‘Project Hikari’ From Square Enix Uses VR To Transport You Inside Manga Stories

by Joe Durbin • October 20th, 2016

When I was eight years old I was determined to be a super hero. In lieu of any radioactive insects, I “trained” every day to perfect my mind and body just like Batman. Unlike Batman, however, I thought that seven push ups every morning and Doritos for protein would be enough to turn me into an unstoppable crime fighting machine. Shockingly, I never achieved those heroic ambitions (or did I? Journalism is a popular cover for a super hero after all…) but there is still a part of me that wishes I could leap into the panels of my favorite comic book.

A new VR experience from Square Enix called Project Hikari is bringing that dream to life by way of an immersive, interactive manga.

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Project Hikari is being created by a small sub-team at Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts). Oculus founder Palmer Luckey himself saw a demonstration of the application in action and insisted they come to the major Oculus Connect 3 VR showcase in the US. It was there that UploadVR got to see Project Hikari running on the Rift, and the future of panel-based storytelling in action.

There are some comic book VR apps already floating around (such as Madefire,) but these mostly just give the panels parallax depth, motion or some other sense of deeper immersion. Project Hikari takes things a step further.

As the demo plays out, you open what looks to be a simple Japanese manga, only to have the pages swirl around you. The first panels suddenly expand into a massive window and as you step through it, you enter the world of the animation itself. Now, rather than staring at a panel of a high school student’s room, I have entered that room.

I can turn all the way around and explore the animated environment and the story plays out in full voice acting as I watch the young student contemplate his day on the bed. As he talks, other panels emerge before me to give context to this tale of unrequited, juvenile love.

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Project Hikari doesn’t just put comics and manga into a VR environment though, as it also turns them into a 3D experience all their own. It was a site to behold, and a dream come true for anyone that has ever gone in their backyard and tried to fly, but it does pose a few unique challenges.

According to representatives from Square at the show, Project Hikari is being built in order to give Manga artists the chance to release full-fledged VR experiences alongside their normal books. This is an amazing new way for fans to interact with their favorite source material, but it also comes with the inherent challenge of creation.

Not every 2D artist is proficient at, or wants to, build complex VR versions of their stories. Square acknowledges that it will have to build most of the experiences on behalf of the artists until the platform catches on. The Project Hikari team is only about 10 people right now which will limit the amount of content that can be produced.

The good news, however, is that Square itself is a manga publisher and therefore already has access to some of that world’s most successful IP such as Fullmetal Alchemist. This means that the Hikari team can start producing highly desirable content for recognizable storylines immediately without having to wrestle for rights.

Project Hikari does not yet have a release date and is still considered to be in active development by Square. Hopefully it is able to find the funding and manpower it needs to truly get off the ground and release soon. The eight-year-olds in all of us demand it.

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