Another JRPG post! That’s two in a row, and it’s about some quite interesting games, including a lost Shining Force game. The website JRPG Junkie tells us about some Sega arcade games that fit the mold that sound like they would have been interesting to have tried.
Quest of D was a dungeon crawler where the player’s inventory was collected as physical trading cards, that were scanned into the game in order to use them. Shining Force Cross was similar in concept but without the cards; it lasted until 2016. And finally there was Soul Reverse, introduced in 2018.
The world of Japanese arcade games from around this time is largely a big dark area to me, and right around the time when the US arcade industry started its death spiral. It was also a time when server connectivity and online updates came into vogue, meaning when the servers went down, many of them ceased to be playable. It’s really sad that this has become essentially a lost age of gaming, at least to people outside of Japan. We probably couldn’t play them then, and we certainly can’t now.
Falcom is possibly the greatest Japanese game publisher that’s barely known in the US. Recently Ys sequels have changed this a bit, but their earlier titles are still a hole in the knowledge of even some Western RPG fanatics. At least, I never had much of a chance to learn about them, other than through Hardcore Gaming 101’s as-usual excellent descriptions of the Dragon Slayer series.
Xanadu is a Dragon Slayer game. It’s actually Dragon Slayer II, but it plays nothing like the original. Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family, is one of the very few Dragon Slayer titles to get a release over the geographic and cultural divide, as Legacy of the Wizard on NES. It doesn’t play like the other games either. It was a tradition to make every Dragon Slayer game play very unlike the others. The way I see it, the series was as much about coming up with a new system to explore and master as it was about having new scenarios and locations.
Xanadu is also a ridiculously obtuse game, which is in keeping with the original. Lots of the Dragon Slayer line expected you to do obtuse things, things not explained to you, to proceed. I’ve played through Legacy of the Wizard, and can verify that it was hard, but compared to Xanadu it seems like a model of straightforward play. In Xanadu, right near the start, there is a place where you fall down a hole, walk left five steps, then double-back right to scroll a secret shop onto the screen, the only place in the entire game where you can buy and sell magic items. Its inventory system doesn’t use words, it’s just a sequence of numbers, indicating quantities, and you’re just supposed to know the order of the items they represent.
Xanadu, like some other prominent RPGs, is secretly about resource management. Each monster you find on the world map screens (which are side-view!) can only be defeated and looted a limited number of times. If you run them out, and are left without the items needed to finish the game, you’re just stuck. You can also get stuck in some areas if you just move the wrong direction. You can save and load the game, but doing so carries costs in gold pieces! The only way to escape this temporal-economic trap is to make a backup of your game disk, and restore your copy from it. I like this idea, I’ve always found the grind-until-you-win nature of many present-day RPGs a bit unappealing. I kind of wish more games now would take inspiration from some of these early efforts, where each game could have a radically different play style, and require the player apply some real strategy to win, but maybe without being quite so user-hostile.
Youtube channel Basement Brothers made a nice retrospective of Xanadu, and managed to complete the whole game, although by following a video walkthrough. It’s an essential window into a whole universe of RPGs we were denied at the time.
The Japanese person (or people) behind the website www.gamedesign.jp are mysterious to me. I know nothing about them, except that they’ve been making games, first in Flash, then more recently using the Ruffle runtime, since at least 2001.
While the title under which they put up their efforts may not be memorable, if you’ve been playing web games for a while you probably know some of their work. Possibly their best-known game is DICEWARS, which is like a version of Risk that plays much much faster, most games over in minutes, instead, as with the people I know who have played it, of days.
In DICEWARS (several of GAMEDESIGN’s games are stylized with allcaps), you have nation whose territories are represented as colored areas, each containing a stack of from one to eight six-sided dice. Each nation gets a turn to act, during which they can use a stack of dice to attack the dice of a neighboring country. Fights are resolved by rolling all of the dice in the two stacks. If the attacker wins, they move all of their stack save one into their conquest and take over (the enemy dice are lost), with that single die remaining in the stack’s previous home to keep the lights on.
If the defender rolls higher, or there’s a tie, the attacker loses all of their dice in the stack except one and the defender loses nothing. A stack of one can’t attack, and is generally pretty easy to slaughter by other nations; a good element of strategy is figuring out how to keep high-dice stacks near the front, between enemies and your single-die lands, since you can’t manually move dice around between your territories. When a nation is done acting for a turn, they receive extra bonus dice relative, I think, to the largest contiguous group of regions they control. They are placed randomly among all their possessions.
Various versions of DICEWARS can be found on mobile app stores, although I don’t think any of them are officially blessed, and they tend to disappear after awhile.
It turns out they have a lot of other games that you may know of. One of particular note is Fairune, which is a capsule, very much simplified JRPG. Fairune and sequels made it to the 3DS and Switch eShops, where they are very inexpensive and enjoyable. Fairune is copyrighted by SKIPMORE, which may be a different entity. It’s still a nice game, worth looking into.
EDIT: SKIPMORE has their own website, which now mostly presents their downloadable console and mobile games.
The SuperGrafx is a failed system that had only five games, only three of which seem to be worth playing. The Sharp X68000 series of high-end personal computers, which were only released in Japan, on the other hand, is probably the popular gaming system Westerners have heard the least about.
As I said yesterday, the X68000 cost three grand, and that was just for the base system. If you thought the NeoGeo was expensive, hah. It’s price was justified in that it was a computer, indeed a workstation, and had a variety of software other than games. But it did still have a lot of games, including some of the best arcade conversions, including excellent ports of Rygar, After Burner, Strider, Final Fight, Street Fighter II and Detana! Twinbee, and a well-remembered recreation of the original Castlevania up to then-current aural and visual ideals. The X68000 even got conversions of Atari arcade games like Marble Madness, and even KLAX, that would I would have loved to have played back then.
The X68000 also worked a lot like a MS-DOS machine from the time. It ran mostly HUMAN68K as its OS, a DOS clone made by HudsonSoft, although it also had windowing OSes. Despite how it seemed in use though, it used Motorola 680X0-family processors, like original iteration of the Macintosh. But while it has a DOS-style OS, it’s a home computer with a dedicated sprite chip!
At times it feels like this blog is a recap of my gaming-related Youtube explorations, but I have no qualms about it when they’re as excellent as the two I have this time. One is a review of the “pro” version system from four years ago, from someone who went and obtained one:
Three years later, RMC returned with a more thorough exploration of a different machine of the line:
And this one is about emulating it, which is probably the closest most of us will ever come to trying out any of its software:
Youtuber T2norway educates us on a very commonly used font for Nintendo products from around the Gamecube era onward, especially remembered for its use in Wii Sports and other Wii software:
The video’s only four minutes long but the basic gist is that it’s actually two closely-related fonts, New Rodin and Shin Go, both based on a typeface created in 1975 called Gona. They have been called the Japanese version of Helvetica. They see frequent use in Japan in media, on signage, and of course in games too!
The always excellent Nicole Express has a great post on the Japanese gambling game Pachinko, especially the imported machines that made it to the U.S. when for a brief time we liked it too. It contains the fact that we probably got video pachinko before Japan did, through the Odyssey2 game Pachinko! (The exclamation point there is part of the game’s title, as it is with all Magnavox-produced Odyssey2 games. While I enjoy that bit of trivia, I am not actually hugely excited about it.)
Physical slot machines were, and maybe still are, illegal in Japan, so all the ridiculous graphic and sound flourishes those demonic entities bear in North America are instead put in the service of the Tiny Silver Balls. I’ve always shied away from these forms of gaming for the same reason I never got into Magic: The Gathering: by tying profitability to gameplay, they feel to me like they’re more business model than game, really. I might not be able to earn my quarter back at Pac-Man, but at least there isn’t someone figuring out how to work those odds against me.
Casey Baseel at Soranews24 reports that the city of Yokohama in Japan has Pokémon-themed mailboxes! The article tells us that, in Japan, while there is home delivery of mail, pickup is only at public locations like post offices and mailboxes. It’s those mailboxes that have the characters affixed to them. Because we can’t resist spoiling things, the Pokémon present are Pikachu (as seen above), Eevee, and Piplup. The article has more information, including detailed information on where to find them if you’re in Yokohama!
We love Nicole Express! She regularly covers the most interesting, and often obscure to U.S. audiences, gaming topics. This time out, she relates the many ways that the PC Engine saved game data. Just about every possible way the system could do saving, it did, from simple passwords to on-cart battery-backed RAM to expansion port peripherals with batteries or capacitors, even to a device that plugged into the controller port. Great information as always from Nicole Branagan!
It’s Sunday! Time to electrocute your brain with more game-related video weirdness. Electrodes at the ready!
In Japan, it seems, Crash Bandicoot has a completely different, and extremely earwormy, theme song. Well in the Japanese release of Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back, if you hold Left, Circle, L1, and L2 when the Playstation logo appears, you get this entertainingly bizarre karaoke video showing off a long version of the theme, featuring Crash doing a signature dance move, cavorting with ladies in nightgowns and bikinis, and getting blown up by a jetpack, all right and proper activities to be had by an anthropomorphic marsupial.
The song also featured in commercials for the games in Japan. As an extra, here is a (very badly compressed) compilation:
There’s a more video weirdness concerning Japanese Crash Bandicoot, but let’s save that for later….
Gaming Alexandria is a treasure, and lately it’s been uploading scans of 80s/90s Japanese game magazine PC Engine Fan to the Internet Archive! Even if you can’t read a word of it, the artwork and screenshots alone make it a joy for the eyes. If you remember and love the look of the early days of Nintendo Power, when its layout and illustration were done by Tokuma Shoten publishing, you should appreciate these.
The PC Engine, a.k.a. Turbo-Grafx 16 (a much worse name really), sits at a sweet spot between old-school pixel art and 16-bit splendor. It was arguably a less capable system than Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis, but it could show more colors, and its games looked a lot more vibrant in print. To a kid in the U.S. at the time, it exuded a strong sense of anime coolness, and I can’t help but feel a bit of that old excitement.
I have to stop myself from filling this post with page after page. Here’s a few choice examples:
In the past for limited times Nintendo has authorized the setting up of Kirby Cafes, charming little representations of the affable pink blob’s world and its inhabitants. Two of them are currently open, in Tokyo and Hakata, Japan. These have really gone the extra mile to create an atmosphere of Kirbiness, from their menus to having large plush Waddle Dees to set into a chair opposite yours if you should come to one alone.
The embedded video is over an hour and a half of background music from these cafes. It appears to be a rip of a pair of official CDs. SiliconEra reports on some current dishes being served there as tie-ins to the new 3D Kirby game for Switch, Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The cafes have an official website and Twitter feed.
Gaming Hell is great! It’s an obscure game investigation site with some serious Oldweb power. They recently had a look at the Japanese-only Game Boy title For The Frog The Bell Tolls, known in its home territory as Kaeru No Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru, the game whose engine went on to serve as the basis for Link’s Awakening. (EDIT: As the article points out and I skipped over, and discovered after I wrote the preceding, while Kaeru no Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru has a number of aesthetic and gameplay similarities to Link’s Awakening, under the hood people note that the engine does not seem to be similar!)
There is a whole world of Nintendo games that never made it out of their home country on release, and the company only acknowledges exist in other territories with reluctance. Games like Captain Rainbow, Doshin the Giant, and Nazo No Murasame Jo. Once in while one might get a Virtual Console release, or a mention in a Smash Bros. or Nintendo Land, but other that it seems like strict radio silence.
Ant Cooke of Gaming Hell speculates on why this game didn’t make it to the US, that it has to do with some difficult to localize content. There may be something to this, but if I might offer? Kaeru No Tame Ni Kane Wa Naru also only got one rerelease in Japan. Maybe Nintendo saw its not featuring one of their large stable of marketable characters as a weak point? Likely it’s a combination of many factors that edged the game over into possibly-unprofitable territory on some obscure spreadsheet, somewhere.
One could spend hours speculating on why Nintendo does or doesn’t do a thing. Ultimately they are a huge company, not a monolith but composed of hundreds of people, and many people could doom a project if they chose. It is a shame in For The Frog The Bell Toll’s case. It’s not just their loss, but all of ours.