Since the 1980s, life simulation has been one of the major genres in video games. In these games, players control one or more virtual lifeforms in a way that somehow simulates organic lifeforms in real life. This can be done directly, by assuming the role of a creature in the game, or indirectly, by influencing an artificial intelligence.
Regardless of the details, all life simulation games focus on maintaining and growing at least one virtual life, which is an appealing game feature for most people. Among the many life simulations available, there are a few obscure examples worth checking out.
One of the best and weirdest games released on the Sega Dreamcast is Virtual Pet Marine. Created by Yoot Saito shortly after making SimTower, the game involves the player raising a strange human-faced fish creature by feeding it and talking to it using the Dreamcast microphone. While raising the creature in real time over several days, the player also receives guidance from a narrator, who is voiced by Leonard Nimoy in the English version.
Although mostly considered a weird one-off game internationally, in Japan the game won awards, spawned various types of merchandise, had multiple limited editions, had multiple remasters, and even had a following. Even now, Saito is working on another Marine Title.
Another award-winning life simulation game is Social Simulation Facade, which is a short interactive drama. At the start of the game, the player receives a call from his friend Trip who asks him to visit him and his wife Grace at their apartment for a drink. While at the apartment, the player can communicate with the couple by typing responses or interacting with various things in the house.
But, it’s quickly apparent that the couple’s marriage is in trouble, and it doesn’t take long for the two characters to have a falling out. Depending on the player’s actions, he can either save the marriage, end the marriage, partially fix things, or just get kicked out of the apartment. The game is notable for its contributions to technology and artificial intelligence research.
Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest (2002)
One of the most underrated GameCube titles is the action-adventure game Cubivore: survival of the fittest, which allows the player to control cubic animals called “cubivores”. At the top of the food chain, a tyrant known as Killer Cubivore sucks all life out of the Wilderness, and so the original player character decides to become strong enough to defeat him by evolving at least 100 different times.
To evolve, the player must eat other Cubivores in the wild, which gives the player different colors, limbs, and abilities. After defeating bosses, the player gets meat and is able to mate, then the player controls the offspring.
EVO: Search for Eden (1992)
Released in 1992 as a sequel to a Japan-exclusive PC-98 game, EVO: In Search of Eden is a side-scrolling action game and an oft-forgotten SNES classic. At the start of the game, the daughter of the sun, Gaia, tasks the player to evolve through different periods of Earth’s history in order to become Gaia’s immortal partner and join her in heaven. But, strange crystals appear on the planet and make certain creatures evolve abnormally, which turns them into monsters.
During the game, the player consumes other living creatures so that he can evolve, and the player can control the abilities he gets and customize his own creature. At the end of each historical era, the player fights a boss that has been corrupted by crystals.
Long Live the Queen (2012)
Inspired by the iconic Otome game series Princess maker, long live the queen is an indie RPG breeding simulator where the player must help 14-year-old Princess Elodie, whose mother has just been murdered, to become the next queen of Nova in 40 weeks. To do this, the player will choose which subjects Elodie will learn and which activities she will do, which will affect her stats. Throughout the game, Elodie will encounter stat tests that she can pass or fail based on her numbers.
Because other people want her power and Elodie is extremely young, most of the game is spent trying to keep Elodie alive. Navigating politics, economics, and war, Elodie can die in a variety of ways, and there are many possible endings depending on the player’s choices.
Little Computer Scientists (1985)
One of the first life simulations was the 1985 game Little computer scientists, which was created by the famous video game programmer David Crane. The main appeal of the game was that it was meant to be a “house on a disc” with a “living” little person inside that house. Each copy of the game had its own unique little person with its own personality and appearance, so each disc of the game is different.
In this game, the player has to take care of the little person by feeding him otherwise he will die. The player can interact with the person by typing simple commands, giving gifts or playing poker with them. Sometimes the person will write letters to the player to let them know how the person is doing.
Wonder Project J (1994)
Created by the same people who also made EVO: Search for Eden, Wonder Project J is a 1994 Super Famicom game where the player is a fairy named Tinker who must raise a young robot boy named Pino. Unlike other farming sims, this is accomplished through point-and-click adventure gameplay. By clicking on items on the screen, Tinker can direct Pino to certain items and teach him how to use them.
Since Pino is like a baby discovering the world, Tinker will have to scold Pino when he inevitably does something wrong and praise him when he does something right. While it can be frustrating at times, it’s rewarding to watch Pino grow and learn as the game progresses.
Moon: Remix RPG Adventure (1997)
Originally released in 1997 for the PS1, Moon: Adventure RPG Remixed is a parody of traditional JRPGs and one of the main inspirations for popular modern anti-RPGs like Subtitle. In this game, the player is a young boy who is sucked into the RPG world he just played. As a simple “support character”, the boy must repair the damage done by the traditional RPG “hero”.
After the “hero” ransacked the houses of NPCs and killed many creatures, the protagonist now has to help NPCs and help the souls of creatures, which increases the boy’s “love level” and allows him to stay longer long in the world. All NPCs have their own routines that change every game day, and there are tons of hidden events that can easily be missed. While it was a Japan-exclusive game for many years, it was recently released internationally on Switch, PS4, and PC.
LOL: Lack of Love (2000)
Created by the same developers who made Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, LOL: Lack of Love was a puzzle adventure released in 2000 for the Dreamcast only in Japan. Based on the Gaia hypothesis which states that all living creatures live in harmony and work together to sustain the life of a planet, the game follows an alien creature who must befriend other alien creatures to acquire enough of power to save the planet from robots that have been sent by humans. .
Unlike other evolution-oriented life simulations, the player evolves his creature by helping other creatures. Although the player sometimes has to consume others, it’s just to keep the creature from starving.
Established in the mid-1990s, creatures is a series of games where the player raises alien creatures known as “Norns”. This is done by teaching them words, helping them use items, protecting them from enemies, and creating more Norns. Instead of scripting AIs, Norns are driven by complex biological and neurological simulations, and each Norn has its own detailed DNA strands.
With the depth of their AIs, there has been a great debate over whether the Norns are actually alive or not. This became a major topic after some players created entire communities dedicated to “norn torture”.
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