Almanic and Givro

Almanic Corporation might be a name some Super Famicom/ Nintendo fans recognise from the E.V.O.: Search for Eden as its main developer. Enix worked mainly as their publisher, as one of the founding members, Takashi Yoneda, was an ex-Enix employee. They also had connections to Technos, who similarly published some of their works with a similar connection to another founding member, Noriyuki Tomiyama. These names themselves aren’t significant, neither is the lack of mention for ex-Aicom Takashige Shichijo, but to illustrate Almanic’s background from their staff point. The company would later be renamed as Givro sometime after Shichijo left to work for Quintet, and that’s another tale.

I remember when an old friend hyped this game to me and proudly claimed Enix having invented a way to make 2D platformers significant and meaningful. He didn’t exactly sell the game for me

List of Almanic’s games is rather strange. Despite most of their (relatively) well-known titles are with Enix, like the previously mentioned E.V.O., one of their other earliest projects they were part of was The Combatribes’ SNES port, which is more known for its intentional simplicity and punishing difficulty. Other weirdly notable titles include Cosmic Carnage for the Sega 32X, which more or less used an improved engine used in Mega Drive’s MazinSaga 1v1 fighting mode. The company seemed to have a short love affair with fighting games, as they were the main developer for Fighting Masters. For a company known mostly for their RPG-ish games, they have a significant history in action and fighting. The split is best seen in who published the games. Enix of course picked up the ones their image the best, while Sega, Technos and Vic Tokai employed them to work on the more action oriented titles, but not always as the main developer. For example, Technos hired them to work on some of the larger sprites for Shin Nekketsu Kouha Kouha: Kunio-tachi no Banka.

What CG sprite work they did for the game is unknown, but it might the sprites used in the intro and the like

While E.V.O. probably is Almanic’s most recognisable title, 1994’s Wonder Project J is not far behind. The game represents the best Almanic would be most remembered for in style, where animation is high quality with well designed environments and characters. Sometimes Almanic’s games didn’t exactly have the best play mechanics, but they got polished a little bit more by each title. Another element that got polished was how each game’s thematics got handled. If the title wasn’t a straight up license game, like their CB Chara Wars for the Super Famicom, themes of the games would seem light at first, but with that fairy tale paint of coat would have something more serious underneath. Wonder Project J may be a action/raising simulator kind of game, where the player has indirect control over the mechanical boy Pino with a comforting Osamu Tezuka-like fantasy world to walk about, yet the themes the game touch upon range from prejudice and bigotry to blank slate of men and consequences of one’s actions. Some of the themes are less direct than others, but are nevertheless there.

The game’s not exactly subtle in some spots

Wonder Project J2 would be published in 1996, with even more increased frames of animation and emphasise more on the simulation side over the action. By this point the corporation was renamed as Givro, but most of the same muscle would be behind the game, which is why the game’s flow is very similar. The game being on the N64, there are some awkward 3D moments. Enix announced a PlayStation port of the game, enhanced with more animation sequences, but this never came to be. The whole style and approach the previous game had would be taken further to a more storybook kind of direction, which is especially evident with the opening of the game. Similar themes would be present in the game as with the first one.

Both of these games were developed while Almanic/Givro was working on action and racing games on the side, but not even the hardcore enthusiast tend to remember their role in such games as Super Mad Champ, probably because nobody remembers rather obscure Japanese bike-racing games like that, though it goes for stupidly high prices on the second-hand market due to its relative rarity. However, none of the titles Almanic/Givro would ever see massive popularity and would stand as niche titles all around, which ultimately led their final fairy-tale like adventure, 1997’s Nanatsu Kaze no Shima Monogatari, to be their swansong on the Saturn.

In some manner, the game is a kind if end-point for the corporation, and Enix had Crowd, Buddy Zoo and Two Five as part of the developers to realise this game. Whatever action game Givro were part of are side-mentions to Wonder Project J games, and sadly so is Nanatsu Kaze no Shima Monogatari despite it being a shining example of slow, steadily paced play. The aim is for the player to control a fat dragon named Gaapu and find the titular seven winds to solve what is ailing the island he lives on. While the overall view is similar to Wonder Project J games, the game plays more like slow-paced cinematic platformers, except the emphasise is on puzzle solving akin to PC adventure games. The motif of showing something light hearted to house a darker tone towards the end is carried well into The Tale of the Seven Winds Island to the point of esoteric horror during its last steps. The game is an extremely polished piece of software, with absolutely masterful world design and soundscape, but it being a niche title on a dying console didn’t yield great sales. The title was never localised, and ultimately fell into obscurity.

Almanic/Givro is an example of a developer that has made games that should stand out from the crowd by their sheer quality and polish, but never experienced mass success. Many of the games they were part of never got official English release, though fans have tackled Wonder Project J games over a decade ago. While Enix re-released those two on mobile phone some years ago, Nanatsu Kaze no Shima Monogatari is fated to stay on Saturn, as no Saturn game has its master or source code intact. Unless a game is based on a code from another platform, or plays through emulation like Princess Crown‘s re-releases.

Almanic/Givro had a somewhat unique life, going from mostly action and fighting games to finish with a game that has effectively no action in it. While they worked on multiple projects at the same time in different capacities, the titles they handled solely usually had that special spark in them. Spark that has kept Wonder Project J and its sequel on the top of relatively obscure Japan-exclusive games people recommend to try out.

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