Persona 4

Atlus’s long-running Shin Megami Tensei metaseries had always been popular in its native Japan. However, the first games were released on Nintendo’s Famicom and Super Famicom consoles. The developer’s North American branch had a strict policy that prohibited any religious symbolism. Because of the series’ frequent use of Christian symbolism, these games had no chance of making it past Nintendo of America’s censors. Fortunately, the series was able to travel overseas when Atlus, like many third-party companies, jumped ship to the PlayStation line of consoles. Even so, the series was still largely invisible in the West. This changed in 2004 when Atlus released a localized version of the main series’ third installment, Nocturne. Though not as successful as many popular, contemporary JPRG series such as Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne found an audience, becoming a cult hit for the PlayStation 2 era.

The PlayStation era marked the beginning of a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series named Persona. It was one of the first games in the metaseries to be localized, though it quickly fell into obscurity. Consequently, when its first sequel, Persona 2, was split into two separate releases, the second failed to debut overseas. However, with the momentum gained from the positive critical reception of Nocturne, Atlus wound up localizing Persona 3. Because most Western fans had never heard of the two games preceding it, Persona 3 ended up being a gateway entry for anyone seeking to delve into the metaseries along with Nocturne. Indeed, many Western critics praised Persona 3 for providing a unique take on the gameplay Nocturne pioneered.

With the series finding its way into Western markets and Persona 3 proving to be a domestic hit, a sequel was inevitable. Katsura Hashino, who had directed many installments in the metaseries, including Nocturne and Persona 3, found himself in charge of leading a new team. Many of the people who worked on Persona 3 returned for this project. A significant portion of the new personnel consisted of fans of Persona 3. With this new installment, Atlus sought to improve both the gameplay and the story so as to not retread old ground. Development began shortly after the release of Persona 3 in 2006, though ideas had been thrown around earlier according to Mr. Hashino. Development of this game, simply entitled Persona 4, took place over the course of two years. It saw its initial release on July 10, 2008 in Japan for the PlayStation 2 before debuting in North America the following December. The game saw the the light of day in Australia and Europe in March of 2009. Despite being released two years after the launch of the PlayStation 3, Persona 4 was even greater hit with the metaseries’ new fans than its predecessor. It is considered one of the greatest games of all time and an exemplary swansong effort for the then-aging PlayStation 2. Was Persona 4 able to give the greatest-selling home console at the time a worthy sendoff?

Continue reading

Super Widget

Graphic Research’s attempt at adapting Peter Keefe’s environmentally conscious, animated show Widget for the Nintendo Entertainment system proved less-than-satisfactory. Not only did it sell very poorly, the few people who did purchase it immediately dismissed it as an inferior take on the run-and-gun gameplay pioneered by Mega Man. Even those willing to ignore the subpar controls were ultimately treated to an unstable mess of a game that threatened to crash at the slightest provocation. Nonetheless, a sequel to the game was greenlit. However, taking up the reins of the development process was the company that published the original game: Atlus.

The Setagaya-based developer had made a name for themselves in their native homeland due to their successful adaptation of Aya Nishitani’s Digital Devil Story. From this adaptation, their flagship series would soon be formed: Shin Megami Tensei. However, because none of these games saw an international release, Atlus was fairly obscure outside of Japan. As such, their adaptation of Mr. Keefe’s animated series, released under the name Super Widget in late 1993, was one of the very few games of theirs Western enthusiasts got to play during the fourth console generation. With its predecessor leaving much to be desired, does Super Widget manage to be an improvement?

Continue reading

Friday the 13th (NES)

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?

Continue reading