Tokyo’s famous Comic Market (Comiket) 82, the world’s largest doujinshi convention, is set to kick off on 10 August.  We can be sure to expect cosplayers and original comics a plenty, but one particular creation has be stirring up a fair bit of hype weeks before the gates open – the PC game Sutra Master.

Sutras are, in a nutshell, short pearls of spiritual wisdom like something you might find in a high-brow fortune cookie and are often compared to prayers in other religions.  Taken from Buddhist texts and often chanted during meditation or religious ceremonies, sutras are generally treated with solemn dignity but Sutra Master takes them to a weird new place.

A video demonstration of Sutra Master was uploaded to YouTube back in July and since then has been gradually chalking up views and a healthy like/dislike ratio. Here’s what the video’s description has to say:

“This totally original game comes from Ryoho Temple in Hachioji, commonly known as ‘Moe Temple’!
The game is called Sutra Master!
Hit your wooden fish! Ring your singing bowl! This music game is actually an amazing sutra game!
From 10 August at Comic Market 82 at Tokyo Big Sight West wing of the 4th Floor this game will be sold at the ‘Welcome to Ryoho Temple’ booth for 1000 yen!”
(Translated from the YouTube video description)

The format of the game should seem familiar to music game aficionado’s resembling Taiko: Drum Master or Donkey Konga.  But even the dancing bananas and other inherent weirdness of those games don’t quite prepare you for Sutra Master.

As the description explains, you must hit your wooden fish, which is a wooden percussion instrument used by Buddhist monks when reciting sutras. In addition you also must ring your singing bowl, which is basically a bowl that is used like a bell, often alongside the wooden fish.  Together these instruments are used during religious ceremonies like a funeral or memorial service.

In Sutra Master you must rhythmically hit each instrument as half-man half-snake gods and frogs come at you to poppy high speed techno music.  Oh yeah, and you have to occasionally swat away ghost fireballs that float by.  Then the dancing cat-girls and tombstones come. All in all just your typical video game.

If you are successful, the sutras you conjure up by keeping the rhythm send a recently departed ghost to the other side as represented by a meter on the top of the screen.

It certainly seems like a cute and fun game that the whole family can enjoy.  And for Buddhists, it can be a nice way to reconnect with the religion.  After all, memorizing sutras are a path to enlightenment.

However, some Japanese viewers of the demonstration video expressed a range of emotions from “What the hell are they thinking?” to “I think I want to buy this game.” More than a few Japanese people were disconcerted by the use of religious symbols in such a way.

Surprisingly though, in China, which has had a longer relationship with Buddhism, the response has been overwhelmingly positive with comments ranging from “LOL” to “Super cute!”

One thing is for sure, everyone who witnesses this game walks away with an opinion.  So it will be interesting to see how this game sells when Comiket rolls around.  Ryoho Temple keeps a well maintained blog which we will keep an eye on for developments!

Ryoho Temple Website

▼A demo of Sutra Master

▼Ryoho Temple (aka Moe Temple) Theme songs

[ Read in Japanese ]