Though it may not look like much, the picture you see above is that of one of my favourite games of all-time. Since I very first played this RPG-esque Studio Ghibli-animated game over a decade ago now, it’s been one of but a handful of games that has stood the test of time for me and remained thoroughly enjoyable on its own merit instead of just for nostalgia’s sake. The game isn’t widely acknowledged by gamers, or even exceptionally critically praised — even by those whom this game would usually appeal to — but I’d be lying if I said that this game wasn’t, to my very specific and strange tastes at least, bordering on being fucking flawless. As a youngster, I cited this game as being my all-time favourite game for many years and it’s still high up the list for me.
That game is Jade Cocoon.
Developed by Japanese developers Genki in collaboration with Studio Ghibli animator Katsuya Kondō in 1998 (released a year later by Crave for North America and Ubisoft for Europe), Jade Cocoon follows the story of Levant, whom’s small village of Syrus is attacked by demons called the Onibubu, putting many of its habitants into a deep sleep. Levant must then follow in the footsteps of his lost father by becoming a ‘Cocoon Master’ and traversing the forests of his small world in order to find a certain herb that will cure the sick of his village. Along the way, you encounter some legitimately interesting and charming characters with some wonderful character designs. The game obviously had some thought and creativity put in to it, if nothing else.
Taking a leaf from Pokémon (but in no way ripping it off, I promise), Levant can catch monsters in cocoons, raise them, fight with them and even fuse them in order to aid his quest. The battle system is akin to Pokémon too for the most-part, other than that Levant can partake in the battle himself. At no point did the battle system feel like a poor imitation of Pokémon’s gameplay though.
You’ll find yourself running about your village or forests more than you’ll end up doing battle though, so don’t take that video as being wholly representative of the game because the battles are not where most of the game’s charm lies.
Perhaps it was just because I was so young when I first played it, but this game has always touched me. From what I considered to be a dark undertone, to the still-beautiful music and animation, to the characters and plot, virtually everything about this game was perfect to me. I can accept that the game is perhaps a little on the short side and that some would find the gameplay a little tedious nowadays, but I can still play through the game from beginning to end and be more entertained than I would be by most current AAA-titles.
For some reason, I also remember caring a damned lot about Levant’s fiancee (and later, wife) Mahbu, despite her not being the most developed videogame character in the world. I think I may have even had a thing for her as a child weirdly, making her the first female (and only fake person) I’d ever taken interest in. Uh… charming?
The game received a PS2 sequel that although vastly different from the first game in almost every single way — the two could be mistaken for completely different franchises if not for the few loose connections — remained almost equally as amazing and entertaining to me. I’d of course be mind-blown by another Jade Cocoon game, but it’s unfortunately very unlikely considering how little attention the first two received. It’s a surprise the game got a sequel at all, to be honest.
All-in-all, unless you’re an avid retro, J-RPG or Studio Ghibli fan, playing this game now probably won’t be the most fun thing in the world for you. But for those that have previously played it, coming back to it fills you with nostalgia and all of its beautiful charm. Words literally cannot explain how much I love this game and how much it means to me. Returning to it every few years truly does almost bring a tear to my eye.