2017-12-25: Neugier and the quest to become the potato

I'm an odd type of speedrunner. Three to four times a year I go hunting for strange offbeat games no one has run (or usually even heard of) before, to route and showcase for major marathons.

With SNES Superstars 2018 set to be announced soon after New Year, I went looking early for my offbeat offering for next year. I found it (or one of them anyway) in Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Kodō. This game is Wolf Team all the way through: beautifully thought out and executed with the requisite amount of Wolf Team jank present in the mechanics and gameplay.

Of particular interest here is the ranking system. At the end of the game you're assigned a rank from 1 to 20, with an appropriate title attached. My first playthru got me the rank of "Normal gamer" at 14. As I began to develop a speedrun route I passed through "Masterful Player" at rank 8, then "Beyond Champion" at 4, "Over the Top" at 3, and finally "King of Kings" at 2. Quite the superlative! However rank 1 eluded me. At this point I was completing the game in 20 minutes, down from 2 hours for the rank 14 play.

I did some research and found from game's one FAQ and its translation patch notes that rank seems to be based purely on in-game time and that rank 1 was translated in the English patch to be "Couch Potato". I was now playing on the Japanese version though (as I was doing proper speedruns), so I wanted to see what the title for rank 1 was in the Japanese version. I set out on a stream with the explicit purpose of getting Rank 1, calling it "The quest to become the potato".

It turned out to be a five hour stream as I honed my route and shaved off seconds. About ten attempts in I cut the 20:00 mark, which I thought for sure would give me the desired result. To my dismay I was once again assigned the rank of "Rank 02: King of Kings". Okay fine! At that point I knew ranks 2, 3, and 4 were on one minute increments: sub 21, sub 22, and sub 23 respectively but apparently the illustrious Potato title requires yet more. Back to the grind!

Finally while practicing the Stage 4 boss, I discovered a strategy that cut an entire cycle off the fight. I cut 27 seconds off my personal best and sat with bated breath as the credits scrolled. My chat intoned "Time for potato?!" as the azure cloud-textured text scrolled by and then, there it was...


   RANK 01

Chat exploded. One of the viewers volunteered the translation: layabout, good-for-nothing, deadbeat... Yeah okay, Couch Potato is a good translation for this. A bit kinder maybe. In the afterglow as I tore down stream and cut the video of the run a thought occurred. While I don't consider this to be an optimized play at all, it seems to me they calibrated the ranking system to align almost perfectly with a good speedrun of the game.

I direly want to know the story behind this. Did someone at Wolf Team speedrun the game? Did they sit around on lunch break trying to finish an alpha of it the fastest and then calibrated rank 1 for whoever did so? More importantly, has anyone gotten rank 1 in this before? I peeked around and couldn't find much, but I also acknowledge that I really can't search, for example, Nicovideo well because of language barriers.

In any case, sub-18 in-game time is possible, and I'm curious if it's going to wrap back around to the special rank of Rank 21: Cheater if I do it.

tags: speedrunning, neugier