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Gamer Tuesday

January 7, 2013

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the yellow brick road

Developed by: Media Vision

System: Nintendo DS

Happy new year, everyone! May it have started off in the right note, and may all the wishes you made on such a blessed night come true! With this being the first formal Gamer Tuesday of 2014, I decided to start off with an unexpected game, one whose franchise is closely, but loosely, tied to the Disney company as a whole; The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

To quote Princess Anna from Frozen... Wait, what?

Yes, at first you may realize that Disney's connections to Oz are almost non-existent. And I wouldn't blame you for it. Despite L. Frank Baum's Oz series being one of the most beloved in the genre of fantasy, it is MGM's 1939 classic, Wizard of Oz, that has become the most iconic representation of Oz ever thanks to beautiful sets, great characters, tremendous pace and fantastic music. Yet, it isn't the only adaptation that currently exists. Many have tried to capture the sparks that made the books so endured by society, while also addressing the need to weave their own take on the story. The Wiz (which started life as a stage musical, and later as a film starring Michael Jackson), retold the story using Motown-inspired music as a spark of inspiration. Wicked, a book that later became a highly popular Broadway show, decided to tell the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, while also re-visioning every element of Baum's fabled books.

Oz game

Disney has also danced down the yellow brick road. Even if Walt Disney loved the books and tried to turn them into feature films (including a concept that was originally shown being played out by the Mouseketeers) only two adaptations came long after his death. First came Return to Oz, an un-official sequel to the MGM film that told the story of Oz through very fantastic, yet very dark, lens. And last year, audiences received the 3D blockbuster, Oz: The Great and Powerful, telling the story of how the Wizard of Oz came into being. So as you can see, the land of Oz goes beyond the MGM musical, and has enchanted every kind of storyteller there is.

Oz game

With that connection established, let us take a look at a peculiar Wizard of Oz video game which seeks inspiration from the books and the films, while also re-telling it in its own way...

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a Japanese role playing game for the Nintendo DS. Developed and released by Media Vision in Japan, its original inception was known as RIZ-ZOAWD, and featured a take on the Oz stories that was heavily influenced by Japanese pop culture. In 2009, the game was localized by XSEED, a small publishing company that specializes on releasing small and obscure games that would otherwise be ignored by the larger game companies. Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, though, came to North American with the licensing help of Warner Bros. Interactive, the video game division of Warner Bros. The game would then have a much closer tie to the Oz series, specifically the MGM musical. In short, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a game that started life as being its own Oz interpretation, but was able to be released in North America as being part of MGM/Warner Bros's famous musical.

Oz game

But enough about franchise technicalities, what is the game about. Much like with the Oz stories, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road features Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas that ends up in the magical land of Oz. Also like in the various Oz adaptations, Dorothy comes across three quirky friends; a living scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion. They all seek the help of the powerful Wizard of Oz in order to try and obtain their heart's desire. In the game, the characters are tasked with defeating the four witches of Oz, and collect special eggs throughout the journey. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore... or Oz for that matter!

This being a role playing game, one of the goals behind the game is to see the story through its completion. Much like with other Oz adaptations, it sets out to tell the classic story of Oz while still creating its own twists. It truly does show how Frank Baum's stories can reach wide cultures beyond just a few iconic takes on the stories. But how will we see the story developed? Media Vision has used the DS's best assets to create a one of a kind Oz experience. Using the DS's touch screen, you guide Dorothy through the various lands of Oz. In order to progress through the story, players must encounter various battles that will level their skills.

Oz game

Battles are presented in the style of Square Enix's Dragon Quest series, meaning that rather than seeing all the characters in the field of battle, it will all be presented in a first person perspective, giving you a direct look at the monsters you are facing. From a menu, you then select different attacks that will achieve different effects on battle. This is where the concept of 'grinding'comes into play. The more battles you endure and win, the stronger the characters will become. The mentality at play here means that Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a title aimed more towards older gamers with more experience in gaming, much like the Kingdom Hearts series.

Oz game

The art style both borrows from the illustrations seen in the Baum books, while also presenting them in a very Japanese manner. By just looking at the artwork, you can see the different personalities that have made the Oz characters some of the most endearing in fiction. The personalities also shine through the rest of the game, giving us an Oz that feels both familiar, yet brand new to our eyes. This being a late DS game, the 3D graphics do justice to the quirky and ambitious designs. The somewhat limited hardware did not put a dent on the ideas as to how this Oz should look.

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road may not be a perfect game, much less a game that everyone can understand, but it does show us that magic of the Oz stories can transcend language and culture barriers, using the great medium of video games to take us back to Oz in a manner that manages to tickle the nostalgic mindsets, but spins a different interpretation.


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