Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line

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Introduction

Yuji Horii’s 1986 effort, Dragon Quest, would go on to sell more than two-million copies. In doing so, it introduced the role-playing game to a whole new audience. Naturally, it didn’t take long for fans to start asking for a sequel, and this time, the creator was one step ahead; plans for Dragon Quest II began one month before the release of its predecessor. Despite the warm reception Dragon Quest enjoyed, the development team was confident they could create a game to surpass it in every way. Much of the personnel who worked on Dragon Quest remained for the sequel’s creation as well; Akira Toriyama handled the concept art while Koichi Nakamura, the president of Chunsoft, would serve as its director and lead programmer.

The team was divided into two groups: one handled the programming and the other focused on story development as well as the monster designs. When asked by the producer for a deadline, Mr. Nakamura set it for early November of that year, but the project was hit with a brief delay. During playtesting, the team determined that their product was excessively difficult, necessitating them to make minor adjustments to the game’s balance. Luckily, this hurdle was easily overcome, and the mid-December marked the completion of the final version. After rushing to Nintendo to create physical copies, Dragon Quest II was released in January of 1987, and it too successfully moved over two-million units. Undeterred by the relative failure of Dragon Quest in North America, Enix themselves published the game overseas in 1990. Initially, it was localized as Dragon Warrior II, but as time went on, the series reverted to its original name, and the game eventually received the title, Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line.

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Mother 3

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Introduction

In 1994, Mother 2: Gigyas Strikes Back, the follow-up to Shigesato Itoi’s beloved Famicom game was released. It accomplished the impossible by eclipsing the seemingly insurmountable popularity of its predecessor. Although it took some time, the sentiment was eventually shared with Western gaming fans who knew the game as a standalone title named Earthbound. With two smashing successes under their belt, it wasn’t long before fans clamored for a sequel. They weren’t alone either; so great was Mr. Itoi’s own enthusiasm that he called the lead designer, Akihiko Miura, in the dead of night to inform him of his new idea for the series’ concluding installment before promptly being informed that “it wasn’t time for that”. In fact, he had this idea so early, it was originally slated to be released on the ill-fated Super Famicom CD, a peripheral for their 16-bit console made to compete with the Sega CD, their rival’s equivalent. The team behind Earthbound regrouped for its sequel, and in a daring move, they forewent the prototyping phase, going straight into development under the belief that they would create something unprecedented. Mr. Itoi is on record stating that he wanted to make the game like a Hollywood film. He and his team began the project in 1994, expecting to complete it in 1996 whereupon it would see the light of day on Nintendo’s then up-and-coming 3D console: the Nintendo 64.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for their plans to go awry. While Earthbound ran into its own problems, the Super Famicom was an established system, and any technical issues were solved once a gifted programmer named Satoru Iwata dealt them. The Nintendo 64 was a horse of a different color – especially in the mid-nineties when 3D gaming was in its primordial phase. That the hardware was largely experimental coupled with the team’s understandable lack of experience with it caused development to stall. Not helping was that Mr. Iwata had been promoted to president of HAL Laboratory, meaning he had far less time to work on the game, and in 1995, Mr. Itoi’s company, Ape Inc., became Creatures with many of its members proceeding to assist an up-and-coming designer named Satoshi Tajiri with a project of his own: Pokémon.

Despite these setbacks, by 1996, the game was in an advanced state under the working title of Mother 3: Strange Creatures Forest. During this, Nintendo tried once again to capitalize on the increasingly popular CD-ROM format that paved a golden road for Sony’s PlayStation console with their proposed Nintendo 64DD (Dynamic Drive). It was touted as “the first writable bulk data storage device for a modern video game console,” which included features such as a real-time clock for persistent game world design, and expanded, rewritable data storage. Shortly after the technology’s announcement, it was decided that Mother 3 would be one of the system’s launch titles. Nintendo originally intended for the 64DD to be released in 1996 – the same year as the Nintendo 64, but it ran into numerous delays until it was pushed back to 1999. By then, interest in the product had waned, and it only boasted nine games in its library by the end of its run.

The tumultuous handling of the 64DD prompted Mr. Itoi and his team to downgrade their project to a simple Nintendo 64 title once more. By 1999, they managed to complete a playable demo which was showcased at Spaceworld, an annual video game trade event hosted by Nintendo. This time, the game had a definitive title: Mother 3: The Fall of the Pig King, and it was even scheduled for a North American release under the name Earthbound 64. As Earthbound gained a significant following in the West and it was a beloved classic in its native homeland, fans waited with bated breath to see what Mr. Itoi had in store for them. Their hope began to fade once the game was delayed again to 2000, yet failed to make an appearance at the E3 convention of the same year. With nothing to show for all of their hard work, Mr. Itoi announced the project’s cancelation in August of 2000, and it seemed his story would remain untold.

However, Shigeru Miyamoto was still interested in bringing the work to fruition. In 2003, the fans’ faith in the series was restored thanks to the release of Mother 1 + 2, a Game Boy Advance compilation port of Mr. Itoi’s first two games. A small message at the end of a TV advertisement stated, “We’re working on Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance…” Various people had approached Mr. Itoi for the proposal of film or novel adaptations of his canceled project, but he declined, believing it could only be a game and nothing else. Mr. Iwata speculated in hindsight that the game didn’t really need to be in 3D when his colleague’s talents lied in the written word, and Nintendo’s newest handheld console seemed to provide the perfect solution for their troubles. The machine would provide them with specifications similar to the tried-and-true Super Famicom, eliminating any uncertainties the team might have had. With an entirely different team formed by employees from two companies, HAL Laboratory and Brownie Brown, Mr. Itoi set forth to at last create the third and final installment of his series. The latter company was composed of former Squaresoft 2D artists, and one of its members, Nobuyuki Inoue, served as the director for Mother 3, having achieved success as the scenario writer and battle designer for Live A Live. This time, development progressed with little incident, and the game, now simply titled Mother 3, was finally released in 2006 – twelve years after its direct predecessor.

As the compilation Mother 1 + 2 was not released in the West, North American hobbyists attempted to persuade Nintendo to localize Mother 3. To ensure their pleas would not fall on deaf ears, they sent a petition that received over 30,000 signatures along with a book containing Earthbound art, stories, comics, and even music all made by fans. Sadly, these impressive efforts were for naught, as Nintendo announced that they were not interested in exporting Mother 3 overseas. Unwilling to let this deter them, the fans took it upon themselves to provide their own translation. The project was led by Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin, a professional translator who previously worked on anime such as Dragon Ball and Lupin the 3rd as well as other video games including Kingdom Hearts II. The process proved arduous, and Mr. Mandelin said that “no text display routine wound up untouched.” Even those with lesser roles were estimated to have spent anywhere from fifty to one-hundred hours while the leaders contributed one-thousand. Still, the team soldiered forward, and the patch was completed in 2008. Within its first week, it received over 100,000 downloads, and Mother 3 enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception. Fans have been quick to point it out as one of the decade’s finest works – a sentiment echoed in several gaming publications – with some going as far as declaring it Mr. Itoi’s magnum opus.

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Earthbound

earthbound

Introduction

In 1989, Nintendo released an RPG known as Mother. It differed from its contemporaries in that its scenario was conceived by a professional writer who saw a great storytelling potential in this budding medium: Shigesato Itoi. His celebrity status, which he achieved long before he had an idea for a video game, played a big role in Mother selling over 400,000 copies in Japan. It wasn’t just a big name being attached to the project that moved so many units, however; kids and adults alike enjoyed the game for its compelling, emotionally driven narrative, and its appeal transcends generations.

Naturally, because Nintendo realized they had a hit on their hands, it wasn’t long before they asked Mr. Itoi to create a sequel to continue this newfound success. He happily accepted, as the Super Famicom was released in Japan a year after the debut of Mother. This new machine provided more than a mere graphical upgrade; it allowed for creative possibilities inconceivable on the original Famicom. HAL Laboratory, the company that would eventually create the Kirby franchise, joined Mr. Itoi and the rest of Ape Inc. to aid them on this new project. With this new talent and the prospect of ascending his canon to a higher level on a new and improved system, the possibilities were endless or so it would appear on the surface. Shortly after development began, the team began running into a multitude of problems. The isometric perspective that gave Mother its identity was difficult to render, new mechanics failed to work properly, the two studios were in entirely different regions of Japan, and eight megabytes of storage proved insufficient to hold the soundtrack let alone an actual game. The project began to stall, and all hope seemed lost.

This all changed when HAL Laboratory sent one of their most skilled programmers to save the day. Once appointed lead programmer, this man was able to systematically manage all of the technical issues plaguing the development process. His name was Satoru Iwata, the very person who would become Nintendo’s president a decade later. Due to his efforts, the project became even larger in scale, and took nearly four years to complete – something that was practically unheard of at the time. The game was finished in 1994 under the name Mother 2: Giygas Strikes Back. Like its predecessor, Mother 2 received a warm reception to the point where hundreds of thousands of copies were sold within the first few weeks. Mr. Itoi’s success was at an all-time high, and Nintendo decided to take a chance by pouring resources into getting the game localized for a Western audience. In North America, Mother 2 inherited the working title of its predecessor before the plans for localization fell through at the last minute: Earthbound, and Nintendo marketed the game heavily in the hopes that it would catch on overseas. Sadly, this effort ultimately fell short, and the game barely sold 150,000 copies – dismal sales compared to other Nintendo titles. What few critics did play Earthbound dismissed it for its seemingly childish presentation and not looking enough like Final Fantasy VI. Exactly what did they choose to pass up?

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Introduction

The year 1886 marked the first publication of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a story about a doctor, Henry Jekyll, who felt he was constantly battling between good and evil within himself. His solution to this was to create a serum that, once consumed, was to mask these desires. Once he tried it, he transformed into an entirely new person, Edward Hyde. Using this entirely new identity, Dr. Jekyll would commit various atrocities he wouldn’t have otherwise, reveling in the carnage he sowed. The novella was met with a warm reception, selling forty-thousand copies within the first six months of its publication in the United States. Mr. Stevenson’s work has since been declared a cornerstone of literature for its examination of duality in the human spirit, and it inspired countless authors to provide their own take on the subject.

Nearly one-hundred years later, an entirely new medium quickly started gaining popularity. What set it apart from any other art form that came before was direct human interactivity. People started calling these new works video games. In 1988, a little-known Japanese company known as Advance Communication released a game for the Nintendo Famicom whose name roughly translates to Dr. Jekyll’s Hour Of The Wandering Monstrosity. It was imported to North America in the following year under the name Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, making its inspiration more readily apparent.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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Introduction

In the year 2000, Capcom released a sequel to their 1999 survival horror game, Dino Crisis. The original was directed by Shinji Mikami, who also created the Resident Evil series, but one of his subordinates at the time, Shu Takumi, handled the sequel’s development. Upon completing his work on Dino Crisis 2, Mr. Mikami allotted Mr. Takumi six months to create his own game. As Mr. Takumi had joined Capcom in 1994 hoping to create adventure and mystery games, he knew this would be his chance to make his mark as a full-fledged developer.

Development of this new project started in 2001. It was originally slated for release on the Game Boy Color, but once the team discovered the system’s successor, the Game Boy Advance, Mr. Takumi deemed the new handheld console perfect for his vision. At first, Mr. Takumi wished to make a game about a private investigator who found the dead body of his client in his office and was subsequently arrested for the murder. He was then appointed an incompetent attorney, forcing the detective to defend himself in court. The working title was “Surviban: Attorney Detective Naruhodo-kun” with Surviban being a portmanteau of the English word, “survival,” and the Japanese word, “saiban” (court or trial). Eventually, Mr. Takumi realized that examining and taking apart contradictions wasn’t exactly detective work and decided to make the courtroom the game’s primary setting with the lawyer being the protagonist instead. Although the project was in danger of being canceled at one point due to two staff members leaving the company, development went smoothly, as it only took ten months to finish. The game, Turnabout Trial, was released in October of 2001 whereupon it received a dedicated following, though Capcom expressed no interest in expanding their audience to include overseas fans.

This all changed four years later when the game was remade for the DS, Nintendo’s next handheld console following the Game Boy Advance. Capcom decided to take a chance by outsourcing the burden of localization to a company called Bowne Global. It was handled by a writer named Alexander O. Smith, who had experience translating works such as Final Fantasy VIII and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, along with editor Steve Anderson. October of 2005 would mark the debut of Turnabout Trial in the West under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. It seemed as though it was doomed to fall into obscurity thanks to its dismal initial sales figures, but it received exceedingly positive word of mouth, and the game suddenly became very difficult to find as demand exceeded supply. The third printing sold out within a week, and online auctions would see enthusiasts pay double the retail price for a copy. How was this game able to strike such a chord with its newfound Western audience?

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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Introduction

Peace Walker breathed new life into Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series of stealth-action titles. In an ironic twist, it ended up with a greater level of adoration than its direct predecessor, Metal Gear Solid 4, despite having significantly less hype surrounding its release and a downgrade in visuals owing to the PlayStation Portable’s inferior hardware. The game reached an even larger audience once it became a cross-platform title packaged with Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 on the HD Collection. Feeling rejuvenated from the ill will he bore towards the development process of Metal Gear Solid 4, Mr. Kojima expressed interest in releasing the next installment, titled Ground Zeroes, as an immediate follow-up to Peace Walker on either the PlayStation Portable or the PlayStation 3. However, due to a combination of numerous delays surround Metal Gear Rising, a spinoff sequel to Metal Gear Solid 4, and AAA gaming being a few years away from starting a new console generation, it was decided that Ground Zeroes would bridge the gap.

In March of 2012, Mr. Kojima spoke at a Q&A to mark the inclusion of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit. He stated that he and his staff were working on a project he believed would become the shining moment for both his career and the Metal Gear series. This new game was to deal with taboo issues while still being fun to play. In August of the same year, a new Metal Gear installment dubbed Ground Zeroes made an appearance at an event that celebrated the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Mr. Kojima referred to Ground Zeroes as a prologue to a bigger title, and that it would involve open-world gameplay. In December, a new trailer for a game titled The Phantom Pain surfaced at the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards. This game was apparently being developed by a Swedish company named Moby Dick Studio, but astute fans took notes of various hints and deduced that Kojima Productions made the trailer. Although Mr. Kojima equivocated when asked about this, he eventually confirmed the theory in March of 2013 when he revealed the full name of the project: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. This led to a fair bit of confusion, as many people thought that Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain had been combined into a single game before Mr. Kojima stated that they were still intended to be separate experiences. The reason behind this was to gain feedback about the quality of the game’s engine.

After a lengthy development cycle, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was released in 2014 to a mixed reception. Although many critics praised the gameplay, fans weren’t thrilled about the prospect of paying forty dollars for what was essentially a tech demo whose main campaign could be completed in less than two hours. Mr. Kojima assured the public that The Phantom Pain would be two-hundred times larger than Ground Zeroes, and that the best was yet to come. One year after the release of Ground Zeroes, Konami announced that they were undergoing a corporate restructuring. As a majority of their income came from their line of pachinko machines, their game development divisions became less lucrative for them as the 2010s progressed. This infamously resulted in Silent Hills, the ninth installment of their famous survival horror franchise, being abruptly canceled and them parting ways with Mr. Kojima and his personal studio. Despite all of this turmoil, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain saw the light of day in September of 2015. Just like its two predecessors, it managed to amass universal critical acclaim from countless gaming publications such as Famitsu, GameSpot, and IGN. Was it truly able to escape Konami’s tumultuous atmosphere unscathed and shine as one of the decade’s highlights?

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Earthbound Beginnings

EarthBound Beginnings

Introduction

In the eighties, a man named Shigesato Itoi rose to prominence as a prolific copywriter, a profession which encompasses a wide range of activities from coming up with catchphrases to conceiving marketing campaigns. He became known for his strange, yet concise writing style. One of his most notable successes was his 1983 slogan for a Seibu department store advertisement, “Tasteful Life.” It broke new ground and featured Woody Allen, who was unknown to the Japanese at the time. His fame was such that he was even solicited by the famous studio, Ghibli, whereupon he helped promote the works of Hayao Miyazaki, considered by many to be one of the greatest animators in history.

Mr. Itoi wasn’t content to limit himself to a single profession, however, and often dabbled in various fields. He held a satirical column, and wrote songs for other artists, and co-authored a collection of short stories with Haruki Marukami, who would later pen Kafka on the Shore. During all of this, he noticed a trend that was becoming increasingly popular by the day: video games. In 1987, he had an idea for a video game, believing that the medium’s unique qualities could be used to explore new avenues of storytelling. There was just one problem: he had no idea to whom he could propose his idea. One day, he received a phone call from Nintendo about the ad campaign for Square’s 1987 dating simulator, Miho Nakayama’s Heartbeat High School. Mr. Itoi took this opportunity to mention his project, and to his amazement, the correspondent of this rapidly growing company seemed interested. Shortly after this call, Mr. Itoi was interviewed by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto, the creative mind behind Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Mr. Itoi realized this would be his only chance to convince Nintendo to help him make his game. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyamoto remained skeptical, thinking that it was a case of a celebrity making a game for its own sake and rejected the idea. It seemed as though all hope was lost.

However, Nintendo’s CEO, Hiroshi Yamauchi, felt games lacked innovation in recent years, and that someone with such an impressive repertoire would provide a perfect solution to the problem. This resulted in another phone call from Mr. Miyamoto himself to notify Mr. Itoi that the project had been greenlit. Thus Ape Inc. was founded, and Mr. Itoi spared no expense to make sure that his game would match his vision. He employed a skilled visual artist and two composers, one of whom was Keiichi Suzuki, a personal friend and the leader an alternative rock band called Moonriders. When asked for a title, Mr. Itoi chose “Mother.” There was a twofold reason behind this decision. The first was to pay tribute to John Lennon’s song of the same name, saying that it made him cry the first time he listened to it while the second was to grant his game an atypical title to differentiate it from the numerous “quests,” “legends,” and “stories” floating around. Aside from a few balancing issues, development of Mother went smoothly, and the game was released in 1989 to a warm reception with reviewers unanimously praising its unique qualities. It wasn’t just kids who had good things to say about Mother either; it had a cross-generational appeal which helped it become a hit with adults as well. To this day, Mother remains a beloved classic and regularly places in polls regarding the best games ever made.

Shortly after the success Mother found in Japan, Nintendo made efforts to localize it overseas despite Mr. Itoi being entirely unknown in the United States. The English translation was completed in 1990, and it looked as though Mother would see a North American release under the name Earth Bound, but it was not to be, for the impending release of the Super NES dissuaded the executives from taking a risk with it until it was canceled outright. Eventually, a prototype cartridge of this localization surfaced in online auctions in 1998 where it was bought by of a group of hackers named Demiforce. The cartridge’s ROM was subsequently dumped onto the internet. It wouldn’t be until the year 2015 that Mother would officially see the light of day outside of its native land on the Nintendo Wii U’s Virtual Console digital distribution service. As Western gaming fans already had exposure to Mother 2, which inherited its predecessor’s tentative North American title and was released as a standalone game rather than a sequel, the original Mother was dubbed Earthbound Beginnings.

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