I’d like to tell you all a little story about me and my friend named Jesus. No, not that Jesus… This Jesus doesn’t save. It uses passwords instead.
When it comes to obscure and unknown games, it takes a lot to get much less known than Jesus: Dreadful Bio-Monster. Although it came out on several systems in Japan, it saw no English release. Despite the – somewhat recognizable – name, the game bears no teachings, or indeed any characters somewhat resembling, the well-known founder of Christianity (in fact, the name refers to a space station in the game). There is a bio-monster, however, and it inspires dread.
Jesus is an adventure survival horror game developed by Enix and published by King Records. While most console adventure games have some element of action, Jesus more resembles a text-based adventure. Jesus is obviously a product of the 1980’s, right down to the bright red, oversized hairstyle of the main character. For another example, one of the characters is introduced as a “Soviet.”
In fact, the entire first part of Jesus would probably convince you that you were playing a comedy anime adventure. And, indeed, much about Jesus is light-hearted. Characters even occasionally joke after it becomes clear that there is something incredibly bad going on. It’s also impossible to make a wrong decision in the game, which can make Jesus incredibly boring after a while.
When Jesus becomes serious, though, that tone is carried across quite well. The first time I was playing through it, there were several points where I jumped in my seat. The tone is not limited to the “surprise bad guy” either, as there is a strong sense of dread that builds throughout the game. It’s not quite as extreme an atmosphere as, say, System Shock, but it does get a scary ambiance going. I don’t normally enjoy survival horror-type games that much, but Jesus kept me playing and wouldn’t let me stop.
Jesus is not without flaws. First of all, the name opens itself up to both misinterpretation and ridicule (if you’re like me, that’s actually a positive). Second, Jesus can become repetitive and bland in certain parts – sometimes Jesus downright tells you “go look for X” without any indication of where it might be – and the trigger is using one command in one room. Finally, Jesus has next to no replayability, as there is very little interesting that can be missed in a playthrough.
The setting for Jesus is the year 2061. The nations of Earth have worked together to build the space station “Jesus” as a way-station between Earth and the rest of the solar system. Halley’s Comet has mysteriously changed direction and is headed directly towards Earth. In order to find out what is going on and, more specifically, if there is some life on Halley’s Comet controlling it, seven of Earth’s nations have sent representatives from various scientific and military fields to participate in a mission to investigate.
You are the Japanese representative, the military cadet Hayao Musou. Your task is to first discover what is going on and then to stop it (bad Jesus).
The plot is the main reason I would recommend Jesus. Though simultaneously far-fetched and clichéd, the game’s presentation and build-up are excellent – particularly when compared to other NES games – and if you pay attention, you may find small details that add to the plot. The music for the game, composed by Koichi Sugiyama of Dragon Quest fame, is excellent. Its quality is actually an annoyance in some ways because large parts of the game have no music. Characterization is mostly good, although due to the length and nature of Jesus, some characters are two-dimensional.
Artwork in the game, however, is top-notch for the system. It’s hard to believe that they could have art this nice in an 8-bit game… until you find out that there are three animations in the entirety of Jesus. All of the artwork is naturally done in an anime style, which is nice given the theme.
Unfortunately, Jesus is quite short. It’s maybe two to three hours long, and can be beaten in around half an hour if you know what you are doing. Between this and the lack of replay value, it’s not exactly the kind of game to keep you occupied for weeks on end. This makes the game seem more like interactive fiction or a short novel with pictures than a “real” game.
All in all, Jesus is enjoyable, and I would enjoy trying another member of the series if I could. The plot’s a good deal of fun and the presentation is nice, too. Now if only we could get more Jesus games…
How could a game like this avoid official translation? One possible culprit is Nintendo of America’s early policies. If it were even brought up at some point, they would have heard about a game that not only deals with the concept of death, but also could offend many Christians. It wasn’t a sure bet to sell by any means, particularly since anime wasn’t nearly as popular then as it is now, so it was probably best to leave it alone. In fact, the Famicon version is probably one of the worse editions of the game — the PC-88 version was better — and the other game in the series was only released for the PC-98, so US shores could never see the sequel anyway.
My guess is that the Famicon edition of the game was more or less an afterthought, and translation wasn’t even considered as a possibility. Maybe it’s for the best, as it probably would’ve flopped and discouraged translation of other perfectly good games. Plus, I wouldn’t have gotten to translate it, and that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun for me, but that’s for another article.