Before Street Fighter, before Megaman, before Resident Evil, Capcom had 1942. This game was Capcom’s first major hit, 1942 put them on the map and built the path to their future success. The game begins in, you guessed it, 1942, at the Pacific theater of World War II. The goal of the game is for the player, “Super Ace”, to reach Tokyo and slaughter as many Japanese soldiers as possible along the way.
At first glance, 1942 seems like an appeal to the American penchant for destroying and subjugating foreign countries, and many people may simply view 1942 as another stock-standard “America fights the bad guys and wins” style of game. However, this is far from the truth. While playing, I began to notice that very few enemies will actually stand and fight you. Almost every enemy quickly emerges to take a glancing shots at you, and then just as quickly flees like a scared dog. This contradicts the actual accounts of the actions of Japanese soldiers during WWII, who would fight tooth and nail until their last breath against their enemy. What this enemy behavior shows is that 1942 isn’t a game that wants to congratulate the US for its actions during WWII, it is in-fact a critique of their actions from the perspective of a Japanese native.
In 1942 you are dubbed Super Ace. Comically bad is an understatement for this name. It overtly asserts your prodigious flying skills in the most heavy handed way possible. The comic nature of this name is making fun of the US and our rather high opinions of ourselves and our military. In fact, the game’s harsh comedic critique doesn’t stop at the name “Super Ace”. In the course of the game you shoot down hundreds or planes, a feat surpassing that of the greatest pilots in history. Along with the over the top slaughter of the Japanese Air Force, your plane moves at a slow, nonchalant pace, symbolizing the inevitability of defeat that the Japanese faced during the onslaught of the American armed forces. As the Americans reached farther and farther into Japanese territory, the reality of defeat became more and more apparent for the Japanese, which resulted in their tactics becoming increasingly desperate, until finally any hope of the tide turning was demolished by the mighty atomic bomb.
1942 is a retelling of the Battle of the Pacific through the eyes of an everyday citizen of the Empire of the Rising Sun. The horror and destruction wrought upon these innocent bystanders, coupled with the constant propaganda of the Japanese Empire created a very horrific view of the United States for the commoners of Japan. As the US worked towards ending the war, more and more Japanese land was razed, desecrated, and destroyed. The dropping of the two atomic bombs solidified the United States as a land of monsters in the eyes of Japanese people.
In the game you, a lone pilot, shoots down and probably kills hundreds upon hundreds of Japanese pilots. This is not a suggestion that the Japanese Air Force is incompetent, or the impressive training and skill of the US’s, but serves rather as a metaphor, an allegory for one plane dropping one bomb and killing hundreds of thousands of people. 1942 is a plea from the Japanese.
Despite 1942′s rather cavalier and over the top atmosphere, the game is a harrowing interpretation of the Pacific War, through the eyes of the common Japanese native: the fear, the ominous presence of the United States bearing down, the attacks of desperation being thwarted again and again, and finally, the incredible destruction and death toll wrought by the Atomic Bomb. 1942 is one of the few windows into the life of the Japanese during WWII, and however simple it may be, it ranks up there with Grave of the Fireflys, and Letters From Iwo Jima in terms of showing the hopelessness and desperation of life in Japan during WWII.