Tong Nou, according to the introduction of this game, is a Far Eastern island. Per the legend, once a year Tong Nou devours the soul of humans. Rin, a young man, decides to travel to Tong Nou to recover his missing soul. He is given a temporary soul for 49 days to use while he gets his own soul back. Is Eastern Mind the strangest game I have ever played? Absolutely. Was I mesmerized by its strangeness? You betcha.
The first clue that there is something going on here unlike any other adventure game you've ever played is the island of Tong Nou itself. It's actually the head of the game's designer, Osamu Sato. It's bright green, and the player enters various lands in the game via the orifices in Sato's noggin. Do I have your attention yet?
Something uncomfortable happened to me while I played this game. I became obsessed. The graphics, about which I will go into more detail in a bit, were dated. There were creatures there to interact with that were in some instances, well, unpleasant, disturbing. But I found the game worlds surprisingly large, and the depth of the story, the thing I ultimately became entangled in and addicted to, was quite good.
In 1993, Osamu Sato was Sony Music Japan's Digital Entertainment Program's Grand Prix Winner. With this and a handful of other awards under his belt, he was able to design Eastern Mind, which was made by a four-person team including Sato and his wife, and get Sony to publish the game. Originally sold in Japan, where it did well, it was later published in English. I'm guessing, based on the degree of unavailability of the game, that however the English publishing went, it did not last long and was not overly successful. This game now goes to collectors prowling eBay for a hundred dollars or more, when it can even be found.
So what exactly is it that these people are paying for? Well, I'll tell you.
Tong Nou is a classic first-person, point-and-click game. It does not, despite those points, bear any resemblance to Myst and can in no way be called a Myst clone. Based on the year it was developed, I'm guessing that Sato was working on this pretty close to the same time the Miller brothers were huffing and puffing away on Myst, so this game cannot easily be dismissed as something simply done to ride the coattails of some fat income-generating behemoth.
The game is played from the view of nine different characters, each of whom travel the same lands, but what the player experiences in each land as each character is different. Something will be open to one character that is not open to another. You must play as each character and accomplish that character's goals to complete the game. Sometimes the gameplay for a given character is extremely short; not all of these are the same.
There are five lands to be explored throughout the game, and these are revisited by each of the nine characters (although some characters do not need to go to all locations). Now I suspect that the player is going to come away from this one of two ways. Probably, in many instances, where the detail of the game gets to be too much, you may find it repetitive, and understandably so. But if the story is closely unraveled, and the in-game book detailing the characters and other information studied, the game become much more interesting and you'll lose that sensation of redundancy.
A premise of the game is that the purpose in the end of each life is to die, and so there is a lot of dying. But it's actually meant to be part of the gameplay, not a showstopper. Throughout the game, you come across godlike characters that interact with you, either to help or hinder your progress. By studying the book in the game, which includes an encyclopedia of these characters, you can get an idea of what to expect from a character you run into and whether or not it is going to be a helpful thing. The Eastern cultural influence is in evidence here, as the idea that death is not an ending is most definitely an Eastern-based philosophy. This really differs from much Western game-making, and it is one of the things that really makes Eastern Mind stand out.
Inventory is stowed in a little green bag at the bottom right of the screen called a Furoshiki. The inventory system and usage is straightforward. Many inventory items can be collected multiple times and in different locations. Some items perform changes to or acts on creatures or objects when used. In the game there is an open market area where items that are commonly collected may be exchanged for rarer items with greater powers. The game's cursor changes, but only to directional arrows, otherwise giving no indication of clickable areas.
There are a few other interesting points about the game. The music in the game is techno-house, which makes sense as Sato was at the time a techno-house musician. There is no voice acting from the characters. There are only sounds, mostly some sing-song words and such - a really unusual choice. The dialogue is displayed as text at the bottom of each screen.
Osamu Sato was working on a title called Chuuten after the publication of Eastern Mind. Apparently a Japanese version was published, but I have been unable to find out if the English version was ever released. Maybe it never came to fruition, which would be a shame.
People who downloaded Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong Nou have also downloaded:
Cosmology of Kyoto, Dust: A Tale of the Wired West, Gadget: Invention, Travel & Adventure, Entombed, Egypt 1156 B.C.: Tomb of the Pharaoh, Dragonsphere, EcoQuest 2: Lost Secret of the Rainforest, Devo Presents: Adventures of the Smart Patrol
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