Crabcake Confidential: Imaginary Range
Imaginary Range isn’t really a webcomic. It’s not really a comic, either. I mean, it’s available for download online and it is sequential art. So I guess you could argue that it’s a webcomic. However, there’s a game in it, too.
Only… Imaginary Range is not really a game, either.
It turns out that Imaginary Range is really hard to define. What most people can agree on, though, is that its an iPhone/iPod app. A free one at that. And with some sort of demonic Moogle as an icon. The iTunes store describes Imaginary Range as “a new genre of entertainment: a hybrid comic and game experience,” which makes it sound like it could either be something new and revelatory or something really disappointing coddled in lame marketing speak.
The project comes to us from the legendary game company Square Enix (and developer H.A.N.D., makers of Final Fantasy: Chocobo Tales for the Nintendo DS). While most of you know that the video game distributor is home to Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises, it turns out that, thanks to several mergers and acquisitions, the company’s library of games is enormous. Square Enix is the also the home to Arkanoid, Tomb Raider, Legacy of Kain, Monster Rancher, and Tecmo Bowl, thanks to acquisitions of Taito, Eidos, and Tecmo Koei. It’s kinda like how Captain Marvel, Batman, Neil Gaiman’s Death, and Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. all ended up under the same umbrella at DC to create a rich and often confusing library of titles.
So which Square Enix will show up in Imaginary Range? The one that made Sepiroth the patron saint to emo kids everywhere? The one that beat Pokemon to the punch in the field of raising some fighting monsters? Or the one that populated arcades in the 1980’s?
The answer may surprise you.
We follow the adventures of Ciela and Cid, because what’s a Square Enix game without some dude named Cid? The first chapter is set in France, where the two must do battle with a giant monster that looks like a cross between D&D’s Beholder and one of the Angels from Evangelion. Ciela is sort of a holographic magic girl, I think. There’s a point in the story where, in a moment very reminiscent of Final Fantasy X-2, you can give Ciela new powers by by dragging a movie poster from your inventory onto her image to changing her outfit.
That’s less exciting than it sounds, by the way. Imaginary Range isn’t a choose-your-adventure story, and thus is very linear. There’s only one outfit you can choose that lets you move the story forward. Oh, if only I could follow the charming adventures of Fancy Dress Ball Girl rather than that of the very Sailor-Moon-esque Miracle Girl!
During the comic, you’re prompted at various moments to play a minigame. This being Square Enix, you’d think that maybe you’d pop into one of those FF fight sequences where the characters turn into cute little sprites, you get a chance to cast Blizzaga or summon Ifrit or whatever, and some 8-bit triumphant victory music plays.
Square Enix leans on the legacy of several other older franchises under its umbrella … namely stuff that came out its Taito acquisition. I’m talking Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, and Polaris. The funner minigames, like Omega Assault and Omega Blast, let you either direct a missile toward the giant eyeball alien or let you shoot at whole fleets of eyeball aliens. Most of the time, there’s only a token reference to the comic portion. The Omega Blast game, for example, would seem to have very little to do with the comic adventures if not for the token feminine silhouette at the bottom, who I assume is supposed to be Ciela.
The game also features several variations of the tile game, El Santo’s most hated enemy. The tile game is the staple of shareware games in the 90’s. You must rearrange the tiles to form a picture or unlock doors or something. The reward — usually a picture — is just not worth the frustration. How is this in any way, shape, or form related to aliens invading Paris? One tile game is played under the flimsy pretense of reconstructing Cid’s memory.
It doesn’t matter, though, because the story so far has been pretty flimsy. I think there’s something about Cid trying to recover his memories or something. It’s your typical Final Fantasy-style weirdery. Epic setting, hero with a tortured past, perky female sidekick, a shadowy cabal of sorts, monsters and stuff, and chocobos. Just kidding. Or am I? (More on that later.) I think there’s some indication that Cid, Ciela, and several other attractive characters are stuck in some sort of virtual reality world, though not must has been made clear in the pages that have been released thus far.
While the manga style artwork was a little simple, it was overall quite nice. Most panels have very sparse backgrounds save for the Eiffel Tower (which I had to constantly remind myself wasn’t the Tokyo Tower). Illustrations are mostly close-ups of our two leads. On the fashion front, our heroes forgo the ganguro look that seems to be plaguing Final Fantasy as of late and dress more sensibly. Well, Cid does, anyway. I’m surprised that Ciela doesn’t trip over herself while running given all the loose swaths of cloth barely hanging from her arms and legs.
Overall, I thought Imaginary Range was a nice, enjoyable app that delivered on its promise of being 50% comic, 50% game. It surprisingly managed to maintain its balance. The comic portion wasn’t relegated to some framing device, as they typically do in games. The comic turned out to be more of an important feature than the games. Still, while the games were forgettable time wasters, I did appreciate how they did manage to engage me with their simple interactivity without disengaging me from the comic. A first-person shooter may have been more apropos, but I think it may have overpowered the storytelling aspect.
“That’s all well and good, El Santo,” you say, “but you’re not answering the question that you know is on all our minds. Are … there… chocobos?”
Yes. Yes there are. In a mind-blowing twist, the first chapter of Imaginary Range ends with our two heroes arriving in a Final Fantasy world. So… is Imaginary Range going to do a shameless grand tour of all the worlds under Square Enix? Does this mean that my Basch fon Ronsenburg/Lara Croft shipper fanfic may actually become reality?
One can only hope.
Rikku’s Ultimate Weapon