Alice on Borderlines (1997, Kodansha) is one of those games that has slipped into near total oblivion. Go on and google it. You will find next to nothing as of this writing. This is a little strange, even for a Japanese title, since it's not actually a bad game and is even charming at points. Why this shroud of obscurity then? Who knows. Sadly, lots of great titles have slipped away from our collective gaming memory, especially pre-rendered games like Alice. On the bright side of things, that means there are plenty of gems out there for treasure hunting gamers like me!
Alice controls a lot like W.A.R.P.'s 1996 dark masterpiece, D. You play as Alice in the first-person, guiding her around small yet beautifully detailed environments from clickpoint to clickpoint. You progress more or less linearly through these levels and can get by all three discs knowing little to no Japanese (probably). There are a dozen or so puzzles including geometric piece-fitting puzzles called "Fortunes" (which double as your savepoints) as well as a "rock-taking game" but none of these are really that hard. More than anything, context is your biggest ally.
Because the game is only in Japanese, there may be some difficulty with oral clues. For instance, there is a point where you're flying a makeshift aircraft through a canyon. Your sidekick, a dinosaur child named Bock, tells you which way to turn at first. If you miss it, you can always just retry the other way. When in doubt, process of elimination works in this game, so don't let the Japanese intimidate you.
Alice and its soundtrack are very adventure-ey. This is in sharp contrast to the game I compared it to above, D, which is very atmospheric and broody. Alice is bright and colorful, but its supply of sound effects is terribly lacking. If you're into these pre-rendered kind of games, then check out The Book of Watermarks, which does a terrific job setting the ambience with SFX. Anyway, Alice could've done more in this regard.
Story-wise, the game is about, duh, a girl named Alice who gets involved in her next-door neighbor's otherworldly shenanigans. Her neighbor, Dr. Wolf Steiner, is researching and developing a theory of Gaia. He has successfully built a device that allows its user to travel to a "shadow world" connected to the regular world. In this world, Alice visits a land of fire, a living forest, and a land of ice, among other places, meeting and befriending strange creatures, including a dinosaur-child named Bock, along the way. Flying dragons, giant worms, frozen aliens, talking plants, and dinosaur-people are the sort of characters that make up this game. The levels are thematically arranged (rock, fire, wood, ice, and shadow). In the game's final showdown, you play a ridiculously simple mini-game with an enormous talking mask. So, yeah, it's a little weird but not totally spaced out.
Before the final credits, you are given a series of multiple choice questions by the being behind Shadow. These questions were like a philosophical litmus test of how you felt about Gaia and Shadow. I'm not sure if answering them a certain way unlocks a secret ending. But since the game is not very long, it wouldn't take too long to check.
Overall, Alice wasn't a terrible game but it wasn't great either. It was a bright and, at times, fantastically weird game. It was charming at points but rambling in others. It lacked natural sound effects despite the nature themes, but it had an enjoyable soundtrack. It was short (roughly 3 hours of gameplay) but visually sharp. And even though it had few puzzles, it had very long cutscenes. Unfortunately, you cannot skip them, so it felt more like watching a cartoon than playing a game at times. This isn't a game for everyone. It's certainly not for casual gamers, but it has just enough charisma to charm those of you looking for some oldschool nostalgia.