Let’s begin with a quick history lesson. Back in 1995, Nishi Kenichi, fresh off his role as the field designer for Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG on the SNES, decided to leave his position at Square in order to create his own company with a few of his coworkers: Love-de-Lic. They only developed three games before they eventually closed in 2000, but their first game, Moon: Remix RPG Adventure for the Playstation, has always held a special place in my heart. Ever since I saw a NeoGAF post about it back in 2009, I’ve been convinced that Moon is the best game that I’ve never played. After being previewed in a 1997 issue of GameFan, Moon unfortunately never saw a release in America. With expectations framing Moon as the second-best example of games-as-art behind Yoko Taro’s last-gen masterpiece Nier, I decided to pass the time waiting for the still unreleased translation patch by trying out a few games developed by former members of Love-de-Li. And that’s how I started playing Chulip.
Finally released in America back in 2007, nearly five years after its initial release in Japan, Chulip is an adventure game for the Playstation 2 developed by former Love-de-Lic members at Punchline. This company, much like Love-de-Lic, didn’t last very long, but they did manage to develop a survival horror title that is currently the most expensive North American PS2 release: Rule of Rose. Chulip follows a young boy who has just moved to a new town where he quickly meets the girl of his dreams, only to be rejected by her because he’s poor. Returning home heartbroken, his father gives him the advice that becomes the ultimate goal of the game. In order to win over the girl of his dreams, the boy must strengthen his heart and raise his romantic reputation by kissing the citizens of his new town.
Men. Women. Zombies. Aliens. An onion lady. A half-man half-rocket abomination. Godzilla. A voodoo doll. A man spider. This kid has to kiss them all.
After making it through the first few hours of Chulip, I knew that the game was special. Although the game received a number of 5s and 6s out of 10 from the major review sites, they all praised the game for its quirkiness. The farther I got into the game, the more I fell in love. Unfortunately, the game got progressively harder. You start the game with a limited number of hearts that act as HP and your goal is to get more hearts by successfully kissing people in town. In order to kiss someone, you usually have to solve a small puzzle that involves completing a task for the NPC. The first few kisses are pretty simple but if you try kissing without getting your partner warmed up, they’ll probably just smack you and wreck what little HP you’ve got, sending you back to your last save. Furthermore, the game employs an Animal Crossing-esque time system where townspeople have certain schedules, leaving you to hopefully figure out when the next citizen you need to kiss is available (just to give you an idea of how frustrating this can be through trial and error, Natsume actually included a list with each character, their schedule, and how to make them happy in the manual for the game). Even using both the manual’s guide and some walkthroughs online, I still found myself getting lost or continuously smacked.
Luckily for the sake of my PS2 controller, I finally managed to win over the girl of my dreams. However, Chulip ended up being one of those games that stuck with me. From the art direction, music, gameplay, and even the little flourishes that show themselves in character interactions, animations, and world building, the entire game just exudes playfulness and also maintains a really lighthearted, but creepy tone. The setting, while never explicitly stated, is reminiscent of Japan in the years following World War II. The overall tone of the game reminds me so much of Attack of the Friday Monsters on the 3DS with a somewhat morbid twist. It’s really unnerving because the game manages to keep a delicate balance between normality (as normal as you can get when you’re trying to kiss aliens and frogs) and surreality—it’ll occasionally venture to either extreme for a few moments before capturing its balance again, leaving you with those “wait, what just happened…” moments while playing. It isn’t a game for everyone, but if you’re willing to power through the more tedious and frustrating moments you’ll find a very Japanese, unique, quirky and charming experience that, in my opinion, is pretty hard to find on a console nowadays.
I only picked up my copy of Chulip around a year ago—I managed to score a sealed copy on eBay for around $10 shipped. While writing this article, I noticed that complete copies have jumped to the $30-40 range on eBay and Amazon. Luckily, Chulip has been released as a PS2 Classic on the PS3, so there’s a cheaper alternative if you’re just looking to play the game.
As of last week, the Playstation 2 officially turned 15 years old. While the days of playing Star Wars Battlefront II online in my dorm room feel just like yesterday, it’s kind of crazy to think that the PS2 is starting to get closer to being considered retro. While it’s still a good time to start collecting Playstation 2 games, it seems as if the golden days are coming to an end. MS Saga has jumped from $5 to $55, Kuon from $3 to $80, RAD: Robot Alchemic Drive went from $4 to $80, and the $20 copy of Rule of Rose that I drove from Lee County to a Gamestop in Knoxville to pick up seems worth it nowadays. Even Chulip was $2.99 just a few years ago.
From a collecting standpoint, it’s really interesting. When you see people online discussing what games from current gen systems are going to be hard to find down the road, you have so many responses that mention RPGs like the Tales series or Shin Megami Tensei. While this is still true to an extent, I doubt that many of these games will ever reach the value or rarity that we associate with many of the popular SNES or PS1 RPGs—these types of games are much more popular than they were in the early 90s which leads to higher initial print runs and the occasional reprint. In fact, if you look at trends with older systems, the games that tend to spike in value are the ones that sit around in bargain bins, like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, and Panzer Dragoon Saga. I laughed to myself when I saw that my recently purchased PS1 copy of Clock Tower still had an old GS price sticker for $8.99 on it. Those were the days, right?
Although Chulip was extremely frustrating at points, finally kissing the girl of my dreams gave me a sense of accomplishment only rivaled by my experience with the Dark Souls series. Even if you decide that Chulip isn’t really worth your time or your money, I encourage you to go out and play a game that’s quirky and not afraid to be a little different. If you’d like to celebrate the PS2’s birthday, I’d recommend Mister Mosquito, Gitaroo Man, or the Katamari games—they really don’t make too many games like those anymore. In the meantime, I’ll still be waiting for that Moon: Remix RPG Adventure translation patch to finally come out.