OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game
After nine years, an indie sandbox RPG returns, with its eyes even bigger than before.
In 2005, Clay Gardner set out to make a sandbox anime RPG that tried to be all things to all people. His end result, OVA: Open Versatile Anime Role-Playing Game did as much as it could, but as with most systems, there were some points where it succeed and some where it failed. Nine years later, thanks to $112,000 in crowdfunding and an extra year of development, a revised version of Gardner’s first bite at the cherry has been released to Kickstarter backers who paid at least $15. I had paid $10 for a PDF of the original a few months after it came out, and got plenty of usage out of it. It’s the only system I’ve currently run games for, so this new edition has plenty to live up to, especially after a year of production delays. Does it live up to the anticipation?
One thing that was made clear during development was the idea to promote this game to anime fans. As such, the book itself has changed from it’s original 6×9″ form to A5, which is used in many tankobon. If that level of detail makes you worry that Gardner went overboard, fear not. Like before, his brush is the widest he can get, trying to cover every genre of anime he can. OVA has no fixed setting, merely rules for as many settings as you can imagine. Some rules aren’t fixed, either. In fact, the book highlights an alternate procedure for just about every aspect of the game, from creation to dice rolling, to experience. Speaking of character creation, stats and number crunch is left to a minimum, as well there are numerous Abilities and Weaknesses, some are just meant to help develop a character. For those who want more crunch, Perks and Flaws can be used to augment a character’s Abilities. Whenever a roll is needed, players start with 2d6, and then add or subtract dice based on their ranks in pertinent skills (one rank=one die). Where it gets weird is that rolls are determined by the highest multiple thrown, so a roll of 4-5-6 gives you a score of six, but 5-5-6 gives you ten because you rolled two fives. More dice can quickly lead to bigger numbers and so the chance of overpowering is real, but a good GM should easily be on top of that.
This new OVA is definitely trying to be broader than before. In addition to having alternate versions of everything and cleaning up some issues with prior stats, this new edition adds two more sample characters–the monster battler Yuu and stage magician-turned paranormal PI Cora–to the original roster of 10. The eight named NPC’s now each get a page to themselves and there are now sixteen more NPC templates, going from 6 to 22. One other thing this version has a lot more of is color. While the original did not lack for visuals, Niko Geyer’s illustrations present a beautiful unified style in this hodgepodge game. Every image is in color, and if this art was what was causing the year-long wait, it was certainly worth the delay.
If there is a drawback to OVA is that it all may be a little too much. 165 pages isn’t daunting by itself, and it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as, say, Pathfinder, but Clay lists and talks about everything in such detail–the Introduction is 8 pages by itself, and there’s a 10-page section in the back of the book explaining the various types of anime stories you can tell–it has the potential to overwhelm its audience, and this is before addressing the not-as-intuitive dice system and the ease of min-maxing a character. Still this is a level of versatility not seen since BESM, and creative otaku have adapted OVA to things like Tenchi Muyo, Fairy Tail, Bleach, even Street Fighter and Touhou. If you can think it, OVA can probably play it.
Drive Thru RPG currently advertises an August 31 main release date for the PDF, still costing only $15. OVA’s site says $26.95, likely for a print edition. My dust-jacketed copy will likely be arriving soon, so I may come back to this later, but until I do, let me say this. Clay Gardner tried his very best to bring 60+ years of anime to your tabletop, and for the most part, he has succeeded. It is well worth the $15 to support him and his dream. I personally look forward to gathering a new party to play OVA once again.