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The evolution of Japanese game commercials

The first hints of subtlety (1991)

This series (if two of something constitutes a series) of Konami CMs for its PC Engine shmup conversions is everything that 95% of contemporary efforts were not. Namely: quiet, restrained, graceful, understated and sophisticated. The first spot begins with an old, polite lady attempting to put up a traditional poster announcement to let the townspeople know about the incoming PC Engine version of Gradius. The wind scuppers that plan, and a proper announcement is instead conveyed via a voiceover and an on-screen display.

The second variant is even sharper. A sign of the kind typically erected (stop laughing at the back) in front of buildings where work is being undertaken, reads: "We apologise for the noise. The PC Engine version of Salamander will be open for business on December 6th." No one pays any attention, and the sign falls over. No game footage, no hyperactivity, just the message. Ahead of the curve by quite a few laps, this was one of the first CMs that didn't bother even trying to explain what the game was about (presumably because its target audience already knew).

Games, meet hip-hop (1991)

Aside from being the Best CM In The History Of The Universe by a margin of about 10,000 Awesome Bolts, this 1991 collaborative effort from Nintendo, cult Japanese hip-hop outfit Scha Dara Parr (pretty much the Japanese equivalent of the Beasties - recommended!) and a group of surprisingly in-control dancers was more significant for painting "Da Link" in a new, down-with-the-teens colour. Which just so happened to be emerald green, but anyway...

The lyrics were witty, the music groovy and of-the-times, the dancing nicely synced, and the outfits not that awful. It's a shame that such endearingly hip Nintendo CMs would remain a rarity, but as the 90s moved on, plenty of other Japanese softcos would try similar tricks, with varying results.

CG arrives (1992)

No doubt using some imported mad-beefy SGI workstations, Squaresoft concocted this remarkable CG sequence with which to promote 1992's Super Famicom classic Final Fantasy V. If ever the term "Visual quality may differ in actual product" was necessary, it was here. Of course there was no such warning, and the viewer just felt chuffed to see Chocobos animated and brought to 3D life some years ahead of FFVII, which eventually delivered on that tacit promise with its FMV and clunky polygons.

In short, this CM was a bit jazzy. Sometimes for better, more often for worse, CG would continue to be employed as a way of attracting attention to something that obviously couldn't really look that good. A bit like depicting a Ferrari to sell a Fiat.