Friday, January 29, 2010


Thats right, I was going to talk about Metal Gear. But first, a few quick updates. Unless it's just me, the "recent comments" bar now seems to be working. Of course, as soon as that was fixed, starting having problems. Namely, the downloads were not being counted for around a week. Now that's running again, so we're at "all systems go" for the time being.

A brief update on Chronturbo: the first episode is currently taking shape. Due to the PC Engine's first couple years not exactly being jam-packed with games, this episode will be a bit shorter than average - about 12 titles will be covered.

Additionally, there are a couple other little projects I'm working on - though nothing too exciting. First up is a complete re-recording of Chrontendo Episode 1. That episode sounds horrible and awful for some reason, and I'd like to get it more in line with later episodes.

So about that Metal Gear - its an odd little game, isn't it? Certainly, among the "classic" NES titles, MG has very little critical consensus. It's clearly a groundbreaking game, and light years ahead of the majority of 1987 Famicom/NES releases. Yet a surprising number of folks really seem to hate it. Part of this has to do with the notoriously sketchy translation ("THE TRUCK HAVE STARTED TO MOVE!") But the widespread availability of the superior MSX2 game has also led to a drop in the console MG's stock.

There's definitely something to this. The MSX MG is the better game. Regardless of the rather baffling changes made for the console release, it's still 90% the same game. The Famicom Metal Gear is still a highly original, well designed, and addictive video game, despite its not having the official Hideo Kojima seal of approval. Perhaps Kojima's distinctive, forceful and very public personality has led to modern day critics attempting to apply some sort of half-baked variation of auteur theory to his video games. Those who tend to align themselves with Kojima on such matters, might view the Famicom Metal Gear as the illegitimate offspring of Kojima's original creation: something that should be shunned in favor of the MSX game.

Not that I don't give Kojima credit for making a great game. But Metal Gear is clearly a game in the Konami style; it's foolish to think that it sprung, Athena-like, from Kojima's head fully formed. Its just as much the descendant of King Kong 2 or Ai Senshi Nicol as it is Kojima's brainchild. One often sees writers give Kojima a lot of credit for making Metal Gear a top-down non-scrolling game, since the MSX was not capable of smooth scrolling. Yet that was the very same thing Konami had been doing with other games for the last couple years!

I hope no one is going to interpret this as Kojima bashing, or anything of that nature. I'm merely trying to place the Famicom Metal Gear in its historical context - as one in a series of high quality action adventure games Konami released for the system. Placing each game into its historical context, is, after all, what Chrontendo is all about.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nintendo Slips into the Shadows

Boy, its been a while since the last episode of Chrontendo. But, Episode 27 is finally here, and can be found on!

A couple notable things about this episode: for one, it includes the first 7 games of 1988, with frequent Famicom publishers Namco, Bandai and Konami charging out of the gate. But something a little unexpected also happens in January '88, with the release of Nintendo's Ice Hockey. Older NES fans will probably remember this game - one of the better Nintendo sports titles. In it you build your hockey team around players with three different physiques.

While preparing the video of Ice Hockey, I realized something. Up until this point the majority of Nintendo developed titles were released in both the US and Japan. These games made up the core of the US NES library - titles like Super Mario Bros, Zelda, Metroid, Punch-Out!! and so on. While many great third party games were also released, a steady stream of internally developed games from Nintendo was indispensable to the NES in the United States. Strangely, this tradition virtually comes to an end with Ice Hockey.

Over the next couple years, we'll only see two Nintendo developed titles released in the US. Granted, those games are major releases: Super Mario 3 and Tetris. But from here on out, most of Nintendo's own games will be Japan only titles. Nintendo will continue to publish games in the US, but these will be developed by outsiders, such as Rare. Maybe this is due to Nintendo's increasing interest in adventure games and RPGs. Perhaps NOA felt these sorts of games, with their reliance on lots of text, would not interest US gamers. Either way, Nintendo Japan and Nintendo of America embark on almost entirely separate paths for a while.

For the moment, however, let's turn our attention back to late 1987, and this episode's gold medal game.

Metal Gear

"Metal Gear! At last I've found yo- Wh...what?"

Konami finishes up "the greatest week in gaming history" with a port of Hideo Kojima's MSX2 stealth game. In a weird twist, Chrontendo does sort of a dual-review of both the MSX2 and the Famicom game. While the console version was somewhat bungled, its still a pretty cool game . I suppose I'll collect my thoughts on Metal Gear for a post in the near future.

Other fine games this episode:

Ice Hockey

The last, and perhaps best, entry in the FDS sports series from Nintendo and Pax Softnica. The genius in this particular entry lies in the use of three distinct player types. Lanky, Pee Wee and Fatso (a little unkind - he's more like "Sturdy") each have their own set of attributes, much like the four characters in Super Mario Bros 2.

Konami Wai Wai World

Konami's first game of 1988 is an oddball mash up featuring characters from several of their more popular titles. Konami Man, Simon Belmont, King Kong, Ganbare Goemon, Vic Viper, Twinbee and others join forces to... defeat some aliens, I guess. Sadly, Wai Wai World was not as cool as I hoped it would be. Despite the interesting cast of characters, it's really just a standard platformer with middle-of-the-road level design. One nice touch that I do like a lot is the way the music changes whenever you switch characters.

Ripple Island

Finally! A decent game from Sunsoft! Oh sure, this is a normal Japanese adventure game, but compared to the horrible stuff Sunsoft's been releasing, it's a godsend. Ripple Island's charming graphics and catchy music can only mean one thing: it was developed with Tokai Engineering. Their name will turn up later on such Sunsoft titles as Master Blaster and Super Spy Hunter. Perhaps Sunsoft's darkest days are behind us now.

SD Gundam World - Gachapon Senshi Scramble Wars

Completely out of the blue comes this game from Human and Bandai: the first strategy war game for the Famicom. If 1987 was the year console RPGs took off, then 1988 will do the same for strategy games. While SD Gundam World isn't exactly fantastic, its long reaching influence on such series as Advance Wars, Fire Emblem and Langrisser should be noted.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have these duds:


Are you telling me this guy lives in Metropolis and has never heard of Superman?

I'm sure it's not easy to make a game about a character who is virtually invincible, super strong, and super fast. Imagine Super Mario Bros with Superman. You could simply fly to Bowser's Castle at the speed of sound, smash through the castle walls, and plow right through Bowser himself. The game would last 10 seconds. Kemco's solution to this dilemma is to turn Superman into a super wuss. Yep, Kemco's man of steel can he harmed by bullets, can't fly more than one block and needs to use the frickin' subway to get around Metropolis. Beyond that, the game is notable for such things are seriously nutty hit detection and off the wall commentary from NPCs.

Sukeban Deka III

We've already seen one Sukeban Deka game for the Sega Master System. But SD III, based on the third series of the long running Japanese live action TV show, is another beast entirely. In fact, SD III marks the triumphant return of Toei and Shoei System/Bear's, the same team behind Hokuto no Ken. This is kusoge at is most craptacular.

Attack Animal Gakuen

You say you didn't like Tobidase Daisakusen/3D Worldrunner because you felt is was just a low budget Space Harrier rip off? Then you're not going to like this game either. Attack Animal Gakuen adds "wacky" enemies and panty shots into the mix, and manages to be much worse than Square's game.

And now the rest:

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium '87

This is a little shameful, Namco. Family Stadium '87 is very slightly altered version of the first Family Stadium game. Even back then publishers were finding ways of making you buy the same game twice.

Family Circuit

A top down racing game from Namco, with lots of menu options. The first game released in 1988.

GeGeGe no Kitaro 2

Bandai's sequel to the pretty dreadful 1986 game known in the US as Ninja Kid is actually quite decent. Naturally, Bandai modernizes the gameplay at bit: Kitaro 2 is about 1/2 Zelda and 1/2 Dragon Quest. It does benefit from better production values than you would expect from a Bandai game.

Magnum Kiki Ippatsu: Empire City - 1931

A decent port of this 1986 arcade game in which you shoot gangsters. It's like a light gun game, without the light gun!

Wizards and Warriors

Rare, despite being British, were apparently not familiar with the correct usage of "hath."

The first original NES release from Acclaim, and the second NES game designed by Rare. As you might expect, the music is good; the game is not so good. At least this one doesn't feature Fabio on the box art.

Family Trainer: Totsugeki! Fuun Takeshijou

The release of this title from Bandai means there are now inexplicably two Famicom games featuring Takeshi Kitano. At least we can breathe a sigh of relief now. There won't be another Family Trainer game until around Episode 34 or so.

Satsui No Kaisou: Power Soft Satsujin Jiken

Someone at HAL Laboratory had the remarkabley fresh idea of making a text adventure game in which someone is murdered, and you have the solve the crime. Its undoubtedly that sort of innovative thinking that got Satoru Iwata to where he is now.

What's next for Chrontendo? A couple things are in the works. First and foremost is the first episode of Chronturbo, which will cover the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16 in chronological order. Yes, this is really coming out; I've already started working on the first episode. The TurboGrafx is a great system with a lot of high quality titles that are not very well known, so I'm quite excited about the series. Episode One will feature games from October 1987 to September 1988.

Until then, head on over to to download or stream Chrontendo 27.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Those Darn Bots!

For unknown reasons, Japanese bots have latched on to one particular post, continuously posting ads for sex resorts or something. Since that post was just an annoucement that Chronsega 4 was almost finished , I've decided to delete it. Hopefully, that'll put an end to those shenanigans.

Speaking of comments, the Recent Comments box along the right side of this page no longer seems to be functioning for me. I only see an empty white box. I'm not sure if it's just my browser. Can anyone else see the Recent Comments box?

On a more interesting note, I've finished up the Metal Gear segment of Episode 27, so I should be wrapping it up shortly. Quite frankly, I got a little distracted while working on this episode; after writing about the various greatest-games-of all time lists, I was suddenly in the mood to pop in the ol' Symphony of the Night. I actually ending up playing a translated version of the Japanese release, which has the benefit of slightly less over the top voice acting as well as various minor fixes.

Funnily enough, in its own strange way, SOTN is a distant relative of Metal Gear. In particular, the way SOTN consists of one enormous level, rather than several smaller levels or areas. Addtionally, both games are noted for their extensive selection of equipment, weapons and various goodies. Not to mention the Metroid-esque aspect of backtracking in order to enter previously inaccessible areas.

But enough talk! Prepare for Chrontendo Episode 27!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Welcome to 2010

You have to admit... 2010 certainly sounds futuristic. I've just now noticed the last blog post is dated January 1st, but since I wrote it a couple days prior to posting it, this post is the real first post of 2010.

And course, in Chrontendo time, we're ringing in the new year of 1988. Ronald Reagan is in his last year of office and the Iran-Contra scandal winds down. The Iran-Iraq war finally ends, Russia pulls out of Afganinstan, a bomb planted on Pan-Am 103 explodes over Scotland, New Yorkers riot in Tompkins Square, and major milestone in trash TV occurs when skinheads, white supremicists and Jewish activists brawl on Geraldo Rivera's talk show. In the US, countless young people were listening to INXS, George Michael and a hot new band called Guns N' Roses. I'm not quite sure what we were thinking.*

A message from the youth of the 80s to the youth of today: Please learn from our mistakes.

And, in the video game world, 1988 was the first year US sales from Nintendo exceeded $1 billion. The video game crash of 1983-84 was now definitively, irrevocably, over.

Chrontendo, however, has one last major game from 1987 to cover: a port of an MSX game from Konami called Metal Gear. Perhaps you've heard of it?

Metal Gear is in sort of a unique position. It's a widely-known title that sold well in its NES incarnation. But unlike most ports of Japanese computer games, the console version is demonstrably inferior to the more obscure original. While series creator Hideo Kojima exerted considerable control over the MSX release, Konami altered several important elements for the Famicom port. Additionally, for the US release, Konami inserted some bizarre back story into the manual, including thinly veiled references to Muammar Gaddafi, completely altering Kojima's original narrative.

So, in an unprecedented fashion, Chrontendo 27 will present dual coverage of Metal Gear, looking at both the MSX and NES releases. I myself had previously played the fan-translated version of the original Metal Gear, and just happen to still have a bunch of save states on my hard drive, so why not take advantage of this?

Next up is the long-promised first episode of Chronturbo, and then, further along the horizon, looms the dark, ominous cloud of Chrontendo 28. Aside from containing one of the biggest Japanese releases EVER, Episode 28 has three games from Konami, a classic from Compile, and some interesting stuff from Capcom and Data East. I'm sort of dreading this episode, it's so huge. There are also a few additional, less interesting things in the works.

On a positive note, I see that someone removed the references to Color Dreams on the American Dream Wikipedia page. I have no idea if that was inspired by my plea or merely a coincidence, but I'll shout out a "Thanks" for making the internet a slightly less erroneous place. Now if only someone could remove all references to that Birther nonsense, the vaccine/Autism link, and the Gosselins and the Kadashians from the internet, I'd be eternally grateful. Seriously, someone on TV getting their hair cut does not constitute "news."

*It could have been worse. Folks in other parts of world were reportedly listening to music by Kylie Minogue. Yes, really.

Friday, January 1, 2010

RPG Showdown: Final Thoughts

Hey! Happy New Year! What goes on with Chrontendo? Well, the holidays are over so I'm back to work on Episode 27. Let's see... the comments section of this blog are getting hit with spam from Japanese dating services and the like. And, I guess I'll do a quick debriefing on the "RPG Showdown" from Chronsega 4 and Chrontendo 26.

What exactly was this RPG showdown you ask? While checking my game list, I noticed that Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy, the two most well known (outside of Japan) 8-bit RPGs had originally come out within two days of each other. I couldn't pass up such a coincidence, so decided to run those two episodes back-to-back, in order to compare those games' respective merits.

We've now seen both, so who won the showdown? Let's break everything down to take a closer look.

In terms of visual appeal, Phantasy Star has a clear advantage. The Master System hardware allowed for brighter colors, more detailed artwork, bigger sprites, and smother animation. The first person dungeons in PS are a wonder to behold - they put every similar attempt on the Famicom to shame. With its detailed character portraits and huge, animated monsters, PS is perhaps the best looking 8-bit video game ever made. Yet, Amano's art gives Final Fantasy its own unique character. The monster designs in FF are very impressive, even if they aren't as beautiful as the graphics in PS.

Advantage: Phantasy Star

In terms of sound, the Master System has a hardware advantage, at least in the Japanese version. The FM enhanced version of Tokuhiko Uwabo's score is one of the most impressive sounding game soundtracks we've encountered so far. On the other hand, Nobuo Uematsu's music for FF is one of the all time classics of game music, despite the Famicom's inferior sound. This category probably boils down to personal preference. I'll call it a tie.

Advantage: None

Modern JRPGs tend to serve up elaborate narratives, but this wasn't exactly the case in 1987. Neither game has much of a a true plot, but both do attempt to provide a rudimentary storyline. Phantasy Star produces the traditional Wizardry/Dragon Quest setup: there's a bad guy, and you need to kill him. However, there are enough interesting events along the way to hold the player's attention. You'll need to round up the other party members, break a rocket scientist out of jail, obtain a fake passport, and so on. But ultimately, there is not too much to distinguish PS's plot from that of other RPGs like Dragon Quest II. But Final Fantasy breaks tradition with a bizarre story involving environmental devastation, magical orbs, lost civilizations and then wraps the whole thing up with a completely unexpected ending involving a time travel loop. FF offers a far more original storyline, and is the clear winner.

Advantage: Final Fantasy

Again, you can't expect too much in the way of characterization from games like this. But with its well drawn character portraits and actual dialog between party members, Phantasy Star is the clear winner. Final Fantasy's Warriors of Light don't even speak, though the game does throw in some amusing NPCs, and an arrogant, talkative villain.

Advantage: Phantasy Star

What would any RPG be without tons of loot, armor, weapons, and the like? Phantasy
Star offers a fine selections of goodies, including a light saber, a very cool laser gun, and special armor and weapons for Myiau the cat. But Sega's game is clearly outclassed by FF's vast assortment of swords, nunchucks, hammers, headgear, robes, gauntlets and rings. Aside from sheer numbers, FF adds elemental properties to weapons and armor and even throws in armor that casts magical spells. In other words, the equipable items in FF don't just exist to improve your stats, they actually add a additional dimension to the game. And while PS gives you a spaceship, hovercraft and a futuristic zamboni, none of these hold a candle to FF's incredibly useful Airship. Final Fantasy stands head and shoulders above PS in this category.

Advantage: Final Fantasy

A good part of the appeal of any RPG is the way it immerses you in a created, miniature world. Both Sega and Square fare well here. Phantasy Star gives us three distinct planets, alien races and villages that range from the glittering, high-tech Camineet to the dilapidated, poverty stricken Gothic. Final Fantasy gives each of its more traditional villages a distinct look and layout, and then throws in towns full of dwarfs, elves and talking dragons. However, one of Phantasy Star's greatest strengths turns out to be the cause of one of its major weaknesses. Those great looking first person dungeon graphics are, undoubtedly for reasons of space, used in every single dungeon. In comparison to PS's many identical dungeons, each of Final Fantasy's dungeons are completely unique. You'll explore an abandoned temple, a lava filled volcano, and an underwater palace -- the sheer variety of FF's dungeons makes FF the clear winner in the category of world design.

Advantage: Final Fantasy

Lastly, we have combat; something you'll spend a lot of time engaged in while playing an RPG of this vintage. If there's one category in which Final Fantasy completely trounces Phantasy Star, its this one. Combat in PS is exceedingly simple and often painfully repetitive. In most cases, it's simpley a matter of hitting the attack button repeatedly. Occasionally a heal spell or buff spell will come in handy, and Noah/Lutz might need to pull out a lightning bolt on occasion. Damage, while randomized, always falls within certain constraints, and enemies will never do anything surprising. At the start of each battle, you know in advance how it is going to play out; as long as you have enough HP, the outcome of battles is rarely in question. Final Fantasy, however, adds more spells, status effects, elemental affinities, and, mostly importantly, a combat system that allows you to target an individual enemy. This adds an element of strategy to battles that is completely missing from Phantasy Star. Furthermore, there is always an element of danger in Final Fantasy. You explore dungeons knowing that the next battle could be your last, if the next random encounter happens to be a wall of Sorcerers or Cockatrices.

Advantage: Final Fantasy


Playing both games again virtually back-to-back turned out to be an insightful experience. Phantasy Star is often held up as being the ne plus ultra of 8-bit RPGs. I'll grant that it is the most aesthetically pleasing game of its time, and every aspect is extraordinarily well crafted. On the other hand, many folks, especially those raised on FF VII, speak of the first Final Fantasy as being a primitive, unbalanced and borderline unplayable game. Strangely, I've found the opposite to be true: put next to Phantasy Star and almost every contemporary RPG, Final Fantasy is surprisingly sophisticated, and makes major advances in its implentation of magic, combat and dungeon design. PS seems, quite frankly, old fashioned in comparison.

Of course, individual preferences may be influenced by personal tastes, nostalgia or a predisposition to a certain platform or publisher. A player who finds Nero's dying words to Alis to be heart-wrenching or Final Fantasy's sometimes punitive difficulty level to exasperating will undoubtedly disagree with my assessment. And the fact that the Phantasy Star series has sold a fraction of the copies that Final Fantasy has will give it a certain cachet among a particular set of gamers. Still, as great as both games are, Final Fantasy edges out Phantasy Star as the superior title.