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Chulip
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Victor
Developer: Studio Punchline
Genre: Adventure RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 02/19/07
Japan 10/03/02
Official Site:



Scorecard
Graphics: 90%
Sound: 95%
Gameplay: 88%
Control: 95%
Story: 98%
Overall: 93%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Yes, I'd like an Alien Dictionary 3.
 
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Mmm, Yoda this man must be.
 
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Ok, this game is starting to weird me out a little bit...
 
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Don't tell me I have to kiss that man...
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Wyrdwad
Chulip
05/14/06
Wyrdwad

A town physician by day who prowls the midnight streets with a giant electrified needle, hungering for blood... a rosy-cheeked robotic policeman who shoots curfew-breakers on sight with an uzi... precious life-giving full-body massages, forced upon you by strangers in the park... deadly swing sets... uncensored full frontral male prepubescent nudity, involving passionate kisses with a flashing turtle and a sentient lion statue... fatal panda droppings... telephone poles and other inanimate objects with long-nosed people living in them... an underground paradise that regards the planet's core as its sun... a whole host of social rejects living in cracks in the ground, waiting for a young little boy like yourself to kiss them and make it all better...

This is the world of Chulip. And it's one of the creepiest, most bizarre, most profoundly disturbing yet morbidly appealing worlds ever created.

Back in 1997, a small company called Love-de-Lic was founded by former Square staffers who had contributed quite heavily to the development of such popular titles as Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG. Their first game, "Moon," is one of the original PlayStation's lost treasures. Relying on a Shenmue-style free-form RPG system of day to night, Sunday through Saturday, while still retaining a story that managed to be both brilliant and bizarre, deep and side-splittingly hilarious, Moon is quite possibly the greatest game you've never played.

After their subsequent release of a unique puzzler called "UFO: A Day in the Life" in 1998, Love-de-Lic released their final game for the Japanese Dreamcast, a sleeper hit called "L.O.L. Lack of Love," in 2000. Shortly after this, they inexplicably split up into three smaller companies, who went on to release four PS2 and two GameCube titles. "Chulip" is among the Love-de-Lic descendants' PS2 offerings -- all of which are just as imaginitive and wonderful as their older works -- and is very obviously derivitive of Moon, ripping the gameplay system from its lesser-known predecessor almost verbatim.

But though the gameplay may be largely the same as Moon's, the plot, setting, characters, and pretty much everything else about Chulip is vastly different, and completely original. I can safely say, without any exaggeration or uncertainty whatsoever, that you have never played a game quite like Chulip before. EVER.

The name "Chulip" is actually something of a multi-cultural pun, comprised of the Japanese onomatopoeia word chuu, which is roughly equivalent to "smooch," and the English word "lip." Put together, you get the Japanese pronunciation of the word "tulip," while also very obviously bringing to mind an image of kissing.

And kissing is what this game is all about. Chulip takes the #2 position on the "most amusing button-mappings of all time" list by assigning a lean-forward-and-pucker-up action to the triangle button (the #1 position going hands-down to another Love-de-Lic game, their Dreamcast title "L.O.L. Lack of Love," where one button is permanently mapped to "urinate"). For all intents and purposes, Chulip is a kissing RPG, and your main goal in it is to kiss as many people as you possibly can, disregarding age, gender, and even hygiene.

Sound a little strange? Well, it is. Chulip makes other "odd RPGs" like Earthbound and Okage: Shadow King, and even its own predecessor Moon, seem like your average run-of-the-mill damsel-rescuing epic. Perhaps the greatest aspect of Chulip is the mere fact that you honestly can never predict what will be waiting for you around the next corner. Every time you think you know what's coming -- every time you let your guard down for even a moment -- you'll find yourself impaled through the heart on the vampirical town physician's giant needle, his maniacal laughter echoing in your ears as your consciousness fades away; or perhaps you'll bear witness to a rabid umpire in S&M gear rise from the ground without warning and hang himself against the back wall, anxiously awaiting your kiss to set him free from his everlasting torment; or maybe you'll get knocked down by a man who exists inside a telephone pole, with a penchant for soccer, as he runs off intending to commit suicide. Your actions could help uncover the mysteries of the universe, or they could ultimately lead to your own demise, chained to a cross in a lonely prison cell. As Weird Al Yankovic once said, "everything you know is wrong" -- and in Chulip, it's definitely best to forget all known laws of the universe, as none of them apply here, and many of them would do nothing more than lead you astray.

For all its oddities, however, Chulip does indeed have a plot, and it's definitely one befitting the strange topsy-turvy universe of the game. In the distinctly 1970s-style Japanese town of Tsurukame (literally "Crane-Turtle"), there exists a sentient tree called "Tokime-ki" (the word tokimeki meaning "throbbing" or "palpitations," but with the final ki written using the kanji character for "tree"). It's been said that any couple who kisses underneath the ancient boughs of the Tokime-ki will be destined to "live happily ever after," as it were. As a young boy, roughly 12 years of age, who's just moved into an abandoned house in town with your penniless father, this ancient legend has caught your interest -- especially since there's a little runaway girl living in a nearby pipe who's instantly captured both your heart and your little schoolboy hormones. The problem is, she doesn't think much of you at all -- she considers you little more than a hobo, really -- and she reacts to your puckered lips by introducing your face to her open palm. Emotionally wounded, but filled with a new determination, you've sworn to yourself that you'll do whatever it takes to kiss this charming little girl underneath the Tokime-ki and spend the rest of your life with her.

To do this, you need to improve your reputation. You need to show her that you're more than just a hobo, you're a good man. And Suzuki Michio-sensei, a moogle-like creature who lives in the sewers near your house and happens to be the head teacher of the underground middle school, can help you. He becomes your advisor, and sends you on a mission of philanthropy, to help anyone and everyone you possibly can with whatever problems they may be facing, asking for nothing whatsoever in return -- except, perhaps, a quick locking of lips (since you do need to work on your technique, after all).

There's also the matter of all the social rejects and social rejectors living in Tsurukame, who've literally holed themselves up in cracks in the ground, sealing themselves away from the world they've come to so thoroughly despise. If you peek into these holes, you can see who they are and eavesdrop on their sad musings, learning when and under what conditions they might decide to come above-ground. Then, you can make sure these conditions are met, and be there, waiting for them, to give them each a big passionate kiss and let them know you care.

And once you've proven yourself to be a good man, Suzuki Michio-sensei said he'll lend you his "Way of the Love Letter" box, so you can sweep your sweetheart off her feet with flowery words and sweet, sweet nothings.

Unfortunately, everything seems to be working against you in Tsurukame. For one thing, the police have decided to make you their scapegoat, blaming you for virtually every unsolved crime in the city (since you are the new hobo kid on the block, after all). For another, the trains have stopped running, thanks to a giant boulder dropped dead in the middle of the tracks (which you are, of course, blamed for). And, to top it all off, a teachers' dispute between Suzuki Michio-sensei and one of his underlings, a certain Yamada-sensei (who wears a telephone pole as if it were a freshly-pressed shirt), results in the theft of the "Way of the Love Letter" box -- which is then split into its individual components and taken to the farthest corners of Tsurukame by three disgruntled former middle school teachers (who also wear various inanimate objects as clothing, and are thus perfectly camouflaged).

Add a healthy mix of life-threatening dangers, stir in some wholly dysfunctional townsfolk, mix with a dash of UFO invasion and otherworldliness, include a ghost or two, and remove any degree of restraint or censorship on the part of the developers, and you have the perfect recipe for an extremely lengthy game that's bound to never get dull. There's also significant replay value, since, as the back of the case plainly states, "everyone is kissable" -- meaning every person in the entire game, no matter how minor a character they seem, can be kissed. Plus, there are various collectible items to be found, including filmstrips which are actually viewable in the town's movie theater (assuming you can get the movie theater open for business again, after having being closed and forgotten for so many years!).

Chulip's story is odd, and the inclusion of so many disturbing, horrific, and taboo subjects makes it an extremely surreal experience. Amazingly, however, the game was created primarily for a younger audience, in a country where game ratings are rarely even provided, and many subjects that might disgust or mortify American audiences would do little more than trigger a chuckle from the Japanese. As a result, Chulip offers a strange dichotomy: it's disturbing, but it's also rather cute and dainty in its own unique way, and everything is treated with complete innocence, as if through the eyes of a child. In keeping with this, the game's graphics are non-assuming, creating undeniably beautiful environments out of the simplest combination of polygons possible, lighting them with subtle and beautiful ever-shifting palettes as day progresses to night and back to day, and inhabiting them with almost nightmare-inducing muppet-like characters made out of similarly basic polygonal combinations. Your hero, whose name you get to choose, wears a constant oblivious grin that's just as likely to make you go "aaaaaaaawwwww!" as "AAAAAAAAAAH!".

The music, too, is fitting for a game of this nature: wild, unpredictable, occasionally atonal, and almost always surprising, with an underlying tendency toward smooth toe-tapping jazz. The title screen track, for example, is sung entirely in male falsetto, while the bath-house theme includes a catchy bass guitar riff accompanied by deep male scat-singing with a distinctively half-drunk quality to it. The general overworld theme exists in three separate parts for the three different regions of Tsurukame, all of which have a catchy doo-wop base (and one of which plays the main melody on a kazoo!). There are multiple vocal themes, too, including the bizarre alma mater for the underground middle school (whose lyrics are little more than a random string of unlikely nouns) and a traditional Japanese enka piece sung entirely in alternating nonsense syllables beginning with "r" and "h". The soundtrack is almost as worthwhile a purchase as the game itself, and comes highly recommended (though it's often filed under the name "Tulip" or "Chu-lip" on import CD websites, so don't give up the search if you can't find it right away!).

Other sound effects are mostly standard cartoon and RPG fare, with the notable exception of the voices. This game, like so many other Love-de-Lic titles, includes voice-acting for each character that sounds like a single unique line of dialogue recorded to cassette, cut apart and taped back together at random, then chewed up by a dog. It's reminiscent of the "voice-acting" used in Nintendo's "Animal Crossing" games, but with the notable exception that each bit of dialogue very obviously originated as an actual spoken line, with random words and phrases clearly audible amongst the otherwise incomprehensible utterances. In effect, these odd voices successfully augment an already bizarre atmosphere, and fit the general feel of the game perfectly.

In terms of actual gameplay, Chulip is very easy to work with: O is used to talk to people or examine things (icons pop up when the O button can be used), triangle is your kiss trigger, and square is used to open your inventory, where items can be either eaten or used. Talking to people and using items is the key to completing the game: by getting personal namecards made and "using" them on other people, you can swap with them, and "use" their namecards around town to learn all the local gossip about them, which consequently helps you in your philanthropic goal (the first step to solving any problem is to identify it, after all!). Once you're certain a problem has been solved, you can approach a person and attempt to kiss him/her -- and hopefully not receive a slap in the face for your troubles.

"Levelling up" occurs, as in any RPG, by gathering experience -- though in this case, the experience in question is kissing experience. Items are bought by spending zeni (a Japanese slang word for cash), which is received by successfully kissing anyone who lives in the ground. It's really a very simple system, with the true key to the game's challenge resulting from its passage of time. Every townsperson in the entire game has his/her own daily schedule, and you will become well-acquainted with the clock in the right-hand corner of the screen very quickly during your travels, as it tends to be the determining factor in just about everything: who's asleep, who's awake, where everyone is, what they're doing -- and sometimes, even whether or not the area you're in is safe. One of the game's greatest flaws, actually, may be time's rather brisk march (one game hour passes in well under 30 seconds), which occasionally results in either futile rushing from one place to another (which is unfortunately hindered by your rather slow walk speed), or lots and lots of waiting patiently. This becomes especially annoying early in the game, where the puzzles for luring the ground-dwellers out of their cracks usually consist of "be in the general vicinity at XX:XX time." Fortunately, this approach is abandoned rather quickly in favor of more thought-provoking and unusual puzzles.

Some of these puzzles, however, can get pretty risque -- like the one that has you escaping the town's bath-house in your birthday suit to lure out an underground-dwelling construction helmet-wearing turtle with a fondness for nudity, so you can give him a nice firm smack on the lips. Nothing says "twisted development staff" like a camera-pan around an anatomically-correct 12-year-old boy kissing a turtle, with fireworks and sexy saxophone music in the background. Especially when this is followed by a breezy walk through all of Tsurukame (since the bath-house is closed and locked by then), trying to avoid getting spotted by the robotic policeman's eye-beams of light and subsequently shot to death with his uzi for breaking curfew (while naked, no less!).

Despite scenes like this, though, Natsume announced back in 2003 that this game would be coming to our side of the world, fully uncensored, and even had it on display at E3 for all to demo. We've since heard precious little about it, however, with all mention of the game's existence removed from Natsume's website, and rumors of its cancellation running rampant on internet message boards. Game shops and websites that have Chulip in their database list release dates for it, but these release dates are all over the map, and seem based on nothing but conjecture. Meanwhile, here in 2006, another Love-de-Lic game, "Chibi-Robo" for the Nintendo GameCube, has usurped the title of "first Love-de-Lic game to be released in English," with Chulip's fate still completely unknown.

If it ever does get a definitive English-language release, however, or if your Japanese level is fairly high and you own a Japanese PS2 -- and if you find the above descriptions more intriguing than appalling -- then you should definitely track down this elusive little wonder. Barnone the strangest game I've ever played, and likely ever will, Chulip is definitely something original and unique in both a genre and a market which seem to shun the atypical. The only real flaws of note are the ease with which your character can end up dead in a gutter (seriously, this game is hard!), and the game's overall rather slow pacing (ironically a result of the speedy progression of time within the game world). These flaws aside, Chulip offers a solid RPG experience unlike anything that's ever come before.

Just be prepared for surprises, because even after everything I've described, there's still oh so much more to discover, and none of it is quite what you'll be expecting.

"In life,
there are mountains,
and there are valleys.
What the hell!"

- Suzuki Michio-sensei



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© 2002 Studio Punchline. All Rights Reserved.


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