Jesus Saved My Saturday Night: A Weird Famicom Game Worth Playing
Tonight I played — and completed — a game called Jīzasu: Kyōfu no Baio Monsutā, released on the Nintendo Famicom as Jesus: Kyōfu no Bio Monster. The game was originally made for a variety of Japanese home computer series in the 80′s so old and foreign to me that none of the computer names are even remotely recognizable.
Why did I download this game? To be honest, I wanted to know what kind of Japanese NES title about space horror was named after Jesus, the Christian messiah. The concept seemed like a good goldmine for humor and novelty, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
You play as a Japanese… space… warrior? Your career is kind of confusing to parse from the English translation (note: the translation was not bad, I’m just always worried some nuance gets lost) but they throw around words like “space warrior” a bunch, so you’re somewhere in between really aggressive engineer and military personnel.
Your name is Musou Hayao, and you are part of 1 of 2 teams sent to investigate Halley’s Comet. The space lab you’re stationed on, named Jesus, has detected some sort of life force from inside the comet. With hopes that this life force will give some new breakthrough in the field of xenobiology (possibly the origins of life itself?) you’ll embark on your journey.
The two teams are comprised of an interesting and multicultural crew; there’s the Chinese doctor, the German captain, an American xenobiologist, a French Mathematician, an Italian computer engineer, a Russian (well, “Soviet” — this game was made in the 80s) captain, and a Brazilian astronomer. The Brazilian astronomer’s main characteristic is that he eats a lot of hamburgers. That’s his defining feature (and yet the game manages to be more than just a chuckle barrel of weird quirks).
The french mathematician also happens to be your girlfriend (though maybe unofficial relationship right now), and a talented musician (well, aren’t we lucky!) and rockin’ some killer 80′s style.
Your girlfriend is heading to the comet on Boarding Ship 1, which leaves 2 weeks before your ship is scheduled to head out. You can talk to her and her weird robot roomba, and the other crew, before boarding time. When you arrive at the comet… Boarding Ship 1 is sending out a distress signal, and your commanding officer sends you down for inspection. You walk around empty halls looking for the missing crew, among them — obviously — your beloved. You locate her robo-roomba named Fojii, who helps you navigate the ship.
Then things REALLY start shakin’ up!
Plot setup aside, here’s the gameplay: Jesus plays like an adventure game in the vein of Space Quest: you explore rooms in the ship, collecting clues and items necessary to advance the story. You’re basically just finding keys to unlock all the right doors, and being given subtle clues as to where your next key is hidden. There were many points in the game where I had to actually use my brain, connect the dots, and find what I needed in order to succeed. However, there were also points in the game where I just got fucking stuck with no clue how to proceed, and had to backtrack through every room in the entire roomy spaceship looking for scraps of paper I missed or some sort of plot trigger. These sections were tedious and had me wondering if the game was really worth it, or if it was broken if you picked up the wrong thing in the wrong order. Halfway through what I’d call the “second act” I looked up a “Long Play” on youtube, skip to the last thing I did, see what they did next in the video, then pause it and try to figure it out myself from that point on. I really don’t think I could have completed it otherwise.
The problem solving was not always intuitive, and at certain points felt really unfair. But powering past its biggest weaknesses, Jesus carried on with a really sweet (if at this point in history, cliche) science fiction horror plot, and blended plot and gameplay more seamlessly than a lot of games in this adventurous genre. The game was first released in ’87, which predates a lot of movies that it reminded me of — that’s something I kept in mind when judging the game’s originality and creativity.
Why do I feel the need to talk about this game? I play too many video games, many of which I don’t write reviews of. Many of them newer titles with good graphics, engaging story, fun combat, etc. My video game addiction started as far back as I can remember: my grandparents had an NES at their home, and my fondest memories are being excited to go and play Yoshi’s Cookie with Nana, or play Gauntlet with my sister — who was always the wizard and I, always the warrior. We had a Sega Master System at our own house, too, with a lot of games only loosely altered for a Western audience. Games that never made it to a Western audience or struggled with one are oddly satisfying for me, maybe because of those early days trying to unlock the secrets hidden deep within foreign context I wouldn’t understand for years. And when you’re 5 or 6 years old, you can’t exactly buy a subscription to Nintendo Power or S: The Sega Magazine.
But to round back to the major point: as many older games as I’ve played, I never felt quite as touched by their stories as I did upon completion of Jesus. All the characters had just enough personality and you were given just enough time to bond with them to make their fates special. The drama and mystery I encountered really captured me! It developed slowly, over time, with just enough suspense to actually make me feel frightened with anticipation. The pacing was as good as any sci-fi horror film of that era.
On top of that, the 80′s anime art style was tight as hell, and the way they drew the monster (spoiler: there’s a monster!) was super eerie during certain scenes. The music was enjoyable for most of the game, although there are parts during the first examination of the ship that sound like nails being scratched on a chalkboard. I hate to make excuses for the game or say “it gets better”, but that’s exactly what I’m doing here when I say that if you can get past the grating noises in those few scenes, you’re in for a real treat.
I can’t find it in myself to give this game any numerical rating, only that I highly encourage others to download a rom of Jesus: Kyōfu no Bio Monster for an evening well-spent. But for those aren’t interested in playing it themselves, the Long Play (linked above) can give you a full run of the game. Additionally, I’ve put some of my favourite frames of the game on my blog.