The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Introduction

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, despite providing a radically different experience than its predecessor, nonetheless became a bestselling game, continuing Nintendo’s winning streak. In 1988, they began work on a new Famicom installment for their increasingly popular saga known as The Legend of Zelda. However, as the development cycle continued, Nintendo found themselves face-to-face with unexpected competition. One year prior in 1987, NEC Home Electronics launched the PC Engine, a console with an 8-bit CPU that boasted a 16-bit color encoder and video display controller. Moreover, in 1988, Sega introduced the Mega Drive, the successor to their Master System and a full-fledged 16-bit system. Though Nintendo executives were in no hurry to design a new console, they reconsidered once the success of these consoles caused their industry dominance to weaken. As a result of these developments, the team behind the new Legend of Zelda installment brought their project to this new platform that would be dubbed the Super Famicom in its native Japan and the Super NES overseas.

The creation of this new installment, eventually named The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods, would continue over the next two years, concluding in 1991 and seeing its release in November. Like the ones that preceded it, this third game received positive reviews from critics and fans alike. When it came time for localization, the game’s name fell victim to Nintendo of America’s draconian censorship policies regarding religious references. It was consequently renamed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for its international debut in 1992. Western critics then too began to praise the game. According to Nintendo Power’s list of the top selling SNES games, A Link to the Past spent five consecutive years in the number one spot. To this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made. It couldn’t have been easy to create a worthy follow-up to The Legend of Zelda – itself thought of as one of the best games of the eighties. How could Nintendo even begin to accomplish such an insurmountable task?

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Final Fantasy II

Introduction

As Hironobu Sakaguchi and his team at Squaresoft developed Final Fantasy, the management decided to have 400,000 cartridges manufactured in order to make a sequel possible. To their amazement, the game was a success and they ended up selling all of the copies along with an additional 200,000. In doing so, the fledging Squaresoft created the first JRPG capable of standing on an even playing field with the Dragon Quest series. Suddenly, the possibility of a sequel was not a pipe dream; it was an inevitability.

From the project’s inception, Mr. Sakaguchi and his team lacked any concrete ideas. As a result, they decided to go in a new direction, not including any characters or locations from the original game. Simply named Final Fantasy II, the game was released for the Famicom on December 17, 1988. According to Square’s publicity department, the game exceeded the domestic sales figures of its predecessor by moving nearly 800,000 units.

Two years later, Square took a chance with their newfound success by localizing the original Final Fantasy, bringing it to the Western world. In an unexpected turn of events, it sold even more copies overseas than it did in its native homeland. Naturally, Square wished to capitalize on this newfound market by localizing the sequel as well. An early prototype cartridge was eventually created, bearing the name Final Fantasy II: Dark Shadow over Palakia.

Unfortunately, although the game was advertised in various Squaresoft publications, it ultimately failed to cross the Pacific Ocean. There were many reasons for this from the game having been two years old by the time the original was localized to the development cycle dragging on for too long. Kaoru Moriyama, the employee assigned to this project, admitted that, despite the prototype’s existence, the translation was far from complete. Running into memory issues compounded with their boss having no understanding of the amount of work it takes to create an English translation sunk any chances of the game had of venturing outside of its homeland. A game named Final Fantasy II did surface on the SNES, but unbeknownst to Western gaming fans, Square had skipped over the remaining Famicom installments and localized their then-newest entry, Final Fantasy IV, under that name. It was far more sensible to localize a game for Nintendo’s newest console than to sink resources in bringing over an old one for an outdated system. How does the true Final Fantasy II fare by comparison?

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Lester the Unlikely

Introduction

The year 1991 marked the debut of Capcom’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. This arcade classic took the world by storm, codifying the fighting game as a genre and leaving a profound impact on the medium as a result. Such was the popularity of this title that the ensuing console ports sold by the millions. It didn’t take long for other companies to ride the wave generated by this rapidly rising trend. One of the most famous rivals to Street Fighter II was released the following year in the form of Midway’s Mortal Kombat. It generated no shortage of controversy due to its violent content coupled with the fact that the characters were represented by digitized spites based on real actors.

Another company that threw their hat in the ring was Visual Concepts. Founded in 1988, this company took the fighting game template and decided to provide a more humorous, cartoonish take on it. The result was ClayFighter, and though it didn’t fare as well in the critical eye, it nonetheless proved to be a modest hit, selling 200,000 copies. Shortly thereafter in January of 1994, Visual Concepts released a game known as Lester the Unlikely. During this time, certain developers began to experiment with the artistic side of medium, crafting unique experiences such as Flashback and Out of this World. I have little doubt Lester the Unlikely could be described as unique, but how does it fare against these pioneering art titles?

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Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Introduction

When The Legend of Zelda saw its international release in 1987, it quickly became one of the hallmarks of Nintendo’s 8-bit console. The reason for this far surpasses its impressive sales figures; it managed to offer gameplay only a select few had experienced before. It blazed the trail for open-world game design, and the ability to save courtesy of a battery wired in every cartridge changed the industry forever. Slowly but surely, artists began to move away from how they designed their works in the arcade era, instead opting to treat their audiences to epics in an interactive format – the expectation being that they could make progress, quit, and pick up where they last left off.

Because of this success, a sequel was inevitable. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of The Legend of Zelda had the idea to make a fundamentally different follow-up. A new team was assembled to create this game with key members of the original’s development staff having no involvement. Mr. Miyamoto himself served as the producer of this new title rather than the more proactive role he held during the original’s conception. In January of 1987, a little under one year after the series’ debut, the game was released under the name The Legend of Zelda 2: Link’s Journey. Similar to the case with The Legend of Zelda, the game saw its initial release on the Famicom Disk System, necessitating Nintendo to create a cartridge-based version, as the Famicom’s North American and European counterparts lacked a corresponding peripheral. The game debuted internationally in Europe and North America the following year with the title shortened to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

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Final Fantasy IV

Introduction

With a trilogy of beloved Famicom JRPGs under their belt, the once-struggling Squaresoft became industry juggernauts able to stand toe-to-toe with Yuji Horii’s Dragon Quest series. Upon completing Final Fantasy III in 1990, Square planned to develop two games: one for the Famicom and another for Nintendo’s forthcoming Super Famicom console. They were to be called Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy V respectively. Unfortunately, due to the company’s small size at the time, they ended up stretching their resources thin, and the former project was canceled. Hironobu Sakaguchi, the series’ creator claimed in an interview that the game was nearly eighty percent complete when it was scrapped, but outside of his word and a single screenshot, very little information about it exists.

As a result, Final Fantasy V was renamed Final Fantasy IV, and some of the ideas that came about during the halted project were reused for it.

With a development team consisting of fourteen people, Final Fantasy IV took a single year to develop. It was released in Japan in July of 1991 whereupon it received the most critical acclaim of any installment thus far. Sales of the original Final Fantasy in North America surpassed those of Japan. Therefore, Square saw this as a perfect opportunity to appeal to their unexpected, newfound fanbase. They decided not to localize the remaining Famicom games in favor of focusing on their newest work. To avoid confusion, Final Fantasy IV was dubbed Final Fantasy II. Released in the same year as the Super NES’s launch, it became a hit overseas as well, and is considered to this day one of the finest efforts in the system’s library.

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Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Introduction

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes proved to be another success for Retro Studios, and was declared by many publications to be the GameCube’s finest offering of 2004. Unfortunately, even as many exclusive games received positive reviews, Nintendo’s fourth major console ultimately failed to match its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, in terms of sales, having moved approximately ten million fewer units. While not considered an outright failure, it paled in comparison to the competing Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles. When Microsoft released their newest console, the Xbox 360, it was clear Nintendo had found themselves in a sink-or-swim predicament.

Around the time the GameCube launched in 2001, Nintendo conceived a new project. Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the company’s premier game designers, stated that the concept for this project, codenamed Revolution, involved focusing on a new form of player interaction. When it was unveiled in the E3 gaming conference of 2005, fans learned that the console primarily employed motion controls. Suddenly, after nearly a decade of lagging behind Sony and then Microsoft, Nintendo’s console, dubbed the Wii in 2006, became the talk of the town. When it launched later that year, it managed to outsell the Xbox 360, itself a hot seller.

Nintendo chose to showcase the Wii’s controller, the Wii remote, with a modified version of Metroid Prime 2. They demonstrated that Retro’s upcoming project, the concluding installment to their trilogy, would take full advantage of this novel control scheme. Though not comparable to the problems which plagued the development phase of Metroid Prime or its sequel, director Mark Pacini related in interviews the difficulties he and his team faced when creating this game. One of the biggest concerns was that they had too many buttons for the amount of functions they wanted to implement. The game was slated to coincide with the Wii’s 2006 launch, but the project ended up being delayed until the following year. Despite being the second sequel to one of the GameCube’s most beloved titles, the game had a minimalistic marketing campaign. The press speculated that it was part of Nintendo’s new focus on casual games for their newest console. Only after it was pointed out did they release a preview. Named Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, this game finally saw its official debut in North America in August of 2007, whereupon it too amassed critical acclaim from several publications. Considering that Metroid Prime and its sequel were the products of particularly troubled productions, what were the developers at Retro capable of under less taxing circumstances?

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Quest for Camelot

Introduction

Animation fans have made it a point that a period of time spanning from the early seventies up until the mid-eighties was a dire era for the medium. There were numerous causes for this stagnation ranging from a lack of visionaries to strict budgetary constraints. Exacerbating problems were conservative parental groups attacking anything that wasn’t child-friendly, thus giving the art a juvenile stigma. In reality, many of these problems began manifesting as early as the late fifties, but it wasn’t until a little over a decade later when the industry’s prime juggernaut, Disney, began to stumble in the critical eye. This culminated in their 1983 release, The Black Cauldron. What was meant to be the debut of several up-and-coming animators ended up getting recut by executives and subsequently flopping, nearly putting an end to the company’s animated canon.

The tides began to turn for Disney in 1985 when after observing the success of merchandise-driven shows such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Care Bears, they decided to throw their own hat in the ring in the form of The Wuzzles and Adventures of the Gummi Bears. The latter proved to be a hit, and with this newfound freedom, they funded the creation of original shows, including DuckTales and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers. In 1989, The Little Mermaid was released, and when it became a sensation with critics and fans alike, Disney had fully recovered from the Dark Age plaguing both them and the entire industry. Suddenly, they were once again relevant and synonymous with Western animation.

Whenever someone finds overwhelming success in entertainment, they inevitably inspire a slew of imitators wishing to capitalize on the current trends. One such group was none other than Warner Bros., popularly considered rivals to Disney. They managed to have some success on television after having recruited Steven Spielberg to produce several beloved cartoons. However, very little of that success translated to the theaters with many of their feature-length animated films underperforming in the box office.

In May of 1995, Warner Bros. Feature Animation announced their first project: The Quest for the Grail. It was to be an adaptation of Vera Chapman’s novel, The King’s Damosel. Numerous problems arose during production, including the fact that it had started before the story was finalized. At first, Bill and Susan Kroyer, the husband-and-wife duo behind FernGully: The Last Rainforest were to direct it as a faithful adaptation that kept the dark tone of Ms. Chapman’s work. Unfortunately, creative differences led the two of them to leave the project in February of 1997. They were replaced by Frederik Du Chau, who in turn overhauled the story, turning the original vision into a Disney-inspired musical retitled Quest for Camelot.

By the end, few of the personnel had anything positive to say about what it became. One of the animators, Chrystal Klabunde, stated in interviews that the executives had no concept of animation at all, and with their inexperience, a chaotic work environment ensued. It was to the point where some of the animators didn’t even know the plot until they had finished their work. Moreover, as the film wasn’t initially slated to be a musical, a majority of the songs weren’t written until the later stages. With various people getting replaced at the behest of the executives and the team having to work around the clock, it comes as little surprise that the studio lost forty-million dollars on the film. Quest for Camelot was subsequently a commercial and critical failure upon its release in May of 1998. The most commonly cited reasons for its reception concerned its formulaic plot that took elements from Disney’s canon without providing a unique take on them. It’s even considered by some historians to be partially responsible for the downfall of traditionally animated features in the United States.

Nonetheless, as the production continued, a company named Titus Software was commissioned to create a tie-in game. It was released in December of 1998 for the Game Boy Color, notably being one of the first titles to showcase the capabilities of Nintendo’s newest handheld device. There was to be a version for the Nintendo 64, but the film’s dismal performance ensured its demise. Does the game fare any better?

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