We’ve got a very special title to look at on The History of Lewd today: the game that is commonly recognised as the first ever Japanese eroge to get an official release here in the west. It’s Cobra Mission: Panic in Cobra City, originally released as a PC-98 game in 1991 by INOS, and brought to us filthy English-speakers a year later by Megatech, the same company who would go on to bring us Metal & Lace: The Battle of the Robo Babes.
Much like what we saw with Metal & Lace: The Battle of the Robo Babes, Cobra Mission was not just a simple port from the PC-98 to the MS-DOS computers that were more common with western PC gamers. Rather, it was rebuilt from scratch to include additional material over its original release, making it best considered as a completely independent title rather than a simple localisation.
There was a certain amount of excitement surrounding Cobra Mission when MegaTech first announced it, because anime was just starting to get a foothold in western territories — and gaming fans were hungry to enjoy some interactive takes on this exciting new form of media. Sadly, the game disappeared without trace almost immediately, with what little critical reception it had on launch being mediocre to poor. And it’s perhaps not hard to understand why, even if looking back on it now, some of its criticisms might seem a bit harsh.
Cobra Mission’s high-resolution 16-colour graphics looked exceedingly dated even back on its original release due to the fact it came out in the same year as technologically advanced (for 1992) titles such as Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss from Origin and Wolfenstein 3D from id Software. Its pixelated top-down tile-based exploration, although familiar to console gamers at the time, was seen as “beneath” what western-developed PC games were offering at the time — and the somewhat slapdash localised script didn’t help it look like a super-professional product, either.
All this doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out, however; if anything, the fact that it’s much easier to divorce it from that original context when exploring it from a modern perspective makes it a great deal more enjoyable to explore now than it was back then. And contained within all those rough edges is a surprisingly enjoyable early ’90s Japanese RPG for home computers… with some absolutely lovely event art.
In Cobra Mission, you take on the role of JR Knight (renamed from Satoru Fujii in the original PC-98 version), a private investigator who has come to the island of Cobra at the behest of his childhood friend Faythe (Midori in the PC-98 version) to investigate the disappearance of some young women and a notable increase in gang activity.
Cobra is an island that has always been strongly independent, but it seems that the local gangs have managed to take that a little further than the city’s original management perhaps intended, since they’ve taken over and turned it into a largely lawless den of crime. The mastermind behind all this is a man named Kaiser, so your ultimate goal in the game is to deal with the various problems each district of Cobra is experiencing, rescue (and, optionally, bone) the various girls who have inevitably been caught up in each of these schemes and finally take down Kaiser once and for all. Simple, right?
Cobra Mission primarily unfolds as a top-down RPG that can be controlled by keyboard or mouse. Despite looking rather like a console game, it’s actually easier to use the mouse for everything, as it adopts a peculiar keyboard control system where pressing a direction starts JR moving in that direction, and a completely different key (space bar or 5 on the numeric keypad) needs to be pressed to stop him agian. While using mouse, meanwhile, you can simply click on a destination and JR will walk there, with some reasonable pathfinding in place to allow him to negotiate obstacles automatically.
As you explore, you’ll get into random battles, and it’s here that the biggest difference between the PC-98 original and the MS-DOS version is evident. The Japanese version of Cobra Mission features simple turn-based, menu-driven battles, while the MS-DOS version features a quasi real-time sequence where you click on various parts of your assailant’s body with your weapon to attack that area. Different opponents have different weak points, so an important part of the overall metagame is learning how to quickly and efficiently dispatch different types of enemy.
There’s an element of timing in place, too; a meter at the side of the screen gradually fills, and when it’s full the enemy will unleash an attack. Consequently, you want to try and get as many hits in as possible before that happens — your efforts in this regard are hampered by the fact after every strike your cursor resets to a random position on the battle screen, meaning that you’ll need to “aim” again.
It’s simple, but it actually works rather well — and the addition of menu-driven item usage (which pauses the battle while you select options) allows for a certain degree of strategy. You can heal yourself mid-battle or make use of offensive items to deal damage — if you don’t want to grind for the large amount of money necessary to get a powerful gun in the first area of the game, making proper use of items is essential to progression.
Structurally, Cobra Mission is rather reminiscent of classic late ’80s-era PC role-playing games, particularly the Ultima series. It’s pretty rare that you’re given explicit instructions on what to do next; instead, you’re trusted to explore yourself, question the people you can find and pick up on the hints that they provide. What seems like a passing comment from an NPC is often an important clue, so it pays to make a note (mental or otherwise) of everything that people say, just in case it proves helpful later.
And then there are the sex scenes. There are a few ways to access the lewd content in Cobra Mission; the first is to locate hidden items of lingerie that are scattered around the various scenes in the game. There’s no on-screen indication of where these are, so if you want to track them down you’ll simply have to try walking into suspicious pieces of furniture or, in some cases, simply combing every floor tile in the room if you want to find them. Your reward for recovering these and delivering them to the local otaku is some softcore pornography that you can access from your inventory at any time.
The second, more substantial lewd component of Cobra Mission comes when you rescue one of the several girls in the game from the predicament in which they have found themselves. In gratitude for your heroism, they’ll provide you with their phone number, and upon returning to Faythe’s apartment on the island — which acts as your main home base — you can give them a call and meet them at the local sleazy motel.
What then follows is an interactive sex scene that demands you make use of the right actions on the right body parts to trigger all the appropriate responses. You only have a number of chances to find the right actions, however; too much blind fumbling around will result in the girl kicking you out for not knowing how to please a woman — she doesn’t seem to mind if you immediately call her up to try again, though.
Early in the game, it’s not too hard to put the right moves on the girl, since you can only use your hands and lips. Later encounters introduce toys, however, meaning you’ll have to pay attention to what you think the girl will enjoy if you want to see the full scene in all its glory.
That said, the scenes are pretty tame from a visual perspective; there’s some uncensored ladyparts and masturbation animations, but no explicit penetration or bodily fluids on display. The game’s introductory warning screen describes it as “R-rated”, and that’s probably an accurate description — though the text descriptions go into rather more detail about what is actually happening, and there are a few noisy sampled sound effects to emphasise the… pleasurable side of the experience.
Interestingly, you don’t have to engage with a lot of the lewd content at all if you don’t want to, outside of an initial incident right at the beginning of the game where JR looks through a telescope and rather fortuitously discovers the local nude beach — and a few story scenes where the “bosses” of the hour are inevitably about to perpetrate some sort of act of sexual assault, or are in the process of doing so.
And despite the fact that JR and Faythe are obviously supposed to end up together by the end of the whole thing, the latter doesn’t appear to mind the former’s philandering over the course of the story as a whole — don’t expect any Three Sisters’ Story-style bad endings if you put out too much here.
On the whole, Cobra Mission is a worthwhile game to explore — and a noteworthy eroge from a historical perspective. Despite some rough edges and a localised script that is both riddled with spelling errors and entirely too liberal with its use of exclamation marks, there’s a game with some genuine personality and actually enjoyable gameplay here. It’s a little sad that the context in which it originally released has caused it to be looked upon less than fondly over the years — but if you have the opportunity to try it for yourself, I’d encourage you to do so. You might just be pleasantly surprised how invested you end up feeling in JR and Faythe’s great adventure.
You can play Cobra Mission in your browser at the Internet Archive. If you want a copy for yourself, you’re on your own!
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