When you hear the name “Square Enix,” chances are the first thing that comes to mind is Final Fantasy. The Japanese company is best known for rich role-playing game experiences, but did you know they’re also in the manga business?
Gangan is Square Enix Holdings manga imprint, and have printed popular titles from Fullmetal Alchemist to Soul Eater. Now, Square Enix is working to bring some beloved manga titles into virtual reality as interactive, moving experiences.
Manga Come to Life
During New York Comic-Con, I got the chance to try out Project Hikari, a new platform built in Unreal Engine and designed to bring manga to life. The platform’s first title is an adaptation of Tales of Weddings Rings, a high-fantasy romantic comedy written by the manga artist Maybe.
In Tales of Weddings Rings, a young man finds out the girl he loves is moving — to another world, where she is a princess. He follows her, and presumably, hilarity ensues.
During my hands-on time with Wedding Rings, it felt like I was looking at an actual moving manga. Everything was drawn in a manga style, down to sound effects visually written-out as they happen — a door slamming, a stumble out of bed, a gasp.
The imagery would sometimes appear before me in a manga panel, and if I stuck my head into the panel I could see 360 degrees inside of it, including details that I couldn’t see by simply looking from the front. It’s a whole new and more immersive way to experience a story, and I found myself wanting much more when the demo ended.
Just the Beginning
According to Square Enix general manager, Remi Driancourt, a new team within Square Enix is working on this technology with the hope of expanding into many different genres of stories.
“Obviously, we want to challenge ourselves with different genres, maybe action, horror, and eventually western comic books,” Draincourt told FANDOM, opening up to the possibility of getting global titles involved.
“Square-Enix is not just making games,” he added. “We do have a publication department. So we really have a stockpile of manga and stories to tell. This is actually not original content for this application, it’s an existing manga. On paper, and we also have digital distribution. It’s already being distributed in the United States. So this is basically our take on it, using video game technology in VR.”
Draincourt said that the first episode of Tales of Wedding Rings will launch in black and white, but future episodes could be in color.
Expanding the Boundaries of Print
“We are the [Research and Development] department of Square-Enix — it’s our mission to look into new technology, like VR, AR, artificial intelligence and so forth,” he said. “So looking at VR, it’s much newer hardware.
“We’ve been working, giving technological support to a lot of different business divisions in Square Enix, games, mobile games, HD games… So we wanted to do something different this time. And as you know, the paper base, this edition of manga, is still a big business, but it’s a shrinking business, sadly. So we thought that, hey, why not try to use VR to try and expand the boundaries of this ecosystem?”
Tales of Wedding Rings will launch for Project Hikari on Oculus and HTC Vive in 2018, with a PlayStation VR version coming later.