Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To Watch this Video, You Need 4 Eyes

Why? Because of the size.*

Seriously, Chronsega 8 is huuuuge. In more ways than one. It is far and away the longest episode yet. And it's all due to one thing: Phantasy Star II. For some reason, PS II stirred up enough vitriol in me (perhaps "vitriol' is too strong) to rant and rave for an excessively long time about its shortcomings. Hell, the PS II segment is halfway between a typical Chrontendo segment and a Let's Play.

But before I get into that, yes, Chronsega 8 is available in all its mind-numbing glory, on Archive and Youtube. As an experiment, I have put a 720p High Def version on Youtube. If you plan on watching it full screen on your big-ass monitor, this is the way to go. Purists, however, will probably still want to download the 60 fps version from Archive. Also, this is the episode where we move into the new dual format for Chronsega: half Megadrive/Genesis and half Master System.

 So about Phantasy Star II: I'd never played the game before. I'd always heard it was one of the best RPGs ever - a game years ahead of its time. One that put its contemporaries to shame. A game so amazing that after completing it your life would be transformed forever.  After watching the closing credits scroll down the screen, you would step outside, notice colors in the sky you had never seen before. The sounds of children playing in the distance would fill your heart with laughter. Suddenly, nothing in the world would be impossible for you to accomplish.Women would suddenly find you irresistibly attractive. You had become a master of your destiny -- all because of Phantasy Star II!

I hope you like massive amounts of gratuitous multi-plane scrolling.
 In fact, PS II seemed a bit dumbed down compared to its predecessor and some of the better RPGs we've already seen. The combat is very simple; in fact it plays itself. You only have to hit the "fight" button at the start of each battle and your characters just attack automatically.  Enemies use virtually no status ailments or special attacks.  Battles are just "hit and heal." There are only three boss battles in the entire game: one about halfway into the game, and two more at the very end. The game world seems small and sort of empty; there are only a few NPCs of any importance. There is only one real side story, about a guy whose daughter is kidnapped by "scoundrels." The game just doesn't have any of the richness found in Dragon Quest III.

What it lacks in richness it makes up for in vivisected bunnies.
  On the other hand, the art is pretty nice - the monsters and large and the attack animations are well animated.  However, PS II is still visually tied to its 8-bit roots.  It looks like Phantasy Star with bigger sprites and slightly more detailed backgrounds. You can't really blame Sega for this; after all, that 16-bit RPG "look" wasn't developed overnight.  The music is outstanding: some of the best for the system. The character artwork is good looking, and box art by Hitoshi Yoneda is pretty sweet, though clearly derivative of the French comic artist Moebius. But mostly PS II just feels shallow and repetitive, like a grindy, continuous slog through a series of dungeons.

Though we did get some decent fantasy paperback style art in the US.
I don't want to babble on about this game anymore than I already have. Though you should check out the rather thorough series of posts over at the RPG Consoler.

We cover the Mega Drive releases from the system's launch in October 1988 to June 1989. Aside from PS II, we have the two launch titles, both based on Super Scaler arcade games: Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade. Later in the year Sega released Altered Beast, the orignal pack-in game for the Genesis in the US, and Osomatsu-kun, a Mega Drive original. Osomatsu-kun is noticeable for being the first platformer on the system, as well as the first licensed game.

Osomatsu-kun: the forgotten game from the Mega Drive's first batch of releases.
1989 brings in the disappointing Alex Kidd sequel, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, which inexplicably upped the Janken content. Also, Super League, a good looking Baseball game that plays just like every other baseball game we've seen. In the US, Sega tacked on names of real sports figures to their sports games, so Super League was released as Tommy Lasorda Baseball. There are also a couple third party developed games based on earlier computer games, Super Daisenryaku and Thunder Blade II. The latter would eventually become a popular series of shoot-em-ups on the Genesis, but this game is less successful than its sequels.

                                            A crotch shot or Tommy Lasorda's ugly mug. Not much of a choice.

On the Master System end, we have six US/Europe games from Summer 1989. Far and away the best is Westone's Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. I discussed my love of this game in an earlier post. But let me reiterate -- it's one of the best games on the system. Other than that we have a port of the Hot-B shooter, Cloud Master, a horror themed basketball game, Basketball Nightmare, OutRun 3D, Compile's Casino Games, and for some damned reason, Parker Brothers' port of King's Quest (!)

Cloud Master AKA The game where you shoot all kinds of stupid shit.
 So this is how Chronsega will continue in the future. Episode 9 will lean more heavily on the Mega Drive, as the Master System enters its lean period. First though, we have some more Chrontendo. I sincerely hope that Chrontendo 46 will arrive in a much timelier fashion. A number of factors conspired to make Chronsega 8 so late; hopefully this won't happen again.

Until then, check out Chronsega 8 on Archive and Youtube.

* Reference (Probably NSFW)


Anonymous said...

I think you skipped Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf.

elblanco said...

You continue to provide gifts for all humanity. Bless you Dr. Sparkle.

killias2 said...

Over at the RPG Consoler, I argued that he was a little harsh on the game. However, my focus was entirely on the story, which I still hold was ahead of its peers in terms of general narrative even if the story-telling and characterization were lacking. I remember the game being a long and brutal grindfest, although something like that was a lot more appealing to my 9 year old self than my 27 year old self.

Fleedar said...

Well this news made my day!

klarthailerion said...

Does the inclusion of Sega Genesis games in Chronsega hint at the inclusion of Sega 32X and Sega CD games as well? And what about the SNES on the Chrontendo side of things?

You're a brave man to undertake this task, Dr. Sparkle.

Unknown said...

I'd rather not rehash any PS2 arguments. I think your not too far off. And as you said for when it was released here it didn't have the better JRPGs to compete against. I will note that you can target specific enemie types by using the strategy command and then choosing fight and choose the group of enemies you want to attack. Thus making someone like Anna attack the large group of gut rabbit guys while keeping you strong sword attacks on the tougher enemies. To often I see people just choose fight and let the Auto battle take over. You can strategize and fight efficiently. I really don't want to get into it more than that.

What I will say is I quite enjoyed Casino games back in the day. You win by making 1 million dollars. For me, forget those other games of chance, I made my fortune playing blackjack. Probrably why I enjoy that so much in real casinos to this day, from making my fortune in this game. I could of swore there was also a Keno game on there too though.

Oh and loved the episode.m was worth the wait. My only other complaint was Thunde Force 2. I loved that game. I played the NES shooters and R type and I thought the sides rolling sections played pretty well. I guess the overhead stages piss a lot of pele off but I got good enough at that game I started to enjoy them. The graphics were definetly a step up from 8 bit. And I loved the music. Of course TF3 completely overshadows this game but for a launch title it was pretty amazing.

And I wish someone would show some of the later levels of Osomatsu Kun. Pre sonic Genesis only really showed the beginning, Generation 16 only showed like the first two levels, and you barely showed more than that as well. And I noticed you didn't touch on the Steroetype issues seen in that game, like the Chinese buck tooth boss, and the Arab enemies throwing bombs. Or the blackface characters. This game would not have gone over well of released here without some graphical changes.

Unknown said...

Oh also your link to RPG consoler PS2 comments goes to the first post. The real meaty discussions and arguing we're actually on the final rating post here.

Like I said I really don't want to go into all that but it's a good read covering most of the points you had in you video. I liked the game somewhat more than you did but I would never go back and play it now. It would suck the life out of me.

Zenic Reverie said...

Good to know I wasn't completely out of my gourd when I was writing my posts. It sounds like we had very similar experiences playing PSII. Keep up the good work on the chrongaming.

Helm said...

I wanted once again to thank you for your herculean efforts. Superb episode. I feel as if I should be giving you money, but all I can offer right now are words of gratitude. Please carry on!

Erich Beckmann said...

My Life is complete!! I wait way too long for these videos.

Alexandra said...

Dr. Sparkle, I think you really got it right on Phantasy Star 2.

That game is what really prompted me to buy a Genesis, and I enjoyed playing it - at the time. However, I needed the massive strategy guide that came with it to get through those dungeons. Even then, I wrote a ton of notes on the maps because I kept forgetting which teleporter took me where. (I hope whoever had the game after me appreciated that)

Most importantly, I hadn't played any other RPGs yet, so I had no basis of comparison. So, while I have happy memories of that game, I seriously doubt I could stand to play through it ever again.

GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

So why did "Dr S" turn into "Alex?" What's the inside story here?

Anonymous said...

Another great episode as always, Dr. S. I was happy to see you put PSII in context at the end by pointing out it was really one of the earliest JRPGs to hit stateside, which is definitely one of the reasons it's so revered.

And thanks for the shout-out to Generation 16 :)

- Greg

Joe Gutierrez said...

I find it cool that you reviewed Phantasy Star II here when I just finished it only a few months before. :) I must say, though, that I agree with your views on the game. As a fan of the series, the first PS game I ever played was actually the much-superior part IV for the Genesis back in 1997. Several years later, I took the plunge and also played PS1 for my SMS--boy, what an awesome game too! I could not believe how good PS1 is, it doesn't even feel like an 8-bit game, that's how big it is for me.

So when I started playing PSII more recently, I was expecting a lot. After all, it's on the Genesis, so it has to be better than PS1, right? The answer, as you now know Dr. Sparkle, is a big, fat NOPE.

Although admittedly, the death of a major character in the middle of the story was shockingly good/revolutionary for its time (some compare it to Aeris's death in FFVII), the lack of bosses, sidequests and major characters in the game really hurt it.

Another gripe for me is the Tron-like grid background shown during ALL of the battles. To me, Sega just dropped the ball here. I mean, c'mon, even PS1 had very cool and distinct backgrounds, depending on where the battles took place (seashore, forest, dungeon, etc.). Oh well, skipping the forgettable PSIII--which many don't even consider part of the Phantasy Star canon--at least PSIV redeemed the old school series.

Thank you for releasing Chronsega 8! :)

arthurgolden said...

Love the new episode, like always. I do have a question, though. I know of three games with a Mother Brain character: Metroid, Chrono Trigger, and Phantasy Star II. In each, it's a rogue AI that the protagonists must seek out and destroy. In two of those games--Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star II--it's specifically an iridescent hologram of the top half of a woman's body. Why such specific similarities? Is this some kind of stock character? I know the name might be a reference to the Mother AI in Alien. But is there a specific progenitor to this character in Japanese pop culture or elsewhere? Or are the games simply referencing each other?

Unknown said...

So I was sharing over at the Sega 16 forum as since you've started covering Mega Drive games they migt be interested in your series. Probrably got you some new subscribers but anyway, one of the users over there wanted to wanted to point put ( who happens to have their own you tube video series that I enjoy fairly well.) that the Mega Drive supports 2 parralax backgrounds scrolling in hardware and that the SMS Space Harrier does not have co.or flicker on the real system and must be an emulator issue. He does all his videos on real hardware appently ( which I can appreciate for what his series is). I think he even has an episode on Space Harrier all on real hardware. Anyway the users over there can be pretty hardcore about the details of their Genesis so if you get some critism I apologize now. But hopefully I raised some more awareness about your Chronsega ( and Chrontendo etc) series to an audience who would appreciate the inclusion of Mega Drive games.

Mind Tank Studios said...

I never bothered with the 60fps version until this episode, and what a difference it makes 8-)

Loved the episode. Your assessment of PSII seems fair, although I've only played (parts of) I & IV. I must admit, the original is just a little too hardcore for me, but PSIV is a great 16-bit RPG. I'm about halfway through it on PSP at the moment.

yoyoyoit'smyname said...

Hey Dr.S! Great episode, but heads up - you failed to mention that the final Monster World game was actually localized. THIS YEAR. In a bizarre, but awesome, decision by Sega, they brought it over on Wiiware, XBLA and PSN. On Wii Virtual Console, it's counted an import, but they 100% localized the game - english translation and everything! It's sold by itself on that platform, but for XBLA and PSN it's part of the Monster World Collection. It's pretty awesome. You probably shouldn't refer to it as Japanese-only anymore.


Kamiboy said...

Dr. Sparkle. Rest assured that you are not the only who is prone to spontaneous bouts of violent indignation when presented with RPG's that "gamers" consider good.

The quotation marks around the word serve to signify a bizarre phenomenon that takes place in most players when they try to reflect on an RPG.

In dissecting their reflections one notices that they actually have no interest in RPG games for any reason pertaining to them being a video game, as opposed to a book. Or a choose your adventure book at best.

Which is to say their infatuation is almost entirely skewed towards elements that are superficial additions to video games, such as narrative and graphical aesthetics.

That is why tens of hours long RPG's that you slog through by pretty much just picking the “Fight” option, interspersed with the odd healing, ad nauseam have somehow come to be considered good or classic today.

Of course I will always maintain that narrative is a foreign element in the medium and only ever functions as garnish, so all I remember of the average RPG experience is an 80 hour sisyphean grind. A grind in which I stop to reflect on and question the meaninglessness of it all for every random bland encounter. Or roughly once every 2 minutes.

If only people had valued gameplay in equal measure as the narrative in these games, which I might add is pretty pathetic also, then perhaps the genre would not have gone through the extreme evolutionary path that resulted in 80 hour deformed abomination into which it has been bred today.

blob said...

Man, that Space Harrier guy must get tired hanging onto his flying bazooka. He should get a nice floating chair or something.

Chris Sobieniak said...

"Man, that Space Harrier guy must get tired hanging onto his flying bazooka. He should get a nice floating chair or something."

I'm sure plenty of us thought that way too!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, I'm glad not everyone disagreed with me on PS II. I do have high hopes for PS IV, however.

About Space Harrier - Flicker was not the best word to use for the SMS Space Harrier. It doesn't really flicker so much as the lack of sprite scaling makes it look juttery. Also many objects have a rectangular box around them (maybe these are background tiles, not sprites?). Having a few of these together on screen at once, in the bosses for example, makes everything look like an ugly mess.

Doctor Sparkle said...

The whole Alex thing is explained int the annotations on the Youtube version. About 3/4th of the way through, my saved games were accidentally deleted. Rather than going on a tri-state killing spree, I uses a saved game someone posted online. Thanks to "Alex" the video contains the game's ending.

Kamiboy - I'd say people like RPGs for a number of reasons. Some folks, (PS II fans, I guess) like mapping out these huge dungeons and taking copious notes. Some people might enjoy the repetitive, almost trance-like nature of the battles. And yes, some people do play them for the characters and "plot," probably as a form of escapism. Tons of RPGS use "you are the chosen one" type plots.

I think good RPGs must have the right combination of effort and reward. In PS II, I just felt the balance was off - too much effort, not enough reward.

Kamiboy said...

If you take a critical look at the prevalent Dragon Quest template approach to RPG design you should realize that it is severely hampered by its table top game origins.

In almost all of these games there are no rational reason for picking attacks from a menu or having battles be turn based. I mean what is the difference between picking "Attack" from a menu to see an canned animation in Final Fantasy and hitting the attack button in Legend of Zelda and attacking in real time?

The difference in the result is none. But in Zelda you are at least in full control of your character. There is a modicum of skill involved in the latter.

These ancient Dragon Quest derived tropes imposed crippling limitations on RPG's, and yet so many developers blindly used them.

Not even the most revered dragon quest template classics such as Final Fantasy VI has what would amount to engaging combat mechanics when compared to action games that focus exclusively on that aspect.

I would say the 16 bit generation was the very last time where developers should have gotten away with just reiterating on Dragon Quest for their RPG designs.

After that they should have used the added dynamism and flexibility of 3D graphics and worlds to create games that contain all the elements that define the role playing experience such as escapist fantasy, adventuring, exploration but combined it with deep dynamic mechanics such as in Vagrant Story and Demon/Dark Souls.

But to this very day menu based RPG's continue to come out and combat continues to be treated as a mere distraction serving only to delay your arrival to the next plot development.

Why even keep on the pretense at this point? Why not just get rid of the ostrich wing combat elements of RPG's and let them fully transform into what they actually are, visual novels.

I really hate it when developers blindly copy game mechanics from a popular game without first questioning their merit.

Jonothan said...

The new intro kind of makes my eyes hurt.

jade said...

That sound. I would imagine he was probably listening to
people like Lightning Hopkins, Carolina