My detour back to 1987 continues. I’ve completely failed to be chronological in this series, because I keep expanding the scope and adding more games to my list, but the nominal timeline should be in late 1988, following on from Sega’s SpellCaster. But then I decided to go back and play a few of the early metroidvania games that I’d missed, starting with The Goonies II, then Rygar, and now Zillion, developed by Sega for their Master System console. I’d never heard of Zillion before, but my research turned up someone describing it as “Sega’s answer to Metroid“. Given that Phantasy Star could be described as “Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest“, and I was hugely impressed with Phantasy Star when I played it for this series, I found myself quite excited to play Zillion.
A month or so after the original Japanese release of Exile, subject of the last entry in this series, SpellCaster released in Japan, although it would take another year for the US version to appear. Developed in-house by Sega for their Master System console, SpellCaster isn’t really a role-playing game, but it sounded interesting enough that I wanted to play it anyway. Besides, I covered Metroid and Lord of the Sword in this series, and they’re not really role-playing games either. What intrigued me about SpellCaster is its combination of side-scrolling action platformer sections and first-person, menu-based adventure game sections. That sounded like such an odd mix that I just had to try it.
I’d never heard of Lord of the Sword before doing research for this series. Released on June 2, 1988, a little over a month after our last entry Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, Lord of the Sword was allegedly inspired by Wonder Boy In Monster Land, the arcade platformer with role-playing elements that released a year earlier. That game was a pleasant surprise when I played its Master System port for this series, so I was intrigued going in to Lord of the Sword.
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.
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.
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.