JRPG Junkie looks at the Super Robot Wars series, the mostly-Japan-only giant fighting robots game series with over 70 entries and that crosses over everything (in various games) from Gundam to Full Metal Panic to Cowboy Bebop to Captain Harlock to Gunbuster to Giant Gorg to Evangelion to The Big O. The article, which is far far more knowledgeable about it than I am, is an excellent place to start with this extremely prolific series.
Some of the Switch versions of these games have English translations built-in, and because you can log onto any region’s store on the Switch, those particular versions can be enjoyed by English-speaking players the world over. But there are tons of these games, and many have fan translations, if you’re willing to jump through those particular mechanized, articulated hoops.
On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
The early days of JRPGs contain many games that are kind of difficult to play today. The genre was just getting formulated, and while there was a lot of ingenuity and interesting ideas being played with, there were also many games where difficulty, and grind, were the entire point. When a game as simple as Dragon Quest, known first in the US by its localized title Dragon Warrior, had to justify its sale price, it had to present players with an experience that would be as long as a challenging NES platformer, or longer, within its limited memory space, and it did so with grind, asking players to accept fighting hundreds of monsters one-on-one in a basic menu-based combat simulation as fun enough to make up for most of the game.
At the time, in Japan, it worked, but it’s telling that Dragon Quest II has much deeper combat, and many more kinds of monsters, than its predecessor had. Dragon Warrior had a tough time breaking into the US market because of its simple gameplay, enough so that eventually Nintendo, who published the game in North America, resorted to giving away copies as a subscription premium for Nintendo Power.
What was a tough sell to Western players even then is much more difficult to enjoy now. Compare it to the much deeper, not to mention longer and better animated, titles made later in the series. It’s mostly enjoyable only for nostalgia factor and historical interest.
I’m not going to claim it fixes everything the game, but this hack improves its play a lot by decreasing gold prices and experience requirements ten-fold. It decreases costs: changing the earn rate of these quantities would very quickly hit Dragon Warrior’s fairly low variable caps, since the game stores both in 16-bit values. You can take the 120 gold you get from the King’s chest, buy an 18 gold Copper Sword in Brecconary, then run to the north-west to Garinham and buy the sturdy Half Plate armor for 100! With these items, even at low levels, you should be able to vanquish all of the enemies in this section of the map, except perhaps Magicians, whose Hurt spells bypass armor. But it only takes defeating one Slime to reach Level 2, two more for Level 3, and two more than that for Level 4. Slimes won’t suffice for long, but by that point you can munch on much stronger foes. This greatly reduces the number of fights a player must win to complete the game, and makes it possible to finish in less than two hours.
Preserving some modest amount of challenge, the gold costs of Inns are left the same, making them effectively ten times more expensive. Inns were never very expensive in the unmodified game, so this makes staying the night to restore your HP and MP more of a strategic choice. A tip: remember there’s a guy in Tantegel Castle who will restore all your MP for free!
If even a two-hour Dragon Warrior is too much effort for you, you could watch this playthrough of the hack on Youtube, which is about an hour and a half in length:
Portopia is the biggest missing piece, to many US enthusiasts, of the history of Japanese gaming. It led to the creation of Dragon Quest, but it had a huge influence all on its own, which can be felt in a wide variety of other Famicom titles, including some that did make it to the US. Why do The Goonies II and Dr. Chaos have those weird room-based adventure sections? It’s because of Portopia, trying to mix its kind of menu-based first-person gameplay with the pre-existing side-scrolling platforming game style popularized by Super Mario Bros. It seemed random to Western players at the time, but Japanese players would have known exactly what those games were trying to do.
We’ve mentioned Jeremy Parish and his various Works projects before, and they’re always interesting and informative, a great antidote to the strident style of many popular Youtubers, and this one is especially important to anyone seeking to understand how the Japanese game industry grew and evolved in the Famicom era.
Live A Live is currently the toast of the Switch, with over 500,000 in sales since it was released. Not bad at all for a remake of a Super Famicom game from Square’s classic era that had never made it out of Japan until now.
AustinSV on Youtube presents a video that goes into some detail about what was changed between the versions. If you’ve played the original (I’ve played a fair bit of it through the popular fan translation from Aeon Genesis), you’ll know a few things were definitely tweaked. I remember the Prehistory, by far the funniest chapter, being rather more risque in its humor, although the fart jokes and poop flinging were left mostly intact. Some of the changes are really interesting; they translated the whole Middle Ages chapter in iambic pentameter!
The Final Fantasy series is loaded with bugs throughout. A full recounting would be much more than a longpost’s worth, but here is a quick description of one specific example, from Final Fantasy IV (originally II in the US, but most people now will probably think of it by the Japanese numbering anyway).
Some RPGs, instead of coding area transitions all as a sequence of doors and destinations, instead use a form of stack to record where the player was when they entered the door. “Stack” here is a term from computer science, a data structure consisting of a region of memory and a pointed within it. Data can be “pushed” onto the stack, which means putting some number of bytes onto it and advancing the stack pointed by that number. Stacks can “grow” either up or down, meaning when the pointer advances, it’ll go in that direction. When the data is needed again, it’s read off the top of the stack, then the pointer is pulled back to its original position.
So how the door stack works is, when a player enters a location, say enters a town from the overworld, their location before entering is “pushed” onto the stack and they are then moved into the town’s entrance. When they exit the town, their old location is “pulled” from the stack, leaving it empty. (Actually, the data is still there, but because the stack pointer has been decremented, it’ll be overwritten the next time the player enters an area.)
Why use a stack? Well mostly it’s a convenience thing for the programmers. A door’s location can either be “into” an area, or “out of” it. “In” doors have to know where they’re going, but “out” doors just have to know they’re going outside. But it helps in one particular instance; if a game has a spell or item like “Exit,” “Outside,” or “Warp,” it can work simply by pulling every location off the stack until it gets to the last one. This means the programmers don’t have to have every location “know” where a given area is on the World Map. Just rewind the door stack until you get to the last location on it, that must be it.
Well there’s a subtle bug in some locations in Final Fantasy IV where some transitions that push when they should pull. One such transition is the one to the pub in the Dwarven Castle. When you enter the pub, the way in is pushed onto the stack; when you exit, instead of pulling that location off, the way out is pushed onto the stack.
There’s only so much memory reserved in a stack, which for old games is usually implemented as a single page (256 bytes) of memory. The pointer into it is thus one byte long, and so if the stack fills up, it wraps around. If you find such a door, and go through it enough times, you can cause it to overflow on purpose, with unexpected results.
This can be taken advantage of in Final Fantasy IV by overflowing the stack, then going through a pull-door, which causes the game state to be read from unexpected memory. Speedrunners (you just knew they’d be involved) use this to flip rapidly to the end of the game. Most players will never notice this very subtle bug, since when you return to the world map the game knows enough to completely clear the stack.
Something I’ve noticed about the 8- and 16-bit Final Fantasy games is, if there is a potential for an obscure bug somewhere, there is almost certainly going to be an example of that bug somewhere in that code. A lot of these bugs are only visible to a player with obsessive observation or repetition. This results in spells with unexpected effects, stats with no function, features that don’t operate, and item duplication bugs. Truly, it was an age before unit testing.
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Found on Nintendo Everything and reported by Brian, the Wii shop channel is back online after an absence of months. It had been down for “maintenance.” Mind you, it’s still impossible to buy software that hadn’t been purchased before 2019. It’s still just a way to reacquire things you had already bought. Sigh.
At NintendoLife, Alana Hauges reviews Square Enix’s remake of the classic Japan-only JRPG anthology Live-A-Live, which I’m given to understand is pronounced like “Lighve Alive,” with long-I sounds. It’s been given the Octopath Traveler treatment, with pixel art akin to the original game placed in a 3D environment. It’s structured like a collection of short stories, all greatly different from the others. I have experience with the original game, and it contains several extremely interesting sections, including a space mystery, a Wild West puzzle segment, and a hugely complex and interesting ninja infiltration scenario where the player has to make many choices that each affect the outcome. While in the end all of the stories are linked together, on their own each is a small complete game in its own right. It’s long been a shame that the game as been unknown outside of Japan, and I’m excited to see it getting a chance elsewhere.
CBR’s Zachary Pilon rhetorically asks, why are roguelikes so popular? WHY INDEED IT IS AN MYSTERY. (Note: rodneylives spent like four years writing about them back at GameSetWatch.)
At The Verge, Andrew Webster states that the Playdate’s launch was a unique opportunity for small dev. People who bought the device have access to a number of games released periodically in a “season,” but software can also be loaded onto the system separately, and itch.io has an active community of these developers.
Franken has made the internet rounds the past few days, being praised by Derek Yu and Video Game Dunkey. I was pointed to it by our own Kent Drebnar, the one-celled gaming organism who does news posts for us. It’s a free and short and free JRPG styled thing up on itch.io. It’s inspired by Final Fantasy VI, For The Frog The Bell Tolls, Moon, and Grow RPG! It’s made with OHRRPGCE, itself a fun, quirky and free RPG creation program.
It’s not really so much as game as a humor delivery mechanism and strongly-guided system of battles. There’s only one choice for actions throughout all the fights, but it’s more of a silly and good-hearted story that you experience through a Dragon Quest play system. It reminds me a lot of another JRPG homage for 3DS and Switch, Fairune, although without its sometimes maddening secret-finding, and with lots of quirky characters, which feel like they were imported from Undertale.
It’s only about an hour long, and did I mention it’s free, so I figure it’s well worth your time and money!
Kimimi the Game-Eating She Monster (great handle!) has a knack for finding awesome Japanese games that Western shores missed 0ut on, and one such game is Bounty Sword, a Super Famicom JRPG with real-time combat, muted colors, and let’s not forget a fairy playing the role of player cursor. It’s worth your time to read, and maybe to contribute to her Ko-Fi!
Since I wrote that, she’s posted a review of another extremely interesting Squaresoft game, for the WonderSwan, Wild Card!