The original Playstation was my first console, and I have a fondness for the RPGs released on the platform. The classics are beloved for a reason, but I’d like to give a special shout-out to a game that didn’t release outside Japan, and didn’t make a huge splash there either. The game, Community Pom, got a fan translation last year, and it was the first I’d heard of it. Seeing a single person on my Twitter timeline cheering about the translation’s release intrigued me, and once I booted it up, my interest was rewarded with an adorable, surprising game.
Developed by Fill in Cafe, better known for the Asuka 120% titles, Community Pom is an action RPG similar in gameplay to Zelda. It’s not one-to-one, as Pom’s main character relies on magic spells over swordplay, but she can swing her staff to fend off close foes. Our spunky protag, Lulu, is a young lady who wishes to clear the name of critters named Poms who live near her village. The village’s Meymeys, sheep basically, have been getting attacked, and Poms are being blamed for this. Lulu knows the Poms are innocent as they play with her and gave her the staff she uses for combat. So, she sets out to rescue the Poms and form a new place for them to live: the Community Pom the game is named for!
Gameplay in Community Pom is split about 60-40 between exploring the overworld, fighting enemies and rescuing Poms; and developing the Community, feeding Poms and giving them tasks to improve their adorable living space. Traveling to dungeons via an overworld teeming with baddies, Lulu can swing her staff to whack foes similarly to how Link swings his sword in a 2D Zelda. Your power grows as you clear the dungeons,with each boss defeated adding a spell to your repertoire. These can range from simple fireballs to healing skills and even a teleport to bring you back to town, so the spells feel similar to Zelda-style tools. You can also collect items to summon elementals, which are for all intents and purposes a screen-clear. The community building aspect has you using food you gather on your quest to feed Poms, tasking them with building new establishments in their village to raise your Poms easier. Raising your Poms allows them to unlock new skills, and you can travel with Poms in tow and use their skills to clear obstacles and defeat enemies. Raising the IQ of a Pom allows it to change class, usually upgrading their current one. A nurse Pom can become a scholar, shifting from healing and running the clinic to building a library that opens up a secret later in the game as well as boosting the stats of your little buddies.
Lulu’s adventures are where your Pom rearing shines. Poms can also be brought with you like a party, giving you new attacking spells and mobility options to let Lulu reach new places on the map. The Poms are often listless and fall asleep, so their attacks are more of a neat gimmick than a huge boon, but it’s fun to have them around! Sometimes you want some guys following you, even if they don’t help you consistently. Make sure you don’t over-utilize them, however, as if a Pom fights too much or doesn’t get fed, their karma will grow and they’ll turn into a Moom, an evil version of a Pom that does damage to the community. Defeating the Moom will save your Pom, but as long as you keep them fed and don’t overdo it with the combat, you don’t have to sweat it too much. At first blush, Community Pom’s mechanics can be a little simple, but the meshing of combat, raising, and community development ties it all together.
The music is another way Pom knocks it out of the park. A lot of it is inspired by other songs, quite blatantly in fact, but it’s so fun that’s not an issue. The song that plays while you’re in towns is straight up “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire, but the remix is so cute it’s an earworm all on its own. The boss battle music is also a remix of the cliche “dun-dah-dun-dun-duuuuuuuun” melody, but with a bit of a dancy vibe to it. The soundtrack’s use of other songs as inspiration is endearing, and it’s a regular listen when I put on game soundtracks. Community Pom borrows quite a bit from a lot of things, but it puts a huge spin on them to make it fresh and compelling, even many years after its release.
The graphics are soft and welcoming, like an 80’s children’s anime or a picture book. The Poms’ design evokes Sanrio’s characters, immediately endearing and instilling a desire to hug a plushie of one. Complimenting that sucrose style is a script that is consistently snarky. Lulu has quite the mouth on her, reacting to most situations with a sarcastic remark. You can tell she genuinely cares about people and Pom alike, but she’s also a lil stinker, and she often carries the dialogue via her quips. NPCs generally also have pretty funny lines as well, but Lulu’s reactions to the world around her make her a standout character.
We’d be without this memorable dialogue if Community Pom didn’t get a fan translation last year. The translation, a group effort by group LIPEMCO!, whose members are TheMajinZenki, cccmar, Supper, and Xanathis. Their work made the game completely playable in English, and also involved translating the official guidebook, which can be found on Supper’s stargood.org website. This guide assists with understanding the ins-and-outs of the experience, and I’d recommend if you’re interested in trying the game to check the guide out as well. A translation this good being free feels criminal, and hopefully the crew at LIPEMCO! knows just how great a job they did.
When I played through Community Pom for the first time, I was worried the visuals were its only saving grace. The only person I’d seen talking about it was an artist I followed, and while visual aesthetics are cool, they’re not something I personally hold to such a high regard. However, as I progressed, everything fell into place, and I well and truly fell in love with the game. The polish and love poured into every part of the game endeared itself to me throughout, and there’s nothing like it on Playstation, and even if its moment to moment combat is similar to A Link to the Past, overall there’s nothing else like it anywhere. Its look is sublime, so of course artists would be drawn to it, but the gameplay, music, writing…It’s all excellent, and I was hooked, and probably would’ve been just as hooked if Community Pom had released today.
It’s difficult to find any real information about Community Pom online, especially on the English-speaking web. This was a game that was released, perhaps enjoyed by a solid amount of Japanese players, but has most likely not been thought of much since. A team of translators put an effort into giving it love, but said translation also has fallen under the radar. This is a crying shame. Community Pom is a game that feels modern in its sensibilities, has more heart than most games out there, an indie soul before “indie” was a thing, and a fanbase that quietly holds it close to its heart. Now having gotten to play it, I am one of those fans, and I implore you to give Pom a shot. There’s some like it in the gameplay department, but there’s nothing like its vibe, adorable and quirky as it is.