Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand

By the time Nihon Falcom was slated to make a fourth installment in their highly popular Ys series of action RPGs, a significant number of their staff members had quit. Though the team drafted a rough outline for Ys IV, they had no resources with which to develop it. They were then left with no choice but to outsource the project to other companies. Of the developers they approached, only Tonkin House and Alfa Systems saw their interpretations of Ys IV to completion. Both versions, Mask of the Sun and The Dawn of Ys, debuted in late 1993 for the Super Famicom and PC Engine respectively. They received fairly positive reviews, though The Dawn of Ys ended up being the more acclaimed game despite Mask of the Sun eventually being declared the canonical Ys IV.

Shortly after both games were released, Nihon Falcom, having hired new talent, now had the resources with which to continue the series on their own. In December of 1995, they released Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand for the Super Famicom. Although fans were initially ecstatic that the series’ original developers regained creative control, the game was ultimately met with a cold response. Was Ys V worthy of such a backlash or is it a game misunderstood due to differing opinions of what the series should entail?

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Ys IV: Mask of the Sun

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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Final Fantasy V

The debut of Final Fantasy IV on Nintendo’s sophomore home console in 1991 provided far more than just a graphical update to their familiar gameplay; it marked a significant turning point. Suddenly, complex, dynamic protagonists became the standard, and artists began putting more care and attention into their storylines. Before this point, the idea of a video game having such an intricate plot was largely unheard of, and its success both domestically and overseas under the name Final Fantasy II proved how important a strong writing staff could be for the medium’s growth.

This success prompted Hironobu Sakaguchi and the rest of Squaresoft to create a sequel. Developed over the course of a single year, Final Fantasy V debuted in Japan in 1992. Unfortunately, the series’ newfound North American audience didn’t get a chance to play it on the SNES. Plans for localization were made shortly after its Japanese release, and it was to be named Final Fantasy III, owing to the real second and third installments having been passed up for localization. The plans shifted slightly when Square announced that because of its different tone and increased difficulty, it was to be released as a standalone game with a title yet to be determined, but they were ultimately scrapped. Square translator Ted Woolsey claimed in a 1994 interview that “[Final Fantasy V is] just not accessible enough to the average gamer”.

Rumors then circulated that Final Fantasy V was to see a Western release under the tentative title Final Fantasy Extreme, but these plans fell through as well. A third attempt was made in 1997 to localize the game for Microsoft Windows-based personal computers by a studio named Top Dog. Though they made significant progress, numerous communication problems between the two entities sounded the project’s death knell. Later that year, a temporary solution appeared. A group of people under the internet alias RPGe released a patch for the game’s ROM image, translating it into English. It was a notable achievement for being one of the first completed fan translations in history. Finally, in 1999, Square found their opportunity to bring Final Fantasy V to Western audiences in the form of the Final Fantasy Anthology compilation for the PlayStation. By this time, the franchise had broken into the mainstream with its universally lauded seventh installment, and any lingering doubts about the theoretical reception of Final Fantasy V were assuaged. Was this game worth a seven-year wait?

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Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation

Dragon Quest V was released in 1992, marking the debut of the popular series on Nintendo’s 16-bit Super Famicom console. Though its presentation arguably paled in comparison to that of Final Fantasy IV released a year earlier, it nonetheless continued the success of Yuji Horii and his staff at Chunsoft by selling millions of copies just like its four predecessors. It has since been declared by fans and Mr. Horii himself to be the series’ pinnacle due to its unique, forward-looking storytelling and novel monster recruitment mechanic. The latter would go on to revolutionize the industry over the next few years when several creators provided their own take on the concept.

As Chunsoft went on to develop a spinoff series known as Mystery Dungeon, the first installment of which cast a supporting character from Dragon Quest IV in the lead role, Mr. Horii joined a new company known as Heartbeat. Their first product was to be the sixth installment in the Dragon Quest series. Production of this game, entitled Dragon Quest VI: The Illusionary Land, proved to be rather troubled, and its initial release was delayed numerous times. The game was at last formally revealed in 1995 at the trade show Shoshinkai before being released a few weeks later. Owing to the large cartridge ROM used in this installment’s creation, Dragon Quest VI ended up selling for a steep price of 11,970 yen. In no way, shape, or form did this deter the dedicated fanbase, as the game went on to sell over three million copies.

Nintendo Power magazine once insinuated that the game was slated for a Western release in 1996 under the name Dragon Warrior V. However, much like its direct predecessor, it was not to be. The series’ lack of success outside of its native homeland, the fact that accurately translating text in a cartridge ROM already at its maximum storage limit into English was an impossible task, and Enix ceasing activities in North America all meant such an undertaking would almost certainly be unprofitable and therefore not worth the risk. Did their admittedly understandable business decision doom another classic to fall into obscurity in the Western world?

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Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

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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Treasure of the Rudras

Treasure of the Rudras

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

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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