Friday, December 11, 2009

The Greatest Week in Video Gaming History?

Wow, Chrontendo Episode 26 will go down as one of the longest delayed in recent memory. But, it is now available to download or stream at archive.org. Was it worth the wait? That's for you to decide.

Episode 26 is a big, big episode, featuring both Mega Man and, the other game in our December 1987 RPG showdown, Final Fantasy. Not to mention some weird, interesting, and just plain pointless releases. Also, for bonus content, we have a brief look at that Famitsu Top 100 games list. And when I say "brief," I actually mean it this time. Episode 26 is right in the middle of the 1987 holiday rush, and as a result, it covers 15 games in a mere 11 days, from December 11 to December 22.

December 1987 turned out to be a huge month for launching successful franchises: Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Phantasy Star and (next episode), Metal Gear. Even more amazing - these games were all released within six days of each other! Has there ever been another week in video game history that can boast a lineup like that? I officially declare it to be the greatest week in video game history.

This Episode's MVP Game:

















Errr... nice codpiece, dude.

No surprises here, it's Final Fantasy, the game that launched Square's gazillion dollar multimedia empire. I've already discussed it at some length in an earlier post, but suffice to say, Square took big bloody chunks of Dragon Quest and Ultima III, added a much deeper combat and magic system, a more involved plot, cooler monsters and ended up with the best Famicom RPG so far.

Our Runner Up Game:

















What else could it be... but Mega Man? Capcom's Famicom history up to this point has consisted of a handful of arcade ports and a mahjong game - not exactly the stuff legends are made of. With Mega Man, Capcom suddenly and surprisingly entered the ranks of great console game producers. If this this game is any indication, 1988 is going to be a very interesting year for Capcom.

Other Fine Games:

Karnov

After a year and a half of producing moderately interesting titles for the Famicom, Data East kicks it into high gear with this very playable port of their 1987 arcade game. As mentioned earlier, Karnov makes an interesting contrast to Mega Man; Data East's game being an exemplar of the older Ghosts 'n' Goblins style platforming, and Capcom's being the first example of a new, more sophisticated style of platform game.

Taito Grand Prix

















We've seen a few racing games in Chrontendo and Chronsega that flirt with the idea of letting you upgrade your vehicle by winning races. However, Taito moves beyond flirting and heads straight to 3rd base with this ahead-of-its-time little gem. Tatio Grand Prix is virtually Dragon Quest on wheels, as you drive from town to town, win races, collect money and experience, and then level up your Mini Cooper. Sadly, the actual racing isn't quite as good as you'd hope, with Grand Prix playing like a slightly substandard Rad Racer/Out Run clone.

Ginga no Sannin

















It turns out Squall Leonhart isn't the biggest douchebag in video game history!

Not a fabulous game, but Ginga was the distinction of being the first RPG published by Nintendo themselves. The bizarre thing is: it's a retitled port of an old Enix computer game. Aside from this, the game sports some intriguing names in the credits. The art is by Go Nagai and the music by YMO drummer Yukihiro Takahashi.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Barely playable by today's standards, this ASCII published port of Sir-Tech's pioneering computer RPG is remarkably faithful to the original version. Long dead in the US, the Wizardry series continues to survive in Japan, making it perhaps the longest continuously running video game franchise in history.

The Bad:

Ultraman 2 - Shutsugeki Katoku Tai

You've got to hand to Bandai. They could have simply rehashed their first crappy side scrolling action game based on Ultraman. Instead, they chose to completely switch things up, making a crappy game in an entirely new genre.

Stick Hunter

















Shouldn't the yellow team be wearing pants?

The official entry in the "worst Famicom Hockey game" category, courtesy of Micronics and KAC. Also a contender for "most inappropriate-sounding title."

Mezase Pachi Pro: Pachio-kun

















Hot-B finally has some competition in the terrible name department. The hideously monikered Coconuts Japan makes its debut with this weirdo pachinko game. Mezase Pachi Pro introduces Coconut's would-be mascot, Pachio-Kun, a human sized, living, talking pachinko ball who apparently likes to play a lot of pachinko. One mystery surrounds this game: the name "C-Dream" in the credits and on the cover. Who exactly were C-Dream? I have no idea, but the similarity in names has led to some confusion with Color Dreams, the US based producer of unlicensed NES games. In this episode, I bitch about Wikipedia and GameFaqs listing Color Dreams as the developer of the most famous Pachio-kun game, American Dream. I don't suppose anyone out there is a Wikipedia editor type who can correct this?

And the rest this episode:

Yamamura Misa Suspense: Kyouto Ryuu No Tera Satsujin Jiken

















Taito breaks into the adventure game genre with this entry, based around the popular Japanese mystery author Misa Yamamura.

Exciting Boxing:

The sole Konami game this episode is an odd one. Exciting Boxing came with an inflatable balloon shaped like a boxer. The game is played by hitting the balloon; sensors inside the balloon would register your hits. Strange but true.

Family Tennis:

The latest in Namco's Family sport series. This time it's Tennis.

Tetsudou Ou: Famicom Boardgame

















This dB Soft release is the first console game in the railroad-themed board game genre. Believe or not, there will be more.

Gokuraku Yuugi: Game Tengoku

This episode's most pointless title, another bingo number/dice throw generator type game, much like the second half of Santa Claus no Takara Baka.

Nazoler Land Special!! Quiz Ou Wo Ikuse

The third game in Sunsoft's shovelware series. This time it's all quiz questions.

That's all for this time. As always, this episode can be found at archive.org. Hopefully, Episode 27 won't be so overdue.

Errata Update: Naturally, mistakes were made. In the segment about the Famitsu Top 100 list, I mention Chrono Trigger being in 26th place. That should be 28th place, as the caption states. Also, in the Nazoler Land Special segment, I refer to a game where you control a little train full of people and animals as a blackjack style game. Clearly, I meant to say roulette, not blackjack.

18 comments:

acepek said...

Absolutely the Greatest Week in Video Gaming History! Come on — Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Phantasy Star and, Metal Gear in the same week? We'd be lucky to see the umteenth iteration of those franchises all come out in the same year these days.

Kahless_GOA said...

Oh man, can someone delete the post from that Anonymous sucker?

Nice Episode by the way, the view of the greatest games from Famitsu is interesting, though the Top 5 from Gamefaqs List is not really different. I play more western games I think, but I see the great qualities of both sides of the world, and I am kinda dissapointed that eastern gamers are not so firm of western games. I think God of War, Prototype or a Sam'n'Max are examples for games which could be interesting for japanese gamers. But we will see in the future...

fuxter said...

wow, what a great episode it is! a very pleasant watching.

Cornervizion said...

Another brilliant episode there Dr. Sparkle, Commentary is always interesting, entertaining and it's great to see titles which most of us have never heard of before. I also provide the link of your blog on my Facebook page so other people can see this great series. Keep up the good work.

Henrik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henrik said...

Another great episode, well worth the wait.

You mentioned in the Yamamura Misa Suspense segment that it was odd that they used an ear to represent talking.

Well, there's a very simple reason for that. In Japanese the word for "to listen", 聞く (kiku), also means "to ask", so a Japanese person would immediately make the connection that the ear icon is used to ask questions.

In fact, I immediately made that connection, and I wouldn't even have thought about how strange it is to use an ear for that if you hadn't pointed it out. I guess that's a sign that I've been studying Japanese for too long...

Tork said...

I laughed at how quickly the entry for the quiz game ended.

Helm said...

Really enjoyable episode. I learned more about Final Fantasy 1 than I thought I'd want to know and the historical context shows why it's so successful. It's easy to be dismissive of some of the FF tropes before you realize what a departure they were from the Dragon Quest mold. Generally this is what Chrontendo helps me with: context in which to appreciate game design 'antiquity'. Some of those old games are very playable today but for those that are not it's refreshing to be judged at the relative merits they had to their competition of the time instead of casually internet-mocked as is more usual. Thank you.

Jonothan said...

Re: FF1 and Amano, most American gamers don't realize that the dude had a lot of cred by the time he got signed on to do FF1's art: He did character designs for many of Tatsunoko Production's 70s superhero series, including Gatchaman and Casshern. If you look up Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, you'll find that he designed virtually all of Tatsu's characters present in that game. I don't know for certain, but it's possible that Amano was intentionally chosen as a counterpart to Toriyama's work on Dragon Quest.

Anonymous said...

Great work as always. I agree with Helm, especially in regards to Mega Man. Seeing it next to the other games being released at the same time really highlights what an achievement it was in terms of level design, character design, controls, and music.

I'm only about halfway through the episode so far, so I'm looking forward to what's to come. But I had to hit pause at the 27:08 mark. Am I going crazy, or is the hospital in Ultraman in the shape of a swastika? Is there a back story there I don't know?

Doctor Sparkle said...

I'm glad folks seem to like the new episode, considering how late it was. Though I'm not sure why this particular post seems to be attracting bots to post ads for a get rich quick scheme.

Henrik - Thanks for the clarification on the ear symbol in the Yamamura Misa game. We would normally think of speaking and listening as converse actions, but I apparently the Japanese feel otherwise.

And about that Swastika: the symbol had been used in Hinduism and Buddhism for years, and is still pretty common in Japan. Though after WWII, the symbol is often reversed, like the one seen in the clip. Some folks might recall an issue with a pokemon card a while back: http://tinyurl.com/yck42qh

Anonymous said...

I'd honestly put this episode in the top 5 Chrontendo episodes. Lots of good games and some insightful commentary. It was well worth the wait.

Cornervizion said...

Totally forgot about the Swastika in Ultraman, It did surprise me to see that. But from what I can gather (From a review of Maken X (Dreamcast game) from a UK games magazine circa 2001) That the Japanese regards the Nazis as a type of Demon, as that game the villains had that Symbol on their faces. There's a little bit more info here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maken_X

Tork said...

I know that most people will focus on Metal Gear in the next episode but I just realized that a certain Kemco game will also be featured. I think I'm one of the few people who actually likes that game, so it should be fun hearing your take on it.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Tork - You are claiming to actually like Temco's Superman? I had checked GameFAQ's user reviews and found a couple positive write-ups on the game. As difficult as it is to comprehend, I guess Superman has its fans.

Chris Sobieniak said...

ROCKMAN/MEGA MAN
It's funny when you have to consider how popular this game was over here with the exception of the horrid box art (it's like it was design by some 16 year old art student). Too often I want to erase that out of my mind and sub in the Japanese original art in place and call it a day.

The fact that the name Rockman was changed in the US did kinda lost us on the music motif in the names of the characters in the games that I thought was a nice touch.


KARNOV
Wow, so I guess this is what you would call a 'second chance' at a redemption (though funny he gets to be a guard at the end and not perhaps a second chance at life on earth, oh well, wishful thinking).


FINAL FANTASY
One of these days Square/Enix needs to get into releasing a kind of omnibus editions of both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest from beginning to end (or to where they want to stop it at), featuring everything we fans may want or like to know about these games (let alone playing the unreleased sequels for the American guys). Oh well, I wasn't into that RPG stuff anyway but I know the kind of people that would die for something like that.


FAMITSU
Wouldn't surprise me that Sakura Taisen (Sakura Wars) would be high on the list.

History of video games said...

I would compare this to people who claim that graphic novels are not art, despite the fact that their only exposure to them is either non-existent or only through super hero

comics.

Unless you read sophisticated, artful graphic novels (or play video games of the same quality) these things will always seem like silly splashes of color that are distracting

wastes of time and money.

JohnH said...

On Wizardry:

You're wrong about the absence of Western-style RPGs in Japan, for you can't get much more Western than Wizardry.

It is of the type of game, which I can vouch can be amazingly addictive once you acclimate to them, where the game is less a story to experience than a grand puzzle to solve. Wizardry-style dungeon games throw the kitchen sink at the player.

You must absolutely make maps, but contrary to being a UI deficiency, that is yet another challenge of the game to overcome. One popular variant of the type, the Bard's Tale games, are extraordinarily difficult to map, what with some traps randomly spinning the party around and sometimes even teleporting them into an identical-seeming other hallway without notice. There is a spell that puts a compass on the screen, which is great, until you hit a spinner in an anti-magic zone! And yet with perseverance and cleverness, even these games can be defeated.

Dragon Quest III, by the way, deserves its position as the highest-ranking DQ game.