"But rest assured, it was spectacular"
Eye-opening little piece of videogame heritage - an early RPGMaker project that was released in 1997 for the PC-98, yet has many of the modern quirks you generally expect from similar titles that are shared nowadays. Being the sole handiwork of a young creator, there's a certain naivety to the way it presents its little vignettes of despair and hope, but they're handled with such sensitive care that they simply don't fail at being evocative. While I'm not particularly blown away by the subject matter nor symbolism, it's so easy to get swept up by how emotionally charged it comes across, and thorny in the ways all the most resonant stories are. I must extend some laudation for them having the courage to publish it at a time where this was far from the norm or in demand.
RPGMaker trappings are present, but relatively forgivable if only because I have no idea how inflexible RPGMD98 is. Despite structural rigidity, it manages to play with the form - the spell list is formatted like pages of a diary, the player's level suggests the character's age, etc. Rest assured, there is no combat, I have to wonder how easy it was to resist implementing it despite being the engine's primary function - there are a handful of modern atmospheric/emotionally forward RPGMaker titles that insist on it despite no benefit. Azusa 999 is even stylised in a way that honestly feels timeless (I honestly thought for the longest time that this was a Bitsy game!), minimalist environs and slim colour palettes - even atmospheric ambience shifts to match story beats, it really did suck me in!
Azusa 999's English translation was as recent as 2020, gracefully packaged with an application holder that casts aside the headache of setting up a PC-98 emulator, as well as a wonderful player companion guide by translator Obskyr complete with a historical foreword and cultural notes. It's all a wonderful read, and fills me with hope that any number of old, forward-thinking, experimental or personal projects from the early Japanese indie scene are still just waiting to be shared across the pond.

Reviewed on Jun 08, 2022