Pros:Graphics. Arcade style Gameplay. Car Roster. Decent Controls. Upbeat Soundtrack.
Cons:Difficulty Level Hard at times. Ability to read Japanese to understand menus, instruction book, etc.
The Bottom Line: If you love "Arcade Style" racers (and have the abiltiy to read and write in Japanese) you should get a copy of this game for yourself.
A couple years ago I started to track down and purchase hard-to-find Import games spanning across all the different consoles I own. One of the games I happened to pick up was a racing game based on the Japanese anime Initial D. This particular anime was one of my favorites, so I decided to order Initial D: Street Stage for the Sony PlayStation Portable. I was a fan of the anime series for a number of reasons. Probably the biggest reason was because the street racing scene was a big thing at the time of my watching it. And another reason was the anime features one of my favorite cars, the Mazda RX-7.
I was a little disappointed that this game was never released to the North American market, but since the Sony PSP is "region free" when it comes to games, I decided to buy it anyway. The game is an "enhanced" port of the arcade version called Initial D: Arcade Stage (Version 3). Sega did a wonderful job in developing this game as it does with most its arcade ports. The game features the standard "Story Mode" and "Time Attack Mode".
Story Mode allows you to race against opponents from the anime. You assume the role of Takumi Fujiwara and his car the 1986 Toyota Trueno GT-Apex (or you can change cars if you like...I am currently driving a Mazda RX-8). In the "Story Mode" you race on various courses and as you successfully win against your opponents, new tracks and opponents appear; each one getting increasing in difficulty as you progress through the game. Like most "arcade" racers, you have to hit checkpoints during the race to increase your time. If your timer hits "zero" the race is over.
"Time Attack Mode" has no "checkpoints" and it's pretty much a race to set course records. Before each race in this mode you can change the weather and time. You can either make it daytime and rain or night and clear, etc. Also like Story Mode, you are offered three cards face down and you have the choice of one. There are three types of cards which are Battle, Rival, and Tuning. Battle Cards are cards featuring course information, Rival Cards feature info on the various characters in the series, and Tuning Cards allow you to upgrade the various parts of your car (such as new transmissions, airfoils, tires, etc.) There is even a "Versus Mode" that allows you to race and trade cards though the PSP's Wi-Fi feature. Another neat feature allows you to record and film your races and play them back. Also you have the ability to view the different cut scenes you unlock.
The control set up of the PSP is well suited for this type of game. It's surprising how well driving games play on the Sony PlayStation Portable. You can steer your car with either the D-Pad or the Analog Stick. The Analog Stick is fairly sensitive, and depending on the situation I use either one respectively. The cars can get kind of "squirrely" like in Sega GT for the Sega Dreamcast at times. The "X-Button" is the accelerator while the "Square-Button" is your break. The "O-Button" turns on or off your headlights during nighttime racing and the "Triangle-Button" changes your viewpoint from either 1st Person or the traditional 3rd Person view. And if you have the settings of your car set to MT (Manual Transmission), the L and R Buttons shift up or down.
The graphics are great and it's hard to remember that I'm playing a game on a "handheld" console. Sega has an eye for detail and they seem to do a great job with the aesthetics. The tracks are well rendered and feature people on the sides of the many parts of the courses. They are static but well rendered. The weather effects look great too, and when it rains the water "sprays up" as you power slide (drift) around the corners. All the cars featured in the game are accurate representations of their real life counterparts. Sega obtained licenses from car makers, Mazda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Subaru. My favorite cars are the Mazda RX-8 Type S, Mazda RX-7 "Infinity" III, and of course the Toyota Trueno GT-Apex. The lighting effects are well done too. Reflections off the cars are accurate and realistic looking. When you turn your car into the sun, it gets glary like if you were to have a camera facing the sun. The in-game and "cutscene" artwork features hand drawn pieces from the Initial D anime and manga series. While the graphics don't stand up to other PSP racers like Test Drive: Unlimited, they are well done and the overall Frame Rate is fast and there are no glitches or "jaggies".
The sound effects are well done, and the sound of the engine roaring (especially at the main menu when you "Press Start") sound great. The music is made up of J-Pop/J-Rock tunes, with most of the music featuring English lyrics. For the most part they are upbeat and fit the whole "Arcade" racer theme. During the "Story Mode" your opponents taunt you in Japanese as well as yell at you when you pass them.
The game is a lot of fun, especially if you like Arcade style racers with a twist. I ordered this game from Play-Asia a couple years ago for a pretty good price. I think I got it on a sale for about $9.99 to $12.99 along with a bunch of other games. But if you decide to purchase this game, be prepared to read Japanese. You have to be able to read Japanese to understand the instruction book as well as navigating the in-game menus (so stuff in English). I did learn that there is a Asian/Hong Kong version of the game that features an English Translated instruction book. I'm thinking about ordering that one from Play-Asia since it is in-stock (at least a couple days ago it was). Luckily I have several friends who speak Japanese fluently and I was able to get a rough translation (which I should have written down), so I am able to play the game and have fun. But I really need to brush up on some Japanese.
It's too bad that Sega didn't bring this game over to North America. Maybe someday they will. The anime series has a cult following here in the United States so who knows what will happen in the future.
Initial D: Street Stage [Import]
Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)
[YEAR of RELEASE]:
© Copyright 2009 Chris_Billings
*The Japanese Version does not carry an ESRB Rating. Instead it carries a CERO (Computer Entertainment Rating Organization) Rating of "A" which is equivalent to a ESRB Rating of "E for Everyone".
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