Game-related ramblings.

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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: Shadow Warrior

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. In particular, you may want to read the post about Duke Nukem 3D for some context. This post is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series about games and their soundtracks.

Back in the early days of this blog, before I even had screenshots in my posts, I wrote about Duke Nukem 3D. I was curious about the game because of the release of its sequel, Duke Nukem Forever, that same year; a game that had reached near mythical status due to its seemingly endless development cycle. It was crap, by all accounts, but it only made it to release because the original Duke Nukem 3D had been one of the most popular games of its era, before the rise of the linear shooter. Duke Nukem 3D is dumb and very sexist — something for which I didn’t criticize it harshly enough, in retrospect — but its imaginative level design and arsenal made it a lot of fun to play.

While many more games would appear using the Build Engine that powered Duke Nukem 3D, only one was by Duke developers 3D Realms: 1997’s Shadow Warrior. It was not nearly as popular. Duke Nukem 3D had been criticized for its sexism, but Shadow Warrior was also criticized for its racism, and it didn’t seem to do enough to offset its offensive stereotypes. I was surprised, then, when a remake, also titled Shadow Warrior, appeared in 2013, and even more surprised when it got good reviews. Good enough that a sequel appeared in 2016, also receiving critical praise, and a third game is planned for this year. I was intrigued. How did this happen? Why remake a game that seemed better forgotten?

The original Shadow Warrior, now re-dubbed Shadow Warrior Classic, was released for free in 2013 to help promote the remake, and I grabbed it but never got around to it. Now, I’ve decided to check it out, so later I can compare it to its more favorably-received remake. Having played it and the two expansion packs bundled with it, I can confirm that it is very racist.

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: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

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

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is only seven years old, but I couldn’t help but compare it to its contemporaries and successors in the role-playing genre as I played. Hence, a History Lessons post. I actually bought the game when it was released, because reviews suggested it tried several interesting things, even if it didn’t qualify for classic status. Today, the game is more famous for the scandal that followed its release: developers 38 Studios, founded and run by retired star baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, infamously imploded a few months after the game came out, resulting in bankruptcy and a tangle of litigation related to loans from the state of Rhode Island. Stories of poor management and exorbitant spending (largely on perks for employees, at least) were everywhere at the time. But when THQ Nordic announced they had acquired the old 38 Stuiods IP (including Kingdoms of Amalur) in September 2018, the game was briefly back in the press spotlight, and a lot of people pointed out that the game itself was actually pretty good. That inspired me to finally give it a spin.

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: DROD: The City Beneath

Other History Lessons posts can be found here. In this case, you should read the History Lesson posts about DROD: King Dugan’s Dungeon and DROD: Journey To Rooted Hold in particular before proceeding. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

DROD: The City Beneath is the game I thought I was getting when I first played Journey To Rooted Hold. Back then I expected a story-driven puzzle game, only to be confounded by its rigid 25-floor structure, in which every room of every floor must be cleared even if it had nothing to do with protagonist Beethro Budkin’s mission. It wasn’t until I started the DROD series from the beginning that it finally clicked, and I completed Journey To Rooted Hold — even its crushingly difficult later levels — eager to see what came next.

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