There has been some weird games for the Dreamcast throughout the years and Roommania #203 is definitely one of them. It seems that "weird" is what Japanese developers do really, really well. The concept behind Roommania #203 is intriguing and it really works but I'll get to that in a bit. First let me explain a couple of things.
On multiple ocasions I have heard people say that Roommania #203 is a rare game, a collectable even. This always came as a surprise to me, because this title is pretty common, and one day it finally dawned on me. Many think of this game as a rarity because it never got a proper bootleg release. Roommania #203, not unlike D2, could not be ripped and fit onto a regular CD. It took some time before a working release appeared and even then it could only fit onto a 90 minute CD. Talk about rare.
Now, about the game. Roommania #203 was developed by WaveMaster [formerly known as Sega Digital Media], one of Sega's R&D teams who have previously worked on Panzer Dragoon and Jet Set Radio, among others, focusing on game music. This time they give us a completly original stalker-god game in which we will take the role of an invisible being on a quest to straighten out a student named Neji.
The game mechanics are quite simple. Our task is to send Neji subliminal suggestions by pointing at various objects in his apartment and throwing ping pong balls at them. We throw a blue ball at something and when it bounces back yellow, we know that Neji can be persuaded to pick it up and use it. If the ball bounces back grey, Neji won't react at all. We can make him drink water, sit at his computer [running KorisuOS - Korisu translates to "baby squirrel"] and chat, watch tv, listen to his favorite music [he really likes Serani Poji, a pop singer he has a poster of - WaveMaster actually produced a couple of Serani Poji albums which they released under their own record label.], watch TV and so on. To make Neji feel the urge for using something, you'll need to throw ping pong balls at it repeatedly.
The game interface is pretty simple. You observe Neji in his apartment using one of several views. They work like surveillance cameras. They're fixed in one position but you can pan in all directions and zoom in on objects if needed. In the lower left corner of the screen you see a list of things Neji is about to do. If you do nothing, he'll go about his business, but let's say "watching TV" is on the fifth place on the list, you can move it up by throwing the ping pongs at the TV or the TV remote. You can of course make Neji do things that are not on the list, it just takes more persuading and of course more ping pong balls.
Roommania #203 might seem like a dull game but it's not. The real fun begins when you're done with a load of training missions where all you have to do is make Neji do simple tasks, like set his alarm clock. Already during the training missions there are days when you get to roam around Neji's apartment freely. You have alot more freedom when he's not around and you can choose to do things you wouldn't or couldn't normally do, like moving his furniture or hiding things from him. Move his table or leave the TV on, and you'll see a priceless look on Nejis face once he comes back home. You can even lock him out of his own apartment. This will make Neji break into his own place by climbing the balcony.
At all times you can monitor Neji's movement by looking at a white doll in the upper right corner of the screen called Chibi Neji, so even when you're in the kitchen, busy throwing ping pong balls at the sink, you'll be able to see if Neji is sitting down or walking around and since the whole game takes place in his one room apartment, you can easily figure out what he's up to just by looking at Chibi Neji.
The story in the game takes off later on when you're done with tutorial missions. From that point on there's alot more going on. Neji has friends over and we get to eavesdrop on their conversations, there's some drama when a burglar breaks into Neji's place and so on. Sometimes all you have to do is to watch Neji brush his teeth or smoke, but sometimes things will get more hectic and your objectives turn from making Neji listen to the radio to locking the door so that the cops can't get in and bust the poor guy.
The game is packed with Japanese humor and what's the most annoying thing about Japanese humor? It's Japanese and you have to speak the language to get it. The game is funny in general and you can see that developers really had a good time making this. Sometimes you'll hear Neji fart and comment on it, which is funny in itself since the guy lives alone. Further proof of the game being an extremely light hearted production is the warning that's played when you pop a GD disc into a CD player. Normally you'd hear a female voice instructing you to stop the disc since it's a game and it's supposed to be used with Dreamcast only. The message played on Roommania #203 starts off like the usual one but then Neji cuts in and starts asking questions about why he can't play it like a regular CD. You can just tell he's one clueless dude and it's funny as hell.
What of the graphics and the sound in the game? The game looks great, even though all you'll see is Nejis small apartment. There's something about how Roommania #203 looks that makes it instantly recognisable as a Dreamcast title. Maybe it's the texturing that bares some similarities to how Shenmue looked, maybe it's something else, but it's there. The sound is great aswell. If you ever play this game, I suggest you use headphones. Thanks to nice 3D sound dynamics you really feel like a fly on Neji's wall [or a ghost in Neji's wall].
To get a better picture of how the game looks and plays, check out the video below. It comes from the PlayStation 2 version of the title that came out two years later, but it's essentially the same game plus some fun minigames. Neji speaks with a neighbour kid through a hole in the wall. Just imagine what could have made such a hole and you'll realize that there's plenty of action in Roommania #203.
There's really so much more I'd like to say about this title but this entry already looks like one of the longest I've done so far, and I don't want to bore you to death. If you like what I said and you think that Roommania #203 could be something you'd enjoy, import it. It doesn't get too expensive and it's worth every penny. You can also look for the PlayStation 2 version I mentioned earlier, aswell as a sequel that was released for Sony's platform in 2003. If you have any questions about the game you can always post a comment and I'll answer you if I can. Don't come to me for a game FAQ though. The game is relatively simple and I'm sure anyone can figure it out even without any knowledge of Japanese, allthough you'll be missing out on a ton of jokes.
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