[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Black and White

Introduction

By the time the fourth generation of Pokémon debuted with the Diamond and Pearl versions, Game Freak’s signature franchise gained a new lease on life. Though no longer the pop cultural juggernaut it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, gaming enthusiasts stopped dismissing the series as a fad from a bygone era, accepting it as a cornerstone of the medium. With Diamond and Pearl outselling the set of games that came before, Nintendo realized the series’ popularity hadn’t waned. In response to the fans’ enthusiasm, they began work on a sequel following the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver – remakes of the second-generation titles.

The fifth-generation games were officially announced in January of 2010. A spokesperson from the Pokémon Company stated that the new set of games were to debut later in the year for the Nintendo DS. Junichi Masuda, who directed Diamond and Pearl, said that several aspects would be revamped for the next generation. In April, the company’s official website was updated with the titles of these versions: Black and White. With the naming convention for the series electing to incorporate valuable metals and gemstones, Black and White sounded incredibly plain. Nonetheless, fans were excited to see what the series now had to offer. His ultimate goal with this project was to appeal to both newcomers and those who had not played the series in quite some time.

Pokémon Black and White were released domestically in September of 2010. International fans wouldn’t have to wait too long, for the games were released in Europe, North America, and Australia in March of 2011. Although the series had little trouble finding an audience, it wasn’t always a critical favorite. The first-generation games were outright dismissed as mediocre efforts by domestic critics, and while subsequent sets would fare slightly better, the fans took it upon themselves to keep the franchise afloat. That all changed when Black and White became the first set of games to garner a rare perfect score from Famitsu magazine. It fared just as well internationally with many critics feeling it to have been the single greatest generation in the franchise’s history thus far. These sentiments were reflected by the enthusiasts; throughout the remainder of the decade, the games sold over fifteen-million copies. Did Black and White move the franchise forward during its second wind?

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[GAME REVIEW] Pokémon Diamond and Pearl

Introduction

Although Pokémon as a cultural phenomenon was over by the third generation’s debut in 2002, the Ruby and Sapphire versions of Game Freak’s popular franchise managed to move sixteen-million units, making them the best-selling titles on its platform. The successor to the Game Boy Color was a highly praised piece of technology for allowing players to have portable gaming experiences comparable to ones provided by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, just like the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance wouldn’t last for long before its own successor saw the light of day.

Just before the debut of Ruby and Sapphire, the president of Nintendo at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, proposed the idea of a handheld console with two screens. The product from Mr. Yamauchi’s imagination would be announced in 2003. However, they claimed it would succeed neither the Game Boy Advance nor the Nintendo GameCube. In early 2004, the console was formally unveiled with the codename “Nintendo DS”. The acronym stood for “Developers’ System” or “Dual Screen”. The system’s specifications were highly advanced for its time, having two three-inch screens and one gigabit of semiconductor memory. The most notable aspect of this console was that the bottom screen would respond to touch commands. It wasn’t entirely unprecedented, for Tiger Electronics released a console in 1997 dubbed the Game.com. Its poor sales ensured the innovative idea died with it – or at least until Nintendo realized its potential. Mr. Yamauchi’s successor, Satoru Iwata, was enthusiastic about the DS, believing it would bring Nintendo into the forefront in terms of innovation. Released in 2004, its most notable launch title was a remake of Nintendo’s own game-changing Super Mario 64.

Although the Nintendo DS wasn’t created with the intent to succeed the Game Boy Advance, this scenario is precisely what came to pass. With many franchises such as Tetris and Super Mario Bros. gaining original entries on this system, it was only a matter of time before fans of Pokémon began speculating on the next generation. The year 2004 saw the debut of Pokémon Dash – a racing game that exclusively used the touch screen. Much like Yoshi’s Touch and Go, Pokémon Dash received fairly negative reviews. Critics believed developer Ambrella relied entirely on the touch screen to ferry an otherwise entry-level experience.

Even so, fans wouldn’t have to wait long before an official announcement was made. In 2004, the development of the fourth set of mainline games, Diamond and Pearl, was made known to the public. They would be the first set of games not developed by series co-creator Satoshi Tajiri with Junichi Masuda instead helming the project alone. With the tough experiences of developing Ruby and Sapphire still fresh in his mind, Mr. Masuda was nonetheless determined to create the ultimate version of Pokémon. Diamond and Pearl were initially slated for a 2005 release, but the team needed more time to implement the new ideas they had. As such, their domestic release was delayed until September of 2006. They reached the West in 2007 and Korea in 2008, marking the series’ official debut in the latter region.

Both games fared well critically with many people praising the new ideas Ms. Masuda and his team brought to the table. Even better, by the time of its release, the series had begun to make a comeback. The children who played Red and Blue in the late 1990s were either in high school or moving on to college, allowing them to wax nostalgia about the series without fear of ridicule. Because of these factors, it is no coincidence that Diamond and Pearl ended up selling eighteen-million copies – two-million more than their predecessors. Were Diamond and Pearl emblematic of the series’ resurgence in popularity?

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The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Introduction

The Nintendo DS was released worldwide in 2004. Much like the Game Boy product line it succeeded, it became a best-selling console, selling millions upon millions of units worldwide. One of its launch titles was a remake of the pioneering Super Mario 64 and the first side-scrolling entry in the Mario franchise since Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros., debuted the following year. With Nintendo’s big-name franchises making an appearance on the new console, fans began speculating on a new Zelda installment. All doubt was eliminated during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005 when Nintendo unveiled Phantom Hourglass. Following a series of delays as a result of diverting resources to finish Twilight Princess and Shigeru Miyamoto’s desire to become involved with the development cycle, it was released in 2007. Though some were skeptical over the game’s reliance on the touch screen, Phantom Hourglass was a success, amassing a lot of critical acclaim across the board. In the face of this success, there was only one logical thing to do: make a sequel.

Phantom Hourglass was created by many of the same people behind Four Swords Adventures. Half of the Phantom Hourglass staff in turn remained for the development of its sequel. Helming the project once again was Daiki Iwamoto while Eiji Aonuma served as its producer. As they already had an engine right out of the box, Mr. Aonuma speculated that this new game wouldn’t take long to complete. After all, while the idea for Ocarina of Time had been pitched since 1995 before seeing its release in 1998, Majora’s Mask only took a single year to complete. Though it wasn’t delayed at any point and the development progressed smoothly enough, this new game wound up taking two years to complete.

Mr. Iwamoto and his team used the same art style as Phantom Hourglass. Mr. Aonuma later commented that realistic graphics would make the characters scale poorly with their surroundings. He relented it was theoretically possible, though not ideal. Despite being confirmed as a sequel to Phantom Hourglass, Link was not going to travel by boat this time around. Mr. Aonuma wanted to retain the sense of seeing land becoming clearer as Link approaches it, but decided to approach the idea from a different angle. That is to say, Link would conduct a train instead. Mr. Aonuma cited a children’s book named The Tracks Go On and On as an inspiration for this game’s basic premise. In it, children construct railroad tracks, creating tunnels and bridges whenever they find mountains or rivers. He thought this book would fit with the series, though he didn’t tell his fellow developers about it at the time.

Surprisingly, one of the biggest difficulties the development team had was coming up a subtitle for this installment. Among the first proposed was Pan Flute of the [Something]. This was quickly shot down when they decided the title would be too long and inappropriate considering the Pan Flute obtained in the game isn’t a main item. They then decided to change Pan Flute to Train Whistle, reflecting Link’s ability to conduct a train in this new installment. The next step was to determine what the [Something] should be. In an ironic twist, the English subtitle had been decided before the domestic one: Spirit Tracks. Examining the English title, the development team decided that, because spirit means soul, they should name the game Train Whistle of the Soul. This too was rejected when the team felt it sounded too creepy – Mr. Aonuma in particular felt it made it sound “haunted”, which ran counter to the premise. Said premise was the idea of “running a train across wide-open spaces”. After asking for suggestions from the staff, they at last settled on The Legend of Zelda: Train Whistle of the Earth.

Around that time, the Nintendo DSi was unveiled. It was to be a newer model for the Nintendo DS capable of downloading digital titles in addition to utilizing physical cards. To Nintendo’s surprise, fans reacted much more strongly to the reveal of Spirit Tracks. Writing for IGN, Craig Harris found the storyline “compelling” with an “interesting premise”. He was consequently quite excited to play it for himself. He wasn’t the only one, for when Spirit Tracks saw its worldwide release in December of 2009, Nintendo had another hit on their hands. By the end of the financial year ending in March of 2010, Spirit Tracks sold over 2.5 million copies. Despite being a success, the figures were roughly half as much as those for Phantom Hourglass. The reception, though mostly positive, seemed a little less universal this time around with critics having a number of issues with the game. Taking the numbers at face value, it’s easy to get the impression that Spirit Tracks is a step down from Phantom Hourglass. Does Spirit Tracks hold up? Was the less enthusiastic reception a result of the touch-screen novelty having run its course?

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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Introduction

Though not as acclaimed as The Wind Waker or The Minish Cap, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures amassed a following of its own when it was released in 2004. It successfully expanded on Four Swords, allowing the multiplayer gameplay to stand on its own. Satisfied with their work, the team that worked on Four Swords Adventures reassembled for a new project in May of 2004. During this time, much speculation surrounded the release of Nintendo’s newest handheld console: the DS. In stark contrast to the Game Boy product line, this console was to feature two screens. While the top screen boasted a standard design, the bottom one was a touch screen. One month before the DS’s North American launch, Shigeru Miyamoto expressed interest in bringing Four Swords to the new console.

In an interview at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2005, Eiji Aonuma, who had directed the series’ 3D installments, confirmed that a new entry in their The Legend of Zelda franchise was indeed being produced. However, though the team had discovered the potential of cel-shaded graphics on the DS, they opted to create a single-player experience instead. When asked about this shift, Mr. Aonuma remarked that the idea never reached the development phase. Any further speculation was put to rest at the Game Developers Conference of 2006 wherein this project had a name: The Legend of Zelda: Hourglass of Fantasies – or Phantom Hourglass as it was to be called internationally.

Though the comparatively disappointing sales of The Wind Waker affected Mr. Aonuma on a personal level, he wished to continue the game’s style in another form. During the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2007, he claimed that the gameplay of Phantom Hourglass would be exactly what the aging Zelda formula needed to stay relevant in a new generation. It didn’t take long for enthusiasts to learn what he was talking about. Phantom Hourglass was to forego a traditional control scheme in favor of having the players exclusively use the touch screen to control Link. It was around the time of the release of Twilight Princess in 2006 that The Wind Waker received a reevaluation of sorts. Suddenly, the game fans dismissed was being hailed as one of the GameCube’s finest offerings. Having the same art style as The Wind Waker along with boasting a novel control scheme made Phantom Hourglass the new handheld console’s most anticipated game.

Due to Mr. Miyamoto dedicating a lot of his time to developing Twilight Princess, he had not been able to get involved with Phantom Hourglass at all. Twilight Princess was delayed numerous times due to Eiji Aonuma wishing to implement an entirely new control scheme for the game’s Wii version. By the time they released Twilight Princess, Phantom Hourglass was in a nearly complete beta form. Such was the extent of his enthusiasm that he begged Satoru Iwata to delay the game so he could get involved with the creative process. Mr. Miyamoto apologized to fans, but promised the title would be “much better”.

Phantom Hourglass was released domestically in June of 2007 before debuting internationally the following October. The praise for this game was nearly unanimous with several websites naming it the greatest DS game of 2007. By March of 2008, four million copies had been sold worldwide. Nonetheless, even in the face of its positive reception, certain publications were a bit skeptical, believing Nintendo had been attempting to draw in only causal enthusiasts, offering nothing to longtime players. Was Nintendo’s return to the Zelda franchise’s handheld scene able to stand in the face of its three predecessors?

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Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Introduction

When Nintendo launched the console to succeed their long-running Game Boy product line, the Nintendo DS, Capcom decided to create ports of Shu Takumi’s Turnabout Trial trilogy. As they were being created, the company elected to localize the three games, bringing them to North America and Europe. To Capcom’s surprise, the series, dubbed Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit abroad. While working on the DS port of the original trilogy’s final installment, Trials and Tribulations, producer Motohide Eshiro had an idea. They could make a spinoff series, casting a major character from Ace Attorney in the lead role. He met up with Takeshi Yamazaki, who had worked as a planner for the bonus episode that would be included with the debut installment’s rerelease. To his delight, Mr. Yamazaki agreed to work on it. Mr. Eshiro would later describe the meeting in his blog on the official Ace Attorney website as a “reckless suggestion with an inspiring, reckless response”. Regardless, they began meeting daily soon thereafter.

Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki quickly decided to have this hypothetical spinoff series take place on the crime scene rather than in a courtroom. Many points of contention arose from these “endless discussions”, including searching for contradictions in a crime scene, being able to play as multiple characters, and how they could possibly retain the spirit of the series without featuring a single courtroom battle. Mr. Yamazaki originally wanted to create a detective game starring Ema Skye, a character who had debuted in the bonus episode he worked on. Mr. Eshiro instead pictured Miles Edgeworth, protagonist Phoenix Wright’s rival and friend, as the main character. Fan feedback had demonstrated over the years that his popularity matched Phoenix Wright’s, and thus the decision was made. This game was to be developed as both a spinoff and follow-up to the original trilogy.

In March of 2008, the official Ace Attorney developer’s blog hinted toward the game’s existence. It referred to the game as a “NEW Turnabout, NOT Trial”. It was also stated that more information about the project would be released during an orchestral concert playing music from the series. At that time, the developers showcased a trailer revealing the game along with a new central character. Seconds after the revelation, an official website was launched. During the Tokyo Game Show of 2008, the gameplay was demonstrated, confirming that various characters from the main series such as Franziska von Karma were slated to return. Announcing the game was halfway finished by that point, they even allowed visitors to play a demo of the first episode. According to a poll conducted by Famitsu magazine, this presentation received more attention than that of any other portable game featured at the show. The game eventually saw its release under the name Turnabout Prosecutor in May of 2009.

Shortly before its domestic release, Capcom trademarked “Ace Attorney Investigations” as the game’s English title. Similar to how they showcased the game to the Japanese public, a playable demo was made available at Comic-Con in July of 2009. In North America, Europe, and Australia, the game was titled Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. The game was released in those regions in February of 2010. Due to the comparatively low sales of the series’ previous installment, Apollo Justice, Ace Attorney Investigations was not translated into any other languages beyond English, much to the chagrin of many international fans. Ace Attorney Investigations has the distinction of being the first entry in the series made without it input from its creator, Shu Takumi. Did Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki create something worthy of bearing the franchise’s banner?

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Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

Introduction

With Turnabout Trial 3, Shu Takumi felt the grand finale effectively tied up all the loose ends, giving the protagonist a proper sendoff. Despite this, he and the rest Capcom took note of the fanbase it had garnered over the years and felt compelled to make a standalone sequel. They became especially motivated once the original game had been released in the West under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, stunning everyone when it became a sleeper hit. By then, the Game Boy Advance had been succeeded by Nintendo’s next console: the DS. Its novel dual screen gameplay allowed the console to achieve a level of commercial success that continued the company’s dominance in the handheld market.

Taking advantage of the new technology, some staff members proposed for the game to be rendered in 3D as a way of making a big impact on the DS. Eventually, they settled on a 2D presentation akin to the original trilogy. Nonetheless, some 3D elements remain in the final product, being the first installment in the series to feature videos created using motion-capture. Such were the lengths Mr. Takumi and his team went to make this game that they visited real courts to study the legal process. The fruit of their labor was released in April of 2007 under the name Turnabout Trial 4.

As the series had been as much of a success in the West as it was in its native homeland, localization was already underway by August of that year. Alexander O. Smith, who helped write the English localization, returned for this installment as well. After twenty-two meetings between Capcom’s American and Japanese divisions, they finally had a new name for the protagonist – one fitting for an attorney who fights to keep his innocent clients from receiving a guilty verdict: Apollo Justice. From here, they decided to name the game after him in a similar manner to his predecessor. Thus, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney was released in North America, Europe, and then Australia in 2008. Does this fourth installment succeed in elevating an already impressive canon to a new level?

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations

Introduction

Shortly after the success of Turnabout Trial in 2001, Shu Takumi’s boss, Shinji Mikami suggested that they make a trilogy with a grand finale in the third game. Atsushi Inaba, the game’s producer then called Mr. Takumi into a meeting once the latter returned from a vacation. Mr. Inaba asked requested the script for five episodes in the span of three and a half months. Despite these outrageous terms, Mr. Takumi managed to get his work done on time, though one episode had to be cut due to memory constraints. Regardless, Turnabout Trial 2 was released roughly one year after the original’s debut. It too became a success, and there was only one game left to work on. Unlike the case with Turnabout Trial 2, production of the trilogy’s concluding installment went smoothly, though the development cycle lasted slightly longer, being released in January of 2004. Named Turnabout Trial 3, it continued the series’ success, helping to retain the following it gathered with the previous two entries.

A few years later in the West, the success of Turnabout Trial 2, retitled Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, demonstrated the series’ staying power. It was only logical to localize the final game as well. However, the localization process was less than ideal. With the localized title Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, it saw a release in North America in October of 2007, yet it was conspicuously absent in other regions. Despite getting prerelease reviews in gaming publications, the DS version was not released in Australia, though they did eventually receive the port on the Wii in 2010. Furthermore, it was delayed in Europe to the extent that the next game in the series, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, saw its release first. It’s speculated that ratings complications is what caused this to happen. Some fans had to wait an unreasonably long time for Trials and Tribulations to come out in their region. Did their patience pay off? Was Mr. Takumi able to defy the perceived curse involving trilogies and end this one on a triumphant note?

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All (Capcom, 2002)

Introduction

Upon its release in 2001, Turnabout Trial became a success in Japan, quickly amassing a strong following. Once Capcom finished development, Shu Takumi was told by his boss, Shinji Mikami, that they should make a trilogy with the third game ending in a grand finale to provide closure for all of the lingering plot threads. When Mr. Takumi returned to work from his vacation, the game’s producer, Atsushi Inaba, called him to a meeting. He told Mr. Takumi that he wanted a script for five episodes, allotting him three and a half months to finish it. As Mr. Takumi took a little more than a month to write each of the four episodes of the original Turnabout Trial, he was well within his rights to declare such a notion “completely insane”. To make matters worse, he felt he did not have any more gimmicks with which to formulate any mysteries, nor did he believe there to be any story threads he could expand upon.

Though he wanted to protest, the minute he returned to his desk, he drafted a work schedule. He gave himself two and a half months to write the dialogue for the entire game, with the remaining time being used to create the prototype and conceive gimmicks for each episode. Though a lot of doubt understandably weighed on his mind during the development cycle, he was miraculously able to meet the deadline. The only issue is that because he had run into memory issues, one of the episodes had to be cut from the final product. Despite a few minor setbacks, the game, entitled Turnabout Trial 2, was released in October of 2002 for the Game Boy Advance – roughly one year after the debut of the original.

A few years later in October of 2005, Turnabout Trial, under the localized title of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, became a sleeper hit through positive word of mouth. Such was the degree of its success that demand greatly exceeded supply. Cards became difficult to find, selling for double the average retail price on online auction websites. With the knowledge that the series had an overseas audience, Capcom allowed their localization team to work on an English version. As was the case with the original, the sequel had received a port on Nintendo’s then-newest console: the DS. Renamed Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All, the port saw separate releases in North America, Europe, and Australia in 2007. Justice for All was generally as well-received as its predecessor, and continued the franchise’s surprise success. Does it measure up to the strong series debut?

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

phoenix-wright-ace-attorney

Introduction

In the year 2000, Capcom released a sequel to their 1999 survival horror game, Dino Crisis. The original was directed by Shinji Mikami, who also created the Resident Evil series, but one of his subordinates at the time, Shu Takumi, handled the sequel’s development. Upon completing his work on Dino Crisis 2, Mr. Mikami allotted Mr. Takumi six months to create his own game. As Mr. Takumi had joined Capcom in 1994 hoping to create adventure and mystery games, he knew this would be his chance to make his mark as a full-fledged developer.

Development of this new project started in 2001. It was originally slated for release on the Game Boy Color, but once the team discovered the system’s successor, the Game Boy Advance, Mr. Takumi deemed the new handheld console perfect for his vision. At first, Mr. Takumi wished to make a game about a private investigator who found the dead body of his client in his office and was subsequently arrested for the murder. He was then appointed an incompetent attorney, forcing the detective to defend himself in court. The working title was “Surviban: Attorney Detective Naruhodo-kun” with Surviban being a portmanteau of the English word, “survival,” and the Japanese word, “saiban” (court or trial). Eventually, Mr. Takumi realized that examining and taking apart contradictions wasn’t exactly detective work and decided to make the courtroom the game’s primary setting with the lawyer being the protagonist instead. Although the project was in danger of being canceled at one point due to two staff members leaving the company, development went smoothly, as it only took ten months to finish. The game, Turnabout Trial, was released in October of 2001 whereupon it received a dedicated following, though Capcom expressed no interest in expanding their audience to include overseas fans.

This all changed four years later when the game was remade for the DS, Nintendo’s next handheld console following the Game Boy Advance. Capcom decided to take a chance by outsourcing the burden of localization to a company called Bowne Global. It was handled by a writer named Alexander O. Smith, who had experience translating works such as Final Fantasy VIII and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, along with editor Steve Anderson. October of 2005 would mark the debut of Turnabout Trial in the West under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. It seemed as though it was doomed to fall into obscurity thanks to its dismal initial sales figures, but it received exceedingly positive word of mouth, and the game suddenly became very difficult to find as demand exceeded supply. The third printing sold out within a week, and online auctions would see enthusiasts pay double the retail price for a copy. How was this game able to strike such a chord with its newfound Western audience?

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Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Introduction

Yuji Horii’s Dragon Quest series saw four of its installments released on Nintendo’s 8-bit console, the NES (Famicom in Japan). The franchise’s popularity was immense in its native homeland, with the third title in particular codifying the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) in the public eye. Taking note of the millions of copies sold in Japan, Nintendo and Enix put forth an impressive effort to translate each game in the hope of replicating that success in the West. Unfortunately, as there already existed a thriving RPG scene in the Western world long before Dragon Quest was even an idea, it was doomed to fall into obscurity.

The year 1990 marked the release of the Super Famicom, the 16-bit successor to Nintendo’s bestselling console. As fan demand for a sequel on this new platform was high, it naturally didn’t take long for Mr. Horii and the rest of Chunsoft to begin working on one. This project was completed in 1992, and continued the series’ stellar track record by selling nearly three million copies. Taking a look at the poor sales figures of the previous four entries in the United States and taking note of the high costs associated with the larger cartridge ROMs needed to fit an English translation, Enix judged such an investment would not have been profitable, thus it wasn’t localized. In the late nineties, JRPG fans decided to provide their own translation via emulation, but for the longest time, it seemed as though it would never see an official Western release.

Although it would eventually see the light of day outside of Japan, that it never made its way onto the Super NES is a bit of a shame because Mr. Horii has pointed to Dragon Quest V and declared it his favorite installment – a sentiment commonly echoed by its fans. It’s clear this game left an indelible impact on those who experienced it. What is it about Dragon Quest V that allows it to enjoy such a following – one which includes the author himself?

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