[I ♥ The PC Engine] Tengai Makyō ZiriaPosted on June 15th, 2010 9 comments
Release Date: 6/30/89
Price: 7200 yen
Media: CD-ROM² (141.58MB + 3 audio tracks)
PC Engine FAN Score: 25.68 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A sort of Eastern charm pervades the story, which features fire-tribe child Ziria as he faces off against the 13 members of the Great Gate sect with his friends Tsunade and Orochimaru. An RPG with a flashy team behind it, including director Hiroi Ohji and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.”
This, along with the later Ys I/II, established the PC Engine CD-ROM² System as a truly viable game platform in Japan. It’s the first RPG ever released on the CD-ROM format (I’m not going to count No-Ri-Ko as an RPG), and it’s also the first installment in the Tengai Makyō series, one which never really came out here but has stayed alive in Japan since its inception, most recently in a 2008 compilation released on the PSP. In my opinion, though, Ziria is important for another reason — it’s the first real “mega-RPG” project, a JRPG where the graphics were a main sell right alongside the gameplay, and in that way it had the same effect on Japanese gamers in 1989 that Final Fantasy VII had on the worldwide audience in 1997.
It’s interesting that Ziria wound up doing all this for the PCE, because the game wasn’t even a game at all in the beginning. Instead it was a movie script, or at least the outline of one, penned in 1986 by Teruhisa Hiroi (better known as Hiroi Ōji these days) for media outfit Red Company. Hiroi had an idea for a non-samurai samurai flick — a dramedy that took all the samurai/ninja/shogun legends of Japanese folklore and bunched them all together Alice in Wonderland-style — and he figured it’d work best as a live-action feature film.
Hiroi’s pitch was turned down by movie studio Daiei in the summer of ’86, but he got a connection via Daiei to animation firm Tokyo Movie Shinsha soon afterward. Hiroi and Red Company then restructured the script to work as an anime series instead, a project that occupied the remainder of the year for them. Torajiro Tsujino, who worked for TMS as an animator back then, went on board as art designer for the project, creating the colorful, exaggerated samurai-era “Jipang” you can still see in the series today — “a foreign observer’s skewed view of old Japan,” as Hiroi put it. (This world-view has stayed constant through the whole series except in Daiyon no Mokushiroku, which turns the tables and portrays 1890s-era America as imagined by Japanese people without the benefit of a world-history textbook.)
The TMS anime project wound up failing to receive a production budget, and so Hiroi then turned to Hudson Soft, a company he was introduced to after they sponsored the Mashin Eiyūden Wataru TV series that he helped out with. Here, on his third try, Hiroi finally found himself in the right place at the right time — Hudson wanted an epic-sized game with plenty of voice and animation work in order to show off its upcoming CD-ROM game system, and Red Company had a ready-made plan to make it happen.
Development work on Ziria formally began on September 1987, and by the standards of the time, the project was absolutely enormous. Red, which was occupying an apartment-sized office at the time, moved into a five-story building in Tokyo’s Asakusa ward simply so they could take in the tsunami of Hudson developers working for them. It was a grueling project, and not just because the CD-ROM² System existed only on paper at that point. The game went through three different versions as Red and Hudson struggled to exploit the hardware’s advantages and work around its deficiencies. At one point, it was actually an action RPG, an iteration that made it pretty close to a stable alpha build before Red scrapped it.
By November 1988, the game was officially in development hell, past its deadline without much to show for it. It was saved by a man named Shoji Masuda, a man with no artistic talent or game-development experience. How did he get into the team? Because he was the Hudson PR staffer assigned to Ziria, and he had become so pissed at the studio’s inability to ship anything that he put it upon himself to salvage the project. As it turned out, Masuda was just the man Ziria needed. In a three-month whirlwind, he cut down the size of the story, rewrote most of the script in order to make it work better as a game, and implemented a new command-based battle system from scratch.
His presence was what allowed Ziria to escape vaporware status, and thanks to him, the PCE finally had its big-name RPG — one with several dozen hours of gameplay, a massive voice cast, a soundtrack with contributions by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and thousands of NPCs (Hudson claimed over 3000) running around the villages and dungeons. It was the first “next-gen” JRPG, and Japanese gamers had seen nothing like it before.
Based very loosely on 19th-century tales of the ninja Jiraiya and his pals, Ziria is set in Jipang, a fantasy nation that resembles 17th-century Japan. (Jipang was originally based on the map of Japan in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first produced by a Western cartographer, but the world map got cut down to only the Kanto region in the final game.) Ziria is a member of the “tribe of fire” (火の一族), and he’s charged with finding fellow heroes from his tribe and defeating the evil “Great Gate” (大門教), a religious cult trying to resurrect a supremely evil demon. His allies: Tsunade, an impertinent girl with superhuman strength, and Orochimaru, a wispy samurai who likes cross-dressing at hot spring resorts.
Reflecting its roots as a movie/TV show, Ziria is pretty linear in nature. The basic gameplay system is identical to Dragon Quest (the standard bearer of the age), but your journey is very carefully divided into bite-sized pieces, with Ziria gaining access to a new region, defeating the boss inside, and then moving on to the next one. The journey’s a massive one, and it seems like there’s no end the villages, dungeons, and NPCs you have to hit up. It’s very PlayStation RPG-y in that way.
A lot of the window dressing in this game, from the voiced cutscenes to the in-game item descriptions to the way you can hold down the II button to walk faster, were brand-new to the genre at the time. The cutscenes, in particular, still work pretty nicely today — basically still images with animated mouths, but the voice work is top-notch throughout. Gameplay, on the other hand, is a bit unbalanced, no doubt due to its hectic development schedule. The start of the game is Phantasy Star-like in its unfairness — your stats are absurdly low, they get only the most miniscule of boosts when you gain a level, and the bosses all seem to heal themselves far quicker than you can deal damage. It’s more frustrating than challenging, but that all disappears toward the end, when your support magic finally kicks in and certain enemies start giving out experience like candy. (The way you’re warped back to town with half your gold seized if even one party member dies in combat is also pretty, um, 8-bit RPG in style.)
Still, Ziria was a grand experiment, and unlike all the CD-ROM² experiments preceding it, it was largely a successful one. It was followed a few years later by Tengai Makyō II: Manji MARU, the best-selling CD-ROM² game of all time, and it’s remained popular enough today that Hudson remade it on the Xbox 360 back in 2006. It’s a harbinger, a very early one, of where JRPGs were going — story over stats, an overall “experience” instead of a virtual D&D campaign.
Splendid article! I had no idea that this game had such a dramatic development.
All I can say is, “Thank you, Shoji Masuda. The field of Public Relations has rarely been graced with the dedication and initiative you exhibited. Bravo, Shoji Masuda.”
If only Shoji Masuda had taken the reins of other “troubled” projects (such as the PC-FX installment of Tengai Makyo).
Namely: Tengai Makyo III: NAMIDA for PC-FX.
Thanks a lot my friend!
your text is just fabulous and add some important information for Tengai Makyo fans like me!
i´ts hard and rare to see such a nice content!
what a dramatic history!
tengai makyo is my favorite serie of all RPGs that i had the opportunity to know and play and i’ve been searching for information like this ( i didn’t see this nice backgound history in the websits that i had visited!)
another thing (that makes me very dissapointed in the video games history, especially in RPGs)is about the PC-FX version of Tengai Makyou Namida III wich was a nice project but they cancealed it.
i think this game (if the project had be complete in PC-FX)is going to be, now a days one of the best RPGs of ever!
I don’t like the 3D way in the PS2 version of this Title they really killed the exeptional work of art in the character design, Torajirou Tsujino is my favorite character design but the 3D graphycs in the game don’t stay at the same level of his artwork.
Hudson and Red soft(epecially the last)are just fabulous in 2D graphics and animation but in the 3D m they didn’t do their jobs very well.
I know that tecnollogy in the video games alwais claims for innovation and improvement in 3D garaphycs, and a really like some of this kind of games (like Kingdom Hearts series and Shadow Hearts series)but i really believe that you have to do what you are best, and in 3D graphycs Red company (My favorite softhouse or development team or Studio on the planet) are very week comparison to some other softhouses!
In my opinnion Tengai Makyou 4th Apocalipse is the best improvement in the series (oh man the super fluid animation in the boss battles!)and for me the best and only option to make a True Tengai Makyou game is to improve the animations and 2-D graphics and a good way to do this is making a Tengai Makyou game , for portable consoles (like PSP, or 3DS) a good exemple is Lunar Harmony of Silver Star for PSP, but i dont want to see more remakes!
Exept for Tengai Makyou Namida for PS2 the other games of the main series ( for PC Engine, Super Famicon and Sega Saturn)are for me absolutely perfect in their concepts!
What i want is a Brand New Tengai Makyou! with a epic storyline,fabulous characters(inluding super villians like Duke Peppe or Blizzard) and lots of exploration in the Torajirou Tsujino’s character design!
But in fact this is just a dream, bur a can’t leave without may dreams!
Thanks a lot for this post i really enjoy it!!
Great post as always Kevin.
Too bad the most recent one is tengai makyo jipang 7 :-\
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[…] MagWeasel kicks up his best post to date by walking us inch-by-inch through the tortured history of one of those games you always wanted to play in English–in this case, Far East of Eden: Ziria for the PC-Engine–but can’t: A lot of the window dressing in this game, from the voiced cutscenes to the in-game item descriptions to the way you can hold down the II button to walk faster, were brand-new to the genre at the time. The cutscenes, in particular, still work pretty nicely today — basically still images with animated mouths, but the voice work is top-notch throughout. Gameplay, on the other hand, is a bit unbalanced, no doubt due to its hectic development schedule. The start of the game is Phantasy Star-like in its unfairness — your stats are absurdly low, they get only the most miniscule of boosts when you gain a level, and the bosses all seem to heal themselves far quicker than you can deal damage. It’s more frustrating than challenging, but that all disappears toward the end, when your support magic finally kicks in and certain enemies start giving out experience like candy. (The way you’re warped back to town with half your gold seized if even one party member dies in combat is also pretty, um, 8-bit RPG in style.) […]
[…] to Comments Actually, feel free to continue calling me a Tengai Makyo virgin until my copies of Tengai Makyo: Ziria, Tengai Makyo II: Manjimaru and Tengai Makyo: Fuun Kabukiden arrive in the mail later this week (or […]
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