Game-related ramblings.

Tag: Console History

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.

History Lessons: Phantasy Star

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

My quest to play the early Japanese-style role-playing games continues. I failed to start at the beginning, unfortunately, playing Final Fantasy before realizing that the Dragon Quest series got there first, releasing two games before anyone else caught on. But I’ve now gone back and played both of those. Add in Final Fantasy and I’m all caught up, but there’s no time to rest on my laurels: on December 20, 1987, a mere two days after Final Fantasy was released, Phantasy Star appeared. Developed in-house by Sega, it was intended as a showcase for their Master System console, a direct competitor to Nintendo’s Famicom which ran Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. And since both the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series took their sweet time coming to the United States, Sega actually beat them to the US market, releasing an English-language version of Phantasy Star in November 1988.

History Lessons: Dragon Quest II

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. For some context, you may wish to read the post about Dragon Quest and the post about Final Fantasy first. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

My very slow quest to play through the early Japanese-style role-playing games continues. I semi-accidentally started out of order with the first Final Fantasy game, before realizing that it was predated by not one, but two of the Dragon Quest games. Deciding it was foolish to limit myself to the Final Fantasy series only, I then played the first Dragon Quest, and have now moved on to the second. As with the first game, Dragon Quest II appeared in Japan first, released in January 1987 for the Japanese Famicom, before being localized for the Nintendo Entertainment System (a rebranded Famicom) in North America in 1990, under the name Dragon Warrior II to avoid trademark troubles. This English-language version is the one that I played, and while there are some minor changes, it’s largely the same game as the Japanese original.

History Lessons: Dragon Quest

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. For some context, you may wish to read the post about Final Fantasy first. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Well, this is getting ridiculous. When I wrote my History Lessons post about Final Fantasy, I outlined an ambitious plan to give the same treatment to the rest of that series (or at least the older entries). Now, nearly two years later, instead of finally tackling the second Final Fantasy game, I decided I really should go through the Dragon Quest series (known as Dragon Warrior in the United States until 2005) too. Maybe I’ll be finished with all of these in a decade or two.

But there is some method to my madness. Dragon Quest was released before Final Fantasy (1986 to Final Fantasy’s 1987, although the games didn’t come to the United States until 1989 and 1990, respectively), and is widely regarded as the game that set the mold for the entire genre of Japanese-style role-playing games. It could be cited as a direct inspiration for Final Fantasy, and it spawned its own long-running series (eleven main games plus a bunch of spin-offs) to rival the behemoth that is the Final Fantasy franchise. While I played some of the original Dragon Quest — which had to change its name to Dragon Warrior in the United States to avoid infringing on the trademark of the tabletop game DragonQuest — I never got far, and I’m less familiar with the series as a whole than I am with Final Fantasy. Playing Final Fantasy for its History Lessons post sparked my interest in the evolution of the Dragon Quest series as well.

History Lessons: Final Fantasy

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

I’ve written about a lot of Japanese-style role-playing games on this blog, but most have been smaller, free offerings created with a tool like RPGMaker. I haven’t really dug into the big names, in part because they’ve traditionally been tied to console systems that I do not own. And when trying to take a historical look at games like Final Fantasy, the first entry into the phenomenally successful and long-running Japanese role-playing game series, this leads to another problem: while console games are often re-released so they won’t disappear along with the older consoles they ran on, they are often modified significantly in the process.

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