Thursday, July 30, 2009

Episode 23 Not Late?

Yes, it appears that Chrontendo Episode 23 might just come out in a somewhat timely fashion. Fancy that. Keep your eyes peeled for a release in the next few days.

As mentioned last post, this episode is jam-packed with RPGs, most of which aren't particularly memorable, but one title really stands out. Not because it's a good game. No, just the opposite; it has a reputation as being one of the worst RPGs ever.

You might recall Black Bass, the fishing game from the idiotically named Hot-B. We covered it back in Chrontendo Episode 15 (coincidentally, an RPG heavy episode also featuring DQ II). Well, for reasons known only to themselves, Hot-B decided made an attempt at a wildly ambitious turn-based, futuristic RPG, Hoshi no Miru Hito. The strange thing about Hoshi no Miru Hito is that while it's certainly this episode's worst game from a gameplay and technical standpoint, I found myself drawn to it more than the better games. There is a certain trainwreck sort of appeal to the game.

In the future, everything will be decorated with 1970's kitchen linoleum patterns

What exactly is wrong with Hoshi? Virtually everything you can possible imagine. From a graphical standpoint, the game is aggressively ugly. The tile based backgrounds are a riot of garish color schemes and bizarre geometrical patterns. The game is supposed to have a sci-fi setting, but there's very little to visually suggest that. When entering new area, its impossible to know exactly where you are supposed to be, since backgrounds don't really look like anything in particular. Inside or outside? In some sort futuristic laboratory or in some dilpadated industrial area? In a cavern or a in a man-made structure? You really can't tell.

Balance is another major issue. You can immediately encounter enemies with magic attacks powerful enough to kill you in a couple hits. Surviving long enough to level up a couple times is a matter of luck more than anything else. However, once you have leveled up a bit and purchased a decent weapon you'll find the enemies have become very easy to defeat. This would not normally be a problem, except that these same 5 or six enemies are the only ones you will encounter on the main overworld. This makes leveling absurdly slow and boring and doesn't prepare you for the tougher enemies found in the second area of the game. At that point, you find yourself facing enemies so strong you literally cannot inflict a single point of damage upon them. Its as if Final Fantasy took you straight from fighting Imps to Red Giants.

Don't be fooled. You have around 800 HP.

Beyond this, there are countless silly little problems with Hoshi no Miru Hito. Some appear to be stupid technical bugs - such as the last digit of your hit points not being displayed while in battles. I.E., if you have 100 HP, it will show as 10 HP! The game also has a weird habit of warping you back to the starting point when you exit a town or dungeon. You have a four member party, but each character's inventory is completely separate and you cannot transfer weapons, armor or gold between characters. Some floors will do damage as you walk over them, but the game gives you no indication of this, undoubtedly resulting in surprise game overs for many players. And the battle menu requires that you select the order than you want your characters to attack in for every single battle, something that gets tiring very quickly. And in the original, unhacked Japanese version, your character moves jaw-droppingly slowly across the world map.

Here your party bravely explores... some sort of... area.

While quite a few 8-bit RPGs suffer from frustrating and outdated gameplay mechanics, I've never encountered anything quite like Hoshi no Miru Hito. Presumably some of the quirks were deliberate, in an attempt to make the game more "challenging" or, at least, longer. Others can only be weird oversights or general incompetence on the part of the designers. Hoshi's unique place in the world of RPGs has earned it a bit of cult following, with an English translation with character movement sped up (used in Episode 23), a hack that improves the background graphics, and a fan created, completely reworked version for Windows. Quite impressive for a game this terrible.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Regarding Dragon Quest Clones

Just as Dragon Quest IX mania is sweeping Japan, we reach are own mini version of DQ mania here at Chrontendo.

Perhaps you've seen Final Fantasy or similar 8-bit RPGs put into the context of "Dragon Quest clones." As in, "Final Fantasy was released at a time when countless Dragon Quest clones were hitting the shelves in Japan," or something similar. Yet here we are in Fall 1987 and there is a puzzling lack of games which resemble DQ. Oh sure, we've seen some old school style dungeon crawlers like Deep Dungeon. And tons of hack and slash games with RPG elements or Zelda influences. Magic of Scheherazade and Zoids certainly borrowed from Enix's game, but managed to be rather unique in the way they used the borrowings. So far, the only game that seems 100% DQ inspired is Hercules no Eikou (and maybe Mirai Shinwa Jarvas, but that was a 50/50 mixture of DQ and pure garbage.)

I was getting to the point were I was thinking that maybe all these DQ knock-offs were more hypothetical than anything else. As in, "DQ was a very popular game, thus there must have been lots of similar games released afterwards."

Well, it turns out those DQ clones are real. They were just hanging out behind the shed, waiting for enough other DQ clones to join the gang. Now the forces of DQ clones have organized their ranks and are marching in the streets, kicking in our doors. In Episode 23 we'll see the devastation they have wrought.*

Also, in Episode 23, I plan to do a little Chrontendo update - a few things that I missed or overlooked or was just mistaken about. Most intriguingly, commenter Qun Mang has pointed out that Photon: The Ulimate Game on Planet Earth was in fact connected to the US TV show/Laser Tag center/toy line franchise. I did not realize at first that "The Ultimate Game on Planet Earth" was the tag line for the Photon brand in the US, but now it all makes sense.

For those not familiar with the mind-boggling Photon TV show, you go.

I'd advise you whip out your strongest grade combustibles before attempting to watch these.

Some of you old time NES kids may have recognize Photon as being the source of the "Space Scout Theater" segments of Club Mario from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.

Also up, a little profile on the great (well, sometimes) developer Irem. So it looks to be a nice episode.

*Don't get the mistaken impression I dislike RPGs. It's just.... well you'll see what I mean when Episode 23 comes out. Ya'll ever heard of a little game called Hoshi no Miru Hito?

Photon image from Virtual Vikki's Photon Page

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I Am Become Curly, Destroyer of Worlds!

Chrontendo Episode 22 is here at last, and it's another epic installment. Primarily this is due to the aforementioned bonus content - which turned out to be longer than anticipated. Lately, I've been attempting to give the games featured in Chrontendo at bit more historical context - by showing alternate versions, and so on. Going forward with this idea, I decided to take a look at video games at other platforms.

A quick note - everything seems to be OK at the moment with the video files. As always, the best looking version is the 539 Meg AVI file. There is also a very large MPEG-2 version, but don't bother as it's worse quality than the AVI. The Ogg and MPEG-4 should suffice for those looking for smaller files.

In this episode, we'll begin with a feature looking at computer games of 1987, or at least, what I perceived as the highlights or major releases of that year. Out of necessity, we are sticking to western systems. The release history of the MSX and PC-88 are still pretty murky, at least outside of Japan.

1987 was an interesting time for home computers. When the PC first exploded in the late 1970s, a riot of confusion ensued - with countless models and manufacturers vying for a piece of market share. There was the TRS-80, the TI-99, the Commodore PET and VIC-20, the Apple II, not to mention computers from Atari, IBM and countless others; all of these were incompatible with each other. Overseas, regional brands achieved a certain level of success. By 1987, the market had been thinned out a bit. The older giants, the Apple II and Commodore 64 were not quite dead. Commodore's Amiga and the Atari ST were duking it out for next-gen supremacy. The IBM PC clone, which would achieve total domination in the next few years, pretty much killing every competitor except for Apple, would soon switch to state of the art VGA display standard. For a brief time, however, developers needed to contend with multiple platforms with dramatically different capabilities.

Here for example, we see Wizardry IV for the Apple II and Dungeon Master for the Amiga, both released in 1987. It's almost as if the 2600 and Genesis were competing systems.

Aside from those two games, we'll also see Pirates!, Maniac Mansion, Shadowgate, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, Skate or Die!, California Games, and a number of lesser known games. Most intriguingly, we'll check out Virus and Driller, two very early attempts at full polygon-based 3D.

The next logical step will be a look at 1987's arcade games. This will work its way into a future episode soon. As for now - let's consider some actual Famicom games.

Episodes 22's Grand Champion:

Arabian Dream Scheherazade/Magic of Scheherazade

Wow. I'd played a little of this game before; it seemed like a typical Zelda clone. But upon further inspection it became revealed that Scheherazade was one of the most innovative and unusual games for the Famicom thus far. Not content to rip off Zelda or Dragon Quest, Scheherazade manages to rip off both of them simultaneously. While also ripping off Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger, years before those games came out. Your party grows to 12 playable characters, including a robot (in ancient Arabia! Is this "sandpunk?"), an animated doll with a pumpkin head, two genies, a bottle with arms and legs, and a cowardly shrimp. I wonder if Scheherazade took some inspiration from the Wizard of Oz books? While the game certainly has moments that cause the veins in your head to pop out, I'm willing to overlook that in favor of the high degree of creativity on display. All this from frickin' Culture Brain?! Maybe those guys have promise.

Also Good:

/Life Force

Remember back when the Famicom had tons of shoot-em-ups? Like around Chrontendo episode 7-10 or so? Since then, we've had a serious decline in the number of games in which flying ships shoot other flying ships. However, Konami remedies that with this port of their Gradius sequel. Why is the game called "Salamander" when there is a giant snake of some sort depicted on the cover art? It's sort of confusing, but I do discuss this during the episode itself.

Famicom Mukashi Banashi: Shin Onigashima

Last episode, I mentioned a Nintendo game you've never heard of.. Well, now you've heard of it. Nintendo steps outside its platformer-and-sports comfort zone and makes an adventure game. That is, a Portopia style adventure game. Always doing its own thing, Nintendo gives Shin Onigashima a setting straight out of Japanese folklore, particularly Momotarou and Taketori Monogatari. This is definitely the most Japanese game we've seen for the Famicom; even the text runs vertically and from right to left. In a rather unheard of move, Nintendo released the games two discs separately - one at the beginning of September, the other at the end. While unknown outside of Japan, it was popular enough to receive re-releases on the Super Famicom, GBA and Virtual Console

Digitial Devil Story: Megami Tensei

First game in Atlus' long running RPG series. I mentioned this last post, remember?

Bio Senshi Dan: Increaser Tono Tatakai

The other Atlus developed game this episode. Never released in the US, but.... Jaleco completed an English translation and then scrapped it. Luckily, unlike Higemaru Makaishima, I remembered the English version and used it for this episode. I suppose this would be an ideal time to give a shout to Lost Levels. Unlike myself, LL's Frank Cifaldi seems to be genuinely knowledgeable about video games, and his site is undoubtedly where I first heard of the unreleased localizations of Higemaru and Bio Senshi Dan. For some reason, the main site has not been updated in a while; all the action is currently in the forums.

Kyonshiizu 2

Ok, not technically a good game. However, I gave a tease about this recently by posting a video clip from Hello Dracula. So what's the story with that clip? Well, Kyonshiizu 2 is based off the sequel to Hello Dracula, a Taiwanese (not from Hong Kong, as the fellow who made the video clip seems to believe) film, originally titled 幽幻道士2. There were actually several sequels made; I'm not sure of the details, but the films somehow found themselves broadcast as a mini-series on Japanese TV, under the Kyonshiizu name. Kyonshi is simply the Japanese name for Jiang-shi, what you and I would call a "hopping vampire." These things turn up in video games from time to time. We've already seen them in Kung Fu Kid from Chronsega 3. Even Mario has encountered them - in Super Mario Land to be exact.

So anyway, this is a perfect example of what I like about this gig. Upon booting up Kyonshiizu 2, it seems like just just another baffling Japanese graphic adventure game. Now we know the back story behind the game, which is probably more interesting than the game itself! I was quite amazed when I realized the connection to a semi-obscure cult kung-fu movie like Hello Dracula.

Naturally, Episode 22 has a few dogs as well.

Photon: The Ultimate Game on Planet Earth

This preposterously titled dud from Takara came out the same day as Transformers: The Head Masters - August 28th, the same day as Castlevania 2 and Kiki Kaikai. I guess that proves there is some sort of karmic balance in force in the world of video games.


Ugly as hell first person RPG-like game from Toei and Bear's, the good folks who brought you Hokuto no Ken. SWAT actually has an interesting premise: you control a four member SWAT team assigned to take out terrorists holed up in an office building. You encounter the terrorists in in Dragon Quest-y turn based battles. It turns out Bear's/Shoei System can't do RPGs any better than they can action games.


OK, maybe this game isn't really that bad. But the opening sequence, ripped off directly from Dragon Quest, with your Tyrannosaurus Rex shaped mech standing in a throne room, taking instructions from a king, then marching down the stairs and chatting it up with NPC dinosaur mechs who are hanging around the palace, nearly had me falling off my chair laughing. Once you head out onto the overworld, you'll see Zoids is a combination of DQ and Battlezone! From Micronics, naturally.

Other games this episode:

Tsuppari Oozumou

One of the very first sumo video games. This Tecmo titles plays like a wrestling game with less mobility and fewer moves. It does have plenty of almost nude fat guys however, so if that's your thing....

Star Gate/Defender II

HAL ports Williams' 1981 arcade game. It's been a while since we've seen a port of a game this old.

Spy Hunter

For some reason, there is a brief run of ports of ancient arcade games in fall 1987. Expect some more over the next few episodes. This one's a US only release from Sunsoft.

Spelunker II: Yuushahe no Chousen

This original title is nothing whatsoever like the original Spelunker. Its more like Super Pitfall, though better. Irem, like SNK, is having a pretty unimpressive run on the Famicom so far.

Ide Yosuke Meijin no Jissen Mahjong

Episode 22's requisite mahjong game? Check. From Ide Yosuke, the John Madden of mahjong games.

Family Trainer - Manhattan Police/Street Cop

A police brutality simulation game for the Family Trainer. Unlike most other FT games, this was released in the US by Bandai themselves.

So, feel free to go to to stream or download Episode 22.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Yeah.... I Know....

Jesus, this is like the most overdue episode of Chrontendo ever. It's in editing right now, I swear. While I'm in an apologetic mood, let me apologize for the bloated size of Ep. 22. Too much Bonus Content.

In the meantime, all I can offer you is this ridiculous piece of bad localization.

If you happen to remember this game, then award yourself some cool kid points. For the rest of you - prepare to experience its awesomeness when Ep. 22 is dished out in a couple days.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Episode 22 Nears Completion

The latest Chrontendo is, in theory, about done, but .... it won't be coming out quite yet. You see, I've decided to add a bit of Bonus Content! Namely, a brief little look at computer games in 1987.

As for Ep. 22's primary content, perhaps the most notable event is the sudden emergence of Atlus as a developer of note. Nowadays, Atlus is revered not only for their own games, but for all the quirky Japanese games they release in the US. Back in 1987, however, they were a small independent developer. Previously, we had seen the Atlus developed Labyrinth but I, for one, didn't think too highly of that game.

Now Atlus steps up to the plate big-time, with Bio Senshi Dan, a very nice looking Metroid-lite style game from Jaleco. And, more importantly, Digital Devil Saga: Megami Tensei, from Namco. While technically the second Megami Tensei title (the first being a Wolfteam developed top-down action game for the PC-88 and MSX computers), this is the one that laid down the template for all MegaTen games to follow. A first person dungeon crawler, DDS: MT is considerable more sophisticated than contemporary Famicom RPGs. Rather than simply fighting monsters, you can talk to them in an attempt to convince them to join your party. Once you've collected enough of the little fellows, you can breed them (in a purely platonic fashion) to create more powerful creatures.

For those not familiar with the game, DDS: MT was based on a novel by Aya Nishitani. The basic premise is that evil is loosed upon the world by a young computer geek who has written a program to summon demons (in the game, the program is rather prosaically titled "Demon"). The first thing that sprung to mind after hearing the plot synopsis was that this was very similar to the 1981 horror movie Evilspeak. Well, perhaps the very first thing that sprung to mind was how utterly ridiculous the idea of a computer program to summon demons is. But after that I realized that the premise could have been lifted directly from Evilspeak*. Conidcidence? I suppose its possible.

In other news, Transformers mania continues to sweep the nation. One thoughtful commenter pointed out there was a Game Center CX segment on Mystery of Convoy. As expected, Arino runs into trouble, and, like everyone else who has ever played that game, dies about 1.5 seconds into the first level.

And finally, I noticed that Google reported a few folks came to the site by searching for "princess peach strip slots." For those not familiar with this flash game.... well.... check it out for yourself, I suppose: Its exactly what it sounds like.**

So, check back "shortly" for Episode 22.

*For our UK viewers - Evilspeak was one of those "video nasties" banned in the 80s, though was later reclassified.

** I am not judging anyone here, folks. I can't blame people for wanting to see Princess Peach nude.