Game-related ramblings.

Tag: Nihon Falcom

History Lessons: Sorcerian

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.

I’ve been playing early console role-playing games (and action role-playing hybrids, and Metroidvanias), nominally trying to go in chronological order. But I haven’t been very successful at that. The farthest I’ve reached in terms of the timeline is September 1989, with SpellCaster, but I’ve since gone back in time again to fill in some games I missed. Several of those are entries in Nihon Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series, including Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (AKA Legacy of the Wizard), and my most recent entry about Faxanadu, a spinoff game based on Xanadu, the second Dragon Slayer game. If I had my timeline in order, the next game after Faxanadu would have been Hydlide 3: The Space Memories, followed by the original Final Fantasy (which was actually the first post I wrote for this series, heh) and Phantasy Star. After that, we reach the fifth Dragon Slayer game, Sorcerian, originally released in late December, 1987.

Sorcerian is notable as an early example of a game designed to support expansion packs. The development team was tired of having to write the code for a game’s engine and systems every time they made a new game, so they tried a new approach with Sorcerian: it shipped with one disk for the game systems, and another disk with a collection of playable scenarios. Then Nihon Falcom — or others! — could release more scenario disks, which players could collect to continue their adventures. This formula proved successful, and Sorcerian was ported from the PC-88 to other home computer systems as well as consoles like the Mega Drive and PC Engine CD. Later, Sorcerian saw enhanced re-releases for Windows, and the wide range of scenarios to play mean that there are fans still playing it today (interested readers may enjoy this comprehensive feature about Sorcerian for more details). Unfortunately for me, all of those releases are Japan-only, without even any complete fan-made translations. The only time Sorcerian appeared in English was a version for MS-DOS, brought to US markets by Sierra On-Line in 1990. Which means I’ve found myself in the strange position of using comparatively fiddly DOSBox emulation to play it, rather than the console emulation I’ve used for everything else in this series so far.

History Lessons: Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (AKA Legacy Of The Wizard)

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.

I wasn’t planning to cover any of Nihon Falcom’s Dragon Slayer games for this series. The first Dragon Slayer appeared way back in 1984 for the Japanese PC-88 home computer (and, later, other home computers like the PC-98 and FM-7), where it pioneered an action role-playing design in which players explore top-down screens in real time, bumping into enemies to fight them. This design was hugely influential, inspiring the Hydlide series (I covered the third game as part of this blog series) as well Nihon Falcom’s own Ys series (I covered the first two games) and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda, which added innovations that arguably spawned a whole new genre. But Dragon Slayer itself sounded quite simple in comparison to these later titles, as well as potentially frustrating due to high difficulty or unclear objectives. And, of course, most of the Dragon Slayer games were never translated into English. So, early on in my planning sessions I decided to exclude them.

Then I read more about some of the later Dragon Slayer games that were eventually localized in English, which sounded much more interesting than I expected. So, I’m breaking from my timeline once again to go back and play a couple of them. The first is Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (that stands for DRAgon SLEyer Family, of course), originally released in July 1987 for the MSX and MSX2 home computer systems, and later ported to Nintendo’s Famicom (for this blog series, it comes after Wonder Boy In Monster Land and before Cleopatra no Mahou in the timeline). Since American players had never seen any of the Dragon Slayer games before, it was renamed Legacy of the Wizard for its official US release on the NES about two years later. It keeps the single-square-sized characters and blocks from the original Dragon Slayer, but reimagines the labyrinthine dungeon as a huge side-scrolling platformer world, in which ledges, pits, ladders, and doors intertwine to create different paths. Players then choose from (and switch between) five playable family members, each with different abilities and usable items, so the entire game becomes a puzzle the family must solve together. Following on from Metroid, which had released about a year earlier, Dragon Slayer IV helped define what would become known as the Metroidvania genre. It sounded fascinating, and I decided I had to try it.

History Lessons: Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter

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 first started writing about early console games, I was only planning to play through the Final Fantasy series. Then I decided I should probably go back and play the Dragon Quest series too. Then I decided I should also play a bunch of other role-playing games, and then that I should add some action role-playing games… the result was something of a mess in terms of the timeline, jumping back and forth as I kept expanding my list of games. This post, however, brings my (now massive) list back into order. My last post was about Hydlide 3: The Space Memories, which originally released on November 22, 1987. The original Final Fantasy (the very first post I wrote in this console history series) appeared about a month later, on December 18, 1987. A mere two days after that, the excellent Phantasy Star released. Next came Dragon Quest III on February 10, 1988. And, finally, that brings us to Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, originally released in Japan on April 22, 1988 for Japanese home computer systems like the PC-88. From here on out, we should be going in chronological order!

As the name suggests, Ys II is a direct sequel to the original Ys that finishes up the story. The connection is so strong, in fact, that both games were later remade and re-released as a single title, Ys Book I & II, for the PC Engine CD/TurboGrafx-CD in December 1989. That’s the version I played, and I’ve already written about Ys I. I then paused my playthrough to cover other games that released between Ys I and Ys II. Now, I’ve gone back to finish off Ys II.

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.

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