As a lover for anything related to the Wizard of Oz and seeing it as the prime inspiration for the otome game Ozmafia!, I wanted to discuss four other Japanese games that references 1900’s iconic children’s novel by L. Frank Baum. Unfortunately only one of my selections is easily accessible, with the others being harder to find and one being no longer playable even (Oz+ coming off of Solmare’s mobile apps). Nevertheless, let us celebrate these bizarre adaptions of the beloved novel.
Oz+ is an otome game made for mobile devices by NTT Solmare. The game follows Dorothy Gale (it may be changeable but that just wouldn’t be right, would it?) the day before her 17th birthday. Her three companions from Oz invite her back to the fantastical land to celebrate her birthday. She tags along with her dog Toto Jr., the son of Toto! Once there she has the chance to adventure in the land once more, while potentially romancing one of her three companions, the Wizards of Oz and even Oz himself.
Oz+ has many gender bent versions of the original characters to reinforce the potential number of love interests and format the story as an otome. Its three main companions are how you can remember them but with different names consisting of Crowlie the scarecrow, Heartman the Tin man and Leonardo the cowardly lion. Norton is the Good Wizard of the North, Solomon is the Good Wizard of the South, Wesley is the Wicked Wizard of the West, Earnest is the Wicked Wizard of the East and The Wizard of Oz who retains the name. Earnest did not receive a route before the game got discontinued, not even being moved to Solmare’s current otome app home of Story Jar. I’ll have to dedicate an article’s worth gushing over Solmare that would definitely be an interesting discussion since while Oz+ was one of the first otomes I delved into it has more negatives than positives compared to Solmare’s more popular titles.
With gorgeous art throughout, from the sprites to ludicrously luscious CGs, its storyline that plagues the majority of routes was more than problematic (a key one being the uncomfortable age gap of Dorothy with Oz). But this is especially notable in Solomon’s route, where we see Solomon interacting with Dorothy when she was merely a child. Such choices make it obvious how problematic it is when adapting the Wizard of Oz into a dating sim, but it is a shame since as a continuation of the book itself I enjoyed its few charming takes on the established characters (Leonardo being overly sensitive and emotionally connected to animals was adorable) and the tropey plot of Dorothy having to save Kansas before it disappears forever. And depending on your ending, the best one possible is Dorothy choosing to stay in Oz. It’s a nice addition and makes for a story set in Oz to differ greatly when it comes to Dorothy’s inclusion.
A Witch’s Tale
This title takes place in multiple worlds, each borrowing from fictional characters and fairy tale motifs, from The Little Mermaid, to Hansel and Gretel, and even The Wizard of Oz. This reinforces how fantastical the game feels overall, with an art direction seemingly inspired by Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, evident in its overall design being Halloween themed. Its plot follows Liddell, who is a witch in training with a goal of becoming stronger than the sealed Eld Witch, the leader of the Witches who attempted to take control of the world a thousand years ago. Havoc is once again released as Liddell accidentally opens the seal on Eld Witch, who curses the land. Liddell is now on a mission to save the world’s princesses and stop Eld Witch for good.
While the game is bogged down by being a rather easy RPG, its style is definitely its strong point. This is backed up with a delightful amount of fairy tale references to keep you engaged in spotting and seeing how they are implemented in the game’s large universe that does effectively link each world with one another. The game is playable by using the stylus only, making this even more unique than it already sounds. If you can handle an RPG which has weaker gameplay mechanics, its colorful array of characters and fantastic world design are worth an exploration alone.
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
This one is a retelling of the original novel. It’s one of the most graphically impressive DS titles ever, filled with consistently gorgeous, loud colours, stunning sprite art and stills, and animated beautifully, from its waterfalls to reflections. It’s all designed gorgeously with such impeccable detail despite being on the small screen of the Nintendo DS. It definitely delivers on that front, but the plot overall feels very surface level for an RPG that is adapted from the Wizard of Oz. The possibilities should be endless, but instead Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is bland in substance, having a starting point typical for its genre, with Dorothy being the chosen one transported to its world like any Isekai and set on a mission to take down the Witches. However the final boss being the Wizard of Oz himself as the almighty villain is a nice twist albeit not a surprise. It does make for an impressive design and boss with considerable challenge, but the gameplay despite being turn based can become repetitive and unrewarding before you finally reach this point.
The game uses the stylus exclusively just like A Witch’s Tale, making movement very hard to maintain with sharp turns you have to swipe quickly to pull off, causing a lot of unavoidable enemy encounters. It’s definitely another unusual design choice. Worst yet, the game is plagued with back tracking, but its overall art direction makes it always a pleasure to run around in its world. Despite the unnecessary innovative mechanics that’s been plastered onto its gameplay, the addition of including seasonal and elemental designs makes it even more appealing to the eye and creative altercations from the original source.
Instead of the Witch of the North and so forth, the Witches in this title take on seasons, such as Flora, the Witch of the Spring, and Holly, the Witch of the Fall. Their designs are distinctive, colorful and diverse. And the side bosses in the elemental dragons offers even more challenges after defeating the Wizard of Oz. There’s even a lot of call backs to the original source that translates so well into the JRPG design, from the cowardly Lion being the one to escape from encounters, and the party’s reason for fighting is to get their original wishes granted by the Wizard of Oz after their task is completed.
Code Name: STEAM
If we’re talking about just down right bizarre in general then Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. would win hands down. Its premise of stopping an alien threat using your party members consisting of Peter Pan’s Tiger Lily, HP Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter, Queequeg from Moby-Dick, and American figures such as Henry Fleming, a hero from African-American folklore should be telling enough!
The game is set in an alternative, steam punk past in the year 1865 as we go from London, to Massachusetts, and even Oz itself. Its world somehow does not seem that out of place considering since the start of the game you have the no longer cowardly Lion on your team who takes the brunt of battle damage with his large amount of HP. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and even Dorothy (with my favourite weapon called the Toto Blaster!) herself joins the party at later points in the story. There’s so many fun nods to the Wizard of Oz, with the team travelling to Oz through a tornado used as a portal to another world, and clearing its stage awards the player with an Emerald Key, a teleportation item much like Dorothy’s own Silver Slippers. Better yet in comparison to Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, Oz is in need of saving as a fellow ally from a Cthulhu like creature. It just keeps getting more and more bonkers!
Its gameplay is super fun and extremely challenging, taking from SRPGs such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. The latter so much so that with amiibo support you can play as Marth, Ike, Robin or Lucina too. The marriage of its steampunk style with the magical Wizard of Oz characters is something completely unique, and backed up with solid gameplay mechanics, it’s the best title of the list.
Stay tuned for when I tackle Japanese video games inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland!