So I was watching Discovery’s Life series tonight and the second episode of the evening was about primates. It was a pretty expansive episode, as the whole series has been, but one particular segment caught my attention for a different reason besides my general fascination with animals: A segment on snow monkeys. The video for this snow monkey segment is available on the main page from the link above.

See, I’ve also been playing this fantastic game for the Wii that you may have heard of, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. There are many things to be said about Muramasa, about its wonderful artistic design, its culturally lush setting, and its repetitive but engrossing beat-em-up-meets-RPG gameplay, but aside from all of this there is another element that warrants discussion: Monkeys. Throughout the game, there are different NPCs to talk to, some of which drop functionally useless but historically cool references and others that sell you food or supplies. Among these NPCs and scattered throughout the world are these random little monkeys, because when I think of Japanese swordplay and mythos, I think of monkeys. What’s weirder is that talking to the monkeys doesn’t initiate dialogue; it gets them to bring you to a hot spring where your character is mostly naked, covered strategically by a very small towel no matter if you’re playing as Momohime or Kisuke, and he or she recovers all of their hit points and soul power.

Momohime visits the hot spring monkeys

Monkeys? In Japan? Japanese monkeys that bring you to recovery hot springs? Playing Muramasa for the past few weeks, it never made any sense to me and I dismissed it as just another quirk from a foreign game.

I stand corrected.

It turns out that there is a small band of snow monkeys that lives in the mountains of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. These mountains are treacherously cold and, according to the Discovery show, make for the coldest environment that any non-human primate in the world lives in. This one group has found a unique way to thrive in the otherwise frigid environment: They live in and around volcanic hot springs high in the mountains. Monkeys. That use hot springs to survive.

We're in your video games, exploding your brain

Sometimes it’s fascinating when video games and the real world mingle in new and different ways.