Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

Introduction

In Japan, role-playing games were a rising trend ever since the release of Dragon Quest in 1986. Though it inspired many artists throughout the decade, many of these bestselling titles, including Dragon Quest itself, failed to catch on overseas. This changed in 1990 with the international debut of Final Fantasy, notable for being one of the first JRPGs to fare better in North America than in Japan. To keep this trend going, the company behind Final Fantasy, Squaresoft, decided to localize the series’ fourth installment to coincide with the launch of Nintendo’s Super NES console in 1991. The result was a critically lauded commercial hit in both the East and the West. A boost in popularity for console RPGs ensued, inspiring more people to experience a genre that, up until then, was primarily enjoyed by a comparatively small niche of enthusiasts.

The success of Final Fantasy IV inspired many artists to provide their own take on the genre. One such group was the Japanese developer Neverland. The company was founded in 1993, and they launched their debut title, Biography of Estpolis, shortly thereafter. For the North American localization, it was renamed Lufia & the Fortress of Doom after one of its central characters. The game proved popular enough that the publishing company, Taito, entertained the idea of creating a port for the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), but the closure of their North American branch in 1995 caused the plans to fall through. Before that moment, there were a few advertisements for the port, one of which claimed its release date was delayed until spring of 1995, claiming “[it would be] worth the wait”. Furthermore, European enthusiasts never got a chance to play the game. Would the game they missed out on indeed be worth waiting for?

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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Introduction

A few years after the Game Boy’s release in 1989, a programmer from Nintendo by the name of Kazuaki Morita began working on an unsanctioned side project. Using one of the console’s first development kits, the game he created bore many similarities to The Legend of Zelda. His endeavors caught the attention of his peers, who were members of the Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development staff, and they joined him after hours, forming what they themselves described as something akin to an afterschool club. They saw potential in the experiments, and the 1991 release of the series’ third installment, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, prompted its director, Takashi Tezuka, to ask the executives for permission to develop a new entry for the handheld console. It was originally intended to be a port of A Link to the Past, but before too long, it evolved into an original game.

The game used the engine of The Frog for Whom the Bell Tolls, a 1992 title co-developed by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, and a majority of the staff who worked on A Link to the Past returned for this installment. Entitled The Legend of Zelda: Dreaming Island, it took one and a half years to develop, debuting in June of 1993. The downgrade in visuals and hardware wound up not hampering the game’s reception in any way, as it received positive reviews from critics across the board, and millions of copies were sold. It saw its Western release later in the year under the name The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The dual success of this game both domestically and overseas were such that it bolstered Game Boy sales by nearly thirteen percent. It also notably remained on bestseller lists for more than ninety months after its release – a feat very few games in the medium’s history have accomplished. From this, it could be extrapolated that Link’s Awakening had an enduring legacy which made people want to play it for themselves years after its debut. To this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made, with some people citing it as a superior effort to even the beloved A Link to the Past. Working with far more restrictive hardware limitations, was Mr. Tezuka and his team truly translate a then-peerless experience to the Game Boy? Continue reading

Friday the 13th (NES)

Introduction

May 9, 1980 marked the debut of Friday the 13th. It was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who previously worked with Wes Craven on the 1972 exploitation horror film The Last House on the Left. Inspired by John Carpenter’s classic film, Halloween, Mr. Cunningham wanted his own work to make his audience jump out of their seat on top of being visually impressive. He also sought to distance himself from The Last House of the Left in favor of a fast-paced experience akin to a rollercoaster ride. For the most part, it was not received well by critics with a notable detractor being the esteemed Gene Siskel, who called Mr. Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest the movie business”. Nevertheless, it proved to be a success in the box office, impressively grossing around $60 million on a $550,000 budget, and the film would go on to become a cult classic.

Though intended as a standalone story, its performance in theaters prompted the executives at Paramount Pictures, the film’s distributor, to plan out a sequel. It was originally intended to be the beginning of an annual, anthological series. However, Phil Scuderi, one of the three owners of Esquire Theaters, along with the producers of Friday the 13th, Steve Minasian and Bob Barsamian, insisted that the new installment should feature a character named Jason Voorhees, directly linking the two films. Steve Miner, who would go on to direct the film, believed in the idea, and when Friday the 13th Part 2 debuted in April of 1981, fans were introduced to one of the genre’s most iconic villains. Even those who have never seen a horror film in their life recognize the hockey mask-wearing revenant that is synonymous with the series and the slasher genre in general. Though the fourth installment would be dubbed The Final Chapter, the franchise endured to the end of the decade.

Around the time the fifth installment was released, a gaming console known as the Nintendo Entertainment System saw its debut. It almost singlehandedly revitalized the North American industry after its crash in 1983. Games on this console sold thousands or millions of copies. To capitalize on this success, companies commissioned the development of tie-in games to popular films. The results from this practice were decidedly mixed. While some proved passable or even good, others barely had any thought put into them and were solely meant to ride the coattails of the property’s success with little effort on their part. Despite the second installment necessitating the creators cut forty-eight seconds of footage in order to avoid an X rating, an NES adaptation of Friday the 13th was commissioned in the late eighties. Conceived by a Japanese developer named Atlus and published by the toy company LJN, the game was released in February of 1989. By this time, the series had an impressive seven installments with an eighth looming around the corner. As console games were typically perceived to have been enjoyed primarily by children at the time, how would Atlus go about translating a slasher film experience to such a platform?

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Final Fantasy III

Introduction

Although suffering from quite a few execution issues regarding its central gameplay mechanics, Final Fantasy II nonetheless proved to be another success for the once-struggling Squaresoft. Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team took a then-unusual approach to this project wherein they conceived the story first then programmed an actual game around it. The result outsold the domestic sales of its predecessor, and it became evident that the Final Fantasy franchise wasn’t going anywhere. To keep this success going, development of a sequel began almost immediately.

As was the case with the previous titles, an Iranian-American expat by the name of Nasir Gebelli served as the game’s primary programmer. However, roughly halfway through the game’s development, Mr. Gebelli’s work visa expired, forcing him to return to Sacramento, California. Undeterred, the rest of the team followed him to the United States with the necessary materials and equipment, concluding development of the project there. Named Final Fantasy III, the completed game was the company’s most ambitious tile to date, being published on a 512 kilobyte cartridge filled to its absolute capacity. Once again, Squaresoft’s effort was lauded by both critics and fans alike. It moved 1.4 million copies in Japan, and a panel of four reviewers working for Famitsu magazine each awarded it a high score, achieving a similar level of praise in 1990 as Chunsoft’s Dragon Quest IV and Nintendo’s F-Zero. Such was the lasting appeal of Final Fantasy III that readers of Famitsu magazine voted it the eighth best game of all time when polled in 2006.

Similar to the fate that befell its direct predecessor, Final Fantasy III in its original incarnation failed leave Japan. Squaresoft was working to catch up to the new technology afforded to them courtesy of Nintendo’s newest console at the time, the Super Famicom, and they lacked the personnel to work on an English version. An old promotional poster included cover art for a hypothetical English release of Final Fantasy III, but it wasn’t to be. In fact, because the final product filled the cartridge’s storage capacity to its brim, even the newer platforms that would emerge in the coming years lacked the space required to handle an updated version with new graphics, sounds, and other content. This effectively prevented any realistic chance of the game being remade for the longest time. Though a game named Final Fantasy III emerged in the West for the Super NES, the international equivalent of the Super Famicom, it was, in reality, the sixth installment renamed. Both were the final installments on their respective platforms. Did Squaresoft help end the third console generation on a high note?

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Dragon’s Lair (NES)

Introduction

Dragon’s Lair caught the attention of many arcade frequenters when it was released in 1983. Along with Sega’s Astron Belt, it was one of the first games to utilize a laserdisc, tapping into its vast storage potential.

Gone were the 8-bit sprites and simplistic, beeping sound effects, and in their stead was a fully animated presentation courtesy of an ex-Disney employee named Don Bluth. As the North American gaming industry was in the middle of a severe crash that effectively put an abrupt end to the second console generation, Dragon’s Lair represented hope as the innovative new idea they needed to turn things around. Several publications considered it the most influential title of 1983, though some voiced concerns over its simplistic gameplay, as enthusiasts would stop playing it after learning exactly what they needed to do to succeed. Nonetheless, the game was said to have grossed over $32 million for its publishing company, Cinematronics.

In 1985, the industry fully recovered from its slump when Nintendo’s landmark NES console was launched. Games released for this platform, marketed as an entertainment system to persuade a skeptical public, invariably sold thousands, or even millions of copies, ensuring a high profit for the creators. Many companies saw this as an opportunity to convert popular arcade games to the console, allowing players to experience them from the comfort of their home. As the NES was outfitted with hardware typically inferior to that found in a typical arcade cabinet at the time, the results from this practice were mixed. Some titles such as Contra successfully translated the core gameplay despite a downgrade in visuals. Meanwhile, others such as Ikari Warriors attempted and failed to maintain a unique aspect about the original, creating a subpar port as a result. Whatever the approach was, the takeaway is that many arcade classics were making their way onto the NES. One of the companies that decided to capitalize on this trend was Elite Systems. Through their associated development house MotiveTime, they sought to bring Dragon’s Lair to the NES. It becomes obvious even to the uninitiated that the NES couldn’t possibly replicate the full motion video capabilities showcased in the original, so not unlike Tecmo’s approach with Ninja Gaiden, they avoided the issue by creating an entirely different game. Since then, this particular interpretation of Advanced Microcomputer Systems’ original work has crafted a legacy of its own. How much does it live up to its grandiose reputation?

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X

Introduction

Gunpei Yokoi’s Game Boy sold millions of units on its launch day in 1989. So great was the popularity of the first handheld console to truly come into its own that the one million units shipped overseas sold out within a few weeks. Three years prior to the Game Boy’s release, a London-based developer named Argonaut Games created Starglider for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. This game, heavily inspired by the vector-based graphics of Atari’s coin-operated Star Wars adaptation was one of the earliest first-person combat flight simulators available for home computers. It wound up being one of the bestselling titles for the platform, and won Crash magazine’s “Game of the Year” award in 1986.

After observing the then-unique mechanics of Starglider, Nintendo sought to create a similar game for their handheld console. This project was slated to be published by Mindscape, a company established in Novato, California under the names Eclipse or Lunar Chase before Nintendo themselves took over the project after becoming interested in the idea of having three-dimensional graphics in a Game Boy title. Helming this project was Yoshio Sakamoto, a Nara Prefecture college graduate who worked under Gunpei Yokoi’s supervision, contributing pixel art for the NES classic, Metroid. Shortly before the game’s release, then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi shortened the title to a single English letter: X. When it was released in 1992, it proved to be a moderate success, providing the Japanese audience with a completely new experience while pushing the technical capabilities of the Game Boy to its absolute limits. Famitsu magazine would go on to list X as one of the Game Boy’s most influential titles, being the first 3D game released for a handheld console in Japan.

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Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Introduction

Along with Bloodborne, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 proved to be one of the killer apps of its platform. As with the previous entries, it received nearly universal critical acclaim as a storytelling experience that far surpassed those of its peers. This caused many gaming enthusiasts to buy a PlayStation 4 for themselves in a parallel to how Uncharted 2 caused people to gravitate towards the PlayStation 3 in the previous console generation. Uncharted 4 was advertised as the series’ finale, as it gave its central protagonist, Nathan Drake, a conclusive sendoff.

However, shortly after the game was released in May of 2016, Naughty Dog began working on a new campaign within the same universe. Though many ideas were thrown out, Naughty Dog ultimately cast Chloe Frazer, a side character who debuted in Uncharted 2, as the lead. This campaign was billed as downloadable content for Uncharted 4, though it ultimately got a standalone, physical release when it debuted in August of 2017. This game, titled Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, didn’t exactly garner the same level of critical acclaim as Uncharted 4, with some outlets criticizing its lack of innovation and short length. The decision to continue a series after promising the previous installment would conclude it is a tricky proposition. Considering that mainstays such as Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley had little input for this game, it would indeed appear to be a recipe for stagnation. Was this new team able to do this critically venerable series justice?

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