24 December 2009

Why Must Everybody Laugh At My Mighty Sword?

Chrontendo Episode 23 is here, available to stream or download from archive.org, as usual. For those paying attention, you'll know Episode 23 is the spectacular all-RPG (not quite, but it feels that way) episode.

Pity the poor 8-bit RPG hero! Nameless, speechless, these little fellows step forward with only their leather armor and daggers to battle slimes, rats, wolves and - in Hoshi no Miru Hito - robots. Let's face it, in their pixelated versions, these guys got the short end of the stick. How could any of them live up to the standards of bad-ass warriorhood as portrayed on their games' cover art? For the example, take the protagonist of Kemco's Indora no Hikari.

Wow. This guy cuts a rather imposing figure. Would you want to mess with such an fearsome dude? Certainly, he could make short work of dragons and wyverns. However, in the game itself...

...oh my. Kid, I think your mother's calling you. Seriously, put that sword down - you might hurt yourself. Also notice the lack of cool explosions.

Alas, our hero's predicament is all too common. Very radical fantasy themed box art may conceal a very graphically non-inspired game. And the gameplay also frequently suffered from a lack of inspiration. Most of these RPGs are simply a mix-and-match of a few basic gameplay choices. Single-member party or multiple party members? Turn based combat or real time, "bump the enemy" combat? Enemies visible on the overworld or random enemy encounters? DQ style overworld or Zelda style flip-screen overworld? Let's do a quick rundown of this episode's seven RPGs.

Ultima: Exodus

The odd man out this episode, Pony Canyon's Exodus is a port of Origin's enormously influential 1983 computer game. Dragon Quest took the basic stucture from Ultima III: Exodus and tweaked it to be more appealing to Japanese gamers. Since DQ spawned pretty much the entire JRPG scene, I suppose every subsequent JRPG owes Exodus some sort of debt. Of course, trying to play the game is another story. Much of the game is boring, repetitive and maddening, especially the truly bizarre system for leveling up. Unfortunately, Exodus is one of those all time classics that's difficult to play today.

Momotarou Densetsu

Hudson's game is the most blatant example of a Dragon Quest knock-off this episode. It's also the RPG with the best production values and the smoothest gameplay. Attractive graphics and thoughtful music combined with an improved interface manage to sand off some of the rough edges of DQ. Additionally, the game's unusual setting (Momotarou Densetsu is based on the same material as Nintendo's Shin Onigashima) sets it apart from the other RPGs this episode.

Sword of Kalin

Also known as Kalin no Ken or Kalin no Tsurugi, this is an action RPG version of Dragon Quest 1. Rather infuriating combat takes this one down a few notches. However, it has been unofficially translated into English, making it a bit more accessible for western gamers.

Minelvaton Saga

This Taito published (but Random House developed) title manages to be better than Mirai Shinwa Jarvas. It is very similar to Sword of Kalin, right down to the Hydlide style of combat. There's really nothing remarkable or notable about this game at all.

Indora no Hikari

The best thing that can be said about this Kemco published game is that it's better than you would expect from a Kemco game. Turn based combat takes place on a Zelda influenced overworld. And as shown above, the hero looks like a complete weenie. Still, it's better looking and sounding than Kalin or Minelvaton.

Hoshi no Miru Hito

Discussed in depth a couple posts back. Terrible, buggy, turn-based RPG that does almost everything wrong. But don't take just my word on it. Hardcore Gaming 101 has an extensive write up on the game.

Haja no Fuuin

The least DQ like of all this episode's RPG, Haja is a port of a Japanese computer game from 1986. It's actually nothing at all like the other games discussed here. The most unique feature about this game is thatit's only game we've seen so far to receive a simultaneous release on the Famicom and Sega Master System! The superior SMS version actually came out a week before the Famicom's, so for one brief, shining moment, SMS owners had something to crow about. I give Haja the short shrift this episode, since it will be covered in more detail in Chronsega Episode 4.

But this episode isn't all RPGs. Unfortunately, nothing really stands out among the rest of the games. Probably the most interesting is Konami's Falsion.

Falsion is a shoot-em-up in the Space Harrier/After Burner mode. It was one of the few games to make use of Nintendo's high-tech Japanese 3-D goggles. While there's nothing too terribly wrong with the game, I'd award it a pretty low position in the Konami Famicom pantheon.

Kaiketsu Yanchamaru/Kid Niki: Radical Ninja

Irem ports their 1986 arcade game. I'd consider 1985-1986 to be the "dark ages" for Irem - a fallow period between the successful Kung Fu Master and the game-changing R-Type. Kid Niki is a standard side-scrolling action platfomer, its US release being the only special thing about it.

Youkai Yashiki

Irem's other game this episode is a port of a 1986 MSX game from Casio. Once again we have a game based around youkai (last episode's Kiki Kaikai was another one.) It resembles a much simpler version of Maze of Galious - lots of running around and climbing ladders looking for key items... scrolls, in this case.

Esper Bouken Tai

A rather bizarre Metroid like game from Jaleco featuring a character with amazing jumping abilities and animated household appliances. For some reason, Japanese game designers have a fascination with ESP. See also Esper Dream, Spelunker II and Hoshi no Miru Hito for other examples of ESP themed games.

And our bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings:

Millipede - Another old arcade port from HAL. There's nothing wrong with the arcade version of Millipede, but I question the need for a less than perfect port of an old game that had already been released multiple times.

Karaoke Studio Senyou Cassette Top 20 Vol. 1 - As far as I can tell, this is simply a rerelease of Bandai's Karaoke Studio with a few new songs added in. Perhaps I'm missing something.

Pulsar no Hikari: Space Wars Simulation - An utterly baffling space simulation game. Soft Pro International are the same folks who made the equally baffling Breeder.

Topple Zip - It's sort of like Twin Bee, only it's not good.

Butwaittheresmore! Also in Episode 23, we have a look at the history of the great developer and manufacturer Irem! Those of you following Chrontendo will probably be less than impressed by Irem's output so far. Such gems as Super Lode Runner and Spelunker are not going to turn many heads. But Irem's real strength lies in their fantastic arcade games, particularly those of the late 80s and early 90s.

Irem looked at Konami's Gradius and said, "We will make a game like this. Only more awesome!" For God's sake, the entire third level of R-Type is simply your R9 slowly taking down an enormous mothership jammed packed with laser cannons, thrusters, and all sorts of surprises. Over the next few years, Irem continued to up the ante with games featuring detailed graphics, enormous bosses, huge explosions and over the top action.

Also this episode - more Hokuto no Ken! We briefly return to Chrontendo's favorite whipping boy for a special Chrontendo update, where I try to correct a few of the more glaring omissions from earlier episodes.

So head on over to archive.org and enjoy.


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