Archive for the ‘Remakes’ Category
Despite all the piracy and archival purposes of emulation, my personal favorite addition to the gaming landscape was the ROM hack. ROMs are the name for the entire program contained on a game cartridge and so naturally a “ROM hack” is taking a game we all know and love and changing it. Nintendo hasn’t really dabbled in this until now – sure, the 1994 World Championship cart and a few SNES competition carts exist, but they are rare and thus hugely expensive. NES Remix takes 16 established early games from the legendary 8-bit system (listed at the bottom of this review) and runs you through a series of challenges to compete with yourself, your friends on the couch, or the world online. While it’s mostly just a derivative of WarioWare, this has to be one of the most addictive games for someone who grew up playing the NES.
From the first series of challenges you can tell that NES Remix is based on the hardest parts of games, most advanced tactics, and interestingly enough exploits and secrets. You may be tasked with defeating a dragon in The Legend of Zelda, after which you need to jump three barrels in the opening level of Donkey Kong, and finally racking up 10 1-ups at the end of level 3-1 in Super Mario Bros. with the bouncing turtle trick. That’s the thing about NES Remix, it really hearkens back to your childhood and acts as nostalgia in a simple 10 second package. In addition, there are “remix” levels where the hacks really come out to play. You may need to beat the first level of Donkey Kong as Link from Zelda or play a level of Mario Bros in shadows, all of which are odd but fun mix-and-matching that appreciate the core of ROM hacking. At the same time this also means it’s going to be tough to justify if you didn’t grow up in this era. The NES is old. Like, almost 30 years “old”, and I’m curious how many of the millions of NES gamers have returned to the Wii U for a title like this. In order to properly appreciate this you can’t be much younger than 30 or much older than 40, so it is quite the limited audience. Countless times within these challenges my wife, who participated as well, would ask me how I knew where the 1-up mushroom was, where the vine was, how to beat Dodongo (Legend of Zelda reference), or how I knew the 3-1 trick I mentioned earlier. My answer was simple and unforgiving: I grew up with it.
What was playground legend, something straight out of The Wizard, or a super secret reveal in Nintendo Power is now the rule set for NES Remix, which puts any newcomer or even 16-bit era gamer at a severe disadvantage. On that same note the lack of explanation to the tasks you’re being asked will often times throw you as well. Along with the console, these games are old. Most will recognize and know Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda, but how many of those people know the secrets and inner workings of Ice Climber or Balloon Fight? This makes it difficult to perform the task being asked of you, especially given that none of these games offer instruction manuals or pre-challenge environments with the original game. There is a video that somewhat explains the tasks at hand – I’m sure Nintendo would also recommend you downloading each game that is conveniently available in one or multiple virtual console iterations – but it’s a basic overview for challenges that are high level. Again, for me this was no big deal, I was soaking up any game I could get my hands on back in 1987 so I’m acutely familiar with these titles, but even my cousin of only five fewer years knew almost none of these games. It’s makes for an obtuse combination that I still think best fits those that know the games.
Therein lies the rub of how to properly review, recommend, and score this title. While I admit this review is a bit more of a debate and conversation with the reader as to what fits best, I can’t possibly see how you can be all-encompassing with a game like NES Remix. This title is early NES in a bottle that enjoys, appreciates, and challenges the gamers of those glory golden era titles when Nintendo ruled supreme and video games were no longer a passing fad. Given my personal past I have no choice but to view this title through the eyes of a gamer who grew up with these games and spent endless hours trying to conquer each one. For someone like me, NES Remix is a breath of fresh air that takes a handful of classics and allows me to replay them in bite sized challenges that I can’t seem to walk away from. Not only are these the classic games, but the new (albeit bare bones) challenges allows me to re-visit the past without completing the same task from the last 29 years. In short, I can’t put this game down, and once I’ve completed all 200 challenges (I’m somewhere in the upper 170s with all challenges unlocked), I’m going to go back to get 3 stars and possibly even try to beat my previous times for each. While it’s not for everyone, and probably has a more niche audience than you would expect, NES Remix is one of those core games that retro enthusiasts need to download the moment they get a Wii U.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Games in NES Remix: Balloon Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., DonkeyKong 3, Excitebike, Golf, Ice Climber, Mario Bros, Pinball, Super Mario Bros, Tennis, The Legend of Zelda, Urban Champion, Wrecking Crew.
NES Remix was purchased on the Wii U eshop for $14.99 and the reviewer was not given a review code. It has been played for approximately seven hours at the time of writing. This title is only available on the Wii U and only digitally via eshop.
Yet another in a long line of modern re-hashes on cult favorites, I went into Strider with a bit more optimism than than other titles to date. Aside from spruced up graphics the game appeared to be faithful to the arcade original, which my retrospective and the podcast last week contested is the best iteration of the series. Couple that with the development being handled by Double Helix – a very popular developer with success not only in Killer Instinct 3, but also was purchased by Amazon for an unannounced project – and the open map MetroidVania game design, things were shaping up to success. Having completed the game, I must admit that just like the anomaly of the original, Strider is a melting pot of prior series staples that gets it right from start to finish.
If you sit still too long in the original arcade game, you will die. Best laid plans are to push forward (ie: to the right) and just attack anything in your path while trying not to fall off a ledge. In the new game that theme is aggressively applied with herds of enemies so thick they will literally be a blocking point for you at times in the game. As a member of the Strider clan, Hiryu is able to cut down most adversaries with the greatest of ease and the balance between enemy hit points and his acrobatic abilities result in a fast paced romp. I never had down time in Strider and felt like a masterful ninja with frantic but controlled moves as I navigated the game’s massive map. While I can concede to the basic MetroidVania label, I would say the game more closely resembles Rondo of Blood rather than the hybrid genre. Even when you have a full moves list at your disposal these hiding places are more off the beaten path rather than the wide open areas you uncover in other titles of the genre. What results is a game that is more linear than anything else, and despite it being a huge map the development team broke it up into different areas complete with a boss battle and new weapon at the core, so basically it’s just like having levels that you can return to. Strider is no stranger to this method of map design, the original NES title was quite similar and a small following prefer it to the traditional “run to the right” design of the arcade title. In the end I grew tired of looking too hard for too much because I was having such a blast following the marker to the next step of the main mission that I played it exactly like a linear game.
You will get many weapons and abilities and the pacing is a great way to teach you how to utilize and master each moveset before adding another. While it probably would look hokey in real life, across the course of the game you go from being a basic jump and slash ninja to a masterful warrior that confidently charges into anything in his path. While I feel the different plasmas were a foolish way to gate off areas throughout the campaign, there’s no denying the cool nature of them. With each new plasma comes a new ability for your throwing weapon, the Kunai, that allows the 5-item spread shot to either bounce off walls, set explosives, or even freeze enemies, and assists in maximizing your options for dispatching the little guys that stand in your way. When it comes to the bosses, however, you will instead be using Cypher techniques to deal the biggest bang for your buck. These special moves cross the screen and deliver massive amounts of damage, which can be used against basic enemies but the recharge rate is slowed to the point that I never found myself doing it throughout the campaign whereas some bosses cannot even be hurt unless you unleash the technique. I have to say that boss battles were quite hit or miss. Some wanted you to utilize a bombardment of blind attacks while avoiding getting hit while others wanted you to learn pattern and techniques that weren’t referenced at all – thankfully someone in QA must have noticed this because a prompt will show on the screen telling you how to overcome them if you’re not getting it. Strider’s past in the Marvel vs. Capcom franchise definitely assisted both the gameplay and art department in how he has been customized and frankly I think the game is better for it.
There is still no denying the fact that Strider was utilized for this game in hopes that nostalgia will garner interest, which is best proved by the fact that I think this style of game has better examples like 2009’s Shadow Complex or even 2012’s Dust: An Elysian Tail. If you’re familiar with the original in the least you will recognize the familiar setting in a socialist Eastern European land, cold mechanical cyberpunk aesthetic, and great new renderings of familiar faces. It almost seems as if the Double Helix design team sat in a room with a list of things they loved about the other three games (we don’t recognize Strider Returns as cannon at this site) and in the end walked away with all of them still on the list. I can’t tell you how new but also similar the game looks and feels in comparison to the original, which is now almost 25 years old, but yet how fun it all is. I describe the dichotomy of the original being both empowering and brutally difficult and how that was somehow fun back then and now the dichotomy of how this title is both a recycling of the old game and an integration of emerging contemporary genres – it’s not supposed to work, but yet it does. You will enjoy this game whether you’re familiar with Strider or not, but to have played the original, especially recently, enhances your enjoyment. I still think it’s a shame that the PSN release of Strider 2 from the original Playstation (which included the original arcade game as well) doesn’t seem to be happening because that would couple this release perfectly.
On paper Strider isn’t doing anything new in the least and the combining of old concepts with a new reboot really reeks of a cash grab. To my surprise this title feels like anything but, with enough care given to the look and feel that it’s really just a faithful recreation of the original (sans difficulty curve, thank God). As I try to get hung up on or nitpick the faults there just aren’t enough and to a degree that it really matters. At $15 the 4-6 hour campaign, which probably doubles if you find everything, is just a ton of fun. The variety, scale, and clean coding makes for an experience that just works and sets no lofty expectations. I kind of wish more games came in a package like this because it’s the perfect package for anyone and appeals to everyone.
Final Score: 4/5 (Review Guidelines can be found here)
Strider was provided by the publisher via review code on the Playstation 4. It is available for $14.99 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.
This week we are joined by Horseplay podcast’s Yogi Lopez (@Yogizilla) and freelance retro writer Jam (@Jamalais) to discuss Sega’s gem for the Saturn Guardian Heroes. A surprisingly deep hack-and-slash with RPG elements and even a fully controlled NPC, this title ushered out 2D sprites and a genre that was much beloved in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Most HD remakes require a certain degree of love for the original game, especially when you consider a brunt of them just increase the resolution on lower quality assets. In the case of NES classic DuckTales, this doesn’t really apply. It was a stunning game that had few flaws when placed up against other titles of its time. There was much work to do bringing it into modern times and if you are going to do this type of upgrade while still retaining sprites, WayForward is probably the best equipped for the job. The visual result is spectacular, justifying the somewhat melodramatic title of Remastered in a mere screenshot. Unfortunately it seems the team was so focused on keeping the aesthetics intact that they spent little time on gameplay. As a result DuckTales Remastered is a title that will tug at your nostalgic heartstrings before crushing them under the minor, but significant, tweaks of this modernization.
If you aren’t familiar with WayForward’s previous works, they have grown a reputation for bringing back the past with hand drawn sprites integrated into contemporary gameplay. It is an astronomical cost in both work and resources, but I have been impressed with everything they have provided before (Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, and Bloodrayne Betrayal to name a few). Not only that, but this developer has also shown striking success with licensed products as well, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Aliens: Infestation are must plays, so I felt that with Capcom and Disney at its back this was a match made in heaven. Upon starting up the game it looks like all the time and money sure paid off. It’s like the cartoon came to life, with solid animation that looks like it leaped off the cells of an animator’s sketchpad. Environments are bright and beautiful, re-creating the worlds from the NES counterpart to perfectly adjust for “nostalgia goggles” (ie: what your mind remembers of a game versus what it really looks like today). Touched up with all of the original voice actors and not a flat performance in the bunch, I can’t imagine how this title could ever demo poorly, especially if your previewers aren’t playing. In terms of visual and audio appeal, WayForward knocked it out of the park.
Then comes the gameplay, which is where the whole project falls apart. The technical complication with such gorgeous sprites is that collision detection cannot be properly determined and therefore hit boxes are utilized. WayForward has always struggled with this on big screen console games, although the portable outings, whether by the benefit of low resolution or smaller screens, don’t seem to suffer the same fate. When you couple that with the dexterity and precision that DuckTales requires, it can get quite frustrating when Scrooge falls right through a massive boss, receives damage, and puts him right in the pattern to get hit again. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if you hadn’t just played a 20-30 minute level for the forth time, which in contrast had almost none of the challenge these boss encounters or late dexterity tests do, and had to skip through dozens of annoying cutscenes along the way. Furthermore Scrooge’s jumps and pogos seem a little off, feeling floaty and imprecise when compared to the much older version. I know many of you readers may scoff at this statement, claiming Scrooge seems to control perfectly with no awkwardness to his movement at all. If you’re comparing it to today’s games, sure, but when you play the NES version and this version back to back, the pixel-counting detail we used to commit to games simply doesn’t hold up in Remastered. I heard of pogo issues from other reviewers, but I must admit that I didn’t have any problems. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t perform like an ideal update 90 percent of the time, but in this particular case the devil is in the details.
Put it all together and you have a game that looks, sounds, and presents itself as the best gift a retro gamer could receive, but after a few hours you’re left hurt and heartbroken. This truly proves that the best graphics and sound in the world cannot hide the fact that if a game doesn’t play right, it just isn’t enjoyable. Normally I side with WayForward’s titles, appreciating the full presentation despite the weak collision and amped difficulty, but in the case of DuckTales Remastered I just cannot ignore the flaws. It’s not difficult in the way old games were meant to be – you would replay frustrating obstacles in an attempt to perfect your run – this whole high risk high reward at a mere boss battle or new area isn’t difficulty, it’s developer trickery. Still, there is an audience for this game and assuming you can commit to hours of working your way through the levels and overcoming the annoying gameplay tweaks it can be one rewarding accomplishment. Perhaps I don’t have the time or patience to learn a game inside and out, not for difficulty but rather for flaws, in order to see that coveted game ending. As a retro gamer my heart tells me I wanted a remake like this – and I can’t stress enough that if WayForward working with Capcom couldn’t pull it off, there aren’t many other options – but now that I’ve tasted the finished product I’m feeling that perhaps the gems of the past should remain that way.
Final Score: 2 out of 5 Please see our review policy for how games are scored and what each score means.
DuckTales Remastered was played via a review copy provided by Capcom and was tested on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. I played for approximately seven hours and was unable to complete the game at this time. A majority of the game was played on medium, however this was adjusted to both easy and hard to assist in determining differences in difficulty.
This week Fred and Trees are discussing Capcom’s Disney games. In the 8-bit era Capcom received the Disney license and created a little game called DuckTales based on the popular Saturday morning cartoon. Not only was it a mass success, but it was an excellent game that gave way to a whole slew of 8-bit and 16-bit gems on Nintendo and Sega consoles.
Originally hitting arcades back in 1993, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom was quite the oddity. It prominently featured gameplay similar to that of its other brawler brethren, specifically the combat system of Final Fight mixed with the license quality of titles like The Simpsons, but also with the added benefit of being part of the complex D&D story. Not only was the game addictive but mild RPG elements, power-ups, and branching paths that had you etching a unique campaign were almost unheard of in arcades. Unfortunately this gameplay style and a long branching campaign required two important things: time and money. It probably costs somewhere between $5-$10 in quarters to conquer the first game, and probably twice that to take on the sequel Shadow Over Mystara and at least an hour of your time. As it stood, I never completed this game as a child, either due to lack of time or money, and I always wondered how fun it would be to have this title at home. Well finally Capcom has decided to bring this classic arcade duo in digital format and finally give free rein to a pair of arcade games that are among my favorite of all time.
As for the games themselves, they haven’t changed much. You get unlimited credits, all of the gameplay straight from the arcade, and both games in one. Not only that, but Capcom has integrated a sort of save system that remembers each level as you complete it. This is a great benefit over the arcade version because it’s hard to find 1-2 hours (or more depending on how much playing you want to do) without interruption, so now you can quit anytime and pick up at the beginning of the level you left off. Additionally the controls are left untouched, the four face buttons of whatever platform you choose relates directly to the original 4-buttons of the arcade and I was pleased to see my fight stick gave the game that true arcade feel. A front end menu system not unlike the ones recently seen in Darkstalkers Resurrection provides a collection of all the loot that can be collected in a checklist format, plenty of challenges to activate as you play, a mostly useless leveling system based on completion of the overall collection, and unlockable art and content. It all bundles the collection into a nice package for those that enjoyed it in the past.
Not only did Capcom bring both games together, but it has plenty of additional options to tweak the gameplay to your liking. Whether you prefer the world of smooth, slick modern visuals or want to try to capture that old school arcade feel the options are there for you. Display resolutions are available in traditional 4:3 boxed versions, a widescreen perspective, a stretched mode for full screen, and even three arcade views including a zoomed out over-the-shoulder view of the original 4-player dual cabinet. I don’t know why anyone would want to view the game that way, but now you can at the press of a button. You can also toggle scanlines, make the graphics smooth or sharp, and even have a modern type bezel art that shows you how close you are to completing challenges. With online capabilities you now have drop-in drop-out co-op play for up to four people, which can be as open or limited as you choose. Some of the aforementioned unlocked bonus content is the ability to have mods in the game such as regenerating health or unbreakable equipment, which can make the game more amusing when trying to do a speed run or assisting someone else. There are even passive options like seeing stats on your friends, leaderboards, and even the ability to make spell and equipment selections on the gamepad in the WiiU version. While I honestly think the visual options are the only true necessary extra, I was pleased to see that although an inexpensive HD re-release, this wasn’t thrown together.
To this day I still love Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons games to the point that I dropped around $50 to import the Japan-only Saturn port of this collection long ago. Now it’s fully localized and available without any sacrifice to the gameplay and at a much lower price. If you are a fan of arcade games, the D&D universe, or brawlers you definitely need to check out one of the most impressive sprite-based arcade titles to ever release. Now I may actually get to explore all of the various alternate routes and branching paths thanks to an unlimited amount of credits and time. Despite the fact that Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara does little more than bring back the two arcade titles to home consoles, the games themselves justify the purchase even if they were nothing more than direct ports of the original. Thank you Capcom, now my collection of favorite license-based brawler titles is nearly complete.
This title is available for $15 starting today on PSN and Steam, with the XBLA version going live tomorrow. No information was given on the upcoming WiiU digital release. A review copy of this title was provided with the main campaign of both games totaling about two and a half hours. We played approximately six hours of gameplay for this review including online and offline co-op and several replays of the campaigns.
Capcom has continued to make its library as available as possible to the masses, especially when it comes to arcade re-releases from decades passed. This generation marks the first where old school arcade titles can be re-released at low prices, individually, with visual filters, online play, and perform exactly as they did in the arcade. Granted, it’s still a pain to figure out how to find each of these titles – a perfect example being Capcom Arcade Cabinet, which provides several of Capcom’s classic coin-ops that would seem to include Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers – but let’s face it, some games are much more marketable than others. The newest of this tradition is Darkstalkers Resurrection, an HD re-release of sorts, that covers the second and third titles in a series that never quite made a faithful translation to American households.
As for the games themselves, they are not covered in this review so see our Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 coverage respectively, and then continue on. I am aware that a nearly arcade perfect port of Night Warriors did release in the US on the Sega Saturn and Darkstalkers 3 was decent in its US version on the Playstation (and PSOne digital store currently), but I hardly think these platforms, especially if you want both titles, are the best and easiest way to play these games. Furthermore they are not without specific tech-based flaws – mostly visual on the Saturn and gameplay on the Playstation – and Darkstalkers 3 was so updated and altered in the home port that it’s barely the original arcade game. Putting all that aside, with the recent resurgence of the fighter genre, many hardcore fans have fight sticks or specific fighter game pads on their newest consoles that a 360/PS3 version can support. Capcom has also decided to keep this title digital only in the US, which also accounts for the low price point that is much more affordable than the 4,000 yen ($45) disc version in Japan. Now that this game’s presence is thoroughly justified, I must commend Capcom for treating a classic re-release with so much care because Darkstalkers Resurrection is the definitive way to play these games at home.
Within each game you have the option to customize your control scheme, which is pre-set to the setup that almost all contemporary fighters use, but it was nice to see you can swap things around. Then it’s time to enter the gameplay options, namely the visual options, where you can get as old school or modern as you like. I was able to turn on smoothing and high textures to make the game look more like a modern cell shaded look and beautifully updated the graphics to something more pleasing to modern day eyes. Those that are hardcore retro enthusiasts can also bring it back to original or even super sharp settings, assuring that every line, sprite, and graphic are isolated like a cartoon drawing. Of course you can adjust the screen to everything from the classic 4:3 arcade cabinet view at the cost of screen real estate, or you can stretch it out to a wide view that fills your large HDTV at the sacrifice of having short, chubby fighters. Couple this with smoothing options, the ability to add scanlines, and just about every other visual filter you’ve come to appreciate in MAME and you can see Darkstalkers in whatever form you feel is best. Capcom also added some interesting perspectives like viewing the game as if you’re looking over the shoulder of another player at an angle; unnecessary but interesting. The emulation is spot on, a crucial feature when dealing with a game as time intensive as a fighter, and you will swear you’re playing the arcade as the game responds with pinpoint accuracy and on par with the smoothest framerates on the market. Even online play benefits from Iron Galaxy’s hit-or-miss track record in this generation with identical fights both online and offline, assuming you both have a solid connection and ping rate. Audio isn’t much of a factor these days unless you’re attempting to mimic complex sound chips that the typical Capcom CP2 title did not have, so the game sounds just as faithful as it looks.
Darkstalkers Resurrection doesn’t just bring these two arcade classics to you without throwing in some bonuses. Like many other arcade fighter re-releases, this title has received the Street Fighter IV treatment with an in-depth tutorial mode that explains the basics, advanced mechanics, and key points to obliterating your foes online. Additionally there are options to spectate online games, a staple at this point, but also a useful mode to upload your in-game replay onto YouTube for fast bragging rights to your best matches, no capture card required. Most significant of these new features is an in-game challenge system that constantly has you performing little in-game tricks to gain XP for unlocking extra content in the game’s vault. These tricks are as simple as “play one match” or “shoot five projectiles” and as long term as winning 50 total rounds. These different challenges have an addictive carrot-on-a-stick methodology to them as they pop up randomly on the sides of the screen – I wasn’t able to find a full list, they just show up in a consistent stream every few seconds – that I was distracted from the overall goal of winning the round or beating the game in the interest of getting my next 5 XP. I’m quite a ways from completing every challenge an unlocking everything, but extras I’ve found so far include concept art, development information, and even videos. It’s just another way to keep you coming back to play this game when you’ve got brief downtime and has an instant satisfaction that the longer termed achievements/trophies don’t provide.
Darkstalkers was a series of games that provided a cartoon gothic aesthetic to the Street Fighter II formula but also functioned as a test platform for unique twists on the genre. If you weren’t an arcade fighting fan in the mid-to-late 90s, it’s quite possible these titles passed you by without so much as an afterthought. Now that they are back hopefully a whole new generation can play and appreciate the genuine appeal of this franchise. While Capcom made the decision not to include the original or the “remixed” versions of the third title (those are covered in our reviews, linked above), these are the two entries in the series that have fans divided as much as the debate over which title is better, Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3. If you are a fan of modern day fighters, especially from Capcom, you need to pick up this amazing collection that documents an experimental period that made way for many of the staples in modern day fighters.
Darkstalkers Resurrection is available on XBLA and PSN for $15/1200 MS points. A review copy was provided to the site and we completed both games multiple times, including online matches, for a total play time of approximately 8 hours.
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.
Released: December 1996
Developer: Sonic Team
Instruction Manual: It did not have one – manual of the original game should suffice
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $24.25 (used), $56.00 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – A Japan only PS2 remake of Nights Into Dreams includes the Christmas content
Digital Release? Yes – included in the HD remake of Nights Into Dreams on XBLA and PSN, certain content removed (see below)
Christmas Nights Into Dreams is significant for several reasons, but most of all it’s one of the only Christmas themed games to ever come out. No, seriously, look through the vaults of retro console history, this is a holiday that is rarely celebrated save for games that focus on certain days (Animal Crossing, for example). In the winter of 1996 Sega was already in big trouble with the Saturn. At only about a year and a half old, Sony’s Playstation was killing it in terms of sales and there were few exclusive titles that generated any kind of buzz. Even Sonic, the faithful hedgehog that always seemed to sweep in and save Sega’s butt, hadn’t released a real game yet. Not only that, but this was the Christmas release of the Nintendo 64 and Mario 64 was selling out consoles nationwide. Nights Into Dreams was the only recent release on the Saturn that appealed to the typical gamer and with its colorful aesthetic, roots in platforming, and Sonic Team developer it was Sega’s best bet for the holidays. Under these circumstances Christmas Nights invaded the market in several forms from being a free pack-in with Christmas console bundles (that already included Nights), inside several magazines, a mail away/in store offer with certain game purchases, and even for rent at Blockbuster Video. This “sampler” title was everywhere, but only for about 45 days, and now it’s one of the more rare and sought after pieces of a retro gamer’s collection.
When you first boot it up, the game isn’t really much. You get to play as either of Nights protagonists Elliot and Claris in the Spring Valley level from the original game. Claris was the only character who could play this dream in the original game, so to be able to play Elliot complete with different item layout was somewhat of a treat. It’s a short run, only probably 10-20 minutes depending on your familiarity and exploration, which was as much a demo back then as it is now. The devil is in the details with this game, though, because it has a ton of hidden content to explore. Depending on the game clock you can get several special versions of Christmas Nights including a heavily adapted Christmas theme if your clock reads December, New Year’s and Halloween also receive special aesthetics, and playing on April Fools will let you play as Reala (Nights’ nemesis) instead of Nights when you change. You can also unlock a speed mode, sound test, and a few other extras like artwork and visual options. Probably my favorite unlockable is Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams, which lets you play through the level as Sonic the Hedgehog without the ability to transform into Nights and the boss, Puffy, is instead Dr. Robotnik.
Sure, when you tell someone about this title, especially with online prices for this game starting around $35 and getting as high as a $100 asking price, it’s a tough sell. For those of us who picked it up when it was nothing more than a throw away demo disc, forgotten in the “no case” bin of your local FuncoLand or GameStop that was liquidating Saturn inventory, it was a robust find. I think I paid $10 for mine and I was surprised to find out about all the extra content years after picking it up. It’s not like the content is hidden by any means, I just had no interest back when I brought it home amidst a stack of games. If you happen to own the HD remake on 360/PS3, the Christmas Nights content does unlock after completing the game, although I’m not sure about the non-Christmas holiday motifs, much of the extra content has been stripped, and Sonic the Hedgehog: Into Dreams is gone as well. For fans of the original Nights that have about an hour to kill and get all festive in the holiday spirit, it’s a great Christmas Eve game. Given its high price and frankly unjust amount of content, I’ve created a gameplay video to show you what all the fuss is about. Merry Christmas!