Sailor Moon: Another Story (Part 1)
We begin a series of posts on the 1995 Super Nintendo RPG Sailor Moon: Another Story. A genuinely compelling story and brilliant character writing mixes with a mediocre design riffing off Final Fantasy VI, in what is arguably one of the most interesting mediums Sailor Moon has ever appeared in. Mixing in elements from the manga and the original anime adaptation, Sailor Moon: Another Story deserves a thorough breakdown. Wish me luck, Super Beryl is a tough boss you know?
A bit of backstory
At the height of its popularity, Sailor Moon was given an RPG adaptation for the Super Nintendo. Previous Sailor Moon computer games had been Final Fight-esque side-scrolling action, Street Fighter-esque beat-em-up or Puzzle Bobble-esque puzzles (I sense a theme here), and they were all, without question, atrocious. I can attest to this because I played an awful lot of them in my quest to play every single SNES game ever, right about the time in high school when my grades began to deteriorate.
No connection I’m sure.
Without a doubt, Sailor Moon: Another Story was created by a team very much inspired by Final Fantasy VI. Probably a number of other RPGs influenced its inception, Breath of Fire, Secret of Mana etc, the artistic direction, the battle style, even the tone and writing, feel weirdly reminiscent to those who have played Final Fantasy VI. I dare say that the design of the sprites look almost -legally- like those produced at Squaresoft.
However, a comparison between the two would be unfair to either game. Another Story is patently not in the same league as an average fully-fledged mid-90s RPG, let alone the king of them. It’s a pretty terrible game, actually. Another Story can feel as though it’s a home-brew build from an ambitious fan team, primarily in battle design and pacing. Random monsters range from pitifully weak to absurdly powerful. The plot is progressed by walking from one screen to another, wincing every 4th square as you’re thrown into yet another encounter. The sound mixing is obnoxiously shrill.
I love this game. Despite all its many, many (many ad infinitum) flaws, Sailor Moon: Another Story is, without question, an amazing play. It treats its source material as something to cherish and marvel at, but also something to build upon. The general plot is exceedingly interesting and classic Sailor Moon, a witch in the future altering fate itself. This is a masterful plot device that allows players to relive all the greatest fights of Sailor Moon (and by this point they had 135 episodes and 2 movies to draw upon), which is obviously why anyone would want to play a Sailor Moon game. It goes further, however – by tangling up these altered fates into a coherent and compelling storyline orchestrated by original antagonists, it gives a sense of urgency to all these old battles.
This plot device also allows for some great character development of those we’ve come to know and love. In the anime, and even in the manga, the Senshi never dwell upon past battles. Enemies come and go, the Senshi change, but they never bring up Nephrite again, never discuss the battle against Queen Beryl, or how they experienced death at the North Pole. Sailor Moon: Another Story sees our characters actually reliving their past memories, as traumatic as they might be, and while it’s not going to win a Daytime Emmy for writing, there are masterful moments for every character in the game.
These moments aren’t just big and dramatic scenes of Sailor Moon confronting a reborn Queen Beryl, or seeing Tuxedo Kamen crippled with illness for nearly the entire game (fuck the patriarchy!), it’s all the little moments between the characters. The scenes of the Senshi just hanging out, teasing each other, dreaming of their futures, it all feels legitimately Sailor Moon. The writers were undoubtedly the greatest Sailor Moon scholars of all time, they’ve nailed how every character would act in new and surprising situations. And all in text dialogue!
The graphics were dated even by 1995 standards, but the pixelated style and limited character expression actually enhance the style here. The developers knew their limits, but cute sound effects and animations really add to the sense that you’re “playing out” a grand Sailor Moon epic. The music, too, is fantastic, despite the awful sound-mixing. From the opening lonely notes of the opening to the dramatically baroque arrangement of Moonlight Densetsu, it’s all ear-worms. It wriggles into your brain and sits happily, so you’ll be humming the same 28 bars around all day after a play.
As the battle music and boss music will show, the composer didn’t want to simply throw in 16-bit renditions of classic Sailor Moon tunes, they morphed them, developed them, made them their own. There are so many licks and motifs that are unmistakably from the show, taking the emotional impact and adding it into this rather simple game. It takes real canny to have pulled this off without becoming derivative or obnoxious. A couple of the tunes are downright brilliant, and I’ll be including bits and bobs as we go.
Here’s my own experiences with Sailor Moon: Another Story, for what it’s worth.
I first played this game back when dial-up internet was still something of a luxury item in the home. This is when I began seriously getting into Sailor Moon, reading episodes synopses and finding crappy lame HTML fan websites… and not actually viewing the show. It was notoriously difficult to watch anime of any kind in the UK back then… and even now, to be honest. As such, aside from the English dub (which even back in the 90s I felt was something of a train wreck, my apologies dub-fans), Another Story was the first time I actually got to see these characters in action, as they were intended (and without the cringing 90’s PSAs about dieting or bullying at the end of each episode).
It must have taken about 30 hours to download the fan-translated Another Story SNES ROM back then. And god forbid if you timed-out or your internet went squiffy at 4 in the morning. If you interrupted a download back in 1999 that was it. Game over.
The joy at being able to experience Usagi’s world for the first time was almost a religious experience. Seeing all these characters I had read about actually coming to life, albeit in 16-bit form, was indescribably exciting. Another Story has therefore got a huge amount of nostalgia going for it in my approach to this review series.
Enough waffling, let’s fire up the old Super Nintendo emulator! If you’d like to play along but don’t know where you can download the fan-translated Another Story file, then I’m sure I have absolutely no idea where you could find it.
Chapter 1: Her Destiny
Alternative Title: Stalking Friends and Haunted Bullet Trains
Sailor Moon: Another Story has a fantastic pre-game opener. It’s a little slow, but it captures much of the mood of this game, this strange otherworldly energy hurtling towards Crystal Tokyo in the 30th Century. It’s set to this strange, simple and haunting little tune. Like all the MIDI mixes in this game, it’s shrill as heck, but that doesn’t diminish the eerie effect it has with the meteor heading for Earth and the odd garbled speech from… something?
It’s all about light & darkness coming together. Very strange stuff, but it really adds to this sense of unknowable threat. I’m sure the translation helps here too. This extra barrier of misunderstanding actually accentuates the atmosphere.
The title screen itself is even better. I love this thing. Crystal Tokyo has nearly always been this strange oppressive location, a haunted battleground in Sailor Moon R. The impressive sight of the Crystal Palace already has me hook line and sinker into this story, I’ve always been fascinated by this future city, and to see that it will play an integral part of this game has already given me the chills.
The best part is the strange arrangement of the classic Moonlight Densetsu, here morphed into this tense, dark screechy MIDI tune that I really, really like. A clever arrangement of a familiar song. It’s mutilating something safe and recognisable and making it oppressive and threatening. Great work.
Hitting a new game is actually quite abrupt after all that. I imagine the intent was that the player would watch the entire intro and spend a bit of time soaking in the title screen. Instead we instantly have creepy music (inspired from a tune from early in Sailor Moon S) and Luna jumping into Usagi’s room, trying to wake her up with the news that weird shit is going on in town.
I instantly like the aesthetic. It’s rough, to be sure, but it has charm, and effort is being made to scale everything from the show into these shitty 1995 graphics. Best of all is the character art they use as the characters are talking. Were it only their crappy pixel sprites with white text, I’m not sure the text would be as involving or convincing, but these low-res images are really cool, and get you into the mindset that these are the characters talking.
What also helps is the script. Everything is familiar and correct, as it should be, with Luna trying to wake up a lazy Usagi and her not taking Luna seriously. It’s taking me right back to the first series.
You’ll also have noticed the framing device… I think this may have been used to scale the map down a bit, save on memory perhaps. It probably wasn’t intentional, but this effect serves to make everything feel rather storybook-like. The default is kind of a boring green, but I’ve obviously chosen to upgrade to a soft pink. That seemed the most fitting.
So! Chapter 1… “Her Destiny”. I like that title an awful lot, it’s pregnant with potential, and seems nice and mysterious to match the strange pre-game opener. I have to applaud the translation team from minute one, this is glorious stuff. It mixes in Romaji Japanese with honest direct translation. We get terms of Senshi, Kage, -sama and -chan suffixes, they’re translating this as though the player knows their anime, and it works! It feels like you’re watching an episode. And they really know their Sailor Moon too, they know how every character should come off in this translation.
Running around feels awful. The sprites float around at a rather twitchy pace. I love the detail they’ve gone into recreating all the scenes from the anime, there are just empty rooms upon rooms purely there for ambiance rather than serving any actual purpose, but the effect is that much of the locations feel strangely lifeless. That’s not the case in my first desination, however, I immediately enter Shingo’s room to tell him what a twat he is.
He doesn’t disappoint.
Running around the Juban district is really cool. There’s so much stuff here lifted from all three seasons of Sailor Moon, as well as the manga. The big fat woman from the very first episode makes an appearance here and there, and is as weirdly obnoxious as she was then. You can visit the book store, the supermarket, the Crown Arcade to see boring leering creep Motoki-oneesan. Sadly I could not make Sailor Moon use Moon Tiara Action against him, as much as I wanted to.
It’s sort of hard to figure out where exactly you’re meant to be going, but eventually you’ll realise that you can go nowhere but Osa-P, the jewellery shop operated by Naru’s mother. I love this, what better way to open Sailor Moon: Another Story than an attack on Naru at the shop. It’s perfect, emulating both the very first episode, as well as the one late in the first series where they’re attacked by the ninja-photographer.
Seeing Sailor Moon’s entrance spiel is great in miniature. They use actual sound recordings in this game in key moments, and one of them is when Sailor Moon says her old “tsukini kawatte oshioki yo!” Yeah the recording quality is awwwwwfuuuuul, but the effect of making the game feel oddly alive and relevant works.
We realise here that they’re going to jumble everything up. The first enemy you fight here isn’t the Youma who took Naru’s mother’s place, nor the ninja monster, it’s Senishentta from Sailor Moon S, a Daimohn.
We can already see that the battling isn’t going to be great, but they’ve made an effort at least. The monsters all look like their anime counterparts, the attacks are all voiced (unclearly of course), the animations are all unique to each Senshi. It’s fun… but the battles get so repetitive. This system of EP, basically your energy for using attacks, is flawed too, as you cannot regain it in battle without replenishing items. So god forbid you get in a long fight and are unable to do anything but attack because you’ve run out of “cologne”.
Naru’s sprite is a nice touch. These are the pyjamas she wore the last time she got attacked in the store… it’s also the ones she wore when sodding Nephrite died in her arms, the one that should have been ripped and covered in blood. Oh well, maybe they were on discount and she bought two pairs. OR she’s a sociopath.
So! Monsters have returned! What’s Sailor Moon going to do? She’s going to go home and have a nap, apparently… I love that link.
We cut to Mamoru, who is apparently sleeping in the middle of the day. More like Usagi than you think? He’s having a dream that looks like the Silver Millennium, when the ghostly figure of… Kunzite shows up!? Now, this is very interesting in several different ways. First of all, Mamoru’s sprite looks younger and more bishounen than his anime counterpart, which means they’re modelling him closer to the manga design. I’m all for this.
Second, Kunzite appearing before Mamoru is taking material from the manga, the idea that Kunzite and the other Great Four were his loyal generals before they were brainwashed by Queen Beryl. So clearly Sailor Moon: Another Story is acting as a kind of canon bridge between anime and manga, and it pulls it off supremely! It gives the content an extra layer of complexity and depth that I didn’t expect, allowing it to draw upon a much larger canon for its material.
Weeeeel Kunzite is his usual oblique self, vaguely warning his Prince Endymion that some kind of danger is approaching from the future. As though that’s supposed to help. You were better off playing dead, Kunzite.
Usagi finally gets around to warning the other Senshi at Hikawa Shrine that Daimohns have been revived! They’re talking in the past tense about the Death Busters, so this definitely takes place after the resolution of Sailor Moon S. I love seeing the other Senshi here. Even better, I love their reactions to this news from Usagi: they seem mildly interested, but when Ami comes along with news of her impending date with Urawa (REMEMBER THAT DOUCHE?) no one seems to care much about innocent people getting attacked. Makes me laugh every time.
Even more so, this is one of my favourite scenes in Another Story. The girls just sit around in Rei’s room chatting shit about boyfriends and Ami’s lame plans for Urawa’s stay. The reactions from the girls when she says she’s going to take Urawa to the library to study is priceless. This script is fantastic, it’s just so fitting for every character. I love when Ami leaves for Tokyo Station and Minako blithely suggests they stalk their friend to spy on her date.
Even better, they all agree. Makoto is reluctant, thinking (correctly) that this is horrifying and an invasion of privacy, but it really doesn’t take much to get her out the door. I love her exasperated sprite animation too.
Suffice it to say that their reunion doesn’t go all to plan. We get to go to Tokyo Station… having been there myself I can attest that they really got the look of the exterior quite accurately. Nice job. We even get to hop aboard an abandoned and dark Shinkansen bullet train looking for Urawa, which is rather interesting! They’re blending in real-world locations to give this story an extra spin of reality, and I like it.
We get out first full-party fight here, against Bunbo of all monsters, the Rainbow Monster Urawa transformed into. The Senshi are levelling up really fast here, which is good because as soon as we play as the Inner Senshi again they’ll get their asses kicked. Hard.
They take the poor shitty Urawa back to Hikawa Shrine. It’s interesting they’re using him, he was in two episodes in season 1, and while he doesn’t play much of a role here, he does at least show that the writers of this game know their Sailor Moon and want to tie in as many references as they can, even to subsidiary characters. He essentially says the same stuff as Kunzite did to Mamoru, but somehow even less coherently.
We get another unexpectedly funny vignette of Rei trying to divine this new enemy of theirs with her sacred fire. Of COURSE this had to be in here, she’s seen doing it so often in the show. It… does not go well. At first they get a creepy face in the fire calling itself “Sin”…
…and then it explodes in soot, leaving Rei ashen-faced and annoyed. I love her reaction here. Such limited animation and text but they get a proper guffaw moment. Truly surprising. This is as funny as an episode of Sailor Moon so far.
At this point, a phone call rings through to the shrine, and Usagi takes it. It’s Haruka! Wow, this was quick, I expected the game to take ages building up the the Outer Senshi, but no. They know what the players want, and it’s the inclusion of all the Senshi as quickly as possible. This is actually what the game excels at the most, uniting all the Senshi together and giving them tons of playtime and interesting developments. It’s something that the show never gave us after Sailor Moon S. We have a touch of it in Stars, but it’s never overly satisfying in the way that Sailor Moon: Another Story does it.
Chalk one up for the game.
Anyway, Haruka tells Usagi to get her butt over to Juban hospital because Hotaru has fallen ill… You may recall that she’s a reincarnated baby at this point. Haruka appears to lack the ability to turn thoughts into words, because she just tells Usagi to move. I’m pretty sure I could have described this over the phone, you know… oh well, any excuse to hang out with Haruka, Michiru and… Hotaru!?
And that’s it for today, keep an eye out for the next part of our Sailor Moon: Another Story play-through soon!
We try to destroy all time and space with Sailor Saturn and find out she’s only Level 1, and the Inner Senshi take a nap in the school.