Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light

February of 1986 marked the release of the Famicom Disk System. A periphery unit for Nintendo’s highly successful Famicom console, the Famicom Disk System was capable of reading ​3 ½-inch floppy disks. Not only did the disks boast superior storage capabilities to contemporary ROM cartridges, but the peripheral also added a new high-fidelity sound channel. These features allowed for the creation of games previously thought impossible. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid saw their debut on the Famicom Disk System. Between their open-ended design and the ability to save the player’s progress without the use of passwords, both games successfully broke the mold for console gaming.

Nintendo wished to release these games internationally following the console’s successful debut in North America in 1985, but plans to export the peripheral were eventually scrapped. It also wouldn’t be long before the pioneering periphery was rendered obsolete. In the years since the Famicom’s debut, Nintendo had vastly improved the semiconductor technology of their cartridges. Among other things, this allowed developers to embed a battery in the Famicom cartridges. Any cartridge with these batteries could record a player’s progress – a mainstay feature of Famicom Disk games. Because there was no reason to continue developing games on an increasingly outdated format, Nintendo deemed it necessary to convert many of the titles that originally debuted on the Famicom Disk System to cartridges. Needing a programmer to port the Famicom Disk System games to a standard ROM format, the company hired a man by the name of Toru Narihiro. He and his auxiliary program called themselves Intelligent Systems, working with Nintendo’s premier research and development branch led by Gunpei Yokoi to see these conversions through.

Using the experience he gained working alongside Mr. Yokoi’s team, Mr. Narihiro and his team switched gears, and began programming games of their own. The first title he programmed was Famicom Wars – a turn-based strategy game that proved to be a hit upon its 1988 release. The game’s development attracted the attention of one of Mr. Narihiro’s colleagues – one Shouzou Kaga. As a budding scenario writer, Mr. Kaga sought to take the strategic elements present in Famicom Wars and combine them with the story, characters, and world of a role-playing game. With this project, Mr. Kaga wished to create a scenario that allowed players to care about the characters. At the time, he observed that role-playing games had strong stories, but rather scant casts. Meanwhile, he felt tactical games had the exact opposite problem, having large casts, but weak stories. Therefore, he decided to provide a solution to this odd discrepancy with his game.

In its earliest advertisements, the game was dubbed Honō no Monshō (Emblem of Fire). By the time the game saw its release in April of 1990, Honō no Monshō was rendered in English – the full title being Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. When the game was released, Mr. Kaga noted that it received extensive criticism from Japanese publications. Despite the team’s efforts to avoid emphasizing stats and numerical data, critics found the gameplay too difficult to understand. Exacerbated by its simplistic presentation, and it would appear that Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light was a failed experiment.

Mr. Kaga and his team saw Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light not as a commercial product, but as a dōjin project made on a whim. A dōjin project is a work intended to attract a group of people sharing the same interests. As many such projects are self-published, they are typically below the quality one would expect from a professional company, although many such artists use them as a springboard to bigger and better things. Because of this, it seemed only fitting that Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light would gain a new lease on life when one notable journalist devoted a column in Famitsu magazine to the game. Coupled with positive word of mouth, the game saw its sales increase significantly after two months’ worth of flat numbers. Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light would thus not enter the annals of gaming history as a failed experiment, but rather a sleeper hit.

As a possible consequence of its experimental nature, the game was not released internationally. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 2001 with the release of Nintendo’s mascot fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee that international fans even knew of the franchise’s existence. Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light would be remade twice with the latter version being released internationally. However, it wouldn’t be until 2020 when the game in its original form finally saw an official release outside of Japan, being offered for a limited time on the Nintendo Switch. In the end, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light was a game that ran the risk of becoming an obscure footnote. What did those fans see in it that critics couldn’t?

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The Writing on the Wall: Why The Last of Us Part II Was a Predictable Disaster

If The Last of Us Part II is meant to be the game of my generation, we’re in big trouble.

When this game debuted on June 19, 2020, it quickly became one of the most controversial mainstream releases in the medium’s history. Director Neil Druckmann considered it his magnum opus, and critics, by and large, had nothing but praise for the game. The same, however, could not be said of fans – many of whom rejected it as an inferior follow-up to a beloved masterpiece. To critics, it was the greatest sequel in entertainment history since The Godfather Part II, but to fans, it may as well have been Exorcist II: The Heretic.

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The Last of Us Part II

Upon its 2013 release, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us proved to be a tremendous hit with fans and critics alike. It proceeded to receive awards from nearly every conceivable outlet with one journalist considering it gaming’s Citizen Kane moment. Emboldened by the success of this game, series creator Neil Druckman and the rest of Naughty Dog began working on a sequel in 2014. As development proceeded, Naughty Dog also provided gamers with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. The former provided a sendoff to series protagonist Nathan Drake whereas the latter continued the story with two prominent female characters. Both games were well-received and cemented Naughty Dog as one of the most beloved American developers in the process. With the sequel to The Last of Us announced in 2016, fans eagerly awaited what Mr. Druckmann and his team had to offer.

Unfortunately for Naughty Dog, the development process would prove to be less than uneventful. While Mr. Druckmann had previously encountered tremendous difficulties on his path to bringing his artistic visions into reality, it was nothing compared to what was about to occur. The troubles began brewing as early as the very year they began work on the game. In March of 2014, it came to light that the creative director of the first three Uncharted installments, Amy Henning, had left Naughty Dog alongside game director Justin Richmond. One article from IGN speculated that they had been forced out of the company, citing how it coincided with Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley’s subsequent replacement of their respective positions. Naughty Dog’s co-presidents, Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra released statements, clarifying that neither of them had anything to do with the departure of Ms. Henning or Mr. Richmond.

The controversy eventually subsided, and the fans continued to await the sequel to The Last of Us. Shortly after the release of The Lost Legacy in 2017, the first trailers for this sequel surfaced. Fans were now more excited than ever – particularly after the game became slated for a release in September of 2019. However, history repeated itself – this time, in the worst way possible. Jason Schreier, writing for Kotaku, wrote a report that revealed Naughty Dog’s intensive crunch schedule wherein 12-hour workdays was the standard. Many people concluded that Naughty Dog had been exploiting their programmers’ passion, and soon enough, the company gained a bad reputation in Los Angeles County for up-and-coming programmers. With its staff unable to bear working such untenable hours, the company had a 70% turnover rate. Although several other sources claimed such a thing was not unheard of in the industry, this caused many of Naughty Dog’s fans to turn on them.

Because of these harsh working conditions, the game found itself delayed yet again – this time to 2020. Naughty Dog assured fans the game would be released by that year’s summer, but then a disaster the likes of which humankind hadn’t experienced in nearly a century occurred. In late 2019, a coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 had broken out in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province. Being highly infectious and capable of causing severe damage to one’s respiratory system, everyone on the planet not employed by an essential business soon found themselves under lockdown the following March. Unemployment skyrocketed and the ensuing stock market crash was likened to the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the end of the year, over one-million people had lost their lives to the virus. It would eventually be considered the single worst pandemic in recorded history since the influenza outbreak of 1918.

In response to logistical problems caused by the virus, Naughty Dog opted to delay the game once more – this time indefinitely. By this point, fans were beginning to lose patience with Naughty Dog. It would seem that the game was not to surface for quite some time. However, an undesirable development forced their hand. In April of 2020, key details of the game’s story were leaked onto the internet. Although it was initially dismissed as a hoax, the leaks were quickly confirmed as the genuine article. Under most circumstances, leaks spoiling major content would cause fans to despair. The emotion these leaks instead inspired was sheer, raw anger – directed at Mr. Druckmann himself. Due to the content of these leaks, many fans swore off buying the game entirely with some going as far as canceling their preordered copy.

A few days after these leaks occurred, Naughty Dog announced the game had gone gold. Discs could now be manufactured for a slated release date of June 19, 2020. Many fans were excited about getting their hands on the game sooner than expected, but it was clear the leaks had taken the wind out of Naughty Dog’s sails. Regardless, the game, simply titled The Last of Us Part II, quickly amassed a level of acclaim rivaling – and in some circles, surpassing – that of the original. Many of them considered it the first true masterpiece of the 2020s. Facing delays, internal problems, and a worldwide pandemic along the road to seeing the light of day, was The Last of Us Part II truly able to surpass the acclaim of the original game and truly tap into the medium’s storytelling potential?

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Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back

Although it managed to receive some accolades for setting out into uncharted territory, fans and critics alike would eventually dub Bubsy 3D one of the worst games ever made. Coupled with having to compete with Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 and Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot, the latter of which debuted on the same console as Bubsy 3D, the game had no chance of retaining any kind of long-term appeal. If there was any chance for the series to recover its fleeting relevance, Accolade’s dissolution in September of 2000 completely ruined it.

For the longest time, the series was looked back upon as a curious novelty from the 1990s. It thus came as a surprise when, in June of 2017, a new Bubsy game was announced. Rights to the franchise had been acquired by the Hong Kong company Billionsoft. Developing the installment would be Black Forest Games – a company based in Offenburg, Germany that had previously revived the Giana Sisters series in 2012 to a generally favorable reception.

Although nostalgia for the 1990s arguably saw its peak during the 2010s, the announcement of a new Bubsy game was met with much derision. The creators leaned into the series’ bad reputation, creating a social media account for the character for the purpose of making self-deprecating jokes at his expense. Whatever goodwill this may have generated was lost when the game debuted in October of that year. Although it wasn’t as disliked as Bubsy 3D, critical reviews were almost universally negative. Fans were only slightly more kind to the game, but it clearly wasn’t a hit with them either. How, exactly, did this game manage to invoke so much ire in the press?

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The Final Fantasy Legend

In 1987, a struggling game developer named Square released Final Fantasy. It was so named because the team wished for a name that could be shortened to FF. That way, it could be abbreviated in the Latin script and pronounced in four syllables in Japanese. It is also speculated that the name came about due to series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi being in dire straits at the time. Had the game failed, he would have quit the industry entirely and gone back to university. Mr. Sakaguchi himself later stated that these theories, despite having a ring of truth to them, were overblown and any two words beginning with the letter “F” would have worked. In either case, the game proceeded to ship 520,000 copies in Japan. When the company decided to localize the game for North American markets, the company managed to move an additional 700,000 copies. Suddenly, the company that had been struggling to find its voice could now stand tall with the artists from which they drew inspiration.

Two years after the release of Final Fantasy, Nintendo launched the Game Boy console. As it was considered a monochromatic, portable Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), units began flying off of the shelves. Square president Masafumi Miyamoto, seeing a prime opportunity to expand into another section of the market, requested his developers to turn their attention to the Game Boy. Employee Nobuyuki Hoshino came up with the central concepts for this hypothetical game while Akitoshi Kawazu was handed the reins. The success of Tetris and Super Mario Land demonstrated that there was an audience for the portable market, and Mr. Kawazu alongside Koichi Ishii sought to provide the platform with something a little more advanced: a role-playing game.

The project was completed in 1989, seeing its domestic release in December. The game was named Makai Toushi SaGa – or Warrior of the Spirit World Tower: SaGa. It was highly acclaimed by Japanese critics, and it became Square’s first game to sell over one-million copies. The following year would see Final Fantasy becoming a sleeper hit in North America, so to bank off its popularity, SaGa was renamed The Final Fantasy Legend. Although it wasn’t as acclaimed abroad as Final Fantasy, The Final Fantasy Legend did find an audience, and even today, it is considered one of the Game Boy’s hallmarks. As the first role-playing experience for a popular, portable console, how was The Final Fantasy Legend able to craft an identity distinct from that of Final Fantasy?

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Mega Man 6

Mega Man 5 continued the success of Capcom’s best-selling franchise despite having been released two years after the release of the Super Famicom (SNES). Shortly thereafter, Capcom announced a sequel, which would be developed concurrently with a highly anticipated SNES entry. The game saw its domestic release in late 1993 under the name Rockman 6: The Greatest Battle in History!!

However, as the game came out when the fourth console generation was in full swing, the Famicom (NES) began to show its age, and Capcom decided against exporting it. This was a problem, as the monthly publication Nintendo Power had held a contest for its readers to design a new set of Robot Masters. While this had been standard practice since Mega Man 2, Mega Man 6 would include two Robot Masters designed by North American fans – Daniel Vallée and Michael Leader. To have North American fans participate in the contest for a game they wouldn’t get to play was unacceptable, so Nintendo stepped in and published it abroad. The game was released in North America in 1994 simply titled Mega Man 6. Due to the NES having far less presence in Europe, fans from that region wouldn’t see an official release for another nineteen years when it debuted on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2013. Mega Man 6 would be the final game in the series to debut on the aging NES. Was the game able to end its run on its debut platform on a high note?

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was released in November of 2016, the sales figures fell short of publisher Activision’s expectations. The critical scores, while leaning positive, were ultimately mixed. By this point in history, various developers handled the Call of Duty franchise in a three-year development cycle. Infinity Ward, the developer credited with having created in the series in the first place, was behind Infinite Warfare, putting them in a bad way. One year later, Sledgehammer Games found success in bringing the series back to its World War II roots in the form of Call of Duty: WWII. Infinity Ward wound up following suit.

Taking inspiration from contemporary acclaimed works such as Homeland, American Sniper, and Sicario, campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff wanted the medium to explore taboo subjects. These sentiments were echoed by studio art director Joel Emslie, who promised his game’s narrative would be “much more grown-up [and] mature”. While Infinite Warfare cast the series into the future and WWII set its sights to the past, this new game would take place in the modern day. As a callback to the game that established the series as one of the most profitable in the history of the medium, it was named Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Although it didn’t quite achieve the overwhelming praise as the original Modern Warfare, the 2019 reboot was released to fairly high acclaim. Does this game truly advance the medium as Mr. Minkoff or Mr. Emslie intended?

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Mega Man 5

Even one year into the lifespan of the Super Famicom – known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) abroad – Mega Man 4 became a bestselling game for Nintendo’s aging Famicom (NES) console. The game Capcom executives originally saw little potential in had a presence on the console only Nintendo’s own characters could rival, and it wasn’t going to stop there. Continuing the momentum from the previous games, artist Keiji Inafune helmed a new project that would see the creation of the series’ fifth installment. Having established a formula by this point, development proceeded uneventfully.

The game was released domestically in December of 1992 for the Famicom under the name Rockman 5: Blues’s Trap!? – Blues being the Japanese name for the character Western players knew as Proto Man. It surfaced in the United States shortly afterwards before being released in Europe months later. In those regions, Capcom’s American branch once again excised the subtitle, renaming it Mega Man 5. With four predecessors boasting highly similar gameplay, does Mega Man 5 bring anything meaningful to the table?

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New Super Mario Bros. U

Introduction

Bringing the familiar, side-scrolling gameplay back to the console scene after a nineteen-year sabbatical, New Super Mario Bros. Wii proved a tremendous hit upon its 2009 release. The new, four-player gameplay was especially well-received, finally allowing series creator Shigeru Miyamoto to implement an idea he had conceived as early as the 1980s. In response to this development, Nintendo was inspired to make sequels. The first of which was New Super Mario Bros. 2. Released in 2012 for the 3DS, it sold itself as a sequel to the original New Super Mario Bros. It was a commercial success, though detractors accused Nintendo of resting their laurels due to the sheer amount of recycled assets.

However, another sequel was being developed at the same time for the Wii’s successor: the Wii U. It didn’t exactly start out this way; the game had the tentative title New Super Mario Bros. Mii, which would allow players to use custom-made avatars in addition to the famous plumber. It was featured at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) of 2011 in a series of technical demonstrations showcasing the Wii U’s capabilities. After its warm reception, Mr. Miyamoto announced that the game would be released as a launch title alongside the Wii U under the name New Super Mario Bros. U. And so, later in the same year as the release of New Super Mario Bros. 2, the Wii U was launched. New Super Mario Bros. U was well-received, with many critics believing it to a step in the right direction compared to its direct predecessor. As the fourth entry in the New Super Mario Bros. subseries, does New Super Mario Bros. U successfully recapture the essence of the franchise’s pioneering side-scrolling installments?

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Super Monkey Ball 2

Even after the Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, few predicted that Sega would, in the very same year, proceed to have one of their games ported to a Nintendo console. Such a reality came to pass when the GameCube launched. The console’s debut signified the true end of an era when Super Monkey Ball, a port of Sega’s arcade game Monkey Ball, was among its launch titles. To the surprise of creator Toshihiro Nagoshi and Amusement Vision, Super Monkey Ball became a sleeper hit amongst the Nintendo GameCube’s launch titles in North America. If Sega porting a game for a Nintendo console only for it to become a tremendous hit was a sign of the changing times, what happened shortly thereafter drove the point home even more.

Sonic and Mario had clashed numerous times throughout the fourth and fifth console generation. Halfway through the 1990s, the rivalry between the two characters became the stuff of legends. And just like that, the final mainline release in Sega’s long-running Sonic the Hedgehog series to debut on one of their consoles, Sonic Adventure 2, found itself ported to the Nintendo GameCube as though nothing happened. For those who had grown up with Nintendo consoles, this port, named Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, was likely their first exposure to Mario’s most famous rival alongside Sonic Advance, which was released the very same day for the Game Boy Advance. The gaming landscape had permanently changed, and even those not very versed in the medium knew it.

With Super Monkey Ball being one of the GameCube’s most popular launch titles, it was only natural that Mr. Nagoshi and Amusement Vision would be inspired to create a sequel. Taking their simple concept out for another spin, Mr. Nagoshi and his team created Super Monkey Ball 2, releasing it in 2002. To appeal to the series’ newfound fanbase abroad, it was first released in North America in August of that year before debuting domestically the following November. Like its predecessor, the game was well-received, garnering dedicated fans who continue to praise it to this day. As one of Sega’s first games specifically created for another company’s console, did Super Monkey Ball 2 successfully continue its creator’s momentum?

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