Other History Lessons posts can be found here. If you’re looking specifically for console games, those are here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
In February 1987, just over a month after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System, another action role-playing game appeared for the system that shares some of its ideas. Esper Dream, developed and published by Konami, features free exploration from a top-down viewpoint and random battles that can be seen, and sometimes avoided, on the main screen, like the shadowy creatures on Zelda II’s world map. Also like Zelda II, triggering a battle leads to a separate combat encounter, although in this case it’s a single screen top-down arena rather than a side-scrolling area. Esper Dream also sets itself apart by rejecting the swords and magic fantasy setting that most role-playing games used at the time, instead centering on a young boy with psychic abilities. Falling asleep while reading a book, his dreams bring the world of the book to life, and he must set about saving Brick Town from invading monsters by exploring surreal locations and battling enemies with guns and psychic powers.
This setting made Esper Dream sound very unusual, and made me want to play it. Unlike the Zelda games, however, it was never released outside of Japan, and never had an official English translation. Fortunately, there’s an unofficial translation from Mute which let me play the game in English. Sadly, unlike the translation I used for Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, it doesn’t include a translation of the game manual. But there’s good info in online guides to clarify what different items and psychic powers do. Also, yes, Esper Dream released about eight months before Digital Devil Story, because I totally failed to be chronological when starting this series. But I’m working to remedy that.