I have a thing for a game called Racing Lagoon.
Racing Lagoon was released in 1999 by Square on the original PlayStation at the peak of the Japanese street racing boom. It promised to be a fusion of the racing and role-playing genres, putting you in the place of a new member of the Bay Lagoon Racing street racing team and having you race around the streets of Yokohama. If you speed past another car too quickly on the top-down overworld map, you have a chance of being taken into a battle sequence where beating the other racer will give you the chance to take some of their car parts, which you can then use to tune up your own car. Battle sequences are straight up race sequences as you’d expect from a traditional racer, except the physics are exceptionally wonky and the graphics aren’t as good as they could have been (maybe I was spoiled by Gran Turismo 2).
The timing of Racing Lagoon’s release is a little unfortunate, because Tokyo Xtreme Racer was released on the Dreamcast in Japan a mere two weeks after Racing Lagoon came out. While Tokyo Xtreme Racer was a lot less ambitious when it came to its narrative and storytelling, that didn’t really matter because it did a much better job of fulfilling the street racing fantasy. It dropped you straight onto the track and had you engage racers there directly instead of having two separate modes to manage.
I had heard a lot about the game from friends, but never actually played it until I broke down two weeks ago and ordered the game and a Japanese PlayStation to play it on. I’d always been really curious about it because Yokohama is a city that means a lot to me, and especially because the overworld of the game is pretty much the area comfortably within walking distance of where I usually stay. It’s interesting to see how the different tracks around the city depict the neighborhoods they’re located in, and I think they’ve captured the feeling of those areas very well. Not all of the things retain their real life names, but it is generally obvious from the name what they’re riffing off of and what part of town you should be headed towards.
I’ve only played it for about an hour as I’ve been terribly busy with other things this week, but one of the things that immediately struck me was the impact the graphics had on its difficulty. Unsurprisingly, the entire game is played during night time, but combine that with the relatively short draw distance and low resolution of the graphics, and it’s incredibly hard to know when a wall is coming up and which way you’re meant to turn (your GPS will chime in with signs telling you the turn direction but often too late to be able to react to them). You do have headlights but unless you’re on a track with very short distances between turns, they don’t do you any good until it’s too late.
Square isn’t a company that’s exactly known for their racing game pedigree, so it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the physics are a bit off. The driving doesn’t feel very satisfying in practice, and it’s very easy to get stuck inside corners you crash into. You could argue that there was a lot for companies to learn with regards to physics in 3D racing games back in 1999. Even The Real Driving Simulator had some pretty crazy shit going on. But that didn’t keep driving in other games from feeling satisfying. I just assume Square, being a company that routinely puts out RPGs, simply didn’t see the handling of the driving portions as a priority, despite being the “battle system” in practice.
Despite all of its issues, it appeals to my emotions by being The Real Yokohama Simulator, and I can’t really bring myself to put it down. I do plan to write more about Racing Lagoon as I play through it, because I feel as though it’s woefully under-documented on the Internet and every little bit helps.