Archive for the ‘Import’ Category
For this week’s video and Retro Game Night we are playing requested titles Biohazard (Resident Evil) Gun Survivor 2 (Japanese Version) and Michigan: Report from Hell (European English Version). Both titles only released in Japan and Europe so here they are in all your viewing glory. Due to language and violence both of the games and the commentary, viewer discretion is advised.
This week Fred flies solo to discuss the short live but highly coveted niche console the Turbografx-16. With an 8-bit processor and a 16-bit graphics card this Japan-centric console by NEC only hung around for 4-5 years but has a cult following almost as intense as Sega. This episode covers its release, different versions, Japanese counterpart the PC Engine, and of course the expensive CD expansion and games.
This week we post a little early and celebrate America’s Independence Day with patriotic video games:
First up is actually a Japanese game, Parodius Da! but it has quite the patriotic boss so it’s here because I love this game and found a connection:
Next up is a rare unlicensed NES game by Color Dreams entitled Operation Secret Storm:
Third on the list is a digital pinball game from the PS1 era, because why not right? Here’s Patriotic Pinball (please excuse my technical difficulties):
And last but not least we close the show with a game so American, so amazing, so awesome it was only released on one console (Xbox) and in one region (Japan). Yeah, you read that right. Since I have no way of getting my hands on it and don’t have a Japanese Xbox to play it on, here’s a great flashback of 1UP’s Broken Pixels show bragging about From Software’s 3rd person uber-American title Metal Wolf Chaos:
Hope you enjoyed those and have a safe and happy 4th of July!
Starting yesterday I am now doing a weekly show where I play retro titles that either I’ve always wanted to play, my readers request, or anything I just think is cool. It records every Friday night, gets uploaded to the YouTube channel late, and then I create a subsequent post here on Saturday. For the first week I decided to try a game I originally was recommended on a recent Video Game Outsiders appearance: Beetle Adventure Racing on the N64.
The next comes from one of our Japanese readers/listeners Fenian (@F3nian), Sweet Home. This was released only in Japan on the Famicom (NES) by Capcom and features RPG and puzzle elements as five people try to survive and escape a haunted mansion. Although based off of a Japanese horror film of the same name, many say this was the precursor to Resident Evil, complete with the opening door cinematic. It was only released in Japanese, but thanks to a fan translation and flash cart I present to you the game in all its English glory running on an actual NES.
Hope you enjoyed these episodes. Tune in next week where I will be featuring initial gameplay of Expendable on the Dreamcast and an attempt to complete the fighter Street Fighter The Movie: The Game on the Sega Saturn!
This week Fred flies solo to discuss the world of fan translations. Many titles come out in foreign lands and never make the trip over the United States, often only available in the native language of Japanese: enter the fan translation. We discuss the roots and makeup of a fan translation and then close with a long list of the most popular ones for each console.
This week Trees returns and we are talking about the Japanese developer Treasure, best known for some of the most impressive games on Sega’s consoles (Gunstar Heroes, Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes, and Ikaruga) as well as Nintendo’s later consoles (Bangai-O and Sin & Punishment). We discuss the company origins, values, and of course the entire library of this impressive developer.
Below is a video of an unreleased (canceled) title, Tiny Toons: Defenders of the Universe. The beta that was presumably used as a trade show demo eventually leaked on the internet. We have acquired it and played it on an original, modded, PS2. Enjoy!
Console: Playstation 2 (Japan Only)
Developer: Cave (original arcade design, port by Arika)
Publisher: Arika (PS2 version only)
Price: $60-$100 (used, unknown new)
Digital Release? No
Aside from its Japan only status and the incredibly difficult pronunciation, Espgaluda (pronounced “esu-pu-galuda” in English) has so much going for it. A second generation shmup from Cave, the development studio responsible for DoDonPachi, this is when the studio began to think outside the box and expand its audience to the masses. This game is made easier than most titles in its genre with the slowing of bullets and shields to assist the player in getting familiar with the danmaku (bullet hell) genre. Wrap it all together and it truly is a shame this title has never made its way stateside because it’s much more approachable than the titles we have received.
The roots of Espgaluda stem from the arcade (and Japan) only title ESP Ra.De. (pronounced “esu-pu-rye-do”) about a group of young girls with super human powers. It all takes place in the not-too-distant future (2018) on a remote island called Tokyo-2 off the shores of an overpopulated Japan. It appears the Japanese police force is hunting down these “ESPers” that are capable of psychic powers and the story takes place over a 24-hour period of time for three escaping females. None of this matters all that much since the game was only in Japanese (not localized on the MAME versions I’ve found), but the game is notable for several reasons. For starters the fact that you control a flying girl instead of a ship or vehicle will be the first thing you notice, and given the 1998 release of the title it’s quite possibly the first time this type of character is used in a shmup. Each girl has a barrier power, which allows them to temporarily absorb the power of the bullets coming at them and then release that energy back at their opponents. Aside from that the game is relatively a standard vertical shmup with plenty of explosions, bullets to dodge, and massive boss battles.
Espgaluda is a spiritual member of the series and acts as a prequel of sorts, but you have to give me a little slack because I don’t speak Japanese and I’m piecing together a plot and game that aren’t often covered. From what I can tell it explains the story of a queen of a small and peaceful village that has special powers incredibly similar to the ones we saw in ESP Ra.De. and the king has begun experimentation to extract and implement her powers in others. At the core of this are his two children whom he infuses the powers to at a young age for the sake of conquering. Trouble begins when a senior scientist moves the kids away to an isolated location in an attempt to give them a normal life. Eventually they are found, the scientist father figure is killed for his treachery, and the kids attack the town of their father with newfound powers unleashed.
This is the world you are dropped into with Espgaluda, which is unlike many shmups of its type. First of all most of the enemies are organicand the whole world has this steampunk feel of technology fused with semi- medieval aesthetics. Like its spiritual predecessor, the barrier system joins the ranks allowing you to protect yourself against oncoming bullets, especially when those crazy danmaku patters explode across the screen. The barrier may be less necessary than you think, though, because the game has a power mode that slows down its pace and enters a sort of slow-mo or “bullet time” mode when you get bombarded. This is great for those newer to the genre that need to get used to the pattern weaving required to succeed in bullet hell shmups. Not only that, but your barrier automatically absorbs bullets, unleashing a mighty auto-attack once you soak up enough, and your attacks get super charged. It’s one hell of a mode to say the least, especially because you change genders completely (although with all the Japanese I can’t understand the explanation is lost on me and it doesn’t look like the brother turns into the sister or visa versa but perhaps that’s what it is).
Either way it’s a new take on a classic genre that truthfully is a great place to start if you’re not big on shmups or are tired of not making it past the first level. Of course the tragedy is that the game was only released in Japan, but if you’re into importing or know how to access a MAME copy you should be good to go. While I must admit that it doesn’t diverge too far from a Cave shooter across the board, I like the lush and vibrant colors of the game and the training wheels its various options support. Hardcore shump fans don’t need to worry too much, though, because there are many difficulties and the game is still tough as nails even with these various options in place. I must admit, though, that with this title in the back pocket it shocks me that much more niche shooters like Otomedius and even Cave’s Deathsmiles made it to the US and Espgaluda (and its sequel on the 360) have remained locked away in the East. Perhaps the vertical perspective that wastes a large percentage of the screen is to blame?
Ah March, shmuppreciation is back and in full effect on Gaming History 101. If this is your first time hearing the phrase, shmuppreciation is for the love of the shoot-em-up genre (shmup for short) and is celebrated all March on the site. If you missed Shmuppreciation 2012 I highly recommend you check it out as we provided more than 30 articles dedicated to introducing you to genre specifics and the myriad of popular series in the most triumphant genre of all time.
This year we’re going past introductions and into the intermediate world of shmups, which requires more skill, dedication, and money than the games covered last year. While I would hardly call the games we will be covering obscure by any stretch, these titles are much less known outside of enthusiastic shmup fans. To kick it off we’re featuring the top 5 games worth importing. Shmups are of the most expensive games out there so you can expect a bit of sticker shock even with the games mentioned here. Just keep in mind that you’re currently dropping $60 for day one releases and sometimes even more if you’re into that special edition stuff. The titles in this list are unique because they have not seen a release, even digital, within the United States and thus require some sort of special circumstances to play today. There’s a great list of import games that have released digitally on PSN, XBLA, and Wii Virtual Console as well so be sure to check out our article on those titles as well. In order to play these games you have to either import them or get access to a digital service outside of your region. The links in each title will take you to the games’ review or video on our site.
5. Zero Gunner 2 (Arcade, Dreamcast- Japan Only):
While it’s not a traditional shmup by any means, Zero Gunner 2 is similar to Geometry Wars except that the arcade and Dreamcast title didn’t have twin sticks. In a 3D rendered world, it carries an aesthetic similar to that of Silpheed or Star Fox updated by the graphical prowess of the updated hardware. Ironically the game plays much like a traditional arcade game with a series of enemies attacking you on a single screen and you are taxed with taking them out by flying around the screen and firing in all directions. Now that I think of it, connections could be made to Asteroids without much of a stretch, but there’s no denying the addictive nature that is Zero Gunner 2. – Review with video coming next week.
This title can only be found in Japan but is easy to find in the import market. Dreamcasts require a mod chip or boot disc to load an import game. Typically the title sells for $80-$110 on Dreamcast and upwards of $500-$750 on JAMMA arcade PCB board. The PCB is high in cost due to the rarity and difficulty to emulate properly in MAME.
4. Espgaluda (Arcade, PS2 – Japan Only):
Not only is this title developed by prolific studio Cave, known for shmups of all kinds, but this danmaku title has been adapted to a more general audience. Since “bullet hell” shmups dominate the contemporary market today it is key to get good at weaving in and out of the bright beautiful bullets invading the screen in various patterns. Instead of getting a game over every five minutes in the traditional origins of the genre, Espgaluda is highly recommended because it’s adapted for a general audience. When you get ambushed by bullets, like you will, they slow down to allow easy maneuver between them and getting hit doesn’t net you a death. With a great cyberpunk setting, bright colorful sprites, and an adapted difficulty make this a must buy for those who want to get into modern shmups. I won a contest and received it as a prize, which at the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was. Now I know.
This title can only be found in Japan and is somewhat common in the import market. Playstation 2 requires a mod chip or a boot disc to load an import game, however boot discs can be frustrating due to various security methods in the console. Of course a Japanese PS2 is another (albeit expensive) option. Prices range from $50-$75, making it one of the cheapest on our list, however the arcade JAMMA PCB is more rare and valuable due to popularity and thus sells for around $350 (and much higher) in US import shops and at least 40,000 yen ($450) in Japanese stores.
3. Sexy Parodius (Arcade, PS1, Saturn, PSP – Japan Only):
I do love this title and despite what the name suggests, it’s not very titillating and the best installment in the Parodius series. A long running parody of Gradius, Konami released these games in every territory but the United States and why is anyone’s guess – although the original titles did mock American culture in some levels. As the only title in the series not released outside of Japan it’s a shame that more shmup fans haven’t been able to enjoy this great game, especially because most ports were nearly arcade perfect.
This title can only be found in Japan however it’s very common. Saturn can only play imports via Pro Action Replay cart (most modchips do not make it region free) whereas PS1 can use either a modchip or a boot disc with mild modification to the console. PSP can play imports naturally and this title is found in the Parodius Collection. All console versions sell for around $35-$60. The JAMMA PCB is also quite common and sells for around $100-$125 in US import stores.
4. DoDonPachi (Arcade, PS1, Saturn – Japan Only):
Cave’s most popular shmup of all time and partially responsible for the love danmaku is every bit as great today as it ever was. Despite its ramped difficulty, the game features amazing explosion animation and unlimited credits as an option in the console versions. It’s a point of contention as to whether the PS1 version and Saturn version differ much, but I can see that argument given the Saturn was designed around 2D sprites and the Playstation around 3D polygons. Personally I do feel the Saturn version is a bit better, however given the larger availability of the PS1 version it’s not worth the extra cost. Many consider this title to be the best shmup of all time and it’s among my favorite in my collection.
This title can only be found in Japan however it’s very common and even available on the Japanese PSN. Saturn can only play imports via modchip whereas the PS1 can use either a modchip or a boot disc with mild modification to the console. PS3s from any region can get a Japanese PSN account and with prepaid cards play the title off of the Japanese PSN PSOne version. At $75-$100 on both PS1 and Saturn this is a justified expensive import and the JAMMA PCB is quite rare at $300-$500. On the other hand the Japanese PSN version is a meager 600 yen ($7) and definitely the best option (it even plays on PSP and Vita if you go through the annoying process of setting up a Japanese account on it).
1. Battle Garegga (Arcade, Saturn – Japan Only):
Countless lists of best shmups of all time will rank Battle Garegga as number one and for good reason. It feels like the pinnacle of the airplane vertical shmup that was started by the 19xx series but with design choices that are appreciated by those that aren’t purists. It has fast paced action, modified bomb options, and is one of the few shmups from 90s that can be completed without memorizing the game after countless hours of play. It’s not a cake walk either, but Battle Garegga can be successfully navigated by twitch instincts, making it feel more “fair” like the classics. Furthermore the Saturn release, while one of the most costly on the console and in my collection, is arcade perfect and has special features that resemble contemporary shmup releases. If you’re going to get into the Saturn for its great library, especially as a shmup fan, the title justifies its ridiculous cost.
This title only released in Japan and is rare due to its print run and popularity. Saturn can only play imports with the use of a Pro Action Replay cart (most modchips do not make the Saturn region free) that is to this day available at various outlets for $30-$40. This title sells for a staggering $125-$175 average complete – I found mine for $75 at a retro convention in disc only format – and the arcade JAMMA PCB (if you can find it) has sold anywhere from $200-$500.
There you have it, five incredible titles tailor made for shmup fan consumption and almost $500 to collect them all. Still the entire concept of a shmup is that you play them over and over. When you think about it, any one of these titles can take months or even years of your gaming life if you let them. Keep in mind these are titles that never entered our country, never became part of a re-release or collection in the US, and never got released in digital format. When you think about it that makes them obscure and rare for all gamers worldwide and thus justifies the higher price tag. Stay tuned for more great shmup coverage and reviews on the three games we haven’t already reviewed on this list next week!
I’ve only just begun Persona 3 with about five hours under my belt, but already I can tell I’m going to like this game. It’s a massive hybrid of so many genres woven together in a nice JRPG shell that sucks you in and gets you hooked, fast – just one more day, am I right? I’m glad to see that, too, because having just completed both Shin Megami Tensei Persona and Persona 2 (both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment) I was beginning to fear I was missing something. That’s because by all accounts the first two installments in the Persona series (Persona 2 was split into two games and up until recently Innocent Sin was never technically available in the US) are a dated, rough ride through all of the confines and setbacks of traditional JRPGs along with a steep difficulty and very complex battle system to boot. From the start, both games are a daunting task and none of the remakes update the gameplay at all. In the end I only made it through with step-by-step instructions in a strategy guide, lots of patience, and a little luck. This is not what I signed on for and given the current landscape of this genre it appears that for most gamers the PS1 outings of Persona are caught between two amorphous worlds (much like the characters themselves) when the genre was drastically changing. After somewhere between 150-250 total hours to complete (there is no game clock, I’m completely guessing), a total of five different games, and an incredible hunger to extract the draw of the early iterations of the series I must issue a strong suggestion to bypass Persona’s roots and start with the third title, you’ll be thankful you did.
Establishing the PS1 Iterations
Persona games are always the story of a group of teenagers caught in a disaster that leads to the end of the world. Demons have fallen upon our world and threaten to end it (this is a common theme in all of the Megami Tensei titles, which revolve around demon summoning). Unlike most teens, this group is special because they can summon strong beings under their control, named “persona,” that can assist them in fighting these demonic forces. Not only that, but the group soon finds that they have transported to an alternative dimension where everything looks the same, but nothing feels or acts like they are used to.
They are unique in comparison to most JRPGs of the late 90s because they take place in the modern day. Almost every other title took place in a fantasy setting or the ever popular neo future or cyberpunk distant future. Despite the familiar setting, the minutia of the world in Persona games has that perfect tweak between reality and game. Along with the modern setting come locations and situations that any gamer can be familiar with including interpersonal relationships, the stress of school, and just trying to be around for your eighteenth birthday. When you’re first introduced to this world, at least in my case, you fall in love with it and settle yourself in for the long journey ahead.
Then the gameplay gets in the way and totally screws everything up. The series’ biggest flaw is that it’s overcomplicated and redundant in spite of itself. There’s a sense of urgency in every task you embark on (and lets not forget the world is coming to an end), so you would think that where to go next and tasks to perform would be clearly explained. Nope, without a guide I wondered around lost for hours before finally deciding that instead of writing down all the information that’s casually conveyed in volumes of dialogue that I could just get simple information like the next location to go to and speed up the process. Not only that, but the battle system is complicated, integrating a grid-based distance system when partaking in turn-based battles. This isn’t a bad thing by itself until you realize all of the options you have in battle with the “try it and see what happens” method clearly being the intended approach. You can battle with your melee weapon (and depending on class or gender of the character you can wield different items), your ranged weapon (always a gun, but again it’s gender and character specific), your persona(s) – each with their own set of moves and leveling moves, your items, the ability to interact with a creature, and to top it all off just about every other non-combative option I’ve ever seen in an RPG. I know some of you that have played Persona 3 and Persona 4 want to jump in and tell me it’s the same – it’s not, you’re wrong, it’s not streamlined at all like it is in the later titles. Most of the time you will get stuck trying to use a weapon that doesn’t have the right range or in an interaction that won’t net any results, which is frustrating because in many battles every decision counts. You can’t just ignore these options either, though, because each enemy has a complex system of what they’re vulnerable to, what they absorb, what they counter, and how they respond. You also need to communicate and interact to get more cards, the currency for which to buy personas, a fact that forced me to start over 10 hours in my first playthrough because I was unaware of. Even with a store bought guide I was overwhelmed just looking at all the charts, graphs, and profiles for the enemies, weapons, and battle system. I don’t know how you guys in the mid 90s did it, but I don’t have time for this.
Aside from the complication, the games are severely slow paced and held back by all the worst aspects of JRPGs. Your random battles happen every three steps and in dungeons there are little invisible floors that give out and force you to backtrack through half the thing (with dozens of random battles in tow) in order to re-attempt to get around the gapped floor. The intro to Persona 3 is roughly an hour or two to get going and through your first “dungeon”, which took easily 5-10 hours in the originals. At first you fight all these random battles thinking you’re getting in some serious grinding and leveling nicely for the more tough fights, after which you realize that this is the normal pace of the game and you’ll be doing hundreds (literally) more fights to actually grind. It’s just too much repetition that slows the game’s pace and plot to a crawl. This is especially true in the first game, which I would have given up on long before the end had it not been for the fact that it was portable. Thanks to the fan translation, full use of a guide, and knowledge of the series tropes I went in to Persona 2 much more prepared for what lay ahead. The only repetition that I can speak positively of is the main theme songs. In all of these games you will hear one track replay for your entire adventure, and even though it’s an upbeat J-pop song that has awkward lyrics when translated to English, I loved them all. I can’t explain it, but I’m immediately hooked to all of the various main themes in each game and would gladly listen to them again and again even now.
As for what games I played, these are the games that have released for America (one is a fan translation):
- Revelations: Persona (PS1), remade as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona (PSP)
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin (PS1, Japan only, Fan remake available), remade as Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP, released in America)
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Eternal Punishment (PS1, title of game in Japan only, it was released as Persona 2 in the US)
I played a few hours of all of these, but when it came to playing through and completing the game I played Persona on the PSP, Innocent Sin fan remake on a modded PS1, and Eternal Punishment on PS1 (I played the only version we got, the Persona 2 original game). Despite which version you play, the gameplay remains the same, which is the one thing I wanted to have updated.
Persona and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 are a lost art and those that played them when they first released have fond memories of the games. Unfortunately to the modern gamer there just isn’t enough time and patience to justify returning to the roots of the series. In truth, they all tell the same basic story and Persona 3 is just another re-telling with a modified interface and updated gameplay (exactly like we’ve seen with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest). It pains me to say it, but if you played Persona 3 or 4 and think that going back to the originals might be a good idea, you won’t find much similarity between the early titles and the modern ones. At the same time there are some people who love nothing more than 100 hours of endless, mindless, grinding and learning every aspect of a game complete with huge flow charts. If this is your idea of fun, then these games and many others like it from the 80s PC world are here for the taking. As for me, it was an experiment that I admit will never happen again. I don’t feel accomplished to having played them, I just feel like I wasted far too much time when I should have just started with Persona 3.
Instruction Manual: None released outside of Japan
Played it as a child? No
Value: N/A – No official US release, most versions are fan translations and prototype carts have no official price
Other Releases: Yes – This game was updated and re-released in Japan on GBA as Mother 1 + 2
Digital Release? Yes – Although technically not true. Digital fan translations to English are available but not really legal.
Thanks to a strong and devoted fan community and some odd ambiguity with Nintendo’s releases of this series, Mother (known as Earthbound Zero with most circles that play english translations) has got to be one of the hardest series to cover. Having never played Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) I did the traditional completionist thing and started with the original game, which is extremely dated by almost all RPG standards. Mother suffers from everything I dread about going into retro role-playing games: a ton of grinding (or “meat walls”), constant random encounters, no true direction as to where to go next, casual dungeons with incredibly hard boss battles, slow pacing, and a limited inventory system. Not only that, anytime you try to look up help on this game, everyone who’s written about it has played the game a million times and speaks so condescending of people who get stuck that you feel like an idiot. That’s because Mother has a small but incredibly devoted community that feels this game and its sequels are the apex of game design. Despite all these faults, the charm of the writing and what it was doing at the time was enough to keep me invested until the grueling end.
Mother tells the story of Ninten (I believe some translations name him Ness after the name for the character in Earthbound), a 12-year-old boy living in the late 1980s that discovers he has psychic abilities after a paranormal event occurs at his house. Subsequently an adventure unfolds where Ninten traverses several towns and dungeons completing several tasks from finding a girl in a graveyard to saving the world as we know it. Along the way he finds a few friends that join his party and by the end of the game it somewhat emulates the battle structure of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Towns are named after holidays (or at least they are in the english version), what we know of as magic is “psi” powers, and careful attention to what is said must be taken to keep track of where to go and what to do next. Much like other JRPGs of the time period, the map is vast and there’s not much to keep you from exploring so you can get lost easily and die even easier. Since you can only save in towns, this can be problematic and typically the best solution is to grind like crazy and level yourself up. This makes continuing in the game’s relatively meager main plot drag as you consistently stop to grind for an hour or two after getting pummeled in a dungeon or new area. It’s not all bad, though, because just like Dragon Warrior you are simply returned to the place where you last saved and your money is halved, but all progress and items collected remain on your person. As I said before, this game is chock full of charm because of its non-fantasy setting, which makes for hilarious conversions of role-playing conventions. Instead of armor, you wear hats and coats. Instead of swords and shields, you pick up slingshots, baseball bats, and even boards with nails in them. Instead of traditional enemies you will confront hippies, smoking crows, and even weird alien life forms. You gain money for battle, like with most games of the genre, but instead of instantly receiving it you have to get it from your father at the ATM, who is a disembodied voice you only interact with on the phone. All of this ties together to be the ultimate mockery on modern culture: absent working father, mother who lets you risk life and limb to save the world, towns that just shrug off hostile zoo takeovers and zombie-infested graveyards with kidnapped kids.
This is only the beginning of Ninten’s larger adventure and once you start throwing in other factors like transdimensional travel, the game gets complicated fast. I did not play this with a guide, although I wish I had because much like a Sierra adventure game from the nineties, you can get stuck and upon looking up the solution discover that you’ve got a world of backtracking to do for one single item or quest. This is when the bare inventory system becomes a slog on your progress. Since Ninten can only hold six items from the start, holding a quest item along with a couple of healing items makes discovering anything new quite the chore. You will consistently need to store items in boxes scattered around the world (but only in towns, of course) and with the several reasons to be forced back into town (reviving teammates at hospitals, taking/leaving items, saving at the inn) the pace of the game slows to a crawl. It’s not surprising considering this game was developed by a famous Japanese writer, Shigesato Itoi, because the overall plot and dialogue seems well planned out and is entertaining while the gameplay aspects of this title make it hard to recommend. If you can, play this on a portable of some kind in smaller 30-60 min doses over the course of a month or so (it took me just over 35 hours to complete the campaign). I also must admit that I’ve read some things on Earthbound and even listened to a podcast or two discussing the plot and I feel that this game is extremely similar in terms of what happens: you need to find melodies in both, the cast seems to be identical, Gyiyg is the final boss (he’s renamed to Gyiygus in Earthbound). Knowing all that, I’m betting that Earthbound is just an overall better game that tells a similar story, so unless you’re a fan of the series there’s little need to play the first game. I’m sure there will be references, but I know for a fact that each game tells a story that’s self-contained.
Mother released in Japan in 1989 and by that time gamers had already experienced a couple of Dragon Quests and a couple of Final Fantasy titles as well, so it’s hard to say that Mother couldn’t have taken the lessons from these games and applied them to a better design here. This is probably best explained by the fact that Mother didn’t consider itself to have much in common with those games because it’s not taking a fantasy setting and definitely not trying to emulate Dungeons & Dragons. Additionally it was developed in-house by Nintendo (Shigeru Miyamoto was even the producer on it) and they had little experience creating an RPG so the fact that it turned out as decent as it did is admirably. Still, the game is a 10 hour experience begrudgingly stretched to nearly four times that size by backtracking, complicated quests, and endless grinding. Not only that but it feels like you can’t walk more than a few steps in certain areas without being constantly bum-rushed by enemies. There’s also a major balance issue and the fact that quite a few bosses have a gimmick to beating them that you don’t much time to discover. An example of this is a Starman, who is an early boss at the zoo: he can deal nearly fatal damage in one attack, doesn’t seem to be remotely concerned with your attack, and simply needs to be tied up with rope to beat. Unfortunately you may have not discovered the rope on your way to him or not had enough inventory slots to pick it up when you found it. You may not know to use the rope and you’d have to die a dozen times to figure this out. You may get killed by an instant critical hit before even getting a chace to tie him up first. Given the fact that the zoo is in a remote area and to travel to it and reach Starman can take up to 30 minutes each go, this can be an early example of why you would want to quit before too long (and it only gets worse from there). If you hang in there and eventually save the world, the extended ending from the english translation does nicely wrap the plot and feels quite rewarding. Oh well, it wasn’t the most productive mass of hours I’ve ever spent, but at least I can check it off of the “games I’m ashamed I haven’t played” list.
The Sordid Tale of Earthbound Zero
Mother is one of those anomalies that spawns from several frustrating decisions of Nintendo near the end of the NES console cycle. Mother was fully translated and localized by Phil Sandhop and slated for release on the NES in 1991. With the appearance of the Super NES the same year, Mother, which was named Earth Bound for the US, was permanently delayed in the interest of focusing on SNES releases instead. Similar considerations were made for Final Fantasy II and III, which would be SNES games in America and actually FF IV and IV, so just like Mother we never saw those later Famicom titles. It was probably a smart business decision too because Enix decided to ignore this precedence and release Dragon Warrior III and IV in the US after the SNES release and both suffered horrible sales. As a result, we never got Dragon Warrior (Quest) V on the SNES in America. Instead, Mother 2, which was developed by nearly the same team and talent, was translated and also named Earthbound (obviously with a slight title change) and released in America. This title was huge and sold with an equally large price tag of up to $100 on release, which is why it released in a huge box and included scratch-and-sniff stickers and a full game guide (which I’m told was definitely necessary). It also suffered poor sales and along with the comparatively larger fan population in America, the title sells for $200+ for cart only, more than $500 for a complete version and several thousand (as much as $10,000) for a sealed copy.
During the mid-late 90s when fans tried digging up copies of the original to translate for emulation in english, the prototype of the completed english title was discovered and released on the web. It was later confirmed that the copies of Earth Bound in english that were found were, in fact, translated by Phil Sandhop and not Demiforce, the hacker group that discovered the game. This is further backed by the re-release of Mother in Japan on the GBA has all the enhancements and changes from the english version. To help gamers and anyone who looked for the game from being confused by the same title, Mother has been renamed and is better known these days as Earthbound Zero. Of all the unreleased and prototype NES titles I’ve seen and researched over the years, Mother/Earthbound Zero is easily the most “ready to ship” title I’ve ever come across. You have to wonder what the market for this series would be like in America had Earthbound Zero been released. Perhaps more would have played the game and been turned off by the difficulty ramp and discouraged Nintendo from taking the risk to release the sequel. The more likely theory is that it would have celebrated success (it sold more than 400,000 copies in Japan) and more people would have purchased Earthbound (or whatever it would be called) and brought down the rarity from America’s $200 price tag to Japan’s much more appropriate $30-$40.