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  • The little Takahashi Meijin in my soul

    Posted on November 24th, 2009 keving 5 comments

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    The other day I got a chance to translate for an interview conducted with Toshiyuki Takahashi, better known as Takahashi Meijin to millions of eager Japanese boys who are now sadly my age. He still works at Hudson after all this time and for the past few years he’s once again been serving as their top PR guy — more recently he’s been talking about Hudson’s US downloadable releases in Nintendo Power and other US media outlets.

    Imagine if Howard Phillips was about 20 times more well-known to the general public, and that’s what Takahashi was to Japan in the ’80s. In fact I’d bet that a lot of Phillips’ image as presented in Nintendo Power was heavily inspired by Takahashi’s. Both were relentlessly good at Nintendo games, both were kind of dorky and nerd-friendly — Phillips freckled and kind of Iowan, while Takahashi was, let’s face it, downright ugly — but both presented a clean-cut image that let them serve as positive role models for kids.

    One difference between the two: Howard Phillips didn’t get that many opportunities to show off his hot Game Master skills, but in 1986-88, Takahashi was a near-permanent fixture on Japanese kids’ TV. I think I can see why. Just look at him dissect the first stage of Star Soldier in the above video — playing through the stage, getting nearly every bonus, and narrating himself the whole way. Also note his rate of button-pressing. Jeez. I’m amazed he doesn’t have arthritis these days.

    And while Phillips sported a neat bow tie, did he ever release his own single? Sadly, no. But Takahashi did!

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Ganbare! Golf Boys

    Posted on November 23rd, 2009 keving 3 comments

    Ganbare! Golf Boys
    (がんばれ!ゴルフボーイズ)

    Maker: NCS (Masaya)
    Release Date: 3/28/89
    Price:
    5300 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 18.59 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A golf game that allows up to four players via Multitap. There are three courses, whose design is loosely based on famous real-life links. Tournament, stroke and match play is available.”

    The second PCE golf title after Winning Shot, and another brick in the wall for NCS in their early quest to dominate the system’s third-party library. (Seriously, it’s already seemed like a year or so of real-time since I last reviewed a Hudson title here.)

    Ganbare! Golf Boys (J)-005

    The only real selling point Masaya could scare up for Ganbare! Golf Boys’ cover is that it’s compatible with the Multitap, so up to four people can play without having to share controllers/germs/fingernail grease/whatever. Otherwise, this is extremely standard 8-bit golf. The emphasis is on “realism,” as far as the bar went in the late 1980s with this genre — there are two courses, you’ve got a caddy who gives you advice, and you can define where on the ball you want your club face to hit.

    However, the presentation makes this game seem more bland than it actually is. Every hole tends to look the same, and unlike Winning Shot’s up-close perspective, you get a really, really wide-angle overhead view of the course. This makes the golf ball look extremely tiny, and while all the shot ranges are in proportion to the hole, it doesn’t seem like you’re ever hitting it very far, even with a perfect 1-wood shot off the tee. There’s a lack of exhilaration, as Famitsu reviewers would put it.

    There’s a bit of an unexpected treat here, however, tucked within what’s otherwise a bog-standard sports game. The music is by Atsuhiro Motoyama, his debut effort in video games, and it’s oddly endearing — there’s something very strangely melancholy and longing about the soundtrack, even though golf is supposed to be, you know, exciting and fun.

    Motoyama has bounced in and out of the industry over the years; while his most well-known effort is probably Umihawa Kawase (SFC), my favorite work of his is undoubtedly Kuru Kuru Kururin (GBA), still one of the top GBA soundtracks ever created in my opinion.

  • Super busy again

    Posted on November 18th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    A rough coupla days ahead! Aieee!

  • Weird Dreams (Rainbird/Microprose, 1990)

    Posted on November 17th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    I know I mostly talk about Japanese games on this blog, but the Commodore 64 was actually my chief gaming system until — not making this up — 1993, when I finally managed to connive my parents into getting me a cheap used PC clone on which I could play Wolfenstein 3D at about 15 frames per second. I was happy. Not for long, however.

    The result of this is that I am intensely familiar with the entirety of the C64 games library, mainly ‘cos starting around 1990 (when I was the ripe old age of 12) I discovered BBSes and began to pirate games at a level so intensive that it arguably wouldn’t be duplicated until Napster was introduced. Hopefully some imaginary statute of limitations can keep me from being prosecuted by Microprose and all the other 8-bit publishers of the past, nearly all of which are long since defunct or bought out by other, more powerful publishers who are themselves defunct.

    I went through a lot of software back then (which, of course, is all available to me now at a few keystrokes thanks to the GB64 project), but even now I remember Weird Dreams for all the, er, weird dreams it gave me. Nightmares, really. Seriously, this game, alongside Uninvited on the NES, tormented my middle-school soul immensely and made me afraid of the dark long after I should’ve been. Sorry, Mom/Dad/the dog.

    I think the creepiness of the game is actually enhanced by the blocky 8-bitness of the C64 version I played. The “preferred” platform for this game was obviously the Amiga, and that version is a graphical tour-de-force, but the C64 version I lovingly downloaded from “Ironfang Keep” or “Virtual Reality” or some other similarly-named BBS in the northeastern US is a bit more cryptic. The original game comes with a novella that explains the whole story (basically, Steve, the guy you control, is seduced by his satanically-controlled girlfriend to gradually go insane within his dreams), but of course I knew nothing about that, having ruthlessly pirated this thing around 1991.

    This video makes Weird Dreams look easy, but imagine you just leeched this game off some BBS in 1991 and have no information on the thing outside of the name. Sure, you can beat the game in eight minutes if you know how to do everything and have robotic hand-eye coordination, but if you don’t, then you get stuck at individual sections for days. I remember it taking me a month to figure out that the soccer ball was an item that could be used for things. Ultimately I got stuck at the point where the wasp attacked you inside the hall of mirrors. I thought I needed some other item besides the fish to defeat the guy; I didn’t realize that I just needed to hit it fifteen times (30 in the Amiga original) to defeat it. Stupid, stupid pre-teen gamer nerd!

    The C64 version, being a C64 game, has next-to-no real ending. The Amiga version has a bit more substantial of a closing (and one that’s downright creepy, actually), but nothing too substantial plotwise. I posted the C64 vid ‘cos, well, I never owned an Amiga. Sorry.

    PS. Looking at the video again as I edit this: Jesus Christ, Barry Leitch’s rendition of Country Gardens is one of the creepiest C64 tunes I’ve ever heard. I’m gonna have nightmares all over again tonight, I’m sure of it.

  • The New Zealand Story (Taito, September 1988)

    Posted on November 13th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    One of my favorite Taito arcade games, and also one that had a lot of okay home ports (I memorized all the warps in the NES’s Kiwi Kraze back in the day) but no really definitive ones until MAME. The PC Engine version is missing assorted enemies and the Heaven stages; the Mega Drive version features different stages; the Amiga version, probably the most commercially successful one ‘cos it was packed in with the computer in the UK for a while, has nerfed balloons (hah); even the X68000 version sports weapons and enemies that work a little different from the original.

    This is one of those games that punishes you because it loves you. The controls when riding balloons are ridiculously difficult. Learn the warps, and things get easier — as you’ll see, you don’t need to actually complete a level until 3-1.

    A lot of people don’t know about Heaven because it tended not to show up in the home ports we got out West. After 2-4, if you lose your last life by getting hit with a projectile weapon, Tiki will be sent to one of three Heavens depending on what stage you reached. For “heaven,” it’s a pretty dangerous place. If you can reach the goddess at the end of the Heaven stage, you’ll get a special sort of Game Over; if you can find the secret exit out, you’ll fall all the way back down to Earth, get rewarded with one more life, and warp on to the next stage. (The player in this video takes advantage of this to skip most of 4-4, which is a huge pain in the ass and definitely the hardest stage in the game.)

    The slightly unforgettable music, so lovingly remixed by Tim Follin for Kiwi Kraze, was composed by Yasuko Yamada, her first work in games. She hasn’t done much for the game business lately; her most well-known credits are probably Bust-a-Move 1 and 2. (Randomly, she also seems to be responsible for the soundtrack from the first Flintstones NES game.)

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Shiryō Sensen

    Posted on November 10th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    3110Shiryō Sensen: War of the Dead
    (死霊戦線)

    Maker: Victor Musical Industries
    Release Date: 3/24/89
    Price:
    5500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: RPG
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.66 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “The hero, a woman, takes up a gun as she fights off grotesque monsters. You travel around a map screen gathering information, but the game shifts to an action scene when you encounter an enemy. Port of a PC game.”

    Definitely something of a cult title in Japan, Shiryō Sensen was originally released by Victor for the MSX2 in 1987 — a good couple years before Sweet Home, the Famicom release that people often call the first “true” survival horror title. I would say Shiryō Sensen has a far more valid claim to that prize, and it was popular enough in Japan that it was ported to both the PCE and NEC’s PC-88 computers in early ’89.

    Shiryou Sensen (J)-012

    Katsuya Iwamoto, producer and designer on the game, told GameSide in 2008 that the project, like so many of the time, got its start from Dragon Quest. “I got a job as a game designer and they told me to come up with something, so I wrote the basic idea in two or three sheets of notebook paper,” he said. “There weren’t any horror games back then, really, so I wanted to make one. Dragon Quest taught me how I could tell a story through video games, so I wanted Shiryō Sensen to move along like that, too.” The game he came up with, especially in its PC Engine incarnation, certainly betrays Iwamoto’s inspiration; it plays much like a modern-day Dragon Quest but with Zelda II-like battles, because Iwamoto thought turn-based fighting with guns and grenade launchers would be weird.

    Set in the small town of Chaney’s Hill, the game stars Lila, a member of the US Army’s S-S.W.A.T. team of paranormal investigators. She’s sent to the area after all communications are cut off and an entire company of Marines disappears without a trace. The plot (involving a portal to another world and the family that’s secretly protected it for generations) is a little bit Escape from New York and a little bit Stephen King’s The Mist, both of which Iwamoto claims as inspirations — in fact, nearly the entire cast besides Lila sports names borrowed off one horror film or another.

    When you kick off, you’re about as lost as you would’ve been if you ever played the first Dragon Warrior without a strategy guide (be honest here). Considering people call it a “town,” Chaney’s Hill is vastly spread out — the drugstore’s only accessible by boat. The church you start nearby is a safe zone, but you have no map and no real mission apart from “find survivors and bring them into the church,” even though you have no idea where the buildings even are in this town. This makes for a lot of wandering and hoping for something interesting to happen at first, and it doesn’t help that Lila’s just as hopelessly underequipped as every 8-bit RPG hero at the start — one-hit kills are a serious concern for the first hour or so.

    Get used to gameplay, though, and you begin to see Shiryō Sensen’s charms. The atmosphere is Iwamoto’s biggest success here, definitely — the game’s dark and creepy, although not outright terrifying, and the music (an exclusive addition to the PCE port) is a heavy contributor to this. The battles get easier once Lila powers up a little, and eventually the game opens itself up pretty freely to the player, letting you explore town fully and get to the bottom of the twisty story on your own terms.

    In a way, this is the sort of PCE game that’s really taken this whole 20 years to be recognized for its merits. The PCE FAN score is not high, thanks to a ridiculous 54-character password system and some very famous glitches, including an outlandish overflow bug that resets Lila to level 1 if you grind past the maximum of 9999 experience points. Emulator save states makes the passwords obsolete, of course, and if you’re aware of the bugs, you can avoid them easily enough. Then you can just enjoy Shiryō Sensen for what it did right — and that’s pioneer Japanese storytelling in games, right up there with how 1987’s Metal Gear managed it.

    Here’s a vid of the opening and the final chapter of the game. Looking back at it, Shiryō definitely suffers graphically from its 2mbit size. Sadly, it’s not the first nor the last PCE game to fall victim to manufacturing budgets…

  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

    Posted on November 10th, 2009 keving 5 comments

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    Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers comes out for the Wii in two days in Japan, receiving 30/40 points in Famitsu’s cross review. It is the latest Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game to be released after Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord.

    Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is not strictly a sequel to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, the GameCube game where you searched for crystals; it is simply a game in the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series, alongside Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is set before Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, while Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time is set after Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles; in terms of the story, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers uses the same setting as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time.

    To be more precise, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates is the oldest story-wise, followed by Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and then Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, to be even more exact, takes place 2000 years before  Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, making it interesting to compare with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers‘ far-future setting.

    The Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series has also appeared on WiiWare — first as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, set in nearly the same era as Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was actually published by Nintendo, not Square Enix. However, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers, along with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, were all Square Enix publications, making Nintendo’s involvement with the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series unclear.

    Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is set several millennia after Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, featuring modern technology not seen in other Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles games. Many Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles titles are action-oriented, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers continues this tradition by offering classic Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles-style action and adventure.

    If you like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, or even if you’ve never tried a Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles game before, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is a wonderful experience, one of the most accessible in the whole Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series.

    (Inspired by Gadget News)

  • Things Legendary Swords Have A Lot Of

    Posted on November 10th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    Capture

    1 :2009/10/24(土) 09:29:40.25 ID:ZbYgLYgS0
    Besides being stuck in stones and only The Chosen One can pull it out, please.

    15 :2009/10/24(土) 09:33:46.73 ID:L3+9DZHPO
    Sparkly

    19 :2009/10/24(土) 09:35:25.65 ID:peU8BuTGO
    Bouncing around the elf village

    21 :2009/10/24(土) 09:36:12.91 ID:thLQuWCN0
    Passed down over generations

    25 :2009/10/24(土) 09:40:10.59 ID:1lBxmTOZO
    Made by dwarves

    26 :2009/10/24(土) 09:41:15.73 ID:8ndyR8PM0
    Either really thick or really long

    29 :2009/10/24(土) 09:43:54.45 ID:hTxwVJWq0
    The old guy near it is really surprised when you touch it without being shocked/blown away

    39 :2009/10/24(土) 09:45:58.05 ID:+caNLnvIO
    Doesn’t look sharp

    41 :2009/10/24(土) 09:47:02.24 ID:hTxwVJWq0
    Disappears after you plunge it into the final boss for the last time

    45 :2009/10/24(土) 09:51:36.35 ID:NlmVjI8i0
    All rusty at first

    48 :2009/10/24(土) 09:54:07.01 ID:xVHA9OX8O
    If you can sell it it’s either worth a ton of money or 1 Gil

    55 :2009/10/24(土) 09:58:54.25 ID:pTlbCYigO
    Usually about the 3rd strongest by the end

    59 :2009/10/24(土) 10:04:24.90 ID:/kE0FSIq0
    Based on the Holy or Light element so it’s hard to use

    70 :2009/10/24(土) 10:17:03.87 ID:oko8Efuq0
    There’s an evil sword that goes with it

    72 :2009/10/24(土) 10:20:46.04 ID:NJZrzPWh0
    If a villain steals it from its owner he usually bursts into flames or something like that

    87 :2009/10/24(土) 10:32:28.58 ID:RMf1mtf6O
    Fires beams

    97 :2009/10/24(土) 10:41:34.50 ID:l5iyqfrz0
    Nobody really knows anything about the legend behind the sword

    Old man “Ahhh, the legendary sword!!!”
    Hero “Uh, great”

    132 :2009/10/24(土) 11:26:42.99 ID:6OVYMpmr0
    Talks

    141 :2009/10/24(土) 11:36:25.76 ID:h4EWnKLMO
    Capable of killing things in one swipe during cutscenes only

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] F-1 Pilot

    Posted on November 7th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    1220F-1 Pilot

    Maker: Pack-In-Video
    Release Date: 3/23/89
    Price:
    5200 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 17.04 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A realistic race game with some RPG elements. The view is presented from the driver’s seat as the game proceeds in nondescript fashion.”

    Among the many great things that happened around the time of the PC Engine (Tokyo Disneyland, HDTV, the Tokyo Imperial Palace grounds being worth more than all the real estate in California), there was also the so-called “F1 boom.” From 1989 to around 1992, Japan was crazy for Formula 1, falling in love with Ayrton Senna and cursing Alain Prost’s name every time it came up during the prime-time race broadcasts. All kinds of magazines (including Famicom Tsushin) launched F1 columns, and a comic starring Senna even ran in Weekly Shonen Jump for a while. When Senna died on the track in 1994, it was a “where were you when you heard that…” moment for an entire generation of Japanese teens.

    F-1 Pilot is the first PC Engine F1 sim out of the block, produced by Pack-In-Video (a division of the Tokyo Broadcasting System I’ll talk more about later) as their maiden PCE effort. It’s also among the worst PCE games ever made. The review response at the time weren’t terrible, as you can tell from the PCE FAN score above (one of Marukatsu PC Engine’s reviewers gave the game a 7/10, even), but I’m willing to believe any goodwill earned was because F1 sims were still a novelty back then.

    F-1 Pilot (J)-002 F-1 Pilot (J)-005

    Simply booting up F-1 Pilot is a saddening experience. Turn on the power, and you’re treated to a blocky F1 car sprite jerking its away across what looks like a desert landscape, a 15-second-long loop of depressing music in the background. There’s no demo or intro or anything; just you staring at this overscaled sprite, listening to depressing calliope music, until death gracefully intervenes. Five seconds in, and you already get the impression that the coders were more interested in getting this thing out before the first-quarter deadline than taking advantage of the PCE’s power.

    The basic game system isn’t too far off the standard of the time, with one difference: instead of showing the action behind your car (like in Namco’s comparatively fantastic Final Lap Twin, which hit PCEs later in ’89), you view the race from within the driver’s seat, feeling the cyber-wind against your virtual eyes as you go from zero to 320km/h in a couple of seconds. In a possibly major blow to aerodynamics, your machine sports enormous rear-view mirrors displaying the rival cars behind you. There’s no real car-tuning functionality; instead you choose a racing team at the beginning, each with their own tire, engine and pit-crew ratings.

    Start a race, and…well. Your car has only automatic transmission, making acceleration easy, but the problem is you get no warning whatsoever that a curve’s coming — nor do you have any idea where you are on the track at any given time. The game comes with a pretty thick manual outlining all of the courses included in laudable detail, and I guess the idea’s to study this before challenging them in the game, but you’d think they’d at least include some of those large “Right turn coming up”-style billboards you see in every other ’80s racing title. As a result of this omission, you run off the course at pretty much every curve, and you can’t break this habit without essentially memorizing every turn on every course.

    Everything about the experience here shouts “I don’t feel like debugging this.” For sound, you have your choice of grating engine sound or one of two depressing, short musical loops — not both. Cars jump in and out behind you, and there’s just a tiny “bonk” sound when you collide with one; forget about any fancy crash handling. Most humorously of all, there’s a bug where, if a rival car is in your rear-view mirror, he’ll almost never try to pass by you, even if you literally stop right in the middle of the racetrack. (This makes me wonder why the ‘ell my car has those school bus-sized mirrors in the first place — it’s not like I have to worry about cars threatening me from the rear.)

    The result of all this: F-1 Pilot is the only console title I can think of offhand where more thought was applied to the instruction manual than the game itself. Bravo. Pack-In-Video put out 22 PCE titles and only five of them scored above 20 in the PCE FAN rankings. I think I can tell why already.

  • Odds, ends

    Posted on November 6th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    The next PCE game I have to review is awful and I’m pretty drunk right now (hey, it’s Thursday, right?!), so instead of a real update, here are a couple of lovely Nico-videos:

    A collection of ads from the early era of the PC Engine, circa 1988-89. You’ll notice that NEC (a) likes needless English (b) has a sense of advertising style that rivals Sony Computer Entertainment’s.

    It sticks in my craw, for some reason, that Victory Run received 15/30 from PC Engine Fan readers. The game I have to review next, which (like I said) is one of the crappiest titles in the entire library, scored two points higher. This is completely unfair. Victory Run was nothing new by the time it was released, but it was solid, had peppy music, and was that perfect mix of difficult without being frustrating. Give it at least a 20, guys, good God. Check out what happens when you win the entire race in this ~20-minute video.