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.
Year: 1989 Genre: JRPG Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega 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 afterSquareSoft bet the future of their company on a little game calledFinal Fantasy – Sega released Phantasy Star for theirMark 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 Iand 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.
Year: 1993 Genre: Platformer Developer: Traveller’s Tales Publisher: Psygnosis 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., theLego 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 (more recently known as Studio Liverpool and sadly made defunct bySony 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 Driveand Super Nintendo (other console versions were handled by Probe Entertainmentor an internal Psygnosis team). Their third game, Puggsy, is something a bit more special.
Blade Runner was one of the most influential films of the 80’s. Its influence on design, atmosphere and storytelling can still be felt in movies to this day. Like just about any movie, good or bad, it had a video game tie-in, right? Well sort of.
Year: 2006 Genre: Adventure Developer: Irem Software Engineering Publisher: Atlus USA, 505 Games Platform: PlayStation 2
Freedom in video games is an interesting concept. Intriguing, often expansive worlds and environments are made for games and quite often you want to just run around and explore. However, there is a big divide between how ‘Eastern’ (generally Japanese) and ‘Western’ (generally American) games show freedom. That is to say, Eastern games are generally very linear, with the designers wanting you to play a specific way and follow what they’ve scripted out – such as Final Fantasy XIII, which doesn’t have any sidequests until fairly late in the game. Western games have a tendency to be very ‘open’ and let you do what you want – The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto series being prime examples of this.
Steambot Chronicles, interestingly enough, decides to ride the line between the two in a steam-powered mech.
Year: 1994 Genre: Horizontal Shooter Developer: Taito Publisher: Taito Platform: Arcade Also on: Saturn/PlayStation/Windows/PlayStation 2/Xbox
It can be hard to believe that at one point, arcades were dominated by “shooters”. Not first-person shooters such as Doom or Quake, but games where you had a small spaceship (or plane, as was the case with Capcom‘s 1942) and fired upon waves and waves of enemies, generally of the alien variety. In 1978, Taito more or less invented the genre, depending on your views of Spacewar!, and really pushed video games into public knowledge with Space Invaders. Space Invaders was one of those games which managed to become a household name and in Japan even managed to create a shortage of 100 yen coins. It was a fairly simple game. You had a spaceship, positioned at the bottom of the screen, and shot at blocky aliens who somewhat resembled sea critters. This last part leads us to 1986, where Toshio Kohno at Taito decided to make a game where you shot at giant mechanical fish, with the action taking place across three monitors to give it a huge widescreen look. Weirdness aside, the first couple of Darius games were very by-the-numbers shooters. They weren’t bad or unpopular, but nothing special. And then, in 1994, Darius Gaiden was released.