Virtual Reality has always been a difficult area of entertainment and fandom. The majority of the market, by far, is video games or short demos designed for VR experiences. Accessibility to the target platform is critical, but developers are taking time to adapt their content to virtual reality without losing sight of what makes them unique
The anime Spice & Wolf began in 2007 as an adaptation of the light novel series written by Isuna Hasekura. It has spin-offs, prequels and fan discs that have never seen an official English release. Because its main medium is very similar to manga (Japanese comic books), it’s not surprising that some fans have tested how well the franchise would adapt to Japanese virtual reality devices like the PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive. A few months ago, an unofficial adaptation was released for Google Cardboard devices.
Official virtual reality adaptations are not common among Japanese anime titles, but recently, an official spin-off has been announced by Kadokawa for the Oculus Quest platform with full English dubbing by JAST USA. This cooperation between one of Japan’s major visual novel companies and one of America’s leading translators is unprecedented in the shared history of both industries. The VN company stated that this title would be “completely revised” to adapt it to the new generation of hardware. A total of 16 episodes have been confirmed so far, which will form a compact story with three different possible endings
One aspect that represents a risk in this adaptation is the novel and anime format. While the majority of titles are cinematographic, others like Spice & Wolf rely much more on dialogue to tell their story. How will this be handled in a virtual reality environment? To answer that question, it’s necessary to examine how well an adaptation has already been done by another studio that has also tackled the long-form visual novel format
The first example I can find is Kara no Shoujo. This title was originally published in 2008 as a Japanese adventure game for Windows. The genre is called “sound novel” because most of the gameplay takes place with text at the bottom of the screen accompanied by sound effects and character portraits. It’s worth noting that all these elements have voice acting but only for the sound effects.
The game was published in 2012 to PlayStation Portable with many improvements, including new illustrations, several animated scenes and a complete re-recording of all dialogue lines. An HD version for Windows was later released on Steam. The anime adaptation began in 2010 with two seasons covering the first four volumes of the light novel series. It’s worth noting that this last adaptation is considered one of the best currently available by fans who have seen both versions
A quick comparison between the title adaptations reveals one clear difference: while Kara no Shoujo focuses much more on cinematic elements, Spice & Wolf is clearly more focused on dialogue and very little effort has been made to adapt it into 3D to make it more immersive. This means that while the game is designed for VR devices, it could be adapted to a traditional flat screen just as well with no changes. The only novelty would be the possibility of “looking around” with the cursor keys
The most interesting news about this adaptation is related to its use of voice acting. JAST USA announced at Anime Expo 2019 that all dialogue lines will be recorded in English by professional dubbers who have participated in titles like Elfen Lied, Durarara!! or My Hero Academia. This immediately sets Spice & Wolf apart from other visual novels which can take months or even years to complete because of budget restrictions associated with anime adaptations
The artistic direction seems to be very similar to Kara no Shoujo. A total of 16 episodes have been confirmed but no further details about their length have been revealed. The game will feature the original Japanese voices, English subtitles and a choice between two voice actors to represent both Holo and Lawrence.
The important question is how much time players should expect for each episode, which will determine how much gameplay they can expect if each one lasts an hour or more. A good comparison would be My Girlfriend is the President, another Japanese title adapted into virtual reality that features female characters designed by Mutsumi Sasaki who also worked on Spice & Wolf. This VN has 12 episodes lasting 90 minutes, which means up to 10 hours of total gameplay for this adaptation. But due to its narrative structure, it could easily surpass it by using less dialogue lines per episode
One final detail worth mentioning is that the adaptation was originally planned for PlayStation VR but this version has now been cancelled in favor of an Oculus Quest port. This means that the game will be available on both PC and console to allow players to choose their preferred platform before downloading it. It could also mean that there are no plans to create a PSVR version in the future, although nothing has been confirmed so far