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Turning Japanese: The curious cases of Victory Belles and Mermaid's Wrath

Disclaimers: TonyTGD has contributed writing work to Victory Belles. The information provided on the project concerns only what's publicly available. The details for Mermaid's Wrath, meanwhile, are based from a piece the author's written for J-List.

Anyone who's been into video games or mods for any significant amount of time is bound to have come across something in Western works that's clearly inspired by, if not lifted from, an anime. Their existence, granted, is nothing new. From tacky references to long-time staples like ninjas to the much more in-depth nods to the its history, such as in the Total War series, the presence of Japanese culture in games made outside that country has been established for several years. Nonetheless, the trend of finding ways to "Japanize" even the most American or European of titles like Fallout 4 shows no sign of stopping.

Two projects demonstrate this peculiar tendency in action: the work-in-progress Victory Belles and the already-released Mermaid’s Wrath mod for World of Warships. What’s particularly notable about both these works is how they’re coming from the fandom and independent scenes rather than established developers. This really serves to highlight the lengths gamers will go to pursue their visions.

Victory Belles (Work in Progress)

The popularity of Kantai Collection and Azur Lane in Asia would have been hard to imagine being duplicated in the West a decade ago. After all, it’s not too long ago when one would be more likely to perceive realistic naval simulators than shipgirl action as the desire of western gamers. Yet, as alluring as such games are Anglophone fans were generally locked out, until the reveal that the PS4 title Azur Lane: Crosswave would receive a 2020 Western release,and had to make to with crossover events or use Asian accounts. These facts haven't stopped some from trying to put their own spin on shipgirl action from across the Pacific.

A work-in-progress since 2016, Victory Belles is a planned free-to-play mobile RPG that presents itself as a Western counterpart to the likes of Kancolle, and it certainly looks the part. While there are those who might dismiss this out of hand, whether it’s the general association between “free-to-play” and “pay-to-win” or the delays, there’s more going for this than exceeding its original $30,000 Kickstarter target.

The artwork for the myriad shipgirls, though very much inspired by Kancolle, still manages to look distinctive and evocative of wartime imagery. (Source)

This is particularly evident in the presentation. The overall aesthetics owe quite a bit to Japanese anime and especially Kancolle, whether in the soft colors or in the eyes of the various shipgirls. At the same time, they’re also combined with Western art direction and inspiration from actual Wartime imagery (be it military uniforms, traditional attire or 1940s pin-up) to create a look that’s rather unmistakable. That the characters themselves are described as having distinct personalities, are accompanied by generally solid voice-acting (with appropriate language tracks depending on the shipgirl), and can even be romanced in-game over the course of a campaign certainly add to the immersion. Or at the very least, that’s the intended plan.

Latest update video on the game, showcasing the "Sortie"
mechanic and other campaign systems. (2019)

Granted, from an outsider’s perspective, Victory Belles has quite a bit going against it. Having long surpassed its initial release date, the game was intended for a 2017 launch, the landscape it’s entering has changed quite a bit. With titles like Azur Lane and Girls Frontline also becoming popular in more recent years, it’s an even more competitive scene than before. This in turn can make it harder for the developers to have their work stand out from the crowd or retort cynical proclamations of the project being dead in the water.

Aleutian Campaign - You select the path, scout, and order air strikes! 
Even at this stage the project's campaign mode shows signs that it's not linear,
with myriad outcomes and opportunities for romance. (Source)
With the constant updates, visual documentation of what Victory Belles has to offer, and showing off actual gameplay features, there’s good reason not to dismiss it just yet. Until then, there’s another viable alternative for those looking into the “weebification” of Western gaming, especially naval gaming. One that’s already out and being enjoyed by lots of gamers.

Mermaid’s Wrath (World of Warships mod)

Released and developed by Russian studio Lesta OOO in 2015, World of Warships is a naval combat MMO that manages to pull off “free to play” rather than just “pay to win.” Being based mainly on World Wars I and II, it might seem at a glance like something unlikely to attract anime fans at large. With the popularity of  Kancolle and Arpeggio of Blue Steel, however, the game’s also seen its share of the "Japanizing" treatment. Something even the developers have taken notice of.

World of Warships x Azur Lane crossover event. (2019)
Beyond the fact that Kancolle mods do indeed exist, there’s also has a more ambitious fan project, called Mermaid’s Wrath. Headed by Chobittsu Studios, this mod is a thorough overhaul of the game’s audio, replacing just about every male voice track with a female one. In its present state, there is a multitude of lines, random quips, and responses for various situations. This includes clips for when vessels are idle or in the thick of the action. That there are also accents and cultural variations, depending on the factions involved, such as Royal Navy ships having crew that sound the part to help give enough immersion to maintain suspension of disbelief.

Commercial ad for Mermaid’s Wrath, showcasing the voices and other features. (2018)

There’s more to Mermaid’s Wrath than just the sounds, however. Going the extra mile, the avatars, portraits and even the names of ship captains are similarly changed up to be all-female. Being based for the most part on the actresses and modders themselves, they’re all done in an alluring anime style that, combined with the voice acting, really sells the proverbial “waifu” angle. Which isn’t even getting to the special holiday-themed variants, eccentric characters, references to science-fiction works like Honor Harrington, and the ability to play as characters from Azur Lane.
The wide variety of portraits offered, even for the US alone, helps make the mod stand out. (Source)
The end product may result in World of Warships coming off as more like a visual novel or dating sim, but with more explosions and naval bombardments. A strange blend, to be sure, though it still manages to work.

The Tip of the Iceberg

These are by no means the only examples of Western games getting the "Japanizing" treatment. A quick search on YouTube or ModDB alone shows a seeming universe of variety, with games as varied as Doom, the GTA series, and even Paradox Interactive's titles bearing witness to efforts that blur the line between East and West.

 Even the alternate history world of Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg is not 
safe from anime waifus with the Moereich! submod. (Source)

While they're not everyone's cup of tea, there's something to be said about such trends. Indeed, they reflect a kind of cultural exchange that, rather than being sneered or dismissed, would better serve the Western gaming industry by inspiring greater creativity.

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