When someone thinks about Japanese mech combat games for consoles, at least those that don’t happen to involve Gundam in some fashion, the name that probably springs first to mind is FromSoftware‘s Armored Core series. That’s not to say there aren’t others, of course, but Armored Core has been a bit of a mainstay from its introduction in 1997 up until 2013’s Verdict Day. Genki, a company formed by two former Sega AM2 staff in 1990, created a pair of seventh generation console mech games that definitely take inspiration from Armored Core, especially 1999’s Master of Arena.
Edutainment is a noble concept, and simple enough. You’re more likely to retain knowledge of something if it’s fun, right? In the case of video games it appears to have worked somewhat – many children of the late 80s and early 90s have fond memories of Math Blaster, The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, to name a few. The latter of those is of particular interest here, as it appears to have inspired Michael and John O’brien of Australian-based Newbyte Educational Software to create Wanted: Ned Kelly.
Game Center CX is an interesting Japanese TV show that started back in 2003. It stars middle-aged Japanese man Shinya Arino, one half of comedy duo Yoiko and tasks him with playing old video games and trying to clear them. The catch is..he’s quite bad at them. He’s forgetful and awful at pattern recognition, both important skills for older, unforgiving games, but his upbeat attitude turns that into fun and more often than not he eventually meets his goal. The series got a small cult following in the west, largely thanks to the efforts of a subtitling translation team based on the Something Awful forums.
It doesn’t take much thinking to come to the conclusion that a tie-in game based on a show about games would be a good idea, but there was an issue – the games that Arino plays all belong to the license holders. They couldn’t well put out a compilation of games from different publishing entities. Instead, a creative route was taken.
Aside from games with wild peripherals, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) genre might well be the most difficult to preserve due to the way they work. Being online only games, when the company running the game decides it’s time to end it, due to financial reasons or introducing a new product, that game becomes unplayable. There are of course, exceptions, though rarely. Some games, such as Star Wars Galaxies and Phantasy Star Online have third-party private servers, where the server-side backend has either been reverse-engineered or leaked and is run by fans, often with some difference such as higher experience and item drop rates. Generally speaking though, they are gone for good. Most MMORPGs simple cease to exist when the time comes, but sometimes there are special “end of world” events, or the reason for end of service is very notable. A quick few of these follows.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to go and tour the Game Masters exhibit at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. The exhibit, put together by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, is a look at the work of influential game designers such as Warren Spector (System Shock, Deus Ex, Ultima Underworld), Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear, Snatcher, Zone of the Enders), Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims, Spore), Yu Suzuki (Hang On, Outrun, Shenmue) and many more. The exhibition started in Melbourne, but has since travelled to the Museum of New Zealand and now Sydney.
Platform: Sega Mega Drive
Phantasy Star was a success for Sega. The game sold well enough for a sequel to be made quite quickly, and while one would be forgiven for expecting it to be a direct sequel again starring Alis, it turned out to be something else entirely and just as important to the growth of Japanese Role-Playing Games.
During the late 1980’s, every game company wanted a game as big and great as Super Mario Bros. With good reason – it sold millions, kids loved it, merchandise was flying off the shelf and it help push the Nintendo Entertainment System into the homes of many families. While most developers and publishers would be content just to make their own thing and hope for the best, one in particular decided to outright clone Super Mario Bros., for better or worse.
Year: 1987 Genre: JRPG Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: Sega Master System
Phantasy Star has an odd legacy. The series is generally remembered for its (admittedly amazing) online outings. The original games Phantasy Star Online was spun-off from, however, are secretly very important to the evolution of Japanese Role-Playing Games as they are today – for better or worse.
On December 20, 1987 – just two days after SquareSoft bet the future of their company on a little game called Final Fantasy – Sega released Phantasy Star for their Mark III console, which would later come to other territories as the Master System. Phantasy Star begins on planet Palma (sometimes localized as Palm due to character limits) in the Algol star system. The heroine, Alis Landale, watches as her brother is left bloodied and dying on the pavement by Stormtrooper look-a-likes for attempting to meddle in the ruler, King Lassic’s affairs. With his last breath, Nero tells Alis to seek out a man named Odin and put an end to Lassic’s tyranny. The intro alone has a narrative both more in-depth and prominent that the contemporaries of the time, Dragon Quest I and II, which hardly had plots outside of “there is an evil thing, please end it”. Also notable is its use of a female protagonist. There had been a couple up to this point, namely Metroid‘s Samus Aran, but it was still rare.
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Platform: Sega Mega Drive, Sega Mega CD, Commodore Amiga
Traveller’s Tales have an interesting history in that though they’ve been around since the early 90’s and have developed a lot of great selling games (i.e., the Lego series of games), they’ve never actually had their own intellectual property – they’ve always done work for other people. They started off working with Psygnosis (now known as Studio Liverpool and sadly made defunct by Sony Computer Entertainment) on Leander, an Amiga game similar to Shadow of the Beast and a game based on the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo (other console versions were handled by Probe Entertainment or an internal Psygnosis team). Their third game, Puggsy, is something special.
There’s an inherent issue with being interested in video games from an earlier time. There’s not always an easy or legal way to play the game you want to. Take for exampleEver17. The original publisher, Hirameki International, have been gone from the industry since 2008 (though their parent company came back in 2010 to sell console accessories in Japan). At the time of writing, there were no English PC copies on eBay. There was one copy of Amazon – for USD$400. None of the console (PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, PlayStation Portable, Xbox 360) releases of the game were translated to English. At that point, what do you do? What choice do you have? Do you just go without? Or do you turn to the ‘dark side’ and download images of the game’s discs and play it that way?