Saturday, July 24, 2010

Nintendo Co., Ltd.: Purveyor of Fine Visual Novels Since 1987

When one hears the term "visual novel," the first thing that comes to mind is probably not Nintendo. The monolithic Japanese company is normally associated with family-friendly platformers, collections of mini-games aimed at casual gamers, and a series of fanciful cock-fighting simulators that have enslaved the minds of America's youth. Whereas, "visual novel" leads one to think of games where the main objective is to engage in romantic overtures with a series of very young ladies.

Your cousin? Have you no sense of shame at all?!?

But if we look at Nintendo's output from late 1987 to late 1989, we'll find a conspicuous absence of cute and cuddly hop and bops, and a whole lot of games in which you spend your time talking to folks by selecting options from a menu. The predecessor to visual novels was the Japanese menu-based adventure game, or as I have dubbed it, the "Portopia clone." Other than a few Hal/Pax Softnica developed sports games, Nintendo of Japan went about a year releasing only Portopia clones: the two Mukashi Banashi disks, the Nakayama Miho dating sim, and, as we'll see in Chrontendo 31, two disks of Famicom Tantei Club. Later in 1988, the monotony was broken with Intelligent System's Famicom Wars and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Typical Nintendo product as of 1988.

This obsession with adventure games continued into 1989, with RPG Mother from Ape/Pax Softnica being the only major Japanese Nintendo release that wasn't a Portopia Clone. Perhaps the release of the Game Boy shook Nintendo from their rut. After 1989 Nintendo would still dally with menu-based adventure games, but never with the single-mindedness that they did during that two year period. This was perhaps the oddest stretch of time in Nintendo's history of a game developer.

And... as of 1989.

It just happens that we are going to have two other Japanese adventure games in Episode 31: a murder mystery game from crap-meisters Towa Chiki and, more notably, the offbeat Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom from Hudson. Princess Tomato has two major points of interest: firstly, it's one of the very few Japanese console adventure games to released in the West, and secondly, it's just plain nuts.

Is that all these games ever think about?

In light of all these adventure games this episode, I'm going to try to work in a "History of Adventure Games" feature into Ep. 31. However, the episode is progressing slowly, despite the increase in free time I had.

Elsewhere on the web, Chris Osborne, formerly of Junk Into Treasure, has moved his video game site to Chris is actually chronogaming the US NES releases, and is currently working through the 18 bazillion US launch titles.

Also, Pre-Sonic Genesis has reached Phantasy Star II, a game that, unlike most of the stuff I cover, people still care about today. And.... Chronogamer at Atari Age has reappeared after a few months of silence. So, along with I ♥ The PC Engine, the chronogaming army is growing stronger!

I made a casual reference to Sonichu a couple posts ago, and by an weird coincidence, at the same time, humor site published an article on the 20 Biggest Internet Losers.* The article itself is not that eye-opening, but they did give Sonichu creator Chris-chan the place of honor, as both the illustration in the header, and the final entry in the article itself - implying that he is, in fact, the biggest loser on the Internet. So "congratulations," Chris. While I do have quite a bit of sympathy for the guy due to the relentless harassment by his "fans," at the same time I sort of have to agree with's assessment.

Chris' True and Original creation.

Catch you later. Until then, Episode 31 keeps chugging along.

*Missing from the list: people who write exclusively about 25 year old video games.


Helm said...

God damn, I took a left turn at that article and researched a lot of depressive aspects of the internet. Here's three hours gone.

It never stops being horribly fascinating to me the extent of loathing of others on the internet. Something's really strange when nerds need find *worse* nerds to make fun of.

Chris Osborne said...

I'm only on Episode 20 (and have to wait for my wife to get back from an interview so I have to wait), but I can already say that the adventure game history will be a very welcome break.

I know you do what you can with those, but there's only so much excitement I can get out of the video game choose your own adventure book.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

I am still waiting for the Famicom Dating sims...I mean except that weird one from Nintendo. I am pretty interested in these in 8-Bit, I now some of the Internet in flash, but nothing mindbending.

Also on another note, a day before my copy of Dragon Quest IX arrived I decided to watch the Dragon Quest/Warrior I - III Videos from Chrontendo again.
I didn't have enough time for now to build a good picture of DQ IX, but after an hour in I didn't see anything which reminded me of DQ so far. The menu works great, the graphic is nice and fluid, and the fights have the complexity I was looking for. It is fun, but the spark didn't jump over for now. I heard the japanese are going retro with this game, this is not really what I experienced so far (except of course the art by Akira Toryama). We will see... .

Doctor Sparkle said...

The way I see it, when it comes to freaks and nutjobs, the internet is a two edged sword - it gives them a social outlet and maybe even a sense of community otherwise not available, but it also rewards them when they act insane. On the flip side, it gives society at large a chance to peek inside the minds of folks who, 100 years ago, would have been kept chained up in the attic by their families.

Yeah, JP adventure games are rough because: a. they are all structurally very similar and b. enjoyment tends to come from the quality of the writing, so there's not much there if you don't understand Japanese or if the game is badly translated. And most JP games in 1988 are badly translated into English.

Most JP RPGs nowadays are very heavily character based - with each character specifically designed to appeal to a certain demographic or subculture. Even DQ VIII had a female character with dual ponytails. From what I understand IX is much more old school - you can create your own characters and explore the world at your own pace. But I haven't played it myself.

As for dating sims, that's what where Chronturbo comes in.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Oh yeah, the dating sims were far more prominently on the Turbo-Grafx, you're right...though I am not sure if I want to see these extreme japanese debauchery. I am not a prude, but sometimes the japanese are sexually really weird, even for us germans (though some cliches about germans I heard in foreign countries are also not true either...).

But back to the adventure games, I am used to oldschool LucasArts adventures, but I found the Partopia style adventures so far interesting. But for now there was none I wanted to try without a solution (not the chemical one, I meant gamefaqs), and I think it wouldn't do much sense playing these games then. So I hope you give me a reason to jump in the cold japanese waters of adventure gaming.

And I am also psyched for the dating sims in Chronturbo =)

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Hmm, I think I overdid it with the last sims are not always about sexual encounters...damn all these perverse japanese sex games which found the way on my hard drive.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well as for non-sexual dating sims, supposedly they exist! It would be interesting to see what percentage of dating sim type games are actually H-games, though I suspect a good majority. Even in the Persona games for the PS2, which were clean enough for western audiences, sex was very strongly implied.

I find a lot of Japanese adventure games frustrating because many of the solutions are not really logical. They seem more about talking to every single person over and over again until you are able to move forward. I'll be going into this a bit when discussing Princess Tomato.

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