December 2019 in Summary: The End of a Decade

Happy New Year! Can you believe the year 2020 is upon us? I remember as a kid thinking 2000 sounded so futuristic. Crazy, isn’t it? When it comes to media, the 2010s certainly had its ups and downs.

Video games got off to a great start with 2010 and 2011 being excellent years for the medium. However, the bottom in the fell out in 2012, and suddenly AAA productions lost their dominance. I’m not sure if it can be attributed to a single incident, but I would probably have to name Mass Effect 3 and the negative reaction to its ending that caused people to be more wary of AAA products. Then there was 2013, which I consider the single weakest year for gaming within this decade, having an inordinate number of hyped games such as Gone Home and Beyond: Two Souls that utterly failed to deliver. While 2014 didn’t have as many bad games, barely anything from that year stood out. Then in 2015, Undertale was released, and that caused a major spike in interest for indie productions, which I think singlehandedly redeemed the medium from the treasure trove of bad games released in 2013. In a twist of irony, fans are now more supportive of independent efforts than the journalists – the exact opposite situation the film industry faces.

Depending on your perspective, the 2010s was either a great or miserable decade for music. While I think it was slightly better than the 2000s, there’s no getting around that the mainstream stuff was fairly weak. Fortunately, like video games, there were plenty of indie artists to pick up the slack.

I think of the 2010s as the decade in which films lost their claim to the artistic high ground to video games. They did get off to a better start than video games, having only a few critical missteps between 2010 and 2017. However, I think the release of The Last Jedi marked the moment film criticism lost its way, leading to the medium being in a bad way for 2018 and, to a lesser extent, 2019. Indeed, I consider 2018 to be the film industry equivalent of 2013 in that there was an inordinate number of films that failed to live up to the hype. However, films are overall worse off than video games ever were because I can safely say the independent game makers are far more ambitious than their filmmaking counterparts. Stuff like OneShot and Undertale are far more innovative than the most acclaimed indie films I’ve seen this decade.

As for other mediums, I can’t claim to be an expert, but from what I’ve seen, it was a great decade for animation – both from the West and the East, though the latter seemed to be more consistently good. Along those lines, it ended up being the decade in which I began seriously pursuing manga and graphic novels, though strangely, despite liking the MCU, I find myself gravitating towards non-superhero stories.

Anyway with that bit of rambling out of the way, let’s dive into the final recap, shall we?

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Mega Man 2

Introduction

The year 1987 marked the debut of Mega Man. The brainchild of Capcom members Akira Kitamura and Keiji Inafune, Mega Man was to be among the developer’s first original games for Nintendo’s highly popular Famicom console – known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) abroad. The game, made in a few months by a group consisting of six people, proved to be fairly popular. It sold well enough domestically to have been considered a sleeper hit, yet flopped in the West partially as a result of a hasty, borderline nonexistent marketing campaign. Despite its mixed reception, Mr. Kitamura wanted to make a sequel, seeing further potential in what they created. These aspirations came to a stop when he was overruled by producer Tokuro Fujiwara. In response, the director then went to Capcom’s Vice President to get permission to make the game. The executives permitted Mr. Kitamura and his team to work on a sequel under one condition: they had to work concurrently on other projects as well.

Shortly thereafter, the project supervisor invited Mr. Inafune back to the new project. The artist had been working on a separate game at the time, but agreed to help. According to him, the development team willingly worked twenty-hour days to see this project through. He and his fellow staff members would spend their own time on the project to improve the gameplay established in their original effort. His second year working at Capcom, in his own words, “opened up a whole new world of stress for [him]” as he became far more involved with the sequel’s production and even got to mentor a new employee. Despite this, he would later describe it as his best time with Capcom because they were working towards a common goal and made something they truly cared about.

A few months later, Mr. Kitamura’s team completed the project. In Japan, the end product was released in December of 1988 under the name Rockman 2: The Mystery of Dr. Wily. While the original game was, at best, a modest hit, the sequel proved to be an overwhelming success. Still deciding to give the Western market a chance, Capcom had the game localized and released in the United States in June of 1989 retitled and abridged to Mega Man 2. To their surprise, the game was a hit abroad as well. Its international success and critical acclaim allowed Mega Man to become Capcom’s flagship series overnight. Even to this day, Mega Man 2 is considered one of the greatest games ever made as well as the standard to which a sequel should strive to achieve. How exactly was a sequel to a game many considered middle-of-the-road able to give its title character a new lease on life?

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Mega Man

Introduction

In the year 1987, a graduate from the Osaka Designers’ College by the name of Keiji Inafune received a degree in graphic design. During this decade, a new form of entertainment was quickly gaining popularity. Known as TV games in Japan and video games in the West, this medium distinguished itself from others by allowing the audience to be a part of the experience. Twenty-two at the time, Mr. Inafune sought a job in this booming new field – hopefully as an illustrator. He originally wanted to join the prolific developer Konami, but there was another one much closer to his place of residence: Capcom. For one of his first assignments, Mr. Inafune was placed on a team led by Takashi Nishiyama. The result, released in the same year he graduated, was Street Fighter – one of the first fighting games to achieve mainstream success.

Capcom had a lot of success in the arcade scene throughout the 1980s. When Nintendo’s Family Computer (Famicom) was released in 1983, Capcom began porting their more well-known arcade games to the platform. Although the graphical capabilities of the Famicom – called the NES abroad – weren’t nearly as advanced as the most prominent arcade titles at the time, players found themselves drawn to the ports. The idea of being able to play even a downgraded version of an arcade game in the comfort of one’s home was highly enticing. Although the ports sold well, Capcom eventually wanted to develop something specifically for the Japanese home console market. To this end, they decided to recruit fresh, young talent for a new team.

Among the recruits was Keiji Inafune. He found himself on a team of five other people. Leading this team was Akira Kitamura, who mentored the newcomer throughout the development process. To design a protagonist for this game, Mr. Inafune drew inspiration from Astro Boy – the eponymous protagonist of Osamu Tezuka’s landmark manga series. In fact, the game was originally intended to be an adaptation of Astro Boy, but the team ended up with a creation of their own. Before Mr. Inafune had joined the project, Mr. Kitamura developed a basic character concept for this game’s protagonist. After a few illustrations, they ended up with a humanlike robot boy. This character went through several names, including Battle Kid, Mighty Kid, Knuckle Kid, Rainbow Warrior Miracle Kid, and The Battle Rainbow Rockman. Eventually, the team settled for cutting out a significant portion of the last of these names, ending up with Rockman. He was so named because the team went for a musical motif – Rockman’s sister being named Roll to complete the genre allusion. The game, named after the protagonist himself, was domestically released on December 17, 1987.

Capcom’s executives believed that Rockman wouldn’t sell. They were proven wrong when Japan’s limited quantities quickly began disappearing off of store shelves. The company had a sleeper hit on their hands, which prompted them to hastily commission a Western localization. Caught completely off-guard by this development, Capcom’s North American branch quickly began work. The Senior Vice President at the time, Joseph Marici changed the protagonist’s name, and by extension the game’s title, from Rockman to Mega Man. Why he imposed this change is straightforward enough; he did not like the character’s original name. As this was going on, the president of the North American branch told a marketing representative to have cover art for the box done in one day. In a panic, said marketing executive had a friend draw the cover in six hours. Working with only a single vague description of the game over the telephone, the results were memorably terrible.

It is said that this cover art contributed to the game having flopped abroad along with a general lack of press coverage overseas. Nonetheless, with strong domestic sales in spite of its tepid critical reception, Mega Man was a modest success. Did Mega Man allow Capcom to put their best foot forward in the console market?

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A Question for the Readers #14: What’s in a Name?

MINOR UPDATE: As you all know, I’ve been working on a retrospective of sorts for the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. Last December, I wrote a standalone review of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. I did not originally intend to review the entire series. Instead, I was just going to talk about The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom when I got around to finishing the latter, but I eventually decided to marathon the series so I could have the necessary context. Now that I have recently cleared Monster World IV, I learned a lot about the series I didn’t know when I originally wrote that piece. As such, I amended the introduction and parts of the review proper to better reflect the series’ progression. You can read the revised review by following this link.

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