1 on 1, the bizarre PlayStation basketball game

Wide shot of the cast of PlayStation game, "1 on 1"

1 on 1 is one of many PlayStation (One) games that has escaped public consciousness. This time, it doesn’t help that no one bothered to export it outside Japan. The English-speaking world truly is devoid of many cultural nuggets. It’s surprising, because the pedigree of its visual identity slaps the viewer in the face immediately. That is to say, for their characters, developers Jorudan got an expert to define their look and feel.

Takehiko Inoue is a prolific manga artist responsible for the monstrously popular Slam Dunk. For that alone, the game warrants study as a tangential piece of both gaming and manga history. I argue that the game’s approach to mechanics is innovative. I have not had the time to play it, but it embraces the core gameplay of fighting games such as Tekken. It’s also quite clever in its visual design, rendering only what’s necessary in 3D while boasting robust, appealing character models.

However, I’m writing this for a different reason.

Erm, first of all, this website needs more content. Not to mention, there isn’t much information about this game on the English-speaking Web. If I could change that even a little, I will be happy. Even if I end up resenting this game when I get to it, I believe that the characters are worth preserving. That would include backstories, which the game does not address overtly. There are not many cutscenes in-game, and what exists is short. And, uh, the game is in Japanese.

Luckily, the game got a website upon its rerelease on PlayStation 3 and Portable. It’s been preserved through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. On top of leading the viewer to purchase the game (which you now must do on the PS3’s internal store), it has character and story information. Most of the text can be auto-translated, although some of it is embedded in images. Machine translation is certainly not flawless, but one can get the main idea.

The following points about the game’s story are all real.

  • The game takes place in an unnamed country that acts as a melting pot. Through generational morphing of traditions, the act of one-on-one basketball has turned into a deadly sport with no rules.
  • The one who rules the country lives in luxury and gains this title by winning at basketball. It’s like the Pokemon champion status with higher stakes. The current king is a 17-year old man, named KING (in both English and Japanese), with more than a passing resemblance to Dio from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
  • The tournament has been decommissioned because the previous king died. In the meantime, the sport has grown even more out of control as “1-on-1 samurai” have nowhere to go. (“Samurai” is a common term in modern Japanese for those who end up not proceeding with their educational journey. Basically, a bunch of teens and young adults have eschewed college and dedicated their lives to deathmatch basketball).

Once the tournament re-opens, the following weirdos participate.

  • Apart from fairly normal, tropey backstories, you also have a large guy named Brown who has a squirrel accompanying him at all times. His son, Charles, has died. Conflicting translations exist: Brown’s page indicates that it happened “due to a javelin” and has a bit of dialogue saying, “I’m the one who killed my son.”
  • However, there’s another character relevant to Brown’s story: Luka. He’s a fallen angel banished to Earth for failing to keep Charles’ life intact (vaguely corresponding to semi-failed Shonen Jump manga Hareluya). His page instead mentions illness as Charles’ fate, but most importantly, mentions that Luka has transported Charles’ soul into the squirrel. As long as Brown’s soul stays cold, he cannot feel his son’s soul inside the squirrel.

But wait, there’s more.

  • Mash acts as one of the main antagonists. He’s the mentor to the current KING, and is a veteran of the in-universe basketball sport. He’s also head of the military, with particular attention to an experimental project. Before violently pulling the plug, the military had a program involving genetically-engineered monkeys.
  • Manbe is the sole survivor of the program, wanting vengeance for the death of his companions. Despite being seven years old in real time, he has grown into an adult who needs glasses. He’s basically a caveman who can dribble the ball with his enormous tail.

I study esoteric topics for a reason. The reason can change month by month. Today, it’s because I’m happy I know about a video game in which a monkey-man can repeatedly shove a child to gain control of a basketball. And it’s got involvement by one of our best living mangakas? Hell yeah.

Featured image (c) Jorudan

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