Archive for the ‘Gameboy Advance’ Category
Console: SNES (as Final Fantasy II in the United States – title changed in later releases)
Released: November 1991
Price: $24.67 (used, cart only), $70.57 (used, complete), $300.00 (new)
Additional Releases:Wonderswan Color (Japan only, updated graphics), Playstation (Final Fantasy Chronicles, new translation), Gameboy Advance (Final Fantasy IV Advanced, upgraded visuals, new translation/conversion to more closely resemble Japanese version), DS (full 3D remodeling, new dungeon), PSP (Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, updated 2D visuals instead of 3D, includes The After Years and a new campaign Interlude to bridge gap between the events of IV and The After Years)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (SNES version, $8), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $30), iOS/Android (GBA version, $16)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
Please note: This was originally released as Final Fantasy II in the United States and later re-named to the appropriate numbering system. The actual Final Fantasy II Japan-only Famicom (NES)release review will be live shortly.
Despite the numbering of this game (and Final Fantasy VI) to be completely messed up in the US, Final Fantasy IV is a must play for fans of the series and JRPG genre. As George Lucas would put it, this is the “definitive version” of the game director (and series creator) Hironobu Sakaguchi originally wanted to make. It learns from its three predecessors and weaves in a powerful story almost unheard of at this point in gaming. Originally intended to be a final NES title in the series, budgetary and scheduling issues forced the 80 percent complete title to be scrapped and re-made on the new Super Nintendo (SNES) console with some of the original ideas integrated. The elemental concepts of the original, heavy story elements of the sequel, and job system of the third (it would be better utilized in Final Fantasy V however) were all mashed together with a new active time battle (ATB) system to create the most compelling game yet. ATB ditched traditional turn-based combat for a timer that allowed characters to attack at their own pace based on the type of warrior they were. This continues to be a staple of the series today and even snuck into other RPGs like Chrono Trigger. Final Fantasy IV hit early in the SNES and celebrated mass critical and financial success worldwide and is considered a favorite by many series fans.
As you probably have noticed, the game was originally titled Final Fantasy II in North America because it was the second game to be released here – Square released the original in late 1989, about a month before the third game released in Japan. It was decided that instead of localizing the previous games, which were met with mixed feelings, the next game would simply be released worldwide with different numbering. It’s not simply blind porting that is responsible for the game’s massive re-releases, Square seems very scared of introducing the original rather brutally difficult title to North America. The US version on SNES is shortened significantly, probably 12-15 hours, due to storylines and dungeons being removed as well as a significant drop in the game’s difficulty. An even easier version, Final Fantasy IV Easy Type, was released in Japan after countless complaints of the game’s punishing difficulty in its original form. Religious spells and symbols were also changed or removed based on Nintendo’s censorship policies in the US as well, which led to confusion when comparing both versions for walkthroughs. Subsequent re-releases of the title in America re-named to the proper numbering, which also gave way for releases of the previously unreleased titles as well, and adjustments for the appropriate spell names, symbols, and entire plot made for a beefier 30-40 hour game. Square also updated to the original difficulty, which required a much heftier amount of grinding and replaying of long dungeons with brutal boss battles, resulting in an understandable popularity of the original shorter and easier SNES release. If you give it the time and patience it deserves, Final Fantasy IV is a magical fairytale that stands strong even today, and if you get highly invested the additional side stories/games of Final Fantasy IV: Complete Collection on PSP creates one of the most expanded worlds of the Final Fantasy universe aside from FFVII. Personally I have a hard time thinking this is of the best because the dated grinding and steep difficulty is just something fewer and fewer gamers, even retro ones playing on portables, have time for.
Final Score: 4 out of 5
Price: $13.49 (used, cart only), $48.50 (used, complete), $288.00 (new)
Additional Releases: MSX2 (Japan only), Wonderswan Color (Japan only), Playstation (Final Fantasy Origins, updated graphics), Gameboy Advance (Dawn of Souls, upgraded with additional dungeons, new translation), PSP (original title, includes Dawn of Souls content with updated visuals and soundtrack)
Digital Release? Wii Virtual Console (NES version, $5), PSOne PSN (Playstation version, $10), PSN (PSP version, $10), iOS/Android/Windows Phone (PSP version, $7)
Similar Titles: Dragon Quest (Warrior) franchise, Phantasy Star franchise, Vay, Ys I & II
If you ask most Americans what the first true console RPG was probably one of the most common responses would be Final Fantasy. Not only is Square’s epic tale of four warriors taking on a timeless being that plans to destroy the world memorable, but it stood well above the competition of the time. The Legend of Zelda may have taken around 10 hours to complete, a size and scope only possible with the ability to save that was unheard of prior, but it was nothing compared to the massive world and 30-50 hours you may spend conquering Final Fantasy. Aside from that, the 1986 Famicom title Dragon Quest (changed to Dragon Warrior in the US for its earlier iterations) had just received a slight upgrade and released to North America in 1989, less than a year before Final Fantasy. It was great but couldn’t compete with a game that was made three years later with the lack of classes, a party system, and various other differences. It should be noted that in Japan Dragon Quest II had already released and Dragon Quest III came out in February 1988, a mere two months after Final Fantasy, which had slowly built up most of the game’s staples such as a party system, exploration, turn based battle system, and both games had similar class systems. That doesn’t mean that Final Fantasy doesn’t have its own identity, it’s far superior in terms of graphics, nothing like the airship showed in the first three Dragon Quest games, and instead of sending you back to town when you die like Dragon Quest you would instead get a game over and go back to where you last saved. Final Fantasy also shipped with a map and huge manual that got players more invested in exploring and completing the campaign, not to mention a cheap and huge Nintendo Power strategy guide that released shortly after. For me, it was the near perfect conversion of the Dungeons & Dragons universe – some of the characters are literally stripped from the Monstrous Manual - and converted it into a single player experience.
Final Fantasy drops you into a vast world with multiple continents and terrain to explore with four warriors. Each of these warriors are named and given a class from the start. This allows a single player to control the party and do their favorite balance of brute force, tactical strategy and magic. You could have any combination you like, including having all four characters being one class. It really rings significant to me with heavy hitters like Borderlands and Diablo still being based on a class system. The game is riddled with random encounters that are invisible, so the key is to be prepared for everything because at any time you can die. Saving is possible anywhere on the overworld map but once you enter a dungeon, the true challenge of the game, you cannot save and must complete it before getting back to the surface to save. That’s why two taxing activities are a must: grinding and losing progress. You will die in the middle of a crazy ramped difficulty boss battle at some point and be forced to reload a save that you made (hopefully) just before entering and re-do an entire 1-2 hour dungeon only to try again to beat it. If you want to prevent a game of chance, you can opt to grind – beating countless random enemies to get to a high enough level that you no longer have a challenge in said dungeon or against said boss – which may waste hours of mindless gameplay but is often your only hope at progressing. This staple of Final Fantasy titles, and JRPGs as a whole, is why some players never even attempt to pick up the genre. If you can stomach it, the reward is significant. Not only do you progress on an epic journey that is a mixture of a decent story but also your personal achievements on the battlefield, all to feel like you truly saved the world. It took me 40 hours to complete this title with nothing more than a map and free time, but conquering Chaos at the end is still one of my favorite and proudest moments in gaming.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (GH101 review policy and definitions can be found here)
In the 8-bit era the game was available to Americans only on the NES, but in Japan it was on the MSX2 microcomputer with some glitches, the Wonderswan Color (Gameboy Color competitor) with mild graphical upgrades, and a re-release on the Famicom with the sequel updated with re-drawn sprites.
A Playstation port of the first two games, entitled Final Fantasy Origins, would update the graphics to high detail and some re-drawn looks, a remixed soundtrack, animated sequences, and an art gallery. This same collection would move to the Gameboy Advance as Dawn of Souls: Final Fantasy I & II with four new dungeons, an updated bestiary, and new script. The somewhat recognized definitive version of the game was released first on the PSP that retained the original title, contained all content of Dawn of Souls and updated the visuals again to high resolution 2D graphics as well as updated cutscenes and soundtrack.
An in-between port that was similar to a 16-bit look, but with none of the tweaks beyond the NES version, released on mobile phones in 2004 in Japan and eventually in 2010 in the United States. Shortly after that the PSP version was ported first to iOS and eventually to Android and Windows phone.
There are two stories that are traded off as the reason for the game’s title. The first is that Square was nearing bankruptcy and most of the staff went into the project thinking it would be a swan song for the developer. This was widely regarded as unsubstantiated rumor given the large amount of successful titles developed by Square on the Famicom/NES in addition to no one substantiating the claim. In July 2009, Wired’s Chris Kohler – a well known gaming historian and co-host on the widely popular retro gaming podcast Retronauts – interviewed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu and he claimed that this story is, in fact, true.
On the other hand, director Hironobu Sakaguchi has consistently claimed in interviews that the game title is due to the fact that he was set to return to university in the event it was a commercial failure. Obviously the game’s initial 400,000 unit sales (huge at the time) and eventual more than 2 million units sold worldwide by 2003 prevented such events and started a long lasting franchise that still remains today.
While Uematsu stated in the interview that these claims are true, he remains firm that the title’s origins are with the potential Square bankruptcy. Sakaguchi has never claimed the title to mean anything more than his fear of leaving the game industry if Final Fantasy was a failure. The truth will most likely never be known for no better reason than the memories of the individuals involved have already been clouded by the passage of time.
This week Fred is joined by Chip Cella of the B-Team Podcast to discuss one of the few colorful platformers born completely from the 3D generation, despite the first game playing on a 2D plain. Ubisoft’s Michel Ansel all but saved the then struggling developer/publisher and gave way to a challenging but fun series starring a character with no limbs.
Opening Song – Rayman Theme from the original Rayman on PS1
Closing Song – Madder by Groove Armada (Fred incorrectly refers to this song as Hoodlum in the show)
It’s hard to believe, but the typical cartridge game began to phase out of gaming in 1995 when the new wave of consoles and the subsequent movement to disc-based media began. I’m sure plenty will be quick to point out that the N64 was a cartridge-based console, but I truly believe this decision was the result of Nintendo not wanting to give up the control over manufacturing and sordid history making a machine that read discs. This change happened 18 years ago, which means there is a significant number of gamers that are now in their early to mid 20s that have never played games on a cart. This is truly a shame because the versatility of cartridges is much more abundant than most people realize, but the crutch will always be that carts offer little storage for massive prices. In today’s lesson we will discuss what makes up a cartridge, benefits/setbacks, and how the cartridge was used to literally upgrade consoles for more than two decades.
Anatomy of a Cartridge
For the most part a cartridge is a plastic-encased board containing “read-only memory” or ROM data that has exposed pin connectors (male) that fit into a slot on the reading device (female). Since it’s a complete circuit board, multiple ROMs can be used to store data, which we will get to in a second, and allow for an expanse of memory based purely on the connected printed circuit board (PCB) and the device reading it. Of the most popular uses for ROM carts is software for computers that expands almost solely into gaming once game consoles begin to release. It was the dominant format for many microcomputers, mostly used outside of the United States, and almost all game consoles for two decades (mid 1970s to mid 1990s). Many believe that the use of a cartridge was due to no other decent format being available, but this is simply untrue. By the time carts were in use, programs/games could be loaded via floppy disc (5.25″), compact cassette tapes (not unlike audio cassettes), and removable circuit boards (think arcade machines). The decision to use cartridges was due to the fact that the memory was permanently stored in the chip and memory mapped into the system’s address space (ie: it was basically integrated into the machine). As a result data access was almost instant (no load times), the cart could be used for hardware expansion in addition to loading code, and due to the streamlined process it was very difficult to extract the code and thus safest for mass distribution of software. Unfortunately it was also quite expensive and thus storage space was expensive, not to mention that the code could never be altered or accessed, which made for difficulty with saving and loading.
The first console to use cartridges was the Fairchild Channel F, a game console that predates the Atari VCS/2600 by a year and featured many of the same aspects of the pop culture sensation. It is not as widely known due to the similarity of titles that were mostly archaic sports titles or educational material. Naturally in 1977 when Atari introduced the VCS with arcade ports and diverse addicting third party titles like Pitfall resulted in the streamline of the format. Due to the fact that the cartridge is an integrated part of the machine, Nintendo made heavy use of the cartridge to make both the Famicom and the NES capable of keeping up with changing times for quite a while. Not only that but some carts, especially in Japan where custom chips were allowed, were capable of acting as a game, a hardware upgrade, a save state, and an anti-piracy device all at once. This practice was pretty standard for most consoles that utilized carts until the aforementioned 32-bit era where expansions moved to actual hardware expansion ports and even the N64, which could lean on carts, used ports instead to expand the on-board RAM.
ROM types and Special Chips
The oldest ROM type is Mast ROM, which refers to information stored permanently via integrated circuit when the chip is manufactured. The term “mask” refers to the masking pattern on the integrated circuit when it is created. This is the oldest form of ROM and definitely what went into the creation of Nintendo carts, which were manufactured by Nintendo and worked as a supplemental business to the license fees and cut of each unit sold on the NES. This is the cheapest way to get the most memory, however unless you have a mass production line the masking of the integrated circuits can be a costly endeavor and without the vast quality controls like Nintendo had one poorly made program or coding error can ruin an entire production. You can understand why Nintendo was so strict back in those days, especially because masked integrated circuits cannot, by their very nature, be re-written or reused. The up side is that there is little chance once successfully produced that the chip will suffer decay, failure, bit rot, and various other issues that can plague other ROM types, which is why you will see most classic carts last nearly forever (please note that the save battery memory is a different story). I know that this was the most common type in all Atari consoles, NES, Turbografx-16, and Sega Master System. Beyond that it is entirely possible that the SNES, Genesis, 32X, and portable consoles may have used other formats like Erasable Programmable ROMs (EPROM) that allowed you to reprogram chips with ultraviolet light or Electronically EPROMs (EEPROM) that allow you to erase and re-write electronically. There are generic PROMs that can be created with a ROM burner and remove the need to produce them like a mask ROM, but they are still one time use and were more for arcade and pinball repair, which may mean they can be found in Neo Geo carts. As for Jaguar and N64, I’m guessing EEPROMs, but there’s still a striking possibility that these companies known for mass production of carts since the 80s still made traditional mask ROM carts, especially with the lowering price of PROM and the relative high emulation/piracy of the late 90s. It has been said that PROM, EPROM, and EEPROM may have a higher chance of failure, but most carts don’t seem to have a problem no matter what is used and plenty of fixed arcades have had no problem whatsoever (especially because they can be wiped and reprogrammed). ROM chips typically varied in size from 2 kbit (not to be mistaken for the large 2 kbyte) that held roughly 256 bytes all the way up to the expensive 32 megabit chip that held 4 megabytes. This is why you saw statements on Street Fighter 2 that said things like “32 MBit Chip!” because it was touting massive storage space. Some games are rumored to have even larger ROM chips that compressed data and justified hefty price tags like Final Fantasy III launching for $80 in the US or Street Fighter Alpha 2 having load times on the SNES while data uncompressed. It was all par for the course when trying to get as much data on a cart as possible. I do believe that as RAM was integrated into consoles, like we saw on the N64, that compression and temporary storage allowed for more data to be stored for the larger 3D games of that console.
In addition there can be extra chips placed into the carts to allow all kinds of extra functionality, which basically means the carts acted as hardware upgrades. This makes sense when you think about the massive leaps between launch games and later releases. 2600 carts were pretty straightforward, but NES carts had a few extras like the anti-piracy NES10 chip that was required to be on the PCB in order for the NES to play (if it doesn’t detect this due to a loose connection you get the popular blinking console effect, which is the NES10 chip on the console rejecting the cart). Saving became a large feature as well, which led to almost all cart-based save states to be stored on Static Random Access Memory (SRAM), which was able to keep save data stored after power is cut (uncommon for RAM) provided that a small current still passed through. This is why a lithium button cell CR2032 battery is used in most cases and once that battery dies (typically around 20 years, but can go much longer) the SRAM no longer functions. To fix this, simply de-solder the dead battery from the SRAM leads and solder in a fresh battery to the leads. In Sonic 3 as well as a few others, Sega decided to use much more expensive non-volatile RAM (NVRAM), which was an early form of flash memory we have today and retains information after power is cut, which is why Sonic 3 carts should retain save data indefinitely.
As for expanding the functionality of a console, special chips could literally upgrade a console to allow it to do things it was never intended to do. In Japan the Famicom was allowed to have special chips put into its carts so companies could go crazy on internal development – due to no video game crash, Nintendo did not force Japanese development studios to manufacture carts through them like in the US. This explains the VRC6 chip in Akumajo Densetsu (Castlevania III) that allowed for extra channels on the Famicom’s unused sound port. In America Nintendo began releasing special Memory Management Controller (MMC) chips that allowed for some of the Japanese innovation to happen on the NES, albeit in a stripped form due to the different hardware profile of that console. Here are some of the popular chips:
- UNROM: Split the program data from a 32 kbit chip into two 16 kbit chips, one that stored the data and one that transferred data to RAM chip for faster loading and effects. This was seen early with impressive titles like Ikari Warriors and Mega Man and assisted in side scrolling of dynamic characters and certain effects.
- MMC1: Allowed for save games. In addition to having 16 or 32 kbit ROM programs, 4 and 8 kbit SRAM was integrated and powered with a button cell lithium battery. This was essential to getting Famicom Disk System titles that had save data to run on NES carts such as Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Dragon Warrior. Although Metroid didn’t support saved checkpoints like the FDS version did, massive passwords allowed pre-stored save data.
- MMC2: Basically split a 32 kbit chip into a 24 kbit chip with two sets of 4kb banks for pre-loaded graphical data. It allowed more graphics to display on screen at once due to the additional banks being only referenced without assets in the main code. Only used for one game, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! to load the massive sprite opponents.
- MMC3: This massively split the memory allocation and integrated a scanline IRQ counter to allow for certain assets to scroll while others remained stagnant. Necessary when keeping dynamic items like consistent scores, life bars, and more fixed on the screen and moving while a second “window” was performing more dynamic gameplay. Nintendo’s most popular chip and key in many large titles such as Mega Man 3 and Super Mario Bros. 3.
- MMC4: Utilized only in Japan for the Fire Emblem titles to create effects similar to the MMC2.
- MMC5: The biggest, most versatile, and most expensive chip Nintendo offered. Developers avoided it like the plague due to the high cost and reduced profit margin. This had several different memory allocations, IRQ counters both horizontally and vertically, allowed for very dynamic effects, and opened extra sound channels along with a 1KB of active RAM. Since Koei was almost the sole user and none of its MMC5 titles came out in America, the only title to really use it was Castlevania III to create a similar, but still inferior, version of the Famicom title in America. The MMC5 chip was so complex that almost all clone consoles do not support it and emulation took a long time to decipher integration of the ROM. For this reason alone Castlevania III was one of the few games you had to have original hardware to run. Emulation is currently no problem however clone systems that run actual carts still do not support the title.
- MMC6: This final mapper chip extended the size of SRAM over the MMC3 chip by 1KB, which allowed for the larger save files of Startropics and its sequel to save games.
There were more custom chips that did eventually show face in America, but these were the most common and basic chips. Nintendo would loosen their policy and generate several custom chips for the SNES as well allowing for all kinds of impressive hardware tricks. Some of those are as follows:
- DSP: The digital signal processor chip allowed for various 2D and 3D calculations in several iterations that allowed for asset conversion for older graphics techniques, rotation effects, raster effects, and mathematics that could all be performed independently on the cart instead of using the SNES. Popular games that used this rotation technique are Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings.
- Super FX: This was a supplemental CPU for performing graphics calculations that the SNES simply could not do. Think of it as an external graphics card for the 16-bit console, as it was a separate 16-bit CPU integrated into the cart. Since it had simpler duties than the SNES, the Super FX chip’s iterations were capable of 10.5 mhz and eventually 21 mhz of processing power, which blows past the 3.5 mhz processor of the SNES and allowed for the 3D rendering of titles like Starfox. Later updates allowed for support of larger ROM sizes (for a long time the game program had to be less than 8 mbit or 1 mbyte of data).
- Cx4: This chip was Capcom’s way of showing off rotational, polygonal, and wire-frame effects in the Megaman X series. While the first title used a traditional chip, Megaman X2 and X3 had special test screens and crazy title screens that to this day cannot work on cloned consoles, flash carts, or even later hardware emulation (like the Megaman X Collection on PS2/Gamecube). Of course the emulation community has successfully gotten this working on software-based ROMs.
- SA1: The Super Accelerator chip that independently worked with the SNES as a co-processor creating a faster 10 mhz clock speed over the 3.5 of the original hardware, faster RAM functionality, MMC capabilities (see the NES section above), data storage and compression options, and new region and piracy lock out protection. This chip was essential in certain impressive titles like Super Mario RPG! and Kirby’s Dream Land 3, which cannot currently be replicated on flash carts. Software emulation on both the openware PC scene and official Nintendo Virtual Console titles do support the chip.
There were several others that were utilized for specific function in addition to the Genesis having the Sega Virtual Processing (SVP) chip in Virtua Racing to make the most technically impressive 16-bit game ever created. Unfortunately it also cost $100 at initial launch, wasn’t impressive from a gameplay standard, and doesn’t work with any clone or flash carts out there. Emulation is possible but with varied results.
Well there you have it. A brief breakdown of the technical marvel that was the cartridge and the hardware benefits it provided. It’s almost difficult to imagine a world without load times, where data access is instantaneous (something even flash carts can’t currently do). While it wouldn’t be possible with the massive memory required today and the equally massive cost of manufacturing, there was a time where a few bits in a plastic case meant to world to each and every gamer.
Released: 1991 (1993 in Europe)
Instruction Manual: Link for manual, link for map (both helpful)
Played as a child? No
Value: $14.49 (used), $77.49 (new) on pricecharting.com
Also Known As: Mystic Quest (Europe), Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (Japan), Sword of Mana (GBA)
Digital Release? No
To fully understand the mystery and headaches surrounding Final Fantasy Adventure, you must first understand the massive differences between the names, although not the content, around the world. Times have changed and these days for uniformity (and the much more widespread import scene) most games retain their original title or some semblance of it. Square in particular was very forward thinking in terms of translation and localization, which resulted in games being renamed and more properly translated in different regions. Enter the portable debacle with the Final Fantasy name. On Gameboy there was a single title named Final Fantasy Adventure, this title, and another trilogy called Final Fantasy Legend (I, II, and III); Adventure is in fact the first entry into the Mana series (known as Secret of Mana Zero for a while and now officially renamed to Sword of Mana) and Legend is better known as the SaGa series, which has continued like Mana outside of portables. Legend wasn’t very widely regarded, SaGa has always been a bit of a so-so series, because it didn’t do anything new and was a simplified RPG by all accounts. Final Fantasy Adventure was a bit more interesting because it took the RPG-like elements of a Final Fantasy (the term “gaiden” in Japan relates to a “side story” so the title is fitting over there) and combines it with the action/map/exploring elements of Legend of Zelda. In short, it’s a hybrid of the most popular RPG and adventure titles on the NES now moved to the portable. It was popular then, too, spawning a long running series and the sequel, Secret of Mana, is an SNES favorite to most gamers.
Final Fantasy Legend involves a story about a boy, you name him, and a girl, also named by you, that are brother and sister. Bound by an interesting connection with the Mana Tree, the adventure begins with an evil presence named, get this, the Dark Lord, and his plans to destroy the world. In order to prevent it, our duo sets out on a quest to eliminate him. You will journey to many towns, meet plenty of people that will either help or inform you, and of course at some point the girl gets kidnapped by a man named Julius, the Dark Lord’s advisor. This is just a simplified version of the first third of an adventure that spans tens of hours, a time hard to pin down because like Legend of Zelda your progress depends on how fast you can navigate the map and know what to do next. Trust me, print up the map in the link above and bring a FAQ with you – there are a few moments where you can get stuck unable to beat the game.
I was immediately hooked to the play style and impressed that so innovative a game came out so early in the lifespan of gaming and on the portable Gameboy no less. Perhaps the low development cycle and simplification of these games allowed something like this to thrive, but it’s a worthwhile blast to the past if you get a chance. Originally the game was to be a Famicom Disk System (FDS) title that would be a whopping 5 disks (you would have to buy the disks blank in Japan for roughly $15 and pay $5 to write a game, so we’re talking a $100 title). There were even pre-orders taken under the name The Emergence of Excalibur (which does play a large role in the game) as early as 1987 and by October of that year they were canceled and recommended to purchase Final Fantasy instead that holiday season (Final Fantasy wouldn’t premiere in the US for more than 2 years in 1990). From what I understand this title is the continuation and completion of that project, which would have been a massive feat back in 1987. What I like most about it, and this is clear to anyone who has played the game, is that unlike Final Fantasy titles that focus around the characters and their story, Final Fantasy adventure is more about one story in a living world. Think of every entry in the Mana series as an extended universe title in Star Wars, the world is established but it’s the characters and interaction with the world that makes up each game. For this reason alone I prefer the Mana series (until it’s downfall after PS1) over the Final Fantasy series of the time, although it’s not quite apples to apples. As with Zelda you will consistently be exploring new dungeons, opening up new enemies and bosses, potentially collecting optional items that assist your journey. Additionally it has different weapons and armor you can purchase, magic spells, stats, leveling, and town exploration just like a traditional RPG.
I must admit that the game’s fun is harmed severely by the need for an FAQ. It has flaws such as figuring out where to go or what to do next, like The Legend of Zelda, which can hinder your progress and it doesn’t have the benefit of every kid of the era having played it like Zelda. You can also become stuck in dungeons without the appropriate items, of which you are never told you need, that are found in the various shops throughout. This stopped me from being able to complete the end of the game my first time through, thank god for backed up saves. If you use emulators or save states, these can often be your worst enemy so be sure and combine both the states and the game’s traditional saves for backup. As for the updated Sword of Mana, I’ve heard it’s better than the original, fixing some of the popular gripes in this game, but I always like to see the series at its roots and this holds up as a lackluster GBA title while it’s an amazing one on Gameboy. Since the story isn’t all that complicated, unique, or interesting, trust me when I say the journey is the draw and not the end result. Many played Secret of Mana and if you’re a fan I highly recommend stepping back into the series original to see where those initial ideas from the earliest days at Square stemmed from.
Video game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.
Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.
Backwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.
It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?
Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):
- ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
- Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
- Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
- Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
- Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
- Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
- Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
- Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
- Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.
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!
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.
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD, 32X CD)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $21.50 (used) $76.00 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $23-$60 (used) N/A on US Version (new) on eBay
Other Releases: Arcade, SNES, Gameboy Advance
Digital Release? Yes – SNES version on Virtual Console ($8), Arcade version on XBLA/PSN as Double Impact ($10)
Final Fight is a pivotal late 80s arcade release for Capcom for two reasons: it established the norms that would make up the concept of the “beat-em-up” genre for its short-lived life (although it oddly enough didn’t introduce any of them) and it created the aesthetic and building blocks of Street Fighter II. Anyone who has played this game or SFII will immediately be familiar with that semi-realistic semi-animated graphical style of Final Fight that remained exclusive to these two titles moving forward for a few sequels (I’m considering the numerous re-hashes of SFII to be sequels). In full disclosure this is my favorite brawler of all time and definitely ranks highly in my overall top games I’ve ever played despite the fact that Final Fight doesn’t translate well to home consoles because it’s intended to take your money and prompt more quarters rather than be completed in a finite number of lives/credits. In order to complete the game in the allotted five credits requires you to memorize the cheaper boss battles and exploit the collision detection. For me it was just repetitive stupid fun.
Originally created by Yoshiki Okamoto as a sequel to Street Fighter (known better as Fighting Street) this game borrowed the gameplay from Double Dragon and adapted it, removing the one-on-one aspect of Street Fighter. After receiving feedback from arcade owners at trade shows that the game played nothing like Street Fighter and that the Street Fighter ’89 title would be misrepresented, it was changed to Final Fight. The game borrows heavily from pop culture and Capcom’s library as well – the plot is based on the movie Streets of Fire, most of the enemies have names from metal bands of the 80s, and even the gang you’re fighting, Mad Gear, comes from the 1987 Capcom arcade game Led Storm (the connection makes more sense when you consider it was titled Mad Gear in Japan). It’s a pretty simple concept and title beyond that. You play as one of three protagonists trying to save a young girl, Jessica Haggar, from the clutches of the Mad Gear gang that has kidnapped her to intimidate mayor Mike Haggar. The protagonists are Mike Haggar himself, Jessica’s boyfriend Cody, and Cody’s best friend Guy as they punch through six different areas and finally take on a final boss. This game was rated as one of the most popular coin-op arcades of that year, basically spawned many signatures from Street Fighter II, and has been kept closely linked to both that series and Capcom as a whole. Home ports were to be expected but didn’t hold up quite as well for reasons previously explained – that is, unless you cheat for endless lives.
Initially the game hit home consoles as an early Super NES title, but was criticized for the many changes that needed to be made for release within Nintendo’s specs and limitations. Due to size requirements, Guy was completely removed from the game as was the 2-player co-op option, entering and exit animations (like smashing doors) were removed, and the fourth stage (Industrial) was removed completely. Not only that but the game was censored in America: Jessica is seen in a bra in the arcade and is now in a red dress, first boss Damnd and second boss Sodom were renamed to Thrasher and Katana respectively, female characters Poison and Roxy were made into males and renamed Sid and Billy, blood effects were removed, and when you destroy the guy’s car in the first bonus stage he now says, “Oh! My car…” instead of, “Oh my God!” Although the censorship changes are minimal to say the least, the major game changes due to size requirements removed many aspects that made it a true “complete” port – especially considering that my favorite level is Industrial and favorite character is Guy. A second game, Final Fight Guy, was released in Japan that featured Guy as the only playable character as well as a few minor changes (that removed the other characters from the picture) but still had no co-op or Industrial stage and was seen as a sprite swap that wasn’t all that necessary. It was available here as a rental only in Blockbuster stores and all copies of the game in existence for the US are the used game sales from closing Blockbusters, which make it somewhat of a rarity. Aside from the negative changes, the game retains decent graphical integrity compared to the arcade and thanks to the Sony sound chip it stands proudly next to the arcade counterpart.
In the Sega/Mega CD release, most of those short comings were fixed. As far as I know there was no Genesis port planned but I’m unsure as to why, whether it was from the heavy graphical and sound needs of the game or because Capcom had a licensed deal for cartridge versions with Nintendo. On the flip side, the Genesis did spawn the rip-off series Streets of Rage, which many consider to be the better series in retrospect – obviously I side with Final Fight. In the Sega CD version co-op was kept in, all 3 protagonists appear, all levels (including Industrial) are intact, and it even added voiceovers for the few cutscenes in the game. While some of the US censored changes are still there – boss name changes, for example – the female enemies and blood splat return. All in all the game just feels like a more complete and faithful port of the arcade version and depending on your opinion has improved and more sharp graphics over the SNES version. It’s difficult for me to truly comment on it because screen grabs and side-by-side plays on my standard definition television look quite similar aside from little UI changes, but with the graphical clean-up and improvements from emulation (which I will go on record stating that I hate those filters) it does appear to have a cleaner more vibrant look.
A Gameboy Advance version was released, Final Fight One, that brought the game to portables and is basically a port of the SNES game with all of the size-removed content (co-op, Guy, Industrial) re-integrated. It’s still censored the same way the SNES game was save for Damnd and Sodom getting their names back and you can unlock the Street Fighter Alpha 3 versions of Cody and Guy as bonuses, but in 2001 it was a bit of a tough sale for a game that was then twelve years old. I guess if you can find it on the cheap it can be a fun port.
Nowadays, especially given the cost, it’s a much better option to pick up the digital arcade transfer of this game on modern HD consoles. The remake, renamed to Final Fight: Double Impact because it includes hack-and-slash Capcom arcade Magic Sword is a solid port and a tremendous value at $10. This version allows you to have unlimited continues so you can actually see the ending, integrates online co-op, reverts back to the original arcade game, and various filters and resolution settings to make the game look as authentic or shiny and new as you want it. It may have been slim pickings at the time, but thanks to the Sega CD, Genesis fans could finally brag that they had the better port of one of the most popular games from the late 80s/early 90s and I couldn’t have been more proud to own Final Fight CD. In fact, the copy I have is the very version I bought from a FuncoLand for $15 in 1996.
I’ve captured about an hour of gameplay (almost beat the game!) for your review, but you have to excuse the quality. Per a YouTube FAQ I encoded the gameplay differently (lower res, in MP4 format) and I don’t like the results but it took so long to encode I don’t want to change it for this video either. More quality coming with tomorrow’s video, promise!
Rayman wants to be a strong classic platformer, and it’s really a shame that the steep difficulty curve will turn off even the most determined of contemporary gamers, because from an aesthetic and game design perspective this game should be appreciated. Alas Rayman has been ported to console after console and seen commercial success, but I wonder how many people have actually experienced most of what this title has to offer.
During the mid 90s there was no shortage of consoles – both the 16-bit generation and 32-bit generation were coming to be, not to mention CD consoles - and Rayman was caught right in the thick of it. Not only that, but thanks to Mario and Sonic, platformers were among the highest in popularity behind fighting games. The title began life as a brainchild of Ubisoft creative director Michel Ancel (who is also responsible for cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil) and the then struggling developer/publisher bet the house on his creation and won. Rayman started life on the Super NES as a two-player title based on various cultural fairy tales and eventually it was decided that the game would receive a cartoon makeover with better animation and subsequent move to the Playstation CD add-on for the SNES (read that story here). When Nintendo announced the cancellation of both the Playstation and Phillips CD projects Ubisoft wanted to move to the Jaguar thanks to its specs and eventually chose the Sony Playstation as the lead console. As you can see, the game was already bouncing from console to console.
Rayman is known for some unique features upon its 1995 release date – most namely because it was a 2D platformer in a time when 3D polygonal graphics were all the rage and it released on Playstation and Jaguar simultaneously (1 week apart) with differences to both. The Saturn and PC ports would come in 1996 and be identical to the PS1 version. Lead character Rayman has no limbs – his head, hands, and feet float around his body – which was a design decision due to hardware limitations and not actually part of any plot. Visually the title is gorgeous with bright colors (up to 65,000 at one time) and made good use of the hardware at the time, not to mention smooth 60 frames per second animation throughout. Thanks to the CD format, the Playstation version contains a vibrant red book audio (similar to music CDs) format that will play on a CD player if you have the original disc. Wikipedia cites similarities to Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy, a Genesis title that released in 1994, but I feel the comparison was only made in hindsight and I’ve read nothing to remotely connect the two.
Rayman’s gameplay appears to be a traditional platformer, but once you start getting into the second world (most people refer to as the “music level”), the game’s difficulty ramps up at an immense rate. You are consistently trying to dodge pits and obstacles you will only know about if you’ve already died from, it was nearly impossible to “twitch” your way through most obstacles. As a result, you were forced to memorize most levels; think of it as the R-Type of platformers. In addition, the length of the levels grow as well, probably due to the changes to different platforms and media during development. Rayman also has limited lives (3) and continues (3) after which a game over requires you to start over completely. This is a bit confusing when you first start out because the game has password and save features, but neither of those allow you to continue beyond the initial lives and continues – there are cheat codes, but you have to know to use them before a game over. It all comes off, especially today, as an awkward combination of 16-bit and 32-bit game design (which it most likely is). This is also a collect-a-thon game, requiring you to collect all six caged Electoons in order to move on to the final stages, which can be a blessing to completionists like me and a curse to bare bones players. Having said that, these are all minor setbacks that in no way eclipse the solid gameplay, decent level design, wonderous worlds, and boss battles that remained in my memory through nostalgic goggles. Come to the game prepared and take it in stride (this can be easier thanks to the massive amount of portable ports) and there should be no reason for you to not eventually beat it.
The original version is technically available on the Atari Jaguar, which is most likely similar to the version we would have gotten on SNES Playstation or the canceled 32x version. It has a few differences from the Sony Playstation version including the removal of Mr. Stone’s Peaks level and Space Mama’s area and battle are also absent. Rayman cannot shrink like he does in the other versions and the level Erasure Plains has been changed to a new level entirely. This version does contain the game Pong as a hidden minigame and contains glowing and smoke effects on Mr. Skops’ lava level. As expected, the audio is considerably weaker because it is compressed onto a cartridge and could not take advantage of the red book audio. It is one of the few games that demonstrate both the abilities and value of the Atari Jaguar and every collector I’ve spoken to says it’s a must buy if you own the system. Unfortunately the Jaguar version is quite rare and sells for $50+ online, which is about 5-10 times higher than the many other versions you can find.
On the PC, Rayman had plenty of expansions that demonstrated a versatility in the concept well ahead of its time: endless level design. While the original PC version was a mere PS1 port, the 1997 Rayman Gold also included level development tools and contained 24 new levels and the need to collect 100 tings to complete each level. The included development tool, Rayman Designer, allowed players to create levels and share them on the Internet, which wasn’t popular at the time. Rayman Forever hit in 1998 and included both Rayman Gold and 40 new user-designed levels to further extend the experience although at the expense of part of the soundtrack, which most fans of the series do not consider a worthwhile trade-off. Rayman 100 Niveaux was the final release and contained 60 newer levels (entitled the 60 “Niveaux” levels that were only released previously in France as the super rare Rayman Collector) and the 40 user levels, however it does not contain the contents of Rayman or the extra 24 Gold levels.
Rayman Advance was the first true portable port that made the game easier for various reasons and was close to the same as the PS1 version save for the obvious downgrade in the soundtrack. The game was also available on Gameboy color – although it only used the plot of the original, level design was from the sequel – and digital downloads on PSP (via PSOne collection) and on DS/3DS via DSiWare. The PSOne version has the unaltered gameplay and soundtrack (because it’s basically a rip of the original ISO) whereas the DSiWare version has been made even easier than Advance and features downgraded looping audio and appears to be based on the PC version. In addition, Good Ole Games released Rayman Forever on its site, adjusting the programming of the PC version to support Windows platforms – DOSbox is required to play the original versions of these DOS-based games. Both Forever on GOG and the PSOne version are $5.99 whereas the DSiWare version will set you back $7.99.
While the original is important and significant for many reasons, Rayman’s next outing would update it to 3D polygons, a step back for the art design, but was much more approachable. It held up so well, in fact, that Ubisoft and Nintendo decided to use it as a 3DS launch title.