Ys IV: Mask of the Sun

Introduction

After Nihon Falcom released the first three installments in their Ys series of action role-playing games, the installments proved popular enough to make appearances on nearly every active console from the Nintendo Famicom (NES) to the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis).  Even if it was virtually unknown in the West, the series’ domestic success ensured the inevitability of a fourth installment.  Unfortunately, the success this series enjoyed came at something of a cost. After the release of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, a substantial chunk of Nihon Falcom’s staff members quit, thereby depriving the company of the resources needed to produce a sequel. They were in such dire straits that they couldn’t even provide a full script for the game. Their contributions were limited to providing a vague outline and composing the music. They handed off what they could get done to Hudson, the company that published the highly praised compilation Ys Book I & II.

As Hudson collaborated with Alfa Systems on a game entitled Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys, Nihon Falcom pitched the idea to other studios so they could create versions for other prominent consoles. One such developer was Tonkin House, the company behind the SNES port of Ys III. Another was Sega, with whom Nihon Falcom had entered a partnership to port their output to the Mega Drive (Genesis). They even allowed the Korea-based developer Mantra to develop their own version of Ys IV. Mantra had released a highly successful version of the series’ second installment named Ys II Special, which greatly expanded upon the source material and included more secrets than any other version of the game. However, Sega’s version was canceled before it could get off the ground and although Mantra considered the offer, they ultimately declined.

Other than The Dawn of Ys, only the version developed by Tonkin House was making significant headway. Their take on the series’ fourth installment was named Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. Though both developers pushed for a release in late 1993, Tonkin House cut Husdon and Alfa System at the pass by releasing Mask of the Sun one month ahead of The Dawn of Ys. It was released to a fairly lukewarm reception with Famitsu, the most widely read gaming publication in Japan, awarding it twenty-five points out of a possible forty. Was Tonkin House able to do Nihon Falcom’s increasingly venerable series justice?

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Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth – Prosecutor’s Path

Introduction

In 2009, the Ace Attorney franchise received its first spinoff title in the form of Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. Fans rejoiced at the prospect of an entire game starring the fan favorite Miles Edgeworth, and it consequently fared well both with them and critics. In response to this positive reception, the game’s producer, Motohide Eshiro, revealed that he had contacted Minae Matsukawa. Ms. Matsukawa was notable for having served as the producer for the DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney along with its distant sequel, Apollo Justice. The reason for Mr. Eshiro to have contacted her was straightforward enough; he offered his services in developing a new Ace Attorney game. This project would officially begin in September of 2009, and the developers went to a “training camp” of sorts to talk about the game for an entire day for the purpose of outlining it.

Revealed in an issue of Famitsu with the name Turnabout Prosecutor 2 in September of 2010, this new game promised to see the return of Miles Edgeworth, Dick Gumshoe and Kay Faraday. Screenshots revealed the existence of a new gameplay mechanic with a prominent chess motif. In addition to revealing a few new characters, the article insisted that the game would focus more on Edgeworth himself than on other characters or past events. It went on to state that the creators wished to reveal a more human, conflicted side to him never before seen. It was around this time that the official website for the game launched.

Mr. Eshiro once again served as the producer of this game while Takeshi Yamazaki directed and wrote the scenario, sharing the latter duty with Yuki Nakamura. Ace Attorney Investigations was notable for having a development cycle that lasted much longer than those of its predecessors in the core series. Much of this can be attributed to the new gameplay mechanics necessitating Mr. Eshiro and his team to develop them from scratch. The development of its sequel ended up taking far less time due to already having a solid foundation on which they could create content. They had even gone as far as spending five days and four nights in a place dubbed the Capcom Manor to work on the game. The inspiration for this decidedly unorthodox method of brainstorming was inspired by the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. The esteemed director would gather writers in a hotel room to conceive scripts for his films. At the manor, they systematically discussed the plot, formulated the new gameplay system, finalized the direction, and created sketches for a majority of the cast.

At the Tokyo Game Show convention of 2010, three new characters were officially revealed and named. A trailer showing gameplay footage of Turnabout Trial 2 revealed that many elements from its predecessor such as mentally connecting the facts of the case and utilizing the Little Thief to recreate the crime scene would make a return for this installment as well. In addition, a playable demo of the first episode, “Turnabout Target” was made available at the event. In November, the official website revealed the game’s box art and its slated release date: February 3, 2011. The day came to pass and the game was released to a positive reception.

It didn’t take long for Western fans to speculate the game’s localization plans. In what was a doubtlessly disappointing move for countless overseas fans, Ace Attorney Investigations only ever saw an English translation. Capcom then proceeded to up the ante from this controversial decision by opting not to localize Turnabout Prosecutor 2 at all. Why they decided to limit the game to its domestic market isn’t certain. Christian Svensson, the Senior Vice-President of Capcom’s USA branch at the time said that the decision was made due to estimated returns being unlikely to cover localization costs. Meanwhile, Mr. Eshiro claimed that it was due to a scheduling issue; the staff who worked on this game had disbanded, moving to different teams after finishing it. Around this time, Capcom had been under fire for many controversial business decisions. The list of grievances include releasing multiple titles with on-disc downloadable content, canceling the highly desired sequel to Mega Man Legends, and proceeding to give up on the long-running series entirely once its creator, Keiji Inafune, left in 2010.

To Capcom’s credit, they had many internal discussions on how to address this issue. Mr. Svensson said there might be potential to release the game as a downloadable digital title, thus reducing manufacturing costs. Talks about whether how they could localize this game continued into the next year. However, in 2012, Capcom announced that the core series was to, at long last, receive a sequel. This proved to be a mixed blessing, for Capcom quickly assured fans that it would be localized, but in doing so, all plans to bring Turnabout Prosecutor 2 to the West were effectively stopped.

Fortunately, all hope was not lost. Users on the Ace Attorney fan site Court-Records banded together to create a fan translation. This was not a task to be undertaken by amateurs, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, people had to submit applications, which in turn required the community’s approval in order for them to be on the team. Alexa Ray Corriea writing for Polygon described this approach as uncommon, for most fan translations allow anyone to contribute. It was similar to the Mother 3 translation led by Clyde “Tomato” Mandelin in that it’s clear the people involved wanted the translation to be as professional of a product as possible. The translation was released in an episodic format. In the autumn of 2013, a beta patch translating the first two episodes was released. Nearing the end of the following winter, work on the third episode was complete. In June of 2014, the game was at last fully translated into English, unofficially dubbed Prosecutor’s Path. There have been many instances throughout history of quality games failing to leave Japan. Was this a game worth of the fans’ immeasurable excitement?

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Bokosuka Wars

Introduction

In 1977, businessman and personal computer pioneer Kazuhiko Nishi along with Keiichiro Tsukamoto founded a company they named ASCII. It started off as a publisher of a magazine with the same name before Mr. Nishi found an incredible opportunity: getting to speak with Bill Gates, who had co-founded Microsoft in 1975. These talks led to the creation of Microsoft’s first overseas sales office dubbed ASCII Microsoft in 1979. It was thanks to these valuable business propositions and Mr. Nishi’s role in marketing Microsoft Japan’s highly popular MSX home computer that his company became very successful.

In 1983, ASCII Entertainment held a “Software Contest” wherein other PC enthusiasts could enter their creations. A man named Kōji Sumii won the contest, and the name of his submission was Bokosuka Wars. Originally released for the X1, a home computer manufactured by Sharp Corporation, this title proved to be extremely popular in Japan. Such was the extent of the success of Bokosuka Wars that ASCII ported it to almost every home computer platform and gaming console available at the time. Despite its popularity, it never saw a release outside of its native homeland. As a result, many Western fans had no way of knowing that many masterpieces in the years to come owed at least part of their success to this game. With its silent legacy having been fully released by this point, how well has it stood the test of time?

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Transformers: Mystery of Convoy

Introduction

In 1984, five people, Kojin Ono, Takashi Matsuda, Hideaki Yoke, Hiroyuki Obara, and Satoshi Koizumi designed twenty-eight figures using molds from the Japanese toy lines, Diaclone and Microman. Hasbro, a high-profile American toy company brought the distribution rights to the molds, rebranding them as the Transformers for the North American market. They would later buy the entire toy line, giving them sole ownership of the intellectual property. In exchange, Takara, the company that originally owned the line would retain the rights to distribute the products in Japan.

Taking cues from the Diaclone toy line, the biggest selling point for Transformers was that, true to their name, they could transform. All of them had a default robot form, but through shifting the parts, they could turn into vehicles, devices, or even weapons such as pistols. The robots were divided into two factions: the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons (named Cybertrons and Destrons respectively in Japan). In the eighties, a majority of Western animated series were created with the goal of advertising toys to children. This was due to many factors such as regulations regarding appropriate content becoming stricter and the industry as a whole being on the verge of disaster. This is the approach Hasbro took, and with help from help from Toei Animation in Japan, a three-part miniseries based off of Transformers debuted in September of 1984. Both the animated series that spawned from it and the toy line were among the greatest successes of the eighties, and many more incarnations would follow in the coming years.

Shortly before the toy line’s conception, Nintendo launched their first gaming console to use programmable cartridges in 1983: the Family Computer (Famicom). The first consoles were prone to failure due to a bad chip set, but after a product recall and subsequent reissue with a new motherboard, its popularity soared. Its following became even greater in scale once it was released in the West rebranded the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Whether it was in its native homeland or overseas, games on this platform often sold thousands or even millions of copies. This was especially true if the game bore a famous license from another medium.

As the Transformers franchise reached the height of its popularity, a developer named ISCO was commissioned to create a tie-in game. It was released in 1986 under the name Transformers: Mystery of Convoy – the titular Convoy being the Japanese name for Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots. Strangely, despite the franchise’s success in the United States, Mystery of Convoy was never released outside of Japan. Is this an instance of the medium’s first Western hobbyists being unable to experience a classic?

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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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Takeshi’s Challenge

takeshis-challenge

Introduction

In the seventies, two friends, Takeshi Kitano and Nirō Kaneko (also known as Kiyoshi Kaneko), formed a comedy duo known as Two Beat. Taking on the stage names Beat Takeshi and Beat Kiyoshi, their manzai routines, a sketch which involves back-and-forth banter between a funny man (boke) and a straight man (tsukkomi), became a massive success when they performed on television for the first time in 1976. Mr. Kitano’s risqué material was the true source of their popularity. As far as he was concerned, there were no unacceptable targets, as the elderly, the handicapped, the poor, children, and women among others found themselves the punch line of his humor. Despite being one of the most successful acts of its kind during the late seventies and early eighties, Mr. Kitano decided to go solo, dissolving the duo.

In 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros., taking the entire world by storm and forever changing how artists went about creating 2D platformers. Mr. Kitano observed the game’s overwhelming popularity and decided to create a live-action version – the result being Takeshi’s Castle in 1986. Each show involved anywhere between 100 and 142 contestants undergoing a series of grueling physical challenges with the goal of reaching Mr. Kitano in his castle. This proved to be easier said than done, for the difficulty in accomplishing this task was such that only nine people ever won. It was a beloved show in its native homeland, and it would become a cult classic when it began broadcasting overseas, reaching an unexpected level of popularity in Spain.

In the same year Takeshi’s Castle debuted, Taito Corporation, the company behind the 1978 arcade sensation, Space Invaders, planned an adaption for Nintendo’s Famicom console. When he learned of this, Mr. Kitano himself contacted the designers about ideas for an entirely original game. Inserting his trademark brand of black comedy, the fruit of this endeavor was released in December of that year under the name Takeshi’s Challenge. Other video games bearing the name of a celebrity had been developed prior to this one, but Mr. Kitano was the first to actively contribute to the development process. Partly because of his fame, Takeshi’s Challenge ended up moving 800,000 units, and it left a profound impact on all who played it.

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Mother 3

mother-3

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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Treasure of the Rudras

Treasure of the Rudras

Introduction

The nineties was a golden age for Squaresoft; during the course of this decade, many of their creations would become timeless classics such as Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger. When the medium made the leap to 3D, many third-party developers would move on from Nintendo to Sony – their new PlayStation console offering a more versatile format for them to develop games on. Nearly two years after the console’s debut, Squaresoft released a new entry in their Final Fantasy series. The previous three entries introduced many game enthusiasts to the JRPG genre, so one could only imagine their confusion when this newest installment was titled: Final Fantasy VII. It wouldn’t be long before fans had the answer to this mystery – the second, third, and fifth Final Fantasy games were never localized. Once the internet became widely available, fans would discover other titles in Square’s library that remain exclusive to Japan. One such game is Treasure of the Rudras. Released in 1996, it was one of the last games Square would develop for the Super Famicom before the debut its 64-bit successor.

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Live A Live

Live A Live - Box Art

Introduction

Live A Live was a game made by SquareSoft. It was released in 1994 for the Super Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo. It’s an extremely ambitious RPG game; rather than being one long story, you are given many short stories, each in a different time period from prehistoric times to the far future. This concept provides one of the most unique experiences in gaming history that is sadly, though understandably given its lack of a Western release, often overlooked.

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