Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong Nou, a Japanese adventure that came to the west in 1995, was developed almost entirely by one man - Osamu Satu. If you're unaware, he's the man behind the trippy PlayStation game LSD: Dream Simulator. Consider that a warning - things are about to get weird...
I honestly don't know where to begin with Eastern Mind. It's precisely the kind of product you think about when asked how weird the Japanese can be. It's so weird, I'm constantly surprised that this game saw an English translation let alone a full release. Perhaps the backing of Sony Imagesoft played a role in this, but either way, it was a bold move.
This game came about after Sony held a contest to support a talented artist. Osamu Satu won this competition and got to work on Eastern Mind. He was front and centre for almost everything in its development including the game's design, artwork and even soundtrack. This could easily have been a complete mess of a game - and in a way it is - but something truly special came out of it. Eastern Mind is not just a game that tells a story or has puzzles, it's a game where every point of interaction has a metaphorical point to it. I'd be damned if I can figure out that point but I'll try.
Despite what you may think of the all the crazy randomness going on, there is a definite plot. You play as Rin, a man who one day woke up without a soul. As you do when such an event occurs, you borrow a friend's soul, travel to an island in the shape of a man's face, and die several times in order to get it back. A normal day at the office, then. The island, named Tong Nou and modelled after Osamu Sato himself, has five distinct 'lands' in which to explore. You reach them by travelling through the ears and cheeks of Sato. I suppose this level of craziness is designed to get you used to it early on, but it never does.
The right ear transports you to the Land of Desire, a golden temple with a resting king that require a flower to wake. Some of the more bizarre encounters are found here, including a rather risque sex scene. By risque I mean strange and by sex scene I mean deformed blobs rubbing against each other. Nevertheless, it's censored if you enter your age in too low.
The left ear takes you to the forest realm known as the Land of Life. Here you'll encounter the Tree of Life which spits out beings left, right and centre. One of these beings is named Fang-Shing. He's one of the few creatures to make an appearance in every land. You'll know him by his cries of "fun, fun, fun, fun....". He's quite a useful character, despite how he looks and acts. He will offer cryptic clues to aid your journey, perhaps offering directions to the Tree of Life, a clue about what a symbol means or an ominous warning about one of the creatures. Every clue should be cherished so pay attention.
The right cheek leads to the water-based Land of Dreaming. Here you'll encounter a dragon munching up whispy things known as Magatomas. It will become evident that these are a necessary collectable to be found in each world. There's also a dead octopus-like creature in the ice whose face you can pull off. You'll become very familiar with this little guy at one point.
The left cheek is probably where you'd want to go first. This takes you to the fire-based Land of Time, but on the way, you'll discover a very important tome known as the Tong-Nou Illustrated Book. This will be your bible and key to solving the game. Every creature you come across is here, complete with a description that more often than not will give you important clues. Because the world is so surreal, no puzzle can be solved by real-world logic but by glancing in this book and noticing that a certain dragon is afraid of peaches.
You'll also come across your first trap. A row of five flames are put before you, one will transport you to the Land of Time, while another may kill you dead. But death in Tong Nou isn't treated the same as in other games. In fact, dying is necessary to progress. When you die, you'll choose your next body by selecting facial features from under the Tree of Life. There are nine creatures in total, and each has a specific mission to accomplish in their life. They'll even give you some vague directions before you begin. Every life ends in a death, no matter how successful you are at life, and upon rebirth, you'll be given a token. Collect them all and the Tower of Death will open up. It's in this fifth land where previously unthought of goals will become apparent, including collecting those elusive Magatomas.
If you get that far on your own, then hats off to you. Nothing in this game is straightforward, though one could argue that the sheer confusion is in some way the point. Life is a series of random events then you die. Quite poignant for a game that includes an island shaped like a head and a sexless alien sex scene.
There are some technical limitations to the game. The animations are sometimes smooth, but most of the characters move in a seizure-inducing stutter. This is not down to emulation either, as reviews at the time also commented on this. Believe it or not, it actually adds to the surrealism of it all and makes me wonder whether or not it was deliberate. Considering the output of Sato-san I wouldn't be surprised.
After a while, you do get a sense of logic to the chaos. The dragon-conquering peach begins to make sense and the constant drone of the word 'fun' in your mind's ear will seem normal. Eastern Mind is a unique head-trip of a game, and as such, every respectable fan of adventure games should give it a go. If only to comfort me that I didn't imagine all of it.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual Included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 322 Mb. Install Size: 520 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Eastern Mind: The Lost Souls of Tong Nou are © Sony Imagesoft
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me