It’s no surprise that many have never heard of the Japan exclusive ‘Nintendo Power‘ service that Nintendo offered on the Super Famicom and Game Boy that ran from 1997 to 2007. It was a service comparable to that of the Famicom Disk Writer Kiosks of the 1980s, allowing fans to purchase special flash memory cartridges at supermarkets, capable of’downloading’ games from kiosk units distributed by Nintendo. Like the Famicom Disk Writer service, this allowed players to access the latest games for a reduced price, as well as many exclusive titles and, in the Super Famicom version’s case, even some re-released Famicom titles. Blank flash cartridges were available to be re-written using special devices known as ‘NP Copiers’ that were distributed to Lawson supermarkets across Japan by Nintendo, and pre-written cartridges were also available to purchase, some even packaged with exclusive merchandise.
The Nintendo Power was home to a number of interesting exclusive titles; some later saw re-release as standard retail cartridges, but many remained as games only available through this service, making the selection of titles incredibly rare. One such title is Famicom Bunko: Hajimari no Mori (Famicom Pocket Books: The Forest of Beginnings) which, despite seeing releases on both the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console services in Japan, has never and likely never will be released to a western audience.
Hajimari no Mori is similar in formula to Famicom Disk System text-adventure Shin Onigashima, also developed by Pax Softnica; both text-heavy titles, the game is unfortunately for the most part inaccessible to non-Japanese speakers. However, even from just looking at the title screen, it’s easy to appreciate the game’s old-fashioned yet gorgeous art style. The game’s impressive and characterful pixel art shows many scenes of the Japanese countryside, with a vibe highly reminiscent of Animal Crossing.
You take on the role of an elementary school boy (who you can name for yourself, in Japanese, of course) visiting his grandfather in the sleepy village of Kuzunoki for the summer holidays. There, he befriends a mysterious young girl and the pair embark on a variety of adventures in the beautiful Japanese countryside. It’s an idyllic story of childhood set in 1970s Japan in a similar manner to those of Millenium Kitchen’s Boku no Natsuyasumi (My Summer Vacation) series, or even Level-5’s Attack of the Friday Monsters.
The game uses a command-based style to let players discover the story and interact with the world around them, integrating puzzle and action minigames at various points to break up what would otherwise be an entirely text-based game. Although if you’re unable to read Japanese, you may just be limited to taking in the scenery.
The game was intended to be the first in the Famicom Bunko series, in a similar manner to the Famicom Mukashibanashi (Famicom Fairytales) series that Shin Onigashima and Yūyūki, Famicom games inspired by Japanese folklore were a part of. However, a combination of the game’s limited release through the Nintendo Power service, its then-dated style and its release in 1999 (three years into the Nintendo 64’s life) meant that it regrettably achieved very poor sales.
Famicom Bunko: Hajimari no Mori is a curious title. Perhaps it was never destined to be the most successful of Nintendo titles and it certainly feels like it was never intended for an audience outside of Japan. Regardless, it’s undoubted that both through the unusual circumstances of its release and its quaint and picturesque themes, it is one of the most interesting titles to grace the Super Famicom, one that shouldn’t go forgotten.