Evagelion raising sim to grace us.
In the next part of this two-part series, I’ll discuss other anime-related Wonderswan games such as the Digimon role-playing games, and how the WonderSwan contributed to a wonderfully niche moment in anime gaming. Stay tuned!
Have you ever owned a WonderSwan or played a Neon Genesis Evangelion game? Let us know!
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