The influence of Metroid, Castlevania and Megaman are plain to see, while a five year development period ensured faultlessly high production values (doujin soft development lengths vary wildly from a month to half a decade in some cases). The zealous praise it received was unsurprising, two teams even competed to create an English translation patch, and it's rightly regarded as an example of how great doujin games can be. What is surprising is the humble nature of the game's origins and its incredibly shy creator. "At the time I started work on Doukutsu Monogatari, I was a student, but now I'm an office worker. My entire life had changed by the time this game was finished. At home, I help with household duties and child care. Any personal software development of mine takes place primarily late at night. I can't help but feel a thrill when I see little pixel people running around over simple, light backgrounds."
Pixel makes no pretenses about his creative methods; the haunting melodies were composed by randomly arranging letters until he found a sound he liked. In fact, nothing about the game was pre-planned; it came about through sheer hard work and long hours. He invented things as he went along, leaving plot intricacies to the player's imagination. Surprisingly, it worked perfectly, showing there's no recipe for great games. The characters are memorable, the weapons satisfying, and the sense of discovery is simply magical. But above all, everything is uniquely imaginative. Despite the similarity, to other games it never feels hackneyed.
For those who find the world of doujin soft daunting, Doukutsu Monogatari is a great (though old) place to start before plunging deeper into online stores and conventions. While only so much can be covered in one sitting, hopefully I've piqued your interest enough to explore further. Doujin soft is far removed from both the standard game market and Western indie scene. It has its own visual styling, genres, subculture and even unique form of commercialism. It is another facet in a rapidly diversifying industry, and one that deserves exploration. Just stay away from the hentai.
John Szczepaniak is a South African freelance videogame writer with a preference for retro games. He is also a staff member on the Retro Survival project, which contains articles on retro gaming and is well worth investigating.