I’ve never been as huge a fan of animé as some of my friends and colleagues have been. Unlike a lot of other gamers and otaku across the globe, I’ve never even watched a single episode of Escaflowne or had a One Piece marathon into the early morning. However, there’s something about Neon Genesis Evangelion that’s always attracted me to it. Perhaps it’s the deep, convoluted plot, or the well-developed three-dimensional characters – hell, maybe it’s just the giant robots – but it’s one of the few animé that I watch and love.

A few days ago I decided to widen my review demographic by expanding to import games. So far, not a single Neon Genesis Evangelion game has been localised and released in an English-speaking territory, so being such a huge fan of the franchise, I thought: why not review an Evangelion game? This led me to a unique DS simulation game, which is called ??????????? ??????DS with???????; for our non-Japanese readers (approximately 99% of you), this translates to Neon Genesis Evangelion: Ayanami Raising Project DS with Asuka Supplemental Project.

The first thing I saw and heard when I started up the game, after the developer and publisher logos, was the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme tune, accompanied by a juxtaposition of my favourite clips featuring Rei and Asuka, my favourite female characters from the series. Immediately, I was excited and was eager to find out what the game had in store for me. The game is presented as a visual novel, a genre surprisingly popular in Japan. Players hold the DS sideways, á la Hotel Dusk: Room 215, which allows for wider locations and full-height characters.

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Players take control of an officer from NERV sent to take care of Ayanami Rei, First Children and pilot of Eva Unit 00. Your character can be named at the beginning of the game when you are introducing yourself to Ayanami-shi. Unfortunately for English speakers, using the Latin alphabet isn’t possible; instead, you have to write your name in either Hiragana or Katakana using the touch screen – the handwriting recognition is surprisingly accurate, seeing as it even recognised my poor attempt at writing “Shinji”, the name of the series’ main protagonist.

Afterwards, you can check Rei’s stats (including her synch ratio), pick out costumes for her, converse with her and organise her schedule. At first, only her sailor outfit is available in the costume department, but more clothes are unlocked as you proceed through the game. As for her schedule, players organise everything Rei does for each day of the week, with some slots reserved for NERV training. After confirming the schedule, Rei will proceed through the week, performing activities as scheduled. You’re given a brief synopsis of each day’s key events, along with a single picture, and then after the week you can once again check her stats, alter her schedule, pick out new costumes, etc.

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If an Angel attacks, the activity in which Rei is currently engaged will be interrupted and she will leave to fight the Angel. Players have little interactivity with Rei at this point, not being able to affect the battle beyond shouting encouragement (which seems to have little or no affect whatsoever).

As the game wears on, players will develop a deeper relationship with Rei, which can, in fact, end in the player marrying Rei. Unfortunately, the game does have an ending, and does not stretch on infinitely as one might want (although I can imagine things getting rather boring if they did). On the brighter side, though, completing the game raising Rei will result in the unlocking of a second “campaign” featuring Second Children and Eva Unit 02 pilot, the charismatic Asuka Langley Soryu.

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But don’t think the fun stops with Rei and Asuka: the game also features unlockable photo albums, a fun game show-style quiz game, and a host of other extras which add tons of value to the game. Ayanami Raising Project is one of the few games where minigames are actually an enjoyable extra instead of dull, repetitve and annoying.

Perhaps not a game for the impatient action gamer, but perfect for Evangelion fans, Ayanami Raising Project is sure to entertain you for a long time as you see one of the series’ most complex and mysterious characters broken down for you. Make sure you brush up on your kanji beforehand, though, because the game is heavy on dialogue, both one of the game’s charms and one of its annoyances.