Game-related ramblings.

Tag: Console History Page 1 of 2

History Lessons: Wonder Boy In Monster Land

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.

When I wrote about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, I mentioned that it inspired many other console games to combine platforming action with role-playing elements. I hadn’t expected it to inspire arcade games to do the same, but that’s exactly what happened with Wonder Boy In Monster Land. The original Wonder Boy from 1986 (which I did not play for this series) was a straight arcade platformer, a design which works well as a coin-operated game. There are discrete levels of increasing difficulty played one after another, and players must start over from the beginning if titular protagonist Wonder Boy perishes. Learn the levels after depositing enough coins for several attempts, and maybe players could make it to the end, or at least reach the high score list.

Role-playing games, on the other hand, tend to be longer adventures that last for many play sessions, with characters gradually growing in strength and abilities along the way. That’s not typically a good match for the short form, repetitive nature of arcade games. Yet it seems to have worked in the case of Wonder Boy In Monster Land. Its Sega Master System port is fondly remembered as one of the better games for that console, and its sequel Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap earned such a cult following that it saw a full remake in 2016, followed by an entirely new spiritual successor in 2018. Curious about the enduring appeal of this series, I decided to play the Master System version of Wonder Boy In Monster Land, developed by Sega and released in January 1988, about six months after Westone Bit Entertainment’s original arcade release in July 1987.

History Lessons: Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished

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.

One of the reasons I wanted to play the early Japanese console role-playing games is that so many have become enduring series. Everyone knows the behemoth Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, which have been running for more than thirty years, but there are so many others too. Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, which released in 1987, spawned the Shin Megami Tensei series and its spinoff Persona series, which had new entries in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Tales of Arise was a big hit last year, the latest entry in a series that started way back in 1995 with Tales of Phantasia on the Super Famicom. And of course, we got Ys IX: Monstrum Nox in 2019, which traces its lineage all the way to Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished in 1987.

I’m cheating a little bit with the timeline. Nihon Falcom released the first Ys game in 1987, a few months after Esper Dream (the subject of the last entry in this blog series), on NEC’s PC-88 home computer system, although ports quickly appeared for other Japanese home computers such as the X1 and MSX2, as well as Famicom and Master System ports a year later. But the version universally regarded as best among fans — not counting more modern remakes, like the 2013 version currently sold on Steam and GOG — is an enhanced remake (credited to Alfa System) from 1989 for the PC Engine (rebranded in the United Staes as the Turbografx-16) that bundles together Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished and its sequel Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter in a single release. This was actually the only time (again, not counting modern remakes) that Ys II was officially localized in English, which made my decision about which version to try a bit easier (although I’m waiting to play the second game until my timeline reaches its original release date). But by playing the 1989 remake instead of the 1987 original I’m making a fairly big jump in terms of technology. You see, the PC Engine version used the CD-ROM add-on, and was in fact one of the first games developed for CD-ROM.

History Lessons: Esper Dream

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.

History Lessons: Zelda II: The Adventure Of Link

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.

When I wrote about the original Legend of Zelda, I discussed how it was inspired by earlier Japanese action role-playing games like Xanadu or Hydlide, but innovated by removing most of the classic role-playing mechanics such as experience points and leveling. But the sequel, which drops the “legend of” and opts simply for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, is almost entirely different. This was on purpose. Other than the project lead and writer, the development team was entirely new, and the action gameplay shifted from the original’s top-down viewpoint to side-scrolling platforming. There’s still some top-down exploration in the form of a world map, similar to those in the Dragon Quest games, but the bulk of the game is played in the side-on view.

I remember this shift somewhat confounded my group of friends when we played it as kids, and the game never captured our imagination as strongly as the original did. One thing that I didn’t remember, however, is that Zelda II brings back some of the role-playing mechanics that its predecessor had excised. Titular protagonist Link earns experience points from defeating enemies, and upon accumulating enough can level up his attack, magic power, and defense. The series famous for establishing its own action-adventure genre, distinct from action role-playing games, had become an action role-playing game once more.

History Lessons: Metroid

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Three months ago, I wrote about The Legend of Zelda, after playing it to completion for the first time. It’s still impressive today, absolutely deserving of its classic status. It also reminded me of Metroid, which released six months later in Japan but only one month later in the United States. Both games let players loose in open worlds, to explore and find upgrades that let them reach previously inaccessible places. Metroid simply trades the top-down, screen-by-screen exploration of Zelda for side-scrolling action platforming with a science fiction theme. This combination was so influential that it spawned an entire genre: the metroidvania (named for Metroid and Castlevania, more specifically the second Castlevania game, Simon’s Quest). Unlike The Legend of Zelda, I never played much Metroid myself when I was a kid, I just saw bits and pieces of it at friends’ houses. But the third game in the Metroid series, Super Metroid, is one of my favorite games ever. So I decided to go back to the beginning and play the original Metroid.

History Lessons: Miracle Warriors: Seal Of The Dark Lord

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

My slow quest to play the early Japanese-style role-playing games continues. I’ve even expanded the scope to include some games outside of the genre, like the one I played most recently, The Legend of Zelda. When I wrote about that game, I briefly discussed the action role-playing games that had inspired it, most of which released on Japanese home computer systems like the PC-88, which boasted high resolution displays in order to properly render Japanese writing. Compared to hardware in the Western market, these computers could render incredibly detailed images, although they were much worse at displaying animations than the console systems that would follow like the Famicom or Master System.

Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord, by Kogado Studio, was originally a PC-88 game from 1986, although it was later ported to a variety of other systems. One of these ports was an official English translation for Sega’s Master System, which is the version I played, using emulation via the Genesis Plus GX core (which emulates both the Master System and the Genesis) in Retroarch. This port is actually rather different than the original PC-88 version; the differences are discussed in this article. With new art, music, a mini-map view, streamlined controls, and a completely different world layout, the Master System incarnation is more of a remake than a port, with additional development in-house from Sega.

History Lessons: The Legend Of Zelda

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Playing The Magic of Scheherazade made me want to return to one of its primary inspirations: The Legend of Zelda. A hugely influential classic, The Legend of Zelda was omnipresent in my childhood. First released in 1986 in Japan as a launch title for the Famicom Disk System, a version without the additional Disk System features released in North America in 1987, not long after the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) itself (a rebranded Famicom) appeared on the market. Its iconic golden cartridge was everywhere, enough so that I never actually owned one myself; I would visit friends’ houses to play, or they would bring their cartridges to my house and we’d play on my NES. At school, we all exchanged stories of secrets we’d discovered in the game. I’d already seen and played much of The Legend of Zelda by the time I got my own copy, a re-release with a standard grey cartridge, and tried playing it more methodically. But by that point the collective interest had moved on to newer games, and while I got pretty far, I never finished the game. I’ve always meant to return at some point, and this seemed like the right time.

History Lessons: The Magic of Scheherazade

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I’ve been slowly playing through the early Japanese-style role-playing games, and at this point I’ve given up any semblance of playing them in release order. I keep finding out about other intriguing games that I want to try, that came out before some of those I’ve already played. For example, The Magic of Scheherazade by Culture Brain, a game I’d never heard of despite it getting an official release in English in North America. It released in September 1987, so of the games I’ve covered so far, only Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II predate it. Reading about it, I was intrigued by its use of Arabian legends as inspiration, and by its attempt to combine top-down action in the vein of The Legend of Zelda with turn-based battles inspired by the Dragon Quest series. That sounded like such an odd mix that I had to check it out.

History Lessons: Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. This post makes many references to the entries for Dragon Quest III and Phantasy Star. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

I have been slowly playing through the early Japanese-style role-playing games, although I haven’t managed to do so in the right order. I most recently played Dragon Quest III, but then realized there were a few other games released before it that I also wanted to play. The first of those is Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, which was only released in Japan, in September 1987 (placing it three months before Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, and five months before Dragon Quest III). In fact, there were two different games with that title, both based on the novel of the same name. The game for personal computers is a top-down action role-playing game, but the game for the Famicom (rebranded as the Nintendo Entertainment System in the Western market) is a first-person, tile-based dungeon crawl role-playing game in the mold of Wizardry or Might and Magic. It’s this one that proved popular, eventually spawning the Shin Megami Tensei series which rivals Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in popularity in Japan, and has more recently enjoyed some crossover success in the west. The franchise includes the Persona series of spin-off games, which may be the most successful internationally. I had no idea that this series traced its roots all the way back to the earliest Japanese console role-playing games, so I was intrigued to try out the very first entry.

History Lessons: Dragon Quest III

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. This post makes many references to the entries for Dragon Quest II, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been (slowly) playing through the early Japanese-style role-playing games. I started with Final Fantasy, since that’s the one I played most as a kid, but then realized that I needed to back up and play Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest II, both of which appeared first. These two games set the conventions of the Japanese-style role-playing genre, but competitors soon appeared. Final Fantasy, which also ran on Nintendo’s Famicom (rebranded as the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States), was the first on the scene, letting players make their own party of adventurers and offering a linear path through the game that was easier to follow than Dragon Quest II’s open structure. But a mere two days later, Sega released Phantasy Star for their Master System console. I went into that one without really knowing what to expect, and it was a revelation. Not only is it far more technically impressive than anything on Nintendo’s Famicom, it was way ahead of both Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in terms of how the genre would evolve in the years to come. Phantasy Star features a colorful cast of characters with their own personalities and motivations, a well realized setting, and the seeds of a stronger story to drive events, all of which would become staples of the genre (including the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series). Even the science fiction elements that would become popular in the Final Fantasy series (the minimal hints in the first Final Fantasy notwithstanding) were in Phantasy Star first.

After Phantasy Star, the early Dragon Quest games already seem outdated. So now that developers Chunsoft had a chance to see how other designers interpreted the genre they started, how would they respond in their next Dragon Quest game? Well, it turns out they didn’t have too much time to adapt. Dragon Quest III released in February 1988, less than two months after Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, so it was nearly finished by the time the team could see what other studios were up to. I should note that I’m playing the North American version known as Dragon Warrior III, which didn’t appear until 1992 and — unlike earlier entries in the series — actually had some significant changes from the original Japanese release, most notably a large increase in experience rewards from fighting monsters, which makes character leveling faster. Structurally, however, it remains similar. When doing research for this post, I learned that lead designer Yuji Horii had a policy of removing any features that had been used in other games, so it’s unlikely he would have wanted to copy anything from Final Fantasy or Phatasy Star even if there had been time to do so. But the team must have arrived at some of the same ideas independently, because Dragon Quest III has clear similarities to one (and only one) of its rivals. It’s not Phantasy Star.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén